Thursday, May 31, 2012

Sometimes I do it too

I know, I pitied the nice young man (young in this case means, I am guessing, about 25) for not knowing not to talk, but I do it all the time too. Sometimes it is great.

One thing I dislike about E-readers is that it takes away the fun of seeing what other people are reading, because then you can’t tell if you have similar tastes without talking, and if they wanted to be talking to people they wouldn’t be using an E-reader. A different nice young man and I had a great conversation once based on my reading of Open Veins of Latin America and his reading of a book on Chinese medicine. I have asked about and been asked about books, and I enjoy that.

I have also talked to parents of adorable children, the inventor of an ingenious bike bag which I hope he ended up marketing successfully, and one animated conversation with Cathy on our way back from seeing Black Power Mix Tape got us into conversation with some men who had actually known a lot of the black power leaders growing up. Being open can be really good. It can also get kind of weird.

My last weird story occurred on a fairly crowded day. I found an empty seat. Technically it was two seats, but on the other side there was a bottle of Coke, partially drunk but with the cap on, and a bag of Doritos, opened, partially empty, but with the top folded over.

I didn’t feel quite right touching and moving them, but I also did not want to be the jerk keeping someone else from sitting down because I had spread out my stuff. I was worrying about this, and I noticed a kid (late teens/early twenties) who was standing looking at the seat. I made eye contact and told him he could sit, and he looked at the stuff, questioning, and I said “I don’t know where that came from.”

We were just pulling into Beaverton Transit Center. He approached and I really thought he was going to sit down, but instead he announced “A munchie’s a munchie, and I’m stoned.” With that he grabbed the treats and got off the train.

I thought that was pretty disgusting, and a reminder that drug use impairs judgment. To be fair, I had recently been listening to three riders discussing their arrest records, and one of them bragged that he had not been booked once because he had MRSA on his foot, and the prison nurse rejected him. (The police dropped him off at the hospital, but he didn’t go in.) I’m just saying—there’s no telling what might be lingering in that Coke and Doritos.

I think the one I will remember most will be this one. It was another crowded night, this time on the bus. I had a seat to myself, but one more person got on. There were other seats available, but I could see that he was very hesitant, and I know how unfriendly people can look.  knew he would only sit down if someone signaled him. I made eye contact and smiled, and he sat down. That was just the right thing to do on my part, and he was grateful, which was fine. Then he started nervously making small talk, which had me feeling like no good deed goes unpunished.

I told myself, Gina, you’re a nice person; don’t leave him hanging. I made myself listen and ask questions, and he was such a nice man with such a crummy life. He was a veteran, and he had gotten an injury in the service which ended up affecting his whole life, because it led to other health conditions, including the loss of his pancreas, which meant diabetes. It was a lot to deal with, but he was so sweet. So then I was thinking, no, I’m not a nice person. I’m a jerk, and I should know better. They’re still all children of God, no matter how tired and worn-down I am.

It was a humbling experience, and there have been others like that, and I don’t really like to talk about them, because there are often sacred elements where I want to keep them close in my heart, and I might share in person, but it’s not something casual.

I’ll give you a different one, that is less touching. Once, earlier in the workday, I had been thinking that I wanted to be a source of warmth, where people would just be drawn to me and know they could trust me. That evening, when I was waiting for the train, someone started talking to me, and it was like, oh, maybe I don’t want that.

And that’s the thing. As an introvert, it is easy for me to not engage with people. Working from home will make that even easier. I will have more time to recharge, which is good, but I could also be very selective about whom I see, which is less good. I probably don’t need to be more of a curmudgeon.

See, from a blogging perspective, I always feel safer with the irritating stuff, rather than the heartwarming stuff. (Stuff that makes me look bad depends based on the humor value.) So I need to change things up. As many humbling experiences as I have had with the homeless and downtrodden, tomorrow’s going to be about a panhandler that deserved no sympathy whatsoever.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Act like you don’t hear

The move day is Friday, which means I toted two big bags of claw machine animals home last night, I’ll take some more stuff tomorrow night, and whenever I get that MP3 player set up, I will not be using it to shut people out on the train. I have been advised you don’t even need to have it working, because if you are just wearing the headphones it cuts you off enough, but I usually don’t actually want to be cut off. I don’t just greet birds and squirrels—I will often smile at people. They tend not to see, or to be shocked at any kind of acknowledgment, but sometimes I get a smile back.

Despite my tendency to be interested in the world around me, I can sometimes see that the isolationists have a real point. Here are a few stories of when I did not engage, or want to engage, but I was definitely listening.

This story is the least funny. I had been running late and so I was on a different train, and I heard this woman talking about selling a house. It was a little loud for a phone conversation or a conversation with a fellow passenger, but she kept going and I realized that she was telling all of the passengers. She wanted to sell a house. It was in traffic. She was not told it was in traffic, or she wouldn’t have bought it, but at least she was being upfront with us. I thought it was pretty bizarre, as well as ineffective, but I didn’t think about it too much.

A week or so later I ended up on the later train again, and she was there, and this time she was looking for a lawyer. Her civil rights had been violated. Also, she wanted to sell a house. If I understood correctly—and there is absolutely no guarantee of that—the civil rights violation was that she had not been informed that the house was in traffic when she bought it. (And I’m assuming “in traffic” means there is road noise near it, not that there are cars running through it, or that it is in the middle of drug traffic, but I do not know.)

Also, it would be helpful if the lawyer was familiar with Social Security law, because she was having some trouble with her payments, and they would not let her work, and if she was working she would be working at a million dollar company doing system administration, but I was skeptical because she was not demonstrating particularly good judgment or sanity by sharing her life in this manner. To be fair, she did say she had looked on the internet first.

Actually, it is fairly common to have people who seem quite fragile overshare on public transportation. I’m not sure that I believe that one girl who was carrying on the loud phone conversation on the streetcar steps. When the driver told her that she would need to move, she started crying that the woman who had just gotten off was her mother and that her mother was following her and ignoring her. I’m not saying that she seemed stable, but the timing of the meltdown seemed suspicious, and it would be weird to simultaneously stalk and shun someone, but it could happen. However, I think that, generally speaking, bringing everyone in on your life falling apart is not helpful. I think it would be more helpful to pick one sympathetic looking person, and let them help you. Though, if people did it that way, I would probably usually be the person, and I might not like that.

And this is where I feel jerky. Emotional instability and mental illness are not, which is where some of these people seem to be coming from. On one level I would like to be helpful, but in cases like this I tend to feel, and I may be wrong, that I can’t do much—that on some level these people want to be the center of attention. It is not really what they need, so I don’t want to play into it, but I also can’t fix it so I just ignore it. It’s the same level on which I deal with certain relatives, so I guess I treat everyone like family.

There are people who engage. I remember one night there was a guy talking loudly about how doctors poison you. The nurse was laughing at him, another guy was agreeing with him about doctors not being our friends, because it costs way too much to go to the dentist, and a young guy was agreeing with the whole thing, because he had worked as a janitor in a hospice and they just keep people dying in there—people who are already dead and don’t know it! (Actually, they take people who are already dying in, and these patients know they are dying, and the hospices try to make that transition better, but why worry about facts?) The most interesting part of this was that the young guy’s takeaway from all of this was that if he was ever diagnosed with a terminal disease, he was just going to crash his motorcycle to end it early. The nurse objected because that might be a great way to end up in long-term care. “Well, if I crashed into a wall, maybe, but if I go off a cliff I should die.” Smarter than he looks, that one.

See, I don’t really want in on those conversations, but I do eavesdrop shamelessly, and I do hate when people are mean. So when this very exuberant guy walked past a group of young people on the MAX platform, and they started repeating what he said under their breath and laughing, I felt bad for him. This might have been one of those times when I would have struck up a conversation, but as he ended his phone call, this nice young man started talking to him instead, and learned the hard lesson that I keep remembering: Don’t engage. It seems the reason for the first guy’s good mood was that the restraining order was dropped, and I really hope I heard this wrong, but it sounded like he said “Now I can go after my woman.”

Now, this should not be funny at all, but I’m not positive if that’s what I heard or that it meant that (maybe there was a new girl who liked him but had a rule against dating anyone with pending criminal charges), and the way the rest of the conversation went, and the way the nice young man now was committed to the conversation but did not know what to do with it—I just started laughing. It was silent, but he saw. I know he was jealous. Hey, you’re young; you will learn not to do this. Or not, because then we started talking after the train came, but we just talked about the weather and the area. There’s no point in jading the young and nice, because that will happen without any interference from me.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Keep Portland Weird—It’s working!

As I started trying to write a tribute to my odd encounters downtown and via Tri-Met, it ended up being a lot longer than I expected, and so I think I am breaking it into three parts.

I am pretty comfortable with stretching a topic over multiple days, but there is a different peril with this topic, in that I worry that I will come off as a jerk. I’m going for it anyway for a couple of reasons. One is that in relaying these stories to a coworker, she said “Now that’s the kind of stuff that you should be blogging about!” Of course, just reading it you are missing the voices and gestures that I use to act them out, but the fact that I relay these stories to friends and family at all means that if this is jerky, I am a jerk, whether I blog about it or not, so you might as well get your crack at them.

There is just one story for today, and no public transportation was involved. I had gone outside to eat my lunch, so I was sitting on a bench in Pettygrove Park. I love crows, and there was one nearby, so I started tossing him small bits of my sandwich, keeping them fairly close. We were getting along pretty well—I wasn’t going to start petting him or anything, but it was amicable. A woman approached us, and in a heavy Eastern-European accent she said “I have never seen one get so close.”

I was a little embarrassed because I know it’s the food—I’m not the crow whisperer. So I admitted somewhat sheepishly, “I’ve been feeding him.” I realize now she thought I meant that this was a regular thing, not something that had been happening for about fifteen minutes. Anyway, still looking spellbound, she said “He’s almost tame.” There was a slight pause, and suddenly she said “Caw! Caw!”

So that’s the second time this year that I have seen a—well, let’s call it a what-the-heck face on a bird. The first time was in Mexico. Maria was trying to pose with a macaw, and every time she was ready for the shot the macaw would squawk, startle her, and ruin the shot. I admit it seemed a little too deliberate to be completely coincidental, but I still do not approve of the way in which she expressed her displeasure, which was belching at it. Incidentally, although crows and parrots are very different in structure and appearance, their what-the-heck faces are pretty similar.

Anyway, the crow hopped up to the back of the bench, and I think he would have flown away if there hadn’t still been a piece of food on the ground. He was not giving up that sandwich! I guess she realized he was not going to engage, and so she left, and my lunch was almost over anyway, but the crow did retrieve the morsel before I walked away, so I guess we were all good.

I’m going to just go ahead and sound a little weird myself here: If you want to communicate with animals either speak your own language or just communicate telepathically. Even if you are skilled at making animal sounds, what are you telling them? Bird calls are usually about declaring territory or sounding alarms or mating calls, none of which would be appropriate. They don’t have a call for “How about those Blazers?”

Obviously that’s different for domestic animals who spend a lot of time around us. Dogs can learn several words, with some estimating that the average trained dog knows 160 words. Cats could probably learn several, though they’ll never admit it. It’s a different relationship. But when I’m walking down the street and greeting nearby birds, I just say “Hi”, and sometimes with small mammals I will just send out positive vibes. 

Monday, May 28, 2012


Okay, time to explain all of those references to some things becoming easier soon. I will soon be working from home.

This has good sides and bad sides. I have enjoyed spending time with my coworkers, and the conversations we have had. So many weird pictures would never have been drawn without our weird exchanges.
That being said, not all of the exchanges happened in person. The junkie whales came from a Communicator conversation, where someone’s tale of watching Celebrity Rehab meshed with someone else’s tale of watching a documentary on whales, and I started thinking about what a large quantity of methadone it would take to help a whale make it through.

Avoiding being sedentary will be harder. I mean, I will still basically be sitting in a chair for forty hours a week—there’s no getting around that—but heading to the bus stop, from the train to the building, and back to the train (I usually get picked up at the train instead of busing at night) adds a lot of steps. On a day when I do all three of my walking activities (walk to work from Goose Hollow, walk at lunch, and do the stairs in the afternoon) I am over 10000 steps before I leave the building and I still have the walk to the train and probably exercise.

On the other hand, on weekends where I don’t make a specific effort to take a walk, I may end up right around 3000 steps. Our standard workout right now only adds about 1300 steps. It has other benefits, and step count is not the only measure of fitness, but the point is that it would be very easy to not exert myself much.

What makes up for it is that taking away that commute time should increase the available time for taking walks and doing other things. I generally leave the house around 6:10 to start work at 7:45. That’s if I get a walk in first, so it is not straight commuting, but if I grab the bus there instead, or ride to a closer stop and walk from there, it only saves about ten minutes. Leaving the office at 5:45 or 6 generally gets me home around 7:10. That’s a significant time loss.

It’s not that the time is wasted now. That is my reading time and my thinking time, and sometimes my resting my eyes time, depending on how tired I am. I can think during lots of different activities, but reading doesn’t combine with most things as well as it does with commuting.

Obviously I will not need to get up as early or walk the dogs as early, but maybe I still should. The nice thing about doing that now is that no one else is around and in my way. Also, the dogs are used to it. (This makes them very annoying on my days off.) Obviously, there will need to be some balance.

Speaking of the dogs, when I went to a four-day schedule, I chose Thursday as my day off because my mother alternates being gone on Tuesdays and Thursdays and she hates leaving the dogs alone. Thursday tends to be the longer absence, and Tuesdays were our meeting day anyway, so that was the obvious fit. Now it will not matter when or where she has to go, the dogs will have supervision. I am still planning on sticking to four days. It won’t be necessary from a dog standpoint, but it’s still convenient for appointments, and for having another day to write.

There are some things, though, that will definitely be easier. First of all, yes, there will be less socializing at work, but socializing with other people will be easier, because I will not need to get back from downtown, and yet it will still not be that difficult to get downtown if that’s where the social life is. For my coworkers, I think we might see better participation in happy hours once the transition is over. Actually, that’s another reason to go. If I stayed, there would not be many people left here with me.

Also, it should be easier to eat healthy. It’s more than not having to pack a lunch (though that will be great—I don’t know why such a simple activity requires so much effort), but it will be easier to start incorporating whole grains. If I leave instructions for Mom, she does pretty well at putting together dinner, but I don’t even know what instructions to leave sometimes. If I can spontaneously decide to just cook some barley and add diced orange bell peppers, well, I can try it. Right now I would never leave those instructions because if I have no idea how it’s going to work I’m not going to drag other people into it, and I have no idea because I have never cooked with barley. There’s a bag in the pantry, but I have been procrastinating opening it. No more!

Also, weather is less of an issue. I normally enjoy the walk and the fresh air, but we had a rainy spell shortly after I started where it was clear that Portland had some real drainage issues, and I would get home just sopping wet, where I needed to strip the minute I got in the door just to not get water all over the house, and hope that my shoes would dry in time to wear them the next day. I’m not going to miss that.

If some of you are wondering about the toy drive—it is not just you. Some coworkers have asked too. We won’t be able to do everything quite the same, but I think we can have a December get-together where everyone brings toys, and has face contact, and I am planning on keeping the claw machine animals above my computer desk to preserve some continuity. I’ve stopped bringing in the new ones actually, so I already have five collecting at home. (They consist of a pink giraffe, blue elephant, Pittsburgh Pirates Bulldog, Mets teddy bear, and an awesome Holstein cow with a flower in her mouth.)

I will miss my morning train driver, and sometimes the entertainment value of Tri-met is hard to deny, but sometimes it smells awful, and sometimes the entertaining crosses over into depressing. It’s not like I’ll never ride again. I suppose, though, that this is a good time for a review of some of the strangeness I have witnessed.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

10 year plan update: Fitness (complete a triathlon in 2022)

I am letting my coupon for fencing lesions expire. I am not proud of this, but it is not horrible either.

The main issue is that I am just so busy, and trying to imagine making time for lessons is unimaginable. I couldn’t even find time to call and see if all four classes needed to be completed by the expiration date, or just scheduled.

Also, I was hoping to be in better shape by the time I took them, which is not happening so far, and I was afraid that the staff and other students would look down on me. That would be actually more of a reason to do it than not, because part of seeking out new experiences and challenges is doing things that scare you.

The reason I feel comfortable with it is because there has been progress made, even if it is going slowly. After a month of doing what I am doing now, I was down an inch each on the bust and hips, and an inch and a half on the waist. That’s pretty good. The first area where I developed a 10 year plan was the triathlon, and that was just because going from where I was starting to triathlete was going to take a while, and I wasn’t sure how long but I wanted some leeway. This works.

The real key right now is the Debbie Sieber’s Slim in 6 Beach Body Workout. Yeah, that will take more than six weeks. Where it is helpful though is that I have been good about aerobic exercise often, but I never know what to do with resistance training, and this incorporates some resistance training. All it uses is bands or dumbbells, but it really makes a difference.

We did lose some ground over vacation and the week before vacation. Even though we were still being active, it’s just not the same. I understand now why actors who get super toned for some roles let it go—that takes constant work. I don’t need to be really buff, but while I am trying to lose, some extra muscle will help.

Also I am just trying to be more active. On a good day, in addition to Slim in 6, I will get off the train at Goose Hollow and walk to work (about a mile), walk for another twenty minutes at lunch, and then go up and down the stairs on my last break. Most days are not that good, but if I get at least two of the four done, it is pretty good. Also, we have been getting better about incorporating fruits and vegetables, but still struggling with the whole grains. There are some changes coming up that will make some things easier, and some things harder, but I’ll adapt.

For fun additional activities for this year, I have decided against the All Trails Challenge with Forest Park, because with not driving, it is too hard to get there. Also, the biking to work will not work, but biking should still come up. Skating lessons will actually be easier to work in, so I don’t know if it will still be July, but that is coming.

And I will still learn to fence. For now, though, the focus is the Beach Body workout and good old walking, including the health walk before the Rose Parade again.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

10 year plan update: Travel (Visit all 7 continents by 2022)

If you recall, the first leg of this was to make it to South America by 2015. The disheartening part of this is how we seem to keep planning for everything else.
We just got back from Alaska (preceded by Mexico), we really need to get Mom to see her family in Italy again, and Julie’s sabbatical plan (2014) is various European countries, though we will not be able to get them all. It will probably feature Spain (including Gibraltar), France, Austria, and Montenegro. The British Isles will have to be a separate trip, but maybe we could get Poland and Czech Republic into the sabbatical. Scandinavia would have to be it’s own thing, but we could probably combine it with Saint Petersburg to take in the Hermitage. The Netherlands is also it’s own trip, but I think we could do it as kind of a long weekend.
Also, I just figured out a great itinerary for Costa Rica, where we go to the sloth sanctuary in Limon, visit a beach with sea turtles just down from it, get in whale sharks, and hop down to Panama to get a look at the canal. Although we are not warm weather people, the sloths and turtles, along with the relative shortness of the trip, convinced my sisters to buy in. We are also looking at Yellowstone, and Anaheim again.
Fortunately, I would not feel complete without a trip to Central America, so Costa Rica is cool. I knew right when I was planning it that all three of the continents I have visited would have other places that I would want to see. And, even after I hit every continent, there will probably still be more places that I want to see.
Here is the short list for South America. Well, actually it’s the long list, but as I do more research, it’s probably going to expand, and then this will seem like a short list. Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca in Peru of course; Buenos Aires, Argentina; the Galapagos Islands; Rapa Nui (Easter Island); Tierra del Fuego; Isla Chiloe, and it just seems like it would not be complete without seeing the Amazon and the Orinoco, though I am not sure what I would do with them. I’m not terribly drawn to Rio or Sugar Loaf.
Now, Tierra del Fuego is a common departure point for Antarctica, and probably the most logical one for me, so that is less of a worry. And I don’t have to see all of these by 2015—even just one of them would count—but I do get ambitious.
Also, I suspect that after seeing Mayan ruins, and then Incan Ruins, that I will probably feel a need to go back to Mexico to see some Aztec ruins, and then maybe Egypt is next, but that’s Africa, and I would have until 2018 for that.

Friday, May 25, 2012


Obviously all of the above, but there is more to it that that.

I thought I was going to finish updating all three goal areas before posting this, but I found out that today is Geek Pride Day, and since this post was already in the planning stages, I needed to jump on that bandwagon.

Geek Pride Day is a fairly recent holiday, first being officially celebrated in America in 2008. (Dia del orgullo friki started in Spain two years earlier, and there were Geek Pride celebrations at a bar in Albany, New York some years previously, but I think it’s fair to say it has been building slowly.) The date comes from the May 25th, 1977 original release date of the first Star Wars film, celebrating a time before legacies were tarnished and it was still so cool that you didn’t even notice that Luke was kind of a whiner, but also ties in to Towel Day and Glorious 25 May, thus covering three science fiction fan bases, and those are good places to look for geeks.

At times when I am being weird, I apply labels to myself, and it was in noticing that the labels were situationally different that I started to ponder the different connotations behind the words. Naturally I started with an internet search, and there is plenty of information out there, but I disagree with the conclusions of others, therefore I present my own. I will still link to the Venn diagram, because I love a Venn diagram as much as the next nerd, but I think it’s wrong.

To be fair, I think the reason this gets it wrong is largely the result of trying to make it fit into a Venn diagram, because it does not all necessarily overlap, and I think sticking with the Venn concept but making “nerd” the center is the only real reason for the inclusion of “dweeb”. Does anyone use that?

To my way of thinking, “dork” is simply the issue of social ineptitude. It doesn’t have any relation to obsession, and it often is combined with intelligence, though the combination is not necessary. I say this because when I am thinking of myself as a dork, it is generally related to a social interaction, usually with someone of the opposite sex.

“And he was so nice, even though he was clearly talking to the biggest dork in the world.”

“I am such a dork. I may someday become better off financially or more physically attractive, but I will never be smooth.”

These are real thoughts, inspired by real situations, and the word “dork” was inescapable.

“Nerd” I associate primarily with intelligence, but also with a certain amount of seriousness to it. Nerds may be socially inept, but it may be more that they are not socializing with the less intelligent, so those relationships just aren’t established. I base this more on how the people whom I truly considered to be nerds in junior high kind of hated other people, and somehow that became how I defined it.

Those of us who were classified as nerds because we were brains and hung out with other brains, but did not hate people, I thought perhaps were not actually nerds. This generally just got certain people accusing me of thinking I was better than them, but I think they thought I had delusions about being more popular than I was, and it wasn’t that. I usually just hedged, though, because believe it or not there was a time when I was not accomplished at sorting out and articulating my feelings.

I also know that there were people who were picked on for being nerds that were not smart (this is their appraisal of the situation, not mine), so I realize that for a lot of people “nerd” just means unpopular and vulnerable to abuse. It makes me wonder if the member of our group who did not come to us through the advanced classes ever got picked on for being a nerd, because she wasn’t, but she associated with us of her own free will.

I can only say what it means to me. When I think of myself as a nerd, I think of my academic inclinations. When I am wondering about something, I start wondering if there is a good book on it, and my solution is generally to read and research, and then in the midst of the reading to find even more books to read, so I can really have a full understanding of the subject.

There was an episode of Malcolm in the Middle where Malcolm was dealing with a super genius child (more than Malcolm, anyway), and he asked the kid what his brain was like:

Malcolm: “I mean for me it’s like when I’m thinking really hard my brain starts making connections and those connections make other connections and it feels like a bomb going off. Is your brain like that?”
Barton: “It’s like a beehive and every bee has a brain like yours.”

My brain kind of runs on a circular track, where new information combines with old information until it adds to the big picture. It will keep circling around and around if I don’t actually do something with it, though, which is why I need to write so much. If a question can’t get resolved, it can get pretty bad, and this is where I become a geek.

To be fair, it’s a fine line. Let’s return to the topic of music, where I was thinking about music, and my emotional and physical responses to it. There’s a section in “Bizarre Love Triangle” that actually physically resonates within me, and I was wondering if I was hooked up to brain scanners while listening to it, what it would show, and what my odds were of making that happen. I think that’s pretty nerdy.

“Summertime” was a different matter. I was obsessing over what made it different, and why it sounded so beautiful. I was mentioning it to other people who played guitar, but they were not familiar with that song. I tried sending a message to Ray Toro via Twitter, but Twitter is a very ineffective means of 2-way communication. I looked at an MCR forum that promised to answer questions, but then I realized it meant questions about the site, fortunately I realized it before I submitted my question. And I would still be coming up with new theories, like maybe it was tuned to a higher pitch? Was it actually the keyboard and not the guitar? Was I nuts?

Watching a video of them playing, I have noticed that Ray moves his hand way down the neck, which would change the wavelength and frequency and everything, and maybe the rest is that it is just a good instrument being played well, giving it the additional purity and beauty and that’s what I’m settling on, because I need to move on!

I have said before that I am not a computer geek, because I don’t enjoy untangling the knots that arise when technology is going wrong. I do seem to be a geek for a lot of other things though. So yes, I do agree with the obsessiveness being a geek attribute, but again I am not sure that it needs to be combined with high intelligence, though that probably helps.

So being obsessive isn’t always fun, but at the same time there is this enthusiasm that really does bring some rewards. For example, on Youtube I discovered some videos with Ray Toro and Frank Iero giving guitar lessons on different songs. With my luck, there was not one for “Summertime”, but I listened to the others, and they were talking about a section on “Na Na Na” where it shifts the tone, and it goes a little bit Black Sabbath, and having listened to some Black Sabbath with the other things I was doing, I could totally hear it. Getting that felt amazing!

I should say here that geeks realize that we are different, and we get stoked over things that will seem weird to others, but I’d be lying. Often we only partially realize it, and sometimes even when we know we are geeking out, and being totally weird, we still can’t help it and we need to carry on anyway. Sorry.

I guess the geeks are my favorite, because of the enthusiasm. A nerd can be cold-blooded and blasé about things, but a geek can’t. There are some accompanying highs and lows, but they can be a lot of fun, so Geeks out there, do it loud and do it proud.

While doing the research, I came across many references to poor hygiene, for all of the categories, and I have to say that has not been my experience. I might just know the wrong people. I have known people with poor hygiene, but usually they were very deliberate nonconformists, and so that may have been their way of keeping it real, or perhaps the most striking evidence that they were not really all that self-aware. Personally, I like not stinking.

I do also like self-awareness, though, and this article came to my attention a few days ago, and is probably a good closing note:

I think I’m okay here, because I know there are things that I don’t know, and I like listening to other people, but it doesn’t hurt to keep it in mind.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

10 year plan update: Writing (shoot my own film in 2022)

I’m currently still in the midst of catching up on writing before I start experimenting with filming. It would be perfectly reasonable to ask if it is even possible to be caught up on writing, and the answer is a qualified yes.
Part of it is a mix of superstition and practicality. The Writer’s Conference is coming up in August, and in addition to lectures and workshops, there are opportunities to pitch oneself.
Last time I pitched various scripts to producers, and one did express interest, but never followed up, including to my follow up. It is really difficult to find the right combination of someone who not only likes your idea and your abilities, but thinks they can make money on it, and has money to develop it. However, you can also pitch to agents, and although still difficult, it should be somewhat easier to find someone well-connected and aggressive who believes that they can get you enough money that ten percent will be worthwhile. This time, I am going to focus on trying to find an agent. Cold calling was not helpful, back when I was trying that.
What I have read is that the average screenwriter has completed nine screenplays before selling one, so my idea is that I want to have written nine by then. Currently I have six screenplays of my own, the collaborative adaptation that is a mess, one one-hour pilot, and that’s pretty much it. You could count that as eight, but I want three additional screenplays that are just mine.
The problem with this, besides the fact that I have only written a screenplay in a month once, and doing it three times in a row doesn’t seem likely, is that there are all these other things I want to do. I want to write those episodes to try and get at least considered by a series, and I want to develop the pilot and reading material (character bios, arc, etc.) for Foresight, and I should do updating on the existing screenplays. Also, I feel like I really want to go over the novel again, and give the author the option of three possible ways of going (basically three treatments), and at least put that out there. Plus, I should really start marketing the children’s book.
Add to that, that I am still catching up on blogging, and I have the graphic novel going on, and I don’t think I can actually work on anything else until I have finished that, because it’s got a hold of me, and good things are coming from working on it, even if it will not be monetary at all.
Also, for all the various ideas I have, I can’t decide which would be the next screenplay to work on, possibly because I have too much other stuff in my head. Actually, scratch that—I have this one scene in mind that fits in to enough current thoughts that it’s probably the anointed one. I don’t need to know the next three already.
So all I can do is try and be consistent, which is good, and I have been better at it lately. This will probably be posted Tuesday, but I am writing it on Saturday, and if all goes well, I will write out Wednesday’s and Thursday’s posts today too. I think Sunday will be letter writing, and then during the week just focus really hard on finishing the graphic novel. (The Rolling Stone and Moog posts changed that, but basically still on target, and just wrote a really long section of the graphic novel featuring mayhem and heartbreak.)
There are times when I feel very impatient to work with lighting and editing and all of those things, but right now this is the key, and even now I am seeing opportunities all around, like contests and things, where, yes, I am not capitalizing on the current crop, but they happen, and there should be more when I am ready. I’m not saying that I’m stress-free, but I am producing work now, which I love, and hey, despite being a time-killer, at least I have a day job.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Let’s hear it for the Moog!

I happened to come across an article that Google was doing a special doodle for May 23rd, 2012, in honor of Robert Moog’s birthday. I wanted to take a brief break from my regularly scheduled posting to pay tribute to him.
We actually had a synthesizer back when I was pretty young, but I’m sure it was not a Moog. (We always had a lot of musical instruments around for people who don’t really play much.) My first real connection to him happened a few years later, when I read a blurb about him finally getting his degree, because initially his thesis was rejected because the committee did not understand it, and then years later they caught up.
I cannot find any documentation of this now, but I remember it having a big impact on me than, and I even wrote a poem inspired by it that appeared in Day by Day, my high school’s literary magazine, my sophomore year.
The poem was not horrible for a sophomore. It was a little pretentious, but I submitted several pieces and it was only the two pretentious ones that got in (that was really all the editor could relate to; I remember quite clearly). Anyway, it was well-received, and at least one person “joked” that he was sure it was inspired by him. Since he was not Robert Moog, he was wrong.
To create (for the first time) a digital record of the poem, I will include it at the end of the post, but first let us pause to remember Dr. Moog (rhymes with “vogue”): theremin expert, author, engineer, and inventor. He was a pioneer of electronic music, a research professor, and without him there would surely be no such thing as a line of effects pedals named “Moogerfooger”. He was a real genius.
Real Genius, by Gina Harris
I look back
Through the myriad of time
(Or whatever they call it)
At the men who had
Galileo, Leonardo, Van Gogh
Sure, we say genius now
But when they were alive the word was lunatic
Heretic, maybe, or just idealistic fool
If a genius is ahead of his time, by definition
Does that mean he can’t be accepted in his time?
And has to wait until he dies and time progresses?
I guess so.
And I wonder, vaguely,
Am I a genius?
But it doesn’t really matter
Because even if I am,
Until it’s far too late,
No one will ever know.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

I don’t want to write for Rolling Stone

“Most rock journalism is people who can’t write, interviewing people who can’t talk, for people who can’t read.” - Zappa
Obviously I am back from vacation, and some things worked out and some things didn’t.
I did not get the WiFi working. In fact, that failed so spectacularly that I killed the wired network, and in the process of just trying to get back to a direct connection between the main PC and the cable modem, I disconnected the phone. Since this happened late Saturday night, and we left early Sunday morning, we did not know why our calls to our mother went unanswered, and she was left desolate and disconnected. Fortunately, I was able to walk Misty through reconnecting the landline via our cells from the train. I’m thinking of recruiting a teenager to get that one resolved.
The reason I was so anxious to get the WiFi up is that I needed an internet connection to get the laptop setup completed, so that did not happen, and I did not take it on vacation with me, and did not get any writing done at all. I worked out the timeline for the main plot points in the graphic novel, but so much of it happens in flashback that I am still not sure where to put everything. Again, I may need a teenager.
We relaxed (napped) a great deal, and spent some quality family time with my brother and his wife. At dinner one night I mentioned my memories of him playing the intro to Smoke on the Water over and over again, and was surprised to learn that he did not like Deep Purple or that song, and he hated what a cliché Stairway to Heaven was, so avoided that.
What he told me, and I did not remember at all, was that shortly after getting Smoke on the Water down, he switched to Sweet Leaf by Black Sabbath. I had not heard of it, but going through the comments on the 100 Greatest Guitar songs, it is on there, so I listened to it, and I have to say that it, much like the rest of the Black Sabbath catalog, does nothing for me. This is no big surprise, as Lance’s tastes and mine tend to differ a lot.
However, it was a nice to learn something about him, and it happened because of going through the list, and led me back to something else related to the list, which is a nice bit of convergence with one of the other list results and vacation goals: reading an issue of Rolling Stone and seeing if it is something that I might aspire to. No!
I really hate that magazine. I read an issue many years ago, and I didn’t like it then, but I thought maybe I was wrong. I hate that magazine. Listening to all of this music has made me want to listen to more and learn more and know more. Reading Rolling Stone kind of made me feel like music is gross and I don’t want to listen to it anymore. I knew it was a false feeling, and that listening to good music again would cure it, and that’s already happened, but it’s crazy how negatively I reacted.
The question I had been wondering was whether it was possible to write meaningfully about music. To some extent, it was a silly question, because I had been writing about music for three weeks, basically, and it was meaningful to me anyway. The reason it was a question is vague memories of Rolling Stone being awful, and some points made by Steve Almond in “Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life”, and many concert reviews by critics who probably never belonged at the concert.
There was the question of taste, certainly, but I don’t think a fan will necessarily give the best feedback for a non-fan, and also while I was listening to different things I found my appreciation expanding, so it should be possible to do a reasonable review of something even if it is not your thing. There are probably a few hindrances.
One is definitely ego. I was reminded of the words of Anton Ego in Ratatouille:
In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.”
Some of the best writing in Rolling Stone was found in negative album reviews, where they cleverly skewered the weaknesses of the offering. I’m sure it was fun to write. Shawn Levy (Oregonian film critic) used to have some beauties in his movie reviews, and yet I find him more reliable now, at the same time that I find him more mellow. And I say that without in any way implying that he was wrong about Godzilla or Daredevil.
There may also be a question of depth. I was watching a clip of a live interview where some musicians were describing the thrill of their first recording, and the interviewer asked how it compared to a specific sex act. My first lucid thought, other than the emotional reaction of being appalled, was “Kurt Loder would never do that!”
Actually, I am not that familiar with Loder’s work, so maybe he would, but I know that he had some intellect and depth to him, and so didn’t need to. If I remember correctly with this other guy, he was trying to bring things down earlier, and it was not working because he was talking to guys who are smart and classy, but maybe he did not have it in him to even relate at that level. (The band deflected it nicely.)
A lot of what bothered me in the magazine was unearned adulation, which is common with any kind of celebrity interviews, but I’m sure there can be something better. Remember where Ego went next:
“But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations, the new needs friends.”
Surely there is a place for interesting and incisive commentary from an open mind, not only to introduce the truly new, but to popularize what has been around for a while for those who are unfamiliar with it.
When I was talking to my supervisor about the listening I was doing, she told me her ex-husband used to give people CDs of the music he thought they should be listening to. “But I don’t like bluegrass,” they would say, but he felt that they should.
I don’t want to be like that, but I am seeing the value in doing something. Thursday my dentist was talking about her daughter’s music, and while there were some songs that she would gladly never hear again, there was one that was good, and it really surprised her that there was anything current that she even could like. Then Saturday I found this:
He had assumed that good music was over too, and then it wasn’t. Years ago there was a special on The Day the Music Died, so they talked about the crash, and about the song American Pie, and they made a pretty good case for that being a devastating blow to rock, but it’s still out there. Maybe the music does die, but it is constantly reborn.
(Actually, I have a theory about worse times creating better music, so that we have better sound scenes under Republican presidents, but I have not had a chance to fully explore it.)
Anyway, I have a bug in my brain. I’m not sure where it’s going to go. I may start doing record reviews on the blog. I don’t know. For right now, I have like four pages of suggested songs from the comments on Stereogum, and that will probably lead to its own things, and I have lots of stuff to write about besides music, so the posts will just keep coming.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Why I wanted to like Alcatraz

As I was falling in love with Grimm, it started to occur to me that maybe I should try writing for it. Generally I am more drawn to movies than to television, because I like moving on to new things. When I wrote that one pilot and then had to come up with over twenty-six different potential episodes, that was really hard.
Still, it would be silly to not even think about it. Television is better to writers, there is less emphasis on coming up with “tentpoles” (a film that can hold up several sequels and lots of merchandising), and also this was something Portland, where I want to stay. (Though the writers are not based in Portland, so that’s less of a consideration.)
Anyway, when I looked into writing for television before, the way to do it was to write an episode for a similar but different show. You do this for two reasons. One is legal, because if your script is similar to something they were already going to do, they do not want to have ever read it. Believe me, I am down with protecting intellectual property.
The other is that you will view the show one way, but it is not necessarily the way that the people hiring will view it, and you may have differences that would prejudice them against your script even if it is otherwise well-written.
The trick then is to find a series that is a good balance, and be familiar enough with it that you could also write a reasonable episode for it. I thought I could have that in Alcatraz. Again, Once Upon A Time is not a similar show, despite the fairy tale aspect. However Alcatraz, much like Grimm, was basically a procedural with unusual elements.
I had some ideas that I really liked for Grimm, so I thought I would write one episode for Grimm (which maybe slid to two because there were two different ideas that I really liked), one for Alcatraz, and apply for both, plus Once Upon a Time as well. The flashbacks in Alcatraz could be somewhat approximate for the Fairy Tale Land sequences in Once Upon A Time, and then you are covering multiple bases.
I thought this was a great plan, and I was just going to wait until the seasons ended so I would not write anything that conflicted with something already aired, and also so I could finish up some other things. Unfortunately, I got to the point where I could not stand watching Alcatraz any more.
I am not sure if this disrupts the plan (except for the applying to Alcatraz part). If the other show is canceled, or if you are not sticking with canon because of episodes that you did not watch and never want to watch, well, if you still tell a good story it may be okay. I guess you have to wonder if anyone who is going to read it would be a big Alcatraz fan.
So, I don’t know what I am going to do. More on the overall writing plan next time coming up, with one specific detour first.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

I may just be shallow

While I have my own theories on what makes various shows work or not work for me, I can’t help but notice some correlation between the attractiveness of the lead characters and my tendency to gravitate towards the show.
Let’s look at my top two dramas, Grimm and Person of Interest. David Giuntoli and Jim Caviezel are both very attractive men. In addition, Caviezel has a certain physicality to which I am very susceptible.
I guess it is a combination of kinetic energy and grace. How can I explain this? From the ads for “A Perfect Murder” I had decided that Viggo Mortensen was quite good-looking, but seeing him sword-fighting and bashing heads in “The Lord of the Rings” took it to a whole new level.  When someone who has this quality is going to be doing a lot of action, it looks promising to me. It’s not always logical—the Bourne movies did nothing for me, but somehow Matt Damon’s fight scene in “Stuck on You” did, and the Bond movies are overkill for me, but Daniel Craig slamming Paul Dano into the bars in “Cowboys & Aliens” was great. Thank you for not judging.
Anyway, the thing that is interesting about this is that Alcatraz should have had a slam dunk here with Jeffrey Pierce. In both attractiveness and physicality he may be superior to both Giuntoli and Calviezel, and I do not make that claim lightly because they are beautiful and watchable men.
(Giuntoli is still my favorite, if for no other reason that he is single and I have a strong inner taboo against being attracted to married men, even for celebrity crushes. He gets a lot of Twitter proposals, though, so his days may be numbered.)
Alcatraz completely squandered what they had in Pierce. They wasted him! They created a really sympathetic character. He had a string of bad luck, but a minor robbery got him into federal prison, self-defense got him into Alcatraz, and there he was abused and lost the wife he adored. Pierce was nailing the emotions, and you could not take your eyes off of him. Okay, he’s a criminal, but fairly redeemable at that point, right? So let’s just have him kill four people in the first episode, two of them cops, one probably not as an effect of the brainwashing, and then see what you can do with him.
When I first saw the ads for Alcatraz, seeming Pierce moving is what sent me looking it up, and he wasn’t even in the main cast. I did some more digging, and saw he was a prisoner, but he was in multiple episodes, so I thought for sure that he would end up helping them, being an ally from the other side. Nope. They did not do anything interesting with him.
I realize that more use would not have fit in to their original model for the show, but if you are panning for gold and you happen to find a diamond, you don’t throw it away for not being gold. He was a diamond. Remember how The West Wing was supposed to focus on the staff and not the president, but then they changed it because Martin Sheen was so great? Yeah, then you may also remember that it got seven seasons. You know who’s canceled? Alcatraz.
One could argue that misuse of Jeffrey Pierce is merely one symptom of a general tendency to pursue bad ideas for that particular show. One the plus side, it occurs to me that Pierce would be perfect for, well, I’m calling it Foresight for now, but I don’t think that’s a particularly good title, and I hope to come up with a better one. He’s a little older than originally envisioned, but it totally works.
I see that I have gone off on a related tangent again, but my point is that it is a little unnerving to wonder how much of my television viewing is influenced by attractiveness. After all, with the existing series recording, White Collar, well, Matt Bomer is exceedingly pretty.
Is it really that I didn’t find Portlandia funny? Or is it that Fred Arminsen is not that good-looking? Is my problem with Leverage that I am only mildly attracted to Christian Kane (who beats up people very well)? Do I prefer Modern Family to Parks and Recreation because I prefer family-based humor to workplace humor, or is it that I think Ty Burrell is more attractive to Rob Lowe? Well, no, that’s not it.
Once Upon a Time may be the one that saves me here. Josh Dallas is not really my type, they tend to kill off the ones who are, and really my favorite is Robert Carlyle, who is not traditionally good-looking and is certainly not played up that way, but he’s captivating! And yet, here I go, uncomfortable thinking that I might be unduly influenced by attractiveness, and only able to defend myself by pointing out people I like who would be considered less attractive. This is just not good.
I’m going with that I like shows where there are likeable characters, good ensembles, writing that is logical but not necessarily predictable—at least I hope so. I mean, if I were truly shallow, wouldn’t I always be watching CW?

Saturday, May 19, 2012

DVR Results: Dramas

It seems unlikely that anyone reading this has not read the previous few posts, but if you haven’t, go back to Grimm is the clear winner. If I could only pick on series to DVR, that would be it, end of discussion.
However, I have no such constraints, and while there is not time nor DVR room enough to watch every show I fancy (if there was, I would add a lot of USA network shows), it is not a Highlander situation where there can only be one.
Once Upon A Time: I go straight to the other fairy tale show to get it over with that thematically and stylistically they are completely different, and I like them for different reasons. This one is more traditional fantasy (whereas Grimm is a procedural with fantastic elements), and some people have called it more of a soap opera. That may make sense, in that you have a continuing storyline, an expanded cast, and much of the drama comes from relationships, but a lot of people will use that term negatively, and I am not. What the show is doing, it is doing well. It is hard to imagine where they are going to go next year, but I’m planning on watching.
Person of Interest: This was a pleasant surprise. I was mainly interested in Jim Caviezel. He beats people up well, and it looked like he was going to be having plenty of chances to do it. I was not sure about the premise, but I have been finding the plots really engaging, and also enjoying Michael Emerson. The two leads have a fun chemistry. Again, it’s not a comedy, but there is comedy, and they mine it pretty well. They bring in some interesting recurring characters too, so overall, this one is a win.
Leverage: This is where I have the most mixed feelings. It is filmed in Portland, so I want to be loyal to it, like Grimm and Portlandia. (I even have a friend whose firm does sound mixing for them.) I also enjoy watching it, unlike Portlandia, but I do not feel compelled to watch it like Grimm. It’s a good show, and maybe some of it is just television fatigue, so that I can only make room for my absolute favorites and others that are worthy don’t fit in. Maybe the cons are just too complex for me.
Alcatraz: And now to lay in to the one that displeased me. Actually, I started out fairly interested, but much like a developing allergy, there were little things that bothered me here and there that started causing worse reactions.
I didn’t mind that the mystery was convoluted and the plot was advanced slowly. If you give me enough other things, I don’t mind a long mystery, and I had quickly concocted a pretty decent explanation for everything anyway, so I could always just look for confirmation.
First of all, and I realize this will seem odd given that I just admitted to being interested in watching Jim Caviezel beat people up, but I did not like the violence. It seemed like every episode had to have some blood spurting somewhere. It was not realistic looking, which you would think would help, but actually making things realistic tells me that it is being taken seriously, whereas this violence felt tacked on and cheesy. I like action a lot, but I don’t take violence lightly, and I don’t want it to be gratuitous. People aren’t disposable, whether they are villains or uninvolved collateral damage, and that matters.
The violence also led to issues with the characters. For one thing, they generally made the escaped prisoners very sympathetic, while Sam Neill’s character (Emerson) was just an ass, with many of the prison staff being horrible as well. That could be an interesting way of treating it, where you were not sure whom to root for, and it could have created interesting conflict for the two other leads. Instead they would have all of these sympathetic characters murdering people, in increasingly inventive ways. This was completely unnecessary because most of the Alcatraz prisoners were not murderers. They were discipline issues, but not generally the type of clever serial killers that the show kept portraying.
Creativity is great, but it didn’t end up making the individual episodes more interesting or pleasant, and it limits the potential of the more interesting characters, who end up captured murderers that will just be rotting in their new jail cells.
They did end up adding some layers to Emerson, but the damage was already done, and it became a chore to watch. This is unfortunate, because I had a specific reason for wanting to watch it, which I will cover in a different post. Regardless, it is unfortunate, because that was a really interesting premise, and so it feels like the most squandered potential. Uh oh—maybe it reminds me of myself! Or they may be another factor, which shall be discussed in the next post.

Friday, May 18, 2012

DVR Results: Comedies

Actually, I am not sure that most of these would be straight comedies or dramas, as you could classify the dramas especially as action shows or sci-fi/fantasy shows instead. Between comedy and drama, I like a mix. Most of these shows, especially Grimm and Person of Interest, have healthy doses of humor, and while Scrubs was classified as a sitcom, it would often hit hard emotionally. But that’s how I roll. I have a serious life, perceived humorously as much as possible. So really, it’s the half-hour show and the hour shows, and we are starting with the half-hour shows.
The big winner here is Big Bang Theory. It is funny, and I do enjoy it, but the real source of its victory is that my family likes it. Mom looks forward to it, and is fascinated by Sheldon (never having had a kid quite that weird, I guess), and Julie and Maria seriously cackle with laughter at it. It is easier to have something that the whole family likes. Generally, they think I like weird stuff. (They may have a point.Just to give you a baseline, sitcoms I have loved in the past include Frasier, News Radio, and Scrubs.)
Of the others that I have been checking out, my favorite has been Modern Family. Continuing with the weird animal analogies for our laughter, this one makes me bark like a seal—in that the laughs come from places that I am generally not expecting, and so there are these unexpected sharp bursts of laughter. I can’t define why it appeals to me so much, but it does. The first episode I saw was “Fizzbo”, and I have not loved any of them quite as much as that (good leadup, good payoff, and good handling of clown issues), but still every episode has had some laughs and also some emotional depth.
Parks and Recreation: I think this one has a good chance of making it on to the family watching list also, due to Rob Lowe. My sisters and I recently read his memoir, and their love for him was firmly cemented by it, so I have actually heard one of them say that they need to try watching it. I love his utter dorkiness, but I suspect my favorite characters will be April and Andy. And Champion, of course. I am not loving the election storyline, and I can see that the subject matter may not appeal to me as strongly.
Community: This has moments that I really appreciate, but I think is being handicapped on two levels. One is that by my somewhat random pattern of recording, I seem to keep missing the strongest episodes, and getting the ones that people don’t like quite as much. The other, though, is that I think this might be a show where joining late is more of a handicap, where a deeper familiarity really enhances the enjoyment. I’m not opposed to going there, and I definitely do wish them six seasons and a movie, even if I am not watching. (And no, I did not see that episode either.)
30 Rock: This one is not new to me, as I have watched it before, and sometimes I love it and sometimes it doesn’t do that much for me. I am glad when it is brilliant, but there’s no way of knowing in advance.
That just leaves Portlandia. Portlandia was pretty disappointing. There were good bits. The Battlestar Galactica bits were great. Wanting to watch “just one more” is something I totally get, I loved the Moores, and getting in Edward James Olmos, Jamie Callis, and the real Ronald D. Moore is just a coup. Also, the punchline with starting in on Doctor Who was a perfect ending. I need to give major props to that episode. Also, I found the one couple’s trip to the wedding planner, breakdown during rehearsal, and the divvying up of friends that resulted in reconciliation over a Pub Quiz memory and basketball tip off wedding to be funny and touching and pretty Portland. The opening bit for that one show where everyone was a DJ, yeah, I can totally see that happening. Oh, and I adore Kyle McLachlan as Mayor, even if I am totally burned out on Sam Adams.
The only problem is that there’s a lot more to the show, and I basically just covered everything I like. I was surprised to find my mother laughing more than I did, and it wasn’t that she got the stereotypes that they were mocking—she was just laughing at people being idiots.
I remember when I read the first review of the show, and that complaint was that the punchline for pretty much every skit was someone freaking out over something, when I tend to think of us as really kind of mellow out here. Some of it may be perspective, because I do not actually live in Portland—I’m out in the suburbs and commute in. Most of my time here I spend in downtown and some in Oldtown, and they are in different areas for their filming usually, so maybe in some areas people do freak out more, and I just don’t know it.
However, it was more that a lot of the ideas sounded funny, but then the execution was not. I get the idea of an adult Hide and Seek team or Scavenger Hunt team with a really short guy giving them the advantage being funny, but then they weren’t. I’m glad I finally saw the first episode, because since I heard about it I would sometimes think “If you liked it then you should have put a bird on it” (to the tune of Single Ladies), and the opening bit when they are putting birds on everything is kind of funny, and then the idea that they would find a real bird completely repulsive is also somewhat funny, but again, Mom laughed pretty hard and I got annoyed.
See how much easier it is to explain why you don’t like something than why you do? Maybe I should use the summer to catch up on the first few seasons of Community.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The new DVR line-up

First of all, let me say how much I love my DVR. Having many years of working late shifts, I missed a lot of shows, and I can see now that often the shows I got into were primarily dictated by my work schedule. It’s nice to not have that as a factor, and even nicer to be able to fast forward commercials.

Having the DVR is a fairly recent development for us, but it has seen many different configurations since that time. I think the first thing we started recording regularly was Jeopardy!, followed by The Bold and The Beautiful. (That was originally for Mom, and then I kind of started watching it because my mother and all my aunts watched it, and then Julie and Maria got into it, and then it started getting so stupid that we had to give it up. I mean, it was always kind of stupid, but it has found crazy new lows to that stupidity.)

We did record new episodes of SVU, which we gave up, and we used the magic of DVR to record and watch every single King of the Hill episode. (Well, Julie and I did. Maria had a bad experience with a Texan that has hampered her enjoyment of the series.). We still have a handful of favorite episodes on tap for that.

We also used the DVR to watch A-Team episodes, first via BET and then through Centric. However, we have acquired DVDs for seasons 1-4 (5 sucked, but we may still pick it up for completeness sake), and this is better. First of all it does not take up precious DVR space, but also, what they air now has clips missing, and going back with the DVDs and seeing scenes that we remembered but have not seen since the 80’s has been pretty cool.  We are currently recording reruns of the Jack Benny show for the same reason.

I suppose to some extent it took us a while to get used to the technology, and start using it more. I have never been an early adopter. I guess it was partly a combination of increased familiarity, but also that there were shows that I kept reading about, and thinking I might like, but was not available to watch. I ended up setting up several season passes.

I can blame a lot of it on Television Without Pity. I would read recaps of shows, and think they sounded good, but sometimes even with shows that they did not recap, I would read in the forums, and see if they sounded good. Sometimes it’s just easier to read about television than to watch it. I know a lot about a lot of shows that I have never watched. But sometimes, you want to.

I was interested in both of the fairy tale shows, so I started recording both Once Upon a Time and Grimm. I thought I would be more interested in Once Upon a Time, but, while I like it a lot, I do prefer Grimm. At the time, even though I did not realize how much I would love it, part of recording Grimm was Portland loyalty, and that made me think I should also be recording Leverage and Portlandia. I also threw in Alcatraz and Person of Interest. (I have been recording White Collar for a while now.)

Now, that is already a lot of television, but it is pretty much all drama and action shows, with the exception of Portlandia. There were sitcoms that sounded good too. I have not set up any season passes, but I have at times recorded episodes of Community, Modern Family, and Parks and Recreation, (and sometimes 30 Rock, which I have watched before). Also, in Mexico my sisters became addicted to Big Bang Theory, and Maria will often record episodes of that.

That’s an awful lot of television. There was no way it could hold. In our next post, we’ll go over who made the cut.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

10 reasons you should be watching Grimm

As I mentioned yesterday, my new procedural show is Grimm. I admit it is not your standard procedural show, due to the supernatural element, but it still works for me. The police have been shown as dedicated professionals, and they basically get a case, investigate, and seek resolution. If one of the detectives happens to be able to see things his partner can’t, and therefore discusses them with a very knowledgeable civilian who is familiar with aspects of that world, it is handled well. (Nick is starting to get some shades of grey now when there are Grimm things that do not fit well within the world of police work, and Renard makes some really questionable calls, but they are both good at their jobs.)
Just in case you have not already joined me in recognizing the superiority of this show, allow me to give you some reasons why you should be watching Grimm.
1.       Portland: Okay, some of that is local girl loyalty, and seeing familiar places does add an element of interest, but there is much more to it. First of all, it is different. We already see plenty of New York (or Toronto) and Los Angeles, but you can get some additional richness by branching out, and the mossy, timbered, primeval nature of Portland fits well with a world where a surprising amount of the population is part woodland creature.
2.       The expanded population: I really love those beavers, but the medical examiner is good too, and really, there are not many guest stars that I would not mind seeing again. Actually, I hope we see the priest again—I feel like there’s a lot more to know.
3.       The layers: Add there being “more to know” to a lot of things actually. Grimm is an intelligent show that trusts the viewers to have some intelligence too. Things aren’t always spelled out for you. Sometimes they are obvious with a little thinking, and sometimes they leave intriguing questions.
4.       They’re getting better about the women: Concerns were expressed early on about the heavily male cast, and Bitsie Tulloch’s character, Juliette, being underused. I think that was reasonable. The show is centered on Nick, and the cases he encounters, so more time was naturally spent between his official partner, Hank, and his unofficial consultant, Monroe. Also, they were leaving things vague with Juliette to allow freedom for future plot twists, but I think it hampered the character and the actress. That being said, they are giving Juliette more interesting things to do, she is handling some difficult situations quite well, and Bree Turner’s new recurring character, Rosalee, is awesome.
5.       The optimistic worldview: Suddenly finding out that your family legacy is to see the true faces of supernatural characters, and all the responsibility that entails, can be pretty difficult, and Nick’s Aunt Marie referred to it as the family curse. However, Nick is taking it in stride, and finding rewards in it. He has made new friendships and is better able to solve many cases. It’s not that things are problem-free, or that worse complications are not coming, but there is still a lot of good in the world. Comparing it to the X-files, it was an intelligent, interesting show, but pretty much every episode was a bummer. Grimm is a better world.
6.       Not gratuitous: There have been some nasty visuals, and usually you are starting with a dead body, but they then move on without being too squicky. In addition, it does not wallow in the fetishized erotic misogyny so common to horror. Before I started watching we were seeing an ad campaign in Mexico that was all lingerie-clad dead women, so I had concerns, but they have not been necessary. I know these things don’t matter to everyone, but I find it refreshing. And, if that’s what you want, you are probably watching cable.
7.     Respect for the actors: I am about to single out three of the actors, and that makes me feel guilty for not singling out all of them, which basically means guilt over not saying something specific about Russell Hornsby (Hank) and Reggie Lee (Wu), so now I have. Seriously though, I enjoy both characters a lot, and one thing I remember reading was that the writers allowed the actors to influence their characters, and let their own personalities shine through. That sort of mutual appreciation and collaboration is producing really good results, and well-written characters portrayed by good actors is good stuff, leading to the next three.
8.     Sasha Roiz (Renard): It has been really interesting to watch where this character is going. Initially I saw a heroic side, where he would come through for things that were important, and now in retrospect it looks like maybe what is important has always basically been self-interest, but Roiz really sells it, and he is not afraid to go out on a limb (as is especially evident watching “Three Coins in a Fuchsbau).
9.     Silas Weir Mitchell (Monroe): This is my favorite character of Mitchell’s by far, and I loved Crazy-Eyed Donnie from My Name is Earl. It is especially fun in that for an actor who has so frequently done mentally unbalanced and skeevy, Monroe is such a contrast. He charmingly quirky, but he is also intelligent, disciplined, principled, and sane. His interactions with Nick are some of the most enjoyable parts of a really enjoyable show.
10.  David Giuntoli (Nick): What a find! It may have seemed like a gamble to some casting a relative unknown as the series lead, but he creates such a warm, relatable everyman. I loved his recent interaction with the Eisbiebers where Nick told Bud he was brave for coming back to Nick and giving gifts. Some watchers saw this as self-serving, because it gets Nick free pie without really requiring much courage, but Nick was trying to help Bud find his courage, and did not have much to work with, and it worked. This conveys intelligence and caring, but he also pulled it off due to considerable charisma, as you could kind of see Bud and his friends all developing little man-crushes on Nick. Without being an overly perfect character, Nick is always likable and relatable. He is perfect as the heart of the show.
The season finale is this Friday night, but you can start watching the reruns and be all caught up for fall. What are you waiting for?