Tuesday, March 27, 2007

the good things about my bad day

  1. i did my taxes today and got nearly $600 back.
  2. i bought all the pretty horses and the master and the margarita at half price books. these fellows are bursting with potential (recommended by beth and a dostoevsky forum, respectively), so they should make great travel companions for my trip to belize, which reminds me: i'm leaving in less than a week!
  3. ranch dressing.
  4. other happier people.
by the way, i'll be in belize from march 31 to april 15. i may update my blog from belize, or i may relax and wait 'till i get home.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

ratings and foreign films

generally speaking, my film ratings (see the left hand panel) have a standard deviation (SD) somewhere in the neighborhood of 1. that is, if we were to imagine the scale on a visual plane, each rating would occupy a small range of space rather than a precise point. for example, i rated syriana a 13, but it's really more of a 12 to 14. this may seem entirely too subjective, but an SD of 1 is actually rather small. indeed, i'm suggesting that if you gathered 17 andrews on a movie review panel, they would independently arrive at ratings within the same two-point range.

i suppose this is something of an intuitive (or imaginary) science, and unfortunately, the SD of 1 isn't entirely uniform. sometimes i am charitable in my ratings and can't imagine a particular film moving in any direction but down (e.g., elf and snakes on a plane); sometimes i nail a rating and can't imagine the film moving at all (e.g., flight plan and v for vendetta); and sometimes i peg a film at the lower point of its range where it seems possible only to rise (e.g., searching for bobby fischer and the three burials of mequiades estrada).

if you're thinking that this two-paragraph digression is overkill, you may be right. however, i'm preparing to rate four foreign films, and i'm finding it difficult to fit them snugly in the scale. i'm finding that they may belong to that latter category of films which are assigned a rating that is at the lower end of their possible scope of ratings. here are the four films:

tsotsi (thug)
a 9 on the 17 point scale
#9 on christianity today's 2006 critic's choice awards
2005 academy award for best foreign language film

tsotsi has received a great deal of acclaim. it's certainly a redemptive film, but i felt that there were some significant gaps in character development and that the director telegraphed a few too many of his passes. moreover, like many foreign films, perhaps there was something lost in the translation--i strongly preferred the director's short film the storekeeper, which managed to tell a 20-minute story without a single subtitle (that is, there were no words).

le fils (the son)
an 11 on the 17 point scale
#7 on christianity today's 2003 top ten list
2002 cannes film festival best actor

l'enfant (the child)
a 12 on the 17 point scale
#2 on christianity today's 2006 critic's choice awards
2005 cannes film festival golden palm award

these films were directed by jean-pierre and luc dardenne, a pair of belgian brothers. when i watched the films, i didn't realize they were shot by the same directors, so i walked away from the films thinking, "gosh, these french [sic] films have a surprisingly similar style. apparently the french [sic] are the modern masters of cinematographic silence."

indeed, both films limit their dialogue to the bare essentials. instead, the camera is trained on on the actors as they awkwardly go about the business of life. much of the plot is spent watching the actors think, and this works rather effectively. it's a refreshing change of pace to see films that reject the fast-pace and visual effects of hollywood. however, the films also seem to take this measured pacing to an absurd end. it can be slow going, especially when the camera has us craning our necks to watch a driver from the back seat or when we must watch the most ridiculous moped chase in the history of cinema (although, i suppose that there aren't many big-screen moped chases).

sophie scholl: the final days
a 12 on the 17 point scale
#6 on christianity today's 2006 critic's choice awards
2005 academy award nominee for best foreign language film

this is an enlightening look at the german resistance to hitler's nazi empire. it's an interesting true story that features one of the most inspirational protagonists of the 21st century. the film is anchored by a tense intellectual debate between sophie scholl, the aforementioned heroine, and her nazi captor. i highly recommend the film to those interested in history and questions of right and wrong, however the film's cinematography style seemed rather juvenile. as i watched the film, it sometimes felt like a channel 9 special.

andrew david. "movies" greenwood, wa.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

film links, 300 review, and some anti-war spittle

i don't know that anyone ever follows my movie links (see the left panel), but if you do, you may occasionally wonder at my link selection. generally speaking, i choose my film links by googling the film title and a series of impressions or quirky thoughts that i had about the film. for example, if i were choosing a link for 300 i might type "300 stylized speedos infanticide." of course, i also thought that 300 was bloody and violent, but a search using these terms would return nearly every review of the film--i'm looking for something a little more interesting. i also like to see what jeffrey overstreet and his friends at christianitytoday say because they tend to present a thoughtfully christian perspective on films. then, as a last resort, i may link to imbd or wikipedia.

rating: 10 out of 17

in this case, i'm linking to overstreet's blog, but not because of anything he has to say--he didn't even see the movie. no, this is an instance where i'm more interested in the comments and heated debate that surround a film than the film itself. is 300 merely a violent blood bath that glorifies killing or is there some greater merit to snyder's epic battle film?

well, to the filmmaker's credit, the movie was beautifully shot. i'm not familiar with the cinematic terms for its style, but there was a certain artistry to the entire picture. and while bloody, the violence seemed more reminiscent of kill bill than the shocking realism of films like departed. there may also be some value in resurrecting ancient stories of honor and courage. indeed, as we were walking out of the majestic bay theater, our conversation jumped from 480 bc to 1942. it's odd, but that march 9th was a better personal commemoration of our soldiers' sacrifice than most memorial and veteran's days; i spent at least a minute considering the heroics of those WWII freedom-fighters.

however, i doubt that most movie-goers experienced this same sense of history.

moreover, as i reflect on 300 i wonder two things: (1) am i supposed to view this film as good versus evil? is it black and white or did snyder craft some ambiguity into the film? and (2) if there is room for grey, how evident is that to the average popcorn-munching onlooker? it may seem like the spartans are the good guys, but during the course of the film we see the "good guys" commit infanticide, raise their children in a spirit of blood-lust, and shuttle their good-looking girls into the sexual service of nasty old men. the main protagonist, otherwise portrayed as a noble and honorable king, barely hesitates before murdering an unarmed ambassador. in the context of the film, i'm not sure how (or if!) we're to interpret these moral slips; snyder plays the scenes straight, offering no prescriptive symbols to direct our interpretation. i suspect that the majority of viewers ignored the moral indiscretions of the spartans, but i also suspect that the rolling tape subconsciously aligned viewers with one of the following two camps: either (1) the spartans are clearly the good guys, and thus their way of life (including infanticide, murder, sexual enslavement) is somehow excused, or (2) the film is an indictment of sparta. in any case, i think i'd rather live in seattle.

300 is probably nothing more than stylized violence and slow-motion death blows, but perhap a more nuanced viewing can give us pause to consider the real-life grit of war. (errrrrrr....to clue in those of you who haven't seen the film, i've just rambled my way off the deep end; i'm now passing from that dangerous ground that literature snobs call reader-response criticism into something a bit more like personal essay.) it's not all guts and glory: war is ugly. the enemy straps bombs to children, and soldiers in iraq are forced to shoot little kids or risk being killed themselves.

like augustine, i believe in just war, but even just wars have a way of tarnishing men. take WWII for example. during a recent posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) lecture, i learned that
when allied forces liberated dachau, the soldiers took justice into their own hands and lined up and executed all of the german soldiers. and on their way to dachau, as soldiers advanced into nazi-occupied france they often heard scuttling noises in road-side buildings, and because they couldn't take the chance that the sounds might be germans, the GIs tossed grenades into the homes, often killing innocent french families.

my officemate, a PTSD researcher, tells me that in a government-sponsored survey of US vietnam combat veterans, 28% of respondents admitted to killing civilians. i'd prefer that number to be zero. and so i suppose that if we sense that there's something awry with those spartans, perhaps there's some goodness to 300. but if not, well, perhaps that's okay too.

Monday, March 19, 2007

when getting in the head of a female...

i've had a lot of people ask me whether yesterday's post really happened (well, more than one person, anyway). and, yes, it did. i invented the old lady, urns, and pink slippers, but the basic storyline was conceived in the brick and mortar of the real world.

if time grew on trees (like money, leaves, and squirrels), it might be interesting to see whether my future elaborations of whitney's story got closer and closer to the truth or whether they drifted off in an entirely new direction, an entirely different kind of truth. i'm not sure which would be best, but either way, i still think that i'd struggle with writing as a female narrator. however, my brief encounter with SPU's writer types may have offered some encouragment (should i ever choose this unusual path) and affirmed my earlier writing strategy.

one afternoon, as the MFA students salt-and-peppered the room with their writerly epiphanies, mark explained that he'd had a breakthrough in writing his female character. he'd struggled for months trying to make her seem more natural: he'd made her obsessed with alcohol, sex, and sewing fabrics*, but nothing seemed to work. then one day he tried something counterintuitive: he decided to write her as himself, as mark the lumbering tall guy, just without the lumbering tall guy part. and it worked!

then, during an art and faith lecture, the MFAers tossed about martin buber's idea of writing as the other. they discussed the interconnected mirror-like relationship between the self and other seemingly foreign characters. now, all of a sudden, i'm starting to feel like a writer--i broached that very issue several posts ago! weird....

andrew david. "writer's block" greenwood, wa.

*i can't remember the third item that mark named, so i made this one up. it was definitely something less unisex than beer and sex. something like sewing fabrics.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

the crime

as you can probably tell, i didn't get a chance to craft that short story that i'd been planning (and also mentioned here) before i left to visit the SPU MFA students at camp casey, and now that i've been humbled by their brilliance, i'm afraid that the best i can do for this first-person narrative is a basic plot outline:

the main character starts by nervously introducing herself as whitney, a nordic do-gooder with rather central american tastes. we get the sense that she doesn't really want to be here, narrating her story to a thousand invisible cyberfaces.

(although, i'm not really sure how this hesitation would be communicated to readers; after all, unless she breaks the illusion that this is a story and directly addresses the crowd, how are we to know that this whitney is uncomfortable in the spotlight. still, it's a necessary bit of foreshadowing, so a solution must be found.)

she then sets the scene in the cosmetic aisle of the community drug store. a wild looking man in a trench coat and fuzzy pink slippers approaches her and asks for shopping tips. he speaks out of the side of his mouth and smells like alcohol. he seems desperate. the elderly woman who was camped out at the table of free estee lauder samples flees, but whitney considers the alarm bells in her head and can't help but assist the man as he shops for his two girlfriends. if i weren't so clueless about cosmetics, i might mention all of the product types that he tosses in his cart, but perhaps it's sufficient to mention that whitney is surprised by the breadth and volume of the man's generosity.

the story climaxes a few minutes later as whitney finishes her shopping and joins the man in line. his lips twitch as he approaches the clerk and announces, "that this is a robbery."

sure enough, the man appears to have a gun or a convincing ketchup bottle in the left front pocket of his scrappy corduroys. as whitney tells the tale, she spreads the tension on thick. thoughts of violence fill her mind. she peels her attention away from the man and the emptying till long enough observe other customers: a nine-year old tugging insistently at his mother's jeans and estee lauder lady peeking from behind a stack of holiday urns.

and then the man is gone and the police arrive. she then learns that some of the employees think that whitney is an accomplice. at this point, my notion of the story grows cloudy. if i'm writing creative nonfiction, she tells her story to the officer, runs through the store to repurchase her goods (the man took them with his perfume), and has trouble sleeping the next night. if i'm a fiction writer, she is arrested for the man's crime. or better yet, perhaps it's all a rouse and she turns out to be a real-life accomplice.

well, i suppose it doesn't matter much: there is no story, just an outline.

but there is an afterword!)

espn. "andrew's bracket as of sunday night."

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

march madness (1) and a clarification (2)

1. here's the st. louis region of my march madness bracket. i haven't watched much college ball this year, so it would be a miracle if i nailed many of these games. but not according to the newspaper industry--i was browsing a forum of angry newspaper editors this afternoon, and those crotchety red inksters insisted that there is no room for miracles in the media. writers, get your religious beliefs out of our stories, they cried. this seemed rather excessive to me. i appreciate that a journalist's duty is to report the news and not reflect on it (that's what the quasi-anchors and pundits do), and perhaps we over-use the term in colloquial speech, but as one poster suggested, miracles have been around since chaucer, why should they stop now?

(despite the presence of a few upsets, the closest thing to a miracle in my bracket is the prospective advancement of UNLV into the sweet sixteen.)

2. i hope yesterday's post wasn't misleading. i started the post by describing authorial out-of-body experiences in which writers swap the self for the other and then i concluded with a subtle variation on that idea: rather than dwelling within another soul, my next step is to sample others' experiences and make them my own. thus you won't find me speaking in an unfamiliar dialect or complaining about cramps. i'll still be expressing some sense of myself, but i'll be using new avenues for this exploration. that is, if i follow through and actually write something....

the something that i wrote

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

preamble to the crime

this weekend i'm volunteering as a gopher (as in "andrew, go for a...") for SPU's MFA in creative writing. during that time i'll shake hands with budding writers and published authors, men and women who know how to spin a good yarn. i'm a little nervous that someone might ask, "and what about you, andrew, what do you write?"

"oh, i blog." it doesn't sound so glamorous, perhaps even a bit foolish.

therefore, i've decided to use this post the post that follows this preamble as a shield against potential writerly skepticism. i'm going to attempt something beyond my means, a device that leaps several yards beyond the imaginative writing course of my college days. yes, i'm going to pretend to be a writer.

you see, writers make a living by being strange. fiction writers invent surreal plots that push around characters so wild and varied that they seem almost life-like. poets fall to their knees in a wet pile of brush, scrounge about for an ordinary looking rock, and then breathe fire into the carbonate core of that common stone, eliciting truths from the ordinary. but they get weirder still. writers are masters of the out-of-body experience. they jump from the self to the other, and leave little trace of what was.

in she's come undone, for example, wally lamb, a rather trim fellow in his fifties, somehow constructs a first-person bildungsroman of a troubled obese girl. there is no trace of testosterone in this book. indeed, lamb's protagonist annoyed me with her ceaseless obsessing and poor decision-making (which is one of the reasons for my rather medium rating of 09 for this novel), but it all struck me as real.

and that is the magic of gifted writers, a magic that i have yet to attempt. so, if the writing muses smile upon my little blog, i will use a future post to brave the dark forest of narration and step boldly out from my own experience. wish me luck!

a clarification about the future post
the future post

andrew david. "the wicked endophenotyper smiles happily at his diabolical research plan." vapshcs, seattle, wa.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

crazy weekend, boring post

i haven't posted a weekend wrap-up in a long time, but today the bliss must end. over the course of the weekend, i completed the following activities

  • watched 300 with sean, rebecca, mark, and golden boy
  • sat in a bar and quizzed tavia, brook, veronica, and devon about whitney, the birthday girl
  • played pull tabs
  • tossed a bowling ball in the general direction of some pins
  • kicked a soccer ball with mark
  • ran to the carkeek park beach (6m) as part of my training for the marathon in which i probably won't run
  • competed in the st. patrick's day dash (5k)
  • at broccoli with my breakfast
  • biked to beth's in sandals and pajamas
  • rehearsed mari's arrangement of "chicago!" with my fellow bandmates (we haven't yet discussed an offical moniker)
  • climbed on my roof in a failed attempt to break into our house
  • hired a locksmith to perform the aforementioned break-in
however, i did not complete the following:
  • pay my taxes
  • watch tsotsi, the son, or babetta's feast
  • update the movies on my blog
and that's all i have to say for now.

andrew david. "as i prepared for the next shot, an ooze monster jumped out of the hazardous waste bin and mauled me" seattle VAPSHCS, wa.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

a pretext to an ash wednesday observation 2

"hi, i'm andrew, and i'm an aholic. (see this post for the first part of the story.)"

"hi, andrew."

"i suppose that means that i'm an all-around addict. for instance, steve told me about mike sando's seahawks blog, and i've spent most of my evening reading about the grant (wistrom) release and (deon grant) signing. you've probably noticed that i'm addicted to blogging, and i also tend to grow enamored with particular topics. catholicism is one of those topics. however, my first catholic mass occurred years before the birth of my catholicism obsession. i hadn't yet puzzled over an alberto ferreiro christian history quiz or posted provocative questions on a catholic answers forum. and i certainly wasn't catholic. thus it was with great trepidation that one sunday i found myself in a communion line, approaching a real-life catholic priest.

"in protestant churches, communion is nearly always a serious affair, but there is often a subdued hint of celebration. here, everyone seemed downright stoic. i understood the mood, but i was rather worried about that sober-looking priest. as each congregant received the elements, they performed some kind of a ritual with their hands and then mumbled conspiratorially with the cleric. i hoped they weren't speaking latin. there was no way that i would pull this off.

"for a moment i thought of the last supper. it was as if i was one of christ's oft-confused apostles: nudge, nudge. hey, peter. peter! what's he mean with this 'take and eat my body crap'? he's so bloody morbid. i just don't get it. but that's as close as i got to jerusalem. instead of forgiveness and community, i was wondering how the grim-faced padre was going to handle my insubordination when i failed to dip the wafer at the proper angle. this could turn ugly fast.

"peter (my good high school buddy, not the simon peter, rock of christianity) was now standing with the priest at the altar. that meant i was next. i bowed my head, and prayed 'lord, help me do this right.'

"the heavens chuckled and the priest beckoned me with his eyes. sharp, searching eyes, peering into my soul, scanning my contents for a date of confirmation, confession, anything to identify me as a true believer. i stood still, hoping that the priest would make the first move, kindly offer me some bread and wine. (andrew, what a great surprise! here's a wafer and some juice, take these in memory of christ's death for you.) the second dragged mercilessly into two seconds, and then three. he seemed to be waiting, but i was frozen with indecision. suddenly, my body spasmed into action. i may have cupped my hands, i may have made the sign of a cross, i may have flagged down a wayward aircraft, it's rather unclear. as my body performed this mysterious communion jig, i stared at the priest, channeling silent pleas into his brain.

"and then he frowned. it was only a subtle downward settling of the lips, but i knew that the church was about to erupt into a chorus of fire and brimstone. and then pitch forks, stones, and fiery stakes. i was a goner.

"but the priest spared me the death knell. he handed me the wafer, i drank the wine, and the morning's trauma was complete. i escaped saint joseph's but i'm still haunted by a sense of paranoia whenever i attend a catholic mass. i'm older and wiser, and i now know that protestants aren't welcome in the communion line. while this may mean that i can safely wait in my seat during the eucharist, it also accentuates my sense that i'm an impostor. i walk into a cathedral and think, 'hey, everybody, i'm not catholic, look at me!' "

andrew david. "radical dizziness, an unmentioned symptom of non-catholics who take catholic communion" seattle, wa.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

a pat on my back

tonight i was sean (i.e., i was an offensive juggernaut). during our pregame soccer warm-ups, rebecca reported that sean was at home on the couch; the flu had transformed him into a miserable blob of snot. and after that chat, i knew that i had to serve honorably as his replacement; i had to let his legacy shine. and how better to remember sean then to score a goal? so i did (my first ever, i should add). and then i had an assist for our second goal of the night. whooohooo! unfortunately, the opposing team mounted a comeback during the second half, and we only managed a 2-2 tie, but there's still an itsy-bitsy chance that a tie will be enough to propel the WE PLAY BETTER ON GRASS into the title game.


father of the s.o. "look out. here come the crazies." ocean shores, washington.

Monday, March 05, 2007

a pretext to an ash wednesday observation

"hi, i'm andrew, and i'm a thriftaholic."

"hi, andrew."

"i suppose that it all started with the synthetic wallet that i received in junior high. that wallet was my little maroon buddy. i liked to give him gifts: especially dual-toned pictures of pyramids and dead presidents. and i really hated to take back those hard-won bills; an empty wallet is a sad wallet. perhaps this thriftiness was the twenty-first century incarnation of that great protestant work ethic; perhaps it was inspired by my real-life buddy, evan pence; or perhaps i even inherited my mom's common sense (she'd be surprised to hear that!), but whatever the case, the net result of this spartan spending was that i never embraced activities that require a large monetary investment. for example, i see plenty of movies but shrink at the prospect of movie popcorn; i shun golf; and i've never been skiing or snowboarding.

"the closest i've come to skiing is an occasional inner tube run, a nearby hike, and a pair of weekends at the schweitzer ski lodge. and there was no snow at the lodge--it was summer. thus, instead of hurtling down the mountain on a fiberglass deathtrap, i swam in the pool, read ray bradbury's fahrenheit 451, and attended my first catholic mass.

"saint joseph's was a rather typical small-town church, but my experience there was hardly typical. i followed my friend peter and his family into a pew in the back and readied myself for worship. the order of service was tough to follow, but peter seemed to have a handle on the affair, so when peter kneeled, i kneeled. peter turned to page 232 in his colorful book of sayings, i turned to page 232. andrew, the human mirror.

"and then came eucharist. i'm still surprised that peter never told me. during the course of our friendship, we'd had plenty of religious debates; you'd think that he'd have mentioned that nazarenes don't take catholic eucharist. or perhaps he might have motioned me back to the pew when i followed him into the receiving line, 'there, there, andrew. stay in your seat like a good protestant.'

"as our line edged forward, i risked a peek beyond peter and tried to observe the proper protocol. before the priest offered congregants the bread and wine, he paused as they made some kind of motion with their hands. but their backs were to me, and i could only see a brief flash of fingers. i started to panic. my mind was calculating the distance from the communion line to the exits: about fifteen paces. perhaps they were making the sign of the cross, i thought. but is it left to right? or maybe it's backward, like reading hebrew. do you look the priest in the eye?"

"well, it looks like time's up for tonight, andrew."

"oh, sorry. to be continued...."

Thursday, March 01, 2007

my twilight innings blurb

Twilight Innings by Robert A. Fink
The poet Robert A. Fink begins his first collection of personal essays as a bloody mess. Somewhere on the back roads of his beloved west Texan prairies, Fink’s marathon training is punctuated by a nasty fall. "I'm pathetic," he says. "I suddenly feel as if I'm in a commercial for incontinent older adults." Never mind that at 57, Fink’s 8-minute mile is still faster than most twenty-somethings’. His comic humility is what makes readers at home in Fink’s stories; we cozy up beside him in his favorite seat, four rows back from home plate, and enjoy the view. As one might suspect, Fink sometimes uses baseball as a unifying theme for his essays, but Twilight Innings is hardly an anthology of fresh-cut grass and blooper anecdotes. As the poet-professor slips back and forth between the pitcher’s mound and his university classroom, he also shares stories of suffering: a master sergeant trembles in a dark corner somewhere in Vietnam, two of his friends struggle with terminal cancer, 141 women jump from the 8th floor windows of a shirtwaist factory. There is a long winter of pain in Fink’s twenty-four essays, but they still manage to communicate hope and healing, preserving a sense of humor and hard-won wisdom.

Look for Robert Fink’s essay, “Pilgrims,” in the upcoming issue of Image, issue #53.

To buy Twilight Innings, click here.

that was from my blurb in imageupdate. if i had the space, energy, and creativity i would have also mentioned that fink's collection includes a telling story called "the schizophrenic creative writing teacher." the narrative describes fink's two-faced existence as an english prof: he is both drill sergeant and consoling counselor (a skill that he must pick up from his wife, who we later learn happens to be a "counselor of the year"). (incidentally, i question fink's use of schizophrenic. what he really means is multiple personality disorderish, but unfortunately, dictionaries still include "a state characterized by the coexistence of contradictory or incompatible elements." isn't that a little like saying gay to mean lame...errrr...that is, to mean bad?) but in my opinion, this essay is a microcosm of the entire collection. during the course of his personal essays, we also learn that fink is both sensitive poet and manly-man athlete. he volunteers for extra duty in vietnam and cowers during high school reunions. he really is a multiple personality disorder poet.

one reader asked me if i had any criticisms of twilight innings. i rather enjoyed the book and wish that i'd spaced the material out over more than a weekend. still, i wondered at the inclusion of an occasional essay or two that wandered away from narrative and into reflection. i also found it difficult to tease meaning out of some of the stories, but i suppose that's okay.

the reader also asked why there aren't bylines on the blurbs. his hypothesis was that because image is a christian journal they somehow find it self-serving or unchristian to credit authors directly. interesting idea, but i think that's socialism, not christianity! still, he could be right; i'm not sure why imageupdate doesn't include bylines. (perhaps because imageupdate is, after all, a newsletter not a journal.)