Archive for the ‘Pop Culture’ Category

Falling Leaves

February 15, 2014

I grew up in bookstores.

When I was eight, my family moved back to the States after a couple years on a typhoon-ridden island1 Back in California, with its lovely beaches and high cost of living, my mom had to get a job to help us make ends meet. Enter Books West, the only new book store in the five-cities area. She worked there for 15 years, until the owners retired.

Books West was my house for 10 years. Instead of being a latch-key kid, my mom insisted I hop on the bus and come down to her work. I read every book in the YA section, half the books in the mystery and sci-fi sections, and a smattering of books from farther-flung shelves, all for free. We even got to take home some of the ones that didn’t sell, their covers torn off and returned to the publisher as “proof” that we destroyed them.

It was paradise. I had my favorite hidey-holes where paying customers wouldn’t disturb me. Self-Help was largely unvisited in our beach town2. I would read from 3pm-6pm (closing), then we’d swing past Round Table and grab dinner before heading home.

Over the years, they employed me from time to time (as did the amazing used bookstore across the way), but for the most part, my hours in that house were full of lazy page-turning and idleness. I loved it. There’s kind of a golden haze over that whole period in my life.

Toward the later years, when I was no longer an indulged child and had to actually buy the books I read, I came across a very expensive, very enticing novel3. It was in the mystery section, and, unlike some of the silly you-solve-it books that I loved that began that section4, it was in fact a novel. But it didn’t look like any novel I’d ever seen; text inside changed fonts, colors, directions. White space was used like crazy. It was huge: 9x6ish, with at least a thousand pages5. I wanted that book like mad. But $21 was well outside my budget. I re-shelved it, and vowed to remember it.

And I did. Mostly. Everything but the name. Okay, I forgot almost everything about it. But it haunted me. I described it to other bookstore employees, in that maddening-customer way (“you know, it’s big and black and… just weird”), tried to quiz my friends with similar reading tastes, even searched the blossoming internet for sign of it (but “big black and weird” leads you down an internet rabbit hole that will never lead to a simple novel).

Years later, I finally found a friend who remembered it, who loved it. She gave me the name; I diligently marked it down. But the pull had lessened over the years, and I didn’t seek it out.

More years later, I fell into a leadership role for an apocalyptic book group. While soliciting recommendations from group members, one hesitantly mentioned this book. “It’s not really apocalyptic,” he said. “But it kinda is.”

All this is to say: I finished “The House of Leaves” by Mark Z. Danielewski today. And I feel a little bit more mentally unstable for having done so. But dang, was it worth the wait.


1 Oddly enough, my most vivid memories from the island are book related as well. During Super Typhoon Kim, we had to abandon our house and run to the neighbors, during what we hoped was the eye of the storm (it was not6). I tucked a Judy Blume book securely under my shirt before the run, and was nearly unconsolable when I discovered the wind had whisked it away. I was only brought back from tears when the neighbors shared their stash of Garfield books. After the typhoon truly had passed, there was great adventure to be had and much work to be done. My job was laying out the wet books from our house, squeezing out the water, and thumbing through the pages as they dried to get them to not stick together. Our library, even after we moved back to California, smelled like wet books for years.

2 Self-Help was also where I first discovered sex7, which led me to a treasure hunt throughout the store, particularly to the western section8, and taught me to refine my ability to scan for naughty bits.


4 Ken Weber, Five-Minute Mysteries (Running Press, 1989)

5 709 pages.

6 During the run, my mom was physically lifted up by the wind, and blown into the neighbor’s banyan tree. She broke a couple ribs. I don’t remember this – but my sister assures me it happened. What I remember was my lost book. I was kind of a shitty kid.

7 Nancy Friday, My Secret Garden (Trident Press, 1973)

8 Wesley Ellis, Lone Star #35 (Jove, 1985); pp 52-56, 74-75, 112-114.

Trust No One

July 22, 2013

I’m in the middle of a massive crafting project, and as a result, I’m re-watching all of the X-Files on Amazon Prime. As one does.


I’m approaching season 3 now, and I’ve finally realized where that nagging “this is ridiculous” thought in the back of my head is coming from. At the end of season 1, in an episode that originally aired in 1994, government whistleblower Deep Throat dies, whispering “trust no one” to Scully. Well, duh.

The entire premise of the show is that the government lies to us. Sure, there’s aliens, but that’s an afterthought, or a metaphor, or whatever. The show is about government, truth, and lies. But in a post-Patriot Act world, none of what they’re telling us is shocking.

In 1994, Deep Throat was a tragic hero. In 2013, Edward Snowden is a traitor. Their motivations were the same, but the world that has happened in between has changed the context.


I don’t have a strong opinion on Snowden, unlike many, many people on the internets. I do, however, feel sorry for him. Let’s take his stated motivations at face value (ignoring any potential desire for 15 minutes of fame or an inflated sense of importance): he wanted the public to know just what was going on behind closed doors.

I think he made a few assumptions that did him in.
1) The public does not care. While this is a pendulum, and I’m sure any day now there will be something horrible that the government does that will make public opinion swing back the other way, right now we still seem to be living in the shadow of terror. We’re still more than willing to look the other way while you scan our nubile young bodies at airports, and pull us out of line just because our names have middle-eastern etymologies.
2) The public already knows. Seriously, man, this is not a surprise. Of course they’re spying on us. The technology exists, and the fear I referenced above makes it the government’s right, nay, duty, to use that technology. We might have not known the details, but there is nothing shocking about the idea.

In 1994, there were a slew of people who wanted to believe, and a growing certainty that our government was carrying on some dark shenanigans behind closed doors. I was right there with them, as a moody, outcast teenager. I watched X-Files religiously, and even looked into joining the FBI so I could be behind those doors, sneaking a look at those ominous secrets.

Since then, the doors have been pried open a few times and, aside from a few squawks mostly from conspiracy theory nutjobs and the far left, they closed again without anything much changing on the other side.

There have always been shadow organizations operating outside of and around the law, but they always had a fear of the daylight. They knew that if their assassination plans reached the public, there’d be a national debate and furor. I’m terrified, more by what Snowden’s case implies than by what he actually told us. I’m terrified because I don’t see people being enraged that they lost their right to privacy, all without much discussion on the matter. It just kinda happened, and we’re all like, yeah, that sucks, but what can you do? Terrorists, you know.

(Also, I wouldn’t use this to prove a point, since it could prove equally that the dark shenanigans are working as intended or that they are completely misguided, but I find it hilarious that more toddlers killed Americans than did terrorists this year.)

I’ll leave you with another epiphany I had while re-watching: Scully and Mulder have aged remarkably well. Rawr.

Postscript: If you speak Spanish, this is another interesting intersection of Snowden and the X-Files: this video discusses the alien secrets he released at the same time!

Practically Magical

August 14, 2011

Some days, I wonder why I love Practical Magic. Every other day of the year, I re-watch it and I wonder why anyone would fail to love it.

Yes, I am going to break my long blog silence by waxing lyrical about a Sandra Bullock movie. Suck it up, or look away now.

I watch this movie regularly, ever since it came it out. Which means I’ve probably seen it about a dozen times by now. And the little bastard still makes me cry, just about every dang time.

I used to blame it on my own strong relationship with my sisters, and my predilection for all things witchy and Halloweeny. Plus, Aidan Quinn. And Euro-Clooney. It’s hard to beat all that. Throw in Dianne Wiest, Stockard Channing, and a kick-ass nineties soundtrack, and yeah, of course it’s awesome.

Still, enough people have questioned my sanity on this (20% on Rotten Tomatoes; that’s lower than both Your Highness, SuckerPunchand every single one of the Final Destination movies) that I felt I had to examine my affection after watching it yet again tonight. I turned it on to fall asleep to… then it wouldn’t let me sleep.

I mean, come on. ——–>
Wait, what was I saying?

Oh yeah. So I deconstructed it. Not a feminist deconstruction, because that would probably make me a little ill, and pretty mad at myself for falling for it. Personal deconstruction, then, and plot deconstruction.

I took a closer look at the moments that whack me in the gut. It does, by the way, help if I’m really tired and a little bit emotionally unstable when I watch this movie. Invariably, these gut-punchers rotate around Sandra’s relationships. Her and Aidan’s first kiss. When he turns away, could it be forever? Oh, the pathos. A moment when she’s lying nose-to-nose with her sister, in tears. There are an awkwardly high number of those scenes in the movie, and yet they still get me.

What makes these moments satisfying? It’s not the writing. Or the direction. Or even the acting (I love you Sandra, but it’s not). It’s the completeness. The yin/yang of the circle coming together. Western lawman meets Eastern pagan woman. Sister of Chaos clasps hands with Sister of Order.

It’s a pretty darn satisfying plot device. It’s not the ‘unfinished chord’ that a certain awesome someone was talking about at RWA today, that lingering note that an author refuses to tie off simply in order to tantalize her audience. The story may not prey on your mind and captivate you (in fact, in this case, I can pretty much guarantee that it won’t), but it soothes. Like comfort food for the over-stimulated mind. Like eating a lunchables box for dinner, complete with the Caprisun Cooler. Apparently I needed soothing tonight.

I value the fact that I am a complete person, in and of myself. I’m kinda my own yin and yang; I used to describe myself as glitter lipgloss and steel-toe boots. I’ve always wanted another complete person as a partner; I never wanted anyone to ‘complete’ me. And I still don’t. I recognize real life from cunningly (if not expertly) crafted fiction.*

And yet, there are these tired, late night moments. It doesn’t help when I think about the wonderful couples around me. They all seem to be perfectly balanced complements to each other. Two of my best friends make a couple that I tend to refer to as the pocket vegans, or just ‘the girls,’ in a simple homogenizing way, even though they are actually as yin and yang as you get.

In the morning, these simplistic generalizations will be revealed for the complex realities they actually are. I’ll remember the fact that these couples share world outlooks and amazingly kind hearts, and other similarities that are much more important than their differences. But right now, I think I’ll go to sleep wondering about my yang.

Okay, that just sounds wrong. Strike that. Instead, I’ll leave on this lovely, Aidan-in-a-hammock-from-another-movie-I-hate-to-love note:

*totally, totally not talking about Hoffman’s book – just the movie.

Somewhere between Branson, Missouri and Hollywood, California

January 17, 2011

Yes, the last couple weeks have been lousy. I have not penned a single word, even in twitter. There have been tears. It’s just been icky, and stressful, for no reason (no reason that I choose to validate, anyway).

There, done with that. No more dwelling.

Except to say what the heck was up with the Golden Globes last night? Not that they caused tears; the opposite, in fact. I watched the first half hour or so, feeling more and more uncomfortable as Ricky Gervais kept sort of spewing bile, and the audience kept getting more and more grim.

I wouldn’t have minded his bile, if Hollywood could have sucked it up and still entertained. But they were wooden, cranky bastards last night. There was no spark anywhere. J Lo seemed to be the only professional there, but her fairly authentic laughter sounded bizarre in that place.

Eventually I scared the hell out of my roommate by shouting, “Insipid!” and turning off the TV. I still had 7 rows to go on my gloves, too. I swear, I used to enjoy those award shows. When did they become so joyless?

Or is it just me?

That’s not dwelling, I swear, just a question.

Speaking of awkward encounters, I was checking out my trip photos today and ran into this one, from the Precious Moments Park and Chapel near Branson, Missouri. That’s Stripes, my traveling companion, perched on top of the wee angel’s halo.

I had actually visited hoping to find a Precious Moments crucifix (can you imagine those doe eyes peeking out from under a crown of thorns? No luck; they are all about hope, not suffering) but I found the place simply awe-inspiring. Pretty much everything you would expect a Precious Moments Complex to be. There’s a tender, sweet story behind the company, and I think by mocking it I am going directly to hell, but… what the heck. I was probably on my way anyway.

The main event was a big choral show, with lights, and water fountains, and stirring music… with a person of diminutive stature starring as the main gospel singer. Seriously. They hired a small person to lead the show. Tell me that wasn’t purposeful. Thank goodness he wasn’t in tattered robes.

I took a handful of snapshots with Stripes, until I realized that it was earning me outright glares. I understand it was a Chapel, their Chapel, but I wasn’t belting, “Kiss me, Satan,” or tagging the murals. Stripes posed everywhere, from the National Cathedral in DC to the Forevertron in WI. And yes, I have put him on Jesus’ head for shots in several locations. It’s just an “I was here,” nothing sinister about it.

But o lord, it felt sinister. Even after I put the camera away I had little old retail clerk ladies shadowing me around the gift shop, quick to warn me that certain items were breakable and not to be ‘messed’ with. And I was in that odd, awkward position of having perfect actions, but intentions that were maybe not quite pure. It was like they saw through to the heart of me.

Very awkward. The second half of my visit I barely remember, since I was doing my best to clear my thoughts of any evilness. I stumbled out, loving it and hating myself.

Much as I imagine Ricky Gervais feels right now.

I’m sorry, sugar. You weren’t doing anything that wasn’t anticipated, or that others haven’t come close to before. You maybe went a wee bit over the line, yes, but f’ em if they can’t take a joke.

Also, did someone kick your puppy before you took the stage?

Comfort Movies

August 25, 2010

I’m not sure if I believe in comfort food. There is food that makes me nostalgic, or makes me feel young again, but it never truly comforts me.

I do believe in comfort movies. The movies that you play almost automatically when you’re really, truly sick as a dog; or when you just can’t face the world; or when a miscommunication over the apartment that you had a 6PM appointment to sign a lease on leaves you feeling a bit lost and untethered and lease-less.

My first comfort movie was Romancing the Stone. I could watch that one over and over. In fact I did, until the tape plain wore out. Luckily, subsequent roommates have since replaced it, knowing and marveling at the odd peace I discover watching Kathleen Turner slide hysterically down a muddy bank in Colombia.

Comfort movies are not static. While I still appreciate the jungles and crocodiles (“Look at those snappers, Ralph!”) of my youth, I moved on after a few years. To Tremors. Big gawdam monsters. Underground. I don’t even understand that one. But it always worked.

There’s nothing logical about comfort movies. They don’t necessarily remind you of your youth. They don’t necessarily make you laugh, though they may have once. They aren’t necessarily smart, stupid, well-made, cheery, gloomy, bizarre, or employing the most beautiful cast. They simply are.

I moved through Aladdin, Hudson Hawk, Speed, Serial Mom, Roman Holiday, and Secretary before discovering my current comfort movie. I have finally found Serenity.

Now this one kinda makes sense. I’m a Joss Whedon fan from way back (and come to think of it, he’s always been extravagantly comforting; we use to have Buffy & Phish Food parties, back when she was still gaga over Angel on the WB), and the idea of an outer space western is just so right, it can’t help but make you feel happy. And of course the writing is superior, the plot inventive, the characters supremely awesome… but all that don’t matter none.

It just is. Like Tremors, it is the right movie for the right time, and it will not be denied. Tomorrow it may be supplanted by Dumb and Dumberererer part 13, but today it is. Today, when I’ve cut my roots to the past and feel like I’m spinning off into the void, when ‘home’ is but a distant idea, when nothing but my trusty pickup Tach feels certain anymore, I’m reminded that they can’t take the sky from me.

Yes, I’m a nerd. A cozy, comforted nerd.

In a crumbling castle, high atop a lonely mountain…

December 6, 2009

The gauntlet has been thrown.

And though I know the battle is already lost, because my favorite video is… well, just really bad, I still have to answer the call. So here you  go:

I know, it’s silly. But it has everything!

1. Ghouls and monsters in a decrepit castle

2. Cute boys in fabulous outfits

3. The never-tiresome “My tour bus broke down at night in Transylvania” plot device

4. Sets that I want to live in

5. Lyrics containing the phrase “Backstreet’s back, all right!” on what, I believe, was their first album. That’s some impressive confidence there. It takes balls to humbly present an encore before you’ve even taken the stage.

6. Completely ridiculous hip-hop dance sequence with dancers wearing renaissance garb.

That last item is totally the reason I own “A Knight’s Tale” too. It has nothing to do with Heath Ledger, Rufus Sewell, or Paul Bettany.

Actually, it’s part of my collection of teen movies that feature a completely random “spontaneous” choreographed dance scene in them. The one in “She’s All That” is a personal favorite, though there’s no dearth of options. Somewhere along the line, someone decided that’s what the kids dig. Who am I to argue?