Thursday, May 19, 2005


Update: The Littlest of Boys

(See April 13th post, The littlest of boys, for background.)

The littlest of boys has been doing quite well. In fact, he was slated to come home from the hospital this week. The latest news, however, is that he has developed a problem that is apparently common in baby boys: pyloric stenosis, the thickening of a valve between the stomach and small intestine. This problem is corrected by a quick, simple surgerical procedure, which requires his transfer to another hospital. Doctors are being reassuring that this is not a major problem or a major procedure & that his hospital stay will only have a few more days added to it.

UPDATE: The surgery went well. He should be able to go home on Saturday. Yay! His parents have been advised to keep him in the home pretty much for at least the next year - just to avoid exposure to things - like people -- that might make him sick. But at least he'll be home.

Monday, May 16, 2005


The Waiting Game

Waiting to hear from two different slush piles for stories and one for six poems -- and approaching the critical 3-month average response time for the stories. Is there any truth to what I've read elsewhere about how the longer something you've submitted is kept the more positive a reaction it's generated in the readers?

Waiting to hear the results of a job interview for a job that seemed to have been written specifically for me.... How many other folks in my neck of the woods are fluent in Russian and have teaching and career counseling and editing experience? If there are more folks with my unusual background in this neighborhood, maybe we should form a club! Still, it would be so wonderful to have a job that uses my somewhat unique skills set. Please, please, please call me with a job offer this week...!

Waiting for my lease to be up so that we can simplify life a little bit. One home instead of two... How nice that will be!

Waiting... *sigh* At least it's all for good things, eh?

Monday, May 09, 2005


On Reading & "Reading Up"

I've spent a little time considering what "reading up" means to me, as EC had encouraged in a blog entry way back in December 2004. The concept isn't exactly new; after all, my lifelong career as a reader has had both amateur, or hobbyist, and professional sides to it, and the examination of theories of reading was part of my training as a professional reader, aka grad student in comparative literature.

My reading life has almost always had this schism, a rift separating reading material that is "good for you" from reading material that is "not as good for you." The genre fiction I enjoy has typically fallen into the latter category, with notable exceptions as certain authors have managed to cross over into the canon of what is traditionally labeled acceptable, high-quality literature, at least by academics. Orwell and Le Guin come to mind, for instance.

That said, having reached the decision that I will not be writing the dissertation, over the last several months I have found myself balking at the idea of reading anything that might attempt to fit into that "good for you" category. This reticence, combined with the suspicion that any book that makes a bestseller list or a tv show's book club has got to questionable in quality simply because of its popularity, has meant that I've stubbornly persisted in reading cheap paperback after cheap paperback. (At $7 and $8 a pop, can they really be called "cheap" paperbacks anymore?) Until I finally started to crave something a little -- well, deeper, more meaningful, more aesthetically interesting, more challenging to read.

So I went on a shopping spree, bearing in mind EC's advice about "reading up" and my own inclination to find something a little more intense to read than what I've been pulling off the bookshelf recently. And I have to say that I have really enjoyed the books I picked up, as well as some others that had been loaned to me.

(By the way, The Turkish Gambit, the third (E)/second (R) book in the series, has also been made into a film that looks like a lot of fun.)

Tuesday, May 03, 2005


Something to do in Indiana when it snows in April

A couple weekends ago, in the wee hours of the morning (well, for a Saturday) we ventured to Indianapolis to spend a day at the Indianapolis International Film Festival. From 10AM on Saturday 'til 1AM or so on Sunday, we took part in seven different screenings - five feature-length movies and two sets of shorts. Here's a mini-review (links to IMDB's entry on the film when available)...

If I understand correctly, this festival is a fairly new endeavor, the brainchild of Wm. Brian Owens, who must have cloned himself or something because he was everywhere. We met him when we picked up our passes; he introduced nearly every film we saw; he mingled in the lobby area and actually found the time to talk with festival-goers about the movies they had seen; and he sat in on at least one screening we were in. I have to say that I really appreciate his efforts. Because of the way he maintained a presence in the goings-on and made himself available (in person during the four-day event and via e-mail before and after the event), it kind of felt like we were guests in his amazing home theater rather than two of more than 3,000 attendees at a film festival. Kudos to Wm. Brian Owens!

The Features:

Lonesome Jim
This movie marks Steve Buscemi's directorial debut. Filmed in and around Goshen, IN, it was also one of the "locally grown" movies that were screened at the festival. Casey Affleck stars as Jim, a Hoosier boy who returns home after having spent some time in New York City, where he had hoped to make his living as a writer. Through a few clues given in conversations with the parents (Mary Kay Place sparkles as mom), the viewer understands that Jim isn't just lonesome -- he's been exiled from his roots and from his family, albeit willingly, and returning to his hometown and the house where his parents raised him and his brother Tim (nice work by Kevin Corrigan) makes him extremely uncomfortable. After Jim's homecoming, the rest of the film depicts some of the crazy things that happen to his family, largely because of Jim's discomfort with his life, and the budding relationship between Jim and Anika (Liv Tyler in a stand-out performance), a nurse and single mother. Buscemi uses the settings well. The bleak midwestern landscape seems to be a reflection of Jim's mood. The house where his parents live with their adult sons seems connected to mom's personality, as well. Everything is in its place where it should be, but the house is welcoming without being inviting, much like mom is efficiently cheerful without really being friendly or warm. The pace is slow and the resolution of so much familial angst is abrupt, but if you're in the mood for an indie flick, you'll probably find something interesting in Lonesome Jim.

Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea
This was the movie that least interested me, and it turned out to be one of my three favorites from our day at the festival. I wholeheartedly recommend tracking this down to watch. Briefly, the Salton Sea is a manmade inland sea located some 50 miles south-southeast of Palm Springs, CA, and after going through an economic boom as a tourist attraction, the place is now an ecological nightmare (about to worsen drastically) where a hearty, or foolish, handful of folks hold on to their part of the American Dream, either remembering the glory days or speculating on a revival of the area. Plagues & Pleasures is a documentary that at time feels like it simply must be a mockumentary because the Real Live People - chiefly, residents of the dying communities that surround the Salton Sea - who are interviewed are such outright eccentric characters: the retirees who refuse to sell the properties that they bought back in the heydays because their investment may still pan out; the owner of the local diner who was a star fisherman back when the fish in the Salton Sea were still OK to eat; the Hungarian emigre and the Mexican emigre, both of whom see the communities around the Salton Sea as places of far greater opportunity than were those they left; the families who have more recently moved to a Salton Sea community from L.A., who see their new hometown as a safer place to raise their kids than the gang-riddled neighborhoods they left behind; the always naked old man who enjoys the freedom living in this "last frontier" gives him; the artist who has a commission from God to create his art so that it will be ready for folks to see when the area goes into another "boom" phase. The more the eccentrics talk and the more you learn about the area's past, present, and potential future, you can't help but become more attached to these people, and I think that's where this documentary so overwhelmingly succeeds. There are potentially devastating ecological problems in the Salton Sea area, and as you learn about the current problems (high salinity in the waters yields dead fish, which creates botulism, which kills the seabirds that have been pushed inland from the California coast), you also learn about potential future problems (a dead seabed and alkali windstorms blowing into Palm Springs) and you have the faces of all these people living in the communities around the Salton Sea in front of you... so the scientific facts are married to the personal stories, and you can't help but care.

Pearl Diver
Like Lonesome Jim, Pearl Diver is another movie set in Goshen, IN, but this time the story focuses on conflict between two sisters, one who leads a more secular lifestyle and the other who has stayed true to the Mennonite way of life in which she was raised. On the surface, the difference in lifestyles seems to be the point of contention between the two women, but you come to understand that the source of the conflict stems from their reactions to the murder of their mother some 20 years earlier. Eventually, you learn that they are also reacting to the actions that each of them took the night their mother was murdered. This revelation should be the payoff. Finally, the jarring bits of flashback come together to tell the story of what happened that night, bringing together the perspectives of each young girl. And, in a way, this scene does reward. But there's a heavy-handedness to the way the plot unfolds that left me dissatisfied with the film. I found most irking the scene in which one of the sisters explains the title of the film to another character; surely, the title must be explained because this is not a film set in Japan or dealing with Japanese women pearl divers, and that's problemmatic. It's what makes this film seem more amateur than some others. Still, as someone who appreciates narrative filmwork, I liked it more than I disliked it. There's a story involving some fairly interesting, non-Hollywood characters, and that's nice to see.

Sud pralad (Tropical Malady) and
Mei li de xi yi ji (The Beautiful Washing Machine)
There were two international features that we were interested in seeing, Tropical Malady because we couldn't think of anything we might have seen from Thailand and The Beautiful Washing Machine because the story sounded like a delightful piece of magic realism. More often than not, when I've chosen an international film to watch, it's come from the European or Russian cinematic traditions. Evidently those directors have been treating moviegoers with kid gloves because these two films were very different and very difficult to watch. I still wonder how my experience would have been different had I not seen the two back-to-back or at the end of a long day of movie screenings. I'm not convinced that I would have appreciated Washing Machine any more. It's a difficult movie, full of long sequences in which little happens or the same kinds of events happen over and over. None of the characters - not even the girl who springs forth from the washing machine - comes across as sympathetic in any way, and the anti-consumerist, feminist (or, as I'm still debating with myself, possibly anti-feminist), and masochistic themes and images are disturbing. Similarly, Malady has long sequences in which little happens, and there's even a disjointed spot in the middle where it appears that a whole 'nother movie has started, even though other than a slightly extended fade-to-black, there hasn't been a clear ending (in terms of plot resolution) to the movie that you started watching. But it's in this second part that the magical realism I was expecting in Washing Machine shows up, as a young soldier on patrol chases a tiger - no, a shaman - no, a tiger - no, a shaman - through the forestland. The screening left me a bit confused about what I'd just seen, but I also had the feeling that I'd just seen something kind of beautiful, even if I didn't quite understand all the nuances. Reading more about the film later helped me understand some parts better. Of the two, I have to recommend Tropical Malady, although with some reservations. I can't stress enough that it's not an easy film to watch, but if you can get through it, mull it over, and check out a couple of the reviews you can find by googling it, there's something good and interesting in it. (The title, I learned from googling, when translated into English means "strange animal," and this seems important to the film.)

The Shorts:
from the "Cartoons for Grown-Ups" screening

9: One of the best. In my top 3. The animation wows, but the story is just as excellent. A lovely and exciting piece of fantasy.

Ryan: An animated documentary about the animator Ryan Larkin, whose work you may recognize. The animator who created this documentary depicts people in a shocking manner. The only problem with this short is that it's too short and comes across as a little bit disjointed and light in content.

Seventeen: All hail the hand-drawn animation! The plot is nightmarish, but the hand-drawn animation is done well.

Through My Thick Glasses: Claymation used to tell a WWII story, as a grandfather tells his grandchild about his youth in the Resistance fighting the War Machine, and we see how the child understands - very literally - his words. I thought this was precious, and I actually liked it more than Ryan, at least as far as content is concerned (as both are stylistically interesting).

Arj & Poopy: Really short (less than a minute to 2 minutes, perhaps) animation depicting conversations between a guy and his cat. The really short ones are funnier than the longer ones. No listing comes up on IMDB, unfortunately.

Everyone Else Has Had More Sex Than Me: From the director behind Arj & Poopy, this turned out to be a music video.

from the "The World Laughs With You" screening

Dutch Bird: A pleasant short film featuring the actor from Waking Ned Divine. Reminiscent of Saving Grace. A thumbs up!

Mary: If you've ever wondered what would have happened to Joan of Arc in the contemporary Age of Medication, then you'll probably get a kick out of this (really, really) short short. Apparently it's being shown, at least in some theaters, with Woody Allen's flick, Melinda and Melinda. And given his penchant for neuroses, the pairing makes a lot of sense.

Tama tu: This is a little gem. If you can find it, watch it.

West Bank Story Another gem! In this short film, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is placed into the framework of the musical West Side Story. They go for the overstatement rather than subtlety, and the results are pretty funny.

The Regular Guy presents a running gag that appeals to elementary school students and/or adults who haven't outgrown elementary school gags, and it goes on waaaay too long. Icky, icky, icky.

We packed a picnic lunch, but we ended up eating our hummus and cheddar cheese sandwiches in the car. After a couple weeks of pleasant spring weather, this particular weekend turned cold and windy, making the short walk from the venue to the car something less than pleasant. But the picnic was cozy, and the day was great for memory-making. Even getting lost on our way out of town - at 2AM in the snow! - was fun, in its own way. Which just proves that, more often than not, it's who you're with, not what you're doing or where you're going, that makes the day special.

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