Yesterday was the first day of NaNoWriMo and i only got around 800 words written. I realize that by having so many ideas (trust me — I’m full of them!) I’m having a difficult time getting to the action part of my story. It’s like when you have this big grand idea, it’s difficult to focus on the little details. I just want to TELL the story not SHOW the story, which I realize isn’t the path to a good novel.

So instead of jumping in, I spent yesterday writing about who I think will be the main character’s mother and what she was like growing up. Not the best way to get a reader hooked, so I’ll have to develop a better introduction/first line.

Also, as is normal with me, when I went to bed last night thoughts were racing through my head. One of the more prominent ideas I thought about a bit was having some sort of a story-within-a-story… though I fear it’s maybe a bit cliche a bit? So I’ll want to think of something new to bring to the idea. I also want to make sure that I’m not copying too much from favorite books of mine like Glamorama or The Blind Assassin.

Tonight I’m not writing with my coworkers (we’re only doing Tuesdays and Thursdays) so I’ll have to make a very conscious effort to sit down and write when I get home. And since I didn’t make it to the magical 1667 yesterday, I’ll want to write a little extra to make up for it.

Which reminds me: I need to find some website where I can enter my daily total and it spits out neato graphs and predictions and stuff. I had an Excel worksheet for that last time, but this time I want to make it available online.

Also: Thanks everyone for encouragement!! I especially feel like my friends Molly and Brook and Shannon will keep me motivated. And all of the Facebook likes help, as well!

The Asteroid Plummeting Toward Earth That Will Destory Humans

I sent this email to a bunch of my friends earlier today and figured the rough form was worth sharing:

i think i’ve mentioned this zizek-ian idea to some of you about how right now most people cannot even fantasize about world peace or an end of capitalism or something like that (i believe he specifically mentioned an asteroid in the movie zizek!). i’m feeling punchy today for some reason and managed to find some very interesting things…

first, the next book i am going to read is: archeologies of future by fredric jameson.

second, oddly enough the stranger (of all papers) intelligently and engagingly reviewed said book:

third, the author even paraphrases that idea!

As the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek puts it, we find it easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. We are scarcely able to envision a tolerable and pleasant world without money, advertising, and brand names, and without the vast inequities that characterize a competitive economy. We are missing what Fredric Jameson terms “the desire called utopia.”

point of the story: when you think i’m spouting some crazy idea that is totally impractical and unrealistic and what you consider to be a waste of time, consider the fact that i might be trying to, if nothing else, at least establish that such an idea can at least be imagined and discussed and in doing so that might plant a kernel somewhere in your mind (or someone else’s) and that if we can at least HOPE for it that some aspect of it might come true.

oh and also: i thought i wrote a blog entry once (or maybe i emailed it or im’d it to someone?) about how dystopic movies/stories often have a very socialist aspect to the “big brother” idea and that bothers me too and i think it’s another way to keep the status quo (despite some of these dystopic things often being critiques of capitalism, normality, etc… so i guess i need to do some sort of counter-counter reading?)

Mysterious Gray Skin

I started writing this in May 2005 as part of my ongoing reviews of the book Mysterious Skin. Unfortunately I never finished this review…

Just as a note: I’ve already finished the book. It’s absolutely amazing and has, literally, disturbed me quite a bit. Tonight I am seeing the film version, so I want to get these notes/thoughts about the book posted before I am influenced by the movie.

The “Blue” section ended with Neil starting prostitution and Brian’s dad leaving the family.

“Gray” picks up with Brian and his mother:

Since my father and Deborah [for San Fransisco] had left, I reasoned that Little River regarded my mother and I was weirdos (96).

Brian is listening to music like Kraftwerk and soon sees a newspaper article about a local woman who claims to have been abducted by UFOs and will shortly be appearing on a television program. He learns from the newspaper that the woman’s name is Avalyn, and he becomes determined to find her. When he sees a picture of her in the newspaper:

I could tell she know something remarkable, something etheral and profound. Beauty resided in that knowledge. I wanted it (99).

The newspaper article also mentions a sidebar titled: “Have aliens contacted you?” of particular interest to Brian: missing time, recurring nightmares, nosebleeds, fear of the dark, interest in UFOs — “sometimes to the point of obsession” (100). Given those criteria, Brian is even more convinced that UFOs visited him.

Brian’s mom is skeptical, but supportive. She watches the television show World of Mystery with him. When she sees Avalyn, she notes:

“She’s sort of homely,” my mother said. “She seems sad, as if no one’s ever loved her” (108).

Seeing Avalyn on the television show and thinking over the events depicted seemed to changed Brian’s life a little:

And the more I considered Avalyn, the more I considered my own life. The idea of abduction made perfect sense (111).

Brian concludes for sure that he was abducted that night after the Little League game and again that Haloween night when he blacked out and lost time.

I found it pretty touching that Brian had so much faith in his mother’s support. Even though it was pretty obvious she wasn’t really a believer in UFOs and whatnot, she cared about them because her son cared about them. Brian noticed this:

She would stay beside me until I solved it. Even if to solve meant to lose another block of time, to slip into the unknown world where I was certain they’d taken me before (113).

In the “Gray” section we also meet Eric Preston who, next to Wendy, is Neil’s best (and, well, only) friend. I love the first line Eric gives us:

Neil McCormick was turning me into a criminal, and I loved it (114).

That quote, I think, is a perfect example of the somewhat hypnotizing and charming power that Neil has over people.

Eric’s parents died in a car crash in California so he moves to Kansas to live with his grandparents. As an outsider, Eric gives us some perspective on how fucked up and boring things are in Hutchinson, Kansas:

School was over forever; crime seemed the only thing left to do (114).

In Modesto, I’d had a scattering of friends who shared the same interests in music and were queer like me. Here, I only had Neil (115).

He [Neil] told me I had guts for dressing like I did at such a backward high school (118).

Harry Potter and the Films of Enchantment

Ron Weasley, Harry Potter, and Hermione Granger
After seeing Children of Men the other month (a film which really deserves its own post and analysis…), I decided that I needed to see more movies by Alfonso Cuarón, which meant that I needed to break down and finally see the “darker” Harry Potter movie Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which I’ve actually sort of been wanting to see for a while, but felt silly for getting into the whole Harry Potter series.

Yes, I know that I shouldn’t have felt silly for watching the Harry Potter movies, and I’m sure the books are engrossing and all that, but I just wanted to resist. As I’ve become increasingly more “mainstream” since college (see: Lost, Desperate Housewives, “getting together on certain nights to watch television shows with friends,” Project Runway, etc.), I just wanted to keep part of me not to predictable. Oh well.

And, of course, if I were to watch Prisoner of Azkaban, it meant that I would have to start with The Sorcerer’s Stone and go from there.

So last night I finished The Goblet of Fire and I must say that I’ve been extremely impressed with the Harry Potter movies. They are really quite fun to watch and the acting all-around (the children and adult actors) is really well-done.

One thing that struck me, however, is the difficulty of filming a book series as it is being written. Let’s say, for example, that Sirius Black is mentioned but the filmmakers (and let’s also pretend that when they made the film the novel The Prisoner of Azkaban hadn’t been published) decided that they could toss out the references to his character and it wouldn’t matter… only to find out that he is in fact important and foreshadowing something about him in the first film would really have paid off in the third.

For example, I keep noticing a motif of snakes throughout the films. Not reading the books, I’m not sure whether J.K. Rowling mentions snakes all the time, but I’m sure hoping (and assuming) that they foreshadow some major event that will come in one of the final books/films. If not, it just seems that the World of Harry Potter includes lots of snakes for no real reason.

While I’m glad the I get to watch the films now, part of me wonders if it wouldn’t have been a better idea (from an artistic/storytelling perspective) to wait until Rowling finished all of her books, then film the series so that the movies could pick up and highlight nuances and themes. Plus, the films would’ve maintained consistency (much like the Lord of the Rings), a fact that every single Wiki article seems to note (“The Hogwarth castle has a different layout…”).

That said, I’m definitely looking forward to summer 2007 to catch The Order of the Phoenix, and I am even contemplating reading the novels in the meantime. Scary, eh?

Reasons I Became Vegetarian

A few weeks ago I sent my sister an email asking her why she became vegetarian (we both are and have been for roughly six years). In her response, she asked me why I am a vegetarian. I ended up writing more than I expected, so I figured I’d go ahead and post it for all to see!

The book I mentioned that I was reading at the time was The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory.

Perhaps some day I’ll formalize it and turn it into a better post, but for now it’s better than nothing…

the first thing that caused me to become vege was the fact that i realized i just didn’t like meat all that much. the flavor/texture/etc. i specifically remember being at school and i got a chicken salad sandwich pita and there was some grissle in it and i was like, that’s so disgusting. never again.

now that i’ve been vege longer and given it more though, i have a whole list of reasons:

  1. meat takes way more energy/resources to produce food/nourishment than vegetable-based foods. the common statistic is that 10 lbs of grain produces 1 lb of beef. imagine how many more people on this planet could be fed with that extra grain.
  2. on a similar note, the way we “farm”/”raise” animals now is extremely bad for the environment. try taking an old cattle field and plant some trees — they won’t grow since the ground is so polluted with animal waste and stripped of minerals and stuff.
  3. like you said, i like and appreciate and respect animals. i don’t think humans have any moral superiority that gives us the right to decide to kill other animals. when anti-vegetarians respond to this by saying “but animals kill other animals” and “cavemen at animals” i say:
    1. animals never kill other animals to the point of extinction
    2. animals don’t use factory farms and mass production
    3. animals have to look their prey in the eye when they kill it, thus creating an emotional response to the slaughter that humans have removed themself from
    4. cavemen didn’t use computers, either… i would like to think we’ve improved since those times, and meat eating should be one of those things we’ve improved upon
  4. the way that we eat meat and determine what meats are “ok” and which are “gross” just proves to me that humans aren’t innately wired to eat meat. for example, lots of people think it’s “horrible” and “inhumane” etc. to eat dogs and horses and whatnot. to me, it’s all the same. i hate people who are quick to defend dogs but then turn around and eat a burger.

one thing that i don’t like, though, are people who are vegetarian for religious and/or health reasons. i mean, in the end it’s good because less animals are killed, but i guess for me being vegetarian is something at the core of who i am since it was an ethical decision i made. i’m not forcing myself to do it because of religion or desire for better health.

i know you aren’t vegan (and neither am i, but i try to be vegan whenever possible), but one very interesting point made in the book was that both eggs and dairy products come from only female animals. it’s just another example of men (and humans) exploiting the female body… even in animals!!!

Any other veg*ns want to share their thoughts on why they became veg*n? I think it’d make an interesting sort of anthology. Or not really…

The Boring Dahlia

Lee, Kate, and Bucky at the movies
I’m sad to report that I was pretty disappointed with Brian de Palma‘s The Black Dahlia. He’s one of my favorite directors (Femme Fatale is one of my all-time favorite movies and I also love Snake Eyes, Body Double [though I’m not sure it warrants a special edition], Scarface [which has an awesome special edition], and Sisters). People (including myself) say that he’s a Hitchcock rip-off, but that’s not always bad… I also decided to read the James Ellroy novel on which the film version of The Black Dahlia is based. The novel was so-so, but I really expected the movie to be better.

For starters, the color palette for the movie seemed “off” to me. I really expected dark, bold, strong, sexy colors like those from Femme Fatale or David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. Or even something more stylized and shadowy? Instead, the film felt very brown and drab.

I was also disappointed that de Palma downplayed the psychosexual aspect of the film. Granted, Ellroy’s novel didn’t really tease out the strange threesome-relationship between the three main characters (Josh Hartnett as Bucky, Aaron Eckhart as Lee, and Scarlett Johansson as Kay), but I expected that the film, under the right director, might. The threesome relationship as well as the darker aspects of Bucky’s relationship with Madeline (Hilary Swank), the somewhat doppelganger of Elizabeth Short a.k.a. The Black Dahlia (Mia Kirshner). For some reason I’ve always considered de Palma to be somewhat of a dark and erotic director, but The Black Dahlia reminded me that I apparently confuse him with David Lynch or Adrian Lyne or Paul Verhoeven or something. De Palma is more like a creepy voyeur.

Granted, there were some cool tracking shots (such as right after a woman finds the body of The Black Dahlia) and split-diopter (two objects in focus at the same time) shots, but the film just didn’t feel as viscerally rewarding as some of his other work.

The sad thing is, The Black Dahlia is perfect source material for de Palma. It’s got blonde (Kay) vs. brunette (Elizabeth, Madeline) women, potential doppelgangers (Elizabeth/Madeline, Bucky/Lee), suspense (“Who killed the Black Dahlia??”), allusions to film (The Man Who Laughs and the Hollywood setting), etc.

I’m not sure whether de Palma really has become “a director for hire” or what. I hope that Femme Fatale wasn’t his apogee and now he’s all downhill.

God Made Me Post It!

As promised in my God Made Me Do It post, I went ahead and posted my college paper “The Problem of Faith and Reason in Brown’s ‘Wieland’; or a Kierkegaardian Critique of Wieland As a Knight of Faith.”

Keep in mind that this is probably what I consider to be my first “heavy academic” paper. I was just getting the hang of writing papers using philosophy for support, so parts of this paper aren’t are strong as they could be. Of all the papers I’ve ever written, this is one that I would like to revist and work on some more given my strong feelings on religion.

Read it and let me know what you think.

Wrong Things For the Right Reasons

So far Did Someone Say Totalitarianism is proving to be one of my favorite Zizek books. It doesn’t use as much pop culture examples (jokes, Hitchcock movies, Kafka, etc.), but focuses more on politics and philosophy and ethics. It’s been a long time since a book has caused me to think so much, and that’s definitely very cool.

I intend (and I know I say this all the time) to do a more in-depth review of the book and comment on some of my favorite/most inspiring passages, but something interesting struck me this morning.

Zizek was discussing how, when it comes to following the law, “doing the right thing [following the law] for the wrong reason [to fulfill pathological desires]” is about as “bad” as you can get. Generally people who do this (and right now I’m thinking large corporations and whatnot) view the law as malleable and something they can change if they exert enough pressure on lawmakers. What happens, then, is that the law is changed so that they can continue doing “wrong things” but still feel good about it.

On the other hand, doing the “wrong thing [breaking the law] for the right reason [to fulfill a higher ethical motive]” is the best thing to do. This would include things such as acts of civil disobedience, etc.

And then doing “the right thing for the right reason” is pretty uninteresting and doesn’t really touch upon any ethical dilemmas.

For whatever reason, this got me thinking about “killing in self defense.” Let’s say that someone was about to kill me and family/friends/etc. and in response to that I killed that person first, thus giving me an “out” with the law since I killed that person in self-defense. Nothing too extraordinary there. Let’s say, however, that the law explicitly allow killing in self-defense and the same situation occurred. I might have to go to jail, but my act would remain quite ethical since I did something (even the “wrong thing” [i.e. killing someone]) for the “right reason” (to defend myself and friends/family/etc.).

So basically, by allowing for these “ethical loopholes” in the law, we’re taking a larger ethical dimension out of acts that people do.

What does this mean in the end? Probably nothing. What does this contribute to the world of ethical philosophy? I don’t know. I’ve never delved into the subject before. I just thought it was interesting how we’ve created laws to remove certain ethical acts from our lives.

The Ice Storm

The Ice Storm
I just finished watching Ang Lee‘s The Ice Storm and it reminded me of a lot of other family-oriented dramas — and it especially reminded me of plays from the 1950s.

I know it’s hardly profound, but I really like it in movies/plays/etc. traverse into the negative zone (as the movie calls it, borrowing from The Fantastic Four), where everything is sort of different and after the characters enter, everything changes. In The Ice Storm, about half-way through the movie there is (surprise, surprise) an ice storm during which pretty big events happen.

The setup is pretty common among literature. Like I said, it reminded me of 1950s plays such as “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” When I studied “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” in college (I wrote a paper titled “Searching for Reality: How Drugs, Self-Deception, and the Influence of Family Help Mary Tyrone Find Her ‘Self’ In ‘Long Day’s Journey Into Night'”), I remember my professor commenting on the fact that a major theme of 1950s American drama was family and drinking.

Ever since then, I’ve noticed that lots of literature includes a structure where somewhere around the middle (or Act II), there is either some sort of natural disaster and/or the characters become very intoxicated, and the truth comes out. More recent examples of this setup include Magnolia (raining frogs), Anniversary Party (ecstasy and a lost dog), and Judy Berlin (eclipse), and Short Cuts (earthquake). Likewise, I’ve noticed the theme in older works of literature. Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” comes immediately to mind — once the characters enter the woods, everything changes.

Despite the fact it’s a frequently used trope, I think it works. I think all of us can relate to those strange times or places in life when events compound on top of each other, and then some surreal bigger-than-life phenomenon takes place (or appears to), and for whatever reason, we gain some new insight into life and grow as a person.

Apocalypses Nowish

About a month ago I started reading a book titled How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. More than any other book I’ve read recently, Posthuman profoundly changed the way I think about the world and sort of put into focus some themes that I have been interested in for a long time, but never took as seriously as I should have.

The funny thing is that I’ve had How We Became Posthuman for quite a few years. I purchased it during my senior year of college when I was writing a paper about the connections between “techno culture” and environmentalism (“while (i= 1){print (‘be sustainable’);} The Loop of Sustainability in Technology Culture”). I decided to go a different direction with the paper than I first anticipated, so the book sat on my shelf. When I recently read a book by Slavoj Zizek, I noticed he mentioned the book a few times (in regard to Hayles’ theory of “flickering signifiers”) and decided it might be time to finally read it.

Perhaps sometime soon I will review some of the more important (to me) and interesting aspects of the book, but for now, I’ll summarize it by saying:

Throughout much of the twentieth century, humans and machines have become increasingly intertwined via computers, telephones, the internet, etc. Not only has this changed the way we interact with others (phone conversations, e-mail, instant messaging, etc.), but also how we interact with ourselves. The liberal humanist view may be fading as we start to ask, “What does it mean to be alive?” — especially in light of semi-intelligent machines and our ability to create new forms of live (be it biological or within a computer).

I also learned about the fascinating American Society for Cybernetics, which is, as far as I can tell, one of the most progressive and challenging group of scientists out there. You would think that they would only be interested in the mathematics and electronics and whatnot of cybernetics, but they appear (based on Hayles’ descriptions) to be just as interested in the philosophy of artificial life.

Of note, I learned about an article titled “What the Frog’s Eye Tells the Frog’s Brain.” Hayles seems to think (and I agree) that this article has the potential to revolutionize science. Basically (and this is rather implicit in the article), the researches showed that a frog’s reality is constructed based on the way its eye sees the world.

Taking that a step farther, we can conclude that the human eye probably works the same way. So what we (and scientists) “observe” about the world, isn’t necessary the “real” world, but rather the brain’s construction of it. As I told my friend in an email:

if the frog’s way of seeing the world is different than humans’ (in that it doesn’t really notice stationary things and fast-moving things e.g. flies make more of an impact), then it is safe to assume that the way humans see the world isn’t really as “objective” as we think. further, when scientists make an observation, they are doing so within the constructed reality that we, as humans, have created within our brains. make sense? therefore the scientist is always part of the system he/she is observing and cannot make observations outside of it.

The big idea here is that science should be a reflexive practice, and that the scientist should always consider himself/herself as part of the system that is being observed since the very act of observation influences the world the scientist understands.

This reminds me, a bit, of the uncertainty principle — though I think I value the idea of reflexivity more. Based on my understanding, the uncertainty principle deals with the act of measuring something and the philosophical idea that something can never be accurately measured. The idea of reflexivity says that something cannot be measured because measuring is only an observation made by an individual with a subjective existence in the world — i.e. nothing is objective.

Another theoretical topic that seemed to be popular among the cyberneticists was the problem of defining “information.” Of all the theories presented, the one that made the most sense to me had to do with the value of the information based on probability. For example, a piece of information that says, “The sun will rise tomorrow” isn’t very valuable. The probability that the sun will rise tomorrow is pretty high, so that information doesn’t tell us much. A piece of information that says, “There are U.F.O.s at White House,” however, is much more valuable. Prior to obtaining that information, I would have never (err, most people, at least…) imagined that there would be U.F.O.s or that they might be on the White House lawn. Since that information tells us something with a low probability, it is worth a lot more.

In addition to learning about the demise of the liberal human subject and about how the frog’s eye constructs the frog’s reality, I was also introduced to some interesting people and books.

I swear, reading about what went on at some of those Macy Conferences was just fascinating. These scientists were not only truly ahead of their time, but could also be characters as well.

My favorite was Norbert Wiener — the “founder of cybernetics.” The Wikipedia article on him is great (especially the anecdotes!), so check that out — it does more justice to him than I could even attempt.

I was also somewhat surprised to see that Margaret Mead was also involved in the conferences. In fact, her husband, Gregory Bateson was quite an influential figure.

There was another guy who really interested me, but his name escapes me now. Perhaps I will update this later with information about him…

As for books, How We Became Posthuman generates a must-read list for any wannabe or tried-and-true geek. Hayles, who is an English professor, manages to uncover and critique some of the most intelligent and thought-provoking science fiction written (as far as I can tell).

For the most part, I’m not a huge science fiction fan. That is somewhat of a lie, because I am a fan, but a lot of it tends to be formulaic and not very interesting. When it comes to fiction, for example, the most sci-fi stuff I read is Kurt Vonnegut and Margaret Atwood. Oh, and I also like Ray Bradbury. I like my science fiction with a dose of political critique or dystopia.

That said, Hayles book has re-ignited my science fiction spark, and since reading Posthuman, I’ve been more accepting and acknowledging of my inner sci-fi geek.

For example, for whatever reason, I’ve been putting off reading Philip K. Dick for way too long. In Post Human, Hayles does an amazing reading of at least 3 or 4 of Dick’s stories. She analyzes frequent themes in Dick’s works such as the schizoid android, paranoia, dreams vs. reality, etc. — all within the context of what it means to be human and what Dick is saying about the evolution of humans into a posthuman existence.

Hayles’ analysis lead me to the Wikipedia article on Philip K. Dick (twin sister who died! Communism! sodium pentothal! visions! amphetamines!), which only made me more certain that I needed to get some of his books and to proclaim that PKD may, in fact, be my favorite author, despite the fact I hadn’t read anything by him. (Though: 1. I loved the movies Blade Runner and Total Recall — both of which PKD wrote the original stories that the films were based on; 2. I’ve been meaning to read something by PKD for a long time, I was just daunted by his enormous volume of work and not sure where to start.)

I have since acquired a first-edition paperback copy of Dr. Bloodmoney (and learned about first editions in the process), as well as a newer (so I can write and take notes in it) copy of Bloodmoney as well as Martian Time-Slip.

Another book that Hayles mentioned in Posthuman that I had to check-out was Limbo by Bernard Wolfe. The book is out of print, so I had to order a first-edition of it from eBay. I have yet to read it, but the storyline (apocalypse, people who intentionally remove their limbs, texts that are misinterpreted, etc.) definitely intrigues me.

All of this talk of cybernetics, the end of humans as we know ourselves, and sci-fi books by extremely imaginative authors, and the re-embracement of my inner sci-fi geek has made me realize that I am quite interested in the idea of an apocalypse and dystopic futures. That seems to be a thread that runs through all of the stuff that really piqued my interest in Posthuman.

To further investigate this theory, I ended up buying both The Terminator and T2: Judgment Day in order to see whether I could do a bit of close reading with them. (Yes, I am a huge nerd — in addition to a geek!) I probably need to watch them again (which I can, now that I own them), but I must say that T2 is better than the first movie and it definitely has a lot more back-story to it. I have yet to watch Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.

I must share, however, that during T2 I started to tear up during the scene in which the atomic bomb drops and the kids on the playground are incinerated. As much as I am interested in the idea of a worldwide nuclear holocaust, the thought of that much death and destruction, en masse, absolutely saddens me. And then I started transposing that playground scene onto the moments when the U.S. dropped two bombs on Japan and I felt even worse.

Looking back, I realize that I have always been rather interested in the idea of apocalypse. From movies like Akira to video games like Final Fantasy 6 (FF3 US) and Chrono Trigger, I guess there has always been a part of me that enjoyed things with an apocalyptic element.

I’m not sure what to do with this recent self-realization and self-reflection, but it’s always exciting when a book causes so much intellectual activity in your head. I don’t think anything I’ve read in a long time has caused me to think about so much and in such different ways. It feels quite invigorating.