RSS

Monthly Archives: January 2014

Poetry: Love is Not Tough

Buddhism 150He stands doe-eyed
as he faces a fear disrobed from its darkness,
sprawled naked before him.
Behind the flash of terror
an animal runs into the thicket
of safe and soft and warm.

The world imagines this is the part
where we get to hit him with bamboo
shake the bushes, rattle the cage
fill the safe spaces with the noises of hell
to make him come leaping out.

This, we are told, is what the old masters would do.
Shine the lights on every hiding place until
exposure was the only option
and the fear killed you. Buddha would spring
from the wreckage wearing your clothes
his mouth as wide as a newborn’s

But here is what I think: clarity from trauma
can only come with the softness
and the distance of time.
So when I see him, the whites of his eyes
flashing and frozen, see him retreating
I want to hide with him
Breathe with him
Fear with him

Then, when the panic restores our vision
I turn him around in our safe spaces
and watch from a distance as we notice
what we’re afraid of is never as big as we think
and even when we grow closer
its size, its rough edges
remain dulled, shrunken.

But that’s my idea, a step here, a small bolt of genius
that strikes us when we examine ourselves
after we’ve given in. I have no use for bamboo.
I am a Soto kid
in a Rinzai world.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on January 31, 2014 in Buddhism

 

The AFI Top 100 Films: Singin’ in the Rain (#10)

Entertainment 150Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
Starring Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds
Written by Adolph Green and Betty Comden
Directed by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly

It’s interesting to me that so many movies chronicle the rise of the “talkies” and the demise of so many silent film stars once pictures had sound. It must have been the last truly apocalyptic moment in movie-making; the monumental shift in acting from pantomime and stage-ready hamming to smaller gestures and voice-heavy emoting saw an entire class of major stars suddenly fade in a few years’ time, giving rise to a new crop of actors who could look and sound the part.

Some films — like the amazing Sunset Boulevard — take a dramatic look at the toll on the psyche that summary rejection brings you. Singin’ in the Rain takes the path of the romantic comedy, instead, where the disruption of the talkies and the influx of new talent actually allows most of its stars to move on to bigger and better things. Of course, the broad plot is mostly window dressing for a number of really amazing musical productions — mostly choreographed by Gene Kelly himself.

Kelly is Don Lockwood, who is one of the biggest silent screen stars of his day with partner Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen). They’re always in love on film, and Lina has taken to thinking that they’re lovers off-screen as well. Neither Don nor his former partner, Cosmo Brown (O’Connor) like Lina very much, though. When talking pictures hit big, Don’s voice is a perfect fit for the kinds of roles he plays — Lina, whose voice is shrill and high, doesn’t do so well. It’s decided that her voice be dubbed over with Kathy Selden’s (Reynolds), a struggling actress that Don almost immediately falls in love with instead.

It’s easy to guess where the film is going from that set-up, but the destination isn’t the point — how entertained we are getting there is. And that’s where Singin’ in the Rain really shines. Kelly and O’Connor have a great chemistry, and they riff off of each other quite well. Both of them are workhorses when it comes to song and dance, and they attack each number with a ferocity I don’t think I’ve ever seen. O’Connor’s work on “Make ‘Em Laugh” is rumored to be so difficult he was bed-ridden for three days trying to recover, or so the story goes.

Every. Single. Song.

They just dance like this for every song.

Hagen is great as Lina Lamont. She’s calculated her performance with just the right amount of charisma so that you love to hate her. She’s a ridiculously fun villain, and she understands just what she’s for in every scene. So many of the movie’s highlights belong to her; whenever the proceedings are in danger of becoming too sappy, she punches it up with the right amount of tartness.

But the movie unquestionably belongs to Kelly. When people think of the big Hollywood musicals of the 40s and 50s, this is the movie they think about — and with good reason. Every song crackles with energy, the cast is obviously having a great time, the whole affair moves with a briskness that makes its 100-minute running time seem even shorter. It’s an iconic movie, the one that every golden-age musical is judged against. It’s a timeless movie that somehow manages to catch the distinct style of entertainment in the 50s while chronicling a subject that swept through cinema twenty-five years earlier.

If your tolerance for musicals is low, then chances are you won’t really dig Singin’ in the Rain. If you’re curious about them, though, and wonder why a lot of those old movies have such a devoted following after all these years, this should be the film you watch to see why.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on January 29, 2014 in AFI Top 100, Movies, Reviews

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

The Writing You Would Like to See

One of the things I would like to do with the writing desk is post up stories that I’m still noodling around with — character studies, scraps of short fiction, posts talking through the process of setting up character, theme, plot. I realize the dangers of talking an idea out of existence, but I think with these it might help to have a bit of feedback from folks. The public forum would also encourage me to push through any resistance to make sure something goes up here every Friday.

To that end, I’d like to ask you what you’d like to read. Please take a moment or two to read through the synopses below and vote in the poll afterwards to let me know what you’d like me to write on Fridays for the month of February. By telling me what you would like to read, I can get a better sense of what you guys would be most engaged by. I’ve got three different ideas to move forward on, all featuring stories that I’ve written about here before. Now’s the time to take another pass at a deep dive for them:

Sleepwalkers
Sarah Rhinehart comes from a broken and abused family, so she figures the visions that she sees are just her way of dealing with the horror of a monstrous father every day. However, when they start to bleed over into aspects of her life they’ve never been before — and when other people acknowledge their existence — she begins to think that something else entirely is going on.

This Chimerical Life
The Earth is under attack. Immense, mysterious alien beings have taken up residence in our oceans, and every once in a while invade our coasts. The people unlucky enough to come into contact with them during an incursion end up…changed. Matthew is one of those people, and must now face the horrifying, alienating experience of a transformation that will force him out of his old life into something new.

Origin Story
Bryan Boyd is a harried undergrad working on his English degree. While working on a newspaper assignment at Claw and Atom — the pre-eminent science and research company in the country — a strange set of circumstances lead him quickly into an insane world where his understanding of the way the world works is completely upended. What’s worse, he just might be the vanguard of the next stage of evolution for sentient lifeā€¦

Of course, none of these three settings might be grabbing you; if there’s another playground you’d like to see me working in, let me know in the comments!

 
1 Comment

Posted by on January 27, 2014 in Furries, Writing

 

Friday Fiction: Cleaning Up

Writing 150(I wanted to do something relatively small and slice-of-life, but still furry. A friend recommended a short short about two siblings cleaning up a room, and this is what I came up with. 750 words.)

Emily took a deep breath and opened the door. Charles was inside already, next to the bed, holding a broom down in both paws like it would fly off without him. He looked up at her, startled, and began sweeping again. He had clearly been lost in thought.

“Hey,” he said, staring down at the floor. His long ears and whiskers drooped. He clutched the broom like a crutch.

“Hey,” she said, and stepped inside. The room was just the way it was the last time she left it; it was halfway between something lived in and something clinical. Mom’s scent was fighting for dominance with plastic, deodorant, medical equipment. The bed hadn’t been made, she noticed. If she looked close, she could see the imprint of a body in the folds of the sheets.

The thought made her eyes sting and her whiskers bristle the way they did when she inhaled powdered pepper, so she abruptly turned away and faced the far wall. Boxes were stacked there, only half-packed with mom’s things. Charles, as usual, hadn’t been careful. He always favored speed over efficiency. She took in the brown cardboard in front of the bland, pastel wallpaper and breathed. Focus on the problems, she told herself. She was going to have to be clinical to get through this.

“Is this everything?” She walked towards the boxes, pointing at them. Charles looked up from where he was sweeping and shrugged. “I would have thought she’d have more stuff than that.”

“There’s probably only a few things they would let her have. You know she was bad at the end.” He mumbled this straight at the floor, probably knowing her hearing was good enough to pick it up. She had to wonder if he had any friends who couldn’t hear as well as his family could. Probably not. At the slightest provocation he curled into himself and bristled. Grandma always joked that he should have been a hedgehog.

Emily sighed. She would have to manage the packing, and she would have to manage Charles. But that was good. She’d be too busy thinking about what she needed to do to think about anything else. Don’t look at the bed, she told herself, and you’ll be fine.

“Well, I’m going to make sure everything’s packed well before taping up the boxes. Not that I think you did a bad job!” She put her paws up as soon as she caught his glower. “It’s just that we want to make sure this stuff survives the trip to storage. Is there a clean spot on the floor I can set the boxes?”

Charles pointed to a spot on the floor that looked like there was a small gathering of dust bunnies. Brown fur rolled towards the edges of the wall like miniature tumbleweed. Emily sighed, and shook her head. She would have to sweep again once Charles was gone. That meant a longer time resolutely staring away from the bed, and not thinking about how that bed was her mother’s entire world for the last three months of her life.

She set one of the boxes on top of the floor and opened them; there was a collection of keepsakes littered on a field of crumpled newspaper, protected but haphazardly placed. In one corner was one of her frilled lizards, an animal she collected and loved. There was a note pad, with her spidery handwriting skittering across the surface. A deck of cards, an ashtray that had been cleaned, a framed picture of her and Charles. Each one of them brought back a memory that she didn’t feel like dealing with, a reminder that she would never see her again.

She heard sniffling, then looked to see Charles flop on the bed. He slumped, shoulders rounded, ears folded, whiskers drooped. It hit Emily that she was about to cry just before he did. “She’s gone,” he said, and then began to sob.

Emily felt herself walking over to her brother before she knew what she was doing. She sat next to him, put her arm around him, and he turned and really cried on her shirt. She felt all of the resistance drain out of her, the stress that was holding her together, all melted onto the sheets and the half-filled boxes of her mother’s life. Suddenly she was so, so tired.

She buried her face in the back of Charles’ head. Her breath caught in her throat, and the tears fell freely.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on January 24, 2014 in Furries, Writing

 

The AFI Top 100 Films: It’s a Wonderful Life (#11)

Entertainment 150It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Starring James Stewart, Donna Reed and Lionel Barrymore
Written by Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, Frank Capra (screenplay) and Philip Van Doren Stern (story)
Directed by Frank Capra

Part of what makes It’s a Wonderful Life such an indelible movie is its inextricable tie to Christmas and the mood we all wish to be in during that holiday. We want to see the best in mankind, we want to believe that a community can come together to take care of one of its own when they’re in trouble, we want to believe that things turn out all right in the end. It’s a Wonderful Life indulges that desire in spades, giving us a bittersweet fable of small-town, picture-postcard America that’s at turns heartbreaking and life-affirming. It’s quite an interesting film, actually, when you think about it beyond its sentimentality.

James Stewart is George Bailey, a young man from the small town of Bedford Falls with a dream of traveling around the world. His family serves a vital function of the community; allowing the working poor to receive loans to start businesses and buy homes for themselves. Their nemesis is an old Wall St. type named Henry Potter (Barrymore), an exploitative slum lord who represents the ideal of the free market, I suppose. The only thing that stands in the way of his complete capitalist tyranny is the little Bailey Building and Loan Association.

George’s father has a stroke right when his brother graduates high school, which means he’s the only one who can run it — his brother isn’t ready and his father and uncle are both unfit now. He puts off his dream to sort out the mess, and his brother goes to college instead. When his brother returns, it’s with an enormous job offer that George knows he can’t turn down. He kills his dream of leaving Bedford Falls for the betterment of his brother, taking on the burden of running the Building and Loan by himself.

The pressure from Potter intensifies, especially after the market crash of 1929. George gives up more and more of his life, sacrificing the nest egg he had squirreled away for his honeymoon to prevent a run on the association. Meanwhile, his brother enlists during World War II, becomes a fighter pilot ace, travels the world and comes home to a hero’s welcome. On the day of the parade, George’s absent-minded uncle misplaces $8,000 of the bank’s money. Without that deposit, the Building and Loan is sunk and Potter wins.

Distraught, George berates his children and one of their teachers, yells at his wife, crashes his car and nearly commits suicide by jumping off a bridge. Here is the part of the story everyone knows — his guardian angel Clarence (Henry Travers) comes down to show him a dystopian Bedford Falls where he had never been born to show him the difference he’s made in people’s lives. Filled with joy at knowing the effect of his good works, George races through the streets of Bedford Falls towards his home, just in time for a Christmas miracle of the community’s own making. It really is one of the finest, most touching endings in cinematic history. I’m not ashamed to admit it makes me cry, every time.

What makes the ending so effective is what makes the rest of the movie so interesting and surprisingly complex. A lot of people ding this movie for its sentimentality, claiming that it gives easy answers that wouldn’t quite fly in the real world, and I disagree. What makes George Bailey such an extraordinary hero isn’t just that he tries so hard to do the right thing — it’s that sometimes he actually fails to. He’s not a saint; it’s clear that he resents his family and his community because of the choices he feels he has to make, and he doesn’t take care to find an outlet for it. The final straw simply uncovers what was already there — a man who feels trapped by responsibilities that may or may not be his, by the burden of being the difference between people’s happiness and their oppression.

It’s completely understandable that George would feel this way; he’s regularly sacrificed his happiness for other people, and he never seems to get a break. The rest of the community shows their appreciation at times, but they’re also just people — subject to mob mentality, panic and petty thoughts. Most people don’t have the emotional fortitude that Bailey possesses, and it’s rather difficult to be fair-minded about people you’ve stuck out your neck for but end up taking the easy way far too often.

This is the problem of the idealist; the world really doesn’t mold itself to your ideals all that often. And that disappointment can lead to a sort of desperation, the attachment that something good must come of your beliefs and deeds. As that disappointment continues, it poisons into resentment.

What It’s a Wonderful Life does is remind us that we do make a difference with our actions, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant. If we put goodness out into the world, it really does help. Life in Bedford Falls isn’t perfect, especially for George; his Building and Loan may be saved by the end of the movie, but it’s still stressed. He still has unfulfilled dreams that he’ll likely never be able to return to. He’s still surrounded by people who are prone to panic, small-mindedness and failing their own ideals. Nothing’s changed but his perception, and a newfound appreciation for the things that have gone right.

Capra has become known for his “perfect” Americana pieces, but I think this movie doesn’t quite get its due because of it. It’s a Wonderful Life shows us the worth of the transformative mindset, what happens when we let go of the expectation that good things will happen to us because we do good things. Karmic feedback rarely takes the form that we’re looking for, and success can take on a wide variety of definitions. George struggles, but he succeeds because his community does; they never would have been able to help him when he needed it most without his life lived helping them.

What makes me so enamored with that lesson is the idea that a life well-lived matters in ways we never see, but it also cautions us to take care of our own desires. Or at least, how we deal with them when they’re unfulfilled. We must pay attention to ourselves every once in a while if we’re to continue living our ideals.

It’s a Wonderful Life is a wonderful movie. For those of us who are community-minded, it’s a gem that justifies our beliefs and reminds us of the worth of the individual. There’s a lot going on underneath the candy-coated exterior of Bedford Falls, but isn’t that always the way of a small town?

 

Tags: , , , , ,

Hey Furries, Meet Sci-Fi/Fantasy!

Fandom 150Further Confusion 2014 is in the record books now, and I’m sure I don’t need to tell you it was a hell of a convention. There were nearly 3,600 attendees this year, and it felt like there was an unending parade of things to do, people to see and places to be. I had a tremendously fun time hanging out with new friends and old, getting to know quite a few people better, catching up with folks that I had fallen out of touch with, and learning more about the creative process. I really couldn’t have asked for a better con.

I was on a few panels over the course of the convention, and pimped out this blog at the end of most of them. So, if you’re new to the Writing Desk — welcome! I really appreciate you taking the time to check out my cozy little corner of the Internet. I’ll be talking about writing, storytelling, spirituality and personal development, movies and fiction here. Feel free to drop a comment if you see something you like and/or disagree with!

One of the panels I was on over the weekend was “Furry vs. the Mainstream,” which talked about what the fandom has to offer the broader sci-fi/fantasy community, how we got to be a bit estranged from it in the first place, and why the time is right to make a push for our place at the table. The fandom at its best is a wonderfully inclusive community with a broad range of voices, experiences and viewpoints. We’re just the type of fresh blood the SF/F community needs if it’s going to adapt to the times and thrive.

That being said, I do think it’s important we gain a better understanding of the people who make up the SF/F community and what they think. One way we can do that is by taking a look at the things that are popular in the genre right now. Who are winning the awards? Who regularly pops up as a guest of honor at conventions large and small? What sort of themes and settings are people talking about? What are the similarities and differences between the ideas that are being played with by the SF/F community and the furry community?

We should think about this so that we understand the situation we’re stepping into. That way, we can put our best foot forward as a group and work to repair years of bad publicity, stereotypes and assumptions. We should be prepared to answer pointed questions and talk about uncomfortable subjects. We should think of ourselves as diplomats from a misunderstood and exciting country. We should be proud to be who we are, and come from where we do. But we must also understand the objections other people might have, and be patient while we work them out. It may not be easy all the time, but it IS worth doing.

I promised some of the attendees of the panel that I would recommend a few short stories and websites so they could take a look at the broader community. Feel free to recommend your own resources in the comments!

WEBSITES
io9 — This is the sci-fi/fantasy geek arm of the Gawker sites, and while your mileage may vary with the coverage and community there I’ve found it to be surprisingly smart and engaging. People can be snarky, but overall the editors of the site do a great job of signal-boosting both corporate and fan-made creations. Best of all, they regularly pay attention to the written word, sharing and broadcasting exciting novels and short stories from the genre.

Apex Magazine — A periodical featuring short stories and essays covering science-fiction, fantasy and horror. Great, wonderfully lyrical stories and essays that broach interesting topics I’ve never thought about abound here. Two authors with roots in the fandom have even been featured here — Tim Susman’s “Erzulie Dantor” was featured in the November 2012 issue and “Jackalope Wives” from Ursula Vernon was published in the January 2014 issue.

Tor Blog — A long-standing genre imprint that has published all manner of major names, Tor has a fantastic online community and blog that features posts from thoughtful writers and publishes short stories and novel excerpts that have been curated by the editors. It’s so easy to get lost here, and the variety is astonishing. You’re bound to find something you like, even if you have to do a little digging.

SHORT STORIES
“It’s a Good Life” by Jerome Bixby — Most people remember The Twilight Zone episode that came afterward, but the original short story from Jerome Bixby is a perfect little gem of strangeness and horror. Straightforward prose is peppered with evocative, descriptive language that heightens the mood wonderfully. One of my absolute favorites.

“The Paper Menagerie” by Ken Liu — This is the first work of any length to sweep the Hugo, Nebula and World Fantasy Awards. It’s a wonderful modern-fantasy story that comes from the distinct experience of a Chinese-American person. “Mono no Aware” is also a great short story, marking Ken Liu as a powerful voice in the genre.

“Life in the Anthropocene” by Paul Di Filippo — A broader sci-fi short story that features a furry supporting character, this was the story I had talked about during the panel. It tells of a vastly different Earth than the one we’re used to, where humanity has moved to mega-cities at the poles of the planet post-ecocide. I wasn’t able to find it free online, I’m afraid, but the Kindle copy is only a dollar.

OTHER RESOURCES
WorldCon — These guys put together the biggest science-fiction convention in the world, moving it from site to site (the upcoming one in August 2014 will be based in London) and its membership votes for the Hugo Awards. Even if you can’t show up to the convention, membership will help you keep your finger on the pulse of the science-fiction community.

DragonCon — These are the big dogs on the fantasy side of the coin, they cover everything from literature to costuming and every type of game you can imagine. The convention will be held in Atlanta this year, at the end of August. Even if you can’t go, browsing the site will give you a number of ideas about who the moves and shakers of the fantasy/geek scene might be.

I’ll reiterate what I said at the convention — these are all just jumping on points, and it’s quite easy to follow trails to get yourself more invested in the sci-fi/fantasy community. Just grab on to what interests you and follow where it leads. Be patient with stories, discover things that you really get excited by and see what’s related. Talk about these with your friends, and apply those things to your own creative, furry-specific endeavors. Cross-pollination not only benefits the bigger community, but ourselves as well!

 
1 Comment

Posted by on January 22, 2014 in Furries, Pop Culture, Reading, Writing

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Friday Fiction: Player of the Game, Part 1

Writing 150(This is a small bit of fiction I’ve written for the FBA, the Furry Basketball Association. My character is one Dan Quvianuq, a giant polar bear center who’s been having a rough month of it. This is the first part of two.)

It’s been about a month since I could eat before a game. I wake up on game day a little queasy, and it takes me fifteen minutes to settle my nerves before I can get up. But even then, I just know it’s going to get worse through the day. By the time we’re shutting out the distractions and getting ready to go out on the floor, it’s all I can do to keep from shaking and I’m sure I would be throwing up if I had anything in my stomach.

Slumps are a fact of life when you’re a basketball player. Your shot feels off, for a while you’re a half-step out of sync with the rest of the team, breaks just don’t go your way. That you can deal with. If you’ve got a good coach, you’ve been trained for that. Just block out the things you can’t control, focus on your training. They’re called “drills” for a reason; the movements have been drilled into you. It’s second nature, it’s instinctive. Just let your body take over while you get your brain in order.

This feels so much worse, though. The problem is my brain is working fine, but I just can’t seem to make my body do what it knows how to do. I see the shot in my head, know what I need to do to make it, but I can’t get my paws to work right. I see a path through the chaos in the key so I can be right there to grab a missed shot, but when I go for it I slam someone to the boards and draw a foul. If I see someone coming hard at me on the perimeter, I know that Buck or Red are in the paint waiting for me to take advantage of the heat I’ve drawn away from them. But I shoot instead. And you don’t need to know a thing about basketball to know that an eight-foot-tall polar bear is going to have a miserable three-point shot.

My name is Daniel Quvianuq, and I’m the starting center for the FBA World Champion Dakota Bikers. Right now, I’m playing the worst basketball of my life.

Every part of my game has been terrible. I’m not sticking to the high-percentage shots that are my bread and butter, instead shooting outside the key and making way too many three-point attempts. I’m as jumpy as a deer when someone brings hard D, and my body just dumps the ball at the basket before my brain can tell it that B-Hop’s open. I’m a big fat lump under the basket, to the point that teammates have to reach around me to pull rebounds. Redfield’s gotten really good at it. He’s a good enough friend not to rib me too much about it, but not good enough to call me on this shit. I’m not pulling down blocks like I know I can, I’m not drawing heat well enough to open up Malone or Hopper so my assists are abysmal, and my turnovers are embarrassing. I could chalk this up to the faster pace of the FBA, or a bit of court rust after coming back from my surgery, but those excuses feel hollow. With what I’m being paid, there’s no excuse for how I’m playing.

And when I think about that my stomach tightens enough that there’s not room for anything in it but nerves. I was the no. 2 draft pick in 2012. I signed an $8 mil. contract with the Bikers the same year Buck Hopper joined the team. Anything less than the FBA Championship trophy would be a disappointment. I was thinking to myself during the preseason that this was it, I was getting in on the ground floor of a dynasty. Then my knees blew out and I lost my entire rookie season.

The way I see it, I only have one year to justify that $8 million dollars, to make sure the Bikers want to keep me around, to prove to myself and the rest of the league that I belong here. If I were playing for some team in a “rebuilding year,” like Biloxi or Hawaii, the pressure wouldn’t be nearly as bad. But here in Sturgis, with the talent we’ve got, excellence is expected. And you really feel it when you’re not living up to it.

Tonight we’re up against the Kahunas. They’re a really fun to team to play, even if they aren’t that good yet. Alphonse Norwich IV is their guy, and he’s good. A scrappy little bastard who reminds me a lot of Wendy Brown — fearless, aggressive and fiercely loyal to his team. Dylan’s really not looking forward to covering him; they both play with a chip on their shoulder, and that aggression is probably going to flare up a couple of times tonight. Right now he’s sitting in front of his locker, staring at the floor and ignoring the rest of us with his headphones. Malone reminds him to keep his head in the game twice, and the second time they snap at each other. It’s amazing how much herbivores look like carnivores when they’re fighting. Same kind of quick vent of steam, same kind of charge in the air. Still, it doesn’t go any further than that — Dylan’s earned Skywalker’s respect through his play, and the ‘roo stood by him when the whole Rufus thing went down. They’ve got each other’s backs, and they both understand how intense the other one is about his game.

It’s that kind of camaraderie that I feel is missing with me. Malone comes up to me, and he gives me a long look. It makes me wonder if he’s thinking whether or not I’m worth the effort, if I’m a lost cause that’s just going to have to be carried through the rest of the season. I try to look focused, determined, anything other than scared. But I can’t meet his eyes. “You know what to do,” he says at last. “You’ve got this. Good luck out there.”

I nod, and then he’s gone. I look around to see if anyone else caught the exchange, but Dylan’s pacing now and Buck is stretching. Kenta Yamashita is covering for Jack tonight, since he’s injured. I wonder if he feels as lost as I do, but if he does he doesn’t show it. He’s totally chill, staring straight ahead, breathing deeply and evenly. I don’t know him that well, but I’m guessing he’s doing some sort of Eastern trance thing. Maybe I’ll ask him about it sometime. Maybe it’ll help with the nerves.

The coach comes in and that’s how I know it’s almost time to head out there. The nerves come back full-force, and I wonder if anybody can tell that I’m shaking. I can’t remember what he said, but it’s got people pumped; Buck is practically bouncing off the walls, and both Malone and Red are walking out like they’re going to eat the other team. The rustle of Kenta’s quills brings me back to myself and I stand up, and I walk quickly, and then I’m swallowed by the lights of Sofawolf Arena.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on January 17, 2014 in Furries, Writing

 

Tags: , , , ,

The AFI Top 100 Films: Sunset Boulevard (#12)

Entertainment 150Sunset Boulevard (1950)
Starring Gloria Swanson, William Holden and Erich von Stroheim
Written by Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett and D.M. Marshman, Jr.
Directed by Billy Wilder

Hoo boy. There’s really no question why this is one of the greatest Hollywood films of all time — Gloria Swanson is completely magnetic as aging film-star Norma Desmond. The entire story shows us the process of her uncoupling from reality, and it’s at once fascinating and harrowing. Just when you think you have a handle on just how crazy Norma is, she surprises you with something else that gives her insanity a richer texture. She inspires revulsion, pity, bemusement and a sort of distant admiration by the film’s final image. She’s kind of a siren of insanity, pulling unwary men into the babbling brook of it so that they drown.

The latest (and final?) victim of Norma Desmond is a struggling writer named Joe Gillis (Holden, who was also in The Bridge on the River Kwai). He hasn’t written anything worthwhile in quite some time, and his situation has gotten desperate enough that repo men are coming for his car, and anyone who’s even seen LA knows what a nightmare it would be to have your car taken from you. He hides in the driveway of one Norma Desmond during the chase, and after some initial mistrust of each other they eventually strike up a business relationship (she wants him to work with her on her comeback screenplay) and then…something a bit more entangled.

Norma is a silent film star who started to fade as soon as talkies became popular. Her monstrous mansion is a testament to excess, a monument to herself that is far too large now that her stature has diminished. She lives a life of seclusion, relying on her butler Max (von Stroheim) for just about everything and playing bridge once a week with other old silent film stars. Fun fact: the “waxworks” she has over for bridge are all silent-film stars, including Buster Keaton. They say only one line a piece.

As Gillis becomes more involved with Desmond, he learns just how her downfall has ruined her. Her clinging to this increasingly inaccurate self-image of the young ingenue has created an elaborate self-deception that her butler is all too happy to encourage. Torn between participation in the charade and the hope of a normal life with a production assistant (Nancy Olson), Gillis straddles the line as much as he can. But of course, when you’re dealing with someone teetering on the edge of sanity you’re going to have to fall sooner or later.

Everything works in this film: Wilder directs with a supremely exact manner, striking every note and beat perfectly. He draws indelible performances from Swanson, who apparently didn’t have to do that much acting to play the role; Holden, who plays Gillis like a noir detective with no mystery to solve; and von Stroheim, whose stoic nature belies an unshakable passion for the woman he’s given his life to. The writing is crisp and pitch-perfect, and Wilder inhabits the film with so many touches of Hollywood history it’s easy to think this is a story that might have actually played out somewhere.

Desmond is a fascinating creation; she’s receded into the character of a starlet so deeply that there’s very little else left of her, and the “real” Norma bubbles up at the most disarming moments. You can hear her in the crack of her voice when she makes a quip, or the subtext of her manipulations of Gillis and Max. There’s a bewildered desperation that tints everything she does; somewhere under the glamor, the carefully maintained ice-queen demeanor, there’s a girl who can’t understand how she could be so revered and so thoroughly ignored in so short a time. It’s infuriating, how callously she treats people, but it’s also pitiful.

Her fall into madness is inevitable, I suppose, but it’s also perfectly horrific. The last line of the film (“Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”) points to a permanently shattered woman in much the same way the end of A Streetcar Named Desire does. All of the delusions and misdirections have been brought down, and rather than face the cold light of the truth Norma and Blanche both retreat permanently into their own fictions.

It’s tragic, but the horror comes from the recognition of that possibility within ourselves. We all deceive ourselves to some degree or another; could we ever go so far that when faced with the ultimate refutation of a deeply-held belief, we’d simply snap and go on living a life completely divorced from the reality staring us in our faces?

I think that’s one of the things that makes Swanson’s performance so impossible to look away from. She takes this very specific experience and somehow invites us to make it universal, to imagine ourselves in Desmond’s shoes by filling the cracks in her persona with a very human desperation. Swanson invites empathy for Desmond even while we’re recoiling in delighted horror as she pays the price for her clinging, her excesses. She takes someone who could easily be cartoonish and incomprehensible and brings her down to earth. It’s simply an amazing performance.

Billy Wilder also deserves a lot of credit here, as co-writer and director. His previous film on the AFI list (the excellent The Apartment) also showed a lot of surprising depth and wit while tackling a subject I’ve never seen handled in a 1950s movie. He displays a timeless understanding of the fragility of our emotions, which is all the more impressive coming from a society that urged the repression of many messy, complicated things. He engages with mental states so artfully; it’s really something else.

I can’t stop quite gushing about this film. The more I think of it, the more deeply I love it. If you’ve only heard a couple of quotes from it, or have a vague recollection of the story’s outline, I highly recommend that you discover Sunset Boulevard for yourself. It’s a wonderful surprise, and one of those films for the ages.

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Am I Going to Further Confusion 2014?

The answer is, “Of course, it’s right in my backyard. I’d better be going!”

You can catch me in the mornings getting coffee at Philz or in the evenings getting a pre-dinner cocktail at Singlebarrel. In between I’ll be wandering around the convention space or taking advantage of the wonderful restaurants downtown San Jose has to offer. This year, the scuttlebutt is that FC will be sharing the convention space with HempCon and a…girl’s volleyball tournament thing? It’s going to be quite strange, I’m sure — I’ll be wanting to spend a little bit of time away from all of the chaos like a good little introvert.

This year I’ll be actually on three different panels! If you’re interested in seeing me talk about writing and/or Buddhism, feel free to show up to any one of these three:

Furry vs. the Mainstream
Friday, 1/17 @ 3 PM (Marriott: Blossom Hill II/III)
Here I’ll be talking about the relationship of furry art and literature with the broader sci-fi/fantasy community, and why some cross-pollination between the two largely insular worlds is a good thing. I’ll be sure to give a shout-out to Bookmarfs, because there needs to be more reading groups out there like it. Kyell Gold and my husband, NotTube, will be saying far more insightful things than I.

Why A Fox?
Saturday, 1/18 @ 11 AM (Marriott: Almaden)
Furry isn’t really a genre, it’s more a template that we can add to all sorts of literature — from westerns to fantasy, from sci-fi to slice-of-life fiction. What do adding furry characters add to a particular work? What sort of things can we explore by incorporating them? I’ll be discussing that here with Kyell Gold (who is on every writing panel you guys) and Bradley Cohen.

Transformation and Mindfulness Workshop
Saturday, 1/18 @ 4 PM (Hilton: Santa Clara)
One of the things I’m really passionate about is mindfulness and being present where you are. Here I’ll get to talk about Buddhist philosophy on the matter and offer a few bits of advice on how we can more present with the people who move through our day — on the computer and real life. Kannik will be talking with me, taking things from a Western philosophical and personal-empowerment standpoint.

If you’re going to FC 2014, excellent — I hope to see you there! There are quite a few panels on a tremendous variety of subjects. You can see the full schedule here at http://fc2014.sched.org.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on January 13, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Friday Fiction: The Big Dream, Part 1

Writing 150(This snippet of fiction might seem familiar to you. That’s because it’s a rework of the first bit of my Sleepwalkers story. I wasn’t quite satisfied with what I had written before, mostly because I felt like I didn’t know Abigail well enough to tell her story properly. Now I feel like I have a better handle on her nature and her background, and what her experiences before we read about her does to a person. So I’m going to give it another go here.

I’ll at least write up a few parts for this to get us through January, but I’m not sure what’ll happen after that. Probably write other “chapters” as they come to me. I love the idea of the faerie updated for modern times, but I want to find a way to make it distinct from the obvious influences of Changeling: the Dreaming and The Dresden Files.)

 

It only took twenty minutes or so for the screaming to drive Abigail insane. She knew to lock herself in her bedroom by nine PM, but the thin walls only did so much good. The front door would slam, her father would call for her mother and then there would be nothing but raised voices for hours. She would try to do her homework, but the words would make less and less sense until they were nothing but symbols floating off of a blank page. They would bob in the air, rearrange themselves until they told her “Go into the closet and shut the door.”

Everything after that she would remember as some kind of dream. It felt like her head came away from her body, because she couldn’t feel the shag carpet beneath her feet any more. She would float to the closet, where the door would open once she got near it. Her hair would float around her head like a tangle of snakes. Her pajamas would be become a silk-spun dress, so light it felt like she was wearing nothing at all. She would drift into the closet, which was always deeper than she remembered, and she would sit down in a circle of her own shoes, and a shape would move in the darkness towards her.

She never really saw it, but she called it the Gnome. He was short, she knew — the top of his head matched hers when she was sitting and he was standing. He was shaped like a potato with short, stumpy legs and big bare feet. Sometimes his eyes would flash yellow in the darkness. Maybe he wore glasses, maybe his eyes were just that big. He smelled like a mud pie that had been left in the sun for a day, but she didn’t mind. He was friendly, and he would tell her stories while they played card games she was sure he made up. Sometimes, and this was her favorite, he would tell stories with the cards, always pulling the one he needed from the top of the deck to move the tale along.

The numbers and suits glowed in the dark, and sometimes she would see a flash of his nose, or a mouth filled with sharp teeth. His skin looked like bark, and she wondered more than once what it would be like to touch him. But she never dared. The Gnome could be dangerous, she knew. When his anger flared, he could hurt anyone quicker than either of them could realize.

Once, when her father was really far gone, he came into her room and threw open the closet door. He was huge and terrible, his eyes a void that made her feel small and alone and afraid. The Gnome was there, between her and her father, his shoulders rounded and his back hunched. Mushrooms bristled along his back. They smelled like wet grass, only different, and her stomach turned flips if she breathed in too deeply.

“Leave her alone,” the Gnome said.

“What the fuck–?” her father said, and stumbled out of the door. He looked at her differently then, at least when he was sober, and he talked to her even less. When he was drunk, he stayed out of her room. She was relieved, but it made things even worse for Mom. When Abigail woke up, long after the screaming had stopped, she would find her on the floor in the kitchen or the living room and make her as comfortable as she could. Someone had to. She couldn’t stand the idea that her mother thought no one looked out for her. At least Abigail had the Gnome. Her mother would have her.
It was Tuesday night, and Abigail had trouble focusing on her homework. Distractions had been worse for a couple weeks now. Words would float and glow, shift and change into the marks of languages she had never seen. Shapes flickered just on the edges of her vision, like shadows of creatures she could never catch. Worse, her teacher had called her father at work about how much homework she had been missing, and how many tests she had been failing. She knew that when he came home, it would be bad. Her mother had told her that she was disappointed, had sent her to her room immediately, had told her not to come out until she came up to check on her homework. They looked at each other, and knew they were both in trouble.

But she went, and she tried to focus on her schoolwork, but the words shivered and hid whenever she looked at them. The shadows were more obvious than ever. The creatures were trying to be seen.

It took two hours of mounting dread for the voices to start whispering to her. Now she was worried she was going crazy, that the fear unlocked something in her brain that she couldn’t put back. The Gnome was one thing, it was how she dealt with things, but this was something different. “Run” and “he’s here” tickled the hairs of her ears; the syllables were sharp, and hoarse, stones against windows, or the air being let out of tires.

Abigail had no idea how long she had been staring at the same page of her textbook when she heard the car door slam. Her heart leapt into her brain; all the blood made her dizzy. She smelled something in the air, electricity, rain, honeysuckle. She heard the front door explode open, the slurred roar of her father, the immediate surprise and fear in Mom’s voice. “RUN” a voice hissed in her ear. But where would she run to? How could she slip out of the house and leave her mother alone with a monster?

“Abby.” The voice came from behind her; not a whisper, but clear and heavy. She turned around slowly. Her eyes widened, and the air was gone from her lungs. She couldn’t scream.

Her walls were covered in mouths. They were moving, forming sounds she didn’t recognize, flashing teeth and tongues and darkness. They brushed against her posters, peeled the wallpaper, rustled the things on her dresser and nightstand. Her room was a live thing, a ripple of sound that passed from one end to the other. It was impossible. Impossible.

“Abby, look at me.” The voice again. The mouths were silent but kept speaking. She looked at the figure on her bed. There was a potato there, with large hairy feet and a face that left no room for a forehead. His skin was the color of playground dirt. His irises were the color of dandelion flowers. His eyebrows and hair and beard were all the wisps of the seeds she would blow whenever she could. He was impossible. But he was there. She saw the way he bent the mattress where he stood, heard the springs creak as he stamped nervously. He spoke, and she saw sharp teeth. He turned his head towards the door and saw mushrooms sprout from his head, sink into his shoulders. He was the Gnome. And he was here. He was real.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on January 10, 2014 in Sleepwalkers, Writing