Writing and Other Afflictions

"If it was easy, everyone would do it." –Jimmy Dugan, "A League of Their Own"

The Super Bowl

So yeah, I went to the Super Bowl. If that sentence holds no interest for you then go on to your next thing, and no hard feelings. I’ll have a flash fic to post here this week or next.

A whole bunch of stars aligned over last year and the beginning of this one. We’d come into a little chunk of money. The Super Bowl was being played in the brand new Levi’s Stadium, about a fifteen-minute drive from our house; alternately we could walk to one of the stations on the VTA and take a train directly there (our farmer’s market, usually in the parking lot of the transit center, now gets displaced on Sundays when the 49ers are at home because of the traffic going through there). And just over two weeks ago, the favorite teams of my husband (Denver) and our roommate (Carolina) won their conference championships to set the lineup.

Denver is my team-in-law, yes, but I’ve liked them since Elway won his first Super Bowl eighteen years ago. The narrative of the team that had made it for several games and finally broke through and won was appealing, and I was just dating Mark at the time (he told me he watched that first Super Bowl win alone in his apartment, being so nervous he wouldn’t have been good company). Elway is back with the team, running the personnel side now, and that was a great story too. He’d been away from football for years and there were stories of him just hanging around his steakhouse, aimless, looking for something to occupy himself. He never has to pay for a drink in Denver, but he still wanted to do more. So he got involved with the Arena League’s Colorado Crush (we once saw him at an AFL game) and then accepted the front office job with the Broncos.

One of his first moves was to draft Von Miller; a year later he convinced Peyton Manning to join Denver after being released by the Colts. I’ve liked Manning for a while, partly through having a roommate from Indianapolis for the better part of seven years, but also partly because like Elway, he seems to be a very talented, great guy who for whatever reason was on very good teams that fell short in the playoffs early in his career. After his stunning season two years ago, Denver’s dismantling in the Super Bowl was painfully reminiscent of some of those early Colts losses. And this year–well, you all know the storylines.

So Jack, Mark and I looked at the price tag for Super Bowl tickets, said, “When will these teams we like be playing the Super Bowl in our backyard again,” took a deep breath, and bought three tickets. The ticket is the fourth most expensive piece of paper I’ve held in my life, after our house’s mortgage papers and my two car deeds (okay, after my two college diplomas as well). But you know, it’s a once in a lifetime experience. I’m writing this journal almost as much to document the experience for myself as to tell all of you about it.

We got a dog-sitter for the day and set out around 10:45 am for the VTA train station. We’d had to buy our passes the day before–$20 round trip to the stadium. This is approximately a 400% markup. I hope the VTA gets to keep some of that money (and CalTrain theirs for the additional $20 tacked on if you wanted to take a CalTrain to Mountain View). The line to get on the train was long but moved briskly, and was about 75-25 orange Denver jerseys vs. teal Carolina ones. Once on the train, we found a place to stand and waited the fifteen minutes for the train to get to Great America (it made all the stops even though nobody was allowed on or off there). That was the only place where someone commented on my Chevali Firebirds t-shirt; I didn’t explain it beyond saying the logo was a “Firebird” and they concluded it must be the “Denvolina Firebirds,” which was pretty amusing actually.

The weather was sunny, warm, and perfect–high of 73, I think I heard–and that was nice because we had to walk about a mile from the train station to Great America itself, where we had to pick up the tickets from StubHub. The line took an hour to get through, but StubHub sent people around with free cold water and soft drinks, and when we got to the park we got a bit of a surprise: StubHub had rented out the entire amusement park for its customers. Some of the rides were open (we didn’t go on any) and all the food and non-alcoholic drinks were free. We walked around the park for about an hour and had lunch, but by that time it was after 2, and with the game starting at 3:30 we figured we should head back to the stadium.

Outside the stadium was a large fairgrounds, where you could stand behind a Denver or Carolina uniform so it looked like you were a football player, or you could get your picture taken in a big frame with “SUPER BOWL 50” on it. A mob of people crowded around the stand dispensing Denver rally towels, while at the comparatively deserted Carolina one, the man told us, “Take two. Take as many as you want.” We were too late to get our picture with the Lombardi trophy; by the time we walked up it was on its way into the stadium. I’m not sure why it had to leave that early. It’s not like the game was going to end abruptly a half hour after kickoff and they’d need it RIGHT THEN. But otherwise we had fun walking around and being around all the fans, the teal and orange and black and white of player jerseys. The Carolina jerseys were mixed (we saw at one point a group of eight people with the jersey of backup tight end Ed Dickson), but probably 80% or more of the Denver jerseys were the familiar #18. One person had replaced the name “MANNING” on the back with “P.F.M.” which we interpreted the same way you probably are right now.

And around 3, we entered the stadium and went to find our seats. Levi’s is pretty easy to navigate and the crowds weren’t too bad except at a couple points. Even the bathroom line wasn’t bad. And our seats were terrific, about halfway down section 106 so we were right above the tunnel where the MVPs of the former Super Bowls came out for their group photo. I’m not a real student of the history of the game, but you couldn’t help but be impressed by the collection of players and former players they amassed there.

IMG_4098The performance of “America the Beautiful” was lovely, and then Lady Gaga just crushed the national anthem. Levi’s didn’t do anything else with it, no fireworks during “the rockets’ red glare” as I’ve often seen in sports arenas, nothing until the flyover of Blue Angels after the song was over. It was one of the best renditions of the national anthem I’ve heard.

And then…the game itself. I’ve heard some people describe the game as “terrible,” “sloppy,” “a real dog.” From our perspective, it was none of those. It was exciting on the first drive when Denver drove for a field goal. It was exciting when Miller stripped Cam Newton and Denver fell on the ball for a touchdown. There were stupid penalties, sure, just like in every game. But every Carolina drive we were aware that they could score in about three seconds and it would be a very different game. Manning, too, for all his limitations, had made it clear that he wasn’t going to cough up the ball as he had in the regular season, that they could move it at least somewhat against Carolina. So the pressure was on the defenses: Denver to limit Carolina to field goals, and Carolina to keep Denver from scoring, because once the Broncos got out to that 13-7 lead it was clear that scoring wasn’t going to come easy for the Panthers. We were never bored.

The guy in front of us was a real character, too. Jack overheard his friend explaining that when he got drunk, this other personality they called “Ron” came out, usually not until the third quarter. But Ron was in full force throughout the game. Early on, with Carolina against their own goal line, he yelled, “PICK SIX! PICK SIX!” just before the strip sack and Denver touchdown. I leaned down and said, “You almost called it!” and he turned and said, “I CALLED IT! I CALLED IT!” and then high-fived me and Mark. From then on, he’d turn and high-five whenever Denver made a play, loud and boisterous but not too bad (once, as Jack observed, he stopped yelling at the kids in Carolina teal about how “now they know it’s real!”).

(Mark deduced that he’d put money on the game, and Ron later confirmed that and told us that the amount was “thirty two, five.” I don’t think he meant $32.50.)

At halftime, I ran out to the store to grab a shirt for a friend and ended up talking to a couple Denver fans in line (as I was buying a Denver shirt). I wasn’t wearing any specifically Denver gear but I showed them my orange socks and one of them pulled up his pants leg to show his orange socks as well. We agreed that the defense was terrifying and they were quite optimistic for a Denver victory.

That’s another thing I noticed about the Super Bowl, from that initial train ride through the end of the night: everyone was more open, chatty, and friendly. We were all there for one team or another, so whether it was friendly ribbing between rivals or enthusiastic optimism between fans, there was a lot of chatter between strangers.

We enjoyed the halftime show quite a bit, but then, we’re fans of Coldplay as well as Bruno Mars and Beyoncé (and football). Because of slow clerks at the store, I didn’t get back in time for the first audience card stunt, but I did make it for the second one (and yes, we kept the cards).

IMG_4122I think we stood for almost the entire second half. A couple observations about seeing the game in person:

  • At every other game I’ve been to, the Jumbotron supports the home team. Here, the cheering was balanced; at one point they’d show the Denver defense highlight reel, and a few minutes later they’d show a Carolina offense montage. “MAKE NOISE” came up variously under one logo or the other at different times.
  • The timeouts seemed (to me, though Mark disagrees) to be longer and maybe a little more frequent. But this is only the sixth NFL game I’ve seen live, and the previous one was when Tim Tebow was quarterbacking the Broncos, so don’t take my word for it. It was weird, though, to have a timeout during which the Jumbotron was reminding us fans not to forget our cards for the two audience stunts while the players milled around on the field.
  • The game felt maybe more exciting to me without the announcers. Sometimes on great plays they would replay with the announcer voiceover, but by and large I didn’t miss people telling me what was happening. I enjoyed just watching the game unfold at normal speed. We all agreed we’d like to go back to Levi’s for a regular-season game sometime.
  • “Normal speed” is terrifyingly fast. Not, like, Indy car fast, but everything happens in seconds.
  • At the very first football game I attended, a Washington-at-Eagles game that you can look up by typing “body bag game” into Google, there was an Eagles touchdown that was reviewed. I still remember the crowd holding its breath, the woman in front of me moaning, “They’re going to take it away from us,” and then the surge of energy, the explosive cheer when the referee came back out and threw his arms up in the touchdown signal. The same thing happened on Anderson’s one-yard run for Denver: it got the big cheer, and then the announcement came that the play was under review. The crowd went silent and tense, watching the replay–was his knee down? No, he was in. But it was close. Would they overturn it? They did not, and the stadium exploded again.

The game was strange for us because that tension we felt never really went away until the fourth quarter was almost done. We were all aware that one lapse in the Broncos’ defense could let Carolina score with one play, something they’d done all year, and that they’d still have a chance with momentum after that. When Carolina was forced to punt with two minutes to go (after another sack), Mark and I hugged excitedly, and then hugged Jack consolingly while Ron continued to go bat-shit crazy in front of us. I think he high-fived a stadium post at one point.

As trophy ceremonies go, the actual on-field ceremony was shorter than I’d expected, but still emotional as at least Mark and I were still giddy with the win. They presented the trophy to owner Pat Bowlen’s wife Annabel*, then Elway got a chance to talk (with an emotional “This one’s for Pat”), and then they announced that Von Miller was the MVP of the game. There really wasn’t another option; he forced two fumbles that led to the Broncos’ 14-point margin of victory.

IMG_4159

After the ceremony, we ran down to the main team store, where in the back there were tables being frantically stocked with Denver World Champions caps, t-shirts, and pins that disappeared as fast as the harried employees could throw them out. One guy was taking orders for shirt sizes: just yell a size at him and he’d find the shirt and hand or throw it to you. I grabbed a cap and shirt for Mark, who’d been looking in a smaller store and had come up empty, and a pin for myself**. By the time Mark got down to the store, all the pins and caps were gone, but he found a cap abandoned elsewhere.

The whole experience was a little surreal. I mean, everything surrounding the game itself felt just over the top: the rented-out amusement park, the immense fairgrounds around the stadium, the halftime show, the pre-game ceremonies. But the game itself was a very normal football game. The game was the most enjoyable part of the day, but it was all the trappings that made this a unique experience. Was it worth it? For us, absolutely. To get to see those shows, the MVP parade, to get to see our team win a championship, to see a player we both like and respect finally win another one (this time as a GM!–oh, yes, I guess it was nice for Peyton too): yeah, it was an experience that comes along once in a lifetime. And it wasn’t just worth it to say we’ve done it; we had a wonderful, exciting time there, and being there in person made us feel more part of it in a way you don’t get from TV.

But you know, the Super Bowl parties are a lot of fun, too, and a lot less expensive. We’ll probably go back to that next year.

* Pat Bowlen, the longtime owner of the Broncos, suffers from Alzheimer’s disease to the extent that he can’t make public appearances anymore. He’s beloved by many of the players and coaches he’s worked with, and I always feel bad for his wife, who is clearly uncomfortable with public speaking and wishing for so many reasons that her husband could still be there. Pat is the one who famously said after Denver’s first Super Bowl win, “This one’s for John,” because Elway had played so well for the team for so long and had lost the Super Bowl three times.

** The NFL shop sold a number of pins in different designs, many of which said, “I WAS THERE,” and was trying to get a pin trading thing going. I saw no evidence that this was working at all. Some of the pins were neat, but I got one tasteful one and that was enough.

 

 

For the Record: My Hugo Voting

John C. Wright wrote about his experience after the Hugos: “I heard not one comment, no, not one, of someone who said they voted for ‘No Award’ on the lack of merit of the works nominated.”

I might venture to say that that was due to people being polite to one of the nominees, right? If you’re talking to or near someone who was nominated for a bunch of Hugos, you wouldn’t just say, “Well, I voted No Award because all those nominated stories were terrible. Yours too.”

I’m sure Mr. Wright can find ample examples of people voting on merit just by checking out the comments on file770 this morning, and that he’d have no reason to stop by this little blog, but for the record: I read every short fiction submission in its entirety and at least a lengthy excerpt of every novel (except for one which made me angry from the first sentence). I did not consult websites to see what was nominated by a slate (I had seen the slate, of course, but hadn’t checked back in weeks, so my memory was imperfect); in fact, looking back, I thought one of the novels that was not slate-nominated actually was.

Where I voted No Award, I voted based on stories and novels I’d read during the year, books that had won the Hugo in the near and far past, and compared them to the stories presented. I have read slushpiles for magazines, and with little exception, I found that most of the short fiction read like stories I would have rejected. Where I found those exceptions, I voted for them. I did vote No Award in several of the fiction categories because I felt none of the nominees merited a Hugo; in the novel category, I voted some of the non-slate nominees below “No Award” as well.

I did not vote No Award in either editor category, to my recollection; definitely not the long form one, at least.

Mr. Wright (and Correia and Torgerson and allies) seem unable to wrap their heads around the fact that people might not like the fiction they wrote/nominated, despite the fact that they openly disliked a lot of the fiction nominated in previous years that other people liked. As some people have pointed out, stories like Kary English’s “Totaled” garnered more votes than other slate nominees; I thought “Totaled” was the best of the short stories, and apparently others agreed. If you look at the voting patterns, there appears to be a recognition of quality, and while certainly some people voted anti-slate all the way, there are just as certainly some people who read all the puppy offerings and were not impressed.

Finish Line!

After spending a week at Comic-Con mostly NOT writing, I was worried that I might miss the Camp Nano goal. That’s not the end of the world, you know, because if I got 49,000 words, or 40,000 words, that’s still more words toward the novel than I had before. There were a lot of deadlines this month, Hugo nominees to read, short stories to write, and more travel (as I write this I am on my way to GenCon, which is likely to take up most of the rest of this month). But I’m stubborn and I was also doing it for the Clarion Write-A-Thon, and besides, I like proving that I can DO things, and part of the whole POINT of a NaNoWriMo (even in July) is proving that you can write around challenging circumstances. I’d hoped to write a little each day at Comic-Con, but ended up having to make up for it in the days following–and that’s fine, too. I allowed myself to slack off as I caught up to my timeline, which resulted in me getting my 50,000th word (and a few more) written today. AND I met all my deadlines. AND I read the Hugo novels. At least parts of all of them.

So now I can focus on GenCon and then Rocky Mountain FurCon, and then WorldCon, and meanwhile work on all the stuff I have to do for August, which includes more reading for award voting, reading for an award jury, another short story, finishing up edits on another novel, some work on a couple more ongoing novels, and then once I’m done traveling for cons, I have two more novels to edit for early next year release.

If you’d like to say “congratulations!” with a little bit of support for the Clarion Write-A-Thon, that’d be most welcome. They’ve got five days to reach their goal, and you’d be helping continue a valuable workshop for future writers. You don’t even have to support me if there’s another writer you like! But some support would be cool. :)

Early Plot Questions: Does My Hero Have To Save The World?

I’m two and a half weeks into the Write-A-Thon and a week into Camp Nano. My goal for both was the same: 50,000 words on this new YA novel I’ve been thinking about called “Shifter High,” which title I like because it’s resonant but also I don’t quite like because it sounds like a mediocre Disney Channel show from the late 90s. But ANYWAY, it is under way, 14,000 words as of yesterday. That’d be a good pace except that here I am at Comic-Con where Wednesday through Monday will be pretty solid either setup, teardown, socializing, or driving home. I did get 1,000 words in yesterday AND had a great conversation with my husband about the world and the scope of the story in general. I like to write more close, personal stories, but I’d been trying to add a bigger, world-spanning arc to this one (it’s going to be a series of novels). We discussed whether I have to (no), whether I should (maybe?), and whether that would come at the expense of the personal story (undecided, but I am leaning no). I am thinking of something like “Grasshopper Jungle” or even the Harry Potter series, where the protagonist’s rich internal journey is set against a backdrop of the world slowly falling apart (or quickly falling apart, in the case of “Grasshopper Jungle”). He was thinking about “Hunger Games” and “Divergent” where the world is already pretty much f-ed up and the heroine’s internal journey is present but is secondary to the world-saving plot.

In the end, you know, all I can do is write the story I want to write, but I’m still at the stage where I have the freedom to decide what that is. If there’s an internal journey AND a world-saving journey, then I need to figure out why THIS hero? What makes him* the one who can do this? Is it just right-place, right-time (that is totally valid; a story of a hero who is just the guy in the right spot who steps up)? Or is there something about his situation (e.g. Harry Potter learned from his upbringing never to take family for granted)? I am less a fan of the “Chosen One” scenario, but even that can be done right (hero wrestles with the implications of being chosen and what makes him worthy etc.).

* My protagonist is (for the moment) male, so even though there’s a fair amount of gender fluidity in this story, I’m using the male pronoun for the hero I’m talking about.

I do think that for a series, there should be a larger, world-wide plot, if only because you should keep upping the stakes in each book, and it’s hard to do an internal journey that lasts three or four books. So I am leaning toward that–bonus is that I only really have to seed it in the first book, and I can decide more about it later.

You can see excerpts from my draft at my Clarion Write-A-Thon page, where you can also drop a few bucks to help support the Clarion Workshop. Clarion really changed my writing life and I’m anxious to pay that forward as best I can.

Updating will be slow this week, but look for more next week! And if you’re at Comic-Con, stop by booth #1236 and say hi and see what Sofawolf Press has been up to.

Clarion Write-A-Thon Part IV

Once again into the breach, dear friends! I am again participating in the Clarion Write-A-Thon, as once again I have a good friend going to the workshop this summer (the amazing Dayna Smith). I’m going to be working on a first draft of a YA novel I’ve been thinking about for over a year now in the world of my story “The Lovely Duckling,” which was published in “Kaleidoscope” last year. The premise? A 14-year-old American boy of Japanese heritage enters a prep school for shapeshifters and must figure out which shape is his while staying one step ahead of the federal investigator tracking him down for the bank fraud that got him into the school.

It’d mean a lot if you could support me! My page is the same as last year and you can chip in as little (or as much) as you like. It all goes to help talented writers get to the next stage of their development.

Plus you can check in regularly to see my progress and read excerpts of the first draft, if that’s the kind of thing that you like to do.

Flash Fic Challenge #4: Live And Let Die

(Months. Months have gone by. So sorry about that.)

  1. Live and Let Die, Paul McCartney and Wings. These last four songs are so close that really, you could shuffle them into any order. I had each of the top three in the #1 spot at one time or another in the course of making these rankings, and you can make a legit case for McCartney’s entry as well. This was the first Roger Moore movie, one of the better ones (except for the Southern sheriff), and the theme song just crackles. It doesn’t include a callout to the Bond theme, but it’s a terrific song, one of the best of the Wings era, and one of the best in this collection.

From MI6-HQ.com: “Live and Let Die” was the last Paul McCartney single on Apple Records that was credited only to “Wings” (because the B-side, “I Lie Around,” was sung not by Paul but by Wings guitarist Denny Laine). Despite its first LP appearance on the 1973 soundtrack album, “Live And Let Die” was not featured on a Paul McCartney album until the Wings Greatest compilation in 1978. “Live and Let Die” was the first James Bond theme song to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song (which gave Paul his second Academy Award nomination and Linda her first), but it lost to the theme song from “The Way We Were”.

Fiction: Live and Let Die

Nobody can sneak up on you on a bridge. Dana had learned that from her father, before the old man went off south to the land of milk and honey. So Dana now slept midway across the Brooklyn Bridge off the main track, wrapped in a black sleeping bag so that even in the full moon, he’d appear to be just a pile of refuse. She kept her Weisskopf at her side in case she needed it, her walking stick tucked between the bag and the concrete rim.

Few enough people came across the bridge, mostly slackers who didn’t believe that the street wars had emptied Manhattan of any food. It had enough food for millions of people, they reasoned, and it can’t all be gone in fifteen short years. But Dana had seen the bosses directing their men to clear the roads, the big rumbling trucks heading out. She’d seen the fires at night grow fewer and fewer and finally go out, all save for herself and a hundred or so others who scraped by on what fishing they could do in the water. Everyone had a spot and the skill to fight for it, and Dana’s was close to the Brooklyn Bridge, a short concrete jetty on the Brooklyn side.

But it was daytime, all five of her fishing rods set and baited, when the stranger arrived. He whistled his way across the bridge, making it clear that he didn’t intend to sneak up on anyone. Dana stood anyway, the Weisskopf at her belt, stick in her hand. “Ho,” she said as he approached.

“Greetings.” The man wore a thick orange hoodie with the word “Clemson” on the front and patched black jeans. His voice was rich and deep as the weathered tan on his face above his thick white beard.

“This spot’s taken,” Dana said, her voice rusty from disuse, “and I’m not looking for a partner.”

The fellow whistled again affably and shook his head. “Nor I.”

“There’s no food to be had.”

“Your rosy cheeks tell a different story.”

She let the stick lean forward and dropped her hand to the middle of it. “There’s fish and things from this spot. And this spot is mine.”

“So you said.” He raised his hands, palms out. “I only wish to look through the apartments yonder there.” He pointed past her, to the low buildings of Brooklyn.

“Scavenger.” She relaxed her grip on the stick (though she kept the other hand on her knife) and gestured with it back to Manhattan. “You’ve gone past the prime scavenging ground.”

“Yes, yes.” He didn’t look behind him. “Some of the scavengers there are none too friendly, so I’ve come over this way.”

Scavengers rooted through individual homes, where the food would long since have spoiled, for things they deemed valuable. Most of the time those were guns, with enough ammunition for maybe ten or twenty shots before they became useless. It had been over a year since Dana had heard a gunshot. “There’s a supply store right around that tall elm.” She pointed. “Good fishing rods, if you want to go up the river. Might be some fishing spots twenty, thirty miles up.”

“I’m not much for fishing.” Now he turned and she could see the backpack he wore, green army color.

“There’s no bow and arrow in that one, but I think Rainy said she found bow and arrow to the east.”

His lips curved in a gap-toothed smile. “I know what I’m after, girl.”

She did, too. “Even if you find it,” she said, “what are you going to do? Start another street war?”

“I’ve no score to settle with you. So will you let me pass?”

She tightened her grip on the Weisskopf handle, but he just bowed his head to her and made a wide, non-threatening circle around her spot. Nevertheless, she watched him all the way down the ramp and into the underbrush, and she kept her eyes on that spot for most of the day.

Two days and part of a night later, she woke under a half-moon to three far-off pops, which stopped the coyotes from howling and then, moments later, set them all off again. Dana stayed awake most of the rest of that night, but nothing else interrupted the songs of the street dogs.

The next day, a man emerged from the underbrush headed for the bridge, a young man with a black beard and pale complexion wearing an orange hoodie with the word “Clemson” on it. He nodded to Dana as he skirted her spot and stepped onto the bridge, and Dana nodded back, ignoring the bloodstains on the hoodie. After all, it wasn’t any of her business. She had fish to catch.

FOGCon, Belatedly

Hey, if by chance you’re at FOGCon this weekend, then you might see me there. I’m heading up for Saturday and Sunday and will be checking out panels, the con suite, the bar, the dealer room, you know, all the usual con things. Drop me a note in the way we usually communicate if you want to get together, or look for the guy with my name on his badge. It’s almost certain to be me.

And if you live in the Bay Area, you should go to FOGCon. It’s a great little convention where you have a chance to chat with some of the area’s coolest F/SF writers and fans.

Thoughts on American Sniper

My reaction when I heard the slate of Best Picture nominees was “UGH FINE I will go see American Sniper.” Mark and I try to see all the Best Picture nominees every year, and while some of them are a challenge, we had no excuse for missing this one. It’s going to be in theaters well into February. So last night I bit the bullet (ha ha) and went to see it with a couple friends (Mark, who was working, promised to see it later).

There is probably a very good movie to be made about the life of Chris Kyle, the titular sniper, and it would cover the space between two scenes about 125 minutes into this 134-minute movie. The story of overcoming the impact of spending the better part of a decade in Iraq killing people to come home and adjust to normal life is a fascinating one, and maybe even more so when you’ve become exalted as a hero as Kyle was. To put it another way: most of “American Sniper” should have been the five-minute prologue to the movie about Chris Kyle.

The faults of the movie have been well documented: it’s very loosely based on an autobiography that was factually questionable to begin with (though perhaps not so much about his actual tours in Iraq). It ventures into the comic-bookish realm with an invented villain who might as well be named “Drill-Man” and an enemy sniper who was barely mentioned in Kyle’s account of his own life but who becomes his main foil. It shows a lot of violence–yes, in a movie about the guy credited with more kills than any other sniper in U.S. military history, you expect to see gunshots and violence, but the violence here is fetishized to a disturbing extent. The U.S. involvement in Iraq is painted in broad black and white strokes: Kyle is there to protect “our boys” from the “savages,” and while there are occasionally Iraqis who (reluctantly) help Kyle, the motivation of the people he’s fighting is never explored. Kyle’s wife is introduced as a strong woman who shoots down (sorry) a guy trying to pick her up, only to fall for Kyle’s charms; she spends the rest of the movie begging him to come back to his family.

It is the worst Best Picture nominee I can remember seeing. I’ll give Bradley Cooper credit for his performance; other people have criticized it because his natural charm and exuberance are leashed, but I admire him for being able to slip into another character that way. Technical awards, sure. It’s a beautiful movie in many places and I give them a lot of credit for never losing Cooper among all the similarly uniformed soldiers. The action scenes are filmed tautly and are easy to follow, and the sound is terrific. No, the nomination that bothers me the most is for its dull, mediocre screenplay. Stealing from Mark Harris of Grantland in his review of the Oscar nominations, it is stunning to me that this was nominated over Gillian Flynn’s screenplay for “Gone Girl.” That was a well-written, gripping film (and written by the author of the source material; maybe part of the reason for the snub is that she’s not a career screenwriter, while Jason Hall is at least an actor and has two other screenplays to his name); this was basically a war piece that verged on propaganda, and not even clever propaganda.

So anyway. If you’re an Oscar completist, go ahead and see the movie. Otherwise I don’t think most people reading this blog will care much for it.

Five: We Have All The Time In The World

  1. We Have All The Time In The World, Louis Armstrong (from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service). If you haven’t watched the movie, you probably can’t understand why this song is here. Go watch it.

It was Louis Armstrong’s last recorded song, and at the time did not chart well. Cover versions of it have boosted its popularity, especially a cover by My Bloody Valentine used in a Guinness ad, and it is now considered “among the finest of Barry’s songs for the franchise.” By this poll as well.

(In addition to My Bloody Valentine, “We Have All the Time in the World” has been covered by Iggy Pop with soon-to-be Bond composer David Arnold, Fun Lovin’ Criminals, Vic Damone, Michael Ball, Amalia Grè, The Puppini Sisters, The Fairly Handsome Band, and Tindersticks.)

Fiction: We Have All The Time In The World

 

Tianora had perfected the art of distilling time into vials and her workshop overflowed with them. Minutes as thin and delicate as pencils, stout hours in test tubes and Christmas ornaments, days bottled and sealed with wax and foil and spellcraft. Colored glass sparkled in the sun’s beams through the skylight, and any visitor to Tianora’s shop had the impression of walking into an ancient temple, with the witch behind her counter at the center and candles lit on either side of her, her robes almost liturgical.

Tianora herself was no priestess. Olive-skinned and raven-haired, she wore dresses and shirts and skirts as bright as her bottles, festooned her hair with jeweled barrettes and her ears with silver spangles, wore antique pendants and old ivory-carved brooches, and if ever she came out from behind the counter, her feet were always seen in tanned, dyed leather. She laughed often, joked with the people who came in often and warmly greeted those who didn’t. To the people who decried her trade, she made a free gift of a minute and received in return a customer.

There was no money exchanged at her counter, no gold nor silver nor promissory note. The price of a stolen vial of time from Tianora was double that time from the end of your own life. An easy price to pay, because who values an hour in their dotage more than an hour with their sweetheart with the flush of youth still strong in their cheeks? A drink of Tianora’s potion and you would find the world stopped around you, the sun and moon’s dance arrested for your pleasure. If another had drunk at the same time, then you would both experience the stopped time (more than one vigilant parent kept a stock of Tianora’s potions for nights when their teenaged children went on dates), but otherwise the world would be frozen.

(On occasion, unscrupulous people used this power for robbery or worse, but Tianora always knew when someone had taken one of her potions and pointed the constables unerringly in the direction of the perpetrator, whereupon they made restitution, with the help of a resurrectionist if necessary. Many people used the power of stopped time to play pranks, and Tianora not only seemed to enjoy this, but actively encouraged retaliation.)

When she’d first discovered this magic, she’d traded out of her cottage. Word spread quickly, and soon she moved into an abandoned alehouse, using its wine cellar for storage, its upstairs bedrooms for their original purpose when couples who had nowhere else to enjoy their stolen time sought her out. In time, a quiet young woman was seen in the shop, fetching bottles and dusting. Her name became known as Jewel, and as Tianora left her shop less and less, Jewel scoured the town for new gems and finery to wear, though she herself wore only grey and beige and flat sandals. Rumors spread, of course, but if Tianora and Jewel shared a bed at night, only the two of them knew it.

“What will you do with all of this time?” Kor the baker asked her on one occasion.

“Don’t you think time is worth saving?” she replied.

“You’ve sure got a lot of time here,” Alasia the seamstress said cannily on another.

“A stitch in time saves nine,” Tianora said with a bright smile. “And how is Ferdinand doing?”

“If you ladies would like to attend the social…” Mayor Brandon took great delight in planning town dances. “I could use another day to set it up.”

He was hoping for confirmation that the ladies were a couple, but Tianora just smiled and passed him a day bottle. “Thank you for the invitation,” she said, “but I believe we’ll stay home that night.”

And then came a day when Davrim had the bright idea that he would take one of Tianora’s potions at night and under cover of stopped time, steal many of her bottles. Not many people would even conceive of stealing from a witch, and fewer still would put a plan into action, but it should be said that Davrim had indulged from many non-magical bottles over the previous weeks, and it was his idea that it would save him a great deal of money if he could but stop time while drunk, postponing indefinitely the arrival of the price of intoxication. What was more, he had an intimate knowledge of the old alehouse from its former life.

So Davrim traded two hours of his likely cirrhosis-plagued old age for an hour of crime, and returned when the crescent moon was high. The wine cellar (he happened to know) could be accessed through a back door which itself could be jimmied off the latch inside. His fingers were not as sure as they’d once been, but memory served where dexterity had failed, and soon he was inside.

His first surprise came when he stumbled down to the wine cellar. His memory filled it with bottles, and he had expected to see a similar sight, only in many different shapes and colors. But the cellar stood empty, the wooden racks stretching bare to the back wall.

Davrim’s torch shook in his hands and flickered too, and so with the dancing shadows it took him a good several minutes to determine that indeed, the bounty of bottles he had anticipated was nowhere to be found. Well, he thought, there had been plenty in the shop upstairs when he’d been in that day. They’d be missed sooner, but he couldn’t come all this way for nothing.

Upstairs, he hummed to himself as he walked along the corridor to the main room, and stopped with one hand on the door when he realized that he was humming along to music he could hear. The rest of the night had been so still—no animal sounds, no wind, no creaks of settling wood—that he hadn’t even registered the music at first. But it was there, a bright, happy tune reaching through the door to draw him out.

He pushed slowly on the door and was greeted with his second surprise. A player piano tinkled the music he’d heard, and in the center of the floor, Tianora and Jewel danced.

They spun around, laughing gaily together, and they wore similar simple white robes which flowed and waved above their flying feet. Their hands rested on hips, on shoulders, and their eyes never left one another.

Except to settle on Davrim, both pairs of eyes, when their feet stilled and their smiles faded. Neither of them spoke, so Davrim supposed he’d best say something.

“Fine evening, ladies,” he said. “Sorry to intrude. I—heard the music. I’ll be on my way.”

“Oh, Davrim, you old drunk,” Tianora said. “Why don’t you come on in?”

Her voice, still light, held steel below it. Davrim did not want to come in, but his feet shuffled forward and his hand let go of the door. It swung behind him and shut with a click. “I didn’t mean no harm,” he said.

“And yet you’ve caused it.” Tianora glided toward him. “You’ve disturbed our privacy.”

“I won’t tell nobody.” He looked earnestly between them. “Nobody’d care nohow. There’s Fannie and Jellinda and they walk together hand in hand.”

“We don’t care that people know.” Jewel spoke in a low voice. “We like our privacy. We can be together, alone, with all the time we need.”

Davrim’s hand shook so badly he dropped his torch. “I’ll leave,” he said. “I’ll never come back.”

Tianora’s fingers touched his brow. “Yes,” she said.

He was old and had indulged often, so there was no particular surprise when Davrim’s body was found that morning. “He looks so old,” Timony, the stable boy who found him, said.

Mayor Brandon shook his head sadly. “Let this be a lesson to you on the perils of drink, Timony,” he said.

In the course of his duties, he returned to Tianora’s shop. She greeted him in a sober black dress. “You must have heard the news,” he said. “Well, as it happens, I will have to have his funeral…time is so short…perhaps a day for me and one for each assistant?”

“Such a tragedy,” Tianora murmured. “Jewel, please fetch three days for the Mayor from the wine cellar.”

Cultural Differences

I’m used to sitting in coffee shops and restaurants in Silicon Valley overhearing conversations about technology. Today I was eating lunch in New York and the guys next to me were talking about technology, and something was a little different about it, so I spent my lunch (which they talked the whole way through) thinking about it. I came up with this: the guys in New York were talking as pure end users. I don’t think there are a lot of those in Silicon Valley, or even in the greater SF Bay Area. What theater is to New York and movies are to L.A., technology is to the Bay. A conversation about OneNote in the Bay Area would’ve started with a discussion of the more esoteric features, followed either by a talk about the finances of the company or by some small startup that was going to eat their lunch because it does one feature better. Or possibly they would compare OneNote to some previous software or competitor, longing wistfully for the days when said software did everything so easily. The point is, in the Bay, technology is a culture.

In New York, not to overgeneralize based on one conversation (certainly there are a lot of technology offices in NYC), technology is a tool. They talked about OneNote versus Dropbox versus iCloud versus Google Drive (SugarSync was not mentioned) the way you might talk about different cars. One guy asked, “Why do you use OneNote instead of MS Word?” and the other had to explain that it wasn’t a way to create documents but to store stuff. They talked about how each of those things kind of lives with its own application–the one guy had trouble saving stuff from Gmail to OneNote, for instance. *

(*Also: the one guy said “Microsoft 365 is pretty good” and the other guy totally listened to him, which would be enough on its own to place the conversation outside the Bay Area.)

I don’t want this to come off as “New Yorkers are stupid about technology,” because that’s absolutely not true. The two guys knew what all the technology did. They were struggling to find ways to make it all work for them. The reason this is interesting is because I think a lot of the time, Bay Area people forget that not everyone knows what their software does, or can understand it from a single ad. They come at it from the perspective of their immersion in technology–what do you mean, you don’t know the difference between Google Chat and Google Hangout??–and often in trying to make their software easier, they omit to make it intelligible.

None of this is new. It’s been documented before by people much more savvy and well-traveled than me. But from a writing perspective, it was an interesting reminder to think about cultural perspectives when you’re creating cities and civilizations. Not everyone even in the same country has the same backgrounds. 

 

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