Friday, June 29, 2007


We came up, breathless. A cross-hatching of fresh grass clippings stuck to our skin, making us look like two members of some new species.

I breathed in. His smell mingled with that of the newly-cut grass and filled my head. I closed my eyes. I wanted to stay here forever like this; I would never wash off the grass stains.

I looked at him. "Don't go."

He smiled and chuckled softly and brushed some grass off of his arms. "It's just a meeting. I'll see you later tonight."

"I meant, don't go to Africa," I said.

His expression became more solemn. We'd had this conversation before. "You know I have to."

"But it isn't about you having to go! You want to!" Frustrated and embarrassed I lay back down. The cloudless sky filled my entire field of vision but the beauty was marred by the threat of tears. I held them back.

I felt him lie down beside me. "I do want to go, you're right. I want to go because this is the most important mission of the decade! I want to go because of what our discoveries could mean for society...for the world!"

"I know," I said softly. "But it's so far away. It's so foreign."

"It's our ancestral home," he replied. "Part of me, a large part of me, hopes that it will be familiar when I get there." He sat up, then turned to look down at me. "Would you feel any different if I was going anywhere else on Earth?" he asked. "South America? Europe?"

"Would you?" I responded, then admitted, "No, I wouldn't feel different about it. They're all equally far away from here. But I would miss you just as much wherever you went, no matter how far away it was."

He leaned down and kissed me on my forehead. "I'll miss you, too."

I sat up and took his hand. "Just promise me, if Africa does feel like home, that you won't want to stay."

At this he smiled. "I can promise that, no problem. No place can really feel like home without you."

We kissed one more time, and then he stood, brushed the rest of the grass from his body, and headed off to his meeting.

I fell back into the grass once more, gazing up at the blueness of the sky. That it was artificial, projected across the high domed ceiling of our city, didn't make it any less beautiful, any less awe-inspiring.

I breathed the last traces of his scent, now overwhelmed by that of grass, knowing full well that it didn't matter if he promised not to stay in Africa. Their discoveries would be of priceless importance to humanity, but by the time the mission returned from Earth, I would probably be dead. Even if I wasn't, I would be far too old for him to have any interest in me anymore.

I closed my eyes, wanting to stay here, like this, forever. I would never wash off the grass stains.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Plague with wings

Avian flu gives a delightful second meaning to the phrase "air borne virus." Avian flu is also pretty terrifying, as I've just discovered by reading this article in Seattle's newspaper "The Stranger."

"Pandemic" is a very clinical-sounding word, upon first hearing it. To say it aloud doesn't cause one's heartbeat to quicken, doesn't invoke any kind of impassioned response. "Epidemic" still sounds more frightening to me, more familiarly terrifying. But "epi-" means "staying in one place." "Pan-" means "everywhere." Something that is "pandemic" affects people

The other word that comes to mind is "plague," and you can be sure that that words conjures up an emotional response. "Plague" was the first thing to come to my mind while I was reading the article.

The next thought to cross my mind was, "Why haven't I been warned about this yet? Does Cook County have a plan? As an apartment-dwelling college student, am I at a higher risk? Students aren't known for planning anything in advance, much less stockpiling food and supplies in case of an international flu crisis!" Plus, being young, I'm in danger zone for actually dying from bird flu.

Viruses are terribly interesting. The rate at which some evolve to survive is impressive on any kind of scale. A few phrases in the article conjured images in my mind of an enviro-terror movie--the string of numbers describing the increasing death toll: "four in 2003, 32 in 2004, 43 in 2005, 79 in 2006, and 33 so far in 2007," and "Right now, it's bad, but it won't be really bad until the flu starts to move from person to person," are the kind of panic-inducing phrases that rush at you, white text on black, the music stops, and there's a pause right before a cut to shots of destruction and mayhem.

"Right now, it's bad, but it won't be really bad until the flu starts to move from person to person...Right now, people can only catch bird flu from infected birds; will eventually learn to transmit itself easily from person to person. Once that happens, a pandemic will occur."

Because the disease takes so long to kill, it will provide plenty of time for passage to as many people as possible. The author of the article describes vividly just how many other humans we each come into contact with everyday, without ever physically touching another person. That kind of thing doesn't usually scare me, or even bother me much. What it takes to avoid this everyday contact is what throws me off: staying home. Not leaving the house. Holing up until the thing passes. Essentially, hiding.

Like I said, the idea that thousands of other people have touched the things I touch doesn't scare me. What does scare me? Zombies. Hiding in your home doesn't work against zombies, not for long, anyway. Sooner or later they'll break in and you'll have to start bashing some skulls (or you'll run out of supplies and have to leave your home and THEN start bashing some skulls).

Avian flu isn't like zombies. The infected aren't going to wander the streets, trying to infect everyone else they meet (well, not intentionally, and not after symptoms have set in...unless there are going to be carriers, which adds another level of terror I hadn't considered before). You can stay in your house, and no one will come after you. But viruses are more difficult to barricade against; they're air borne, and air can get through some pretty tight spaces. You're hiding from an invisible enemy.

Actually, even as I'm writing all of this, I'm not really feeling panicked about the possibility of an avian flu pandemic. Even it isn't likely to happen, the implications of something like this are interesting to think about. I'm reminded of the book The Plague, by Albert Camus (I recommend it). It's interesting to think about what an experience like this means for the people involved (which would, I suppose, be just about everybody): how does it affect the very meaning of life and humanity? How will the world change, in the less obvious ways?

Food for thought.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Redeeming movie adaptations

I said the second part of the movie post was coming. The delay in posting it had nothing to do with not already knowing what I was going to write, but rather reflects the fact that I was at work at the time and started to feel guilty about blogging on company time...(but not so guilty that I'm not doing it again today).

So, before Duff can steal anymore of my thunder (see the comments), I'll continue.

As I ended my previous post, "My thoughtful answer comes back to the question I asked earlier: why bother to take a good book and make it into a movie?" I agree with Duff: despite my somewhat reactionary approach to movie adaptations of books, I don't actually want to see a movie that's an exact replication of the source book. (
Sin City is redeemed, in my mind, because it did some revolutionary stuff within the visual medium of film.)

If a book is already really great as it is, you'd better have a good reason for wanting to recreate it. Wanting to cash in on something's existent popularity is not such a reason, but I do believe valid reasons exist. Duff makes a really good point about the retelling of stories, and a particular retelling being expressive of how that story came across to the individual doing the retelling. Even wanting to make a great story more accessible isn't necessarily harmful; I do worry that today's children, supplied as they are with myriad mediocre retellings of my favorites books from childhood, will not read the actual books, but isn't also possible that a good version of something will result in the viewer seeking out other versions, including the original source?

The books doesn't even need to be the ultimate authority. I'm certain there are movies that are better than the books they're based on, for whatever reason.

Good stories have been retold for generations. They've been modified, updated, added to, given new perspectives, changed shape, and thrived. Film is just one outlet for this process of adaption and adaptation. And if you're going to choose film, I want to be able to recognize why.

What I look for in movie adaptations, besides good storytelling, is for the reason that it had to be retold through cinema. If you're making a book into a movie, I want to see something done with the story that only film can do (
just the mere fact of wider potential audiences isn't enough here). The most obvious difference between books and movies is the visual element (I almost feel stupid, pointing this out): movies show what you would otherwise have to imagine. It's definitely not bad to get to imagine these things for oneself, but it can be fun to see how someone else interpreted it. Fantasy and sci-fi features stand out in my mind; for example, I thought the Harry Potter movies did a really excellent job of visualizing the magical elements (whatever the die-hard bookfans might say about the films' corruption of plot). I haven't actually seen A Scanner Darkly yet (though I did read the book in preparation for the movie), but I was excited to see what the anonimity suits (and from what I saw in the previews, they had a pretty cool idea).

Next most obvious difference is the addition of a soundtrack; not only do we see the world, but we can hear it, too, not to mention scores and pop songs. The use of sound and music add layers to any film and has a huge impact on mood and atmosphere. If used really well, I believe music can convey in a film what a narrator (perhaps not included in the adaptation) does in a book. Relatedly, in the beginning of the novel Nightwatch, a characters has song stuck in his head; I don't remember if the movie used the song or not, but that would have been really interesting to see (or perhaps I should say "hear").

Film also has an aspect of temporality to it that doesn't necessarily exist in written prose. Scenes can be sped up so that you get a sense of panic, and can't catch everything going on; they can be slowed down to indicated tiredness or boredom. Prose can certainly play with timelines (look at Slaughterhouse 5, though I won't comment on how the movie worked in this respect as its been a long time since I've seen it), but because of the visual element a flashback in a film can be used with great force.

Finally, as Duff also pointed out, there is just the quality of the movie itself. No matter where it came from, the film should be able to stand on its own. So what if Jumanji differed so drastically from its source material? If the spin-off ideas had been good ones, the movie could have been good anyway (and some people felt that it was). From what I've read, I think Night Watch and Day Watch fall into this category; comparing books to movies, the two movies are both based on the first book in the series; relationships of characters to one another are changed; not all of the events are included and priority of certain events might be shifted. Maybe I'll feel differently after reading the novels (a project in progress right now), but I really enjoyed the movies on their own, and I hope that after I've read the books, I'll appreciate both experiences in their own rights.

So, those are just some of my thoughts on books made into movies; they are only some of my thoughts on the subject, so feel free to share your own ideas!

Speaking of books made into movies, the two most on my mind upcoming are Stardust and Coraline, both based on books by Neil Gaiman. Stardust is out in August and I cannot wait; I might reread the book in preparation, but I also might not.

(directed and screen written by Henry Selick of The Nightmare Before Christmas, with a soundtrack by They Might be Giants!) is due out for Halloween 2008. From Neil Gaiman's blog, five years ago he had this to say about the screenplay:
Henry's first draft of the script was utterly faithful to the text of the book -- if anything, too faithful. This version was both looser and truer to the spirit of the book -- he'd added a character, made the beats in the first act slightly different, but the changes were the all kind of changes that need to exist when translating a book into a film, and the core characters -- Coraline, her parents, the Cat, the Other Mother -- and the story are still just the same.
So, that's pretty interesting, given this discussion!

By the way, I will probably get to see Neil Gaiman in person next month, at the San Diego Comic Con! which is pretty exciting.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Thoughts from the walk to work

On my way to work, walking north on Kimbark, I passed a row of sprinklers (really just hoses with holes poked in them) to my left. The nine o' clock sun coaxed rainbows from the drops; they came into existence as I drew near and faded away again as I passed.

Last week, I stopped and waited at Woodlawn and 59th for a woman with a stroller to pass. The woman was older than of the mothers I see pushing strollers in this neighborhood. She looked stern and vigilant, but carried herself upright with a kind of pride. I wondered if the baby belonged to her, or if her proud suspicion was because it did not.

A couple days later, I saw another woman on Woodlawn. She was coming from work. Though her clothes were bright and pretty, her face was sad and because of this it stood from the rest of her, not in the good way but because it did not fit. I wondered about the existence of this discontinuity, the sad, cold face with the cheerful, carefully chosen outfit. Then, I noticed that in her right hand she was carrying a delicate fern, and I was no longer worried.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Summer in the city

Summer night's music

Someone in the apartment above mine is playing guitat softly on their balcony.

Perhaps some day soon that will be me.

Movie adaptations of books

Prompted by seeing the imaginative Day Watch and by a question from this person, I've returned to a train of thought that occupied my mind constantly in December of 2005 (can't remember any particular reason why): movies made from books.

It's a subject I have strong feelings about, perhaps because I can be so precious about books I love. The first anguish I remember having about movie based on books centered on the much-beloved 1971 version of Roald Dahl's classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. (They didn't keep the title of the source book--is this a hint of things to comes?) As I said, this movie was and still is enormously popular; it's fun and colorful and features Gene Wilder and orange-skinned midgets. But for me, a huge Roald Dalh fan who had read the book multiple times, the movie was just confusing (and honestly, it still confuses me). Each child could only bring one parent--okay. But what was up with the kids being asked to steal the gobstopper recipe? Why did they replace Roald Dalh's wonderful, creepy Oompa Loompa poems about the fates of the children with (admittedly catchy) dopey, simple songs? And why did Charlie and his Grandpa Bucket break the rules? This last one was the clincher--the whole point of the story is that Charlie is absolutely good just because you are supposed to be (hello, Kant!) and is therefore rewarded. These changes made no sense and didn't add anything worthwhile to the story. (I didn't like Tim Burton's new version much, either; while better in many ways, it had its own attrocious additions.)

Worse than Chocolate Factory was 1995's Jumanji, which stole the name and a vague concept from Chris Van Allsburg's beautiful illustrated book (I'm not going to get into everything that was wrong with the movie version. Just read the book and you'll see for yourself why I won't use the phrase "based on" to describe the movie, even if Van Allsburg helped write the screenplay).

This angst over changes and additions to stories seems to cover my problem (and solution) with adaptations: just don't change anything, I seem to be saying. Remain absolutely faithful to my beloved source material, and maybe you'll have something. But why bother to take a good book and make it into a movie if you're just going to change some of what makes it good in the first place?

I usually put off reading books I haven't read yet if I intend to the see the movie release, just to avoid this kind of frustration and disappointment. I went out of my way to read Frank Miller's Sin City before seeing Robert Rodriguez' film of the same name precisely because it suppose to be an utterly faithful adaptation of the novels (the panels of the graphic novels were used as a storyboard), and it succeeded in that. If I just don't want any changes, that would explain why I liked Sin City so much.

However, I have enjoyed the movie versions of some books I've read. I suppose this could be because it had been a long time between reading the book and seeing the movie and I'd forgotten some things, or perhaps the books were ones i wasn't as precious about as others, and I had been a bigger fan of that particular book, I would have understood what was so horribly wrong with the cinematic version.

I want to think that it's more than just that, because that attitude just makes me feel childish. It's alright for filmmakers to take someone else's favorite stories and ruin them for him or her, but not my own? This is an unsatisfactory explanation.

My thoughtful answer comes back to the question I asked earlier: why bother to take a good book and make it into a movie?

(An answer--soon?)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


After reading a bunch of websites calling for story submissions, I was inspired to start writing another new story. I finished a rough draft yesterday; now I just need to start reworking it and polishing it. The idea actually came from an art project I created for class last quarter, only it's from a different point of's about the character I took on to create the first project.

Speaking of finished stories, toward the beginning of the (calendar) year I wrote a story for this competition. I didn't make it into the anthology, which is alright. I'll post my story online in the next few days, for anyone who hasn't read it and would like to. Rejections are never fun, but I'm not discouraged.

I'm leaving work now. Hopefully there will be internet at home!

Monday, June 18, 2007

More excuses

The weirdest thing about writing apologies and excuses for the absence of posts is that I don't even know if anyone is reading this, so I'm really just making excuses to myself.

Not having any internet at home, it turns out, is a serious impediment to being able to write a blog, especially when I'm at work and have access to the internet, I'm actually keeping busy doing work (this is most likely for the best).

I did start writing a story, based on a name, but so far it seems plot-based, which is going to take some planning. Unless it ends up going another way.

In other story news that is interesting to me, Neil Gaiman's most recently collection of short stories, Fragile Things, and one of the stories contained therein ("How to Talk to Girls at Parties") won 2007 Locus Awards. I recommend the collection, but read Smoke & Mirrors, Gaiman's earlier collection, first, because you ought to read both and might as well read them in chronological order.

I'm currently reading Miranda July's short story collection, No One Belongs Here More Than You (you have to check July's homemade promotional website). The stories are all about lonely, kind of weird people. I've enjoyed them so far, some more than others. Before that, I just finished reading Thud!, part of Terry Pratchet's Discworld series. NOBHMTY is currently residing at my boyfriend's house, so lacking anything else to read, I started rereading Ishmael, I think for the third time.

Well, hopefully the lack-of-internets situation will be resolved soon, and I can start thinking about actually using this website for its intended purpose, which is conclusively not for making excuses to myself.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

This American Life

I spent the trip from Chicago to St. Louis yesterday listening to podcast episodes of This American Life, and I came away with two things (one specific and one general).

My specific thought relates to a phrase from one of the later acts of the episode "The Center for Lessons Learned." Salt Lake City mayor Rocky Anderson was (supposedly) debating with Fox News' Sean Hanitty about whether or not we should have gone to war in Iraq (my "supposedly" indicates the success with which they actually stayed on that topic). Mayor Rocky at one point accused President Bush of committing "crimes against the peace." Now, I do think president needs to be held legally accountable for the lies he told and the resulting consequences, but the phrase "crime against peace" bothers me in light of the book The Faces of Injustice by Judith Shklar. Shklar does not consider peace and order to be valid reasons for standing by while injustices occur; admittedly she's speaking about life within a democracy like ours, but this fact might make her point even more valid, since aren't we trying to promote democracy? I also wonder exactly what peace US intervention committed crime against. It doesn't seem like things have gotten much more peaceful since we arrived, but have we made a whole lot worse?

I think they way the US went about involving itself in the state of affairs in the middle east was mistaken, for a variety of reasons. However, I'm not sure that I believe it can't do some good (assuming it isn't too late for that now). I know that I'm far from the only person to wonder about a nation's responsibility to intervene in the inhuman affairs of other nations, but a part of feels that if we had a totally hands-off policy ("It's not our problem so we refuse to do anything about it), I would also be unsatisfied. Bush may have committed crimes against his own state and people, and the peace of our soldiers was certain shattered when they were sent off to the middle east, but if their presence is a "crime against the peace," I'd like someone to explain to me what that peace looked like.

My second thought, after listening to several stories and having just finished "Duty Calls" a particularly harrowing tale about a man who leaves his home to go take care ofhis alcoholic mother and delinquent half-brother, I realized that no one needs to write fiction about real life, because life is far strange enough on its own.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

A photo

The Best Paragraph Ever

I was working on my final final yesterday, and in the midst of my first essay of three for the assignment, when I looked back over what I'd written I realized that I'd written The Best Paragraph Ever. I've pasted it below for your enjoyment:

The world of Michael Kohlhaas is one founded on trust; his understanding of his role in society depends on order, and he trusts in this order with his whole being. He is devastated, therefore, when the Junker von Tronka’s absurd cruelties and anarchical sense of entitlement go without repercussion, time and time again. Family ties and personal interests cannot stand for application of justice, so the system has fallen apart. It is an unfamiliar and ugly world where Kohlhaas does not belong: “‘I do not wish to live in a country where I and my rights are not defended’” (134). Expatriation is not a satisfactory solution, however. The answer becomes perfectly clear to Kohlhaas once he understands what kind of place he has found himself in: a Hobbesian state of nature. “‘I call that man an outcast…who is denied protection under the law! …Whoever withholds it from me drives me out into the wilderness among savages. It is he…who put into my hands the club I am wielding to defend myself’” (152). Armed thus with the knowledge that he now resides in a world where there is no law, where he needs “‘nothing but weapons and horses,’” Kohlhaas rides forth to show his supposed rulers exactly what kind of world they’ve created through their misuse of the law: a lawless state perceptive only to the language of violence (134). In the absence of law, Kohlhaas creates his own.

If you're actually interested in reading the whole paper, let me know.