Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Comparative Literature: Breaking Bad and 19 Kids and Counting

I like having two shows going at the same time on Netflix. Right now, it's Breaking Bad and 19 Kids and Counting. I've been struck by the commonalities of both shows:

  • Both portray American families and their struggles and how they problem solve, e.g. both the Whites and the Duggars hold family meetings to address issues
  • Michelle Duggar teaches a class of around 20 students and so does Mr. White
  • Both sets of parents try to protect their respective families from harm and influence from the outside world
  • They are all nerdy
  • The health of one parent is the focus of the show and the family (pregnancy for Michelle and lung cancer for Walt Sr)
  • Both families drive used cars
  • Both families leverage what they have for the most possible gain
I could probably go on. I love both of the shows equally, after being equally squicked out by both at first. And I love the idea of one of those worlds bleeding together in my imagination (literally). 

Monday, August 05, 2013

Meetings: A Poem

I snuggle under your blanket of words,
Made drowsy by its weight, its volume.
My eyes fight the light
As you tuck me in, phrase by prepositional phrase.

Murmurs on the edges lull me
And I drift into my doodled abstractions,
Absorbed by patterns and angles
Until you snick closed the slide show
And open Windows.

I take my leave and find coffee. 

Thursday, November 01, 2012

November Limbo

These are the good things that are coming:

  • New position at work: Research Analyst 12/1
  • Thanksgiving 11/29
  • Christmas 12/25
  • [Redacted]
We'll talk more later.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Raising Gamers

It's finally happened, my kids have taught me how to play a video game. Ever hear of Minecraft? It's a spiffy little product that was developed by some programmers and set loose on the world. A whole community has risen up and produced hours of video and tomes of information about how to play the game. There are also many songs written about it, parody's of other songs, mostly, that we've all had a lot of fun with it.

It's great because there is no walk through or instruction guide. You've got to discover what to do. And my kids did just that. Then they showed me how to get started and how to get help.

It's now become a family passion.

The best thing about this experience for me is that it reminds me that I need to be who I am. I used to hide the fact that I am a gamer, thinking maybe that I would be perceived as immature. So, I wouldn't engage with others about it. I just pulled the blinds and huddled in a corner to play Civilization until my eyes bled. Or I'd game with a few close friends.

But I was raised a gamer myself. My Dad took me to arcades every Saturday where he would spend one quarter on Donkey Kong and I would spend many on several of my favorite games. Then we got an Odyssey system, followed by an Atari 800, followed by a Nintendo, Super Nintendo, etc. And I didn't have to ask for one of these. They were my Dad's and he was my guide through the digital playland.

And I've spent a lot of time with Doc helping the girls find their way too. And now they are showing us the way using terms like "n00b, biome, wiki." And they're good little teachers too!

As a result, our new family obsession is Minecraft. We look at the world together as a place to be chopped, picked and slashed at. We try to keep safe and watch out for zombies. We get lost then find our way. It's totally awesome...I mean epic, as the kids are saying.

Monday, January 16, 2012

F3 - Cycle 63 - Hush

Prompt: You know something, but you do nothing…ever, no matter what happens
Length: Let’s do it between 500 and 1500 words
Style: Noir, psychological thriller, or horror
Deadline: Wednesday January 18th 9:00PM

"Micky," she gasped, "You can't say a word to no one!"

"But..." I stammered.

"Not a word," she breathed.

I watched her. The sweat on her brow shimmered in the amber light at the back of the store room. I could still smell the burnt gunpowder drifting up from the Mauser at my feet as I pressed my too-small pocket square against her gut wound.

"Miranda," I begged, "I have to tell them what happened here."

"You can't," she said. "Joey...He didn't know what he was doing..."

"What should I say?" I pleaded, "They're going to come after me, you know it!"

"I don't know, Mick," she closed her eyes and swallowed, "You'll find the way out, you always do."

Dammit all! My eyes started to fill with tears. She was too young. Too good. Goddammit all to hell! I've loved her all my life and now she was slipping away because some stupid fool didn't get that sometimes goodness could really be pure and not a ploy. He couldn't believe her heart was still golden.

"I know I can count on you, Micky...I can count on you right? Keep this quiet so Joey isn't ruined; he didn't mean it" She opened her eyes and looked into mine, "Promise to hush?"

"I Promise, Miranda," I said, choking as the doom slid down my back, "Cross my heart..."

"Hope to die..." she said, as her eyes closed and her last breath fell from her lips.

Sirens began their distant cries as the boys in blue made their way to the docks. It was an election year so the cops were on high alert and quick to respond, even in this neck of the woods. They had a point to prove to the voters, I guess. They had to show that they were worth all that tax money. On an off year, I'd have had time to get her out of this dump, ditch the gun, have her funeral, and sing at her wake before they would have known she was dead. Lucky me.

I couldn't run. I couldn't leave her here like this. Let 'em find me. I could go for a good round or too with a fresh-faced rookie with a new billy club to try out. Served me right for missing clues. For trusting.

I could hear their cars screech to a halt right outside the loading bay. Jesus Christ, Joey must have told them exactly where to go. No one else was around, I know; I staked the place out for 18 hours before Joey and Miranda showed up, his goons in tow. Not a soul around, unless you count the dearly departed souls of the dead fish that crowded up around the docks.

What the hell to say. I had to figure something out. Joey and Miranda and I all grew up together on Buckeye Street. Stick ball, kick the can, hide and seek, you name it, we played it. Thick as thieves, we were. Joey, though, he always had that something extra about him, something special. People just wanted to be around him. But Miranda and I were the only ones he wanted around him. I always knew why Miranda was in his inner circle, but not me. I suspect it was because of Miranda. She could tell we were good for each other. He would draw me out of myself and I would help him stay in check. It all worked out pretty good, until the war, of course.

I went to Germany and Joey went to the Pacific, an officer. We changed, devolved, maybe. We came back different, that's for sure. He was a war hero on the fast track to political stardom and I was trying to turn my MP experience into something worth a damn. The police force wouldn't have me. They said I'd have to go through the academy first. Turns out, my military police experience and a quarter would get me a cup of coffee in this town and that was about it. You'd think Joey would have pulled some strings, not that I asked, but still.

I ended up checking out insurance fraud cases and spying on spouses, while Joey hit the big time, first on the City Council and now as a State Senator. He was also making a play for Miranda and she was falling for him. She could see his good intentions better than anyone and she believed in him, in me. She couldn't see how war tore up a man, left him less than ideal. To her, we were both just bigger versions of our childhood selves. It was intoxicating, really, to be thought of that way, to be with someone who believed the best of you, always. She was worried about Joey, though, and hired me to watch out for him, be his "guardian angel," she said. Well, what I saw, I didn't like. But there was no convincing her...

"Freeze!" a voice heavy with authority yelled in my direction.

I looked up and saw a hulking figure outlined in moonlight pointing a gun in my baby blues.

"Hey, officer," I said, cool as a jello.

"Hands up!" he barked.

I looked down at Miranda one last time and whispered, "Thanks, sweetheart. See you in the funny papers." I kissed her forehead and slid my arms out from around her, setting her down gently. Even with the pall, her face was more beautiful then I ever remembered it being.

"I said hands up!"

"You got it, sir," I said as I put my hands above my head as instructed.

"Did you shoot that woman?" he asked. His voice shook a tiny bit and I knew I was in the presence of a gallant rookie.

"What do you think?"

"Well, I see you and a gun and a dead woman alone on the docks, I've got to believe there's a good chance you shot her."

"That figures," I smirked, "Couldn't possibly be anything else, that's what they teach you in the academy, right?"

"Evidence don't lie, punk,"

"That's your opinion, and opinions are like assholes; everyone has one."

It only took him three strides with his meaty legs to make his way from the door to me and bring the butt of his gun down on the back of my neck, knocking me to the floor and the wind out of my lungs. It was going to be a long night. A night where I had to tell the truth but not the whole story. The best I could hope for was the better angel of Joey's nature would kick him in the ass and he'd figure out a way to protect mine. I'm not holding my breath on that one though.

Maybe Joey will get scared, start thinking about the good old days and remember the blood oath the three of us took. Remember that it wasn't kids' stuff; it was real. He could remember how it was, how Miranda thought it still was. He's not going to hear about it from me though. A promise is a promise, and a deathbed one more so. It's not like I haven't had the shit beat out of me before. It's just been a long time since I've had it done professionally.

"You have the right to remain silent," he began, as the rest of his buddies crowded through the door.

I have every intention to, I thought, as the room went dark.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Dream Come True: Uncle Ralph Lives

I haven't been blogging everyday for November, but I have been working on a creative project (see above). It all started when we went to my sister-in-law's house for Halloween. Alicia and her husband Rick are unstoppably creative. For example, they have built a spook house in their basement that they keep up all year around and change every couple of months. It is outstanding and imaginative.

While we were at their house, the kids were watching a Rankin & Bass Halloween movie, Mad Monster Party. I watched a bit of it and was entranced, as usual, with the puppetry and animation. I wandered out on the enclosed porch with my brother-in-law, Rick. He was puffing on a pipe and I started telling him about how I've always wanted to make a stop-motion animation film.

"Why don't you?" he asked.

"Well, I'd need a script," I said.

He didn't say anything. We looked out over the foggy valley beyond the Rocky Fork Creek that runs in front  of their house. Then a thought occurred to me. I have a ton of material...all of the Uncle Ralph stuff I've written here! All of a sudden, the penny dropped and I suddenly knew how I could make it all happen. I also felt super-grateful for Rick's capacity for silence that gave me room to make this discovery. I moved away from all the obstacles and into the realm of the possible.

Doc and I started talking about it on the way home from their house. Then, we decided to make it happen. We are fortunate that we live in Speedy's old house. Speedy and his wife bought this house in the 50's when it was new and lived a very long and happy life together, if the love notes that are still taped to the inside of cupboard doors have anything to say about it. Speedy was a handy man and a shelf-builder extraordinaire. So, we had TONs of materials to start this project.

We began by building the set with a large piece of particle board...about 4x4. I had purchased a $30 circular saw and we angled the sides in slightly. Once that was built and suspended over two steel saw horses, Doc set the latter on top of it and climbed up into the rafters in our garage to pull down several pieces of paneling, press board and MDF that Speedy had stashed away for a rainy day. We also pulled down an ancient pair of wooden saw horses, who gave their life (and 2x4's) to support our walls.

After a few trips to Pat Catan's, or Pakistan's as my Grandma Jean used to call it, with Scotland (the Capn) and Elizabeth. We were ready to design and dress the set. And finish making Uncle Ralph, who is a drawing dummy under all that felt. I recorded Scotland doing the voice for Uncle Ralph.

The wallpaper and floor are contact paper. Doc made the wainscoting. Elizabeth covered the straw chair in felt and stuffing and doilies, and the kids decorated the tree.

We were nearly finished and ready to film, or so I thought. But Doc insisted that we build him a fireplace. I'm glad we did. It is a block of 2x4's glued together (another gift from Speedy). Doc cut out the fireplace part and painted it a shiny silver, selected from Speedy's vast collection of spray paint. 

Then we broke up a piece of Speedy's slate and hot glued the pieces to the front of the fireplace. Now we were ready.

It was Doc and me in the garage on a very cold night. We set the tripod and the camera. We watched  listened to short pieces of the video of Scotland and started filming. At first we tried to animate every single syllable. We were sure it would take us DAYS. We spent about three painstaking hours doing this. Doc would move the felt lips and the wooden arms and I would hold the camera in place and take the pictures. We thought we maybe had 10 seconds of material.

Then I loaded all the pictures into Movie Maker and the voice track. We set the pictures to .1 second duration and let her rip. We were confused to see that the images didn't exactly line up to the speech we thought we were animating. But we were pleasantly surprised by the fact that it didn't really matter. The movements matched the words, for the most part. And the unsteadiness of the camera gave it a Super 8 effect...totally the look I was going for. So after some careful cutting and pasting, we had a complete short film.

Now all we needed was the music. Doc and I went back and forth about what we should do. He suggested I play the piano. I wanted something better than that. So I convinced him to check out the royalty free music on iStock Photo. We found the perfect music: The First Flakes of Christmas. It was so earnest and heartfelt and very sweet, a nice counterpoint to Uncle Ralph's gruffness.

So last night, we finished up the editing and announced the birth of Uncle Ralph to Scotland and Elizabeth. They came over and we toasted our efforts and watched it together. It was a wonderful moment of the realization of a dream. Ever since Davy and Goliath and Rankin and Bass, I've always wanted to make a stop motion animation film. And since then, I've been blown away by Nick Park and Aardman Animations, who are responsible for Wallace and Grommet. I'm fascinated by the miniatures and the attention to detail on the sets.

I am so thankful to have the friends and family I have. Their creativity and willingness to pitch in humble me. And now I don't have to mail Christmas cards. Uncle Ralph will handle our message this year. So, watch the video and take the message to heart. Also, share the hell out of it, please.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Raging Red Bull Smoothie!!!

It was very tasty, but if I didn't already have a bad case of ADHD this morning, I do now!


Wednesday, November 09, 2011

F3 - Cycle 56 - Shields Up!

600 words of Sci-Fi for Friday Flash Fiction.

I calculated all the alternatives. None of them would let me get where I needed to go. I was going to have to batter through the asteroid belt to make it into the Dentari region in enough time. My cargo was small but huge in importance. And this jump was more problematic than a Centauri whore-dog during Intergalactic Chastity Month. 

It all started when I was given the launch sequence that would let me leave the space station. Some joker in HQ thought it would be funny to encode them first. And he didn't use any standard code. I couldn't find it in the empire's code databases, that's for sure. I had to go to the space station library, find an actual "book," and spend my last day of leave and most of my prep time solving the puzzle. That's OK. I got him back. He'll never look at a tube of anti-itch gravity cream in the same way again, I made sure of that. 

Once I was done fiddling around, I barely had time to cram all my gear into my shuttle duffle and kiss my cat goodbye. I ran from sector 17, through the dread zone, past the barber shop and into shuttle bay 7, where I got chewed a new one by Sarge Benson for being late. Fortunately, I'm a gifted pilot and my interns fall all over each other to get things set up before any mission I go on. One aw shucks and a country boy smile and I was off the hook. I made a quick sweep of the panels as I plopped into the driver's seat. Everything seemed fine. 

But I failed to notice the tiniest of mistakes. My outstanding interns didn't factor the subspace variable out far enough and caused my jump to land me here and not on the other side. 

So here I am, my artificial navigator cowering under the sub-engines while I prepare myself for the ride of my life. I had some idea of what I was getting myself into. My buddies and I took turns showing off at the arcade playing Asteroid Belt, which was basically a simulation of what I was about to encounter. 

"Alright, Arty" I said to my chicken-shit navigation computer, "Shields up!"

My shuttle shuddered as the force field unraveled itself outward from the nose cone. I cranked up the view screen and engaged the rock anthem music algorithm. I took a quick scan with the front sensors and set the weapons array up so that it would spread neon green static light particles over all the rocks in my path. It was all routine, really. 

"Speed factor seven," I commanded, "Let's go!"

My field of vision lit up with green lumps that turned into tubes. I felt the impact of the smaller rocks that bounced off my shields as I maneuvered my way around the big boys. Every now and then, I'd see the shields shimmer and weaken; they were taking a pummeling and there was nothing I could do but keep pressing forward. 

"We make it through this, Arty," I said, hanging on tight, "I'll buy you a backbone." 

We crossed in two hours, record time, and I delivered the package to the Dentari chief ahead of schedule.

“Well, Arty,” I said, hopping back into my craft, “Want to see if we can beat our score?”

I think he passed out. And I laughed my way all the way back to another medal and a new crop of interns. 

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Oh, God! I'm Bored! - Tuesday Haiku

Moira and Riley

I know exactly what I have to do today. But I don't wanna. 

Haiku for Tuesday
Tuesday is trash night.
So, out with last week's garbage
Empty cans, clean slate.

Monday, November 07, 2011

I'm Daylight Saving Time's Bee-Eye-Tea-See-Aitch

I love setting the clocks back an hour. It's a dream come true. I woke up at seven o'clock yesterday morning like it was the right thing to do. I'm sure after a couple of days, seven o'clock will feel too early again. But it's nice to feel like an early bird for once.

Plus, I got a bunch done yesterday. And took second place in our weekly poker match.

I wish we could set the clocks back one hour every other week. Then I'd probably feel normal most of the time.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Wish Me Luck

I've decided that, in lieu of Christmas cards, I'd send my peeps a video short this year. And it's not just any short, it's going to be a stop-motion animation featuring none other than our Uncle Ralph.

Ever since Davy & Goliath and Rankin & Bass, I've had a fascination with this medium. And then Wallace and Grommet came along and took it to a whole new level. I've always wanted to watch the makers put these together...no strike that: I wanted to do one myself.

I was musing about this to my brother-in-law, Rick, over Halloween weekend. He's the right person to muse to, let me tell you. He and his wife have built a haunted house in their basement. He makes wooden toys and stilts. She makes costumes and their kids are all stilt walkers and jugglers. But Rick's got a certain quietness to him that allows room in conversations. And in this space, I told him that I wanted to make a stop motion animation short. He said that it was doable. And I said, "but I need a script..." He puffed on his pipe in response. I felt a little bit sunken...didn't want to face dreaming up a short script with one or two characters who didn't move much..."UNCLE RALPH," I exclaimed.

I started telling Rick about Uncle Ralph and we bounced ideas around. Needless to say, I am now inspired.

So far, I've made an Uncle Ralph figure and Doc has built the framework for the set. I'm hoping that the Cap'n will be able to provide the voice and that Spooky will help me do the set decorations.

The only thing in my way is momentum, of course. But it's nothing some Red Bull, an inspirational speech, and promise of pizza couldn't defeat handily. So wish me and my team luck. And look for this short coming soon.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Blimey! Can I waste time, or what!

I'm trying to figure out what happened to two hours today. I can't account for them. Maybe I was:

  • In Rivendale, trying to sort out some business with a ring
  • Abducted by faeries and forced to listen to ballads and drink faerie wine
  • On board an alien ship trying to explain the difference between American Idol and X Factor
  • Sucked into the Bermuda Triangle
  • Given the opportunity to go on a trip to Paris that I wasn't allowed to remember ever
  • Under the influence of a sleeping draught while someone drank a polyjuice potion to turn into me and do some mischief

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Lyrics I Don't Understand: Sometimes When We Touch

And sometimes when we touch
The honesty's too much
And I have to close my eyes and hide...

--Dan Hill

  • Can someone please explain what it means when the honesty's too much? Too much what? Also, why must he hide? I don't get it. 
  • Does anyone have a copy of the cliff's notes for this?
  • Please help me. This makes me crazy. 
  • Do I just not get love in the 70's?
  • Am I missing some sort of passion/complexity gene?
  • Are my relationships just not meaningful enough?
Perhaps, I'm over thinking this. 

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Wednesday Haiku

It's nice to be done
Mostly with the week, Wednesday
It's all down hill now.

Edited to add: Haiku for a Bad Day