Friday, November 30, 2007

finish line

o ho ho! she chortled with glee.

Just, just finished a short story that I wrote entirely in one evening. Granted, this evening ended at 1:30 the next morning, but still. Chortle.

There is a slightly delirious joy in finishing something. Especially when the story shaped up like magic and all you had to do was tell it. Why is there a pond showing up? Ah, now it all becomes clear. Who is this Baron chap? Oh, now I understand.

Lovely lovely lovely glee glee glee.

I'm sure that later, when I read it with the clarity of distance, I'll groan at the mountain of revising it needs, but for now, in the short moments before I go towards the land of nod, I am basking and chortling and would be rubbing my palms together if I weren't typing.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

further opera delights

Highlights of The Rake's Progress:
1. Chi, who manages to steal the spotlight with her deranged Japanese fan girl impression. Who can pay attention to the heartsick yearnings of Tom Rakewell and Anne Trulove when Chi is frantically trying to get an autograph?

2. The names: Rakewell (the rake), Trulove (the one true love), Sellem (the auctioneer), Shadow (the Devil). Subtle.

3. The enormous grey-green balloon bloating out of the stage like something from a Jean Pierre Jeunet film. Bulbous and grotesque until it pops out of the floor to become... a Hollywood trailer!

4. Nick Shadow's brimstone moment. I was waiting and waiting for him to do one of those exits that you expect from any proper Devil character: sinking into a trapdoor with lots of mist and orange light, maybe some pyrotechnic special effects. And then, at last! There wasn't any orange light or flame, but he did strip off his Matrix style black leather coat to reveal an orange and pink unitard with little feathery bits fluttering on it, and sequins.

I loved Baba's voice, but on the whole, it's not an opera I'd see again. I can't remember a single melody and none of the music really made me feel anything.

I have a sudden craving for frozen yogurt. Why are there no Yogurt Land's up here? How gloriously fine would it be to have a large styrofoam cup of mouth-twinging tart yogurt topped with blueberries and kiwi fruit and mochi balls, maybe with a few shards of dark chocolate to finish it off. Why is frozen yogurt so little loved here? It may be cold, but you can always eat it inside, huddled by the vent of the heater.

in an operetta...

Am back from seeing The Rake's Progress. Am feeling strangely tired. Also have the Magnetic Fields song "In An Operetta" stuck in my head.

sing me the kind of song you hear
in an operetta.
in an operetta..

with twinkling harpsichord to accompany.

sing me the words i long to hear
out of violetta.
in an operetta...

tiddly-dum dee dum dee dum...

See what opera does to you?

Monday, November 26, 2007

to see and not to see

I'm sorry, I couldn't resist. Bad puns on Shakespeare and all.

First off, what not to see:

August Rush. When I saw the trailer, I thought, how INCREDIBLY cheesy. But then I also thought, well, maybe it's one of those incredibly cheesy movies that somehow sweep you up in their flood of sentiment and make you feel all warm and fuzzy. After watching the scary gore of Jekyll, I was more than ready for warm and fuzzy. This movie isn't just cheesy though. It's ridiculous, sentimental, and unlikely, without the spirit to make any of it believable, even in a pastel-coloured, saccharine pop song sort of way. Exception: Freddie Highmore is adorable as always and there is this moment when, as the musical prodigy, he is jamming on an enormous church organ and it seems perfectly possible that he is the next Mozart. I'm partial to organ music though... It can be so gloriously moving, and I don't know if it's the sound or the spiritual connotations or what.

What you should see:

Olafur Eliasson's work. Aside from having an amazing name, Mr. Eliasson's work is sort of like the grown up version of exhibits at the Exploratorium, only with lashings of visual stun. I wasn't interested by the frozen BMW (except that I enjoyed watching people bundle up in the museum's grey fleecy blankets and troop into a giant freezer). My favourite piece was "Beauty," a dark room with streaks of light shining across a waterfall of mist pouring from the ceiling. The light made the water ripple and waver in the oddest ways. It looked like a surreal veil between dimensions, or a spiderweb in a breeze, or maybe a ghost.

Jekyll. BBC miniseries with the incredible James Nesbitt as Jekyll and Hyde. Some of the narrative seems a bit wonky and the American baddie has a dreadful accent (deep South on an alternate and mentally unstable universe?), but it's really shivery, especially in the moments of transformation.

Get Smart. I just saw the trailer for this movie and it looks amazing. Steve Carrell as an incompetent James Bond. Anne Hathaway as a beautiful spy named... Agent 99. Alan Arkin is in it, Alan Arkin! And Hiro. I've never seen the original tv show, so there's nothing to be disappointed by. It's all fun spy gadgets and explosions to look forward to. Did I mention Alan Arkin?

Monday, November 19, 2007

funny pictures

Am starting the day with freshly shorn locks (a mighty improvement in terms of comfort and ease over the hair that was beginning to take on Cousin It-ish properties) and a new (for me) and wonderful collection of comical illustrations from Cabanon Press. I like the one of the people reading on the beach. I also have a cup of Darjeeling tea and a pain au chocolat, so my morning is going very well, thank you.

(I started this early and then didn't finish till now, so, no I'm not actually having breakfast at noon.)

The thing I love about getting my haircut is the hilarity of the whole process. Wendy is my favourite Hair Dictator. She is one of those meticulously fashionable Asian women, with perfectly layered hair and impeccable makeup. I think she doesn't approve of my showing up in baggy corduroys and not a trace of makeup... She always asks if I "ever wear makeup" or if it's just today that I've been too slothful to put any on. I say that I'm wearing sunscreen and lip balm to pacify.

The actual cutting of the hair is the real treat. You're not allowed to cross your legs because that sets you crooked and disturbs Wendy's symmetry. Then she starts cutting off big hanks of hair (I'm always in for drastic changes) and you end up with a very ragged bob that she shampoos. Then comes the fun bit. She gets out a little pair of scissors and attacks your hair, leaning in so close that her face gets powdered with snippets. Each strand is examined, trimmed, checked again, and forced into submission. Then she rinses it to get rid of some of the little pieces that might be distorting the true shape of everything, and gets out the razoring tool and shears off miniscule pieces that aren't living up to their promise. It's an intense experience, but I have to go through the whole thing being careful not to catch Wendy's eye in the mirror or I won't be able to smother the urge to laugh. She's very very good, but also extremely funny in living up to a caricature and I don't think she would appreciate my laughing. It would mess up the hair.

Friday, November 16, 2007


Magnificent Books That Offer Succor When Inspiration Lacks

(from top on down)
THE MERCHANT OF MARVELS AND THE PEDDLER OF DREAMS by Frederic Clement. Gorgeous collage-type illustrations that suggest stories at every turn. Fairy tales or fairy-like tales especially.

AN EXALTATION OF LARKS by James Lipton. Sheer language wonderfulness, not just odd collective nouns. Also, tidbits of curious information.

A DICTIONARY OF FIRST NAMES by Patrick Hanks and Flavia Hodges. Indispensable for obvious reasons.

A DICTIONARY OF GEOLOGY by John Challinor. Dictionaries of specific terminology are often useful, especially when the entries have some torn off corners of historical stories. I also am fond of words like "lacustrine" (what lake deposits are to a geologist).

PERSONAL RECORDS: A GALLERY OF SELF-PORTRAITS selected by Margaret Bottrall. Enjoyable browsing. The compiler compares the experience of the book to walking through a portrait gallery, and the enjoyment is very similar. Snippets of letters and autobiography and whatnot don't give much depth to the portrait, but it's fun to imagine the person they conjure up.

BUTLER'S LIVES OF THE SAINTS. It's interesting to see what made people seem worth sainthood, especially in the older cases. Lots of gore and horrible deaths are easily imagined.

THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SUPERSTITIONS ed. by Christina Hole. My favourite "reference" book hands down.

A FIELD GUIDE TO THE LITTLE PEOPLE by Nancy Arrowsmith. The drawings in this book are fantastic. Somehow they manage cute and ugly and detailed and crude all at once.

also, THE ART OF MODERN CONJURING by Professor Henri Garenne. This one hasn't been useful yet, but it feeds my obsession with stage magic. I mostly bought it because the back advertises the illusions inside with many exclamation points: "Producing 200 Yards of Colored Ribbon from an Empty Hat!" and "Talking to a Living Head Inside a Bottle!" and etc.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


I KNOW that Pez dispensers topped with the heads of characters from The Golden Compass are something, I'm just not sure what.

I took a nap this afternoon. Didn't mean to, but I was reading a catalogue for Barnes and Noble when, suddenly, I start up and am halfway to the door before I realize that the knocking was not part of my dream, that my dream (something involving me being late) was not real, and that I had fallen asleep in a position that made my neck twitch. The person at the door was one of those magazine salespeople, but when he saw me, blinking oddly and disheveled, I think he lost his persistence.

Am slowly working my way out of the confusion that happens when you wake up without realizing that you've been asleep.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

on reflection...

This sign is from the airport, international terminal. Something--probably the pictures of the Olafur Eliasson exhibit I'd just seen in the MOMA store--made me think of a room with a giant, still pond in it, fathoms deep and smooth as glass. Or a room panelled in mirrors with different colored lights reflecting in all directions. Unfortunately, I think it's actually a politically reworked word standing in for "chapel" or somesuch. But since I didn't actually go and check, I can pretend that through a little corridor and up some stairs is a magnificent Room of Reflections whose beauty will make you fall on your knees, like that little person icon there, in wonder.

Am tired of writing today. I've done perhaps 1500 words and things were humming along nicely, but I'm at one of those getting from here to there moments and I just want to skip over it and go on to the next bit which is going to involve bright lights and nightmares. It's the pyrotechnic bit of the chapter. There are just all these details that need setting up and they're feeling a bit sluggish and dull. However, I've found out what a ghost machine does and more about Agatha, so that's good.

I watched the "Utopia" and "The Sound of Drums" episodes of Doctor Who and was happily astonished by how fantastic Derek Jacobi and John Simms are. There's a moment when Jacobi just looks into the camera and goes from being an affable professor to a very dangerous maniac. It's chilling and wonderful. There are moments of sci-fi apocalypse that seem a bit ridiculous (though still much enjoyable), but having a character who is quite like the Doctor yet so horrible, driven mad by the same powers that make the Doctor wonderful, is brilliant. Typical archetype stuff, I guess, but really solid nonetheless.

Bought three new cds: Muswell Hillbillies by the Kinks, End of History by Regan Fionn, and Hilary Hahn's Bach Partitas for Solo Violin. Self-indulgent, I know. I went in planning to get the Bach because I think the partitas are glorious, but then I wandered into the music section and was lost for an hour or so. How could I resist an album with songs titled "Hey Rabbit" and "Abacus" (the Fionn)? Or one called "Muswell Hillbillies"? There's a song on that album called "Have A Cuppa Tea," which made me laugh because I went into a coffee shop the other day and said, "may I have a cuppa tea?" and the girl behind the counter said, "huh?" Hopefully the music will live up to my enjoyment of the titles, and if not, at least I have the Bach to console myself with.

Obviously, I haven't been working too hard if I've had time to watch Doctor Who and buy music and take pictures in airports, but I still haven't found the stamina for writing again. It's odd, because I don't know the details, sometimes even the big obvious chunks of "what happens next?" until I'm writing them, but once I do see them in my head, I get impatient about turning them into words and just want to dump them out and carry on to the next bit. Lazy.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

taking a break

Am doing some work today and this is where I am:

There's my notebook with the (very) scattered notes for the next bit. When I'm staring into space (which is often), I sometimes fiddle with the little glass fox Shan brought back from Budapest. That's green tea there... The tea is essential because I'm always cold and it gives me an excuse to wander off to the kitchen for the kettle. My favourite pen, a Sonnet, which makes writing entirely un-hand-cramping. I found that paper in a drawer and it's fabulous. It's from a pack of 100 sheets that I think I got from a Japanese stationary store: B5 loose leaf "art spiral." Originally, I believe there was a binder it fit in, but now I just shove the finished pages into a folder until I type them up.

Had a lovely dinner last night with Heather, who's off to Berlin on Monday. We did some shopping for travel thingys, admiring the lovely things in the Apple store especially, and made a pumpkin pie. It was a nice evening. I was cranked up on sugar and tea and so didn't get to bed until three in the morning, but I woke up feeling splendid today so I guess there's no logic in it.

It's not even 5 o'clock and it's getting dark. The short days are so unsettling when they start. I aways have this irrational feeling that the quantity of daylight shrinks a bit every day and will go on shrinking until there's nothing left but this endless nighttime, but then I get into winter mole mode and am just as shocked when they start stretching out again.

That's about it really. I've just found out that the Magnetic Fields are coming in February, but will probably have to be reminded... I'm always forgetting to go to shows that might be good. Ah well.

Back to work.

Friday, November 9, 2007

music on the brain

I think the next nonfiction book I want to read is Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks. I've had Sacks recommended to me by several people, I think Shan especially mentioned The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat (a title that I thought sounded like something from Chesterton). Sacks is a neurologist and this new book is how our brains interact with music. The Guardian has an excerpt up on their website which managed to make me go a bit teary-eyed. He describes the experiences of a man who suffered severe brain damage from a form of encephalitis. His memory, for most things, just isn't there, lasting less than a minute in the present and compounded by retrograde amnesia. But he retains the musical ability that he had before his illness when he was a musicologist. And he is madly in love with his wife.

It sounds impossibly redemptive, right? If it were a movie, I'm sure that the music would be like some magical key that would unlock his way to his own history; and I know that it's nothing like that in real life. A story wouldn't be satisfied with such incomplete healing. It's devastating to have no sense of your own past beyond a second, but the idea that some of his emotional memory survived is comforting in a way.

P.T. again tomorrow. I'm sure they're going to scold me for letting my knee collapse during barre... oh well. I won't be repeating the experience if I can help it. Completely mortifying. No more barre for me. I'm going to limit myself to non-standing-up exercise for the near future-- that sounds a bit pitiful, doesn't it? Hey there's still cycling. And lifting weights. Alex is on my case to work out my arms anyway.

Off to watch some Doctor Who. I think "Blink" might be the most frightening episode yet. It's the sort of scary that makes you just a bit nervous to turn out the lights.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007


I just received an email from Barnes and Noble informing me that the third season of Doctor Who is on its way to my mailbox. I feel like I'm waiting for Santa Claus. Cue "Up On the Housetop."

P.T. is happening at 8:15 tomorrow morning. Which means leaving at 6:30 AM because I'm not sure of the parking situation. The meters in front of the building are limited to one hour, which means I either have to find street parking (HA), or beg the ladies at the desk to feed my meter and hope they remember. So far, P.T. mostly consists of me staring at the few inches of muscle located over my knee and trying to bunch it up as hard as possible. They attach this fancy little shard of plastic to my leg which measures how much work I'm doing and celebrates with an orange light when I'm doing well, and berates me with a wimpy green light the moment I slack off.

The first chapter of the new story is nearly done. I could have written more, but laziness and malaise prevented me. Some days the words are easy and I'm watching this story happen in my head and only a bit aware of the words coming out on paper, and sometimes it's really hard work. Not that you can tell afterwards which is which. Today it was really hard work and I sat at my desk for awhile and stared at the wall and for an hour only saw that wall, so I gave it up and went to the library.

Friday, November 2, 2007


Despite early protestations about Moonlight (vampire as private detective television program on CBS), I have become shamefully hooked. Not that this any indication of quality. I'm merely a sucker for nearly any serialized drama (except daytime soaps which are mostly loathsome). If something has a story that spills into next week or tomorrow or next month, I'll be there to find out what happens.


Sophia Myles's makeup. I thought she was very pretty in Doctor Who, but Hollywood makeup people definitely know how to banish the undereye circle and airbrush people beyond the scope of reality.

Vampire names. Mick Saint John. Lola. Josef. When you have supernatural characters, why give them normal names? This would confuse people. This is also why you have to name your human characters with clunky normality, like "Beth." Obviously.

Drugs that look like those horrid packets of colored sugar that children eat by licking a plastic wand, mashing it into the stuff, and slurping it off.

My absolute favourite moments though are when a vampire goes over the vampiric edge and gets nasty. Eyes cloud over and turn blue-ish, little fangs sprout, hair suddenly looks like too many volts of electricity are being shot through it. It's as if the designers couldn't decide between the zombie look and the pit bull infected with rabies.

I wouldn't recommend Moonlight to my friends, but I will still watch in the hopes that something truly outrageous will happen. I'm envisioning some apocalyptic vampire/human battle resolved in tragic self-sacrifice reduced to barely palpable romantic tension.

blood and guts

This, obviously, is why I fancy Doctor Who. Just look at that charming face.

Tonight I feel oddly bloodthirsty. Having spent most of this afternoon thinking about stories in general and particular, I'm a bit disturbed to find that when I ask myself, well what happens next? the answer tends to be: somebody dies.

What? Why does somebody die? Have I been reading too many murder mysteries? Is it because someone dying is a handy little plot mechanism that shoves some energy into a story that is getting overweight and picturesque? The most recent book that I abjectly admired is ATONEMENT by Ian McEwan. People die in this story, but their deaths don't serve to create plot. The hugeness of the book is interior. Events happen, but what I care about is what Cee and Robbie and, most of all, the magnificently frustrating Briony are thinking. There is no clumsy: he walked into a room with a gun.


The fictional dead don't feel (unless you make them, but that's different).

I took barre today and had moments when I felt like my knee was strung together with rubberbands. Stretched out rubberbands, not the nice taut new ones. Now it's gone a bit puffy and squishy, probably full of what Dr. Bost cheerfully refers to as "blood and guts." I think he actually relishes saying that.

Why does 50,000 words suddenly seem ridiculous?