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Myth Happens

Date: 2016-02-13 19:57
Subject: Way out of the reach of the sea
Security: Public
Music:Méav, "You Brought Me Up"
Thank you for all the good wishes on the last post. Today has been profoundly mediocre, but I did spend an hour this afternoon in the bath reading Mary Stewart's Wildfire at Midnight (1956) and that was really pleasant. I couldn't remember the last time I took an actual bath as opposed to a shower or a soak in a hot tub. I'm still disappointed that it doesn't give me a mermaid's tail.
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Date: 2016-02-13 04:34
Subject: You're sitting here wondering what it's all about
Security: Public
Music:Amy Irving, "Why Don't You Do Right?"
I am doing much better now, but I just spent seven and a half hours in Mount Auburn's ER for reasons that were both surprising and extremely painful and I should like not to repeat the experience, please.

Immediate plans: sleep. I insist on not missing the marathon on Sunday.
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Date: 2016-02-12 11:50
Subject: I'll be deepest pit, I'll be biggest fear
Security: Public
Music:Vermillion Lies, "Bone Yard"
I accept the following portrait as a legitimate rendition of half-faced Hel, with her mother's frost-blue eye and her father's fire-bright hair:


(I wrote her once. I have still not written Angrboða.)
3 Performable Epics | Tell Me a Story | Share | Link

Date: 2016-02-11 21:05
Subject: The safest thing that could happen to you right now is a case of lockjaw
Security: Public
Music:Demetrios Halkias, "Selfos (Nightingale)"
I had a flu shot today. And a Tdap. And the rest of the yearly physical, which generally concluded that most of my systems were go, just very run down and currently dealing with high volumes of pain and a viral sinus infection. I feel about as fantastic as you might guess from this description; I walked over from the doctor's and collapsed with my cats. In the respective filmographies of Clark Gable and Marion Davies, Cain and Mabel (1936) isn't going to make any best-of lists, but it gave me ninety mostly diverting minutes to stare at while my brain felt like a squeegee and it contained bonus Roscoe Karns, so I won't exactly kick it off of TCM for eating crackers.

Roscoe Karns is one of the character actors I have never written about and reliably enjoy whenever he appears. I must have seen him in half a dozen movies before I knew his name; I could recognize him by his birdlike brows, his sharp light voice, and the lines on his slightly elfin face that could go either way, anxious or cynical and sometimes both by turns. His career ran from 1915 until 1964, but his heyday was the 1930's and early '40's, when his rapid-fire delivery kept natural pace with the screwball comedies he thrived in; he very rarely got top billing, but he built a reputation on memorable character turns like mile-a-minute creeper Oscar Shapeley in It Happened One Night (1934),1 philosophically tipsy publicist Owen O'Malley in Twentieth Century (1934), or opportunistic reporter McCue in His Girl Friday (1940).2 For years the most screentime I'd seen him get belonged to the slow-burn police lieutenant in the so-so mystery A Tragedy at Midnight (1942), always one step behind the dashing radio detective and his wife and understandably annoyed about it. Last fall, I finally caught him in a strong secondary role as the Hollywood press agent who lights a fire under the plot of Dancing Co-Ed (1939) and then has to run around frantically putting it out after the aspiring starlet he rigged to win a national college dance-off decides she'd rather play it straight—a professional fast talker with the ulcer to prove it. He's an even faster one in I Sell Anything (1934), playing the faithful accomplice of a crooked auctioneer who sets his sights on high society instead of Second Avenue. You get the idea. His characters could be dubiously honest, but they were rarely the heavies; they were gadflies and kibitzers, drummers, newspapermen, small-time crooks, professions that involved quick introductions and quicker exits. Sometimes they had no first names, sometimes they had no last names, sometimes they barely had names at all.3 More often than not, you could trust them with your heart—even his embittered ex-con in You and Me (1938) turned out a soft touch when it came to romance—but you might still want to keep a weather eye on your wallet, or at least your private life.

The latter is the mode in which Cain and Mabel finds him, playing a former reporter with a Fflewddur-like tendency to let his narrative flair run away with him: "I can cover a bonfire and make it sound like the Chicago Fire, but do they call me the Emerson of the press? No, they call me that lying Reilly." When we meet him, he's broke and jobless and glumly emptying a salt shaker onto the tabletop in hopes of attracting enough bad luck to "wreck the Empire State Building. Having it fall on me is the only thing that hasn't happened to me this week. But this'll fix it up!" Waitress Mabel O'Dare (Davies) feels sorry for him and sneaks him a meal, in return for which he inadvertently gets them both the bum's rush from the restaurant; in order to make it up to her, Reilly in his new guise as publicity man appoints himself her agent and determines to make her a star. He's quite human, there's not a supernatural thing about him, but at this juncture the plot began to remind me faintly of those folktales where the hero gets some kind of trickster figure in their debt and its efforts to make good cause even more chaos than if it were trying to do them wrong. "Are you sure you know this man?" Mabel presses in the waiting room of a talent agency, referring to the person Reilly has just pointed out as a famous theater impresario and an old personal friend. At once he reassures her, "I said so, didn't I?" She gives him a narrow look: "That's what makes me nervous."

Please, go on, take a bet as to whether Aloysius K. Reilly really grew up next door to Jake Sherman (Walter Catlett), who on being told that he "could sell iceboxes in Siberia" responds equably, "You're telling me? That's how I earned my passage money to this country." Fortunately for Mabel, she is a Davies protagonist, so she has star quality on her side even if she also has Reilly. The story that follows is flimsy but cute: just as Mabel blooms overnight from a hash slinger into a Broadway star, prizefighter Larry Cain (Gable) has an equally humble background as an auto mechanic "who happened to have a sock, that's all." Their first encounter is so antagonistic, it must pave the way to romance, but first there's a protracted period of Much Ado About Nothing-lite wangling during which the indefatigable Reilly and Cain's manager Pop Walters (William Collier, Sr.) fix up a phony romance between their respective properties in order to give them "glamour" and boost sales—dressing-room flowers, front-page interviews, photo ops, the works, everything except the ability of America's newest sweethearts to stand each other. As kayfabe goes, it's a hit. The public loves the all-American pairing of the sophisticated showgirl and the handsome bruiser. The box office returns are great. But Larry remembers how he got no sleep the night before a big match because some hoofer was tap-dancing to "Coney Island" all night over his head and Mabel remembers how some swell-headed pug almost loused up her opening night by repeatedly barging into her hotel room during an emergency rehearsal and every time they meet, even with Reilly, Pop, and Mabel's co-star Ronny (Robert Paige) running interference, they cut one another dead with zingers like "You may be a champ to somebody, but you're just a punching bag with ears on it to me" and "If she's a lady, Diamond Lil could get by as Whistler's mother."4 Inevitably they bond over frying pork chops in a hotel kitchenette as an escape from the nightly whirlwind of supper clubs and autograph sessions; they confess their blue-collar backgrounds and they fall in love for real. Their respective entourages find this adorable until they realize that the happy couple's matrimonial plans include mutually retiring from the limelight, at which point everybody panics and Reilly goes into public relations crisis mode, cue narrowly averted disaster. He's not a malicious character—he's always in line with his promise to make her a star—but neither is he exactly the hero of the hour, which is why he ends the film with a damp sponge in the kisser instead of a headline photo of the reunited lovebirds. I find myself hoping they'll collect him for the wedding anyway. The thought of turning him loose again on the undeserving waitstaff of New York City is too dangerous to be borne.

I should mention lastly that Cain and Mabel is not quite a backstage musical, but it does take time out for two major production numbers that have to be seen to be disbelieved. There's one called "Coney Island" whose lyrics actually rival the inimitable "Paducah" ("If you want to, you can rhyme it with bazooka") from The Gang's All Here (1943) for rhymes I didn't know professional adult songwriters were allowed to take money for:

I can't forget the night I met you down at Coney Island
Gee, I was proud you picked me from the crowd at Coney Island
And very soon, I proved to you that my intentions weren't phony
It ended in matrimony
And now we're eating caviar instead of macaroni
But I recall those picnic lunches of baloney with a smile
I guess I'm still a hick
'Cause I still get a kick
Just loving you, a-shoving through the crowd at Coney Isle

Then Marion Davies and Sammy White get razzed by the wax museum. Busby Berkeley isn't even directing this thing. That's even harder to tell by the second number, an eight-minute extravaganza of black mirrored floors and luminous white costuming whose sets include Versailles, Venice, and an enormous pipe organ made out of nuns. Neither of these sequences has a bearing on the plot except to show off Davies in a variety of costumes and demonstrate what kind of show Mabel is starring in, but they're kind of astonishing in their own right. I can't apply the same critical evaluation to the championship fight in which Gable participates at the climax of the film, but it looks like a boxing match to me. Davies had legendarily rejected Gable as a sophisticated co-star in Five and Ten (1931) because he looked "like Jack Dempsey," preferring the more visibly intellectual Leslie Howard instead; by the time Gable got around to playing a boxer, of course, the critical consensus was that he was miscast. I have to say that I'm not sure how much changing the leads could have made a classic out of this pleasant but slightly shapeless comedy, but it's true that after the first five minutes I wasn't in it for the leads. My brain still feels like a squeegee. This diversion brought to you by my persuasive backers at Patreon.

1. The enduring relevance of this character is a thing of wonder and a depression forever. If you have ever been on a bus (or equivalent public transit; he sometimes exists on planes), you have met Oscar Shapeley. I have met Oscar Shapeley. He is the dude who does not shut up. If you cold-shoulder him, he takes your silence as interest and keeps talking; if you respond, however negatively, he takes your interaction as interest and keeps talking. If he decides to hit on you, your best bets are departing the bus at the next stop or faking your own death. I disengaged him once in Arlington Center in 2012 by judicious use of the phrase my girlfriend and that was ridiculous.

2. I can only assume his running gag snuck past the Breen Office because it wasn't in the shooting script. During most of the scenes in the press room, McCue can be seen drifting off to the desk by the window and peering out at the women going up and down the stairs in their calf-length skirts, craning his neck for the best possible view. Evening comes on and one of his fellow reporters, having failed to get his attention by normal modes of address, calls out, "Hey, Mac! Hey, Stairway Sam!" at which McCue jerks his head around, obediently goes to the doorway to flip the light switch, and, seeing in that moment a woman walking by, like Exhibit A by Pavlov tips his hat, gives her a little wave, and tries to get a look at her legs despite being at entirely the wrong angle for it. At a low moment of morale in the newsroom, he wanders disconsolately to the window and looks out for a distraction, but the stairs are empty and he returns his attention reluctantly to the soul-searching at hand. There's no payoff; he never gets lucky. It's a pure bit of business. It never upstages the main action, but is it ever not Code-rated.

3. I know I'm burning my footnotes on this paragraph, but I don't know where else to mention that I can't read the cast list for Gambling Ship (1933) without cracking up because, alongside Cary Grant as Ace Corbin and Benita Hume as Eleanor La Velle, Karns is credited simply as "Blooey."

4. Whatever the script's other failings, the dialogue is great. Nobody uses plain English when there's hyperbole to be had. I like a lot of lines in this movie, including everybody's verbal sparring and the title of this post—addressed to Reilly, of course—but there's something about Dodo (Allen Jenkins) earnestly explaining the concept of the breath-freshening cough drop: "If you've been eating onions, all you got to do is pop one in your clapper and you blow out like a violet."
5 Performable Epics | Tell Me a Story | Share | Link

Date: 2016-02-10 17:45
Subject: And it's also raining like a son of a gun
Security: Public
Music:Robert Clary, "Raining Memories"
Man. I am behind on everything except my actual job. Somehow that isn't the consolation I feel it should be. I have at least four movies I want to write about, three of them recent releases, and my brain feels like a blank screen. Too little sleep and too much pain. I had an orthodontist's appointment this afternoon; I am hoping it will help at least with the latter. Until then, have some links.

1. Thank you, Julian Barnes; I get interested in Shostakovich and you write a novel about him. "The book is, partly, an exercise in cold war nostalgia. But it's also, more interestingly, an inquiry into the nature of personal integrity . . . The process brings out all his characteristic qualities as a novelist—his essayistic lucidity, his preference for distillation and abstraction, his sympathetic interest in morally compromised figures, his faith in the transcendent value of art." All right, sold. I am reminded of John Hodge's Collaborators, which I still wish I could purchase on DVD.

2. JPL's retro-futuristic space tourism posters are pretty great. "The Grand Tour" looks like the Signet covers of the Lucky Starr novels I grew up with. I think Enceladus is my favorite for design.

3. I didn't realize there was any footage of New Faces of 1952 that wasn't the 1954 film version. I can't tell if this is the stage show itself or some kind of television special, but the salient points are Paul Lynde in a monologue that owes Charles Addams at least a program credit and Alice Ghostley performing "The Boston Beguine" with its inimitable romantic lament "How could we hope to enjoy all the pleasures ahead / When the books we should have read / Were all suppressed in Boston?" I should point out that I found this video in the first place because [personal profile] kore linked a Captain America filk to the tune of "Lizzie Borden." That was not a crossover I expected in my lifetime.

4. I can't believe I missed a local production of Victory Over the Sun last spring. It was even free and open to the public. Last year really was dreadful. It is a minor silver lining that at least I found Larissa Shmailo's translation.

5. Courtesy of rushthatspeaks: the 2016 All-Candidates Debate. I apologize for the earworm in advance.

Yesterday my two-year-old niece asked me for a hug for the first time. Previously she had assented to the offer of a hug about half the time; the other half I did not hug her, because of boundaries. She would be fine with me waving hello or goodbye. This time she not only wanted me to hug her, she wanted me to hug her two stuffed animal bunnies, Purple Hop and Yellow Hop, and would not consider the farewell properly finished until I had done so. It was like the moment when a cat suddenly comes to you of its own free will. I felt very honored.
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Date: 2016-02-08 13:57
Subject: We come from the mountains, rain in our hair
Security: Public
Music:Moss of Moonlight, "Hræfne"
My flash story "Skerry-Bride" is now online at Devilfish Review. It was written in November 2013, right after I had first heard Moss of Moonlight's Winterwheel (2013) and right before I saw Thor: The Dark World (2013); I had jötnar on the brain. The story marks my second successful engagement with Norse myth in fiction, after "A Wolf in Iceland Is the Child of a Lie." Considering the Fimbulvetr 2.0 currently trying to take place in Boston, I find its timing rather appropriate.

In other writing news, Aqueduct Press' page for Ghost Signs now includes reviews, and Rich Horton thinks "The Boatman's Cure" is worth nominating for a Hugo.

I should probably go outside and shovel something. The Cape has more snow, but this is not small change.
4 Performable Epics | Tell Me a Story | Share | Link

Date: 2016-02-08 01:16
Subject: I got through all of last year and I'm here
Security: Public
Music:Dolores Gray, "I'm Still Here"
I can see I will have to watch It's Always Fair Weather (1955) from the top, because I turned on TCM1 and first there was Gene Kelly drawing a crowd on a New York City street by tap-dancing in roller skates (even in New York City, people notice that) and then there was Dolores Gray in a nightclub performing "Thanks a Lot, But No Thanks" while literally dynamiting her would-be suitors off the stage (sample lyrics: "Thanks for losing your mind / But I've got a guy who's Clifton Webb and Marlon Brando combined") and I just want to know what the rest of the musical looks like. Cursory internet research indicates it was a commercial flop whose cynical theme of post-war disillusion played weirdly with its exuberant dance numbers, but none of that sounds to me like a reason not to find out.

For better or worse, it turns out that I recognized Dolores Gray from seeing Kismet (1955) during the period of my childhood when I watched all the movie musicals available to me, including the ones I can probably never watch again.2 When I went looking for her other work, I found this performance of "I'm Still Here." The presentation format looks like the Tonys, but Yvonne de Carlo originated the role of Dorothy in Follies (1971) on Broadway, so it must be the Oliviers—Gray played the role in the first West End production in 1987. And she knocks the song out of the park. I know it's identified with Elaine Stritch, but Gray might be my definitive version.

[edit] My mother just sent me Donald O'Connor dancing in roller skates. This world is a beautiful place.

1. I am spending the night in Lexington so as to be able to shovel out my mother in the morning. The current forecast thinks it's going to snow until Tuesday.

2. Fortunately for people who want to watch just the barn-raising dance from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954), it's on YouTube.
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Date: 2016-02-06 01:48
Subject: We'll haul for better weather
Security: Public
Music:Lead Belly, "Haul Away Joe"
My day was much more stressful and snow-filled than I had been hoping, so tonight I walked into Davis Square (in a record twenty-one minutes, despite snow and ice) and saw The Finest Hours (2016) at the Somerville Theatre because I knew the story of the Pendleton rescue and I wanted a movie with the sea in it. Very short reaction: it is about seventy percent the movie I was hoping for. Casey Affleck is great; I knew that from The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007), but I have especially high standards for a diffident introvert at the center of a crisis who rises to the challenge without developing cinematic leadership skills. It was a nice discovery that when Chris Pine's not being alt-Kirk, he can actually act. I like stories of heroic engineering; I like stories of tricky seamanship. I like that neither of the protagonists is the traditional square-jawed type, good at rousing speeches or inspirational charisma so much as just getting on with the job. The romantic conflict is not just a whole-cloth fiction, it doesn't play well with the rest of the script and throws off everything from pacing to tone and I felt very badly for Holliday Grainger, who has an ideal face and voice for 1952 and is so much better than her part. John Magaro has a small role, but between it and Carol (2015), he's on my list of up-and-coming character actors to keep an eye on. Eric Bana's scenes feel like the leftovers from a deleted subplot. A full review will have to wait until I've slept and taken some painkillers, because the Diesel accidentally served me a salt caramel latte instead of a salt caramel hot chocolate and although I took only one sip before tasting coffee, I still have a kind of fringe migraine with a painful buzz at the front of my face and light sensitivity that's causing some odd visual effects. derspatchel walked me most of the way home in case the rest of the migraine came on and I fell over. It hasn't so far; I spent some decompression time reading entertaining bits of the internet with rushthatspeaks (I really recommend this oral history of The Apple (1980) as well as the comments). I still don't feel good. I should not spend much more time awake.
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Date: 2016-02-05 16:30
Subject: And all the gods and all the worlds began colliding
Security: Public
Music:Regina Spektor, "Blue Lips"
There is a quantity of snow on the ground. I am not yet sure if I will have to shovel it out of my mother's driveway tonight or tomorrow. I suppose it depends on whether my brother's family gets their power back.

1. While looking for other images of Mayakovsky last night, I found this photograph from rehearsals for his satirical play The Bedbug (1929). I think it is my new favorite picture of Shostakovich. He looks like a cross between Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd.

2. Courtesy of strange_selkie: The Rime of the Ancient Mariner 2. "And from the sea, all glistening / Rose a goddamn sharknado."

3. Courtesy of handful_ofdust: Ernest Thesiger embroidering. I think the single most random fact I know about Thesiger is that he co-founded the Disabled Soldiers' Embroidery Industry. What the actor doesn't mention in the article quoted was that he himself was wounded in the First World War, although not permanently disabled. Anything else I was going to say on this subject was just blown out of my mind by the discovery that the owner of the site from which both the photograph and the previous link were sourced is someone known to me from my time posting way too much about Dr. Prunesquallor on a now-defunct Mervyn Peake message board between 2001 and 2003. The tip-off was "Ernest Thesiger as a Source of Inspiration for Dr Prunesquallor," published last October in the final issue of Peake Studies. I remember talking about Dr. Pretorius. The site owner made beautiful portrait art of Peake's characters and I wrote 1500-word blocks of character analysis. My God, the internet is small. Maybe it's just small if you like Ernest Thesiger and Mervyn Peake.

I was going to post some other things, but I think that one took the cake.
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Date: 2016-02-04 14:41
Subject: Push your philosophy like this year's look
Security: Public
Music:Limbo Race, "There Goes Kafka"
When asked some years ago about my favorite Russian Futurist, I predictably blanked, but said that I thought I had imprinted weirdly on Aleksei Kruchonykh because of zaum—I discovered the Futurists through Victory Over the Sun (1913)—and because he looked in all the photographs I'd seen as though he were auditioning for the part of an eccentric clerk in a stage production of Dickens. Exhibit A, which I just ran into while looking as usual for something completely different:


Left to right, that's Kruchonykh, David Burliuk, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Nikolai Burliuk,1 and Benedikt Livshits. Kruchonykh is twenty-seven; he would die in 1968, which I hope he found congenial in terms of the art of the time. I know almost nothing about his later life. There must be a biography somewhere. Anyway, I'm not saying that Mayakovsky's striped shirt and Livshits' flash tie don't have their fine points, but Kruchonykh looks like he just dropped in from his latest play or the last century or both. That makes me notice a person.

[edit] Velimir Khlebnikov beat me to the ghost poem. By more than ninety years, while they were both still alive. Sometimes I love history.

1. Okay, Tumblr thinks the figure at the top of the composition is Nikolai Burliuk; Wikipedia and this article think it's Vladimir. I don't suppose anyone has a source for the photo? I have not been able to trace it.
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Date: 2016-02-03 16:30
Subject: Seaweed, kelp, and brine
Security: Public
Music:John Doyle, "Selkie"
It's an assorted notes kind of day. I have spent most of it working while it rained on and off outside. This February feels like April. I don't miss last year's train-clogging Fimbulvetr, but I would have liked real snow.

1. Suvaai is a lifesaver. They are first and foremost a very good Sri Lankan restaurant; I discovered them recently with derspatchel. The first time we ate there, I got coconut roti with goat curry and three accompanying vegetable sambals of the day—one of them was cabbage-based, one of them contained beets, and I really think the third had jackfruit in it, but the point is that there were no survivors. I am actively invested in learning to make wattalappam, because a flan-like custard made with coconut milk and palm sugar is one of my Platonic ideals of dessert. Also, they serve attukal soup. The internet tells me it can be made with lamb or mutton, but Suvaai makes theirs with goat. It is bone-in and the broth is dense and protein-rich and spicy and it is a great thing for a person to eat who has just had their braces adjusted and in consequence is finding even mushrooms hard to chew. A bowl of goat soup goes a long way toward me not feeling like I'm going to starve before my teeth get better. I insulted Lucien recently by saying in his presence that goat was a miracle animal, when plainly he knew that cat was a miracle animal, but since I meant it in the sense of widely applicable deliciousness, I figure in the long run he'll get over it if I don't consider him manna.

2. Simon Sylvester's The Visitors (2014) is not quite the queer selkie novel I am always waiting for, but it is a very good novel of the sea and storytelling and liminal spaces and times (a small Scottish island, late adolescence, attraction and danger) with a mystery plot that plays well against the kinds of disappearance associated with myths of the sea: drowning or return. At the start of the story, the seventeen-year-old narrator's boyfriend has just left for university in Bristol; she doesn't miss him so much, because their relationship was one of familiarity and convenience rather than active desire, but she envies him desperately for his escape, since the island of Bancree has all the sea-scudded Gaelic beauty of a folktale and all the economic depression of a former fishing industry gone badly bust. "Only the whisky survived . . . Without the distillery, Bancree would be deserted." When a pair of strangers—a father and a daughter—move into the abandoned cottage across the inlet from the narrator's house, they're the first new arrivals to Bancree in years. Everyone else has been moving away. The narrator falls into unexpectedly instant friendship with the daughter, a dark-eyed night-swimmer who seems to attract schoolyard abuse even worse than the self-consciously isolated narrator herself; she isn't sure what she feels for the father, who is solitary, sinewy, and beautiful in ways that belong in films or fantasies. Her school project on selkies comes to obsess her; she can't help linking the overwhelming love and bereavement of the stories (from her own family, from the itinerant storyteller who lives on the beach, from a disturbing book she finds in a library sale, where all the selkies are vicious seducers and all the humans are devastated victims) to the perilous, confusing pull she feels toward both strangers. She learns some of their secrets, why they move so frequently, what the pin-marked map in the father's room represents, but nothing that seems to explain them. And all the while the disappearances are coming closer together and closer to home: Bancree is tiny, close-knit and confined, and there are only so many people who can go missing before it becomes clear that something is inescapably wrong. Where the story goes astray for me is in the climax, frustratingly—I'm fine with the crime-thriller reveal, but then the author makes a choice that I cannot agree with either narratively or mythologically, even when I understand the in-story decisions it's meant to drive, and I was left colder than I would have liked by what is otherwise a resonant and evocative epilogue, pulling together all the novel's free-floating themes of ways of seeing and telling and remembering the world. Other readers' mileage may vary, however, and I am definitely not anti-recommending The Visitors. It is closer to Mollie Hunter's A Stranger Came Ashore (1975) and Elizabeth Hand's Generation Loss (2007) or Available Dark (2012) than any single novel I have encountered previously, which is an unusual combination. It would pair well with Neil Jordan's Ondine (2009), another sea-spell that doesn't quite stick the workaday landing. I am not at all sorry that I took it home from Porter Square Books on Monday night. Its prose is very good, graceful and gritty, and I believe its selkies. I believe its teenage protagonist, too, and that might be even more of a feat.

3. Jason deCaires Taylor is building a museum under the sea. I've been following his work for years, for reasons that shouldn't surprise anyone: "We swim to one statue. A blood-red sponge has spread like scar tissue across her features, softening her expression, outlining her nose, lips and eyes. She is vibrant with colour, her cheeks pulsing with life. Algae trace her hairline, purple acropora coral protrudes from below her chin. Taylor points to lobsters peering out from beneath and nods. All good signs of a healthy, thriving reef . . . faces melting, chests pitted with tiny holes drilled by clams, sea urchins crawling across human necks, feeding at night." The political dimension is striking and welcome.

4. I like everything about this array of mermaids, but the deep-sea angler-mermaid and the Arctic mermaid with the pack of walruses are my favorites. The fact that both of them are available as prints is now giving me trouble.

(I remind my brain that I just got a mermaid print—[personal profile] yhlee just sent me Heatherlee Chan's mermaid reading in a bathtub. It was unexpected and gorgeous and I need to get a frame for it stat. Someday, I will have all my art out of storage and hanging on walls I won't need to leave any time soon and it will be awesome.)

5. My family has been quoting this cartoon for as long as I can remember. I cannot give either of my parents chocolate mice from Burdick's without provoking a chorus. I don't live well with them, but I do like my family.
12 Performable Epics | Tell Me a Story | Share | Link

Date: 2016-02-01 15:45
Subject: I'd put stars at your feet, put Mars at your head
Security: Public
Music:PJ Harvey, "Missed"
Rabbit, rabbit!

In case you have not yet seen that a geometrical method of astronomical calculation thought to have been invented in Western Europe in the fifteenth century CE was in reality employed by Babylonian astronomers before the first century BCE, here is the original article by Mathieu Ossendrijver and here are the supplementary materials, including the published texts of the five relevant tablets. They are not simply tables of planetary positions from which conclusions can be drawn about the astronomers' ability to predict the movement of Jupiter; they provide the algorithms and tell the user where to plug in the numbers. All of these abstract calculations are taking place in base sixty, by the way. [personal profile] yhlee alerted me. It makes me incredibly happy.

I have been awake since dawn; I had an orthodontist's appointment very early in the morning, but afterward I had a soothingly cold milkshake and since then I have spent my afternoon surrounded by cats. Autolycus has been incredibly affectionate, climbing over my computer to flop himself down in my lap, purr noisily, and occasionally reach up to bat at my face while I work on the couch. Hestia played at a distance for most of the afternoon, but she just came over, rubbed her head against my wrist and all the edges of my computer until it was covered with a fine shading of bear-black fur, and purred with intent. They are now posed in opposite quarters of the living and dining rooms, Hestia in watchful Egyptian mode, Autolycus slung over a table corner and affecting not to care, playing what derspatchel has correctly identified as hauissh, but which I always think of as cat shifgrethor. Further bulletins as events warrant. [edit] Autolycus may have forfeited. I think he's fallen asleep.

Reading the latest issue of Poetry, I was very struck by Franny Choi's "Choi Jeong Min." There are certain poems which I look at now and think of as Stone Telling poems; this is one, which I mean as a compliment to all concerned.
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Date: 2016-01-31 01:31
Subject: I'd wish for it to be in the salt and the swell of the ocean
Security: Public
Music:Against Me!, "The Ocean"
My poem "The Parable of the Albatross" is now online at Stone Telling. It was inspired by a post of shweta_narayan's; it appears as part of the long-awaited Hope issue alongside beautiful work by new and returning poets.

In the same issue, Lev Mirov reviews Ghost Signs. It is an astonishing review:

Though the poems mourn the silence and unknowing of the dead, the dead leap to life to speak anyway, when given the chance, and they are always saying something, in the end, whether we hear them or not. We may know the dead well enough to love them. We can, in turn, be loved back. These poems, for all their plaintive, somber qualities, are also full of light: lovers reunite, companions are found, once-silent voices sing (even if their songs are not the ones we wanted).

I don't want to sound surprised that people like the collection, because that would be disingenuous, but I am honored by what people have been saying about it. I am very, very glad that they do.

I did not intend to vanish quite so comprehensively for the last few days. Since Wednesday night, I have been sleeping every other night. Last night was not my lucky night. That's why I'm going to bed now.
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Date: 2016-01-28 05:10
Subject: You know, it's always them pretty guys who can get away with that stuff
Security: Public
Music:Marianne Faithfull, "Baby, Let Me Follow You Down"
I don't know what kind of voice John Gilbert's silent fans expected him to have. If it's true that his sound played any part in the demise of his career, then I have to assume they imagined something clean and classical, like an American Ronald Colman, the kind of voice that could make Shakespeare out of introducing itself on the subway. Hearing Gilbert speak for the first time in Tod Browning's Fast Workers (1933), it's true that Shakespeare was one of the last things on my mind, unless we're talking the skeevier bits of Much Ado About Nothing. But it works just fine. As construction-site rake "Gunner" Smith, Gilbert has a slightly flat-voweled, slightly abrasive baritone—bad for a romantic hero, perhaps, but great for a charming heel. And that's the dictionary definition of the Gunner, with his raffish mustache and his lean body, equally agile shinning around steel girders or quick-changing out of his evening clothes because he's come straight to work from yet another shack-up. He can banter with the speediest of the screwballs; he can sneer without changing his smile, delivering with Cagney-grade contempt the fantastic brush-off "Ah, go stuff a duck." He's even almost a good enough bullshit artist to convince himself that he's sleeping with his best friend's girlfriends out of the kindness of his heart—after all, if he can pick them up like nickels in the street, they're hardly the kinds of girl a best buddy should marry, are they? The viewer should not need much experience with double entendres to recognize that the title refers not only to efficient construction work, but to Gunner's track record with the opposite sex. His buddy "Bucker" Reilly (Robert Armstrong), the slow, silent type given to marriage proposals after a woman says two words to him, can only stare in admiration. He hasn't met a girl yet that Gunner hasn't been able to prove a floozy. That doesn't even count the flings this Don Juan of the I-beams has on his own time. To the rest of the construction crew, the whole thing's as good as a long-running soap.

I wish I could say the same about the film itself. It has the gritty, scrappy energy of many a pre-Code programmer, outspoken sexuality and economics included, but it can't decide whether it wants to be a hard-boiled love story or a cautionary tale of bros before hos, Depression-style, and when it tries to land both at once in the third act, it just falls over sideways into poorly explained melodrama with a bewildering comedy whiplash that leaves the audience wondering if the director just scribbled "PUNCH LINE GOES HERE" on the shooting script and walked off the set.1 I'm left feeling most positive about the performances. Armstrong's Bucker is a genial dope, but he can turn as stonily dangerous as any man who thinks he's been made a fool of. The construction workers are a lightly sketched cast of colorful blue-collar types of whom the scene-stealer is Sterling Holloway's Pinky, a whifty-voiced riveter who isn't quite the fool he looks.2 More importantly, Mae Clarke gets some great scenes as no-last-name Mary, Bucker's latest crush and Gunner's long-time girl; she's a fast worker, too, a practiced lightener of hearts and wallets who boasts of herself as "a girl [who] can trim every guy she meets from Frisco to New York." Her specialty is looking like an innocent astray; when Bucker tries to call her on it, sarcastically proffering a raft of sob-story clichés, she bamboozles him magnificently by demanding to know who told him about her ailing grandmother and her overdue rent and the job she lost for resisting her boss' advances and the family locket she was forced to pawn, all with such authentic, tearful fright that all he can do is stammer that he "ain't a detective." Her only soft spot is for Gunner, but he claims "that forever and ever stuff . . . makes me want to reach for my hat." They don't pretend fidelity to one another, which means they don't treat each other like marks; however amorally, they are probably each the other's healthiest relationship. The trouble comes when Mary finds herself touched by Bucker's dumb but honest devotion and Gunner recognizes too late that great sex and emotional candor might actually be what most people mean when they talk about love and I've mentioned before that I can't stand love triangles, right? At least there are some trickily vertiginous shots atop a half-built skyscraper and the whole thing lasts only 66 minutes, so it didn't take much out of my night.

But it proved to me that Gilbert should have had a sound career, even if he moved into character acting rather than top-billed romances. He's good in Fast Workers, regardless of the coherence of the film around him; he could carry a picture even in an antiheroic role. According to IMDb, it was his third-to-last. In a reasonable universe, it would only have been mid-career. This evidence brought to you by my true-hearted backers at Patreon.

1. Browning's name is in the credits, but not as director: he was so unhappy with the studio assignment of Fast Workers after the notorious failure of Freaks (1932) that he tried to take his name off the picture. I suppose it would not console him that I think it was a better directing job than Dracula (1931).

2. He moons over a nest of pigeons like they were his own babies ("I think they're going to have blue eyes") and most of his lines fall a half-step to the side of actual human dialogue ("Well, you know, boys will be plumbers"), but he's a sly kibitzer and a poker shark. He has no real effect on the plot, but I was glad to see him all the same.
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Date: 2016-01-28 00:50
Subject: I am going to make it through this year if it kills me
Security: Public
Music:Shearwater, "This Year"
Today did not start out well. I have been dealing with constant nightmares lately: when I fell asleep for an hour this evening, I dreamed of being trapped in a live version of one of those puzzle-houses where the floor has to be crossed in a certain pattern to be safe and the people who came out of the rooms to speak to me were neither human nor really sentient, but neither were they animatronics or anything normally unresponsive. I was afraid they were corpses. Last night I dreamed that my parents had split up and sold their house to friends of the family and I only found out when I came over to babysit my niece and all the bookshelves were bare and all my father's lab equipment was gone from the basement; before that, I dreamed of shooting someone in defense of others, but it was messy and battering and went on forever and did not save me from being badly hurt first. Earlier this week I dreamed that someone put a food court in Auschwitz. (I think I blame that on Herman Wouk, but I was really upset.) So I overslept and all I got out of it was nightmares; I got out of the house as soon as I had done enough work not to feel like slacking. After that, several good things happened which I need to record, especially the last.

I spent most of the afternoon and evening with my cats. We are taking them to the vet tomorrow because Autolycus has been sneezing for a week and Hestia needs her claws clipped by professionals, but they were active and affectionate and debunked my anxiety that they have been forgetting me just because I don't live with them right now. Autolycus curled up on my feet as I worked and turned on the monster purr when I tried to move, kneading his way up to my chest and burrowing under my arm in order to keep me in place. derspatchel has started referring to Hestia as the Generalissima, because of her winter coat and the imperious way she presents herself for adoration—expressed, of course, by petting whenever she demands it—and she leapt to the top of her box as soon as I came through the door. While I was sleeping this evening, Autolycus nestled himself behind my knees and slept with me. I must remember that I will not suddenly lose them. My cats are very important to me. I feel better when I am with them.

I met Rob for dinner at Tenoch Mexican outside of Davis Square. They are an inexpensive and delicious source of huitlacoche, which I had previously encountered only at a much pricier restaurant; we split a quesadilla of it, because corn smut is stupidly tasty, and assorted small tacos of beef cecina, choriqueso, campechano, and barbacoa de borrego, all totaling an incredible amount of food for completely reasonable prices. Walking back to his house afterward, we passed Comicazi. They had the usual assortment of used comics and DVDs on their outside table, but there was also a box of magazine advertisements from the 1930's and '40's. Most of them were for cigarettes—Camels, Lucky Strikes, Chesterfields, with the occasional beer for variety, all being endorsed by various celebrities, mostly film stars. Ginger Rogers, Spencer Tracy, Rita Hayworth, Herbert Marshall, etc. Neat stuff, but neither of us really wanted a cigarette ad. Then we found this. Fibber McGee and Molly with a miniature radio script? Yes, please. And not even selling Chesterfields—60-watt bulbs for 11¢ plus tax. "Back on the air for Johnson's Wax the first Tuesday in October."

Most importantly—

My mother found my opal leaf. It was just at the edge of the driveway, not far from where I had found the chain; she thinks the briefly warmer weather this week melted just enough of the slush to let it become visible. I had not expected to see it until spring, if ever. It was covered in some kind of driveway humus, so I soaked it in cold water until it was mostly clean; the stone itself looks slightly chipped along one of the leaf-edges, but the setting is intact and it hasn't done anything exciting like shatter so far. I will need to get it a stronger chain with a better clasp. Thank you so much to everyone who wrote with sympathy and hoped it would return to me. I am astonished that it did, but overjoyed. I have already written to my brother to let him know. Sometimes Persephone shows up early.
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Date: 2016-01-27 05:23
Subject: The only life is not the only life
Security: Public
Music:Shearwater, "Quiet Americans"
So the last time I paid much attention to Shearwater, they were an anxiously haunting indie-folk outfit who tended toward narratives of quiet unease and impressionistic apocalypse with titles like "Red Sea, Black Sea," "Rooks," and "Leviathan, Bound." Notable instruments included glockenspiel, hammered dulcimer, and banjo. The lead singer employed falsetto more often than full voice, aiding the floating, glassy sense of slow-motion disaster. I liked their lyrics, many of which could have been published without melodies:

I won't go traveling tonight
I won't go back to the wolves now . . .
He took me out on the tide to make pearls of my eyes
And uncover me all without asking

When the rooks were laid in piles by the side of the road
Crashing into the aerials, tangled in the laundry line
And gathered in a field they were burned in a feathering pyre
With a cold black eye

The silver shoals of the light in the deep
Brush the glittering skein where the great dark body writhes
And the trembling jaw, the unfathoming sounds
Of Leviathan, bound, and his heart, though weakening

But they were not a band I found myself listening to much on repeat. Then I lost track of them for six to eight years and missed all intervening releases until [personal profile] kore linked the video for "Quiet Americans," from their just-released Jet Plane and Oxbow (2016).

I realize this is a gross oversimplication of the natural evolution of musical artists, but it is very rare that a band discovers synths and gets better. I've listened to "Quiet Americans" more than a dozen times now, not including the video. Its lyrics remind me of cucumberseed's poetry ("The only sound are the bells upon the hill / The only light are the lanterns in the wind / The only sign skims the rust off of the rails"), but the sound is sweeping and dark and propulsively electronic. There may still be a dulcimer in that mix, but it recalls Peter Gabriel more than John McCutcheon. The way the piano threads through the percussion reminds me of Kate Bush in sci-fi mode. The thing is a certified earworm. I can't tell if the listener is meant to feel ambivalent about that.

Also, they covered the Mountain Goats' "This Year," which is just pretty cool.
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Date: 2016-01-26 04:06
Subject: When we got adopted by a bald guy, I thought this would be more like "Annie"
Security: Public
Music:Flogging Molly, "The Times They Are A-Changin'"
So my niece has a T-shirt with a Minion on it. This was a meaningless piece of pop culture to me until this weekend, when it turns out that Despicable Me (2010) is a startlingly charming children's movie of the kind that can be enjoyed by adults without excess of either irony or fart jokes.1

The title refers to the protagonist Gru, voiced by Steve Carrell with an outrageous Eurosmash accent that is mostly pseudo-Russian but honestly reminds me of nothing so much as the accent Peter Jurasik invented for Londo Mollari on Babylon 5 (1994–1998), in which case there's a healthy dose of the Borscht Belt in its DNA. His character design is equally fantastic: he looks like a cross between Alastair Sim and Uncle Fester, tall and bulky-shouldered with a piercing nose, stalky legs, and caterpillar brows with a toggle setting between glowering and plaintive. On a normal human body, his black drainpipe jeans and matching zip-up jacket would give him a middle-aged geek-chic look, his no-neck delineated by a charcoal-striped scarf; he will freeze-ray any customer who gets between him and his morning coffee. His house cranes over its neighbors like the Addams mansion; the basement is a cavernous space-age hangar occupied by the lab-coated Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand) and a nearly infinite number of knee-high, lemon-yellow Minions (mostly Pierre Coffin, occasionally Chris Renaud and Jermaine Clement) in their little boiler suits and welding goggles. I am not at all surprised that these creatures got their own spin-off. They are not exactly what would happen if you dropped Beaker and the Doozers in a blender, but they possess some of the same mad engineering charm. They chatter away at one another in their own dialect, out of which a recognizable non-English word will occasionally emerge, like a breezy "Da, da, da" after being given instructions; they look almost identical and about half a dozen differentiate themselves by personality over the course of the story, which genuinely impresses me in a digitally animated film. They have boundless enthusiasm and a problematic attention span. They'll build whatever nefarious invention Gru can design, but as the story opens, he's got a problem pure labor can't solve: unlike Goldfinger or Lex Luthor, Gru is not an independently wealthy supervillain. He was formerly responsible for some bold acts of theft and mayhem—and he's got the newspaper clippings to prove it—but these days he's in danger of being outcompeted by younger, flashier, meaner villains with sleeker tech and better PR. Some unknown baddie just replaced the Great Pyramid of Giza with an inflatable replica and it's making "all other villains look lame." Gru wants to prove he's still in the game, but he's taken out so many loans from the Bank of Evil that he can't even get funding for his world-defying plan to steal the moon unless he can convince the bank's pointy-haired president that he's a real threat to international security, not just another minor megalomaniac with a mortgage.

Toward this end, for reasons that play logically in context, he adopts three small orphan girls so that he can steal a shrink ray.

The plot from here on is obvious: unless it's going to play against audience expectation to the point of cruelty, Gru's phony family will have to become the real thing; his reluctant acts of caretaking2 will become heartfelt and the three orphans—who are not exactly pushovers themselves—will find themselves bonding with this awkward, slippery, inadvertently endearing man. This is indeed the arc we get. But it's not saccharine. And just as importantly, neither is it winkingly ironic. The subversive approach works with Edith (Dana Gaier), a gap-toothed, blond-shocked hellion whose pink-striped sweater and pink woolly knit hat do not remotely disguise the fact that she's hit adolescent cynicism about five years ahead of schedule without losing an ounce of childhood bloodthirstiness. When Gru incinerates a rigged carnival game that was about to cheat five-year-old, unicorn-obsessed Agnes (Elsie Fisher) out of a fair and square win, Edith's eyes widen with hero worship. She was already impressed with the number of medieval torture devices and futuristic weapons left casually lying around her new home. But he earns Agnes' trust by finding her a new toy unicorn after her beloved scruffy original is accidentally disintegrated in his kitchen, which is the kind of gesture that can win a child for life even if meant mostly as an expedient remedy for her heartbroken crying, and cusp-of-puberty Margo (Miranda Cosgrove) with her glasses, her sensible plaid skirt, and her hand-me-down tweed jacket is too old and too used to fending for herself and her sisters3 to fall for anything other than real parental commitment. Dolls and explosions are nice, but they're not proof of safety or love or stability. She's the one who could get really hurt by Gru's thoughtless subterfuge; intelligent and defensively sarcastic, she's the one who's most like him. But they are all believable children, which means they are three young girls who aren't adorable tot plot counters—they can be, from moment to moment, any selection or combination of sweet, smart, suspicious, vulnerable, manipulative, imaginative, ungovernable, not constantly in agreement, not necessarily well-behaved, and always lovable. Gru can't figure out how he fetched up on the sidelines of ballet practice surrounded by beaming soccer moms with smartphones who really approve of a father who takes his daughters to dance class, but the viewer could see it coming for miles. They're fantastic kids and he's a supervillain, not an idiot. He has reasons to resist emotional attachment and reasons these particular children get tangled in his heartstrings. The story assumes sincerity when it comes to sentiment and it's stronger for it.

It's also a nice goofy romp through the tropes of supervillainy coupled with some contemporary critique—it doesn't lose time spelling out emotional issues whose implications the audience can already understand because it has to get on with staging a sky chase with a shrink ray or a heist scene with full props to Topkapi (1964) or a pulp sci-fi rocket launch which is also oddly and appropriately earnest. The real villain of the piece is self-monikered up-and-comer Vector (Jason Segal), a track-suited whiz kid with all the smarm and ego of Silicon Valley bro culture; all his inventions have the bland seamlessness of Apple products except where his Bondian fixations show through, like the giant shark circling under the glass floor of his TV room and his insistence on inventing a working piranha gun.4 He is magnetically charmless. He has catchphrases. He probably studies how to be a pick-up artist when he's not designing his own logo. Unfortunately, he's not stupid, just self-centered, entitled, and petty enough to be a real threat: "Now maybe you'll think twice before you freeze someone's head!" Gru can be flamboyantly callous and macabre, but he knows, even if he has to be reminded of it, that people can be hurt. He also knows about gravitation and ballistic trajectories and why it is never a good idea to wear smiley face boxers on a day on which you might plausibly find yourself hanging upside down, with or without a giant shark underneath you. Most scenes in the film are running on more than one level, but when the top layer is the stunts and the gags and the mad science, it is really, reliably funny.

I'd had no idea. Based on casual exposure to trailers and posters at the time, I'd expected Despicable Me to be extruded Pixar-lite product. As it is, I think it would appeal to fans of Noel Streatfeild as much as fans of Brad Bird. Julie Andrews has a small part, but I think she was cast on her ability to sound fantastically unimpressed and she delivers. There is a sequence in an amusement park that is basically an on-ride video for a fictitious roller coaster that I hope somebody had a lot of fun designing, because it starts with a more-than-ninety-degree drop and I would ride it. Also, I recognize that it was designed for 3-D, but I am charmed by the ending gag where two Minions compete to break the fourth wall, refereed by an increasingly exasperated third; when they finally succeed, the "film" smashes, catches, stutters, and melts, leaving a white screen with an immense projected shadow of a Minion who looks awkward for a minute and then starts doing shadow impressions. It's cute at home, but in a theater it would kill. I don't want a Minion T-shirt, but I am seriously considering taking my brother's advice and watching the prequel. This delightful surprise brought to you by my only slightly villainous backers at Patreon.

1. There is one fart joke in the script and it is hilarious. It is immediately lampshaded by an embarrassed mad scientist, trailing off in resignation: "I said dart gun, not . . ." His stalwart but hard-of-hearing research assistant, having just made one of the ubiquitous Muppet-like Minions pass out with a well-aimed shot of artificial intestinal gas, is visibly relieved: "I was wondering under what circumstances we would use this."

2. His first attempt at providing the girls with a nurturing environment is to furnish a corner of the kitchen with a bowl full of candy and some newspapers on the floor. In his defense, it probably worked with the bug-eyed, shark-toothed, bluish-hair-sprouting abomination of science he refers to as his dog. Alternately, it may be why the thing goes for his throat half the time they're alone.

3. I can't actually tell if the girls are meant to be related by blood—Agnes' character design looks East Asian, while Edith and Margo appear to be white. They function as a trio, however, and it is never suggested even by the orphanage's indifferent manager (Kristen Wiig, not quite in Miss Hannigan mode) that they be separated.

4. Later upgraded to a squid gun, with considerably more success.
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Date: 2016-01-26 01:50
Subject: And that's how we take it underground
Security: Public
Music:Michael Franti, "Subterranean Homesick Blues"
So earlier tonight I went to my fifth Burns Supper with the Serious Burns Unit and my fourth with derspatchel. There was whisky and singing and haggis. It was a nice way to spend an evening. Afterward I visited my cats, whom I miss constantly; then I came home and found my contributor's copy of Go Now, the latest annual not-Not One of Us publication, containing my poem "Anybody That Looked Like That." This is the poem inspired by Stranger on the Third Floor (1940) and some of the ways that film looks at outsiderness. The table of contents includes work by Patricia Russo, Mat Joiner, Erik Amundsen, Russell Hemmell, and Alexandra Seidel, among others. The cover art is fantastic. The epigraph is from the Moody Blues.

nineweaving gave me a cup in a style I am calling Kaiju Delft—blue and white pottery with the usual assortment of bridges, pavilions, and gracefully trailing willows, plus atomic robots, pterodactyls, sea monsters, flying saucers, mysterious tentacles, a gigantic toad . . . It makes me very happy.

I feel very much as though the week since Arisia went by in a single sleepless slur. On Thursday I took Rob to Loyal Nine for his birthday, where we enjoyed sea urchin with bone marrow crostini and blowtorched scallop with fennel and pulled pork shoulder with handmade triticale macaroni and I was reminded that I can never take triticale quite seriously as a real grain instead of a science fiction MacGuffin. Adding mezcal to a Corpse Reviver #2 produces a cocktail I would drink on a regular basis if I could afford it. The sourdough chocolate brewis was so decadent we could not actually finish it, although to be fair that was also because it is huge. I made a much plainer cake for Rob on Saturday, when the rest of my family was available to celebrate his birthday observed: it was a waffle cake, because it turns out that you can stack four freshly made waffles with strawberry purée and whipped cream in between each layer and frost the whole thing with more whipped cream and stick some candles on top and it will hold together just long enough to make an attractive cross-section when sliced, after which everyone is on their own. My niece left most of hers on the scenery, but this is the same kid who celebrated her first birthday by headbutting the first slice of cake with which she was ever presented. Rob and I watched Playhouse 90's The Comedian (1957), a devastating triple threat of a live television drama directed by John Frankenheimer from a script by Rod Serling and Ernest Lehman with Mickey Rooney in the title role. A barrel of laughs, it is not, but it's riveting. I have to take Mel Tormé seriously as an actor now. Sunday was shoveling and I've already mentioned how that turned out.

I can't believe I have already read Herman Wouk's The Winds of War (1971) and the majority of War and Remembrance (1978) when I care about exactly one plot thread in the entire impressively researched, two-thousand-page megillah. It's an ambitious experiment, to write a family novel that tries to have an angle on every facet of the mainstream American experience of World War II, but I keep looking at individual episodes and thinking that they would have made perfectly fine novels on their own if the author could have been persuaded to extricate them from the surrounding matrix of historical significance. I've had exactly the same reaction to the miniseries, too, which at least confirms that I am consistent in my interests.1 The acting helps with the prose, but nothing helps with the amount of narrative convenience required to get the various characters into the different theaters of war in order to provide the necessary first-hand views on historic events. I think it was the point where a central character was sent to Moscow just to get Stalin into the narrative that I stopped being able to take it seriously. I mean, I don't need a member of the Henry family to talk to Stalin in order to believe he exists! He left a considerable historical footprint! (Like this joke.) He can make decisions offscreen and they can affect the war in Europe and I'll take the author's word for it! But, no. We go to Moscow and there's face time with Stalin and at least I got some scenes with the character I cared about. I am finding this whole experience fascinating, but I'm not sure I can recommend it to anyone who isn't making a survey of historical novels about World War II.2 It's a Holocaust novel, too, of course. It is very strange for me to read a Jewish author writing about Jewish characters as if from the outside, for the presumed identification of non-Jewish readers. I'm fairly certain that's the reason I don't care as much as I should about the primary female protagonist. Maybe Wouk's just not great with women.

I need to review some movies.

1. For those who keep track of such things: the thread I care about centers on the diplomat Leslie Slote, played in both series by David Dukes. His character arc went sadly where I had been half afraid it would, but I really enjoyed him until then. I don't know why I'm talking vaguely about a pair of forty-year-old novels and thirty-year-old miniseries, Wikipedia and TV Tropes will tell you what happened to everyone if you care, but I find it interesting to watch people who are wrong about the sort of people they believe they are.

2. Not, I suspect, in the way its author intended, it has been reminding me of my sole experience of War and Peace (1869), which occurred when I was in seventh grade and had just burned through the last of Mikhail Sholokhov's Don books and for some reason looked at the Russian literature on my mother's shelves and decided the obvious next step was Tolstoy. I don't know which translation it was. I don't think it mattered. I can't remember a thing about the novel itself; my total memory of the book is a seemingly endless alternation between battle scenes where I understood none of the tactics and ballroom scenes where I understood none of the etiquette and every now and then someone would say something that made sense to me and I could go, "Yes, I don't want to get shot in a cavalry charge, either!" Fortunately I got to college and discovered Gogol, Bulgakov, and Akhmatova and was not scared off Russian literature for life, but man, don't read War and Peace when you're twelve.
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Date: 2016-01-24 18:20
Subject: It ain't no use to sit and wonder why, babe
Security: Public
Music:Ke$ha, "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right"
I don't wear a lot of jewelry. I was given all sorts as a child, but none of it took except for the thin gold rings in my ears—pierced when I was twelve—and I don't take those out except for MRIs. For most of my adult life, the total was one ring, one wristwatch, and one necklace. (Now it's three rings, but it looks like two, one on either hand. One is my wedding ring. The others are the silver sundial ring I've had since my sophomore year of college and my engagement ring with the design of two cats. I wear the latter two on the same finger and they look like one complicated motif of cats and stars.) From my senior year of high school until my second year of grad school, the necklace was a Roman aureus. Eventually the weight of the coin sawed through the pendant setting, leaving both chain and coin intact but separated; then I wore a moonstone pendant inherited from my god-aunt. It was on a silver chain and after a couple of years came rather suddenly and hilariously apart. For my twenty-fifth birthday, my brother gave me a leaf-shape of opal on a thin gold chain and I have worn it every day since.

I lost it shoveling the snow at my mother's house this afternoon. Much later I found the chain trodden in the driveway slush, but not the opal itself. My best guess is that some strain popped the clasp, the pendant dropped, and the chain slipped off my neck some time afterward, but I didn't notice at the time; I came indoors and took off my jacket and looked in the bathroom mirror and was very upset. I spent an hour searching the front walk, the street, and the driveway with a flashlight and only stopped when it was full dark and I understood there was nothing I would find. If it's in one of the shovelfuls of snow that I flung up into the yard, it might come to light in the spring. It is more likely, unfortunately, that it's in the giant snow pile in the outer corner of the driveway with which the snowplows of Lexington will interact if we get any more snow. Either way, I do not know if I will ever see it again.

It is a very important piece of jewelry to me. Only the sundial ring had lasted longer and that was not a gift from my only sibling. Opal is my birthstone; the leaf-shape was significant, because while I talk all the time about the sea, I spent about half of my childhood in trees. I am trying not to let myself get stuck in the suicidal loop which says of course you lost it, you always lose things you love, you are careless and cannot take care of things and the surest way to destroy something beautiful and irreplaceable is to tell you to keep it safe, because rationally I think that is garbage even while it feels like the inescapable logical conclusion from the evidence that I no longer have several very important things in my life. But even without it, I am very sad. I talk all the time about the underworld, too, but I don't know if I can count on my jewelry to know from Persephone.
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Date: 2016-01-22 06:42
Subject: Why don't you get out of that boat, sailor, so I can watch you play Halo all day?
Security: Public
Music:Busted Statues, "Nautical"
1. Ghost Signs has been reviewed by Liz Bourke at Strange Horizons! It is a very positive review:

The poetry here has the brilliance of a knife's edge, sharp and cuttingly clean, saturated with meaning and freighted with significance. And fittingly, given the title, every poem is a ghost. Every poem a katabatic descent to the underworld, a shade glimpsed at the corner of the eye, the whisper of something lost as it teases the edge of memory. If there is one word to describe this collection, it is elegiac.

I am especially honored by this assessment knowing that the reviewer is herself a classicist. It is also a fair call that I cannot expect all of my readers to know the Phoenician name of Carthage or Lesbian Greek. Next collection, endnotes?

2. Have three ghost poems, none of them mine: Pauline Stainer's "The Hangar Ghosts," Greg Delanty's "Another Time," and James Fenton's "Wind." The last may not be strictly a ghost poem, but I don't know how else to categorize the way these lines catch me:

This lord went east and found safety.
His brother sought Africa and a dish of aloes.

3. Courtesy of rushthatspeaks: Isabella Rotman, "Siren School." I adore everything about this comic. See the title of this post.

On all these good things, having been awake for nearly twenty-four hours now, I shall try to sleep.
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