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Monthly Archives: November 2013

Wednesday Fiction: An Origin Story (Part 2)

Writing 150(This is the continuing story of Bryan Boyd, a rabbit and college student who tends to bite off more than he can chew. Told in epistolary format, in the form of a writing journal. He has dreams of being a creative non-fiction writer, you see.

Part 1 can be found here.)

October 28th

Where do I begin with the last few days? I’m sitting in a hospital bed with my left arm in a cast; the doctor says it’ll be a few weeks before it’s able to come off, but it feels just fine. No pain, even when I tense and flex it. It’s itchy as hell though, and it makes writing a pain. But I’ve got to get this down. Just raw notes for now, I’ll figure out how to dress it up as a story later. It’s good to know I have something on the backburner for my Creative Non-Fiction class.

Getting from the campus to the tapas place through public transportation was an exercise in frustration, but there was no other way to do it. I don’t have a car, and Marissa was leaving right from work to go to the restaurant, so she couldn’t pick me up. Besides, I’d feel just a little lame having my girlfriend pick me up for our anniversary dinner.

Anyway, I took the bus from campus to the the old Industrial Terminal, and from there I took the subway down to Powell Market. Fun fact about downtown Port City: back when the subway was created, Powell Market was all shiny and new, the big destination for everybody. In the decades since then, everything’s shifted closer to the harbor. So now Powell Market shutters down at 5 PM and is virtually abandoned. The streets are literally lit by the glow of the new Harbor Complex because most of the street lights are broken.

You can see where I’m going with this, can’t you? After dark you don’t want to be on Powell St., but that’s the only subway stop downtown. The harbor is serviced by the new light rail, which goes to all the places that the city has gentrified. It’s basically the subway for yuppies.

There were already shady looking people waiting outside the entrance to the subway; it’s one of those that spills out into the street with a long, steep climb of stairs so you have no idea what’s waiting for you up top. I imagine they just wait there for stragglers or easy pickings, ready to strike as soon as you appear.

I saw the alligator in the leather jacket when I walked out, and I thought it was really odd for him to be out in the cold and dark. But I didn’t think anything else of it; I was all excited to get to Marissa and talk to her about the douche’s sunglasses. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw some other guy — maybe a wolf, or a panther — coming out of an alley across the street. Again, didn’t think much of it. I was in a small pack of people making their way down to the intersection. I was taller than most of them, but I blended in. As far as I could tell, I wasn’t giving off any vibes that said “Please rob me.”

“Hey!” I heard a voice towards my left. I looked and stopped, just long enough that the small crowd of people moved on without me. There was someone short and squat in the alley, smoking a cigarette. Might have been a badger, I wasn’t sure. Someone slammed into me from behind and hurtled me into the alley. The squat guy grabbed my coat and pulled me in. They were laughing; I could hear a scream from behind me, but I didn’t know what that was about.

Squat said “Empty your pockets.”

I said, “What?” Just like that, there was this flash and two impacts — a fist slammed into my face, my face slammed into the wall. It rung my bell pretty good. It took me a few seconds for the world to straighten out.

“I said empty your pockets, you prick.” Squat didn’t wait for me to comply before he started pawing at my jacket. Whoever was behind me pulled my jacket down to tie up my arms, then started rifling through my pants pockets.

At this point, I knew I was being robbed. I held my hands up, palms flat. “Just take what you want.”

This time I was cuffed from behind. “Shut up!” From the lingering growl (and the scent), I knew I was dealing with the panther I saw across the street. How’d he get here so fast?

“Sorry.” I heard myself say. I’m not ashamed to admit that I was fucking terrified at this point. I’m in a dark alley, surrounded by at least two predators who aren’t afraid of a little violence. Looking back on it, it wasn’t that they were hitting me — it was that they were doing so as their first response to everything. Most of the time — and I’m guessing because I’ve never been robbed before — muggers use the threat of violence to get what they want. If there’s resistance, they escalate. These guys just started laying in; if they escalated from there, it really wasn’t going to be pretty.

They took my wallet, my phone, my keys and candy. They took the case for the sunglasses. Squat opened it up and his face took on this weird green glow. Yup, badger. Black stripes covering his eyes, right down to the pointed muzzle. I’ll remember that smell for the rest of my life.

There weren’t sunglasses in the case; there was some sort of vial. It glowed green in the dark, like it was bioluminescent. It was some straight-up sci-fi shit. The badger looked surprised, then he looked angry for Frith knows what reason.

“What the fuck is this?” He said it, I thought it. I just shook my head. He slapped me.

“I said–”

“I don’t know!” I could hear my voice; it was high and hoarse. Just thinking about it makes my heart race.

He hit me again, then took out the vial. “You mean you have some little glowing vial and you have no idea what it is?” He shoved it in front of my nose. It felt warm.

“Let’s just go, man.” Another voice, not the panther’s this time. There were three people in the alley with me, then. “We got his shit.”

“Shut up!” Squat hissed at the guy behind me. He looked up at me, grabbed the vial in one of those mitts and smashed it against my face. “I don’t like–”

I didn’t hear anything after that. The vial broke, and whatever was inside soaked into my fur. It burned my skin. I could feel broken glass cutting into me dangerously close to my eye, and whatever was inside was burning my blood. I squeezed my eyes shut. Something took over.

It felt like I was trying to jump, or fly, and something was holding me down. I couldn’t get my arms free. There was a roar in my ears. My feet were off the ground, flailing. I kept smacking against something solid, but I have no idea if it was the walls or the badger in front of me or what. I just kept jumping and kicking. I remembered thinking, If I don’t get out of here, I am going to die.

Then a brick hit my stomach. I doubled over, and remembered how much I liked breathing. I kept trying to suck in air, but it felt like my body had been dented, like a soda can, and I couldn’t pop it out again. Another blow on my back, and I fell to my knees. I had just enough time to think about Marissa, all dressed up and waiting for me. Then there was a kick to the head, and that’s all I remember.

I woke up in the hospital with no idea how I got there. That was the 26th; I called Mom and Dad, called Marissa, and I was told that all of my professors had been notified. The doctors tell me I had a broken arm, three bruised ribs and a broken muzzle when I came in. I should be in a world of pain right now, but I feel fine. Either the pain meds are doing more than their job or….I’m better. But you can’t just heal from shit like that in three days, right?

I guess I’d better wrap this up now. The cops are coming to take my statement in a little bit, and then Mom and Dad are coming down from Oakley. It’ll be Marissa’s first time meeting them. That’ll be fun.

 
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Posted by on November 27, 2013 in Furries, Writing

 

The AFI Top 100 Films: Some Like It Hot (#14)

Entertainment 150Some Like It Hot (1959)
Starring Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe
Written by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond
Directed by Billy Wilder

I was immediately intrigued by this movie once I discovered it was co-written and directed by Billy Wilder, the gentleman responsible for the superb The Apartment. I was expecting another movie like it, a comedy that dealt with unexpected subject matter in a deftly-handled way. Some Like It Hot wasn’t quite like that, but it was still a really enjoyable farce that manages to surprise us every now and then.

Two musician friends, Joe (Curtis) and Jerry (Lemmon) are down on their luck. To make matters that much worse, they accidentally witness the Valentine’s Day Massacre while making a quick delivery for a friend. The quickest way to get out of town is through a traveling all-women’s band, so they disguise themselves as girls and sign up at the last minute as Josephine and Daphne, respectively. They’re surprised by the treatment of the women on the train going to Miami, but they make a number of friends there — one of them is Sugar Kane (Monroe), the band’s lead vocalist and ukelele player.

Once the band arrives in Miami things get even more complicated. Joe falls in love with Sugar, and decides to woo her by donning a second disguise — this time as the heir of Shell Oil. The ruse works for the most part, though there are plenty of close calls. Daphne, meanwhile, is being aggressively pursued by Osgood Fielding III (Joe E. Brown), an actual millionaire who isn’t used to taking no for an answer.

The film is breezy and light, but what makes it impressive is the way it piles lies on top of lies at a breakneck pace. It’s over two hours long, but it really doesn’t feel like it — every scene moves at the speed it needs to, slowing down so the characters can get to know each other, or at least become familiar with the face one character is presenting above their own, then speeding up when the carefully constructed lie falls apart. Both Joe and Jerry are in over their heads and they know it; nothing is planned but their wits manage to keep them one half-step ahead of utter disaster. Both Curtis and Lemmon are pretty game for what the script asks them to do, and there’s a surprising amount of sympathy for women and what they have to deal with in a male-dominated society. It pulls back the curtain without condemning; this is a farce, after all.

Monroe is magnetic here as Sugar, the unlucky-in-love good-time girl. When she sings “I’m Through With Love” near the end of the film, she’s surprisingly sincere; the heartbreak exudes from her, as if she’s not even trying to project it. It’s kind of stunning. Her lightness, her easy charm, suffuses the whole movie. Lemmon and Curtis are precise with their comedy, and under the steady direction of Billy Wilder they weave through the tangled plot of the script without a knot.

Considering the plot — that two men dress as women to escape witness-killing by the mob — is so dark, it would be incredibly easy to get this movie wrong. I’m not sure if the “men-in-drag” genre is permanently through or if the most recent examples have simply been that poor, but Some Like It Hot actually works incredibly well. I’m positive that in the hands of lesser collaborators, the machinery would have fallen apart. It’s a testament to the talent of everyone involved that it purrs along as easily as it does.

 
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Posted by on November 26, 2013 in AFI Top 100, Movies, Reviews

 

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The Beginning of the End

Myth 150This week marks the beginning of the end of the year, which just happens to be my favorite time. In just a few short days those of us in the US will be celebrating Thanksgiving, which is the gateway to the Holiday Season. After that, we’ll be putting up our Yuletide decorations, getting trees, thinking about all of the presents we have to make or buy, preparing for the parade of holiday parties. Well, I will — I’m sure we all have different holiday experiences, which is totally fine.

Personally, I think that Thanksgiving is the perfect start to the holiday season; it’s a day meant for being grateful about all of the blessings you have while spending time feasting with your friends and/or family. If you lay the foundation here, you can ride that wave of gratitude all the way through Christmas and New Year’s. You basically get to spend a month high on thankfulness, which is a great way to be!

So I’ve been spending the last few days thinking about the things I’m grateful to have in my life. To be honest, there’s a lot. I’m in a loving, stable relationship with a wonderful and talented man. I live in a great part of the country, where our marriage is recognized and supported by a community of passionate and intelligent people. I have a number of awesome friends, locally and across the country and world, where I’m engaged with a host of different lifestyles, perspectives and beliefs. I have more inspiration than I know what to do with. In fact, the biggest challenges I face right now is learning how not to indulge in the abundance I have too freely.

It is literally an embarrassment of riches. It’s hard to write a list of the things I’m grateful for and share it without feeling like I’m bragging. I know that there are a lot of people who don’t have the things that I do, but I hope there are other things in their lives that I’m grateful for. I feel like I’m in a place where I can help folks who are less fortunate, but I want to be smart about it. What’s the best way to help the largest number of people? What sort of charities are more focused on helping people in need than advancing an agenda or funneling the money into keeping themselves in operation? It’s a good problem to have, but it’s still a problem I consider quite a bit.

And that’s another thing this time of year is good for. It’s a short leap from being grateful to being concerned that the people around you get to share in this season of good friends and good feeling. What could we be doing to spread our own personal joy to those people around us? Are there food drives going on in your neighborhood that might help needy families celebrate with their own feasts? What about clothing drives that help people keep warm this winter?

At least, this is where my thought process goes through the holiday. I think about my life, think about everything I’ve survived to get where I am, and I get tremendously happy. And I want to help other people feel happy too. Maybe it’s just because I never had holidays when I was a kid, but the shine hasn’t fallen off the apple yet. There may come a day in a decade or two where Yuletide is more trouble than it’s worth, but I’m hoping that day is far in the future.

Happy holidays, guys. I sincerely hope that they’re filled with joy and cheer.

 

Holiday Hours

I decided to hold off on putting up a new part of “An Origin Story” today, simply because so many folks are going to be knee-deep in Midwest Fur Fest anyway. This’ll give me a little bit of extra time to polish the next few parts over the weekend anyway, so I’m glad to have the slight delay. I wanted to make up for the lack of Friday Fiction this week with two parts next week, but there’s that pesky little Thanksgiving holiday to worry about.

So I’ll be squeezing in my posts next week: Monday I’ll talk about something or other (knowing me, diet since that’s the thing that’s been occupying my mind as of late), while the next AFI Top 100 review — for Some Like It Hot — will be coming on Tuesday instead of Wednesday. That day, I’ll post the second part of “An Origin Story”. Thanksgiving and Black Friday will be totally free.

The week after that I’ll post two parts of “An Origin Story” to catch up to things, and then we’ll resume our normal schedule here before the Christmas break. For now, have a great weekend you guys — whether you’re in Chicago or somewhere else!

 
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Posted by on November 22, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

The AFI Top 100 Films: Star Wars (#15)

Entertainment 150Star Wars (1977)
Starring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher
Written and Directed by George Lucas

What could I say about this movie that hasn’t been said before? The impact of this space fantasy epic can’t really be understated. It provided a template for science fiction movies to follow for a long time to come, and the universe first seen here is still alive and passionately followed today, over 35 years after its release. An entire generation of geeks (myself included) know all about the exploits of Luke Skywalker and his cohorts; the story of the Galactic Empire and the Rebel Alliance has nearly reached the level of modern myth.

A long long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away there was a band of rebels fighting an evil Empire that had nearly total control over a vast galactic civilization filled with thousands of sentient species numbering in the trillions of souls. A confluence of events brought young farmer Luke Skywalker (Hamill) into the conflict, pairing him with an old recluse who belonged to an ancient and mystical order, a princess and leader of the rebel organization, a selfish mercenary and his tall, furry alien co-pilot. Together, they discovered the Empire’s new weapon of terrible power — capable of destroying entire planets in one shot — and worked to destroy it, turning the tide of the fight towards the rebels for the first time.

Everyone knows this story, and most of us know how this story came to be. Or at least, we’ve heard apocryphal versions of it. When we think of Star Wars we tend to think of the entire trilogy of films as a single work, but most of the really iconic stuff is yet to come. Luke’s battle with Darth Vader doesn’t happen until The Empire Strikes Back, and Vader’s redemption doesn’t come until the final film, Return of the Jedi. Both are excellent in their own right, but let’s take a look at the original movie on its own terms. Star Wars as a standalone story is actually fun to pick apart; there’s a lot of interesting stuff there.

I’m sure this has been mentioned elsewhere, but Luke really isn’t the main character of the story. He doesn’t appear until about 30 minutes in, and he doesn’t have an arc to speak of. He doesn’t grow or change through his experiences. He starts out as a young farm-hand itching to get off of his planet and have cool adventures in space, and that’s precisely what happens. He’s taught to be a Jedi, uses his newfound understanding of the Universe to beat the bad guys, and goes home. Nothing to it! There’s not much in the way of personal stakes there. Han Solo, on the other hand…

When we meet Han, it’s in a wretched hive of scum and villainy; he’s willing to con just about anyone to get out ahead of any meeting he’s in, and he doesn’t join Obi-Wan and Luke for any reason other than payment. It’s a real struggle for him to stick with the gang when things get tough. At least on the surface, he’s only into the idea of getting paid. Gradually, however, he comes to value the relationships he’s formed over the course of the movie and even comes back to join in the rebel’s final, desperate fight. It’s a completely selfless act that signifies deep and lasting character growth. Even though Luke is hailed as the hero and gets the final shot that takes down the Death Star, Han is the person who allows that to happen. Han’s the true protagonist of Star Wars here, and Luke is more of a catalyst for his journey.

The story, overall, is relatively simple, but that’s not where the magic is. George Lucas has a fairly good grasp of the film’s structure and pacing, so he hits all of the beats he needs to exactly when he needs to hit them. Besides that, the movie simply LOOKS gorgeous, and it treats us to a science-fiction landscape that’s still unique to this day. The settings look fantastic yet lived-in, really grounding the world and enabling us to get invested in it. Everything looks real, functional. The tech — light-years beyond anything we could have dreamed at the time — looks beaten up and sometimes barely works.

Even today it’s difficult to find a movie — especially a science fiction film — that blends the fantastic and the mundane quite that well. I think that’s one of the reasons Joss Whedon’s Firefly is so beloved — it manages to make a fantastic universe that feels….used. And that makes us all the more excited for it, because it’s easier for us to imagine living there, eating the food, drinking exotic alcohols, feeling the heat and dust and fabric we use to protect ourselves from it. Lucas managed to create a movie that encourages our imagination to fill the world beyond the screen. That’s the lightning in a bottle Star Wars captured.

It’s by no means a perfect movie, but it’s a vastly entertaining one. Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill have a great chemistry together, and it’s enough for us to overlook the many shortcomings in the script and direction. It’s easy to see Star Wars as the skeleton on which an entire universe was fleshed out, and that’s largely true. But taking a moment to appreciate the construction of the foundation is a worthy exercise just the same.

 
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Posted by on November 20, 2013 in AFI Top 100, Movies, Reviews

 

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The 12 Films of Christmas

Entertainment 150My family was one of those “alternative Christian” families who didn’t celebrate Christmas when I was growing up. So when other kids were going to church or caroling or opening presents, we didn’t really do anything besides watch stupid Hallmark Christmas movies and wonder what all the fuss was about. Even though I’m decidedly not Christian now, I LOVE Christmas. The trees, the presents, the lights, the carols, the peace on Earth and goodwill towards men. Everything. I know that most of what we do during this season of the Winter Solstice doesn’t have too much to do with the birth of Christ, but that’s fine. It gives the season a sort of consistency across faiths, which makes the season EVEN BETTER.

Since I’ve begun celebrating the season, I’ve been slowly and steadily amassing a good collection of Christmas movies — old standards, new classics and offbeat movies that give one a well-rounded sense of the holidays. I’d love to hold a sort of film festival at the burrow at some point, have a few friends over every night to see one of these, but I don’t think that will happen this year. Instead, here’s my preliminary list of twelve movies that should be watched every holiday season.

Standards
These are movies (or cartoons in this case) that uphold the spirit of Christmas quite well. They’ve been around for long enough to be the go-to Christmas movies for an entire generation (or two) of people. While you might say these movies are overplayed, there’s a reason we see them all over the place around this time of year.

It’s a Wonderful Life
This is quite possibly the best Christmas movie ever. George Bailey, after doing his best to preserve the community of Bedford Falls, becomes despondent over what seems to be an insurmountable difficulty. Down comes Clarence the angel to show him what the town would have been like had he never existed, and the rest is Christmas magic. The very end, where the good townsfolk come together to get George out of his jam, is just one of the most touching and joyous scenes committed to film.

Miracle on 34th Street
I have to admit I’ve never seen this (cue outrage!), but even I know it belongs on this list. A man claiming to be Santa Claus is institutionalized until a lawyer takes his case to court, arguing that he really is St. Nicholas. Kris wants to advance the true spirit of Christmas over commercialism, and that’s a theme more relevant than ever these days.

A Christmas Story
Based on the memoirs of Jean Shephard, A Christmas Story follows young Ralphie through a rather eventful holiday in the American suburbs of the 1960s. Ralphie wants nothing more than a Red Ryder BB gun, and has to endure all kinds of humiliation and bullying for it. The reputation of the movie has only grown since it’s been on heavy rotation at TBS, but it’s also really, really good.

Mickey’s Christmas Carol/Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown
These technically aren’t movies, but they’re the cartoons I remember always watching when I was a kid. One is a Disneyfied adaptation of the classic Dickens story, and the other is one of the most weirdly existential Christmas fables I’ve ever seen. Both are great when you’re young, but the layers reveal themselves as you watch them year after year.

New Classics
These movies haven’t been around as long as the old standards, but they’re lovely movies just the same. Their modern sensibilities means they come at the Christmas spirit from slightly left-of-center, and that makes these movies a bit weirder, sweeter and relatable.

Love Actually
This is one of my all-time favorite Christmas movies, and it really doesn’t have that much to do with Christmas. It’s more of a framing device than anything, but this movie celebrates love in its many and varied forms, as well as the silly, heartbreaking things we do for it. It’s very much a romantic comedy, but an incredibly solid one. There’s something for everyone here, and it leaves you filled with joy and compassion.

Arthur Christmas
This is a very new movie, but it’s one of the best animated Christmas movies to come out in a long time. Arthur is the youngest brother in the Kringle family, and oddly enough still the one most excited about Christmas. Father Kris is about to give up his title to his eldest son, who wants to make the whole affair a technological marvel. When one kid’s present gets missed, Arthur has to deliver it the old-fashioned way. The movie is weird and sweet and funny, and incredibly earnest. A great family film.

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
This movie has so many memorable moments it’s really hard to fit them all in here. The Griswold family lighting ceremony, Clark’s meltdown when he’s stiffed for his bonus by the company, the incredibly dysfunctional extended family — it all perfectly illustrates and exaggerates all the frustrations of the holiday. It’s also hilarious, easily the best of the Vacation movies.

Scrooged
I’ve seen a few versions of “A Christmas Carol”, and this is one of the most memorable. Bill Murray is at his snarky best as an executive for a TV network who casually wreaks havoc on the lives of his underlings. It’s a fairly solid update that works because of inventive effects, whip-smart writing, and a great supporting cast.

Offbeat
These are Christmas movies that generally don’t feel like Christmas movies, but are great fun regardless. Perfect for when you want to keep the season in mind without being too direct about it.

Die Hard
“Now I have a machine gun. Ho ho ho.” Die Hard comes from a time when blockbuster action movies could be released in December, and it’s a perfect high-rise disaster movie. Bruce Willis is Everyman John McClane, a NY police officer who comes to LA to reconcile with his wife. During her company Christmas party, the building is taken over by terrorists. The following battle of wills makes for incredibly entertaining stuff.

Bad Santa
Billy Bob Thornton plays the worst mall Santa ever; it’s actually a cover to get into the mall, disable its security system on Christmas eve and loot the place. One year, he gets entangled in a relationship with a bartender and her naive son, which forces him to put just a little more effort into the role than usual. This is a wonderful black comedy, and the bitterness that Thornton brings to the movie makes it that much sweeter in its deliciously tart way.

Jingle All The Way
I’m pretty sure this is the movie I’m going to get the most trouble for, but you know what? It’s actually good. Arnold Schwartzenegger stars as a workaholic dad who tries to make up for his lack of presence with an over-abundance of presents. In order to get the last Turbo-Man toy for his son, he has to fight Sinbad tooth and nail. This sounds like it should fail horribly, but somehow it works. It’s weird and silly, and the supporting cast really shines through.

Edward Scissorhands
See, The Nightmare Before Christmas would be the Tim Burton movie most would go for, but that always struck me as more of a Halloween film. This feels more true to the Christmas tone; the title character is a strange loner with scissors for hand and an uncommon gift for the topiary arts. It has the typical flourishes of a Burton film but it’s also really beautiful. Johnny Depp and Winona Ryder have such great chemistry here.

So, that’s my idea of twelve movies to watch for the season. I’d LOVE to hear feedback from the rest of you. Are there any movies that I’ve unforgivably left out? Any other movies you’d consider a modern classic? What about more movies that aren’t Christmas movies? Gremlins immediately comes to mind…

 
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Posted by on November 18, 2013 in Movies

 

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Friday Fiction: An Origin Story (Part 1)

Writing 150(Hey, Friday fiction is back! I’m sure you were waiting avidly for this. 🙂 I’ve been wanting to write a superhero story for the longest time, so I thought I’d make a serial of it. Written in the style of a personal journal, because why not?)

 

October 18th

All right, so grandma gave me this really nice journal and I figured I’d better use it. She’s still pissed that I never wear that awful sweater from two Christmasses ago.

Name is Bryan Boyd, and I’m a sophomore at Saint Francis University. Yeah, it sounds like a Catholic school but it’s not — it just knows how to throw a party like one. Right now I’m majoring in English with concentrations in creative writing and journalism studies. It’s my goal to make a living writing articles for various magazines and newspapers while figuring out how best to break into the creative non-fiction market.

Which means I’ll need to develop a distinctive voice, and that’s something this whole thing should be good with, right? I mean, I’m sure all the best writers out there keep a regular journal of some sort. So I’ll be writing entries like I’m writing some sort of creative non-fiction paper. You know, just to get the practice in.

Oh! In case I leave this in a class or in the quad somewhere: I’m the unusually tall rabbit (about 6’3″ minus ears) with brown fur and a love of rolled-up sleeves and sweater vests. Don’t read past this entry, just look me up and return it. I don’t have much money, but I have some ramen I’d gladly share. I’m in the Caroline House, and my room extension is x76567. Look me up (with the journal) and a bag of root vegetable noodles and a can of PBR can be yours!

 

October 20th

I’d hate to think that upperclassmen have a busier schedule than I do. Researching for three essays that are due next week, studying for a damned big test in my last class, trying to make deadline for the school paper and trying to find a restaurant that won’t take the last bit of money I have for Marissa’s six-month anniversary. I’m thinking the Good Earth might be the place to go — just dressy enough and most of their menu is in French without having entrees in the triple digits. I hope she likes tapas.

 

October 21st

I think I’m in good shape with my essays, but Frith I could use a break from the computer. So that’s why I’m writing here now. Isn’t it weird how I decided to take a break from writing by writing something else?

Saw Coach Taylor earlier today, he told me he hoped I would try it for the swim team. I was an alternate last spring, and he says he was really impressed with how I handled myself in scrimmages and the like. There are a couple of spots opening up for the season, and he thinks I stand a good shot at being a starter. I don’t know — I’m busy enough as it is, not even considering my class load next semester, but it’d be worth it just to see the look on Anthony’s face if I got a starting spot and he didn’t. That old tiger’s been breathing down my neck about how well-suited his species is for the water and how rabbits are “mediocre” swimmers at best. Oh, the joy I’d get from rubbing it in his bristly little face…

You know what? Fuck it, I’m in. A lack of free time is definitely worth pissing off a douchebag.

 

October 22nd

Last minute assignment from Kevin; he wants me to cover the field trip to Dynamic Sciences tomorrow for the paper. This, in addition to the two essays I have to finish tonight and the fucking test on Thursday has got my ears all tied up in knots. I’m glad he thinks I’m the best rabbit for the job, but give me a break here, will ya?

It looks like it’s going to be a really late night for me, so I’m gonna go see if there are some coffee grounds I can chew on or something.

 

October 25th

Oh man, this week has been a nightmare.

The essays were done — not my best work, mind you, but good enough I think. Nailed the test, though I don’t know how; I barely studied for it. I guess that’s what paying attention to the lectures in class will get you. Most of my work is finished up for the week, except for the article on Dynamic Sciences, but I can do that on Saturday morning. As long as I’m not too hungover that is. I’ve got about an hour before I take Marissa out for our anniversary dinner, so I thought I’d try and wrap my brain around the visit to the lab.

Dynamic Sciences is pretty much the big leagues when it comes to scientific research. It’s the most well-known company not just in this state, but in this country. Heck, probably even the world. If there’s a breakthrough in biotech or genetics or chemistry or food sciences, chances are these guys are behind it or at the very least connected to it in some way. It’s kind of insane how much sway these guys have in that field; if you’re going to Saint Francis because of biology, zoology, chemistry or most any of the life sciences, you’re hoping to get a job with Dynamic Sciences.

They’re a huge company and they know it. The headquarters and showiest research labs are located in downtown Port City, in a maze of interconnected skyscrapers that comprise an entire block near the water. The main entrance is a set of enormous glass doors accented with gilt steel and art-deco design. You’re swallowed into a lobby that feels about as big as a football field, and there’s at least fifty yards between you and the reception desk. Plenty of time for cameras to get a good, long look at you. Plenty of time for their robust security to intervene if someone decides you shouldn’t be there.

We went there with Professor Bundle and his advanced genetics class. It turns out he’s really good friends with the Head of the Genetics Dept. there and managed to score an inside look at some of the experiments that would get them the best PR. There were about a dozen of us there, including me and the professor, and of course one of them had to be Anthony.

Anthony is a sophomore, like me, but he’s smart and athletic and good-looking…well, also like me. The big difference between me and him is that I’m not an asshole. Also, while I’m tall, the tiger is HUGE. Seven feet tall, over three hundred pounds, but as graceful as a dancer. It’d be impressive if he weren’t shoving your face in it all the time. He’s got a lot of power, but his weight holds him back with swimming, so I’m just a hair (ha!) faster. Anyway, he likes to take the piss out of me for some reason, and I LOVE giving it back. I think he thinks we’re friends or something, which suits me fine. If he treats his friends this way, I’d hate to see how he treats his enemies.

He comes up to me during the introduction, where the professor is laying down the rules of the road. “Don’t worry if you get a little lost, little bunny,” he says. “I know this course can be a little over the heads of English majors.” Then he smirks, that big predatory grin that shows all his teeth and I guess is supposed to unnerve me.

“Thanks,” I shoot back. “And in return maybe I’ll tell you a thing or two about how to dress. Orange fur and stripes are really tricky. It must be really hard to not look like a clown. I admire the effort you’re putting into it, though.”

That smile disappears with an annoyed chuff. I’m not ashamed to say I’m proud of that.

So the professor is talking about how big a deal it is that we’re even being let in to the place, and how much of an honor it is to see stuff that almost no one gets to see. He’s laying down some kind of assignment, too — a 10-page paper on one of the experiments everyone’s going to see today, due in two weeks. Most of the class groans while my eyes pop. Shit, this guy doesn’t mess around. I glance over at Anthony, and he’s curiously stone-faced about it. Either he doesn’t think the paper is that big of a deal or he’s still trying to live down the comment about his clothes. For my pride, I like to think it’s the latter.

After that, we go through security. Phones are confiscated(!!) and I’m told that I can’t take my old-fashioned voice recorder either. We have to sign non-disclosure agreements; our guide tells us it’s to keep from secrets getting out to the media or other companies, and discussion under an academic setting is totally fine. Only I’m sure that if they wanted to come down on any of us if they saw something in our paper that they didn’t like, well…they’re legally covered for bringing down the hammer.

After THAT we go through metal detectors, mostly without incident. One of the students is frisked because she has a tongue ring she doesn’t want to take out, and Anthony is just too damned big to fit easily, so they have to pat him down and go over him with a wand and all that business. He’s apologizing for holding up the rest of the class, but I can tell he’s not the least bit sorry by the way he’s smiling. He’s proud, if anything.

The actual tour was pretty amazing. We were shown three or four different experiments, each with pretty crazy implications for medical services and biotech. One that was intensely fascinating was some kind of stem-cell deal where you drink this concoction, it seeks out diseases or injuries and fixes them on an atomic level. Basically, and I’m probably totally wrong about this, but I think it checks your ‘baseline’ DNA or cellular make-up against whatever’s broken and injured, and then basically fixes your cells so that they’re in perfect working order. Sounds like straight-up science-fiction to me, but I might be wrong. To be honest, most of it went over my head. I’ll have to go back to the professor and make sure my notes are correct once I write up the article.

Oh! One last thing — I have Anthony’s sunglasses in my backpack. The asshole actually asked me to hold the case for them once we left the biotech lab with the stem cells. “Be careful,” he says, “they’re really expensive. Like, probably cost more than what you’re wearing.” It turns out he forgot all about them when we left because he was too busy trying to hit on a receptionist, so I made off with them. He’s been blowing up my phone all morning trying to get them back, no doubt. I think I’ll let him twist over the weekend if I can help it.

I’ll bring the case along with me so Marissa and I can have a good laugh about it; what kind of jerk buys $500 sunglasses, anyway?

 
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Posted by on November 15, 2013 in Furries, Writing

 

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The AFI Top 100 Films: All About Eve (#16)

Entertainment 150All About Eve (1950)
Starring Bette Davis, Anne Baxter and Celeste Holm
Written and Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz

There’s an awful lot going on in this movie, especially considering the time in which it was made. Just a quick bit of Internet research has uncovered a multitude of perspectives detailing what All About Eve has to say about homosexuality, Cold War politics, gender roles and the tense relationship between Broadway and Hollywood. The fact that I saw none of this through my first viewing, but see how all the symbolism actually tracks with these various, scatter-minded theories speaks to the strength of the writing. It’s a truly impressive film with a lot on its mind, but it’s also a whole lot of fun.

Bette Davis is fantastic here as Margo Channing, the current Grand Dame of Broadway. She occupies the office of her archetype with the expected theatricality, regally generous with her favor when her audience plays their roles and cements hers. She’s a bundle of contradictions, expectant and needy at the same time, surprisingly warm and casually cruel. Just when you think she lives on the shallow surface of her fan’s adulation, she says something that points to a deep understanding of the society she inhabits and her place in it. Margo is one of the most complex movie heroines I’ve seen in a really long time, and Davis embodies the assured magnetism of an actress at the top of her game.

Almost as hypnotic is Anne Baxter as Eve Harrington. We meet Eve as a pathetic groupie in an alley where Margo’s best friend Karen Richards (Celeste Holm) takes her in. According to Eve’s story, she’s a war widow who left her meager life in the Midwest to follow Margo’s career. More than anything, she wanted to be near her idol, so it’s a dream come true when she’s slowly collected into the star’s inner circle. Eve insinuates herself into Margo’s life more and more, eventually becoming her trusted confidant and personal assistant. Eve works with polite blandness and total efficiency, and most people can find no fault with her. They’re mystified when Margo reacts so violently to slights that look like “innocent” mistakes to the casual observer.

Of course, there’s something far deeper going on here. It’s only a matter of time before Eve’s scheme is laid bare — by the time the victims of her plans realize what’s going on, it’s far too late to do anything about it. And that’s when the movie gets to be at it’s most interesting.

As it becomes increasingly clear that her time in the spotlight is over, Margo reflects on her ascent to the top of the New York theatre scene and how she’s treated the people she met along the way. For the most part it feels like she’s so accustomed to having her way and wielding her considerable influence that she won’t go down without a bitter fight for her crown. What’s amazing is that when she realizes what the fight will cost her in the relationships of those closest to her, she gives it up. She realizes that holding on to power doesn’t mean much if you don’t have something more permanent and lasting to go with it. As awful as Margo can be (and has been) to the people around her, she has a very mature appreciation for them. It’s this support network that she retreats into when Eve officially supplants her as the toast of New York.

Bette Davis: Queen of the Side-Eye

Bitchily, of course.

Eve, on the other hand, uses people and discards their relationship as soon as she has what she wants from them. While her ambition is fulfilled, the only person by her side is a theatre critic who is using her for his own purposes. We begin the film with her crowning as the latest jewel of the theatrical community, and after we find out the number of awful things she did to get there we see just how hollow her victory is. The award she receives means nothing to her, and the party thrown in her honor is so worthless to her she skips it to pack for her imminent trip to Hollywood.

The thing that strikes me most about this film are the wonderful relationships that manage to survive the sabotage orchestrated by Eve. Margo and Karen have their strains, and their husbands and lovers have similar struggles — especially when they’re targeted by Eve’s ambition. But it manages to hold; the affection shared by these people is deeper than the business they’re engaged in. Margo realizes this and chooses to nurture it, even though it takes her a bit longer than it might have if she were a bit more centered to begin with. But the fact that she’s off-kilter is one of the things that makes her so much fun.

A few critics have tied Margo’s acquiescence to the general push for women to give up their agency and return to the homemaker role in post-war America. There’s a lot in the film to support this, too. Sociologically the film takes on a darker undertone with her willingness to fade; she realizes that her personal community won’t tolerate her strength, so she weakens herself. It’s difficult to see Margo’s turn in the latter parts of the movie as a positive thing if you view it through that lens, especially if you see it as Joseph Mankiewicz pushing a hetero-normative agenda there. Through Eve’s example and Margo’s pre-fall life, he’s outright telling you that ambition is bad and folding to your dominant partner is good. Of course that’s not a “truth” that should be tolerated. But on a purely personal level, it feels more like Margo made a choice that brings her the most happiness. Holding on to her fleeting position at all costs would simply cost too much.

The subtext of societal normalcy notwithstanding, All About Eve is a totally engaging movie buoyed by incredible performances, sharp and layered writing, and wonderful characters. The fact that it inspires such passionate and thoughtful debate six decades later cements its worthiness as one of the best American movies ever made.

 

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Whatever Your Heart Can Handle

Self Improvement 150As an online rabbit, I know about the importance of running and cardiovascular exercise to my overall health. And I’ve been trying to develop a good running practice for a little over seven years now — first by regular trips on the treadmill and then by carving out good routes around the burrow. As you might guess, it hasn’t gone too well. I’m sidelined by pains and injuries fairly often, and the constant push to run farther, faster makes the practice far less attractive than staying in my warm little hole and helping myself to a glass of wine.

And that’s not even to say that I dislike running — on the contrary, I really love that sweat-soaked rush of endorphins I get after I log a few miles. But there’s not denying that it takes considerable effort — to get myself out the door, to keep pushing when it feels like my lungs are going to burst or my calves are going to snap away from the backs of my knees, to keep running even if it’s cold or rainy, or I’m tired or stressed. Even though I feel great about it afterwards, running is often a deeply unpleasant activity marked by gasping for air, a pounding heart, and persistent pain around the joints and muscles.

In the interest of learning how to run better so that I can actually do it on a regular basis, I signed up for a Fitocracy Fitness Group called “Level Up Your Running”. I have to say, it’s already making a difference. We’re only three weeks into a twelve-week program, and my relationship with running is already changing. I really believe the key to this change relies on changing up my pace, and the expectation of what I should be doing whenever I lace up the running shoes.

My trainer is a big believer in pushing yourself, but not too much. She believes you should listen to your body while you’re running; if your focus starts to narrow to simply what’s in front of you and you can’t actually talk because you’re too busy panting then it’s no good. Instead, you should be able to carry a conversation when you run, and you should have your full range of vision. You should actually have time to notice your surroundings.

For an out-of-shape asthmatic rabbit like me, that means running ridiculously slow. If you were to see me out on the street, you’d see this dumpy guy taking quick steps (180 per minute, thank you very much) that are so short it looks like he’s shuffling. He glances around, occasionally taking a look at his watch to check his heart rate (which should be around 150 or so). It barely looks like exercise, but it is. And that’s the point. It’s not graceful, it’s not efficient…but it IS fun. At the end of my runs I get that nice rush of endorphins and I think “I could have done more. I can’t wait to run again.” As much as I love running, I never in my life thought I would say something like that.

The key, of course, has been pacing. I’ve had to let go of the standards I thought I should be maintaining for now. Gone is the idea that I should be running a ten-minute mile, or that I should be working up to four miles every single time I run. Right now I’m going a mile at a time, at around fifteen minutes a mile. It’s incredibly slow, and the running time is incredibly short. But for the first time in a very long time, the simple act of running is a thing I enjoy. That’s worth looking goofy and taking a huge step back from what I’ve been doing before.

Of course this philosophy works away from exercise, too. So many of us load up our plate with goals designed to push us as far as we can go because we think that’s what we need to do. But we burn out, or we start falling short, and our hobbies become these immense sources of guilt. To extend the running analogy, our hearts are beating way too fast, we can never catch our breath, and it’s only a matter of time before we blow a knee or an ankle under the stress.

The Art of Manliness has a great article on this that I think I’ve mentioned before. The 20 Mile March approach to goals prizes consistency over effort, so that you end up leaving quite a bit in your tank most days just so you don’t tire yourself out. There are going to be days where you don’t feel like doing the work to get yourself closer to your goals. There are going to be days where you can’t put in the work, for whatever reason. If you set a goal for whatever it is that’s low and easily reproducible, you can overcome most resistances to it or catch up easily whenever you’ve missed a day. That way, you can build a lasting habit that’s low stress and actually enjoyable. Setting a “maximum” limit for yourself each day is a great thing to do — it leaves you with the feeling that you could have done more, that you WANT to do more. And that leaves you actually looking forward to the next session.

So, if you’re trying to develop a habit but haven’t been able to make it stick, here’s what I would recommend: pull back. If you’re trying to write every day, make the goal so low it’s impossible not to do — a hundred words a day, or maybe even one sentence every day. Stick to that, even when you’re tempted to do more. You’ll find yourself doing more than cultivating a habit — you’ll cultivate the hunger to keep doing it, which is far more valuable.

 

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The AFI Top 100 Films: The African Queen (#17)

Entertainment 150The African Queen (1957)
Starring Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn
Written by James Agee & John Huston (screenplay) and C.S. Forester (novel)
Directed by John Huston

There’s really nothing else quite like The African Queen. Set (and filmed!) in Africa, it tells the story of a missionary’s sister Rose Sayer (Hepburn) fleeing the region after Germany deemed her brother a “hostile foreigner”. His hut is burned down and he is beaten so badly that he remains addled for the few days it takes him to die of fever. With nothing left for her at the village she worked in, she decided to leave on the only transport she could, the titular river-boat captained by hard-drinking grump-meister Charlie Allnut (Bogart).

The pair learns of a rather nasty German submarine sitting in a lake nearby, blocking off access to this part of the region. Not content with merely escaping, Rose decides to do her part for the war effort and blow it up with a home-made torpedo or two. At first Charlie isn’t having any of it, but as the pair travels down the river together they grow closer in mind and spirit. They fight over just about everything, even still, but they look past those differences towards the bond that being in such a terrible situation gives you.

It’s the bond between the characters and the wonderful chemistry between the actors who play them that gives the movie it’s charm. Bogart is really in his element here as Allnut, a crude riverboat captain who’s really only looking to do his job and drink a lot. Hepburn channels her steel spine well into Rose, the high-minded religious woman who seeks to drive Charlie to a higher purpose. And through her uncompromising yet mostly genial nature, she herds him there through the distraction of the bottle and “meager” self-preservation.

When she’s able to channel him into a place where their interests align and things flow smoothly, the effect is electric. It’s like sailing a ship into the current, or channeling base instinct towards a constructive purpose. You’re always shocked by how swiftly and efficiently things get done. That’s the magic between these two at work; you see how well they fit together because of their differences, and it makes you believe in the idea of two opposing yet complementary forces. The id and the super-ego joining to propel the individual towards impossible achievements.

They sure do have to suffer a lot to learn that, though. Not only do they have to navigate each other’s personalities, but they have to deal with the very real dangers of the river as well. Swarms of flies, the tricky rapids and currents that lead the Queen into dead spots that must then be dragged through. The scenes of Rose and Charlie dealing with the elements are incredible, shot with a realism that makes you feel terrible for them and horrified at just some of the many delights the African wilderness can inflict on unsuspecting travelers. Knowing that director John Huston and his stars also had to deal with a lot of tough conditions to film on location only adds to that reaction; Hepburn was sick with dysentery for much of the movie, and they used real leeches for a particularly awful scene.

african-queen

Not pictured: nightmare fuel.

Another interesting thing about The African Queen — and one of the things that makes it a bit more timeless than other films of its type — is it really gives you a sense of the unique geography of Africa without diving into the thorny socio-political and racial issues of the time. You don’t see too many African jungle adventures that don’t need to come with the disclaimer of “Some racist things happen in this movie, but that’s just the way people thought at the time.” It was nice to have that.

The final set-piece — when the Queen and her crew finally reach the lake where the German sub is positioned — skews things in a distinctly Hollywood direction, but it’s still quite well done. The tonal shift isn’t so jarring it negates the realism of what’s come before, and both Hepburn and Bogart are so charming they pull it off with a minimum of questioning. The African Queen represents old-school filmmaking at its finest while still offering something unique to this day. It’s a great adventure worth getting wrapped up in.

Rating: 8/10.

 
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Posted by on November 6, 2013 in AFI Top 100, Movies, Reviews

 

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