Review: “The Death of Ivan Ilyich”

Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013

Roll: 1,1. Result: Review, Book.

The Death of Ivan Ilyich

by Leo Tolstoy (translated by Lynn Solotaroff)

I have nothing but the utmost respect for this book. At 83 small pages, it’s a tiny thing, especially by Tolstoy’s standards, but it presents the most visceral experience of death’s true and utter revelation that I think I will ever know. I don’t remember when I got it, or how, but I do know it kept me up very late into the night when I had not planned on staying up at all; I read the whole thing and then lay there on my bed for another hour absorbing it all. It was the closest I came to fully grasping the true nature of death since I realized, when I was much younger, that death was the end of all experience and that that meant that I could not imagine a moment beyond my own life’s end. In words, I fail to explain or capture the nature of the revelation, but it is vast and powerful; however, where I fail, Tolstoy succeeds, and that is why “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” is my favorite book of all time.


Review: “Will They Ever Leave? What It Takes To Nudge Millennials Out Of Nest”

Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013

Roll: 1,4. Result: Review, Article.

Okay, I’m going to bed real soon, but I just happened to have read this article so I will quickly review it. The article is here:

Will They Ever Leave? What It Takes To Nudge Millennials Out Of Nest

by Rachel Bloom

This is a good article with (besides the point) an interesting thread of comments at the end. I looked at it because it hits very close to home; I want to know what it takes to get me out of this (%#&$@*#) nest.

It flows well, and the wording and paragraph structure are well executed. I was a little confused when it started seeming like the article would be about foster children specifically, though that was not hinted at in the title or opening paragraphs. It did quickly get back to a study of average, non-foster kids.

It’s odd that the article is written about Millennials by a Millennial, but it brings a sense of urgency to the text. She’s saying (to me), “Don’t worry! If your friends move out, you will too! If you’re having trouble it’s because your parents don’t have enough faith in you to live on your own!” This is less a review and more of a plea to the gods.

The article boils down to this: kids move out after a long slow grind of preparation. Professor Mann-Feder asked 30 Canadian kids about their experiences moving out (or not) and it turns out that peer support has a lot to do with getting your own place. The writer of the article can affirm everything the study suggests.

So: weird foster children bit, but good, illuminating, well-written article. The end.

Freewriting with “F”

Friday, Dec. 6, 2013

Roll: 3,5. Result: Freewrite, Letter.

I already wrote a post today, but I forgot yesterday so I figure I’m allowed. I’m in a writing mood today.

“Forget everything you thought you knew,” he said, smiling. His beard was dripping sweat. Angelo smiled back and struck with renewed vigor. One, two. One, two. They’d been training all day, and he felt that it was beginning to show. Just as he was really getting into his second wind, a punch came out all wrong. CRACK. His face contorted in agony. “Ow, FUCK!”

Under the bright lights, the pain felt tripled. Lars threw down his mitts and offered to help Angelo up. “Get up, come on, lemme see.” He took Angelo’s arm by the elbow and inspected the already purpling wrist. “That’s broken,” he announced brusquely. “I didn’t mean forget how not to break your wrist. God damn.”

“Can I get an ambulance, or what?” Angelo pleaded. Lars looked at him from the cloud of melancholy slowly setting in.

“Know what gets an ambulance around here? I’ll give you a hint: Not that,” he said, pointing at the limp wrist.

“Then will you at least drive me to the hospital? I can’t drive a stick like this.”

“Here.” Lars walked back to his office, reappearing after a moment with some cloth and a sticky note. “This one,” he said, holding up the cloth, “is a sling you can borrow, for the ride.” He handed it over. “And this,” he continued, holding the note in Angelo’s face, “is the number for my favorite cab company. Ask for Ezra.”

“Ezra? Lars, are you for real? I can’t get a ride?”

“Please understand, Angelo, I need to secure a new 10 o’clock trainee now that you’re out of the picture, or else I’m not going to be able to pay my child support. Any time I’m not looking is time wasted. I’m sorry.”

“Oh, yeah, no, I understand. I guess.” He looked dazed. “I’m out of the picture, huh.” He turned to go. “Thanks for the, stuff…”

Lars watched him exit the building before heading back to the toilets. His business could wait until he dealt with the exotic cuisine he’d eaten the night before.

“I need to go to the hospital,” Angelo told the cab driver, holding up his swollen blue hand. The cabbie nodded, and they hurtled down two streets, coming to a stop outside a grungy little storefront with a red cross above it, crammed between a souvenir shop and an Indian food take-out place.

“Can we maybe go to a, erm, cleaner, hospital?” Angelo asked, frowning at the still-bleeding amputee crutching his way out of the building.

“Exactly eight dollars, please,” said the cabbie. He looked pitilessly at Angelo, and extended an open palm.

“Fine,” he sighed, awkwardly reaching with his off-hand into his opposite back pocket for the cash.

Using his good hand to shield his eyes from the sun, he warily approached the decrepit structure as the cab sped away.

“C’mere,” someone loudly whispered. Angelo looked around. There was a short, balding man missing an eye and wearing an over-sized trench coat staring at him. Angelo stood still. “I can fix that. You need that fixed? $20. I’m a doctor.” He started coughing violently.

Knowing that the man probably wasn’t actually a doctor, Angelo continued into the building while the coughing fit raged on. The interior was almost normal, with awful air conditioning and a white and green typical-hospital color-scheme. He gave the man at the desk his name, explained his ailment, and chose a seat at which to wait.

The doctor came out almost immediately, asking for Angeline. He said the name a few times. Angelo looked around at the empty waiting room. He stared the doctor in the eye and slowly raised his hand. “Angelo?” Angelo said, unsure.

He frowned, scanning his clipboard for a mistype. “No, it says here ‘Angeline.'” The man behind the desk leaned over and whispered something to the doctor. The doctor spun on his heel, disappearing around the corner. He returned, holding the same clipboard, and walked to the threshold of the waiting room. “Angelo?” he asked, looking around the room.

Eyes still fixed on the doctor, Angelo raised his hand again. “Ah, excellent,” said the doctor. “Right this way.” He followed the man around the corner into what wasn’t so much a room as just the end of the hallway. There was a chair sitting right there, and the custodial closet was propped open, a desk visible inside. “Have a seat, and then open wide,” He gestured to the chair.

“Pardon?” Angelo asked, stopping mid stride. “I just need my wrist set, or whatever, and maybe a splint or cast? You don’t need to see inside my mouth, I don’t think.”

“Oh, nonsense. This is a holistic clinic. We know much better ways to fix these things, and it all starts and ends with the mouth. So. If you would.” He gestured to the seat again. Reluctantly, Angelo climbed in.

“Look,” Angelo started, as the doctor immediately went to work propping open his jaw, grabbing some funny luminescent sticks and putting them in his cheeks. “Gaudth, thaugh, rauthaorth goartha – GOW!” An intense pain shot along his gumline. “GOW OW OW thoth ith! Thoth -”

In his dream, he had the experience of riding a pelican from planet to planet, cheering it on as it fit more and more moons and asteroids into its bill. The pelican set his eyes on Pluto and looked at Angelo, questioningly. Angelo nodded. “Go for it, buddy!” The pelican smiled and gave him a high five, and they sped towards Pluto. “Woaaahhhh!”

Coming to, he realized that he was still in the chair, his mouth still full of light sticks, though no longer propped open. He began picking them out with both hands. As he stood up, he realized that his wrist was no longer injured. He examined it for minutes.

Excited, he called up Lars’s number and relayed the news. A funny voice responded, “I don’t know what kind of sick joke you’re trying to pull, but this isn’t Lars’s phone number anymore. He’s been dead for 20 years.” Angelo dropped the phone.

Review: HMDX Jam Wireless Speaker

Friday, Dec. 6, 2013

Roll: 1,5. Result: Review, Object.

I’ve got one of these little bluetooth speakers sitting on my desk here, so I might as well.

HMDX JAM Wireless Speaker

by HMDX Audio

I’ll start off with the only aspect I actually don’t like about this thing: The sound feels very localized. One of the reasons I love listening to music on good headphones is that it sounds like it’s coming from inside your head. The balance between the L and R speakers creates a world of sound, immerses you in it, and relieves you of the worries you inevitably have about where in the real world this music is coming from. It boils the experience down to pure musical experience. The JAM does the exact opposite. Due to its small size, it really cranks out the most pop-musically relevant frequencies, which happen to be high enough that they can’t help but cue you in to their point of origin. When I listen to the JAM, and I think about other better things I could be listening to music with, I am inexorably oppressed by its constant self-insistence.

Now, understandably, you could read all that and say, “But could you really be listening to the music on something better? Isn’t the whole point of the JAM that it can go places other audio equipment can’t?” You’d be exactly right. I guess my problem is that I don’t usually involve myself in situations where the JAM would be necessary. If I’m with people and we all want to listen to music, usually there is a stereo of some kind nearby, be it in a car (with an AUX-in as well as the appropriate cables) or living room or those are the only places I go. Now, supposing you’re out hiking or something, this JAM would be excellent, though high winds or too much open space would greatly diminish its capacity for aural amazement. Put it up against a tree, or just don’t bring one and enjoy the sounds of nature.

Purely in terms of value, portability, and sound quality, the JAM is a great device. You can charge it with a micro-USB for at least a few hours of completely wireless audio, and all at a very workable volume. Listening to the thing here, as I write this, I have had to turn it down a couple times because the music is just too loud. It has an AUX-in port if you don’t have bluetooth-capable audio players, an on/off switch, volume controls, and a pause/play button. These controls are basic, but you’ll really be interacting with your source device for everything aside from fine-tuning the volume and turning the speaker on and off anyway, so it has all the buttons it needs.

The audio never sounds muddled. Everything is clear and properly balanced. The device itself is aesthetically unobtrusive. There is one blue light that blinks just to let you know it’s on, but it is small and honestly necessary if you are having trouble with bluetooth connections. You can throw it (supposing someone catches it) and put it in all kinds of weird nooks, crannies, and strange containers, for some neat filtering effects. If you wondered what it sounds like to have music come from inside your fridge, here’s your chance.

I received the thing as a gift, and that’s the only way I would have come across one. Like I said, though, I never felt the need for music in places that don’t already have (headphones or) much better speaker set-ups than the JAM’s. It is nice if you’re out and about and you don’t want your ears smushed by your expensive studio headphones, though. There is definitely an audience for this object, but it is up to you to decide if you are in it.

Short Story via Creative Nonfiction: The Expedition

Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013

Roll: 4,6. Result: Short Story, Creative Nonfiction.

When I wrote this category as an option, I had to look it up to make sure it was a real thing, and also so that I knew what it meant. Turns out you just write about something that has happened (to you), but you dramatize it and make it exciting to read without lying per se. This could actually be considered creative nonfiction if I went on about the time I looked up a definition of creative nonfiction. Alas, my creative nonfiction is actually going to be about…

The Expedition: Going To CVS For Hand Lotion

I was here, sitting at this computer when it started. I stared at the paragraph of text I’d written in preparation for a creative nonfiction piece that would be about something I hadn’t yet experienced. I racked my brain for ideas, but none appeared, so I decided to disengage from the project for inspiration. I spun around, rising up for a stroll, cloaked with the off-white blanket my sister had given me. I paced in contemplation, briefly, before collapsing into a puddle of deflating blanket on my bed.

It was there, in my cave of wistful memories and snuggly retrospect, that I decided I’d make my adventure one that hadn’t happened yet. I was, after all, in need of hand lotion, and I’d forgotten until the sun began to go down. That would save me the effort of remembering something random and justifying it against all the multitudes of other possibilities, while also getting me that hand lotion when my current supply was running so low. I’d sliced open the bottle to get at the lotion the tube pump wouldn’t pick up; the experience of groping around in a cut-open bottle for goop to rub all over my hands was starting to get to me.

Sitting in the twilight of my blanket-cave, I ran my hand across the plush fabric’s interior, contemplating its majestic intimacy while Mumford & Sons cried out in the background. Yes, I would surely head out to CVS, just after I rest a bit, and enjoy this pleasant diversion. I laid down my head now, feeling my breaths deepen, the air in my small fort depleting itself of oxygen. I closed my eyes. Then, almost ashamed to be enjoying a blanket-fort by myself, I tossed it off, feeling the fresh cool air storm into my lungs. I threw on my coat, crammed my pockets with the daily pocket crammings, and flew downstairs.

“I’m going to CVS,” I declared to my father, seeing that he was fully engaged in a Battlefield 4 session and silently acknowledging that he would ask me to pick up something for dinner, since I would already be out. I sighed deeply, in annoyance, but thinking of this story, I accepted. Nobody wants to read about how I spurned my father’s request to go five minutes out of my way to pick up the food he would later cook for me like he does every night. I also would have accepted his request anyway, but this certainly made it easier. Who knew what surprises awaited me at the supermarket?

In the jeep, ignition. The radio popped on as I peeled backwards out of the driveway, shifting, pushing pedal to the floor to get up to the 35 mph I drive in my neighborhood. No cars out tonight. Turning off my road, I heard our beloved classic rock station release a surprising announcement: Now playing the top bands from the 90’s! I couldn’t believe it. This was huge. Ever since I started listening to that station, I wondered how long classic rock would be classic rock, and how long before new rock became classic. After all, recorded music is relatively new, especially rock.

Before long, I was parked, hollering to whatever song was on, before opening the door and realizing that the few people around me in the lot could probably hear my excellent voice, and not the radio it went along with. Despite this, I managed to play it cool, because who cares? Then the next dilemma. Italian squash, was that the same as zucchini? I remembered a time when I’d accidentally got zucchini instead of cucumber when I was little, and my mom made me eat some of it. That zucchini was long and thin (and gross). The italian squash I saw tonight was plump, like squash. But I knew that it was zucchini, I knew it was! I contemplated calling my sister to double check, but then I just googled it. For the search term “italian squash” a picture came up labeled “zucchini,” so that was that. Once I had the squash, the chicken was easy, although I did have to get two and a half pounds due to egregious packaging.

I paid and booked it. I turned on the radio leaving the parking lot and heard Green Day. I almost cried, thinking that I was on the classic rock station, but I was listening to the alt-rock one, so I chuckled, breathing a sigh of relief. And then I was at CVS, letting an old Asian man and his two blonde girl-children cross the parking lot in front of me. Lotion, check, deodorant, new scent! (check), toothpaste, check. I failed to present my CVS card and the phone number look-up didn’t work (again), so I got $4.00 in Extrabucks for a card which “doesn’t exist!” as the old man helping me said. We laughed. I left.

There was a moment, coming out of the parking lot, where there is an awkward lowercase-k street junction, when I thought I’d never get home. It was like double-stacked traffic. But really after about 30 seconds I was out and got straight home.

Then I threw the food in the fridge, put away my hygiene supplies, and sat down to write about it.

And I lived happily ever after.


Review: The Bourne Legacy

Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013

Roll: 1,2. Result: Review, Movie.

Two days in a row? Wild. It’s late, but I think I can still fit a movie in tonight. Hurr we go!

The Bourne Legacy

Director: Tony Gilroy, Writers: Tony Gilroy, Dan Gilroy

I guess you could say I was a pretty big fan of the first three Bourne movies, but when this one came out with such a flimsy premise to support it (“there was never just one” aka Damon dropped out so here’s Jeremy Renner in a convenient plot device) I didn’t really want to see them ruin the series so I never took the time to watch it. Now, that said, I liked the movie. I didn’t love it, but it was a good edge-of-your-seater.

The movie started off pretty randomly: scenes of these CIA people talking, scenes of Jeremy Renner climbing mountains, scenes of doctors in a lab. Everyone was rushing around acting important, yelling things, never stopping, always doing something. There was a smooth flow of activity in each shot. This is more or less the pace of the movie, although things do eventually come together after about a half an hour. Soon Jeremy Renner meets the doctors, and the Intelligence people are on his ass, although they are really just tracking him with satellites and stuff, playing catch-up for most of the movie. It gets tense.

Jeremy Renner’s Aaron Cross (not Alex Cross) makes everything look effortless. He’s supposed to, since he’s a super soldier, but sometimes it would be nice to at least imagine that he has to plan some of the miraculous maneuvers he attempts. The fact that he has a sidekick (Rachel Weisz) helps soften him up, make him vulnerable to the mortals trying to stop him. That and his drug problem. It’s a super soldier thing.

What bothered me a little was some of the dialogue, particularly in one scene when I was paying attention to it. It was between Ed Norton’s Intelligence character and some four-star general or something. Norton says, “I think that we need to clarify something here , Don.” The general says “Clarify what?” and Norton replies “You keep using the word ‘unacceptable,’ and I want to know exactly what you think you mean by that,” and the general says “Unacceptable means exactly that! I don’t like what you’re telling me, I don’t like how you’re telling me.” They fire these words back and forth very forcefully and purposefully, getting angry at each other obviously because they are important and they are discussing important things, but this four-line exchange feels entirely unnecessary, just some weird lead-in to get the audience interested in the conversation that they’re being introduced to. In the end, I feel like that’s how most of the dialogue works. Which is fine, since it’s just a thriller, but it wouldn’t have hurt if there were actually some depth to the important things people were shouting. Here’s some lines I just wrote for the sequel (whatever happens in it):

Ed Norton: You don’t understand. This isn’t just a man we’re talking about, the whole program is riding on this operation!

Government Guy: You think I don’t know what’s at stake here? This thing goes south, my whole career goes with it.

Ed Norton: Your career? If you even grasped a shred of the importance of stopping him, you would be happy to go flip burgers for a living if it gave us one shot at even knowing what country he’s in right now. Your career? You make me sick.

CIA Guy (busting open door): “[Ed Norton’s character’s name]! We’ve got a problem.”

Ed Norton: Well, what is it, god damn it?

CIA Guy: We found him.

Ed Norton: Get me NASA on the line; call the general. I need eyes and ears at –

CIA Guy: No. You don’t understand. He’s here.

and scene.

So that’s what the movie is. It’s Cross being loud and fast, or quiet and oh-so-slick. There are close calls with guns, cars, motorcycles, wolves, drugs, speech, sneaking, and suicide fraud. They touch almost every chase scene trope. There is even rooftop running and some swell parkour moves. I didn’t really understand a lot about the different agencies and the government officials, and I’m not sure how much I was intended to get, or what is based on information from the first movies, but all in all I got the gist of the movie. Good guys running, bad guys chasing, except they work for the government and their intentions are pure, sort of, so like whatever happens is ok, except the government can’t just kill people so go Aaron Cross! I’m going to bed. It’s a good thriller to watch, if you don’t have to pay for it, and even if you do have to pay, but then you should make sure to watch it on a big screen with the speakers blasting, and the subwoofer cranked. Maybe some day they will figure out how to deliver an even more immersive experience, in which case maybe this could have been a great movie.

Review: Fast Times at Ridgemont High

Monday, Dec. 2, 2013

Roll: 1,2. Result: Review, Movie.

Ah, interesting. The ol’ movie review. I suppose I’ll have to watch one now 😀

Fast Times at Ridgemont High

Director: Amy Heckerling, Writer: Cameron Crowe

Usually I have a problem with older movies, because the jokes are outdated, or the acting is just so unrealistic that I can’t get absorbed. Maybe Fast Times at Ridgemont High isn’t old enough to have these problems for me, but I absolutely loved it. I’d never seen it before, in its entirety, at least, but tonight I definitely saw the whole thing, and I definitely loved it from the opening sequence to the end!

The soundtrack definitely has a lot to do with my love for the movie. Every song is so energetic, but also by now a complete classic, so the movie instantly has this feel of being a good time, and not needing to prove itself. The first half-hour of the movie, filled with feel-good music and the consequence-free shenanigans of a bunch of fun-loving highschoolers, can’t be construed as anything but fun. And yet the characters are convincing, if at the very least as pure archetypes.

The tension between the awkward character of Mark Ratner and his crush Stacy, throughout their date, is extremely palpable, and very true. While the older characters get away with their confidence and overdeveloped characters because of their age, the freshmen are vulnerable and honest, bumping their way through the hurdles of adolescence. It’s when the older characters dip down into the freshman world that they prove their humanity, if they ever needed to. The multiplicity of characters and narratives are wound seamlessly into one total expression of the prototypical high school experience, although it’s more of a grand life experience. It’s a fast time, and it works incredibly well in the hour-and-a-half film.

I also enjoyed the apparent lack of adults. I don’t recall seeing anyone’s parents, but there were occasionally figures of authority. Specifically, Mr. Hand, the stern history teacher who goes head-to-head with stoner Sean Penn, and a couple of Brad’s bosses, who appear only when he’s doing something wrong. There’s also Mr. Vargas, though he is portrayed as a somewhat absent-minded guy, so I don’t think he counts. They go through a whole school year just having fun being kids, rebelling, trying to get theirs. And for the most part everyone succeeds. It’s a hopeful, pleasant, and appeasing experience throughout.

And boy does it make malls look like fun. I loved it. I’m surprised I waited this long to see it.