Jan 27 2016

Book Review: The Arrival by Shaun Tan

In a dark city, overshadowed by darkness, a man embraces his wife and daughter and then boards a steamship for another country, where he hopes to create a new life for his family. After going through a long process of immigration, he finds himself in a city he finds himself is bright and beautiful and strange.

Although he doesn’t understand the local language, he fumbles his way into a room for rent and then seeks employment. Along his journey into shaping a new life for himself and his family, he meets other people from other countries who have migrated to this city as well. Each has their own stories, their own reasons for leaving home and making a new life for themselves.

One of the amazing things about this book is how it tells a moving, heartfelt story entirely in images. There are no words, just gorgeous art. The art is softly penciled and sepia toned. It manages to be both realistic and fantastical at the same time, elaborately bringing to life a strange world that also feels familiar.

A beautiful book.

Art from The Arrival by Shaun Tan


Jan 26 2016

Season of the Crow

Last Friday, I witnessed a bit of magic in the form of poetry and music at the Octopus Literary Salon (which is fast becoming a favorite place of mine). Hosted Richard Loranger, the Crow Show featured an amazing array of diverse voices, including musical guest the Lake Lady Ukulele Project and poets Corrina Bain, Kelly Klein, Brennan DeFrisco, Tureeda Mikell, Annelyse Gelman, and Laura Jew. I took photos throughout the night, but they were on my phone and turned out horrible.)

It was a tough week last week and I almost opted out of the event. But I was able to rally my energy when Friday rolled around, and I was so grateful to have been able to be present that night. Some moments are perfect at the time in which they occur, something about the combined energy of the people in a room and the energy of the performers — which is difficult to describe to anyone else after the fact. All I can say is that it was a wonderful night and I highly recommend tracking down the work of each of these performers, if you can.

What I’m Reading

I’m still loving the short story collection Get in Trouble by Kelly Link. The most recent story I read, “The Lesson,” was a heartbreaking and beautiful tale about a gay married couple anxious about the health of the surrogate mother bearing their child. It’s also about a wedding, a strange tropical island, and wish making. It’s gorgeous.

What I’m Writing

Somehow I started working on a brand new story draft last week, rather than trying finish the almost-done story I meant to work on. Apparently I’m distractible. Although jumping into new and shiny things instead of finishing existing things has been a habit I’ve been trying to avoid. However, the new (-ish, because I had previously tossed out an old draft) story is geared toward a specific market with a specific deadline, so all will be hunky dory if I can stick to that deadline.

Meanwhile, the day job is somewhat overwhelming this week, leaving me little mental capacity to handle the two book reviews and two short stories I really should be working on. I’m trying not to beat myself up, if I find myself exhausted at the end of the day.

So, this week, I’m going to give myself a break on all that, with a gentle nudge to try to get some work done, but it’s okay if I don’t.

Goal for the Week:

  • Survive.

Linky Goodness

Daniel José Older with 12 Fundamentals Of Writing “The Other” (And The Self).

A loving tribute to Tori Amos’ Boys for Pele presented by Gina Abelkop.

Frida Kahlo on How Love Amplifies Beauty: I love Diego so much I cannot be an objective speculator of him or his life… I cannot speak of Diego as my husband because that term, when applied to him, is an absurdity. He never has been, nor will he ever be, anybody’s husband. I also cannot speak of him as my lover because to me, he transcends by far the domain of sex. And if I attempt to speak of him purely, as a soul, I shall only end up by painting my own emotions.

“I love it when you post pictures of yourself… They give me a little window into your life,” writes The Bell Jar in her post on selfies.


Jan 19 2016

Holding Patterns

I’m in a weird place for the beginning of the year. On the one hand, I feel excited about what this year can bring (provided I put the work in with the writing and such). I have short stories and poems and novels and ideas all in various stages of drafting and/or brainstorming (some might say too many of these things), all of which have me wanting to scratch at the page in a rapid fashion.

On the other hand, I feel like I’m in kind of a holding pattern. My day job is intense right now, with two giant projects looming over me and which are not allowing me much headspace beyond their enormity. I keep feeling like once they’re done, I’ll have energy to get back to it again. But I think the issue is more that I’m falling back into old habits and not carving out space to write no matter what.

It’s all solvable. The big projects will get done. In the meantime, I just need to make sure that I leave clear space for my own words on a regular basis.

What I’m Reading

The Ballad of Black Tom by by Victor LaValle, a novella about magic in Jazz Age New York. Charles Thomas Tester, a young man from Harlem, who gets mixed up in a deeper and darker magic than he’s prepared to handle. It’s interesting so far, well written and starting to get creepy.

I’m also reading the short story collection Get in Trouble by Kelly Link, who is one of my favorite short story writers. These stories so far are inventive, each playing with writing styles and tone, while sharing human experiences that glance at the supernatural and strange.

What I’m Writing

I’ve entered into a hectic period at my day job, which has me not wanting to look at computer ever again by the time I get home. That being said, I managed to edit and pull together a chapbook of poetry last week, which was sent out to two different publishers. Here’s hoping.

Somewhere along the way I also managed to throw down some outlines for new scenes that will go into my dark Sleeping Beauty-inspired story, “A Dream of This Life.”

In other news, I received my first rejection of the year. All par for the course.

Goals for the Week:

  • Edit  “A Dream of This Life” to completion.

Linky Goodness

Tasha Robinson talks about the Trinity Complex. She explains that while there has been a push for more strong and more complex female characters in movies, TV, video games, etc., many of these characters are hampered by the fact that they have nothing to do. (Discovered via Rhizomatic Ideas.)

The Night Witches were a band of an all-female squadron of bomber pilots who ran thousands of daring bombing raids during WWII, which is an awesome piece of history I didn’t know about.

Lise Quinta talks about the death of art and what it is we are really mourning when celebrities, like David Bowie and Alan Rickman, die.

Also, here’s a list of David Bowie’s 100 favorite books.


Jan 12 2016

Saying good bye to David Bowie

“The truth is of course is that there is no journey. We are arriving and departing all at the same time.” — David Bowie

I was going to write about my lovely weekend as part of my usual Monday update, which included a surprise visit from my amazing aunt and a walk among the redwoods, but right now my heart is all caught up in the world’s loss of an astounding artist and man. A lot of people have reached out and shared their tributes and feelings about this loss already, so I’m not going to repeat the same sentiments, when there are so many people who have done it better.

“Bowie provided us with a soundtrack for our alienation,” wrote Charlie Jane Anders in David Bowie Made The World a Safer Place for the Alien in Us All.

Emily Asher-Perrin describes Bowie as the The Patron Saint of Personal Truth. She writes, “We talk so much these days about how representation matters, and here’s some more anecdotal evidence to fuel the fire; I’m not sure I ever would have realized that I was queer if David Bowie didn’t exist.”

Buzzfeed also has a roundup of the ways People Are Mourning David Bowie On Twitter, which is both moving and humorous and heartbreaking.

For me, my awareness of Bowie was less through his music than through his film performances, most notably Labyrinth, which both dazzled and frightened me as a child, with Bowie as the goblin king being likewise both creepy and attractive. Along these lines, Peter Bradshaw has a nice piece on Bowie the film star: “Pop singers from Sinatra to Elvis to Madonna have dabbled in the movies, with varying results, but David Bowie always convinced his public that every role he accepted was an artistic decision and an artistic experiment, governed by his own idealism.”

I also want to point to a well rounded piece by Aida Manduley, in which she asks Time to Mourn or Call Out? She writes, “We should not simply dismiss David Bowie’s artistic legacy and the impact he had on many AND we should not dismiss the allegations of rape and the realities of how he had sex with a 14/15-year old when he was a powerful and revered adult.”

Prior to reading Manduley’s article, I had no idea that Bowie had been accused of rape, which adds another layer of disheartening to his loss. No one wants to believe their heroes are flawed, especially if those flaws are to the degree of something as awful as the accusation of rape. However, it’s important not to ignore the full picture of pop stars and actors and other famous individuals, which is why I’m including Manduley’s article here.


Jan 8 2016

Top Movies of 2015

Toward the end of the year, I didn’t seem to have much time for watching movies, but nevertheless there were some fabulous feature and short films that I’ve seen for the first time this year. As with my Top Reads, I’m organizing these based on categories.

Best Drama

Pariah (2011) is the story of a  17-year-old African American girl who hangs out at clubs with her openly lesbian friend Laura. Through the course of the film she begins to figure out her own identity. It’s a beautiful story of young love and family friction/love and the many ways a heart can be broken and healed.

Pariah-title-placard

Best Historical Picture

The Academy Award nominated film, Selma (2014), tells the story of Martin Luther King, Jr. and several civil rights activists’ peaceful march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in the face of violent opposition. The aim of the March was to achieve fair access to voting access for African Americans. It shows the many layers of effort from multiple groups that enabled this march to happen successfully. The directing, cinematography, and performances throughout the film are fantastic.

selma-bridge movie still

Runner-up: Belle (2014) is the story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, the daughter of a slave and Captain John Lindsay, a British career naval officer. As the captain must travel to earn his living, he leaves his daughter as a free woman in the care of his uncle, a high ranking judge of the U.K. courts. This beautiful movie reveals the conflicting nature of her position in which she is both loved by her family and an outcast in society.

Best Science Fiction Movie

A three way tie between The Martian (2015), Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), and Ex Machina (2015) — all vastly different films, all great for vastly different reasons.

The Martian, a story about a single astronaut accidentally stranded on the hostile surface of Mars, provides a combination of intense moments with humor. This is combined with beautiful images of the Martian surface, red deserts and plains stretching to the horizon. It’s gorgeous and moving and hilarious and wonderful.

martian-gallery5-gallery-image

What I loved about Star Wars: The Force Awakens was how it was able to capture that elated joy I felt when I was young, watching A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and The Last Jedi over and over and over again. This new iteration went straight to the heart of what makes Star Wars great with a new cast of young heroes ready to take up the fight.

star-wars-force-awakens-rey-bb8

Ex Machina, meanwhile, is a much quieter movie, centering around only a handful of characters. In it a young engineer is recruited by an genius entrepreneur to perform a Turing test on a humanoid AI robot, named Ava. The movie intelligently explores the nature of humanity and consciousness. Alicia Vikander is amazing as Ava, bringing a subtle alieness to the character, even when she seems to look entirely human.

EX-MACHINA-screenshot

Best Post-Apocalyptic Movie

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) is a gorgeously filmed vision of the post-apocalyptic world. Although, lets be honest, it’s pretty much a single long car chase sequence across the wasteland. It’s a spectacular spectacle with beautifully choreographed stunts and action sequences. Mad Max is just as hard core as he’s ever been, and he gets to fight along side some amazingly bad ass women, not only Imperator Furiosa, but all of despot’s escaping wives. It’s one-note, perhaps, but it’s brilliant. The wasteland never looked so good.

mad max fury road

Best Horror Movie

A tie between The Devil’s Backbone /El espinazo del diablo (2001) and It Follows (2014).

The Devil’s Backbone, directed by Guillermo del Toro, is set during the Spanish Civil War, during which a 12-year-old Carlos is sent to a boy’s orphanage that is full of secrets. The imagery haunts from the start, with the image of a giant unexploded bomb shown standing in the center of the orphanage courtyard. The movie provides a steady eerie feeling that builds into a surprising conclusion.

the devil's backbone unexploded_bomb

It Follows is intensely creepy. The concept of a sexually transmitted monster, which on the surface sounds ridiculous, is handled with brilliant skill. Every bit of lighting combined with camera angles and music builds a growing sense of anxiety about this creature that never stops pursuing its intended target. I loved how the characters used their friendship to positive effect. When the main character’s friends could neither see nor believe in the creature, they didn’t waste their time doubting her. Instead, they recognized that she needed help and did what they could to provide that help. It’s an incredibly well done movie and one that caused me a few anxiety dreams after watching it.

It Follows movie still

Best Animated Film

Le Gouffre (2015) is a beautiful short film in which two young men face a chasm and find an industrious way to try to cross it. Rendered in CGI animation, a beautiful story of friendship and community evolves in just 10 minutes. You can watch it here.

le gouffre

Best Foreign Film

Wadjda (2012) is the first movie to be entirely filmed in Saudi Arabia and is the first film directed by a female Saudi director. It’s the story of a spunky young girl, named Wadjda, who wants her own a bicycle, even though considered indecent for a girl to ride. In order to get the money for the bike she wants, she joins a competition for learning and reciting the Koran. This movie is charming and the little girl Waad Mohammed who plays the main character is wonderful. I hope to see more work by director Haifaa Al-Mansour in the future.

Wadjda still image

Runner-up: In Circumstance (2011), filmed in Iran, two young women the strict rules that circle their lives in Tehran, Iran. Along the way, they fall in love with each other. There’s a sense of danger present even as they feel the most free, the impression that they are always being watched and judged. A beautiful and stylish film.

Best Documentary

Okay, so technically I only watched one documentary in 2015, but it was a really good documentary. In The Red Chapel / Kim Jong-Il’s Comedy Club (2009), two Danish Korean comedians, along with their manager, travel to North Korea in order to perform for the country’s National Theater. The aim of the trip is to discreetly reveal the disturbing nature of this totalitarian dictatorship, while also subtly poking fun at the regime during the comedy sketch routine. However, their plan quickly falters as their routine picked apart and replaced by a performance that suites the party line. The documentary has its flaws, but it fascinating in the way it moves from being, at first, unsettling but slightly humorous to being somewhat terrifying.

the-red-chapel

Honorable Mention: Best Worst Movie

The Barbarians (1987) is awful on so many levels and takes cheesy fantasy to amazing heights. It features beefcake twins with more glossy, well oiled muscles than any one person should rightly have.  Together with a scantily clad thief, they track down a magical ruby and defeat and evil band of barbarians. The villain has a unicorn horn strapped to his head. One of the heroes brays like a donkey when he’s excited. The dragon looks like a giant erect penis with a deranged Alf head (I’m not even kidding). The Barbarians is bad. It’s so, so bad. But it’s glorious in how bad it is.

What movies have you watched and loved in 2015?