Quickie Review: PATERSON (2016)

PATERSON strikes me as AMERICAN SPLENDOR (the comic, not the film) for the beautiful people. The ones with artistic tendencies, who are old enough to accept the reality of a workday job but too young to be completely jaded about it yet. Adam Driver is no Harvey Pekar. Driver, a bus driver, goes about his daily routine, observing and absorbing life along his route — the characters, the conversations, the situations (like, being a driver named Paterson, driving through Paterson) — living a poetic life in every sense of the word.

(Spoilers near the end of the post.)

This film’s strength as a piece of art is that you’re able to project a little bit onto it. Some reviewers see this as a piece about a man moving through his poetic life, poetically, with a Zen-like focus on the infinite variety of subjects he encounters in his daily route. His passengers, fellow bar patrons, his artistic (if unfocused) wife and her dog are stops along his way which he soaks up and documents in his poems. And when Paterson’s life is disrupted in the one way it could be, he eventually comes to treat it as the momentary aberration it is, and his poetic equilibrium is restored.

I see something different, though. I see an writer who never publishes, chafing a little against his good-enough routine but with little reason to change anything. And when he pays the price for this life, giving him an opening for a chance, here comes the poetic Universe in the form of a magical Japanese man to usher him back. And Paterson goes back willingly into that prison, closing the door behind him.

SPOILER here, but I think it’s worth mentioning how this film was a lesson in establishing plot threads that aren’t wrapped up, but which totally works because those things aren’t what the film is about anyway. I was expecting a dog-napping, a smashed guitar, ruined cupcakes, a divorce, or a newly discovered twin. We get none of that, but it’s okay. Depending on your point of view, this is either a film about living a pure, artistic life for its own sake or it’s about condemning yourself to an existential hell that’s ultimately of your own making.

Either way is poetic to me.

Thanks, Boskone 54!

I think I had the most fun I’ve ever had at Boskone as a part of this year’s program. I probably could’ve done a better job moderating “So You Wanna Be a Time Lord.” Things got a little heated near the end, but I think most folks walked out with smiles. “The Horror Boom and the Second Wave” and “Fear Factor” panels were great fun and I’m wondering if that was so because my point of view on these topics was that of a fan, and not so much as “a fantasy/sf writer.” I did have occasion to let that perspective sneak in a couple of times; that was cool, too.

I was down with OPP (Other People’s Panels) this year, too. I probably need to lay off the various “writers on writing” panels at cons, though — not because I feel I have nothing to learn but really, my further learning needs to be about doing at this point. Still, I did pick up a couple of real gems.

Caught a couple of films, too. I’d heard of, but never watched David L. Wolper’s 1963 documentary STORY OF THE WRITER on Ray Bradbury. I wish someone would’ve tied me down CLOCKWORK ORANGE-style and made me watch this when I started writing. I ruminated on this video for most of the ride back from MA to NY for a many reasons, not the least of which is because this is a snapshot of Bradbury’s life at 43 (like someone else I know). I know, I know, can’t compare yourself to other people, least of all a legend in the field. But got’damn, if this isn’t yet another call to get my ass in gear…

The other was Roger Corman’s 1963 adaptation of THE RAVEN. C’mon, who doesn’t like that one? I’d actually forgotten that Richard Matheson wrote the screenplay, and that a very young Jack Nicholson was in it, too!

I succumbed to Boskone Twitter’s (implied) dare to adopt the busted Baphomet statue I found in my apartment complex’s laundry room and use it as a prop for the piece I performed for the Villains Open Mic slam.

This is the second year in a row that someone suggested I do something with the pieces I performed. Maybe this year, I’ll listen. I wonder what I’ll have to cook up next year?

See you at 55!

“I can STILL hear you saying you would NEVER break the chain…” [January 2017]

What you’re seeing up there is my attempt at a January writing streak. Each red X is a day I met a preset minimum fiction writing/editing goal. The end goal, of course, is to have as long a chain of Xs as possible. I’m not off to a hot start this month, but we’ll find out together how February turns out.

I tried posting these a few years back, but it lasted all of five minutes. I’m gonna try public accountability again though, if for no other reason than to live out the main takeaway from my Viable Paradise experience: Put up or shut up.

The Ballad of Baphomet with the Broken Horn

The public laundry rooms in my apartment complex have glass doors, and when I walked past one on my way to the bus to work the other day, I caught this little guy sitting on the freebie table out of the corner of my eye. I thought to myself, “That can’t be what I think it is.” and I doubled back.

Times are tough when the devil can’t get a break.

I stopped to stare at it. Not because of leftover Satanic influence from my Dungeons & Dragons days (at least I hope!), but because of the total absurdity of its existence in this room.

There’s a story behind that statue, and it began with a person or persons who decided, for whatever reason, “I need a graven visage of the Evil One, the Horned Beast, the Lord of Lies, the Prince of Darkness!” Maybe I have neighbors who are genuine Satan worshippers. Or, maybe just dark metal wannabes. Maybe contemporaries from my D&D days, or someone who just wanted to shock and amaze their roommates with a gag gift.

In any case, the tale ends when this person or persons decide, presumably after its right horn got busted off, “Eh… the rest of it is still good. Maybe someone else might want it.”

Twenty+ consecutive years of Catholic education during my formative years makes this repulsive at a gut level. But those days are long past. Not only am I dying to know what the middle of its story is, it’s kind of a pathetic end for anything to get discarded on a freebie table in an apartment laundry room.

Come to think of it… maybe a prop would be useful for the horror panels I’m on at Boskone next week… hm…

Now I wonder if it’s still there…?

Don’s Boskone 54 Schedule

I’ll be at Boskone in February for two out of its four days and again, they’ve allowed me to take up space in the program! Here’s where you can find me  — come say hi!

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 17

7:00 PM
So You Wanna Be a Time Lord
Jim Mann, Don Pizarro (M), Kate Baker, John Chu, LJ Cohen
Marina 4
The time for a new Time Lord is fast approaching. Peter Capaldi is on his third season, which means his stint as The Doctor is likely nearing an end. We’ve seen speculation about casting the next Doctor, but maybe Capaldi isn’t ready to go, especially since his character is starting to gel. What are our hopes for the future? Do we want to keep Capaldi? Whom would we like next? Maybe we can even ask our panelists why they might make a good Time Lord….

(Oh, I will ask. I will…)

8:00 PM
The Horror Boom and the Second Wave
Jack M. Haringa (M), Don Pizarro, Christopher Golden, John Langan, Grady Hendrix
Harbor II
Horror boomed in the 1970s and 1980s, before fading into subplots within romance, SF, and fantasy, as critics proclaimed, “Horror is dead!” Fortunately, horror is too clever — and necessary — to be beaten by Death. In fact, horror is back, bigger and badder than ever! The Second Wave of horror is hot, and it’s unabashedly horror again. What drove the first horror boom? What “killed” it? What fearsome forces are driving this Second Wave?

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 18

12:00 NOON
Fear Factor: “What Are You Scared Of?” “I Don’t Know!”
Gregory Feeley (M), Trisha Wooldridge, Grady Hendrix, Don Pizarro, Jon Hunt
Marina 2
H. P. Lovecraft says, “The oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” Peter S. Beagle says, “It is the shadow that terrifies, not the monster it hides. The monster is an actor in a monster suit. The shadow is always real.” Should moviemakers reduce screentime for their favorite CGI monstrosities? Should horror writers concentrate on explaining the really scary stuff less? What storytellers excel in making us jump at shadows?

8:00 PM
Open Mic: Villains!
Kenneth Schneyer (M), Linda Addison (M), C. S. E. Cooney, Kate Baker, Milton Davis, Ada Palmer, Vincent O’Neil, Don Pizarro, Tom Kidd, Julie C. Day, Emma Caywood
Galleria
Live from Boskone… enjoy the unsavory stylings of our program participants and audience members. They share their open mic skills in the second annual Boskone Open Mic, which this year features our favorite fictitious villains! Each person gives his/her best 5-minute villainous performance — story, poem, song, skit, interpretive dance, or whatever!

If I don’t see you at any of these panels, you’ll see me at others because holy crap, this programming is packed full o’ goodness! Or, I’m sure you’re bound to catch me walking to/from the bar…

Quickie Review: THE DEAD MOUNTAINEER’S INN

The Dead Mountaineer's Inn: One More Last Rite for the Detective GenreThe Dead Mountaineer’s Inn: One More Last Rite for the Detective Genre by Arkady Strugatsky
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I got this book as a gift and I was happy to get it; my reading of Soviet era science fiction has been nonexistent. This book is now my new standard for judging the “genre mashups” I read from now on. The book really is everything that Jeff VanderMeer promises it is in his introduction. It’s all here: shades of mystery, hints of the occult, and a bit of science fiction (some of which brought R.A. Lafferty to mind). A little surrealism and magical realism too, but with a twist. I loved how the Brothers Strugatsky almost always had a rational narrative explanation… which the reader is free to accept or reject.

There’s so much delicious meta in the book, too. In one scene, the main character breaks into a fellow guest’s room thinking, “I did this just like a hero in a spy thriller would have — I didn’t know how else to do it.” Meta is the book’s mission statement, in a way. It’s theme is how “The unknown makes us think — it makes our blood run a little quicker and gives rise to various delightful trains of thought. It beckons, it promises. It’s like a fire flickering in the depths of the night.” And, it’s a warning that, “You’re following the most natural roads, and for that reason you’ve ended up in unnatural places.” It’s elements like these, and the timelessness of the story’s setting that allows this 1970 novel to age well.

View all my reviews

So If You’re Tired of the Same Old Story…

I hit a couple of milestones this year. As always, I just need to capitalize on them. Leverage them into the next step in my master plan. As always, it’s that easy, and that hard.

But it’s been a tough year on top of that. It’s changed a lot of us, especially after November 9. And don’t get me started on the veritable icons we lost…

And now it’s time to turn some pages.

Lots of people have reason to be afraid in the next four years, and there are some people who get a big kick out of that. Fuck them. We might feel like we’ve been kicked in stomach by Bruce Lee straight into a spear stuck on the wall. But we have to toughen up, do your thing, and use that thing to stand up and get in the faces of the people who feel they can tell us to sit down and shut up.

2017, do not fuck with me. I’m going into next year angry, and so are a lot of my friends.

Go on, try us.

Quickie Review: ARRIVAL (2016)

I first heard of Ted Chiang’s “Story of Your Life,” on which ARRIVAL is based, at the very first con I attended as a wannabe writer about seven or eight years ago. It was on a panel that included among other luminaries, Nancy Kress, who cited “Story of Your Life” as the best short story dealing with the idea of translating of alien languages. I read it soon thereafter, a couple of times over. It’s been about 3-4 years since I read it last.

It’s a Ted Chiang story (everyone in the SF/F writing business knows what that means), so it left enough of an impression on me that when I saw ARRIVAL, I knew that whatever liberties this film adaptation took didn’t take away from the fundamental truth of the story. Sure, a film with Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Forest Whitaker would have to kick things up a notch to justify their salaries. But I’m extremely tickled by how this story about translation was in fact a very good translation. Nothing was lost. And just maybe one or two things were gained.

Offering This Simple Phrase

For five years I worked for my current boss, but on a different team. And every year around this time, she’d give that team some choice goodies from the Cuba Cheese Shoppe in Cuba, NY about a couple of hours away from us. I’ve moved on from that team to lead my own, and I wondered if I’d get the tasty cheese products this year. Turns out, I did!

My boss really is an example (in many ways, but this one in particular) of the simple phrase “Do unto others….” On one hand, she’s Administration and the general workplace rule is to be as neutral as possible during the holiday season, because we serve a lot of folks at the dayjob who don’t celebrate Christmas, or anything at all. But if you do, she’ll throw out a Merry Christmas in a second, and if you’d accept it you’ll get a gift of fine local cheeses.

For those of who aren’t into this particular holiday, I hope this time of year is exactly whatever you want it to be.

For those who are, Merry Christmas!

Plenty of Fluids

It’s been 9-10 hours days at the dayjob this week even though I was knocked out for a lot of last week by some kind of lung pox. The occasional cough and sneeze hasn’t stopped karma from arranging things for me to work 9-10 hour days. I’ve been trying to drink plenty of fluids, per the advice of the medical professionals surrounding me. Sort of. Okay, maybe this wasn’t what they had in mind.

I’ve become what I have beheld — in this case, my old high school band director who would regularly accumulate coffee cups of varying levels of fullness on his desk (and cigarette butts; it was the ’80s). There’s really no reason for me to have all this fluid on my desk. The sad part is, the coffee is what took my mind back to high school band and not the old Chicago album I had playing when I snapped this.

Anyway, I’m at lunch this second, sitting at a table next to a group of four students who are just chattering away. Writer Me wants to transcribe every word; the stuff I’m hearing is fiction dialogue gold. But not today. Today, I’ll just sip my coffee (that WON’T be going back to my desk) and soak up the fluid of stories gushing out next to me. Somehow, this stuff is actually making me feel a little better.