2/19/06: Voom

Word count: 8271 | Since last entry: 2077

Wow, has it been a week? How’d that happen?

Well, I know how it happened. It happened because it was a series of individual days, each of which found me writing until well past what should have been my bedtime, and it didn’t seem worthwhile to stay up even later to write about the day.

Apart from the writing — a consistent 300 words per day, which feel a bit sloggy and space-filling, but, as I keep reminding other people, the purpose of the first draft is to create “cookie dough” which can then be formed and baked into something worth reading — it has been a pretty busy week.

Last Monday we hosted our neighborhood SF book group. This month’s book was Futures, a collection of four novellas by Peter F. Hamilton, Stephen Baxter, Paul McAuley, and Ian McDonald. Even though we don’t actually spend a lot of time discussing the book at each meeting, I really like having this book group because I get to spend time with my neighbors and it makes me read books I might not otherwise have read — okay, let’s be honest, it makes me read, period. Between the writing and the many other tasks and chores of each day, I have really kind of fallen off the reading bandwagon. I’m not proud of this, and I am really looking forward to retirement so that I can actually start chipping away at my humongous To-Read stack. Anyway, I really enjoyed Futures, especially the McAuley (“Making History”) and the McDonald (“Tendeleo’s Story”). Both of these were particularly successful in evoking a unique world — a devastated post-war colony on one of Saturn’s moons in one case, and a Nigeria menaced by an interstellar biological invasion in the other. My own writing seems terribly flat by comparison.

Tuesday was Valentine’s Day, of course. I bought a package of spacey retro kiddie Valentines and hid them all over the house before Kate woke up. It took her nearly a week to find them all. In the evening we stayed home and cooked a nice dinner for ourselves in our wonderful remodeled kitchen — grilled salmon with Moroccan spices, braised carrots, and couscous. After which we watched a romantic movie: Shall We Dance with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

The movie was… well, it was bizarre. Fred Astaire was a fine dancer, but he was a very strange looking man, much too skinny to be attractive and with a notably asymmetrical face. The plot had him as an American ballet dancer in Paris who really wants to tap, who falls in love with an American tap dancer (Ginger Rogers) after seeing her dance in a flip-book. Attempting to impress her, he poses as a famous Russian ballet dancer, complete with outrageous accent. But this doesn’t do it, so he winds up following her onto the next boat to New York. On the boat, he engages in an extremely strange tap-dance number in the enormous, spanking-clean Art Deco engine room, while happy darkies dance and sing all around him. He also torments his impresario (Edward Everett Horton, voice of Peabody from Rocky & Bullwinkle) and woos Ginger by borrowing an enormous dog. But, again, she spurns his advances, and dumps him once the boat arrives in New York. Her manager, seeking to prevent her from marrying her fiance’ and leaving his employ, starts a rumor that Fred and Ginger are secretly married, which he substantiates by photographing the sleeping Fred with an exact duplicate mannequin of Ginger that he happens to have lying around. Ginger responds to the rumor campaign by running off to New Jersey to marry Fred, just so they can get a divorce. After which, running from reporters, they have a fabulous tap-dance on roller skates and sing “You Say Tomato” at each other (a fine song which has no relevance whatsoever to the plot in which it finds itself embedded). But even that doesn’t convince Ginger that Fred is the man for her, and she leaves him again. Did I mention they have adjoining suites at their hotel, and there are many misadventures with the key to the connecting door? In the end, Fred stages a dance number with a contortionist and dozens of women wearing Ginger Rogers masks. This disturbing and stalkerish moment convinces Ginger to dump her fiance’ and take up with Fred. The end.

They just don’t make ’em like that any more.

Thursday was another Portland International Film Festival movie: Tapas, from Spain. It was trying to be a Spanish version of Tampopo, and it was amusing and sometimes affecting, but somehow it failed to satisfy. Maybe a romantic comedy in which a man’s wife leaves him, a woman takes up with a boy half her age and then dumps him, and another man commits suicide, has several strikes against it.

Friday was another PIFF movie: Kinky Boots, from Britain. This one was my favorite of the festival, lightweight and formulaic but very well done for its genre. The plot involves a shoe factory in a small Northern industrial town, whose hapless CEO saves it from bankruptcy by changing its product from brogues to kinky boots for transvestites. The show is absolutely stolen by Chiwetel Ejiofor, the coolly efficient assassin from Serenity, as Lola the outragous drag queen. I believe he even did his own singing in the several musical numbers. This one’s got distribution from Miramax, and I recommend it.

Saturday I had critique group, and got the final bunch of crits on the Jupiter story. Very much a mixed bag, but the consensus is that it nicely written, but distanced… too much told and not enough shown (I was afraid of that). I also got a great suggestion to punch up the ending, if I can make it plausible.

Saturday afternoon we were supposed to see The Sun, a Russian drama about Emperor Hirohito. We even had purchased advance tickets. But the review in Friday’s Oregonian was so scathing (“brutally dull, slow and dreary… fritters away a great concept… vacuous in its screenwriting, shockingly crude in its visual technique, deaf to the needs of an audience in its pace… an ordeal to sit through”) that we decided to skip it.

Saturday night was a Bar Mitzvah party for a 13-year-old of our acquaintaince, at which we played Pictionary and Lord of the Fries and reconnected with some friends we hadn’t seen in years. Had a nice time geeking with old friend Keith Lofstrom, who mentioned that he is learning Perl and compared regular expressions to line noise. As we drove away from the party, I realized I hadn’t actually seen line noise in years… just about all communications these days use prototcols that ensure that an entire packet of bytes is either delivered correctly or not delivered at all. (If this makes no sense to you, don’t worry about it. It’s a geek thing.)

Today managed to vanish completely into a haircut, lunch with Kate Schaefer and her family, and our final PIFF movie: KZ, a moving British documentary about the current state of the Mauthausen concentration camp — a sobering tourist attraction surrounded by a living city. It seems inappropriate that the homes and taverns where the camp’s officers lived and drank are still in use today; but it would seem equally inappropriate to sacrifice the life of an entire town (and every other concentration camp town) on the altar of memory. One of the camp’s tour guides is clearly obsessed with its history, which is affecting his health and marriage but permits him to give a tour that cannot fail to touch those who take it. Such people are deeply unhappy, but beneficial to socieety. It’s just a shame that we need to have them.

Tomorrow is a holiday. No specific plans, other than going to the gym. And Tueday’s my 45th birthday — I already received an MP3 of my parents singing “Happy Birthday”, so anything else can only be an improvement (hi, Mom!).

Comments are closed.