Friday, July 21, 2017

Summer Reading

July isn't even over yet, and I've already purchased 25 books.

I've got a lot of reading to do.

But that's cool, because I love to read.

History.  A little about England and a lot about languages.  Sagremor-approved.

Classics.  Joseph Conrad, Sir Walter Scott, and three volumes of The Arabian Nights.  Contemporary.  The "Frank Nitti Trilogy."  More language.  And a book about getting rid of the US Air Force, for good measure.

Geopolitics & anthropology.  More English history.  A Gaiman novel.  Science.

The American Revolution from the British perspective.  And three books to help me hone my foreign language skills.

Friday, July 14, 2017

1000

According to my post count, this is number 1000.

Granted, there have been some posts I've taken down (at least one), and a couple that originally appeared on other blogs as chapters of co-writes that I've posted back-ups for here (probably four or five of those), but according to the post count, well...

This is #1000.

The first blog post I ever wrote was on a MySpace blog.  A friend of mine had written her own bio on her IMDb entry and it had irked me to no end, so I complained about it.  It was just over eleven years ago, and I was a helluva lot more curmudgeonly than I am now, despite my now being of a more appropriate curmudgeonly age.

And then it kind of went from there.  I was still young enough to be in my "I know everything" phase, and still arrogant enough to think that other people would want to read my opinions.  I am, admittedly, still pretty arrogant, but not so much that I delude myself into thinking other people care what I think.  Indeed, with most things, it's quite the opposite.  I actually try very hard to keep my mouth shut until someone asks me something directly.  Not that that always works.  I am human, after all.

In those early days of my blogging, I wrote wantonly of my opinions and wistfully of romantic notions of finding happiness.  I was in the death throes of a bad relationship (one that would wriggle with a weak, debilitating pulse for another three years or so) and in-between relationships that would provide with me with what I thought was motivation, but was really just misdirection.  But, slowly and surely, I started delving into my creative writing and - also slowly and surely - began sharing more and more of it on my blog.

By early 2009, one of my best online friends (we'll call him Joe) had discovered Blogger (then called Blogspot) and started a new blog there.  After following him for a few months, on June 21, 2009, I decided to give Blogger a try.  There had been a creative posting group called "Theme Thursday" (of which Joe was a part of), so I hesitantly gave it a go.  I didn't know it at the time, but I met one of my best in-person friends - Helen - during that Theme Thursday run, as well as several other Bloggers whom I have since met in person and keep in touch with to this day.

As all things tend to, however, the creative blogging community faded, and I lost touch with many of them.  Of the ones I kept in touch with, quite a few helped fund my first short film and a handful have become quite rabid supporters of my short film projects.  One, Megan, lives near me, and I've gotten to know her and her family (her son even house-sat for me during one of my overseas trips).  Another, Tom, I linked up with in Chicago and accompanied him to his home in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Mortality, however, does not spare the virtual world, and another friend of mine - Tina - passed away a few years ago.  I hadn't learned about it for almost a year after her death, and my last messages to her with but a week or so before it.  Still, she was supportive of my creative endeavors, and her name is in the credits of my first film.  Others have died, of course, and still others have simply drifted away.  Happily, though, several are now Facebook friends, and while I may have not met all of them in person as of yet, the odds are strong that it will happen, particularly as I find myself traveling the world more and more frequently.

The absolute pinnacle of my blogging was in 2010.  I had hundreds of followers, posted on a schedule several times per week, even as I moved three times from late 2009 to late 2010 (including one rather large cross-country transition).

And then, in early 2011, I just lost it.  I can't remember exactly what happened, but it no doubt involved romantic notions of women who wanted nothing to do with those notions, and my world turned temporarily to shit.  I actually gave my blog to someone else (literally, gave it away) and faded to posted only a few times per month (mostly out of habit).

After wallowing in self-pity for few weeks, I got drunk one day, bought a plane ticket to Australia and - in April of 2011 - visited the country I would quickly fall in love with.  At the end of that month, I returned to the United States changed a bit, but still generally without direction.  I lost my gall bladder at the end of that year, and that's when everything changed.

Actually, now that I think about it... three things happened between 2009 and 2011 that changed everything.  In late 2009, before I left the sleepy North Carolina town I had been calling home, I ran into a woman I had a crush on back in 1995, and she inspired to get off my ass, ditch what had been making me angry, and go chase my fucking dreams.  In late 2010, I returned to Southern California - the region where I had grown up - and began to try to work out my career aspirations (to little avail, at least initially), which inadvertently resulted in my trip to Australia early the following year.  Then, in late 2011, my gall bladder got infected, blocked with stones, and pretty much ruptured, skyrocketing my productivity because, shit, I almost could've maybe possibly died.  And almost could've maybe possibly dying can motivate a motherfucker.

Long story short, 2012 to now has mostly been writing and producing short films and writing and editing feature screenplays.  And while things have generally been successful in that regard (an almost detour to Afghanistan in late 2012, notwithstanding), something had disappeared from who I was.  I no longer felt the wistful romantic urges that were once so very much a part of me.  On the flip side, I was also no longer easily angered.  Certainly, I don't miss the angry me, but I definitely miss the romantic me.  Indeed, during a short but intense relationship with a beautiful French actress in early 2012, there was almost no spark.  No... love?  Lust?  Anything?  I felt detached for almost the entire relationship, and I didn't know why.

(an ex-girlfriend would often say that you can only love as much as you can hate, and while I question her inspiration for such a statement, maybe she was onto something)

Anyway, I'm rambling now, but fast-forwarding to 2017, and I'm reading again.  I'm writing in significant amounts again.  I'm putting myself out there, both with the career and with new people.  The romantic in me is still very much absent, but I know he's in there somewhere.  I've lost thirty or so pounds since the end of 2016.  I eat better.  I exercise more.  I study more.  I'm strongly considering returning to school in 2018 or 2019 and earning my Masters and Doctorate.

I want to keep traveling.  I want to live in Australia.  I want to pay off all of my debts and take care of my parents.  I want to meet my beautiful, wonderful traveling companion.  I want the overbearing pragmatic me to give just a little leeway to the romantic me that just needs some room to breathe.

And I want to share with you what I'm doing.  Not because I think you should know what I think or feel.  Not because I think my life is anything to be envious of.  But because I want to share.  Read me if you like, ignore me if you prefer, but I'm going to put my life, my world, on these pages.  Not on a schedule, mind you.  Nor even with any guarantee of frequency.

But I enjoyed blogging when I did it, even at the end of 2010 when it had started feeling like a chore.  I don't keep secrets anymore.  The things I've done that were wicked, evil, or malicious are public to all who ask.  I have nothing to hide and no reason (nor will) to hide anything at all.

I am irreverent.  I am irrelevant.  But I am here, and I've been here for a helluva lot longer than 1000 blog posts.

Here's to another thousand.  And another thousand beyond that.

If you stick around, I hope you enjoy.  I hope you comment and ask me crazy, silly, and hard questions.  Call me out on my bullshit, please.  Let's discuss the things we disagree on.  Let's revel in our agreements.

On that note, pardon me while I revel in some homemade whiskey sours.

Tullamore D.E.W., bitches.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Irreview, Book Review: Balkan Ghosts

Whew.  It's not often that I read a book and am nearly floored.  I suppose it's happened with a few novels (Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove and Dan Simmons' Ilium and Olympos), but I'm hard-pressed to recall one non-fiction book that's done that to me.

Well, I was hard-pressed.  No longer.

Robert D. Kaplan's Balkan Ghosts is ostensibly a travel book about, well, traveling through the former Yugoslavia (while it was still Yugoslavia), Romania, Bulgaria, and Greece.  And I suppose it is that, but, oh... it is so, so much more.  Kaplan writes of the region's history, its anthropology, and its geopolitics in such a natural and seamless manner, it reads very closely to a good novel.  Both a storyteller and a journalist, Kaplan also seamlessly transitions between the subjective and the objective, while remaining crystal clear about which is which so as not to deceive the reader.

I had been familiar with the series of wars that broke up Yugoslavia.  I have striking memories of pictures from the overthrow of Ceausescu in Romania (I believe I still may have the Time or Newsweek magazine that showed the man dead on its cover).  And I have vague recollections of the dark and violent period of 80s and early 90s Greece.

But, really... I had no fucking idea.

Let's back up a moment.

A few years ago, I had written a screenplay called Theorem, which largely takes place in the Balkans (Croatia, specifically).  A friend of mine came to a table read of my script and remarked that nothing in it felt "Balkan."  We had a long discussion about what that meant, and he recommended Kaplan's book to me.  So, I bought it.  And when it arrived, I flipped through it.  I flipped through the small section about Croatia the most, but I didn't give the book any due diligence and basically left it to gather dust on a bookshelf for two or three years.

Fast-forward to a week or so ago.  I'm in the middle of my renaissance of reading, and I have to work on another screenplay (The Hand That Feeds You) that was presenting character problems.  After having read Tim O'Brien's "How to Tell a True War Story" and Graham Greene's The Quiet American, I felt that I should read something more contemporary to see if I can fit anything into a specific character.  And that caused me to choose to read Balkan Ghosts (there is a similar motivation to rewatch the William Friedkin movie, The Hunted).

Wow.  I wish I would've read Balkan Ghosts when my friend told me to.

It is... profound, to say the least.  The hows, whens, and whys of what the Balkans have gone through and will go through are presented with depth, all the under the auspices of Mr. Kaplan "traveling" through the region.  Cultural hatreds are not only well-explained, but made obvious, both in their motivations and their executions.  And Kaplan's predictions for what lie in wait for the various ethnic groups and nations... prescient, indeed.

While I am not much closer to being an expert on the Balkans than I was before I read this, the narratives ring and read true.  I've no doubt someone of one of these Balkan civilizations would read the book and claim something along the lines of, "Oh, this guy got (my) culture wrong, but he's nailed these others."

It is that uncomfortable a subject matter.  And, yet, presented so matter-of-factly, with just the right amount of narrative paint, that you can't help but feel comfortable with even the most heinous accounts depicted (or theorized) in Balkan Ghosts.

That stated, it is a relatively dense book.  It's not dense writing, per se, but I found myself slogging through it at times, or having to reread entire pages.  Strangely, none of that took away from the enjoyment of this book for me.  Indeed, going over pages more than once probably even helped my grasp of it.

Needless to say, I love it.  So much so, I've purchased two more of Mr. Kaplan's books (including a "sequel" to Balkan Ghosts).

If you've any interest in the Balkans, or history, anthropology, or geopolitics in general, do yourself a massive favor and get this book.

Rating: 20 (Style: 4 stars; Substance: 5 stars)


Things I Learned:
  • What I've been calling "editorial journalism" (and some others might refer to as "fake news") has a formal name: Gonzo journalism.  I'm sure I've heard the term before.  I've just never put two and two together.
  • "Ruritania" is a fictional Central European country from a trilogy of books written in the late 19th century, and since used in the writings of others.  In the academic world, scholars use "Ruritania" to discuss concepts and theories regarding the real world, so as to avoid insulting any one nation or people.
  • Hungarian peoples are also known as Magyar, and that is, in fact, the Hungarian language.
  • Chaika - a Russian car company, apparently known for their distinctive limousines.

New Words:
  • lignitea usually brownish black coal intermediate between peat and bituminous coal; especially :  one in which the texture of the original wood is distinct —called also brown coal
  • apsea projecting part of a building (such as a church) that is usually semicircular in plan and vaulted - (I actually knew this one already, but I hadn't realized it until after I looked it up, so I've included it.)
  • cognomenthe third of usually three names borne by a male citizen of ancient Rome; a distinguishing nickname or epithet
  • hagiographer (hagiography) - biography of saints or venerated persons
  • irredentisma political principle or policy directed toward the incorporation of irredentas within the boundaries of their historically or ethnically related political unit
  • charwomana cleaning woman especially in a large building
  • palimpsestwriting material (such as a parchment or tablet) used one or more times after earlier writing has been erased
  • pogroman organized massacre of helpless people; specifically :  such a massacre of Jews
  • desultorily (desultory) - marked by lack of definite plan, regularity, or purpose
  • Niloticof or relating to the Nile or the peoples of the Nile basin
  • gimcracka showy object of little use or value
  • hourione of the beautiful maidens that in Muslim belief live with the blessed in paradise
  • dunhaving a slightly brownish dark gray color :  having the color dun; marked by dullness and drabness

The Profound:

This is a new section that is basically just tidbits of information or slices of philosophy or clever quotes that sit well with me.
  • "Mythology is what never was, but always is." - Stephen of Byzantium
  • "Istanbul" is a corruption of a Greek phrase, "is tin poli" (to the city) - which is hilarious, given the reasons the Turks renamed Constantinople.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Noosa International Film Festival, 2017

After selecting five of six submitted Short Pajamas short films in 2016, the Noosa International Film Festival has selected one of one submitted Short Pajamas short films in 2017!


Sadly, I don't think I'm going to be in Noosa this year.  Last year's festival was an absolute joy, however, and if you're anywhere nearby, I highly recommend popping in for a screening or two.

Try for whatever block "Ananas Comosus" is in. ;)


Monday, July 10, 2017

Headshot

I had to get a headshot.

Dozens of photos were taken.  Maybe hundreds.  The photographer let me pick from eleven.

I think this is the winner.  I dunno.

I hate having my photo taken.  But I'm trying to get over that.  Which is why I'm sharing.

I'm gonna go get drunk now.

Bleh.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Oceanside International Film Festival, 2017

For the second year in a row, the Oceanside International Film Festival has accepted two of my films.

Not one.

But two!

>


Oceanside, for other reasons, has a very special place in my heart, so I'm glad to be going back.

Hope to see some of you there!

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Irreview, Book Review: The Quiet American

Ever since I read The Third Man and "The Fallen Idol" (also known as "The Basement Room"), I've had a strong if unearned admiration for Graham Greene.  Those two stories were so amazing to me, I immediately placed Greene into my subjective pantheon of great authors.  Of course, I had told myself that I was going to continue to read his work, but short of seeing a handful of movies based on his novels and short stories, I never furthered my education into the man's literary prowess.

Fast forward a few years, and I finally purchase The Quiet American.

And then it proceeds to sit on my bookshelf for another year or so.

And then I watch The Quiet American (the Michael Caine and Brendan Fraser version).  The book sits.  And then I watch The Third Man (inferior to the book, in my opinion, and certainly doesn't hold up well, though I do quite enjoy it).  The book sits.

Until my recent reading spurt.  Motivated in part by this spurt, but also by a story I'm writing that involves a character that I was considering making a veteran of Vietnam, I decided to pull The Quiet American from the shelf and give it a read.

Initially, I didn't like what I was reading, and became somewhat embarrassed for my very public, very gushing praise for Graham Greene.  But, then, as many stories do (including my all-time favorite, Lonesome Dove),  The Quiet American hits its stride and evolved into as wonderful a read as both The Third Man and "The Fallen Idol."

Its concerns a British reporter and an American missionary (of sorts), caught up in the First Indochina War, fought mainly between Communist Vietnamese and French colonial powers.  At face value, The Quiet American is about a love triangle involving the reporter, the missionary, and the reporter's Vietnamese mistress.  At that face value, it works quite well.

Beneath the facade, however, is a deeply personal story regarding Greene's attitudes toward European imperialism and influence (particularly that of England and, obviously, France) and America's rising level of interference in world affairs.  As metaphors go, Greene nails it.  The intrigue is superbly interesting (once the plot gets going) and hiding it behind and in front of the love story is superbly effective.  Greene's wanton romanticism always seems so grounded and so real, that even his playing with historical facts and assumption of Western conspiracy hits you where it counts.

This is a wonderful book.  And that's pretty much all there is to say.

Rating: 16 (Style: 4 stars; Story: 4 stars)

Things I Learned:

Whoa, boy... as far as an educational experience, this one was a whopper.  On a general note, I learned a lot about the First Indochina War that I had not known.  On a more specific note, I learned quite a few words.  I wouldn't say anywhere near as many as when I read Poe, for instance, but enough that Greene will definitely be an author I turn to when I want to increase my knowledge of the English language.
  1. Caodaism - an Indo-Chinese religion originating in Cochin China in 1926, consisting of an amalgamation of elements from Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Christianity, and spiritualism, and having its clergy headed by a pope who as the direct representative of its supreme deity exercises both spiritual and temporal power - (ah,the artifice of modern religion)
  2. Hoa-Hao - another Indo-Chinese religion, mostly based on Buddhism.  Hoa-Haos were enemies of the Caodists in the First Indochina War.
  3. Berkeleian - philosophically, it's the notion that all things are"immaterial" or "subjectively ideal" - Really, I don't know much about it, but from what I've (very quickly) gathered, it seems like an offshoot of solipsism.
The rest are new words:
  1. breviary - a book of the prayers, hymns, psalms, and readings for the canonical hours
  2. soutane - a type of cassock
  3. chinoiserie - a style in art (as in decoration) reflecting Chinese qualities or motifs; also :  an object or decoration in this style - (you have no idea how happy it makes me that this word exists)
  4. planchette - a small triangular or heart-shaped board supported on casters at two points and a vertical pencil at a third and believed to produce automatic writing when lightly touched by the fingers; also :  a similar board without a pencil - (think Ouija board, and you've got the idea)
  5. godown - a warehouse in a country of southern or eastern Asia - (how crazy-specific is that???)
  6. zareba - an improvised stockade constructed in parts of Africa especially of thorny bushes
  7. piastre - a monetary subunit of the pound (Egypt, Lebanon, Syria) - (also apparently the unit of money in French Indochina, which I only learned by looking up)
  8. sampan - a flat-bottomed skiff used in eastern Asia and usually propelled by two short oars - (did NOT know that's what they were called)
  9. pastis - a French liqueur flavored with aniseed
  10. garret - a room or unfinished part of a house just under the roof

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Independence Day Resolution

I used to be an avid reader.  Like, voracious.  That all changed sometime in the late 90s/early 00s, though I still managed to knock out quite a few books.  And then they got fewer and further in-between.  There were always spurts, of course, but it never stuck.  My brain just never again settled into absorbing words, sentences, paragraphs, and chapters like it once had.

Anyway, I managed to read seven books last month.  I had a blast doing it, too.  I hope to read another six or seven this month.

Here's hoping it's not just another spurt.


Happy Independence Day, everyone!

Monday, July 3, 2017

Irreview, Book Review: Road to Paradise

Hmm...

The novel Road to Paradise is a sequel to novel Road to Purgatory and ostensibly ends the tale of Michael O'Sullivan, Jr., that began in the graphic novel, Road to Perdition.

Road to Paradise starts with Michael Satariano (O'Sullivan's alter ego) running the Cal-Neva Lodge in Lake Tahoe, having "retired" from his violent mob ways while remaining in the mob world.  He's generally happy in life with his wife and daughter, but has recently learned his son has probably been killed in Vietnam.

And then an exiled mob boss shows up in his office and asks him to do a job, which Michael refuses.

Without giving up too much detail and the plot, Road to Paradise wraps up the story of Michael O'Sullivan, Jr., in a way that that brings the whole trilogy full circle, while still pushing the narrative forward into new territory.

Like the first two books in this trilogy, I like Road to Paradise.  I don't love it, but I do like it and I'd love to see a graphic novel version of this one, as well.  Author Max Allan Collins continues to seamlessly blend the fictional with the non-fictional and as a peek into the world of the American Mafia, it's as educational as it is entertaining.  Collins also improves upon Satariano's character greatly, something that I felt was a bit flat in Road to Purgatory.  Sadly, the character of Satariano's daughter didn't quite do it for me, and she came across as mostly as a foil for Satariano, as well as a plot convenience (she is, effectively, the novel's major plot point).

That stated, the ending is pretty impressive.  Not necessarily for the plot and story, but for how well Collins wraps up the trilogy.  There is an aspect of the graphic novel that was missing from the entire novel trilogy (and is missing from the film), and its absence had me curious as to whether or not Collins was going to retcon it out of the story, or just ignore it altogether.  I am happy to state that he did neither.

Rating: 9 - (Style: 3 stars; Story: 3 stars)

Side note: This book didn't seem to have the typo problems the first two had.

Things I Learned:
  1. The Papago people - a Native American people of the Sonoran Desert, formally known as the Tohono O'odham
  2. New word: Banlon - a synthetic yarn used in clothing... technically, Ban-Lon (I actually think this is something I had known, just forgotten)
  3. New word: jute - a natural fiber that is used for making rope and cloth
If anything, this book trilogy has taught me more about textiles in the past month than I think I've ever learned before.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Kay is a Dick

I was looking through my Instagram feed to share something here, and came across a video of a dog I was dogsitting in early June while her owners were vacationing in Hawaii.  It's a cute video and I'll post it soon, but I wound up (as one often does) walking down various lanes of memory and found a bunch of other photos and videos that my vanity deems I should share, as well.

So, here you go.

This one is from July 6 of 2016 or thereabouts.  It's called, "Kay is a Dick."