Thursday, December 29, 2011

My Reading List: 2011 Edition

(RSS & Email Readers, please go to the blog proper to see the visual aids and charts.  This post makes more sense that way.  Sorry for the inconvenience.)

And so here we are again, dear Readers.  Another year behind us, a bright, new shiny one just around the bend.  As always, I've kept up with the general statistics of my reading life, because knowing this trivial information thrills my soul to no end.  This year I read 47 books, a 35% decrease from 2010's 71 books.  However, taking page numbers into the mix, I read ~15626 pages this year, which is just a 14% decrease from last years.  Considering that I had a baby in June, I'd say that's pretty darned good.

If you'd like to look at the monster spreadsheet I keep that contains all of my statistical data, you can go here and browse around.  The link should default you to the 2011 tab, but if not, just click the appropriate year at the bottom.  This is my third year of running the sheet, and it's interesting to compare stats between the years, too.

Oldest Book: In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote, 1965
Audio Books*:  7
Kindle Books:  7
Library Books: 23
2011 Books (Year Published): 10
Books Forsaken: 1 (In the Shadow of Swords, by Val Gunn)
From Publishers/Authors Received: 15
From Publishers/Authors Reviewed: 11
Most Popular Author: Mike Mignola and Alvin Schwartz
Most Popular Publisher: Dark Horse, Del Rey, and Waterbrook Multnomah (all with 5 books)
Busiest Month: January (8 reads)
Total Page Numbers: ~15,626
Average Book Score**: 3.63
Female/Male: 3/35

Like previous years, graphic novels and comics command a major portion of the year's reading.  However, considering page counts, the graphic section accounts for only 2500 pages or so, a paltry 15%, as opposed to 28%.  Nevertheless, the point of the graph is to display percentages based upon the number of books read, ignoring completely the thickness of the book.  Because of my personal qualms with classifying a book in only one genre, plus my disdain at using "graphic novel" as an umbrella super-genre, I've broken down the data into a more sensible chart.

This chart makes a bit more sense, but I'm still not exactly comfortable with it.  Books have far too many cross-genre aspects for me to qualify one novel as one thing over another.  Still, I try, and for these charts, I've used the predominate genre (as determined by me) to populate the data fields.

It's fascinating to me to see how my reading habits have changed***.  Five years ago, practically all of my reading was SFF and Graphic Novels.  Non-fiction was laughable.  Now, thanks to a few generous publishers and a more mature outlook in life, I read Christian Non-Fiction (which I deem as "Christian Thought") about as much as anything else.  I've learned much from this experience, and I'm glad for it.

Picking out my favorite book of the year is unfair.  (The extreme fanboy in me screams Pat Rothfuss' The Wise Man's Fear.)  There are several books I've read that I've ranked a 4 or higher on my scale, and truly all of those are recommendable.  Nevertheless, below are the books I'd select as my favorite 2011 reads, linked to my review.
The Third Bear, by Jeff VanderMeer
Hellboy Volume 9: The Wild Hunt, by Mike Mignola
The Wise Man's Fear, by Patrick Rothfuss
Just Do Something, by Kevin DeYoung
I Am Not A Serial Killer, by Dan Wells
The Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson
House of Leaves, by Mark Z. Danielewski
If hard pressed, I'd possibly say that Jeff VanderMeer's The Third Bear is my favorite read of the year.  From my review, I said,
There's really no good way to describe this book. It defies genres. It defies expectations and normal thinking, subverting tropes and typical story-telling methodology for something unique and unforgettable. There are some stories that, upon completion, I couldn't bring myself to describe coherently, even if the tale was spectacular. This holds true for many of the stories, the inability to put into words what you just read, but it only serves to make the reading experience all the better.
Seriously.  It's the strangest book I've ever read, and I was mesmerized by it.  Arguably, my favorite traditional SFF novel has to be The Wise Man's Fear.  I've been on the Rothfuss train literally since the month his first novel came out, and I've not looked back.  WMF was everything I wanted it to be, even if it was a bit winded.  If we're thinking of life-changing books, Kevin DeYoung's Just Do Something rocked my world, shifting around how I thought about making choices and paths to travel in life.  It was such an excellent (and short) read that I gave away copies just so others could read it and be free.  The most unexpected book was Dan Wells' I Am Not A Serial Killer.  Simply, I read it in about 5-hours.  I could not put it down.  It was fresh and fun and creepy and I'm ready to read the next book in the series.

As for disappointments, the Star Wars EU series Fate of the Jedi has been stagnant.  Fortunately there are but two books left in the series, which will be finished up next year.  I'm ready for the EU to get back to some good stuff, but alas, I don't have high hopes.  I feel practically the same about Terry Brooks.  His Bearers of the Black Staff was rather droll and unexciting, and I don't know whether or not I'll even finish the other half of the duology.  I also managed to pick up a forsaken book from last year, The Great Hunt, and finish it, though I'm not sure why.  It was better this year, but still held nothing to pull me back into The Wheel of Time.  Finally, GRRM's Dance with Dragons was good, yes, but ultimately a let-down, too.

I'm also disappointed by the lack of diversity in the authors I read.  Look at the F/M ratio.  I shudder to think about ethnic diversity.  Going out on a limb, I'm guessing the general author profile is a middle aged, white, educated, American male.  I'd like to mix this up somehow.

Next year should be a most interesting year for books.  I've laid down my 2012 Book Manifesto and firmly plan on sticking to it.  This should help with my bland diversity somewhat, but it won't be a panacea.  I also regret not getting to read The Alloy of Law, so I hopefully will get to that in 2012.

The year has been a slightly better than average year in reading.  There were wonderful books, and there were not so wonderful.  All in all, it's really a joy to read, and I do it because I love it.  I'm glad to be able to share my recommendations to you fine folks that read the blog, and thanks for coming back to listen to what I have to say.  If you've any questions about the data or my spreadsheet, ask away.

Now on to finishing up the still-reading and dive headlong into the TBR.

* All audio books were borrowed through the library, and thus are included in the library numbers, too.
** This is an arithmetic average of the books based upon the GoodReads 5-star scale, modified for my use to include halfsies.
*** See the bottom chart in the spreadsheet for this graphic.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Daredevil Vol. 2.1 - Guardian Devil

My friend Adam highly recommended the entire series run of Daredevil, Volume 2. From my understanding, Volume 1 had run stagnant after thirty-four years and 380 comics. Marvel decided to reboot the Man without Fear and start afresh. Anon, Kevin Smith was hired to write the first story arc for the new series, Guardian Devil, beginning in 1998. Volume 2 ran for 119 issues, and concluded with a 13-issue mini-run titled Shadowlands

I'll be the first to say that my knowledge of Daredevil is very limited. Having read comics for most of my life, I've always considered the hero as a lesser compatriot of Marvel's bigger names: Spider-Man, Wolverine, Hulk, the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, and not to mention practically all of the X-Men. Daredevil just wasn't that interesting to me. Yet, on Adam's considerable recommendation (ending when he brought the entire run over to my house in a heavy, white box), I found myself with 131 comics to read. 

Matt Murdock is an attorney by day and a red-leather-tights-wearing superhero by night. He's blind. He's intelligent. He struggles with his faith. After a freak accident as a teenager, where he saved the life of a pedestrian from an oncoming truck laden with nuclear waste (it's always nuclear something something) and lost his eyesight, his remaining senses were all heightened to uncanny levels. 

The main plot of Guardian Devil revolves around an infant showing up in Murdock's law office. The mother drops the child off, claiming he's the Christ returned. Later, a mysterious man appears and tells Matt that the child is in fact the antichrist incarnate. Already conflicted, Murdock gets involved in a fight that spans from heaven to hell. Another important element to this arc was Murdock's relationship with his on-again, off-again flame Karen Page. 

Up front Adam told me the series started off kind of boring. He was right. The first eight issues held me captivated enough to press on, but suffered from some weak text and poor illustrations. Don't get me wrong. The art was just fine, but I was turned off by the peculiar choices Joe Quesada made, especially when it came to eyes*. Every time I looked at a person's eyes I was turned off. They looked almost childish. This just didn't work with the tone of the story Smith was telling (and I'm already not much of a Smith fan). 

Nevertheless, I press onward. So far Daredevil still sits in the shadows of my mind, but I'm anxious to see if he rises to prominence. If I'm judging based on Guardian Devil, I'd say no. But, for the life of me, I'll read this series if only to see what Adam's talking about.

*Generally.  Note Bullseye's eye in the panel image above.  It's swell.  This, however, is not the norm.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

I'm Sworn to Secrecy

Since I keep a journal here on Rememorandom, I've got something very important to ramble on about.

Recall, earlier this year I was selected by the church body to become a deacon.  I was humbled and after prayerful consideration, I accepted.  The next step was to be tested, so to speak.  Had to go to to a room filled with the current deacons and be questioned about my faith, doctrinal issues, those sorts of things.  I wasn't expecting the interrogation I got, especially not the vitriol I received.  After the whole fiasco, I was found to be lacking the spiritual maturity they required and was rejected.  (To be fair, 8/12 of the men voted in my favor, though this majority did not meet the qualifications set in the church's bylaws.)

To be honest, I was hurt and angry.  I was judgmental.  I was disappointed.  I was grieved.  In my mind, I was more qualified to be a deacon than several of the men sitting in that room.  I desired to impact the world, to impact the church, to love on people, to help, to go, to serve.  These were the things that I didn't see the deacons doing.  How dare they deny me?  I contented myself saying that you didn't have to be a deacon to serve and that God was in control.

I've spent the last six months growing in leaps and bounds in my faith.  My reliance on God has increased tenfold.  My devotion to reading and studying the Word has grown exponentially.  I've changed in my opinions on the dividing topics, growing even more firm in my beliefs about them.  I'm convinced that the bible speaks very clearly and that their opinions are based on more than just the bible.  But through all of my growth I've also layered myself in cynicism.  My ability to trust has wavered.  My faith in my local church has waned to non-existent.  My righteous anger has simmered.

The sad thing is that this is so uncharacteristic of me that it's not funny.  I'm an extremely happy optimist.  I believe in the goodness of people to a point well past logic and reason.  I'm not naive, I'm too much a Realist for that, but I'm hopeful.  And yet, over these last few months, I've changed my outlook, and I hate it.  I'm disappointed with myself and my scorn.  I realize that I'm wanting people to be held to a higher standard when I myself am regressing.  I'm expecting maturity from a group of people that have had very little rearing. Many are on the milk still, so to speak, and my expectations from them are unrealistic.

So I've resolved myself to do better.  To think kinder.  To love more.  To pour myself out until I'm drained dry.  If I'm wanting change, then let it be seen in me.

Flash forward to last night.  Skipping all the details, I was selected to serve on the pastor search committee, and last night was my first meeting.  (My church has been without a senior pastor for a long time now and tension is very high within the church.  Perhaps this is part of the reason why there have been so many problems.)  I received a packet of information, and among it was a sheet detailing the qualifications for its members.  I inwardly chuckled at the first two: must be spiritually mature and must be respected by the church to be competent and responsible.

The irony of being qualified to select the next pastor for the church and yet being unqualified to be a deacon of said church is more than a little amusing.

So what's the point?  The point is that I'm learning to rely on God more, to look to Him more, and to trust in Him.  On the PSC I am bound to confidentiality, something that I intend on taking very seriously.  Already after one meeting there are things that I would love to talk about and get off my shoulders, but I can't.  To ramifications could be tremendous.  Instead, I'll pray and look for guidance.  And I also ask, dear Readers, that you hold me and my church up whenever it crosses your mind.  I've a feeling that things are gonna be tough, but I've no doubts that God will reign supremely over everything.

Have a merry Christmas, everyone.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Not This Crap Again

Oh what joy it is to ride in a one horse open sleigh!

And if that horse should, say, break its leg or stumble?  Joy mayn't last long.

As some of you know, a little over a year ago I had some trying circumstances at work.  Everyone was reduced to four-day weeks, effectively cutting everyone's pay by 20%.  A few people were laid off and/or let go.  Then paychecks started arriving late, sometimes very, very, very late.  I continued working four-day weeks up until Avonlea was born, when some craziness happened and suddenly I was paid everything I was owed and put back on five-day weeks.

Avonlea is six-point-four months old now.  No problems.  Until today.  "Paychecks are going to be late," I was told.  "How late?" I ask.  "Don't know."  And I go and ask the President, who also doesn't know.  "Not before Christmas, I guess," I say.  "Nu-uh."  Sigh.  The most wonderful time of the year, indeed.

In addition, I've worked here at the MLC for two-and-a-half years now, and every year our insurance plan has changed.  This year we had a $6k deductible and a $10k OOP.  Rather high, I think.  Consider: Keisha had an emergency C-section to deliver Avonlea, followed by a few days hospital stay; Keisha fell and had some x-rays and urgent care; Keisha and Avonlea had some routine medical stuff.  Through all of this, we still haven't hit our deductible.  But wait, there's more.  Our new-and-improved plan, effective 1/1/2012, changes everything.  Now we're looking forward to a $10k deductible and a $12k OOP!

If it sounds like I'm aggravated at the MLC, then you may be on to something.  It's hard to have a passion to want to work if you don't feel valued.  It's also hard when you get very little communication between the Chief Potentates and us brave peons.  (Days can pass without so much as a "hullo.")  Worst of all, it's hard to want to work when you're not getting paid.  Dang it, I want to work and I want to be a good little boy and I want my money!  Why is this so difficult?

I'm hoping/banking on getting paid next week.  But whether I do or not, I'm not going to let it spoil my first Christmas with Avonlea and the last of my vacation time for the year.  I'll get it when I get it.  Until then, the Dude abides.

Post Script: The pun is intentional.

Monday, December 19, 2011

A 2012 Book Manifesto

For 2012 I want to do something different.  Something that will involve commitment and patience.  Something that also will clear up a lot of the TBR pool.  Something I've been thinking about (and alluded to) for a while now.

  • I will not purchase any new/used books in 2012.***
  • I will read only from books I own or can attain freely (ie, library, friends, publishers, et al.)
  • I will will read only selections from my GoodReads To-Be-Read shelf (dated 12/31/11).  This is currently visible on the right side-bar.
  • I won't have to spend money on books.  (Granted, I don't spend that much money on books as it is, but even so, in principle, I'm saving money.)
  • I can finally dwindle down my TBR pool and read things I've been putting off forever.
  • To see if I can actually do it.  Self-discipline is a tool that needs to be used more, as its benefits are manifold.
  • I will continue to make my monthly trek to the comic shop and pick up the newest issue of Fables, as has been my wont for some time now.
  • I will purchase anything Pat Rothfuss releases, though the only possibility (to my knowledge) is a potential novella.
  • If I receive gift-cards to bookstores during the year, I will use them, as I'm not spending any of my money.
  • ***If I get an amazing deal through my Kindle with Special Offers, then I'll likely gobble it up, as these offers are usually $1 or $2 for a book and not altogether common and I would be a fool to turn my nose to the offer.
  • Finally read The Brothers Karamazov, 100 Years of Solitude, The Shadow of the Torturer, Peter & Max, and the multitude of random comics/graphic novels that have piled up. {own}
  • Finish the Fate of the Jedi series, as I have only two books left.  {library}
  • Read a lot of Lovecraft during the RIP challenge for 2012 and possibly The Stand.  {own}
  • Read The American Book of the Dead, which I received earlier this year but haven't had a chance to even start it yet.  {own}
  • Continue getting free books from the few publishers I receive from, as well as possibly take on some new authors/publishers.
  • I hope Justin Cronin's sequel to The Passage comes out, and I also hope Peter Brett's third volume in the Painted Man series is released.  {library}
  • The Alloy of Law?  {library?}
There we are.  This manifesto will be stored as a separate page under the appropriate tab above.  Wish me luck.  (This list is subject to change and edits throughout the year.)

Anyone else have any bookish goals for 2012?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Flash Fiction Friday: Waiting for the End

The world was supposed to have ended by now.  After the 2061 famine I thought for sure we were over.  Ten billion people reduced to three-point-one.  But we survived, somehow.  Rebuilt.  Then the year of the firestorms came, and then the plagues.  And who can forget the ninth World War?  

Still, through the many years, I can't tell that we're any closer to the end than we were back when there were seven habitable continents.  After OmniBiotechnics came up with the Life 2.0 serum, we're now farther away than ever before.  I've been walking this earth for four millenia and I like to think that things are better now, but I'm no longer sure.  Death is a rumor created to keep us in line.  The same is true with love.  There's not been a recorded birth in three thousand years.  I'm not sure I remember what a baby looks like.  My days are spent sifting through forgotten tomes of ancient history, looking for prophecies in dead religions and bizarre cults.  The Entertainment House wants to find something "new and exciting" to present to the populace, and where better to look than in the past?  "There is nothing new under the sun," I read in one of these books, and I'm inclined to agree.  From what I can tell, all of these religions point to some sort of Armageddon or some breaking of the earth.  Something that finally wipes us all off of the face of the earth.

I think it's safe to say that they were all wrong.

Dear Adelith, 
I know it's been over two hundred years since I last wrote, but I woke up this morning thinking about you and thought I might as well.  How've you been?  How's Averret doing?  Does he ever ask about his papa?  I imagine not.  He was so little when I started my sentence that he probably doesn't even remember me.  I hope you told him about all the good things that I did back before I screwed up.  What House does he work in?
This is stupid.  I'm not expecting you to write me back, and hell, I don't even know if this letter will find you, but if it does, I want you to know that I'm so sorry for everything I put you through.  Had I known I would have received a life sentence I never would have got involved.  You don't understand what it's like here, serving a life sentence when you're practically immortal.  The boredom is maddening.  The only new thing I see each day is a different color wall to my cell.  Today it's a blue day.  Tomorrow is black.  Those are the worst.  Reds are pretty bad, too.  If there was any way I could off myself in here I'd do it in a heartbeat, but the guards are rather vigilant, especially to people like me.
I don't know why you were on my mind this morning, but you were, and I just wanted to let you know that I still love you, even after all these years.  I think fondly of the days before the serum, when we were poor but happy.  I hope life is everything you wanted it to be, Adelith.  I love you with my whole heart.

Kee-yu dreamed of food. A rice paddy, vibrant green and teeming with millions upon millions of healthy grains. A gentle wind cooled her face, tussled her hair like Mama used to do when she was a child. She tasted rain in the wind. Uytugyo will provide, the shaman said. He always will.  Kee-yu wondered where Uytugyo was when the monsters swarmed in and stole her mother away all those years ago.  

She ambled through the paddy, fingers lightly touching the plants as she moved. The grains were full, and she idly plucked a kernel and popped it in her mouth. She made her way to the center of the field, stalks dancing all around her, bending and twirling with the wind.  Far in the distance, just beyond the Blue Mountain, she could see smoke rising from the Dead City.  You must never go there, Kee-yu.  Never.  The monsters live there and they will gobble you up if you wander too close.

A gentle kick pushed against her swollen belly.  "You like the rice?" Kee-yu asked, gently rubbing her hand against the child's hidden body.  The baby pushed back against her hand, and Kee-yu smiled.  

This piece is similarly inspired by my flash fic piece titled "Waiting for the Rain."  Where that piece dealt Realistically with differing POVs as they waited for it to rain, this story offers three different POVs in a fantasy setting revolving around a series of futuristic events and an obvious leitmotif. Also, I presented this piece in 1st person, 2nd, and 3rd-limited, so as to stretch myself.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Dug Down Deep, a Review

This isn't a book on systematic theology proper. It's more like a mixtape of biblical truth that I've found personally significant. Dug Down Deep is my reveling in theology in my own simple way--not too polished, sometimes awkward, less than scholarly, hopefully gracious and faithful. Even thought these are deep truths, I don't pretend to be swimming in the deep end of the pool. I'm splashing in the shallow end. But if my splashing can inspire you to dive in, I will have succeeded.
In 1997, Joshua Harris broke into the scene with his book on dating, appropriately titled I Kissed Dating Goodbye.  I'd heard of it, but never had a desire to read it, nor anything else by this author.  As I saw it, he was one of those Christian authors that wrote on one and only one subject matter, and it just happened to be one I was uninterested in.  However, back in September I requested a copy of Harris' book on systematic theology called Dug Down Deep, primarily because of the book's style.  Harris chose to tackle the subjects through transparent memoirs (as opposed to exhaustive biblical analysis), and I thought his journey sounded interesting.

In some ways, this book could have been written by Donald Miller (author of Blue Like JazzSearching for God Knows What, and several other books), as the tone of the author was very reminiscent.  Harris begins Dug Down Deep with a thought-provoking question: what are you building your life on?  He then goes on to talk about Jesus' parable in Matthew 7, comparing the man who built his house on the sand with the man who built his house on the more solid foundation: rock.  Harris argues that building on the rock takes work, it takes some digging, but in the end, after the wind and the rain and the storms, the house remains standing.  He explains,
In the past I thought the point was simply that being a Christian is better than not being a Christian. And I suppose on a very rudimentary level, that is what it means. But I never thought about the specifics of what digging down to the rock represents.
This was the impetus for the book.  He grew up in the church and found himself lacking any biblical depth.  He was familiar with theology, doctrine, orthodoxy, and the like, but at the same time, they meant very little to him.  They were just old sounding words that old people used.  For the remainder of the Dug Down Deep, Harris opens up with humbling honesty, explaining how he came to understand certain elements of theology.  Some of the essays included are about the Father, the Son, the Spirit, the Word, sanctification, justification, the church, orthodoxy, and a few others.  And if you're anything like me, some of those words sound boring (i.e., orthodoxy), but Harris points out (reasonably) that they shouldn't, and he explains why.
Knowledge doesn't have to be dry and lifeless. And when you think about it, exactly what is our alternative? Ignorance? Falsehood? We're either building our lives on the reality of what God is truly like and what he's about, or we're basing our lives on our own imagination and misconceptions. We're all theologians. The question is whether what we know about God is true.
When I finished Dug Down Deep, I had several passages highlighted and underlined.  The chapter on sanctification is definitely worth the read, as I found it thoroughly fascinating and incredibly awe-inspiring.  Another recommended chapter is the last one, where Harris writes on humble orthodoxy, bringing home the point  of how crucial it is to remain humble in our lives.  This is something I think many of us should read and take to heart, as pride is ever so subtle and we must be on guard.  These are just two of the eleven chapters presented in the book, and all are well thought out and stimulating.

Dug Down Deep is a very accessible book.  It offers deep thoughts and unfathomable truths about God and His character, but Harris attempts to explain them as clearly as he can.  I think the book would be a great tool for new believers, but I think the impact would be even stronger with those who've walked with God for a while, especially the ones that have grown frustrated with their fellow believers or their own faith.  Really, the book is relative even to those outside of the fold, those that have questions about life's journey and the roads we travel on.  Overall, I really enjoyed Joshua Harris' Dug Down Deep.  Maybe it's where I'm at in life, but Dug Down Deep resonated with me.  I found it encouraging and refreshing, and I think it's a book that many people could read and  get something out of it.

FTC Thingy: This book was provided to me free of charge from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  I received no goods other than the ebook, and had I been offered any other goods (like, say, chocolate chip cookies) I would have been tempted to take the bribe.  Nevertheless, I wasn't offered, nor did I ask.  As such, the opinion expressed in this review is entirely my own and has in no way been affected by my lack of receiving free, home-baked chocolate goodies.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Being Santa

Saturday we did our Third Annual Nativity Project.  (See here for how it started.)  This year, we partnered with a local community center--the Neblett Center--that was much bigger than our previous venues.  In addition to its increased size, the Neblett Center was also in a prime location, as it's near the heart of the poorer side of town.

Like previous years, our Sunday School class has been collecting gently used clothes and toys throughout the year.  A week or two ago we all met up and sorted what we had, which subsequently filled a 10-ft. trailer to the max with some items left that wouldn't fit.  Over the next week, our class received several more donations, but we also were given some anonymous monetary donations, too, totaling over $1600.  So a second trailer was acquired (a 12-footer now) and again was filled to the brim with stuff left.  Everything that couldn't fit was loaded into vehicles, and on last Friday, all of it was brought to the Neblett Center.

The Neblett Center is a after-school type facility for children & babies to go while parents work.  It's not as big as an average elementary school, but it's still rather large, and our class was given the gym to setup in.  It turned out that there were several kids still there, and they all watched with wonder as we bustled many, many boxes & bags in.  Cheers of delight and excitement made the unloading process an absolute blessing.

Soon, all was unloaded, and then we began the daunting task of unpacking and organizing.  We spent the next several hours piling items on top of tables and bleachers, and when we left, the gym was transformed.  God provided so much for us this year to give that the previous years were as nothing compared to this.  If we liquidated all the goods, I'd estimate we gave away well over $5k worth of things.  Winter coats.  Jeans.  Shoes.  Toys.  Wrapping paper and gift boxes.  And clothes and clothes and clothes.

Saturday morning came early, and we arrived at 7:30.  A few small things were left to unpack and set out.  But my day was going to be different.  I wasn't going to get to be in the gym and help parents "shop" for their kids, for their families, and for themselves.  (Note: A staggering number of people selflessly shopped for others, especially young siblings.  They wanted to get gifts for their brother or sister, sometimes several, and not a thing for themselves.  Amazing.  Humbling.)  I wasn't going to help go through the piles of clothes and look for certain sizes.  No, my day was different.  I was going to be Santa Claus.
Santa and Avonlea
We had a room off to the side for the kids to play and color in while their parents shopped.  In the same room we set up a photo shoot for kids to get pictures with Santa.  I donned the suit, took a seat, and experienced the wonderful joy (and occasional sadness) of being the Fat Man.  Almost every child that entered got this glow on their face when they saw me.  Some where bashful.  Some were in awe.  A few were terrified.  One little girl ran up to me and jumped in my lap and put her arms around me and squeezed, saying "I'm so very happy to see you Santa Claus!"  I think my heart grew enormous there.  She kept sneaking peeks at me throughout the day, always smiling and blushing.  For some, the magic of Christmas still exists.  One boy, when asked what he wanted for Christmas, responded with "a belt."  That was it.  No toys or electronics or race cars.  No, he only wanted a belt.  Still, through everything, these kids got to see Santa and get a free picture taken with him.  Hopefully they'll cherish that; I know I will.

By eleven o'clock, a lot of the stuff was gone.  I had successfully sweated my last three hours away and Santa had left the building.  By noon, the doors were closed and still a lot remained.  We talked with the Neblett Center director and he said they'd like to keep all the stuff and bring it out again in a couple of days/weeks.  He knew several people that couldn't make it on Saturday, plus he'd go door-to-door in the neighborhood and invite folks.  He had a general idea of who the needy were.  We eagerly agreed.

Now it's over.  The event is exhausting and draining, but it's something so to behold.  We started this ministry three years ago just trying to make a difference in people's lives.  We wanted to show love to those in need and possibly provide Christmas to families that wouldn't have had one otherwise.  God has blessed our class and this mission tremendously in these three years, and I suspect we've grown more from it than any of the receivers of gifts.  We've already started planning next years, brainstorming on what worked and what didn't.  We're thinking of ways to raise funds to get even more.  God is a mighty God, and He delights in showing His love.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Slipstream of Consciousness

I am a child of Icarus, aflame and agog, dancing through streets alive with Marker Men.  They see me and point their skeletal fingers at me, bringing with their stares all the lights of heaven.  Rudy jumps up from behind me, bayonet in hand, and gives me a sad little smile. His eyes change right before me, once as brown as an acorn in the hands of a dead squirrel in the mud, and now... nothing.  There's no color but black, no reflection of light, only vacancy.

The Marker Men begin to swarm in on us and to my horror I see that Rudy is no longer Rudy but now one of them.  He's chanting in their crazy language of only neologisms, never using the same phraseology more than once.  Some call it newerspeak.  I call it insane.

But there's a tree sprouting up, reaching through the concrete, up through the first floor, through the ceiling, through the floor above, ending below my chair.  Thousands of tiny, winking LEDs blink in a somewhat familiar pattern.  Their combined illumination pulls me away, into the music of Van Morrison as he pulls me into the mystic.  "Beloved," says Toni Morrison, speaking in italics, bending my mind with her words.  "You will never win a Pulitzer."  And her teeth chomp down on me, breaking through my bones as sure as Stonehenge falling on me.

There's nothing, only the hum of the earth's natural harmonics, the rattle of one-hundred-thirty-thousand air conditioners, the chattering of a freezing child's baby teeth, the sploosh of blood coursing through seven-billion humans--all alive, somehow, but whether living or not is undecided--the sound of actually speaking the word onomatopoeia, wondering if it, too, grasps at straws or if it's just content at its almighty existence.

For it's onomatopoeia that reigns supreme when it comes to words. For all words, whether English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Chinese (Mandarin), Tagalog, Polish, Korean, Chinese (Cantonese), Vietnamese, Portuguese, Japanese, Greek, Arabic, Hindi (Urdu), Russian, Yiddish, Thai (Laotian), Persian, French Creole, Armenian, Navaho, Hungarian, Hebrew, Dutch, Mon-khmer (Cambodian), Gujarathi, Ukrainian, Czech, Pennsylvania Dutch, Miao (Mmong), Norwegian, Slovak, Swedish, Serbocroatian, Kru, Rumanian, Lithuanian, Finnish, Panjabi, Formosan ,Croatian, Turkish, Ilocano, Bengali, Danish, Syriac, Samoan, Malayalam, Cajun, Amharic, or any of the other hundreds and hundreds of languages, they're all really just onomatopoeia.  Right?

Tonight there is a party where we turn into sheets of paper and allow ourselves to experience the exhilarating life of flimsi.  Some of us will be crumpled into tiny balls and thrown across the room.  Some of us will be carefully folded and bent and made into glorious works of art.  Some of us will be poked and stabbed with ink pens and markers.  Some of us will be torn to shreds.  Party party party!  I hope there's Doritos there, but probably not.

Kittens mewl.  Cats meow.  Puppies yelp.  Dogs growl.  I may have a book review next week.  I think my brain fizzled out.  I need some sort of focus for weeks when I have nothing.  I've never really been a fan of memes and the like.  Maybe I'll just copy verbatim Dave's latest post and put it up here.  I'm usually of the opinion that if I don't have anything of value to say/write, then why even post it at all?  But then Cornelius Anton Scruzz (he insists that I only use his first name, but I insist otherwise. It's no trouble, Corn!), bless his soul, reminds me of one of Rememorandom's goals: journaling.  [Aside: Cornelius Anton Scruzz has returned!  Oh happy day.  But, alas, Claudio Montezuma has been amiss for many days now.  If you happen upon him, please send him my way.]  So on I go, sitting, waiting, wishing.  Are my eyes the color of Rudy's?

Was that?  I think it was.  By Jove, the Great Somnambulist and that time-traveling rogue Millard Filmore just flashed through my room.  I've got to go find them.  Some coffee, some tea, some Dew, and I'm set for the weekend.  Hope yours is as adventurous as mine's bound to be.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tiny Update

November ends today.  I've been so incredibly busy that I don't even know where to begin.

1.  I received another rejection letter for a short story.  They no longer sting as bad.
2.  I baked two derby pies, following this recipe.  First time I've ever made them, and they turned out great.
2b.  Bourbon may possibly replace rum whenever I find a reason to imbibe.
3.  Work work work work work.
4.  Christmas tree is up and decorated.  No outside lights yet.  May not be this year.
5.  The 4hr drive to Lambert's Cafe wasn't worth 4 hours.  Maybe 2, possibly 3 even, but not 4.  Not whenever you have a baby that doesn't like car rides.  The food, on the other hand, was delicious.
6.  My good friend Adam let me borrow the entire run of a Daredevil comic series, Volume 2, spanning over 130 issues between 1998 and 2009.  I only know the barest minimum about the Man without Fear, but he assures me that they're brilliant comics (though he said the ending was terrible).
7.  Skyrim progresses slowly but surely.  What a massive tale...
7b.  Not sure if I'm alone here or if this is normal, but a dragon totally landed inside the College of Winterhold, right in the quad, and the fight was pretty cool.  I also had a dragon fight with some mammoths nearby, and apparently the mammoths were peeved at the dragon, cause they took over and slew the dragon.
8.  Our annual class service project comes up this weekend.  Much to do.

I've much to say, and yet I'm blank.  Too scatterbrained at the moment.  All the best!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Voice NT, a Review

I'm not sure if you've noticed, but oftentimes, the bible can come across as stuffy.  Especially if you're reading an older translation.  Conversely, there are many translations that are paraphrases, and while these are beneficial at times, they are also problematic, too.  The Voice is unique in that it's a translation, not a paraphrase, and yet it reads similarly to a paraphrase.  Or, as the publishers would put it:
While care has been taken to accurately translate the individual words from the original texts, careful attention to how the idioms of the original languages are understood in English has also been taken. But it doesn't stop there; The Voice considers the narrative links that help us to understand the drama and passion of story that is present in the original languages. The tone of the writing, the format of the page, and the directness of the dialog allows the tradition of passing down the biblical narrative to come through in The Voice.
I took a liking to The Voice when I was reading Chris Seay's Gospel According to Jesus.  In that book, all of the quoted Scripture came from The Voice.  I'd never heard of the translation before, but I loved the way it sounded.  Now, as it turns out, Chris Seay is among the many contributors to the translation.  In short, the allure of The Voice is that it's a translation made from a diverse group of translators, as opposed to wizened scholars who spend all their time in academia.  In addition to scholars, translators include poets, musicians, story tellers, and other forms of art.  These individuals all seek to maintain the original feeling of the Word, and in my opinion, The Voice reflects this passion.

One interesting formatting choice particularly caught my eye with The Voice.  Whenever anyone speaks, the columns break like a script.  We're given something like "Peter: ......"  This works very well when you have a group people going around, back and forth.  Typically, from my experience, most translations don't necessarily follow the "One Speaker Per Paragraph" rule.

Another interesting gem with this bible is that there are numerous study notes interspersed throughout the text.  Some may be personal challenges, applications for life, or maybe just a clarification about something cultural that we may no understand.  Whatever the case, these supplemental notes make The Voice even more practical for reading.

Similarly, there are also many supplemental words added to the main text as well.  These words are indicated with italics and are added to help the Reader understand the events even better.  On one hand, most of these italics could be treated as parentheticals and skipping them would not generally affect understanding.  On the other hand, these italics are an integral part of what gives The Voice its identity.  Some traditionalists/purists may scoff at these additions, claiming that the translators are adding to the Word.  I don't think this is the case, but the possibility does exist.

Another thing I really liked was the word choice translators used for certain words.  One example is logos.  Typically, we read John 1 as "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."  While those behind The Voice appreciate this, they also feel like translating logos into Word doesn't quite grasp the full mmmph behind it.  Many in our culture are desensitized, and something was chosen more active than Word.  So we've got Voice.  Christos is another great example, especially when you consider that so many people think Jesus' last name was Christ.    

Currently, only the New Testament is available in this translation.  It's a cheap paperback you can pick up at your local bookstore if you're interested, or you could also order online.  Furthermore, if you're interested in sampling The Voice (and I think you should at least sample it), you can download a free chapter from the website (here).  The entire bible will be available next Spring, and hopefully I'll be able to get my hands on a review copy.  In the end, The Voice has not supplanted my beloved ESV, but it's definitely taken a spot within easy reach.  It was designed to be read aloud, and this is obvious and useful for when Keisha and I do any reading.  

FTC Thingy:  This book was provided for free by Thomas Nelson Publishers via Booksneeze in exchange for my honest-to-goodness review.  No moneys were traded.  No stocks.  No socks.  No rocks.  No gym memberships.  And despite my constant pleas for accompanying cookies--oatmeal with raisins sounds good right about now--I've yet to receive any.  One of these days...

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Photo-Story of Travel

See Daddy, Mommy, and Baby.
They dress funny on Halloween.

There's Mommy and Baby who always seem to match...

And then there's sweet Daddy who makes your eyes need a scratch.

Baby is so happy; Baby is so swell...
Just look at her hair, growing so well!

The Family traveled to the Orchard of Great Apples.

And the Family tripped to the Pumpkin Patch in the Fall.

The Family watched Clint play football with tackles!

Daddy took Mommy to the Place of Engagement--a bench in a mall.

Travel makes Baby sleepy.

Listy Things

1.  Oh Shenandoah!  I am your daughter.  Prior to that, the prior pontificated the perfect diatribe against mean Mr. Mustard.

2.  Having recently experienced funerals, this story about a funeral mishap had me rolling.  Quite funny, quite short, and well worth the read.

3.  Vacation creeps in on little cat's feet in just three more days.  Not many plans but Skyrim, family, and a day-trip out to Missouri to eat at Lambert's.  We've ne'er been there, but hear wonderful things.

4.  Radiohead has a song called "Creep."  According to my latest tweet, I "snagged some #Radiohead tix for the St. Louis show on 3/9/12. Color me ecstatic."  I can't express how excited I am, as a Radiohead concert is one of my "dream concerts."

5.  The previous point contained three sets of quote marks / double apostrophes.

6.  An apostrophe is also a figure of speech that's best explained by referring to Point 1 (particularly the first six words) on this list.

7.  I'm entertaining the idea of next year reading only books on my TBR and/or books I own and/or can get from the library.  The only exception would be something drastic.  I shall think on this more, and if I decide to do so, I should add some more books to my TBR 'ere December's end.

8.  Christmas tree and decorations are going up ever-so-soon.  I can't wait to see Avonlea's eyes soaking it all in.

9.  I think I've mentioned it before, but not certain, but just to be clear, I completely deleted my Facebook account a few weeks/months ago.  Tired of it and the mostly useless newsfeed, I now use G+ and, on the rare occasion, Twitter.

10.  Realized last night that we've taken well over a thousand pictures of Avonlea since her birth.  Wow.

11.  Why does looking at pictures of food make you hungry?  Wouldn't it be great that if looking at the bible we had the same feeling?  I love reading the bible and thinking about its truths and having my mind exploded by God.  More and more I realize how little we are, how tiny, how insignificant, and yet God still loves us and gives us significance.  God, you are amazingly, indescribably, unfathomable, and I am so glad you are.

12.  See what I did there?  That's another example (cf. Points 6, 1).

13.  I'm simultaneously reading a lot of different books at the moment.  I am a multiple-book-reader-a-time, but this may be my record.

Monday, November 14, 2011

First Impressions: Skyrim

[Warning: This could possibly be the nerdiest post I've ever written.]

Oh, but how beautiful it is!  The ragged peaks, the deep valleys, the shimmering falls.  Everywhere you look in Skyrim you see the beauty of nature.  But wait, is that a dragon?  Oh lordy lordy.

So I wasn't planning on buying the fifth installment in the Elder Scrolls series, Skyrim, which released last Friday.  Instead, and smartly, I went to the Redbox and actually rented the game.  Whet my appetite, enjoy a weekend with my little brother-in-law immersed in a new game.  Little did I know that the masters from Bethesda Studios were so devious.

My history with RPGs goes back to when I was a wee lad first discovering FFVII, which led to an unhealthy habit of staying up very late and saving/destroying imaginary worlds.  This habit thrived throughout adolescence and the teenage years, and I spent a lot of time with them.  Then came college and adulthood, where I (mostly) learned to relegate my time and act responsibly.  Sure, I might have blown off a class or four whenever KotoR II came out, and Fable held me spellbound for way too many hours, but by and large, I was getting out of my RPG phase.  My tastes were changing to something more active, less expansive, less turn-based.

The shift in preferences came with Fallout 3, a game my best friend purchased.  I loved the open-world, non-linear style it offered, and behold, a new obsession was found.  But it could last only so long, and soon college days ended and we moved several hundred miles apart.  And a year or two passed without me playing much of antying.  I bought FFXII, but only spent an hour or so with it.  And all was well.  Then along came a game called Oblivion, from the same company that made Fallout, and again my preferences were tingled.

I put a lot of hours into Oblivion.  It was humongous, but it had its flaws.  Fastforward to Fallout: New Vegas, which was/is definitely fun and immersive, but not as much as its predecessor.   Fastforward another year, 11/11/11, and Skyrim is released.  I'd read the buzz.  Followed the videos.  It looked great, but I didn't have the ummph to spend $60 on a new game, plus the time I knew I'd spend in it.  So I rented it and kept it for two days.  And in those days, escapism reigned, heroics flared, and Keisha tells me that I was smiling like a little kid.

I made myself a Wood Elf, complete with pointed ears, a thin nose, a dirty face, deep eye shadows, one dead eye, and oily, black hair.  Named him Clögan Darkhair (original, I know, but Clint+Logan can only yield so much). I've a fondness for Sneak, Stealth, Theft, and the general skullduggery of a petty criminal when it comes to these games, yet I don't (rarely) kill innocent civilians. Still, the dark look suited us, and we were off.
The opening scene was wonderful, and I loved how you get the vantage point from the headblock after watching a fellow criminal get beheaded. I've been mesmerized by the enormous size of the world, made even more so by the 3d elements of mountains and caves. It's definitely the biggest game I've played, and likely the most beautiful video game world ever created. I've already done several side quests and feel like I've not even put a toe in the water yet. The game is much less glitchier than New Vegas (one of its major weaknesses), and so far I've only had one instance of freezing. The giants are intimidating, and I've foolishly fought and died many times over because of them. (Anyone (Dave, I'm guessing, is the only one down here) actually killed one yet?) Trolls are somewhat of a challenge, too, but I've got a slash-block-flee combo down that proves mostly effective.

In short, Skyrim seems to take Oblivion and put it to shame, and pretty much treats almost every other game similarly.  I've never been more impressed by a game in all my years, and that's saying something.

I took Skyrim back to the Redbox yesterday. While at Walmart, I purchased a copy of the game for myself. I'm on vacation next week, so I'm hoping to get some time there, but Real World still takes priority. I have a lovely and wonderful wife that supported my decision in buying the game (Thanks!), and a beautiful daughter that still gets all my love. Still, Skyrim won't save itself.

Anyone else get this game yet?

Thursday, November 10, 2011


Monday brought with it heat and sun, despite it being November.  Inside the funeral home it was simultaneously cold and hot.  Family arrived an hour early.  The parlor was opened and we were led inside.  The body was in a casket at the front, clothed in simple, every day clothes.  A thermal John Deere shirt.  Jeans.  A bandanna around the head.  He looked good, and it was the first time I'd seen him since February.

The feeling of nothingness pressed on.  I stood at the coffin and stared absently.  Throughout the evening, many friends and family members showed up to offer condolences.  For once, I was the recipient of awkward conversation and empty words.  My life was instantly in dichotomy.  One part of me was engaging in normal conversation with familiar people; the other part of me was slightly aggravated/annoyed.  Still, I'm thankful for all the people that showed up.

A funeral is rarely pleasant, and this one was about as pleasant as a dentist's trip, just worse.  I feel for ministers.  Having to stand in front of a grieving family and others and make a eulogy has got to be hard, especially for people who die without knowing the Lord.  For I believe with all of my heart that if someone does not have Jesus as their Savior then they are doomed to eternal hell.  I have no idea the condition of my dad's heart before he died, nor can I begin to fathom how longsuffering God is.  I do know that he was saved at a young age, but he lived a life of drugs and rebellion.  What does that mean?  I have no idea.  The only comfort here is that I know that I am saved through Jesus' sacrifice and that I won't have to spend eternity apart from Him.

A dead body is cold.  It's something any lover of fiction knows.  I've been to many, many funerals, but never once have I touched a corpse (at least not to my knowledge).  I hadn't planned on touching this one, either, and I resisted the urge until the final time I saw him.  We all stood around the coffin, people crying and sobbing.  My typical stoic demeanor dissolved at some point.  Compelled beyond reason, I patted his crossed hands.  Bone beneath loose skin.  Dead muscle.  And cold.  Unnatural.

We all exited and waited in our vehicles until the coffin was loaded into the hearse.  The cemetery was a few miles away.  It was sunny and windy.  A few final words were spoken and that was that.  People scattered, and a few of us went back to Nana's house to eat and be together.  While there, I leafed through a dozen photo albums and pulled out baby/kid pictures of me and Jake.  I have seen very few pictures of our childhood, as most of them burned up when our house burned down, so this find was wonderful.

Now it's Thursday.  I'm back to work again.  It's good to be back to routine, but I'm exhausted.  It's been a taxing few days, and I suspect I'll be tired for a few more before I balance out.  I've got in a little reading time of late, but nothing substantial.  I've also edited a flash fic piece and submitted it to an online 'zine.  And I discovered a 4 volume, 8 cd set of great music at the library called the Anthology of American Folk Music, compiled by acclaimed folklorist Harry Smith.

I'm amazed at everyone's support.  For the most part, I don't know any of you.  Still, it's indescribable how loving and supportive the blogosphere is, and I thank every single one of you for the kind words/thoughts/prayers sent my way.  Seriously.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

My Dad is Dead

My Dad is dead.  His body is laying in the basement of the local funeral home, going through the process of embalming and preparation for burial.  Tomorrow, an 8'x3' hole will be dug in a tiny cemetery atop a tiny hill to bury a 6'-5" man.  Well, he won't be buried until Tuesday, but I'm guessing the hole will be dug early.  That was  my responsibility.  Going to the cemetery with the graveyard keeper, marking the plot, staking the ground.

I'm not sure how I feel.  My relationship with my dad was pretty much nonexistent, and has been this way for the last few years.  In the greater scope, it's been this way for most of my life.  He and my mom divorced when I was but a babe.  So I grew up without my "real dad" an active part in my life.  We--my brother (Jake) and I--would go over nana's and see that side of my family every few weeks, but most of those memories are vague and blurry at best.  I distinctly remember being disappointed in his usual absence whenever we were out nana's, but I also distinctly remember his usual presence whenever we were out there, too.  He would go around singing or humming, hilarious, fun.  Making sweet tea.  Playing chess.  Reading comics.  These things, these positives, I have clearly inherited from him.  I sing/hum almost constantly.  I'm told that I'm a rather funny person.  I (used to) make sweet tea (until my taste buds switched to preferring non-sweet).

But by and by, for most of my life, I've thought of my dad as a man who squandered what he had for drugs and alcohol.  That was why mom and him divorced.  I can remember him being buzzed, eyes glazed over, lethargic.  He sometimes looked skeletal.  These aren't things I like thinking about, nor do I necessarily like revealing them to the Internets, but they're truths that are responsible for me being the man I am today.  From early on I resolved to be a better man than my dad, and now that I have a baby of my own, this ideal has been practiced for five-months strong.

I always intended to see him more.  More than just Christmas and Thanksgiving and the occasional summer time, but I never got around to it.  I could have called or visited, but I suppose that door swings both ways.  Still, it is what it is.  I was trying to think of the last time I saw him, which I guess was back in February, when we got together for Christmas at nana's.  I don't remember anything special sticking out.  Avonlea wasn't born yet.  And that's another thing that's sad.  He never met Avonlea.  Ciara (my sister) showed him pictures of her on Facebook, and he loved looking at them, but in flesh & blood, the two never met.

It was odd, going out there.  I got the call last night about 10pm.  Nana was somewhere a few hours away, on her way home, asking me if I would go out to his house and wait with Ciara until she got in.  I changed clothes and hurried down there, making the forty-minute trip in less than forty-minutes.  There were two cops there when I pulled up, a white van belonging to the funeral home, a neighbor across the street, and my sister and two twin uncles.  I hurried over and got in talking up the last few details with the funeral director.  (Did we want him smooth-shaved?  What time did we prefer to meet and go over the arrangements?)  And we stood around in a huddle in the cold wind, dark night, confused, silent.  Ciara said the cops wouldn't let her touch him.

Soon, the two funeral directors brought out the body.  It was on a stretcher, covered with a brown, squared, simple quilt.  I never saw his face, and I still haven't.  I watched them roll him to the van and put him in.  The cops came up and told us to lock up the place.  Everyone left and we went in.

It was the first time I'd ever been there.  A simple, old, dirty single-wide trailer.  Aluminum foil in the windows for insulation.  A weathered-but-comfortable couch.  It was definitely the home of a bachelor.  Pill bottles lay around, mostly empty.  I gathered that more than a few people had been trying to get him to quit. I soaked it in, still feeling blank inside, headache pounding away.  What am I supposed to think?  How am I supposed to be feeling?  There is no norm.  Every situation is unique here.

Now, after a day of dealing with cemeteries, morticians, and family, everything is slowly settling in.  Even so, I'm still confused, still uncertain.  That's why this post exists.  Writing, and blogging by extension, is the simplest way for me to put my thoughts to focus.  It's personal, yes, but I'm an honest individual that believes transparency is healthy and good.  And when you've stood in a room full of coffins, filled from wall to wall, all different but all similar, your thoughts are bound to be scrambled.  It's late.  I'm tired.  There's still lots to do.  Lots I don't know about.  I do know that my dad loved me, and I think he knew that I loved him.  I know that it hurts knowing that I didn't put forth more of an effort, and that's something I have to live with.  I'm still working on me and this, and I'm sure I will be doing so for a while.  Everybody has daddy issues, and they're influential in personal development.  It's pure coincidence that I started a book last week on becoming a better father/husband and that my mind has been thinking about my dad more than normal these last few days.  I was excited that Thanksgiving was coming up because he was finally going to get to see his only granddaughter.  Not anymore.

I loved my dad, even though I was an absent son, even though he was an absent father.  And now the potential for change and for a relationship is gone.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Flash Fiction Friday: Frost - A Myth

(This one doesn't quite fit the Flash Fic definition, but it's close enough.  Enjoy.)

     “It’s called hoarfrost,” Gwyneth said, scraping at the flakes between her lithe fingers. Fragile as cobweb, the clumped glob turned into powder at her touch, flitting through the garden air into oblivion. 
     “Whore’s frost? Is their ma’am a nightlady or summin?” 
     Gwyneth rolled her eyes. “Hoar. H-O-A-R. It means old, grey, white. The oldfolk thought the stuff looked like an old hag’s hair.”
     Beatrice scratched at her moustachio, trying to look like she was in deep thought. If Gwyneth knew her twin--and she most certainly did--then she knew the girl wasn’t burning any brain cells. She was very likely thinking on roast pig and jammed tarts and spiced beers and boiled potatoes and most definitely not etymology. But like a good sister, Gwyneth suspended her disbelief for the sake of love. Just like she did about the girl’s unfortunate lip hair.
     “Ah,” said Beatrice, smiling wide. “Cause she’s got the dandyruff. Makes sense.”
     “Yes, sweet one, it’s the dandruff.” A wicked thought began pounding in her head, and before she knew it, Gwyneth was spilling lies. “Frost hasn’t always been white, Beat. You know that? No? Used to, back in 1603, I believe, frost was a brilliant gold color. Every morning men and women would wake up to a light dusting of gold, just lovely in the sunrise, and it was warm to the touch. But one day, Sir Edward Florent of Flora and his squire Peeping Joe from Boston went out and changed everything.”
     “You’re lying.”
     “Am not. GOD’S HONEST TRUTH IN ALL CAPS AM NOT. If I’m lying then He can just backspace and erase me out of existence and right off this page.”
     Beatrice wrinkled her brow so heavily that Gwyneth thought the poor girl was turning into an ogre. Her eyes crossed and Gwyneth had to fight every urge in her body to resist slapping her simple sister. Not everyone understands meta, Father had said one night after a rousing game of lawn croquet. They were in the den, sipping on cognac and eggnog, enjoying stimulating conversation and dabbling in the meanings of it all. Beatrice had tried to keep up, but as always, her sister was ever so slow and Gwyneth had soon lost her patience. It was then that Father requested her out in the vestibule for a private conversation.
     “Go on, then,” Beatrice said, enchanted. They sat on their favorite bench, its wrought-iron sides twisting and spiraling in no discernible pattern. It was one of the few things that they shared an interest in. Gwyneth fingered the tiny gargoyles perched on the armrests, collecting her thoughts. 
     “Okay, but only because you’re my sister. So, Sir Edward and Peeping Joe set out on a grand quest to find a mystical fount, the Font of Cheese or somesuch name, not really sure. Anyway, this fount was supposed to give all who drank from it a boon of unimaginable proportions. Many had quested for the Font, but none had ever found it.
     “They traveled long months, over hill and under water, through cave and desert, until finally they happened upon an oracle. This oracle pointed them in the direction of the Font but sternly warned them not to ask for a boon, but only drink from its waters. They promised, but their fingers were crossed, so it didn’t really count, but the oracle didn’t know this, so she let them go. Then, two hours later, they found it. The Font of Cheese.
     “It was massive. A hundred times larger than Fathers fondue, sweet, golden water flowed everywhere. And there at its mouth stood the hag. Bent with age, fattened from cheese, and uglier than the toadfaced boy, the hag scowled a one-toothed grin at the riders. ‘What brings ye here,’ she asked.
     “‘We’ve come for the Font,’ said Sir Edward. The hag nodded. Why else would they’ve come? She knew what they were after, but for traditions sake, she had to make sure they were telling the truth. Honesty and all that. 
     “‘Aye, and you’ve found it, but stay the night first and in the morn I shall take thee to it.’ So they agreed, both being wearied from the road. And that night the hag--”
     “Aha!” Beatrice interrupted. “So she is a nightlady then!”
     Gwyneth gave her twin a thump on the thigh. “I’ve already told you no. No, she’s a hag, and an ugly one at that. She was a lady of ill repute, so to speak, just not like that.”
     Beatrice winked at some imaginary joke. “Okay, Gwyn. Okay.”
     Gwyneth sighed. “Don’t call me that. My name’s Gwyneth, not Gwyn. Do you want me to finish this story or not? I can just stop there if you’d rather.”
     “No, no, go on. Sorry.”
     “Good.” Gwyneth coughed. “Anyway, that night, while the two men slept, the hag wove a spell over them, and when they awoke their vision was changed. Instead of seeing the old woman, a beautiful and nubile maiden stood before them. ‘Erm, who’re you?’ asked Peeping Joe, stretching out the ache from his joints.”
     “‘I’m Ilia, sir, guardian of the Font of Cheese.’
     “‘What about the other woman?’ inquired Sir Edward, donning his cloak.
     “‘Other woman, sir? There’s just me.’
     “The two knights looked at one another and then exploded in laughter. ‘Aye, sure,’ said Peeping Joe. ‘Now you’re a wagonload better than that old ugly hag that met us here last night, I say. Wonder where she got off to?’
     “The maiden shrugged. ‘Would you care for some breakfast?’ The two men were in a hurry to get to the fount, and Sir Edward thanked her kindly, but refused.
     “‘Our breakfast will be from the flow of the Font, if you don’t mind.’ said Sir Edward.
     “And so Ilia led the two men up a winding trail and to the outflow. All the while, Peeping Joe continued to ridicule the hag from the previous night, claiming he’d suffered a night terror on her account. To his credit, Sir Edward remained silent. At the banks, Ilia moved off to the side and rummaged around through an Amish cedar chest that just so happened to be there. Finally, she withdrew two ceramic mugs. On one, the mighty house seal of Flora was emblazoned, a one legged chicken atop the shoulders of an angry werebear; on the other, as proud as its partner, was a single birthday candle painted in pinks and baby blues. Silently, Ilia gave each their respected cup and motioned for them to dip and drink their fill.
     “The two men knelt and dipped. The golden water filled the mugs, and each man quaffed the liquid. All at once, the veil lifted from Sir Edward’s eyes and he saw the hag for who she really was. Peeping Joe, though, remained under her spell, for his rudeness in the morning had irked the witch. ‘And now you each have a boon,’ said the hag. 
     “‘Mine’s simple, m’lady,’ said Peeping Joe. ‘I’d ask to remain here with you for all eternity. Your radiance is as glorious as the sun, if I may be so bold, and I’d be content just to remain here and to hold.’
     “Sir Edward glared at his squire, troubled by the man’s sudden rhapsody of poetry. Poetry was nothing to trifle with, Sir Edward thought, though he did not correct his squire. Ilia nodded, smiling that horrible one-toothed grin. ‘And you?’ she asked, turning to Sir Edward.
     “‘I’ll have your head, witch!’ And in a flash his sword was in his hand, steel glinting like fire in the golden light of the water. Peeping Joe bellowed a Noooo! The ceramic cups shattered on the cobbles. Ilia cocked her head and snickered. Sir Edward flew through the air, slashing wide, tearing through the hag’s aged neck. Off rolled her head, grin still on the face.
     “Peeping Joe stopped, suddenly confused, for the witches spell ended as her lifeblood spilled out. Water bubbled and churned, and in the quiet morning a faint whisper fell from the bodiless head.”
     Gwyneth stopped. She could almost hear Beatrice’s heart pounding. She licked her lips, suddenly regretting her lack of foresight. In the wintry air, her lips would be chapped for certain. After a respectable moment, Gwyneth continued.
     “‘Accursed. A cursssse. A cursssssseee.’ And then she died. Immediately, the Font of Cheese lost its radiance, and the head again transformed, only now to that of an even more beautiful maiden than before. Filled with remorse, Sir Edward turned to his heartbroken squire.
     “‘You must go and tell the world this tale, Peeping Joe. The consequences of my actions will be most severe.’”
     “‘And what about you?’ asked the squire.”
     “Sir Edward held out his soiled longsword, staring at the black blood on the blade. ‘Me? I shall bear my burden until I die. The Font is mine, and I must guard it. Now go.’
     “And so squire Peeping Joe of Boston fled from the Font. The waters were white and silver now, their gold color long gone. He rode all day and night, stopping only when he couldn’t keep his eyes open any longer. And when he awoke the next morning, the frost was white.”
     The two girls sat in silence for a second. Gwyneth smiled at her fancy. Beatrice was frowning, rubbing at her moustachio again. “Who was the nightlady?”
     “Ah, see, Beat, now hers is a tragedy. She was once the fairest maiden in all the world, but a small-minded and heavy-handed stepfather put a curse on her, changing her from ideal to hideous. She ran away from home and lived alone all her years. Eventually she learned she, too, could do magicks, but by then she’d forgotten what her true face looked like.”
     The Ten O’Clock Gong reverberated above, deep and sonorous. Beatrice shot up like she’d been struck by lightning. “Brunch, sister! I wonder if we’ll have poached eggs and marmalade pecans?”
     “I don’t--” but Beatrice was already zooming down the hedgerow, moving as fast as her pudgy legs would carry her. Gwyneth yawned, rolled her eyes, and took off in pursuit.

An attempt at humor, plus a fun myth for your weekend.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

there's a monster in my belly, a poem

there's a monster in my belly,
it's colored black and brown.
and every time i'm up about
i think it goes to town.

its claws are sharp and hairy,
they scratch around inside.
poke! screech. twang! snip.
they shear away my pride.

its eyes are always open,
like mine, they're green and blue.
they soak up their surroundings,
and take especial note of you.

its teeth are razor blades and thorns,
made for chomping right through stone.
i've been bitten a time or twelve,
though it's never hit a bone.

from time to time it travels,
but never far it goes,
just up the spine to my brain
or slithers way down to my toes.

i wish, i wish, i wish times three,
that this monster'd leave and let me be,
that it'd sneak off to a closet or under a bed,
and let me sleep and rest my head.


My stomach hurts.  Chronically.  Keisha fell and hurt her neck a few days ago; she's been hardly able to turn her head.  She chiropractered it up yesterday, and is going back again today.  Hopefully she gets well soon.

Halloween was a success.  Avonlea was most beautiful, I must say.  She went as an artist.  She even painted her own pieces, though she was no fan of dipping her hands or feet in the paints.  Still, Mommy & Daddy insisted.  We then framed each of the pieces on some colored poster boards.  Then we took a black drape and taped up all the artwork.  We created a sign that said "Museum de Avonlea."  Keisha dressed up as a museum curator.  I dressed up as an avant-garde art critic.  I splatter painted a onesie and Avonlea wore it, black pants, a beret, and a penciled moustache.   She was quite adorable, though she was not a fan of the 'stache being drawn on.  All in all, Halloween was a success.

Happy Movember to all participants, as well as NoShave participants.  And super happy NaNoWriMo to those brave souls.  Perhaps next year I'll jump aboard again.  We'll see.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Dream Lover, a Review

One of the best things about blogging is the community.  From my experience, most of the bloggers I've "met" are all friendly, professional, and bloody brilliant.  It seems that everyone is erudite and capable.  It's fun vicariously exploring different talents through the blogs of others, whether it's as a stay-at-home mom or an emigrant living in a haunted house somewhere in Scotland.  You get all kinds of differences, and that's half of the beauty of the blogosphere.  

In particular, I've mentioned fellow blogger Mattson Tomlin a time or two here on Rememorandom.  The lad (I can say that, as he's four years my junior) attends SUNY Purchase for Film (according to his IMDB page), where he's finishing up his junior or senior year, I can't recall which.  Anyway, I've been following Mattson for a few years now, and watching his films and ideas develop on his blog has been a real treat.  His posts often seem like "behind the scene" special features on DVDs, and when you watch this stuff prior to watching a film, it gives one a completely different feeling.

Mattson used a Kickstarter project to fund the short film called Dream Lover.  I kicked a buck, willing to support someone else's dreams, and then followed the many status updates Mattson posted intermittently.  Then, to my surprise, I received an email yesterday telling me that Dream Lover was up and available to watch.  So last night I lounged on the chaise, turned off the lights, put in earphones, and let the movie take me away.

To attempt to describe what Dream Lover is would be, in essence, like asking you to describe your dreams.  While that may sound simple enough, then throw in the challenge of not only describing, but also conveying your thoughts and feelings during your dreams.  Explain the why, the how.  Heck, sometimes even the who and where is beyond words.  This is a glimpse of Tomlin's 16-minute short, and I feel like the director/writer has done well in capturing a dream.  It's ethereal.  It's bizarre.  It's ever-changing.  There's horror, sex, death, and many other commonalities of Dream.  Scenes are quick and fluid, and transitioning between them is handled with grace and feels natural.

All of that still does not describe what the film is about.  And here's the dilemma.  Like with anything worth value, there will be different interpretations, and Tomlin's Dream Lover is no different.  People are definitely going to react differently, to get different things out of it.  One may feel pity for Anderson, the lead actor (and played by the dapper Adam Griffith) who has either moved on in a relationship or not, while someone else may find him skeevy and calloused.  Then there's the spurned-and-devilish Selene (played by Maria Rowene), the other main POV.  Her development is as beautiful as it is frightening.  And the third main player is Hera (Jenna D'Angelo), though she's more of a secondary character.  Throw in the actual Greek myth of Selene and Endymion, and the film can take on a whole different meaning.  

The sound effects of Dream Lover are perfect.  They've definitely been loved on and tailored to each scene.  The camera shots are all very-well done (I particularly liked the wide-angle shot of Young Anderson hiding under the bench), and even the sex scene was done with skill.  The accompanying score at the end provided a haunting tune to close out the credits*, wrapping up a stirring little movie.

So the real question is what's to do now?  I could talk about my thoughts, my feelings, but I also don't want to cross into spoilery.  So instead I'll strongly recommend that you go to the Dream Lover site (here) and watch the film.  It's 16-minutes long, nothing too taxing.  It's free, too.  (If it asks for a password, use "sweetdreams."  And don't worry.  Mattson wants as many people to watch it as possible; it's password-protected because of film festivals or something.)  Furthermore, if you like it, be sure and let Mattson know, as well as any other people you'd care to share it with.  Dream Lover is a great exploratory film about dreams, love, loss, and many other things, and you'd be sore pressed to miss it.  It's also a perfect conclusion to this year's RIP, as horror is definitely present (a la monsters and confusion).

I believe in Mattson Tomlin.  I've watched everything he's made available, except for Pit.A.Pat, whatever that is, and I see him going places.  His vision is great.  His skills are tremendous.  His passion is obvious.  So here's to you, Mr. Tomlin.  Great work on Dream Lover.  Now, I can't wait to get to the feature film of Solomon Grundy...

*Yep, my name is in the credits.  I'm assuming its the Kickstarter donors list.