Another Gripping Insight Into My Work Life

Hard as it may be to believe, I figure many of you faithful readers of the Whatever don’t go out of your way to purchase the Official US PlayStation Magazine — and why not? You have something against good, clean video gaming fun? Well? — and may not see the DVD reviews I place within its pages every month. So in the interest in sharing my world with you, I’m displaying a typical OPM DVD column for you to peruse. These are the ones that appeared in the March 2003 issue (which means it went on sale in February), on account of my deal with OPM gives them a 90-day exclusive on the material, so these are now over 90 days old. Everyone’s happy. Anyway, so here’s how I make a little scratch each month.

Four Feathers
(Heath Ledger, Kate Hudson)

Here’s an interesting curiosity: A film celebrating the British Empire, featuring Heath Ledger from Australia (where the Brits shipped all their nastiest convicts), Kate Hudson from America (which the Brits taxed without representation) and directed by Shekhar Kapur from India (which the Brits ruled for centuries through the cunning use of flags). No wonder it doesn’t quite work. Still and all, it has some good action scenes, and Hudson and Ledger are easy on the eyes, so if you’re in the mood for a Kipling-esque wallow in the Victorian Imperialism (and who among us isn’t?), here you go. No DVD extras announced at press time.
Movie Rating: Two and a Half Stars
DVD Extras: N/A

Formula 51
(Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Carlyle)

Samuel L. Jackson stars in this action film as a kilt-wearing chemist, proving that he is in fact the coolest man in all filmdom, since any other action star trying to walk around an entire film as a scientist in a tartan skirt (even one who’s synthesized a legal drug that gives you a super high, as he does here) would probably be beaten to death by the film’s anguished financiers. The film itself is mish-mashed squidge-up of elements from Trainspotting, Pulp Fiction and their various rip-offs, so if you like that sort of thing, you’ll be entertained, and if not, well, Jackson’s kilt will probably have scared you off already. Extras: A “making of” feature.
Movie Rating: Two and a Half Stars
DVD Extras: Two Stars

Knockaround Guys
(Vin Diesel, Barry Pepper)

This long-delayed flick crawled out of the woodwork after Vin Diesel became the Next Big Thing (or, at the very least, the Next Large Thing. I mean, look at him). Pre-stardom films released post-stardom are often embarrassing moments for everyone involved — they reek of the “I needed the work” vibe — but not this one. It’s a smartly done mob caper-slash-coming of age story, and features a nicely high-powered cast including John Malkovich and Dennis Hopper (Diesel isn’t even the main character — that role belongs to Barry Pepper, as a mobster’s conflicted son). Catch it and be pleasantly surprised. Extras: Commentary track, deleted scenes and the complete screenplay.
Movie Rating: Three and a Half Stars
DVD Extras: Three and a Half Stars

My Big Fat Greek Wedding
(Nia Vardalos, John Corbett)

It cost something like $5 million to make and grossed something like $230 million dollars in the theaters, which makes this film the closest anyone in Hollywood ever got to totally free money. The story is standard-issue sitcom odd-couple love story, this time with a daffy Greek woman and a WASP-y guy, but it’s pretty funny and you can watch it with your grandma, and both of you can enjoy it. And, really, there’s something nice about the fact that the most successful romantic comedy of all time stars a woman (Nia Vardalos, who also wrote the script) who doesn’t look like she’s equal parts silicone, collagen and starvation. Vardalos, co-star John Corbett and director Joel Zwick add a commentary track.
Movie Rating: Four Stars
DVD Extras: Two and a Half Stars

One Hour Photo
(Robin Williams, Connie Nielsen)

It’s Robin Williams continuing his penance for one too many Patch Adams-type flicks, this time by playing a quiet, mousy photo developer who becomes unhealthily attached to a seemingly-perfect family whose film he processes, and then takes it personally when cracks start to show in the family fašade. Williams is cool and creepy here, playing the role of the “quiet guy who keeps to himself” to obsessive, clammy perfection; if nothing else, this is the film that finally convinces you to go out and get that digital camera. Williams and director Mark Romanek add their commentary to the DVD, which also includes the usual “making” feature and a Charlie Rose interview.
Movie Rating: Four Stars
DVD Extras: Three Stars

Road to Perdition
(Tom Hanks, Paul Newman)

So Tom Hanks is a bad guy in this elegiac tone poem to depression-era gangsterism, and to the sins of fathers visited on sons (both metaphorically and literally in the case of this film). While you’re watching Hanks go through his paces, you admire his commitment to his craft, the handsomeness of the production, and the gravity of the proceedings. You also realize that Tom Hanks as a bad man doesn’t really fly — Hanks is the modern-day version of Jimmy Stewart, and no one bought him as a bad guy, either. You accept it on the premise that actors have to do something new every once in a while or be bored silly, and you tick off the minutes until it’s done and he can get back to doing his usual thing.

To be fair, Hanks’ performance is good, but Hanks never really lets go like he needs to; even at his baddest here there’s something held in reserve — something that Hanks himself probably wasn’t aware he was holding in. Contrast this performance with Denzel Washington’s luxurious wallow in badness in Training Day: Washington’s performance had teeth, while Hanks’ performance has a pained scowl. A close miss, but at least it’s an interesting miss, and it’s helped along by an ace in the hole: Paul Newman, who plays Hanks’ adoptive father and crime “godfather” — a situation with exactly as much potential for pathos as you might expect. On the extras front, director Sam Mendes offers commentary and deleted scenes with commentary; there’s also a “making of” feature and a photo gallery.
Movie Rating: Three and a Half Stars
DVD Extras: Three Stars

Rules of Attraction
(James Van Der Beek, Shannyn Sossamon)

Let’s make this really simple: If you really want to watch a film of college students acting like angry, hopped-up lower primates, go rent of those videos where they basically post a camera in the French Quarter at Mardi Gras and let people flash the lens at they stumble by. It will have somewhat more plot than Rules of Attraction (which, to be fair, makes slightly more sense than the hopelessly rank Bret Easton Ellis novel upon which it is based), and the characters will be more sympathetic, even as they flash each other for beads and vomit on the sidewalk. No DVD Extras.
Movie Rating: One half star
DVD Extras: N/A

Spy Kids 2
(Antonio Banderas, Carla Guigino)

More pint-sized James Bond-y action with a Latino twist from director-writer-editor-composer-probably-would-handle-craft-service-if-they-let-him Robert Rodriguez. Lots of people find these movies tiring — Rodriguez is immensely creative in a showoff-y way that can grate after about a half hour, and the kid stars of these things aren’t, like, good actors, but when you consider that the average live-action kid-oriented film stinks like a dead rat fresh from a Newark sewer, I’m willing to cut the man a little slack for making the effort not to be boring. Plus, it has Ricardo Montalban! All together, now: “KHAAAAAAAAN!!!!!” Lots of extras, including commentary, stunt and gadget featurettes, music videos, deleted scenes and so on.
Movie Rating: Three and Half Stars
DVD Extras: Three and Half Stars

Sweet Home Alabama
(Reese Witherspoon, Patrick Dempsey)

Sure, we think of that winsome little Reese Witherspoon as just the bee’s knees, but consider that in Sweet, she plays a woman who is all cozy with one man (who proposes to her at Tiffany’s, for crying out loud) but still secretly married to another. Yes, Reese Witherspoon: Wanton, unapologetic adulterer! And yet, people weren’t shocked — they thought it was cute. So, to recap: Probably the most depraved representation of decent sexual relationships in a Disney film since, oh, Pretty Woman (Julia Roberts! A hooker!). Like that will stop you from getting this for your mom. You’re all sick. Extras include director commentary, deleted scenes with commentary, a music video and an alternate ending.
Movie Rating: Three and a Half Stars
DVD Extras: Three Stars

The Tuxedo
(Jackie Chan, Jennifer Love Hewitt)

Jackie Chan as Inspector Gadget, and really, why would anyone in their right mind want that? For the film, Chan dons a spy tuxedo that’s all filled with special effects, but the whole point of a Jackie Chan film is that he is the special effect in itself (yes, I know, he’s getting up there in age. He’s still more flexible than you or me). Also, the plot, involving water striders infecting the world’s water supply, is beyond stupid. I still like watching Chan (he’s always amusing) someone needs to mention to Chan that Hollywood apparently thinks all his fans are idiots. At least there’s the blooper reel to look forward to, as well as deleted scenes and a “making of” documentary.
Movie Rating: Two Stars
DVD Extras: Two and a half Stars

Arty Spooky Athena

One of the most frequent notes I get in e-mail is to the effect of “it’s very nice that you prattle on endlessly about trivial things. But, you know, we’re just here for the pictures of Athena.” Fine, then. Have it your way. Your first picture of the day, hand-colored by Athena herself — yes, she can handle Photoshop. Yes, it scares me too:

The second is kind of a spooky one; I call this my “Sixth Sense” picture of Athena, in that you can just see her saying “I see dead people” in it:

Okay, that’s all you get for today. Now read something of mine. And be thankful.

Oh, Grow Up

A new study from my alma mater the University of Chicago suggests that most of us think that someone doesn’t really get grown-up until around the age of 26:

“According to those surveyed, the average age someone should marry was 25.7, and the age for having children was 26.2. Most respondents considered parenthood the final milestone needed to reach true adulthood… Nearly 1,400 of those surveyed last year were asked to answer the questions about adulthood.

They were asked to rate the importance of seven stages of transition into adulthood – from attaining financial independence to getting married and having children. They also were asked to specify the ages at which those stages should be achieved.

For categories other than marriage and having children, the average ages were: financially independent, age 20.9; not living with parents, age 21.2; full-time employment, age 21.2; finishing school, age 22.3; and being able to support a family, age 24.5.” — Associated Press

This survey pretty much codifies something that’s been my own personal opinion, which is that being a “kid” pretty much lasts these days until you’re about 25 — which is, you can screw around (or screw up) any time before that age and not really have it count against you in the court of general opinion (opposed to say, a court of law, so you still can’t drink and drive). Try it for yourself: Which is worse — a 24-year-old slacker, or a 28-year-old one? Easily, the 28-year-old. The 24-year-old one slides by on the “well, he’s still got time” thing, but when you look at a 28-year-old farting around, the feeling is “clock’s ticking, dude.”

I also think there’s a psychological edge to the 25th year, in that if you wanted to be considered much of a prodigy in anything, you had to get it done before the age of 25. By the time I was 25, I was a nationally syndicated film critic and humor columnist, which made me feel pretty good about myself (and the movie reviews, at least, were pretty good), but I hadn’t written the Great American Novel, which was something I figured I’d have done by then. Which is not to say I hadn’t tried. I’ve got a couple of attempts hidden in my files. You don’t want to see them. The one thing I can note is that they’re very short, because it became clear within about ten pages that I had no clue what I was doing. Now it looks like my first novel will be published just short of my 35th birthday, and I’m good with that. I’m not a novel prodigy, and it’s not the Great American Novel. But it’s a Pretty Good American Science Fiction Novel, and now I feel like I have a clue. So it’s worked out pretty well. Anyway, once you get over 25, you worry less about doing things on a timetable and worry more about doing them well.

Personally, I felt reasonably adult when I was 26 — I’d just got married, and had been working and supporting myself for a few years by then — but the first time I felt irrevocably grown up was shortly after I got laid off by AOL in 1998. Krissy and I had been just about to make an offer on a house when I got whacked, and we had to make the choice between retreating, grabbing a less expensive apartment and waiting until I had a certain and stable income before we got a house, or deciding to take a leap of faith, buy a house and assume that we’d make it work. We took the leap of faith, and as Robert Frost once said about a similar situation, it made all the difference. I’ve never had reason to believe I was anything less than a grown-up since then, even when I’m playing video games. And as I said, it’s not like I didn’t feel like a grown-up before then. It was just the crystallizing moment that showed where my brain was (for the record, I think Krissy was all grown up at least a couple of years before me, a mildly embarrassing fact because she’s a year younger than I am. But let’s not get into that now).

I’m nt a professional sociologist, but I don’t think there’s much of a downside of people having an extended adolescence. Yes, it leads to more time for people to make asses for themselves, as amply shown by the explosion of Girls Gone Wild videos, but the whole point of being young is to get most of the “I’m Making an Ass of Myself” energy out of your system, so that when you finally slide into true adulthood you can focus on the pleasures and responsibilities of being all grown up without the additional urge to make an ass of yourself later (a process known as the “Mid-Life Crisis”). If the end result of six spring breaks in Cancun and Daytona Beach instead of two is that you say that’s something I don’t need to do again after the last one, then by all means, have six spring breaks. When you hit 43 without freaking out and breaking up your marriage to (take your pick) date a 21-year-old Hooters waitress or fondle the hot young assistant gardener, your spouse and your children will thank you. Be young, have fun, and then go on. It’s nice when it works that way. And it takes a little bit longer, it’s probably worth the investment.

Just, you know, not too long. Remember: 24-year-old slacker — okay. 28-year-old slacker — tick tick tick tick tick tick tick, baby.

Exact Dates

“Liviu Mircea and Tiberiu Oproiu claim to have pinpointed the exact time and date of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection.

The pair, from the Astronomic Observatory Institute in Cluj, Romania, say Jesus died at 3pm on Friday, April 3, 33 AD, and rose again at 4am on Sunday, April 5.” — Astronomers ‘pinpoint time and date of crucifixion and resurrection’, Avanova, 5/8/2003

Yeah — but in which time zone?

There’s also the matter that this would make Jesus a bit older than his traditional death age, since it’s generally historically accepted that, despite the labeling of “B.C.” and “A.D.,” Jesus was not born in 1 AD (or even 1 BC — there is no “zero year”), but probably in 4 BC. Jesus is legendarily 33 when he died, but this new calculation would make him 37 or thereabouts. So there goes that “By the time Jesus was my age, he was dead,” joke I was so looking forward to telling on Saturday (which is my 34th birthday, you know).

I think the exact dating of Jesus’ death (and subsequent events) is immaterial in a number of ways, most obviously, of course, because his resurrection is consistently marked by the occasion of Easter, which always happens at the same time: The first Sunday after the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox (that’s the start of Spring — March 21).

Yes, the date of that event moves around on our calendar, but that’s a function of the calendar itself (the Gregorian calendar is not lunar-based). From the perspective of always being on the Sunday after the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox, it is indeed always on the same date, and has been since Jesus was crucified. Giving it a specific date on the Gregorian calendar is neither here nor there — I’m unlikely to get an extra day off for it in any event.

Incidentally, other famous deaths on April 3 through the years: Persian emperor Chosroes II (murdered by his kid — rough), Pope Honorius IV, Arctic explorer James Clark Ross, the outlaw Jesse James, Cabinet of Dr. Caligari actor Conrad Veidt, composer Kurt Weill, and US Commerce Secretary Ron Brown. Other famous resurrections on April 5:


The Loneliest Group In America

I think you’d have to look long and hard to find another group so willing to alienate itself from its naturally consonant ideological partners than the Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians. The reasons for this are fairly obvious, I think. Most anti-abortion types are religious conservatives, many of whom, as Rick Santorum so delightfully illuminated recently, consider homosexuals in the same class as sheep-fondlers.

On the other hand, gays and lesbians are classically pro-choice, part of that whole “we gays are pretty liberal” package that comes almost naturally in a society which seems works on the polite assumption that anyone who deviates from the missionary position is unregenerate straight-ticket Democrat. Also, of course, for many gays and lesbians, anyone who finds common cause with religious conservatives on any subject is likely to be treated with deep and abiding suspicion.

For these reasons, I suspect PLAGAL members find themselves in the position of being the proverbial turd in the punchbowl no matter where they choose to hang out. Perversely, however, I find that I have to respect the PLAGAL folks, just a little bit. It takes guts to to intentionally be the most unpopular people in the room, regardless of the room. And these guys and gals are it. So shine on, you crazy diamonds! And, I suppose, at least they have each other.

Interestingly, I can’t seem to find any pro-choice, anti-gay groups. Odd.

Monica Schroeder

I’ve been listening to Monica Schroeder’s Orbit album more or less non-stop since I got it a couple of days ago, primarily because I think she’s got just about the most fabulous voice I’ve heard in a year or two — rich, warm, velvety; like hot chocolate in musical form. Also, she’s a fine songwriter, in the Natalie Merchant – Sarah McLachlan vein of things. Don’t take my word for it, of course: This CD Baby page has sound sample (I suggest “Poison”), and you can order the album there, too. That’s a hint. Basically, it’s a good enough package that I wonder why Monica Schroeder isn’t already with a major label. Other women are putting out music in the same genre that simply isn’t as good.

Specifically, I wonder how much of Schroeder’s indie status is due to the fact that, as you can see by the picture, she’s not Britney Spears, or even Sarah McLachlan. Given the fact that outside one or two female rappers, I can’t think of a single solo woman artist with a major record deal that could be described as more than a few ounces from a Maxim-defined definition of appropriate weight, I have to wonder if Schroeder sent in the demos only to have them chucked out unheard because some A&R person got a look at her picture and couldn’t figure out how to sell a voice in the music business.

I’m not immune to a pretty girl with a pretty voice (for proof of this, see my most recent IndieCrit review, in which I make a stone cold ass of myself), but I’m also someone who is at point in his life where what I expect out of my female musicians is that they play and sing interesting music, period, end of sentence. When you can write and sing like Monica Schroeder, my basic feeling about it is, someone tell Jewel to get the hell off the stage.

Mind you, I could be way off base here — Schroeder, who releases her own albums, might simply have decided to go the Ani DiFranco route of releasing her own albums in order to keep the money she makes and to determine the course of her own musical career. If that’s the case, then obviously more power to her. But if she’s an indie artist because no major music label wants to make an effort sell music before an image, well, that’s just a shame. And, quite clearly, more reason to support indie music, which if nothing else, has the virture of putting music first.

Now stop reading and go buy this album. Do it. Don’t make me come over there.

Fred in Hell

The “Reverend” Fred Phelps sent some of his minions to protest at a memorial service for Fred Rogers (of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood) apparently because Mr. Rogers’ never interrupted his daily lessons of love, inclusion and acceptance to note parenthetically to a nation full of preschoolers that men who lay with men will be slowly masticated in the slavering, bacteria-ridden jaws of Satan for all of eternity. Phelps’ minions even hauled out signs that read “Fred is in Hell,” for which the only thing to note is that the tense is premature for the Fred for which I suspect this statement will ultimately apply.

The fact that Fred Phelps would claim Mr. Rogers is broiling in Hell is so extreme that I assumed it had to be hoax. But no; go to Phelps’ site (the glowingly friendly domain and there’s a link to a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review story mentioning Phelps’ minions’ presence (in the 25th paragraph). So it’s true enough.

I can’t imagine what it must be like to be so obsessed with the sexual acts of other people that you’re ready to condemn arguably the nicest single man in the history of the United States to the pit of Hell because he didn’t teach a bunch of four-year-olds to hate, except to note that there’s clinical evidence to suggest that many homophobes are actually aroused by homosexuality, and Phelps is the biggest homophobe of them all. Do the math here. Some member of the Queer Nation needs to (you should excuse the expression here) swallow hard and give ol’ Fred Phelps what he really wants. A grateful nation would honor such a person forever.

And it’s not like Fred would have to worry about his immortal soul. He was going to Hell anyway. I mean, seriously. You’re God: Which Fred are You going to clasp to Your bosom? Hint: Not the one that’s going to suspect You’re a fag for doing so.

You’ve Probably Missed It

Mercury is passing in front of the sun in a phenomenon known as a “transit”. And you say, big deal, it passes in front of the Sun all the time. That’s what Mercury does, from our perspective. Well, the thing is, right now you can actually see the tiny planet cast its shadow on the Sun, which is not something you can see all the time — only once every few years, on average. NASA has some photos up right now. Please look at these instead of going out and staring, slack-jawed, directly at the sun.

The bad news here is that if it’s past about 8am on the East Coast of the US, you’ve already missed it (and quite obviously if you’re on the West Coast, you won’t see it live at all). Be that as it may, you should at least be aware it happened. And, look, NASA put together a movie of it for you. Now, go on with the rest of your day.

Note From Athena

Dear Whatever Readers: Please excuse my dad from writing this Tuesday. He’s got a lot of work, plus if he doesn’t do his invoicing today, mommy will disembowel him and feed his entrails to the pets. So all told he’s kind of busy at the moment. But if you come back tomorrow, you will most likely find him, and hopefully large percentage of his intestine, still intact and prepared to amuse you.

Your friend,


Monica, Monica, Monica

I note conservatives are whacking on Monica Lewinsky again, this time for her undoubtedly ill-advised but essentially harmless participation in that Mr. Personality dating show. Bill O’Reilly’s column on Saturday is typical sort of thing in which he castigates Monica of cashing in on her particular brand of fame, saying “Since Ms. Lewinsky has no prior TV experience, one can assume that the only reason she is doing ‘Mr. Personality’ is that she did Mr. Personality, if you know what I mean,” and likewise compares her to other Washington types who cashed in on their non-positive notoriety, such as G. Gordon Liddy and Oliver North, and Hollywood types like Wynona Ryder and Robert Downey, Jr. O’Reilly’s moral is that bad behavior pays off.

Two things here. First, let’s start with the admission that Monica’s specific “crime,” aside from not actually being a crime in most states, is pretty mild compared to, say, circumventing Congress to sell arms to a middle eastern country, or even shoplifting at the mall. It doesn’t even really count as “bad behavior,” since most women (and not a few men) do what she’s done on a regular basis without the slightest fear of retribution (maybe not to the sitting President of the United States, admittedly. But like you can blame a girl for showing initiative).

But second and more importantly, while O’Reilly’s correct in that Lewinsky’s getting her gig because she’s who she is, but it’s worth remembering that Lewinsky’s famous not because she came forward to the tabloids with her stained dress and tales of pizzas and thongs, looking to make a quick buck in a “gulp and gab” experience. It took her so-called friend Linda Tripp to make it happen, followed the hounds of the conservative press, who mocked her as a “portly pepperpot” for about a year before any of the rest of us even actually heard her voice. I don’t want to say Lewinsky is entirely blameless for the whole fracas — it was her oral cavity, after all — but her elevation to scandal superstardom is almost exclusively the doing of others. Lewinsky would have undoubtedly joined the legions of women who serviced Little Bill with little more than the thanks of a grateful President had not more ideological forces intervened.

Therefore, the idea of conservative flogging her to make a buck now seems like hypocritical whining. They made Monica Lewinsky — and indeed, it’s Fox, home of the most ideologically transparent news organization in the US, which is giving her her current job — so they’ve got no right to bitch about her persistence in the culture. They may be upset that she’s not sticking to the script and fading into the background like the good and silly little patsy she was supposed to be, but that’s just another example of conservatives theoretical plans getting knocked about by the real world.

Also, of course, I think it’s entirely fair for Lewinsky to get a chance to have a generation of people remember her for something other than licking presidential Flipper. I personally wouldn’t choose to be remembered as the host of a lame game show, but it’s not my life, these are the opportunities presented to her, and it’s not like anyone would let her have a life where she’s just another gal in lower middle management anyway. Let her have her opportunities. You can’t blame her for capitalizing on the fame, tawdry or otherwise, other people foisted onto her.

All But Merely an Empy Sky

I was playing with this, a script that generates a freeform poem beased on the text of a Web page you enter, and I had it generate a poem from my entry of 9/12/2001, which, aside from being about 9/11, is one of the more lyrical things I’ve written on this site. The resulting poem is surprisingly not bad, and eerily evocative in places. Here it is.

All but merely an empty sky
like this Nighttime eventually fell, and moon
had to observe, nearly anyone
anywhere in my daughter,
I did ask myself, Pandora unleashed
terrors upon the planes.
Eventually fell, and cheerful grace. Ironically, the
white noise of sky to celebrate that
surely my daughter who
loves to appreciate its blue
inverted bowl, set before
that there any in the
constellation of summer
with their cloud of
the major. We see that
singular sky, Before that singular sky,
like that. I
less than five minutes.

Blogging and Novels

This is the 100th entry I’ve written since switching over to Movable Type, which averages out to a little more than 2 and a half entries a day since I’ve started using MT, so if you were wondering whether blogging software helps you write more, and more blog-like, now you know the answer, at least as it applies to me. On the other hand, I get three times the unique views a day as well, so that’s a nice reward for a writer.

To commemorate this momentous occasion, let’s talk about blogging and other forms of writing, specifically, writing novels. One of my frequent correspondents pointed me in the direction of a newspaper interview with William Gibson, a novelist who recently started a blog. Gibson said in his interview that he enjoys his blog, “However, if I’m ever going to write another book, I’m going to have to quit doing my blog as I have a hunch it interferes with the ecology of being a novelist.” My correspondent wanted to know what I thought about that statement.

Well, I wrote one novel before I started writing regularly on my personal site (that would be Agent to the Stars) and one after (that would be Old Man’s War), and I can’t say that the writing experience was that much different; in both cases I would sit down, typically on a Saturday, and spew out a chapter, more or less, and then that would be it. My novel-writing process tends to be fairly efficient in that I don’t do much rewriting (this is less an issue of brilliance than the willingness to improvise with plot), so in both cases the writing went fairly quickly — about three to four months each, and again, mostly working on the weekend. So in terms of work time, blogging didn’t interfere much.

What blogging does do, however, is offer what is best described as an “attractive distraction.” It’s been noted that man can do anything, so long as it’s not the thing he’s supposed to be doing at the moment, and writers are famously distractable. Blogging offers a special sort of distraction, in that it’s actually writing, so a writer can feel like it’s not really just wasting time — he is writing, after all, and he’s supposed to be writing. Sure, not on his blog, but even so. I wish I could say I don’t let myself fall prey to this rationale, but you’ll note I’m writing this on a Saturday, which is the day I typically write on my novels, and I’m theoretically working on a new novel at the moment. You can do the math.

But I don’t blame writing the Whatever for my distractability. I’m also distracted by e-mail, by reading material online and off, by phone calls, by video games and by interaction with the family (although they’re away just at this moment, so I don’t have that excuse). I don’t spend more time being distracted because I write online, I just have more options to be distracted. Thank God I don’t actually live near any of my friends. I might never write at all.

Gibson is correct, I think, in his intimation that when push comes to shove, one form of writing might have to go for the sake of the other. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’ll take off a month or two from writing the Whatever in order to focus in on a major writing assignment; I particularly do this the closer I am to a deadline. And, to go back to the theme of “attractive distractions,” I don’t just do it with writing the Whatever; I also tend to shut down other distractions in my life. It’s just that folks reading here don’t see me not playing video games, you just see me not writing in this space.

This is, incidentally, a head’s up: If August comes around and I don’t feel like I’m progressing happily with either The Book of the Dumb or the new novel (still untitled), then you’re likely to see an entry that says “see you in a month.” I never feel too bad about doing taking these sorts of breaks; as I’m fond of noting, I don’t get paid for this, and paid writing (especially the paid writing that actually ends up on a bookstore shelf) takes priority.

Aside from the question of being an attractive distraction, the Whatever doesn’t really pull me away from the mindset of writing a novel. By personal inclination and by the necessities of reality, I’m not one of those people who is solely focused on one project at one time; I’m writing two books, working with corporate clients, and writing magazine and newspaper articles all at once. And then I do the Whatever and IndieCrit as well. To be entirely honest about it, I don’t know if I could just concentrate on one thing at one time. I think it’d make me twitchy. There’s very little similarity between what I write for the Whatever and what I write in the novels, so it’s not like one is cannibalizing mindshare or material from the other.

This may not be the case with Gibson, for the simple fact that while all writers end up with the same end result (i.e., writing), the process by which they produce it is utterly individual. So if he thinks that writing his blog is going impact his novel writing, then he’s probably right about that, and he should therefore take a break from the blogging to work on telling stories.

Speaking of which, I’ve distracted myself long enough. Back to the novel —

A Brief Moment of Gloating

Why my job is cooler than yours: My copy of the The Animatrix came today — it’s a DVD of 9 animated films based on (and in) the Matrix universe and supervised by the Wachowski Brothers. I’m reviewing it for my DVD column in OPM. I’m going to watch it right now. The rest of you Matrix junkies have to wait for another month. Bwa ha ha ha ha!

(Actually, you can see four of the Animatric shorts from the Web site. See? I’m throwing you a bone, here.)

Don’t worry, though. I have to see Matrix Reloaded in the theater on May 15 like a common troll. The DVD gig’s influence only goes so far.

Update: Finished watching it. Coooooooooool.

Another Update: Weirdly enough, one of the producers of the Anamatrix is someone I went to high school with: Michael Arias, who was a senior when I was a freshman. He was a very short, very strange kid (as was I, but in different ways. Strange, that is. There’s not so many ways to be short). I occasionally wondered what happened to him. Now I know.

My Problem With Stupidity

The problem with writing a book about stupidity is not that it’s hard, but that it’s too easy. There’s so much stupidity in the world that you honestly have to work hard to evaluate which items show stupidity of such a high degree that you should include it, and which are simply your garden variety of stupidity.

Examples, you say. Fine. In addition to a number of longer “think pieces” (heh) about examples of stupidity in action — the French deciding to use cavalry at Agincourt, say, or Gary Hart daring reporters to trail him — the book will also include a fair amount of crowd-pleasing short bits featuring contemporary examples of stupidity, based on current news bits (or “Ripped From The Headlines!” as the NBC announcer would say about any Law & Order episode). I’ll jazz them up, of course, which my own editorial comments so the book won’t be just another collection of dumb people doing dumb things, but even so. You need the stuff in the present to give the stuff in the past some resonance, as if to say, look, stupidity is with us yet.

But in just one day, you find too many candidates. Yesterday I read about:

* The purse snatcher who was arrested when she tried to pass a check to a cashier whose checks she had stolen — and then handed over the cashier’s driver’s license as ID;

* A town civic pride ad campaign inadvertently featuring positive quotes from a convicted child molester;

* A man who tried to avoid jury duty by cussing out the court’s answering machine and was sentenced to three days in jail by the judge;

* A robot toy promotion from Coca-Cola which features Nazi-type swastikas;

* Two Southwest Pilots fired for getting naked together in the (hah!) cockpit;

* President Bush may end up being a write-in candidate in Alabama because the Republican convention has been moved later than the state’s deadline to certify candidates;

* Police in Belgium clamping down on public urination arrest a man urinating on a police car;

* A South African motorist arrested after being pulled over, having no license and telling the cops his wife’s license also covered him;

* The Mexican man who is offering his kidney for about $60,000 in order to bail his brother out of jail for murder;

* Ikea having to recall advertisements in Germany after discovering the name of one of their products — a children’s bunk bed — is coincidentally the same as the German expression for “good fuck.”

I mean, where do you begin? Aside from the Bush thing, which is pretty amusing but I probably won’t use because I’m avoiding Dubya material so it won’t inadvertently politicize the book, they’re all just so good. But I can’t use them all. I’ll probably use two at most. But which should I choose? Which would you choose? (That’s a real question, by the way. Answer in the comments)

I have a vague inclination to shy away from the “stupid criminals” genre, since it’s been done to death, but some may just be too good to pass up. I mean, it does take a breathtaking brand of stupid to pass a check to the very same woman whose purse you’ve stolen. That deserves to be commemorated somewhere. But does it deserve to be commemorated more than Coke’s Nazi-branded robot toy? Or the urinating Belgian? Or the foul-mouthed jury shirker? You see my quandary.

So, really: Out of all the selections above, you get to choose two for inclusion in the book. What are your picks? Tell me, and then later in the day I’ll tell you which two I’m most likely to use. Meanwhile, off to do a little work, and to cull some more examples of stupidity in action.

Your Domestic Predator at Work

Krissy went into the garage this morning and found the bloody head of a mouse right on the doorstep, a present from Lopsided Cat, who spent the night outside, quite obviously indulging in his carnivore nature. She suggested that I take a picture of it and put it up on the site, but I won’t be doing that today. This site is a PG-13 site, which means gory severed mammalian heads are a definite no-no. She also left it to me to pick up the mouse head and put it somewhere else, and I did. Of course, I’m not saying where. I’m going to let that be a delightful surprise for my wife. I’m just that way.

Severed mouse heads are icky, but on one level I can appreciate Lopsided Cat leaving it at our doorstep. It means that Lopsided Cat has clued in that one of his jobs is kill small rodents before they get into the house, at which point either I or Krissy will be obliged to kill them, and then wonder why the hell we have cats in the first place. It’s no small consideration around here — because we live next to fields, we not surprisingly are at risk of field mouse visits. In the two years we’ve been here, we’ve seen two mice in the house; one I caught in a Tupperware container and deposited outside, back in the field, and the other had its neck snapped by a trap Krissy put in the pantry.

It’s not that Krissy is more bloodthirsty than I am, incidentally; it’s just that I actually caught the thing personally and couldn’t bring myself to squish a small furry thing between my fingers. That’s just mean. Likewise, had Krissy nabbed the mouse herself, she would be unlikely to murder it by her own hand. However, we don’t mind if the mice die, because they’re in our house, and that’s no good. But like all good bosses, we prefer to let our underlings handle the dirty work, preferably underlings who lack opposable thumbs, have sharp canines and no feelings of residual guilt about disemboweling furry creatures smaller than they are.

And that’s Lopsided Cat (and to a lesser extent Rex, who is mostly retired now but was known to bring down rather substantial creatures in his day). By leaving the mouse head where he knows we’ll find it, Lopsided Cat is simply saying, hey, it’s your friendly neighborhood predator, on the job for you! I’m glad for it; each mouse head outside is one less mouse inside, borrowing through our snack foods and leaving small turds where Wheat Thins used to be. And that’s the way it should be.

Cover Story

If you’re a lawyer, or just like to pretend you’re one in front of a jury (and that’s your Constitutional right!), then you might want to check out the quiz I wrote for the newest edition of JD Jungle magazine: “Are You Partner Material?” I quizzed a dozen partners from various top law firms around the country about the day-to-day activities and ethical quandaries they deal with as partners, so you can put your own answers down and see how you compare to the guys and gals who are actually on the top level.

There are fifteen questions in the quiz, although I asked more than that during the course of talking to partners. Alas, my favorite question did not make it in: “Sinking Ship. Life Boat. Room for two people, one of which is you. You can take either your most useful associate or your profitable client. Who do you choose and why?” I got some interesting answers to that one, let me tell you.

Anyway, the magazine is now out and available at law schools, many major law firms and selected newsstands. JD Jungle also has a web site here, although the site is not yet updated to reflect the contents of the latest issue. Nevertheless, it’s well worth bookmarking, and I’m not just saying that because they’re sending me money. Also in this month’s magazine, two people with whom I have very tangential relationships: Cory Booker, for whom one my best friends crossed a continent to work on his campaign staff when he ran for mayor of Newark, and Danny Hellman, sworn blood enemy of my pal Ted Rall, who is suing Hellman for libel (long story. Let’s not get into it).

La la la

Here. Have some music. This is a sort of slow, meditative piece, just right for contemplating a journey to the stars or selling mid-range domestic sedans. Really, it’s your choice. The music is encoded in real audio, so obviously you’ll need a Real player to play it. It’s three minutes long, so you won’t feel like you’ve wasted too much of your time if’n you don’t like it.

Off to take Athena to preschool. Be back later.

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