Friday, November 3, 2017

Why I hate Dude Perfect

Back in the middle ages, when I was in elementary school, word of mouth was how we learned of new TV shows we *had* to watch. Of course, there were only three channels back then, or at least only three with any shows we would have been discussing on the playground. I'm pretty sure we didn't waste much breath on PBS programming. In our house, at least, we were already plenty familiar with the lineup: Sesame Street, Electric Company, Mister Rogers, ZOOM. It was time to move beyond that. I remember feeling particularly rebellious about wanting to watch CHIPS. I had to see what all the talk was about. Who was this Ponch guy, anyway?

My son doesn't come home talking about TV shows. It's YouTube videos these days. I'm not sure which of his pals I can thank for turning him on to Dude Perfect (though I have a guess). If you're so fortunate as to not be on first name terms with Coby, Cody, Cory, Stinky, and Clyde (okay, I can't remember the last two at the moment, but give me a minute and they'll come to me), let me ruin it for you. Dude Perfect isn't one guy, it's five. Five human cartoon characters who spend all day filming trick shots and bottle flips, and screaming like ninnies when they pull one off. Which is every shot in the videos they post, because why bother showing the 999 fuckups that came beforehand?

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Heartbroken: A near-miss Tom Petty experience

On any other day, the news about Tom Petty would have hit me like a punch in the gut. By yesterday afternoon, however, I was already doubled over by the Las Vegas shooting. The initial conflicting reports on Petty's status left me more dazed and confused than anything. Sadly, his death was eventually confirmed, sealing Oct. 2 as a day to live in infamy. With so many mass shootings in an America unwilling to do anything to risk irking gun fanatics, the calendar is quickly filling with haunting anniversaries.

Amidst the flurry of Las Vegas tweets, I saw a number from Petty fans, sharing remembrances or links to favorite songs. I have more of a near-miss story to share, about his 40th Anniversary tour this summer. My son, 7, became quite the Tom Petty fan this spring, tapping into my CD collection from Into the Great Wide Open all the way back to Damn the Torpedoes. We listened and listened, in the house and car. And when my wife let slip that Tom Petty was coming to town (or near enough), he went insane. We tried to put him off by telling him the show was sold out (it wasn't), and he melted down. Being suckers, we went online and bought tickets, on the lawn at CMAC in Canandaigua.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Radio Wales loses a top man, DJ Alan Thompson

In a parallel universe, I live in Wales. I haven't pinned the city down, but it looks a bit like Barry. Which makes sense, given my vision of Wales comes mainly from Gavin & Stacey, and later Stella, which were both filmed in and around Barry. The pace of life suits me, at least as I imagine it. Which again may not match reality. Never been, though we are planning a UK trip for 2019, to include plenty of time in Wales*.

I spend a chunk of most workdays in Wales, via BBC stream. I got into the habit a few years ago of tuning in to BBC Wales every morning as I work. It's not the music so much as the people, which is ironic, because my major beef with U.S. radio is they talk too much and don't play enough music. But there's just something about the discussion on BBC Wales, particularly during Eleri Sion's afternoon show, which is on for me during the morning as we're five hours behind here in Rochester, N.Y. Listening is an escape, which I need more than ever given how awful most of the news is these days. I try my hand at the daily 2:45 Teaser (at 9:45 my time) and listen to Eleri's regular guests provide veterinarian and general practitioner advice, tips on allotment gardening, TV hits and misses on Mondays, and movie reviews on Fridays. And every Wednesday, DJ Alan Thompson stops by to talk music, presenting something new, something old, and something gold. And to wind Eleri up like an older brother might.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Sleep or die!

I don't get enough sleep. I'm not sure I ever have. I average about 6 hours a night, and it's not uncommon to dip below that for 2-3 nights in a row, which inevitably catches up. It's a combination of trouble falling/staying asleep, and staying up too late because night time is the only time I have to get things done. Like writing, for example. If I didn't stay up after my son goes to bed, I'd never have time to write.

A story in the Guardian this week has me re-examining my routine. Called The shorter your sleep, the shorter your life: the new sleep science, it echoes a number of other studies I've seen over the years (and recognizing I fall into the category they're describing, I generally click through when I see such headlines). In summary, the brain and body need X number of hours of sleep each night to clear out all the crap that accumulates throughout the day. By depriving your brain and body of this opportunity, you massively increase your chances of cancer, dementia (including Alzheimer's), diabetes, obesity-related issues, and on and on. It's not happy stuff to think about.


Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Albert Camus, don't be a stranger

I finally finished The Stranger by Albert Camus last night, a mere 30 years after I started it. At a tidy 154 pages, that works out to an average of just over 5 pages a year. I wasn't working all that hard at it for most of that time.

I was in high school when I started it, though technically I was reading L'Etranger back then. Or was supposed to be. It was part of my independent study in French, which I signed up for because I needed an easy elective. Not that French came easy to me. Just that the class was, with the teacher a notable pushover. By that point I had taken two years of high school French (on top of two in junior high), and had dropped it twice. I kept coming back to it, because it was only marginally tougher than a free period as we upper classmen were left alone to do our work (or not) in the back of the class while M. Langley taught the freshmen and sophomores.

At some point I struck upon the genius idea of checking the English version of The Stranger out of the library and "helping" myself through the French with the translation. Which worked fine until M. Langley snuck up on me one day while I had the wrong version open during class. I don't think he bought my explanation that I was just trying to confirm I'd understood what I'd read in the French text. He may have been a pushover, but he hadn't been lobotomized.

Shortly after that I gave up on reading Camus, in French or English. Gauging by how little I recalled of the story when I read it this time around, I'll estimate I made it as far as Chapter 2 the first time around.

But I always meant to finish. Or at least I'd thought about it at some point before now. And thanks to the receipt I found in the paperback copy that was on my bookshelf, I thought about it enough on Nov. 12, 2005, to plunk down 75 cents in a used book store. It was one of seven books I added to my collection that day. I can only guess what the other six were, though odds are pretty good they are all still on my shelf as well. Back in the day I would often spend a half hour or more scanning the shelves of second-hand book shops, looking for titles to stash away for whenever I might need something to read. Twelve years later, I finally got around to Camus.

I'm not sure it was worth the wait, to be honest. It was a quick read, once I got going in earnest, but it's not a book where one identifies much with the main character, which is sort of by design. He's not meant to be very likable, and he's not. It's not that he didn't cry at his mother's funeral or that he doesn't really love his girlfriend and tells her as much or that he lacks the decency to tell his friend Raymond not to treat his own girlfriend like a ragdoll--it's all of these things together. He has no emotional core. Which comes back to bite him in the ass when he's on trial for his life. It's like Seinfeld and friends getting done for lacking the moral fiber to help anyone for all those years. Only not funny. And no one was going to guillotine Jerry when the last episode faded away.

So, while it's good to be done after 30 years and counting, it may well be at least another 30 years before I'm tempted to pick it up again.

Friday, July 14, 2017

New writing buddy

Writing can be a pretty solitary pursuit. I traditionally don't even share anything I'm working on until I've finished a full draft and done at least two rounds of revisions. That's a lot of late nights on my own, down in my basement office. I'm about to embark on round 2 of the revision process on books 4 and 5 (which will be released together when done). I still haven't shared them with anyone, but my writing time isn't quite so solo anymore.

We got a dachshund puppy 3 weeks ago. Her name is Charcole, and she is such a sweetheart. At just over 5 pounds (and growing), she's a perfect lapdog. And since I'm the last one to bed, I'm usually the one to put her to bed, which means some nights she hangs out with me as I work. She's great company. I'll have to work her into the Acknowledgements when I'm ready to release.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

A Visit from the Pulitzer Squad

I had a friend back when I worked in Seattle who set himself a goal of reading every Pulitzer Prize winning novel. This was in the late '90s, so he would have had 75-80 titles to work through at that point. The list is much longer now. Combing through it, I can't imagine how long it would take me to catch up to my buddy, even if he quit halfway through.

I have read a stunningly low total of 4 Pulitzer winners. And at least 3 of those were by sheer coincidence. Here's the list:
  • The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway (1953)
  • A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole (1981)
  • Empire Falls, Richard Russo (2002)
  • A Visit from the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan (2011)
I bought The Late George Apley (1938) at a used book store about 15 years ago, but I don't think I ever made it very far. If I did, it made no impression. I don't remember any of it, so I won't take credit for having read it. So, 4 Pulitzer winners. Pretty weak.

A Confederacy of Dunces is my favorite book, ever. I've read it 3-4 times, and I'm probably due to give it another read. It's hilarious, and the kind of book I read and know I'll never ever come close to matching, quality wise. And I'm fine with that. It's brilliant. We're not all brilliant. Then again, we're not all troubled, either. John Kennedy Toole killed himself long before his book won the Pulitzer.

If I figured every Pulitzer would bring me as much joy as Dunces, I'd read them all. Empire Falls was somewhere a peg or two below it for me. I like Russo, but I enjoyed Nobody's Fool more than Empire Falls, and it didn't win. I also liked The Old Man and the Sea, which I read back in my Hemingway phase. Not a fun story, but well written and there was a fish and an old man, and I really couldn't tell you much more it's been so long.

This is all kind of a long way of saying I finished A Visit from the Goon Squad this week, and ... eh, not sure I get the Pulitzer here. Actually, I think I do, and I think this is the main reason I don't add many recent Pulitzer winners to my to-read list. I wonder if they value experimentation a little too much. Because to me, Goon Squad felt a little gimmicky, if that's the right word. It was all over the place, with different chapters about different people from wildly different points in time. There was one chapter done up like a Power Point presentation (which, from some reviews I read on Amazon, didn't go over big with people who read it on an e-reader). By the time I got to the end I still didn't know who the main character was. Or why I should care about most of them. It's not that the writing was poor. It was really well done, if you take a tree by tree view of it. It's when you back out to see the forest that the whole things falls apart. For me, anyway. I want to latch on to a character when I read a book, root for them, feel for them. That's really hard to do if I don't know who they are.

So, while I won't avoid books just because they won a Pulitzer, I'm not in any hurry to hunt down recent winners and pile them on my nightstand. Even if it might make my reading resume sound a little more impressive.