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Friday, April 09, 2004
Sapphire Bullets of Pure Love

I can't seem to work up the energy to post much in depth today; work's been quite busy and I was up early this morning with a headache. So in lieu of my usual long-winded posts, I'm just going to bullet point some thoughts out:

*I know that I'm late on the Homestar Runner bandwagon, having learned about it from Will less than a month ago, but if anyone hasn't been over to to watch some of the funniest toons on the net, Go. Watch. Now. I'll wait. Especially funny are just about any of Strong Bad's emails, and The Search for Yello Dello cartoon (watch it with the commentary on). If anyone wants to get me my very own The Cheat for my birthday, it would make me a happy boy.

*If Deadwood isn't the best new drama I've seen since The Sopranos began, I don't know what is. Nice to see a well-written show peppered with actors I've liked for a while, but who tend to get shit parts in movies: Timothy Olyphant, Brad Dourif and William Sanderson (aka Larry of Larry, Darryl and Darryl fame). And Ian McShane's Al Swearengen is one of the most evil characters I've ever seen in series television. And that's a good thing.

*Speaking of TV, Sopranos has been pretty good this year, and pretty good for Sopranos is still better than 99% of everything else on TV. Last week's story of the Tony/Adrianna/Christopher non-triangle was edge-of-your-seat gripping the whole way through, even if the ending seemed like a bit of a cop out. For the record, Chris used to be my favorite character on the show, during classic episodes like The Legend of Tennessee Moltisanti, D-Girl, and Pine Barrens, but he's worked his way down to someone I can't wait to get whacked. Anyone interested in how the show compares to real-life mobsters should be reading Slate's Monday afternoon discussions about the show between famed mob reporters Jerry Capeci and Jeffrey Goldberg (link only to the current week; scroll to the bottom of the page for previous entries).

*Got my second monthly big box'o comics from Mail Order Comics earlier this week. My joyous flipping through the month's worth of books I could wait for (I still buy the few books I can't wait for at my local shop each week) was overshadowed, however, by the fact that they had left out about eight books and mis-shipped me v.1 of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind instead of v. 2. They made up for it by shipping all the missing books (save one) to me on Wednesday afternoon at no charge. The one that they couldn't get hold of was Nausicaa v. 2, which I was able to find locally. I suppose mistakes do happen, but I don't like the fact that it fell to me to go out and try to find one of the books myself. We'll see how next month goes. [Insert rant about having to order every comic I think I might want two months in advance here].

*Speaking of comics, I gave my wife Dan Clowes' Eightball #22 to read last night, as she had no more books to read in the house. She says that she liked it, but she doesn't want to read anything else by him as she is very put off by the fact that he writes like a woman. When I pressed her to explain, she couldn't say much, only that she had to keep checking the cover to see if he was really a woman. The funny thing is, she usually likes women authors as much as, if not more than, men. She just doesn't like it when a male author writes like a woman. Did I mention that she has very strange reading habits?

*This weekend is Easter, supposedly the celebration of Jesus' return from the grave. How are Franchise pictures celebrating? With a new ad campaign encouraging everyone who hasn't seen Jesus get the shit beat out of him for two hours to go see it, and encouraging those who have seen it to go again. Please pass the Peeps.

*It's been a few weeks since I've been to the movies, so I hope to see one or two this weekend. At the moment, I'm leaning towards the Ladykillers, because I love the Coens, but I like the original a lot and I don't think it really needed to be remade. I'm also considering Hellboy or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Anyone got any suggestions, or recommendations one way or the other?

Hmm. I guess that ended up being a fairly long post after all.

Thursday, April 08, 2004
To all things . . . an ending

One of things that really irritates me in a narrative, particularly a plot-based narrative, is that it seems like very few writers know how to end a story anymore. Many writers can come up with great hooks to begin a story, and can deliver twist after twist in the middle to keep you interested in what's going on, but they can't seem to come up with a satisfactory ending. I am generally willing to overlook pretty major plot holes in the middle of a narrative, as long as the ending is decent. Hard as this is for me to admit, as I tend to think of myself as more character-focused than plot-focused, a bad ending can sour me on the entire work, be it a book, a comic, movie, or what have you.

Even some of my favorite writers have this problem. Warren Ellis, arguably my favorite comic book writer at the moment, can come up with great concepts (even if they aren't so high) on which to hang a story, but by the end I generally feel like his stories lack a sense of closure. In fact, they often just . . . end, without any sense of why I should care about the story, or why it had to be told.

The X-Files, arguably my favorite TV series ever, suffered from the sense that there was no way Chris Carter and his writers could possibly resolve the meta-story (the conspiracy or "mythology") to anyone's satisfaction, based on all the twists they threw in over nine seasons. Prior to the movie, I ate up any mythology episodes, as I just *knew* that they were all building to a massive story payoff. After the movie, I watched the mythology episodes with a sense of impending dread; I had begun to suspect that the writers really had no idea where the meta-story was going. I stuck with them to the very end, long after everyone else I knew had given up. And when the two-hour final episode aired, it was a complete train-wreck. Poorly written, and scrambling to pull all of the various "hints" and characters together to try to provide closure. I almost stopped watching, it was so bad, even though I had sat through and taped almost 200 prior episodes. Now? I still occasionally watch the monster episodes in reruns, but the mythology episodes are too painful to bother, knowing that they never get resolved.

And I don't even want to get started on contemporary movies. Modern studio pics have an alarming tendency to throw together an ending simply because the movie has reached "X" running time. The ending seems like it could come at any point in the movie, as long as the filmmakers had met their quota of explosions or jokes. More than any other medium, movies seem to be based around a high concept, and they never really have a story or realistic characters to hang on the concept. That said, I loved all of Adaptation, even the end which most everyone else hated, but I don't know that I find the movie interesting enough to watch more than once or twice. The fact that Kaufman acknowledges that there's no possible ending to the movie as set up in the first two thirds, so he just says "screw it" and has some fun. Is the end true to the characters? Probably not, but at least it was honest.

I think I prefer narratives that don't "end," to those that do. Long-running comic books stop after 22-24 pages, but there's always the next issue. Even if all the plot points in a story arc don't wrap up at the "end" of the arc, I'm not worried. The writers have a seemingly infinite number of issues to wrap up all their plots, and the great thing is that there's always more plots! They never have to end. Sometimes, I don't read the end of a finite comic series simply because I don't want the ending to spoil the work. I still haven't read the last two volumes of Neil Gaiman's Sandman, or the last volume of Garth Ennis' Preacher, despite owning them for close to four years now.

Serialized TV shows, like the kind I enjoy, can give this same feeling of "there's always next week," but eventually you know they'll have to end. Not so comics like Superman or Batman, which have been running pretty consistently for 60 someodd years, or even Spiderman or X-Men, which have only 40 years under their belts. They'll only have to end if the characters stop making money for the companies, and the slew of merchandise and continuing interest of kids ensures that they won't stop making money anytime soon.

Last fall, I read a lot of novels by Haruki Murakami. At first, I was very frustrated by the fact that his novels don't have an "ending," they just seem to stop. Upon finishing a book, I found myself yelling to no one in particular, "And then what happens?!?" However, by the time I read Dance Dance Dance in January, I think I finally began to understand what he was doing (I'm a slow learner) and why his books end the way they do. It turned out to be what I've been saying for years, but apparently still haven't quite grasped - the story or plot is nothing more than a series of incidences that allow a character to develop, and allow the writer to develop his themes (and maybe to work out some of his own demons). Needless to say, I loved Dance Dance Dance.

My wife disagrees with me almost about everything I've just said. She is an avid reader, and a much faster reader than I, reading in the neighborhood of 3-4 books a week (I'm talking about "general fiction" type books, not mass-market paperback books like my parents read). She doesn't care about endings at all, and has been known to put a book that she's enjoying down with 10-20 pages left, and never to pick it up again (not often, but it's happened). To me, this is outrageous behaviour and is only acceptable with a book that you don't like. But when I ask her how she can stop reading without knowing how it the ends, she usually tells me that she's read the book: she's gotten into the lives of the characters, she understands what the author is saying thematically, she's enjoyed the writing. The end is just a way for an author to try to wrap things up neatly with a bow, and is not important to her enjoyment of the experience of reading the book.

It makes me angry that she can do this, while I allow a poor ending to spoil an otherwise enjoyable narrative experience.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004
You, sir, are no Doyle Brunson

Things I didn't buy at Barnes & Noble with my $35 gift certificate today:

*Doyle Brunson's Super/System
*The Theory of Poker by David Sklansky
*Championship No Limit & Pot Limit Hold 'Em by Cloutier and McElvoy

Things I did buy:

*Bjork's 5 disc live box set

Why? Although I'm not ready to make the determination yet, there comes a point in a man's life when he must decide if he has the cojones to pursue playing Hold 'Em tournaments, or if he's more comfortable getting his poker jones out with home games and playing blackjack in the casinos.

Right now, I'm just not ready to invest $90 in the three bibles of Hold 'Em when the money could be better invested in books on blackjack and 7-card stud. The time is coming, though, when I'll either need to start building a bankroll and practicing in online tournaments, or resign myself to the games I know I can play in without leaving the table in tears.

Besides, you can never have too many remixes of Bjork's songs, right?


Soundtrack: Cassius, Au Reve

Sorry I haven't blogged for a few days; I've been busy with taxes, car repairs, a comic show, work and, well, quite frankly, I'm tired. Not tired from everything I've been doing, because I'm well aware that what I do is nowhere near as tiring as, say, working full time while going to school full time, having a pregnant wife and trying to raise an 8 year old and a 16 month old. I'm tired because I want to sleep all the time except between 10 pm and 4 am.

At any point during the day, I'm pretty sure I could take a nice long nap, only I can't because of pesky things like work. I've fallen asleep in front of the TV plenty of times for a half hour or so in the evenings. But once I get into bed with the intention of going to sleep, or reading myself to sleep, it just ain't happening. By midnight, I start thinking about how much I want to sleep, and how mad I am that I can't sleep, which just makes it that much harder to fall asleep. And when I finally get to sleep, usually between 2 and 4 am, 6:30 comes way too soon for my liking, which means I'm tired the whole next day.

I wish it were an easy problem to diagnose. Last fall and in January, I could chalk it up to my mind racing with worries about finding a new job and getting on with life after we move back to Texas, but I can't say that I'm too worried about that anymore; I'm pretty resigned to the fact that sometime in the next 12 weeks I won't have a job, but I won't have to start a new one until July, so I'll have plenty of time to find one (I hope). To be honest, a part of me is looking forward to the break.

About six months after I moved to Texas, I had similar trouble sleeping, but I'm pretty sure that was due to a bout with self-diagnosed-in-hindsight depression. I love my wife and I love my dog, but it started to get to me that I was living in the one state of the union that I had professed to my friends that I never wanted to live in, and had no friends with whom to play poker, see horror movies, or eat Thai food.

[side note: I have always Meyers-Briggsed as an Introvert, and always thought of myself as such. My introverted ways damaged my friendship with the guys I lived with during my senior year of college, and made things very hard for me when I moved in with the two gals in DC. But DC "cured" me of my introversion, and when I moved to LA, I enjoyed living with my best friend, working with other close friends, and having sometimes as often as twice weekly poker games with the same fellas. When I moved to Texas to get married, I still lived with my best friend, albeit a different best friend than in LA, but I worked in an office with people mostly 15-20 years older than me, with whom I found I had very little in common. Meeting people isn't easy for me, so I had to get used to being an introvert again. I think I've coped admirably, but anyone who's had a hard time getting me off the phone when my wife isn't home can tell you that I still crave some sort of interaction with other people.]

Anyway, I don't know why I can't sleep, and medication like Tylenol PM helps me sleep, but doesn't help me get to sleep, so I take it only as a last resort. I guess I'll just resign my self to the insomnia until it goes away.

By the way, I didn't even think about it till I was re-reading this post, but unless my French is rustier than I think it is, the title of the CD that I'm listening to certainly fits the post, eh?

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