Sunday, September 30, 2007

Drabble Fourteen


I groaned as the vehicle that had pulled away from its hiding place in the shadows turned on its lights, signaling that I should pull over.

“License and registration?” the cop burbled at me. He turned them over in his claws.

“Are you aware that you were going 60 in a school zone?”

“I’m sorry, officer,” I started, “I’m starting a new job today and this reef is unfamiliar.”

His eyestalks pointed in my direction. “Well Ma’am, I’d advise you to pay more attention from now on.”

I thanked him and drove away, a trail of bubbles in my wake.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Plugging an old comic standby

I started reading Toothpaste for Dinner just before coming to college, and I think I associate it with my experience, in some way.

A Defense of Fantasy

I got an email from a friend this morning who is reading a book by Neil Gaiman and not enjoy it as much as one might. I really enjoyed my response to this email and thought I'd post it here.

It doesn't bother me if you don't like Neil Gaiman, and I hope you're not trying to like him on my account (or anyone else's other than your own); if nothing else, I do believe in personal taste.

My (rather obvious) response to your "Why fantasy?" question is "Why not fantasy?" I don't believe that fantasy and substance are mutually exclusive (and I don't think you're saying that they are, either, but I do want to elaborate on it). In most good sci-fi or fantasy (Kurt Vonnegut Jr. comes immediately to mind), we learn more about human beings than we do about any alien race, and we learn more about our own time than any future world; the contrast is just another way to examine ourselves.

Neil Gaiman's advice to people who want to write fantasy (and so I assume his own approach) is to use the "What if?" method: "What if...cats could talk?" "What baby brother was a troll?" etc. Those are really banal examples, but I think that that method, which can certainly be called "fantasizing," can be applied to other realms of thought: "What if...war was always considered just?" "What if...adults really do always know best?" "What if...morality could be bought?"

Of, what you do with the "What if" is almost as important, if not more so, than the asking, and do feel like Neil Gaiman is making points. American Gods is making a point about mythology, for example. The specific question is something like, "What happens to old-world Gods when their cultures move/move on/disappear?" And that kind of question can be answered on many different levels. I feel like most fantasy at least tries to examine questions of love, society, politics, faith... No denying that some of it isn't just fun, of course.

I'm a little confused by a couple of your criticisms. You say both that you feel like Gaiman, as an author, is holding you at a distance and not letting you in, but also that you want him to challenge you as a reader. I having trouble reconciling your desires there. Perhaps you are looking for a way in (the challenge) and not finding one, and therefore assuming that the challenge does not exist, that there is just a wall to understanding with little to nothing behind it. And if that is true, then I agree that it's disappointing. I think for me, part of the challenge of the writing is having to imagine the things described...that's not a complete answer, just something that occurred to me.

I do feel comfortable saying that Coraline is a children's book, and that probably automatically means it won't be as deep as some other literature. I think that Coraline has as much "substance" as James and the Giant Peach, for example, which has important things to say about family, friendship, and being yourself, things that seem to be the general topics of children's literature (including Coraline). But, I don't necessarily put Coraline on the same shelf as American Gods or Sandman, and when I recommend it to people, it is usually by saying "This is a fun book."

Now, if the question is, "Why do I like fantasy?" at least a part of the answer has to do with the fact that I read a great deal besides fantasy, mostly for classes, and when I come home from school I want something a bit different. Not necessarily easier, but at least of a different character. I'm in a literature class right now that is focusing on very close readings of "perfect" short fiction. And I love it, but I also want a contrast from that in what I read for fun. I also read a lot of philosophy, and while I want philosophical ideas in everything I read, I want to spend my free time reading a style that differs from a philosophical text. This is a shallower point than most of the ones I'm trying to make, but it's definitely valid.

Finally, I think your actual question was about the need for fantasy in Neil Gaiman's writing. Personally, I think it's because a) he likes it and b) he's good at it. Generally, it seems to me that the kind of ideas that he gets it in his work are best examined, at least by him, in the worlds he chooses to operate it. To me, the question is kind of like asking about the need for music in Bizet's writings. Neil Gaiman is a fantasy writer, and I don't think he claims to be anything else.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Drabble Thirteen

The first verse is from a song I wrote a long time ago, a song that I usually play as just an instrumental. I wrote the other verses tonight, and they accidentally came out to exactly 100 words. Hey, I'm not going to fight it.


Sunday, lazy afternoon
Finds me in the drawing room
Gossiping with Gossamer and Gloom
We all know that Monday comes too soon

Feathers stolen from a crow
Cat's eye, and a glow-worm's glow
Mix them up and boil it real slow
And never, ever tell them what you

Outside, there among the weeds
We shall talk of our misdeeds
Then we'll tell our secrets to the reeds
No one harmed and no one ever bleeds

Sometime, when I'm old and grey
And I'm very far away
I'll remember all the games we play
But for now let's just enjoy today

Fingers crossed

I don't think I sincerely believe in any superstitions, but it's hard not to go through the motions.

I had a pretty productive afternoon: read two stories for class, worked on songs with Elizabeth, submitted a story to
Drabblecast, and vacuumed the living room. It's the third one that has me going.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Art, morality, and censorship

This article, pointed out by my "Art and Morality" professor, gets at something (at least me) that has had me puzzled for awhile now. It was also brought to my attention on the first day of this class, when we listened to Eminem songs and discussed the intersection of art and morality (and what it means, and whether such an intersection exists at all): House Panel Debates Hip-Hop Lyrics

What caught my attention in this article was this defense:
But rapper and record producer Levell Crump, known as David Banner, was defiant as lawmakers pressed him on his use of offensive language. "I'm like Stephen King: horror music is what I do," he said in testimony laced with swear words. "Change the situation in my neighborhood and maybe I'll get better," he told one member of Congress.
Now, I think he''s making two different points there, but the first one made me pause. I had never thought of "horror music" as something that existed, much less as a description of a certain variety of hip-hop/rap. And it made me think, I read a lot of horror fiction. I'm getting into horror movies. I enjoy hyper-violence in graphic novels and film. And yet I get really uncomfortable if I have to listen to music like the kind of being discussed in that hearing, like the Eminem songs we listened to in class, like the radio shows my brother listened to, and therefore forced me to listen to on the drive to high school for two years.

There is something about violent/vulgar imagery and language in music that affects me different than the same sorts of things in prose, or even in cinema, and I'm curious why that is.

My first thought it that maybe it has something to do with catchiness; a good lyrical song will have you singing along with it or even singing it when a recording isn't on. You don't find people repeating the dialog--much less the actions--of a book or movie in quite the same way. So perhaps its the infectious quality of music, the way that it is so easy to take the narrative and make it yours. Perhaps there is a power in poetry and music that gets inside of us in a way that is more difficult for text or cinema to do.

It's also possible that I'm overthinking this, and that I just dislike this style of music. Depictions of rape in literature and film affect me just as viscerally as the songs...but for some reason, I think the songs feel more personally directed.

I started this post yesterday, and at the time I titled it "Art, morality, and censorship." I'm assuming that "censorship" was referring to the question of, are there things that we shouldn't allow anyone to read/see/hear? This is, of course, an enormous question that can be taken from any number of angles and have any number of answers. Our legal system, I believe, favors a negative answer, and I think that if you ask almost anyone, at least in this part of the world, the first reaction will be to say that no, we shouldn't censor (with a few exceptions like in the case of children, but that's one of those angles I mentioned).

It's interesting to think about why this should be, and it kind of came up (at least for me) in class yesterday, discussing Plato. One view, which is definitively NOT Plato's view (though my professor says came out of The Republic anyway), of the relationship between art and morality is that, as my prof put it, art exists in a protected realm, free from the limitations of moral judgment. I take it that this isn't to say that art doesn't have moral value, but that we can't hold that up as a reason to remove something from view.

But perhaps I am being too generous to the enemies of censorship. When I studied these passages of The Republic (367e-403c and 595a-608b) two years ago with this same professor, and we all cried out against the extreme censorship, he wanted to know why. If art can truly have as much of an impact on a person's virtue as Plato believes it can, then why shouldn't it be treated as a force to be reckoned with? Perhaps we are defensive of the freedom of art only because we see it as "just art." And to call it just art, to deny it its power, is rather...not condescending exactly, but it seems as if Plato respects art more, precisely because he recognizes its danger.

Drabble Twelve

I had this ready for posting yesterday, but Blogger wouldn't load. Anyway, here it is, a story inspired by a passage from Elizabeth's biology GRE prep book.


“So, what’s for lunch?”

I ignored the question.

“I hope it isn’t tuna again; you can get mercury poisoning from eating too much.”

“That so,” I answered brusquely.

“Yep! Apparently, some boy ate so much tuna fish that he lost his fine motor skills.”

Awkwardly, I turned my head to face it. “Could I just eat in peace?”

“Hanging out with you is so much fun,” it replied. “We should do it more often.”

“How is it that you developed sarcasm before you developed legs?” I asked.

The half-formed human growing out of my shoulder shrugged. “Just lucky, I guess.”

Yes, it's a punchline format, but it's also mainly dialog, something that I know better than anyone that I need to work on. Whoo hoo.

Monday, September 24, 2007

On Art and Plato

I am glad that artists and poets continue to work in spite of what Plato says in The Republic because if everyone really followed his directions, we would all believe that the only way of being is to be stoic and absolutely rational, and then when we each failed at this, we would feel insurmountable shame. for a course titled Art and Morality. Today in class, we listened to the Eminem song "Kill You."

By the way, my classes have started again. I'm reading (re-reading) selections from The Republic

I will get a drabble or two up as soon as I've got an idea formulated, but this past weekend was filled with roadtrip, and I've currently got a lot on my mind, but in the exciting kind of way.

In the meantime, check out One Laptop Per Child.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

It really is much too late for this noise

My upstairs neighbors are playing music with a heavy, droning base...and it is a quarter to two in the morning. They've played loudish music late before, and I've never said anything, because it's a hassle and probably unnecessary, anyway--I'll probably be able to get to sleep just the same, and they'll probably turn it off soon, and I wasn't even in bed yet so who am I to talk?

But it's in their living room, which is essentially right above my bedroom, and now I've been concentrating on it so I'm not going to be able to tune it out...but I really don't want to go upstairs and meet my neighbors by asking them to turn their music down.


It's like people don't know what the time is tonight. Someone just called our apartment phone, actually. And I know it was a wrong number because no one we know has our phone number, but I answered it anyway so that it wouldn't keep ringing because it was 1:30 at night! And yes, I'm still up and actually not feeling that tired, but who makes house phone calls at 1:30am?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Drabble Eleven

Spaceship Orange

That night, the light coming through the window was orange, a warm rectangle framed by the deep blue darkness of my bedroom. It was neither the yellow glow of moonlight nor the fleeting illumination of headlights. It could have been dawn except that it had only grown dark a few hours earlier and nights last longer than that.

It was the color of spaceship light, and I immediately thought of home.

The translucent drapes across my window diffused the light from the street lamp, and so it left no silhouettes of unidentified flying objects upon the floor or my bedspread.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Got fourteen minutes?

If you answered "yes" to that question, then you definitely go listen to the story "Code Brown." It's the latest from Drabblecast, one of the fiction podcasts I listen to. And it's absolutely hilarious, in addition answering one of those questions that you never thought would even be satisfactorily answered. You can check it out here.

In fact, I recommend just about anything I've heard on Drabblcast. Norm Sherman's opening, "Strange stories from strange authors for strange readers, such as yourselves," is about as accurate as anyone could want. Check out the Drabblecast promo first, if you don't believe me.

And no, they are not paying me.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Drabble Ten

Cinema Gazebo

Cary Grant looked bewildered and slightly terrified, as he often does. Perhaps he, too, was puzzled at his presence in Lafayette Square Park on that clear, chilly September night.

I gazed up the hill toward the gazebo and watched as Uncle Teddy came upstairs from digging his basement Panama Canal. If I listened very carefully I could hear the faint burbling of the creek beneath the bridge upon which I stood, taking in my private screening of Arsenic and Old Lace.

As Peter Lorre consoled his homicidal patient, I turned and continued my stroll through the park, smiling to myself.

(This story can only be called fiction because the movie was actually The Phantom of the Opera and I was not alone.)

Friday, September 14, 2007

It sounds like something out of dystopian lit

One of the most interesting things I heard recently was the nickname of Bush's group of supportive nations at the beginning of the Iraq war: the Coalition of the Willing.

It's just very...

Drabble Nine

State of the Union

My fellow Americans,

It is with mixed feelings that I come before you today to officially declare the existence of something that most of us assumed impossible. There is no longer any doubt that there are individuals among us who possess extraordinary, terrifying capabilities.

But do not be frightened. These individuals are citizens, just like you and me, with the same protections under, and the same obligations to, the laws that govern our great country. As a nation, we take pride in our diversity—let us extend that acceptance to the friends and neighbors we are only beginning to understand.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Drabble Eight

And now, a drabble inspired by my sudden, unplanned trip to the dentist this afternoon:


Tyler was the smartest boy in his grade and probably the smartest in his whole school. Ever since the first grade, his name and “Harvard” had been mentioned in the same breath more times than his proud parents could keep track of.

And then, the summer before his junior year of high school, a decision was made in small clandestine room that would alter their plans for good.

Tyler cried and begged them not to do it, but his pleas were to no avail—Tyler’s wisdom teeth had to go, and with them went any hope for a bright future.


I edited a couple of the songs on the Drabble Six playlist; there was one that I didn't really want on there but fit really well, but I managed to find replacements.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Another observation

My recent viewings of the movies Superbad and Rocket Science, and television series Freaks & Geeks, have made me incredibly, delightfully glad that I am no longer in high school and am now in college.

Because college is pretty wonderful. In its own right, but especially compared to high school.

Thought for the day

I don't hate television. I have a few shows that I keep up that I really enjoy watching.

But I don't really miss television, either. I'm glad I get to watch most of my shows on DVD or on the internet.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Drabble Seven

A Taste of Power

I’d tasted Power, and I wanted more.

So, I ordered the number 5. The first couple bites went down smoothly. Not as intense as Fame, not as rich as Fortune, it had a more complex flavor. And it was delicious.

So delicious that, at first, I willingly ignored the unpleasant aftertaste, but soon it was all I could do to keep from spitting it out. I drained two glasses of water trying to rid my mouth of the acridity. Power tastes like a new Porsche—literally. Like licking the exhaust pipe.

Next time I’ll just order it on the side.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Read it.

I finished The Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, and I maintain my recommendations. It's an incredible well-written, bittersweet romance of growing up, war, dreams, and family.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Friday, September 7, 2007


I spent a good deal of time at work this morning on my back.

(That sounds exciting, doesn't it?)

I was lying on the floor under my desk, trying to figure out where (and how) the hell to plug my internets back in. People came and replaced this desk I'm working at today, and they didn't plug everything back in. Turn out there are two data jack port-y things...and they back behind some metal plates, and poorly illuminated. I think I've earned some kind of degree in contortion thanks to what I had to do to find a plug that worked, especially considering that I couldn't see them.

It turns out that the phone plugs into the data jack and the ethernet cable plugs into the phone. Who knew?

By the way, it's time to face the facts:

I work in IT.

And actually, I like it a lot. When I started here, I thought to myself, Well, this is a pretty good job for now, but definitely NOT a career move I'm interested in. But I'm starting to change my mind. I definitely want more training, especially in web design, but assuming that I do get to increase my knowledge base, I could see this as a potential future career.

And, you might think that my office is filled with social incompetent dorks, and sure, there are a couple people who fit the stereotype, but most of the people on my floor are...well, hipsters. In the cool way. I wish I had their fashion sense.

Anyway, just sayin'.

And, if I had to say one other thing today, it would be that This Sounds Awesome. Who's with me? (I am also delighted that the author has an accompanying post which reads, "Getting a bunch of introverts to pull public stunts is harder than cold fusion. Lousy internet."

Okay, one more thing. Here is a charity that I can really get behind:
(Actually visit the site; it isn't just a bunch of horror movie fanatics.) Too bad there doesn't seem to be an active Chicago chapter.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Drabble Six

A Mix CD

  1. Pull Shapes – The Pipettes
  2. FNT – Semisonic
  3. Bohemian Like You – The Dandy Warhols
  4. Whistle for the Choir - The Fratellis
  5. Forget About Here –Math and Science
  6. California – Phantom Planet
  7. I’m Beginning to See the Light – Ella Fitzgerald
  8. Let Go – Frou Frou
  9. Winter Wooskie – Belle & Sebastian
  10. Love You Madly – Cake
  11. I Should Have Known Better – The Beatles
  12. Burnin’ For You – Blue Oyster Cult
  13. First Kiss – They Might Be Giants
  14. Guilty – Al Bowlly
  15. Marching Bands of Manhattan – Death Cab For Cutie
  16. Anybody Else But You – The Moldy Peaches

Yes, there really are exactly 100 words, counting the numerals and not counting the words "A Mix CD." I think this piece took me longer than any of the previous ones. Also, this playlist really exists, and I do actually recommend all of this music. How's that for a change in format?

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Drabble Five

A Conversation

“We can go anywhere in the whole wide universe that you want to go!”

“Can we go home?”

“But…we can go anywhere in the whole wide universe that you want to go.”

“Yes, but I’m tired, and this place is cold.”

“We can go somewhere warm…?”

“It would still be cold, I think, in some way.”

“Well…I don’t know what to say.”

“It’s alright. I was excited in the beginning. I thought that doing it together would make all the difference.”


“But, it’s cold here. And I’m tired. And home is the only place that really smells like you.”


That last story was a lot of fun to write, mostly because I had to be really creative with word usage.

As I see it, this is the challenge of writing drabble:
-Say what you want to say as quickly as possible without sounding rushed
-Trim that down so that it still says what you want it to but meets the exact word limit

100 words is so few...heh, I was actually worried with the idea for #4 that I was going to have trouble meeting it. That's the last time I worry about that, because it's pretty silly to assume that I can't find at least 100 to say about, well, almost anything.

You just have to get creative. So "to be precise" becomes "specifically." "Eating her way through" becomes "eating through." And of course I find places where I actually want to add words...often to keep the phrasing from sounding rushed...and then I need to hunt for places to trim more to make up for it.

I'm thinking now that I don't really mind the beginning-middle-end format that I brought up before...because I understand why I'm putting it in. I want these "stories" to feel complete; I don't want them to feel like excerpts or like I just trailed off. So, while I do want to experiment with the format some, I'm going to try to avoid feeling self-conscious about my natural tendencies. I will also try to avoid every ending being a crazy/creepy twist, but I think that's doable.

Anyway, another one up tonight, hopefully.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Drabble Four

Time Flies When You’re Eating It Up

Lilly enjoyed birthdays—specifically, her own. She just couldn’t get enough presents. The day after her birthday was always an enormous letdown, and she despaired that it only happened once a year.

She grabbed the page-a-day calendar from her desk and began tearing off the pages and stuffing them into her mouth. Eating through the entire year took hours, and she ended up dousing the pages in chocolate syrup in order to get them down.

She went to bed with indigestion, but she was confident that tomorrow would bring more presents.

Maybe someone would give her a new page-a-day calendar.

Don't you wish you were here right now?

There's really nothing like spending a hot summer afternoon baking cupcakes in your underwear.

(There's also nothing like spending a hot summer afternoon baking in your underwear to make a woman feel like she's in some "Fried Green Tomatoes" movie.)

So, no, this isn't a drabble, but they are yellow cupcakes with orange glaze (made with fresh squeezed orange juice).

I'll put a drabble up by the end of the night, but in the meantime:

Monday, September 3, 2007

You could read a book!

Happy Labor something that you wouldn't normally be able to do on a Monday.

I'm working on a couple of ideas for this week's drabbles, but in the meantime, here's a book recommendation.

I am, and have been for about a month now, in the midst of reading The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon. That doesn't sound like a great way to introduce a book I'm going to recommend, but the truth is that it just took me a little while to get into it, and only in these past couple weeks have I really been devoting the necessary attention to the task of reading.

I pick up this novel kind of randomly. I'd heard of the author and could see the Pulitzer sticker on the cover. When I found out by the reading the back that it was the story of two boys in New York in the 30s and 40s who write a comic book together, I decided it would probably be a good buy, and did so.

The reason it took me awhile to get into the book is that it's very long-winded. Elaborate, lengthy, complex sentences...beautiful descriptions, but ones that require a lot of attention from the reader. So, not a book to be sped read. I liked it from the beginning but just didn't commit enough. Now, I'm really enjoying.

It very well might be the most romantic book I've read in a long time. Not just the actual romances in the novel, either; the whole book is a romance. (The actual romances are, however, quite romantic.) It's a love story about art, and history, and New York, and growing up, and I think that this perspective of it helps explain the long-windedness. I think my own romantic inclinations are on the long-winded side.

Of course, there is a more taciturn form of romance, as well, understated rather than over.

Anyway, I highly recommend this novel, even though I haven't finished it yet. If the end changes my mind, I'll do the responsible thing and let you know, but I doubt that's going to happen.