Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Big Man Japan

I like weird things. In fact, I'm very much drawn to them. Yet when I come across something truly bizarre, I can't help but wonder where in the world did these people come up with this stuff.

Big Man Japan is one such thing. Some of the oddest things and some of the best character development I've seen in a film in quite awhile.

The film starts slow though, very slow. I almost turned it off slow, but there was just enough of a "What in the world is going on?" to keep me going. And I'm glad I did. Director Hitashi Matsumoto has crafted an odd mix of mockumentary, Godzilla-esque monster fights, and character examination.

The monster fights will have you shaking your head at their ridiculousness, but it's really the plight of the main character that will keep you going. The hero, Masaru, has such a craptastic life that you can't help but root for him and WANT him to succeed at what he does.

Really, I don't even think I can put into words why you should watch this. The best I can come up with is that About Schmidt found itself in a three-way involving Godzilla films and the non-sequitur of Cartoon Network's Adult swim.

Really though, if you like mockumentaries or over-sized monster fights or just a fully-realized character, you should give this one a go. It is on Instant Watch through Netflix, so it's not even a hard thing to track down.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Something Happened

I fell off the horse in a big way. It's been almost a week since I posted last--something almost unheard of until this moment. Things have simply been busy and full of more important things than my rambling here.

I'm still hoping to post some audible versions of the "Beautiful Writing." Perhaps that will be my goal for tonight.

Really, teaching has taken up the majority of my time. And if I haven't been teaching, I've been purchasing soda at Rocket Fizz or hanging out with my newly parent-status friends. Newborns are itty bitty little things. Hard to believe they're people. Hard to believe I was ever that small. Hard to believe things won't just be so ugly soon enough. (Surrounding these events, I have a story that has been brewing. It better simply be short story, because I DON'T have room or time for another novel. Plus, I think it would make a rather boring novel.)

Anyway, I hope to get back to my regularly scheduled posting here again. It will help with my writing--and perhaps that's what I will post, new snippets from the new novel. Who knows?

Off to prepare for teaching tomorrow, and other work-related things. Bleh.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Good Puzzling Platformer

I'm always on the lookout for good platformers. It's even better when they happen to be puzzle games, too.

Continuity is awesome. So far, it hasn't been very difficult, but it doesn't matter. The execution is wonderful. All you must do is find a key and go through a door. The twist? The game boards play like those oldschool slid pictures, the ones you got as crappy party favors, how you had to slide the pieces around the grid to make the solid picture. You must slide the different "pieces" of the level around in order for your little stick-man to navigate his way to the key, then the door. It's a simple idea, beautiful in execution, and would--and does--make a great time waster.

Check it out if you have a few moments. These guys deserve some applause.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Cherry Cola Amazingness

There is a wonderful, magical place here in Lincoln called Rocket Fizz. It has hundreds of different sodas. Hundreds. It is amazing.

The reason I bring it up is because of cola I tried the other day: Sprecher Cherry Cola. This is one of the best sodas I've ever tasted. It tastes like the grenadine filled cherry cokes you get at Mexican or Italian restaurants, only with a bit more authentic cherry flavor. What does that mean exactly? It means it's freaking awesome and you need to track some down, buy it, and drink until your heart stops. Well, maybe not, but try some at the very least.

Also worth note: It is caffeine free. Normally, I like my colas caffeinated, but this one is too good--even with this downside.

This is good soda people, and I know my sodas.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Context, Discourse, and Theme

I think it might be beneficial if I write this down, gather my thoughts a little. This is what/how I'm reviewing the rambling ideas rambled about last class.

Context: Think of this like an inside joke. You and your group of friends have the stupid things you say to one another that garner guffaws and uncontrollable giggles. Let's say one of these "code" phrases is "Macaroni Salad." For whatever reason, be it film quote, past experience, something one of you witnessed, these two words send you and your friends into a fit of laughter. In the context of you and your friends, this is funny.

Now, let's put you in a room with a potential boss, interviewing you for a job. You say "Macaroni Salad" to him, and he might simply ask you to leave. The context has changed: instead of your friends, who know how your brain works and have shared similar experiences with you, this interviewer does not know you, does not know how your brain works, and just might be wondering if you always spout out random picnic offerings.

Let's change the context again: You are now in a restaurant, staring into the face of your disgruntled waiter. Say "Macaroni Salad" to him, and he will either write down your order with a bored expression, or his face might scrunch as he says, "Um, we don't have that."

Context can be thought of as the "setting." Change the setting of a reader--what they like, when they read it, etc.--and the meaning of the essay, story, poem can change.

Discourse goes hand-in-hand with Context. Take a look at the "Macaroni Salad" example again. Same word in all three instance, yet it means very different things. To your friends, it conjures up an image of Melinda shooting a noodle out of her nose. To the interviewer, it conjures up an image of you in a mental institution, complete with straight jacket. To the waiter, it's just another order of something they may or may not have. Same word, different meaning.

Theme needs a new example. Try thinking of Theme like the categories in a Blockbuster. Each one has been given a "theme" to be included within: Comedy, Sci-Fi/Horror, Romance, Drama, Action/Adventure, Family, etc. According to Blockbuster, these groupings of films all have the same "theme," the same traits that make them belong together: these films will make you laugh, these films are appropriate for all ages, and so on and so forth. By finding the similar traits, one can pick out a common "theme" among them, and have a general idea of what to expect when plucking a film from its shelf.

But what happens when a film has multiple "themes" that it can fall under? This is where context comes back in: depending on where a film is placed, you expect different things from it.

Take Pirates of the Caribbean: it is, most likely, shelved under Action/Adventure. This makes sense because of its high-seas adventures, sword fights, and exotic location. Someone renting this film and hoping for an adventure, would not be disappointed, because it has been placed under the context of Action/Adventure--even though it has elements of horror, comedy, drama, and romance. What would happen if a Blockbuster employee decided it needed reshelving? If placed in the Horror section, a renter might be annoyed because they didn't find the film scary or gory enough to be a Horror flick. Same goes for Romance. Sure, there is the idea of "romance" between Will and Elizabeth, but had someone rented it from the Romance section, would their ideas of a "Romance" film have been fulfilled? I doubt it. The same goes for comedy. If you were watching this film, having pulled it from the Comedy shelf, you might've expected something along the lines of Robin Hood: Men in Tights, only with swashbucklers instead of outlaws. (Granted, you might still laugh at some of the lines and moments or even the ridiculousness of the film as a whole, but it might not fill your expectations.)

Theme establishes the through-line of a story or essay. It's what pulls all of these elements--different as they might be--together. Good themes should not change, no matter what the context. Readers should be able to recognize a theme, despite its presentation or what prejudices they might bring. (Like Pirates, someone watching it as a Horror film would probably be thinking, "This isn't a horror; it's more of an Action/Adventure.") Theme binds writing together AND it's what gives the universality quality that allows anyone, anywhere to pick up the writing/film/artwork and understand it.

And that's the lesson for today, folks. Let me know what you think, and/or I would be much obliged to know how you present this type of thing yourself. I have a feeling that this will need to come up more than once or twice for students to fully grasp this idea.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Isaiah 51: 1-16 (NKJV)

1 “Listen to Me, you who follow after righteousness,
You who seek the LORD:
Look to the rock from which you were hewn,
And to the hole of the pit from which you were dug.
2 Look to Abraham your father,
And to Sarah who bore you;
For I called him alone,
And blessed him and increased him.”
3 For the LORD will comfort Zion,
He will comfort all her waste places;
He will make her wilderness like Eden,
And her desert like the garden of the LORD;
Joy and gladness will be found in it,
Thanksgiving and the voice of melody.
4 “ Listen to Me, My people;
And give ear to Me, O My nation:
For law will proceed from Me,
And I will make My justice rest
As a light of the peoples.
5 My righteousness is near,
My salvation has gone forth,
And My arms will judge the peoples;
The coastlands will wait upon Me,
And on My arm they will trust.
6 Lift up your eyes to the heavens,
And look on the earth beneath.
For the heavens will vanish away like smoke,
The earth will grow old like a garment,
And those who dwell in it will die in like manner;
But My salvation will be forever,
And My righteousness will not be abolished.
7 “ Listen to Me, you who know righteousness,
You people in whose heart is My law:
Do not fear the reproach of men,
Nor be afraid of their insults.
8 For the moth will eat them up like a garment,
And the worm will eat them like wool;
But My righteousness will be forever,
And My salvation from generation to generation.”
9 Awake, awake, put on strength,
O arm of the LORD!
Awake as in the ancient days,
In the generations of old.
AreYou not the arm that cut Rahab apart,
And wounded the serpent?
10 Are You not the One who dried up the sea,
The waters of the great deep;
That made the depths of the sea a road
For the redeemed to cross over?
11 So the ransomed of the LORD shall return,
And come to Zion with singing,
With everlasting joy on their heads.
They shall obtain joy and gladness;
Sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
12 “ I, even I, am He who comforts you.
Who are you that you should be afraid
Of a man who will die,
And of the son of a man who will be made like grass?
13 And you forget the LORD your Maker,
Who stretched out the heavens
And laid the foundations of the earth;
You have feared continually every day
Because of the fury of the oppressor,
When he has prepared to destroy.
And where is the fury of the oppressor?
14 The captive exile hastens, that he may be loosed,
That he should not die in the pit,
And that his bread should not fail.
15 But I am the LORD your God,
Who divided the sea whose waves roared—
The LORD of hosts is His name.
16 And I have put My words in your mouth;
I have covered you with the shadow of My hand,
That I may plant the heavens,
Lay the foundations of the earth,
And say to Zion, ‘You are My people.’”

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


I waited until I had an "official" class--not just going over the syllabus--to write about my teaching experience, and now I wish I hadn't.

Today was rough. People were actually answering my questions fairly well, but I was not following my outline. Translation: I think I sounded like a rambling idiot.

However, this is not without its benefits. Rough as today was, it has taught me a lesson: Follow my guideline. Focus on one, maybe two, key ideas, and go for them. Be more specific about what I want from my students with their homework. And forget their bored, bored faces.

This is what it is all about, right? Learning from my mistakes, seeing what works, what doesn't, etc.

At the end of it, I am alive, hurting, but alive. And I have Dr. Pepper, 32 ounces of sweet nectar to take my hurt away.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Joyas Voladoras by Brian Doyle

As I'd said long ago, I would change the comics to examples of Beautiful Writing. This is what I will be sharing with my class today, so I will share it with you now.

"Joyas Voladoras" by Brian Doyle

Consider the hummingbird for a long moment. A hummingbird's heart beats ten times a second. A hummingbird's heart is the size of a pencil eraser. A hummingbird's heart is a lot of the hummingbird. Joyas voladoras, flying jewels, the first white explorers in the Americas called them, and the white men had never seen such creatures, for hummingbirds came into the world only in the Americas, nowhere else in the universe, more than three hundred species of them whirring and zooming and nectaring in hummer time zones nine times removed from ours, their hearts hammering faster than we could clearly hear if we pressed our elephantine ears to their infinitesimal chests.

Each one visits a thousand flowers a day. They can dive at sixty miles an hour. They can fly backwards. They can fly more than five hundred miles without pausing to rest. But when they rest they come close to death: on frigid nights, or when they are starving, they retreat into torpor, their metabolic rate slowing to a fifteenth of their normal sleep rate, their hearts sludging nearly to a halt, barely beating, and if they are not soon warmed, if they do not soon find that which is sweet, their hearts grow cold, and they cease to be. Consider for a moment those hummingbirds who did not open their eyes again today, this very day, in the Americas: bearded helmetcrests and booted racket-tails, violet-tailed sylphs and violet-capped woodnymphs, crimson topazes and purple-crowned fairies, red-tailed comets and amethyst woodstars, rainbow-bearded thornbills and glittering-bellied emeralds, velvet-purple coronets and golden-bellied star-frontlets, fiery-tailed awlbills and Andean hillstars, spatuletails and pufflegs, each the most amazing thing you have never seen, each thunderous wild heart the size of an infant's fingernail, each mad heart silent, a brilliant music stilled.

Hummingbirds, like all flying birds but more so, have incredible enormous immense ferocious metabolisms. To drive those metabolisms they have race-car hearts that eat oxygen at an eye-popping rate. Their hearts are built of thinner, leaner fibers than ours. Their arteries are stiffer and more taut. They have more mitochondria in their heart muscles -- anything to gulp more oxygen. Their hearts are stripped to the skin for the war against gravity and inertia, the mad search for food, the insane idea of flight. The price of their ambition is a life closer to death; they suffer heart attacks and aneurysms and ruptures more than any other living creature. It's expensive to fly. You burn out. You fry the machine. You melt the engine. Every creature on earth has approximately two billion heartbeats to spend in a lifetime. You can spend them slowly, like a tortoise, and live to be two hundred years old, or you can spend them fast, like a hummingbird, and live to be two years old.

The biggest heart in the world is inside the blue whale. It weighs more than seven tons. It's as big as a room. It is a room, with four chambers. A child could walk around in it, head high, bending only to step through the valves. The valves are as big as the swinging doors in a saloon. This house of a heart drives a creature a hundred feet long. When this creature is born it is twenty feet long and weighs four tons. It is waaaaay bigger than your car. It drinks a hundred gallons of milk from its mama every day and gains two hundred pounds a day and when it is seven or eight years old it endures an unimaginable puberty and then it essentially disappears from human ken, for next to nothing is known of the mating habits, travel patterns, diet, social life, language, social structure, diseases, spirituality, wars, stories, despairs, and arts of the blue whale. There are perhaps ten thousand blue whales in the world, living in every ocean on earth, and of the largest mammal who ever lived we know nearly nothing. But we know this: the animals with the largest hearts in the world generally travel in pairs, and their penetrating moaning cries, their piercing yearning tongue, can be heard underwater for miles and miles.

Mammals and birds have hearts with four chambers. Reptiles and turtles have hearts with three chambers. Fish have hearts with two chambers. Insects and mollusks have hearts with one chamber. Worms have hearts with one chamber, although they may have as many as eleven single-chambered hearts. Unicellular bacteria have no hearts at all; but even they have fluid eternally in motion, washing from one side of the cell to the other, swirling and whirling. No living being is without interior liquid motion. We all churn inside.

So much held in a heart in a lifetime. So much held in a heart in a day, an hour, a moment. We are utterly open with no one, in the end -- not mother and father, not wife or husband, not lover, not child, not friend. We open windows to each but we live alone in the house of the heart. Perhaps we must. Perhaps we could not bear to be so naked, for fear of a constantly harrowed heart. When young we think there will come one person who will savor and sustain us always; when we are older we know this is the dream of a child, that all hearts finally are bruised and scarred, scored and torn, repaired by time and will, patched by force of character, yet fragile and rickety forevermore, no matter how ferocious the defense and how many bricks you bring to the wall. You can brick up your heart as stout and tight and hard and cold and impregnable as you possibly can and down it comes in an instant, felled by a woman's second glance, a child's apple breath, the shatter of glass in the road, the words I have something to tell you, a cat with a broken spine dragging itself into the forest to die, the brush of your mother's papery ancient hand in a thicket of your hair, the memory of your father's voice early in the morning echoing from the kitchen where he is making pancakes for his children.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Okay then...

As of tomorrow, I will officially be Mr. Smith, teacher of English Composition I and II. I'm freaked. Truly, I am.

For the most part, I think I'm ready for the first few days. I have things planned out for the rest of the week, and I believe that is a good thing. However, after those first few days, I'm going to be freaking out as to what I do next.

Really. I'm going to be in charge of peoples' education, their understanding of the written word, their light at the end of the grammar tunnel. True, I feel as if I know these things for myself, but passing them on... that's another story.

I solicit all of you, whether you believe in prayer, good vibes, or some other form of boosting one's support, please send some of these things my way. I will be eternally grateful. I'll let you know how things go on Wednesday.

Friday, January 1, 2010

(Third Missed Post)

New Year's day, what more do you want?