Friday, November 30, 2012

Xmas in the Air

On Monday, I broke down, sifted through my CDs and began listening to holiday music. So far, I've been able to keep it to a minimum -- A Christmas Cornucopia from Annie Lennox and Christmas Collection from The Carpenters which includes my favorite Christmas song, Merry Christmas, Darling. But Caesar had to buy Cee Lo Green's holiday album, which is actually a good collection. Lots of R&B stylings intermixed with kitschy fun like his duet with the Muppets and You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch with Straight No Chaser.

Perhaps this weekend,I'll pull the tree from storage along with all the lights, glass ornaments and Disney memorabilia, and holiday up the apartment since I'm already in the spirit of things.

Image from dogwelder's Flickr stream. CC BY-NC 2.0

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Gamer Geek

I spent some of the holiday break playing video games, specifically inFAMOUS, and finally understanding how some people can get lost in the games for days on end. The game world is 360˚ with something constantly happening wherever you look. Plus, it's fun to play the hero, saving an entire city from the evil clutches of a strange organization bent upon world domination.

And I get to shoot lightning bolts from my hands, which is always a plus.

I initially began playing inFAMOUS because I reached certain points in many other games at which I could not figure out a way to move beyond them. in Epic Mickey, the cyborg pirates prevented me from reaching the door to Skull Island; in Cursed Mountain, evil ghosts trapped me within the courtyard of an abandoned Himalayan village, preventing me from uncovering the karmic locks which held the spell in place; in Alice: The Madness Returns, the cyclopean tea pots spat hot tea at me and pounced whenever I thought I had the chance to reload my pepper grinder. I kept forcing myself head on into each of the situations, always ending with the same result: my frustrated defeat. So I felt a change of game might help me to break through the gaming roadblocks.

And surprisingly, it has. The challenges in inFAMOUS were just as difficult -- like protecting a busload of injured people as it traveled from the southern end of one island, warding off vomiting hordes along the way, to a drawbridge undergoing a tremendous battle between warring gangs, then guiding the bus to a hospital where it was summarily thrown skyward to land atop said hospital -- and then, I had to find a way to reach the bus without tipping off the baddies that I was there and save the girl. Jumping directly into the mess appeared to be the only option until I looked at the buildings, discovered unguarded back routes, performed sky attacks, and eventually saved the day. (After four or five tries, that is.)

I told myself that if I could make it through that challenge, then nothing should be holding me back on the other games. I set one game aside and tried my hand again at dueling with the cyborg pirates...and discovered that I could lead them into pits without too much trouble. Instead of attacking the evil ghosts, I ran from them and discovered the karmic locks, breaking them open and finding my way through the village and up part of the mountain. And the teapots...well, I haven't dealt with them yet. But I will. Eventually.

Because I know that I can defeat them. Now, if only that would work with my writer's block....

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Be-Lated Thasnkgiving Wishes

I'm a bit late with the holiday greetings. I hope everyone who celebrated the holiday enjoyed spending time with friends and family. It was a quiet day for us, spending the morning playing inFAMOUS -- and finally completing a mission that had be bogged down for days -- or watching Caesar play Batman: Arkham Asylum. I spent the evening with my family while Caesar dined with his. Very uneventful which was nice. Just a relaxing meal with the folks, my brother, and my aunt and uncle.

Friday, we braved the Black Friday crowds to catch Skyfall at one of the nearby malls. I almost threw up a little when the cashier handed us our tickets, and they actually said Twilight: Breaking Dawn on them. But that was quickly rectified by the Manager for which I am thankful. We both enjoyed the movie, and personally, I think Javier Bardem was fantastic as the villain. As for the film itself, lots of action, amazing stunts, and a very good story that shifts much of the focus to M. And is it just me, or is Daniel Craig required to have shirtless scenes in all his films? Not that I'm complaining....

The rest of the weekend will be filled with just that: rest. A fw video games here and there, reading further in Dale Peck's Body Surfing, finally getting that short story idea onto paper since it's due by the end of December, and of course The Walking Dead tomorrow.

Image from 13th Street Studio

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Expression

One of the topics we discussed at my meeting a few weeks ago focused on communication and what is the most important part of any face-to-face meeting? Surprisingly, what a person says and how they say it ranked lower on the scale than how a person looks (i.e., non-verbal cues). Think of a phone interview during which all you hear are the questions and responses, maybe a few moments of silence while notes are being written. That's fairly straightforward. But, switch that to an in-person interview. As you're answering a question, the interviewer looks at his watch, or yawns, or doesn't make eye contact. That changes the whole tone of the interview and how you respond to the ensuing questions.

The reason I bring this up is because I recently received a wireless headset for use in the office, and I notice that as I speak -- whether via video conference or Google Hangout or Adobe Connect -- my hands and arms are in constant motion, as if I'm trying to enhance descriptions with hand gestures. When I say something is big, my hands fly up over my head then slowly pan down, outstretched at my sides, just to show how big that something is. I'm noticing that I do this more and more since the headset arrived, even on regular, non-video calls.

And I no longer have a crick in my neck from trying to hold the handset up to my ear while I type!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Quickie Book Review: Ice Palace

by Edna Ferber

Growing up in the Alaskan city of Baranof, Christine Storm knows more about the territory of Alaska than most native borns. Her grandfathers both traveled to the area with hopes of making a name for themselves in the undiscovered lands. As Christine grows up in this ice-covered world, both her grandfathers try to win her over to his views on the future of the territory. Zebedee Kennedy -- known simply as Czar to his friends and enemies -- imagines dollar signs in his mind when he thinks of Alaska and its vast oil fields. Alaska isn't the proper place for a young girl to grow up; she needs to spend time in Seattle, in San Francisco, in Washington, learning about how decisions are made and how those influence a potentially prosperous future for Alaska. Thor Storm sees the value in learning about Alaska -- from its people to the fish and wildlife to the land itself. Nature provides everything that the people need, if the people will only look for it and learn how to use it.

As Christine grows older, the friendly feud between the warring grandfathers expands, ultimately coming to a head when Christine prepares for college. After years of exploring the peoples and the vast wilderness with Thor and learning about the wheeling and dealing performed by Czar to make certain that Christine has the best of everything, the ultimate decision about where her future lies comes down to a single incident in Washington, DC, changing the lives and the direction of everyone Christine knows.

To put it simply, Edna Ferber's Ice Palace reads as a love letter to the then Territory of Alaska. Through Thor's excursions with Christine, Ferber paints an idyllic portrait of the land and its people, seen through Christine's untainted eyes. Everything is fresh and new, the air crisp, the rivers and lakes full of wonders. And it's very easy to understand Christine's choices as much of the book follows her travels with Thor. Czar, when he appears, is the kindly curmudgeon but has no qualms about letting his need for power and influence show to the public as well as to those around him. Ferber paints him as a villain, and frankly, I fell in line with that and enjoyed the tale immensely. I don't mind that at times, especially when the story is as interesting as that in Ice Palace.

Ice Palace
by Edna Ferber
Doubleday and Company, Inc.
hardcover, 351 pgs

purchased book

Friday, November 16, 2012

For Dwayne

Thank you for sharing your friendship and your love of all things Disney. You will always be remembered. Rest in Peace, my friend.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Diagnosis

My Dad met with a cardiologist on Thursday, and the diagnosis is congenital heart failure -- at least, he's 95% sure. My Dad needs to schedule a heart sonogram within the next few weeks to know for sure for sure. Just saying the name brings terrible visions of what the disease can possibly do so over the next few days and weeks, I'm going to be reading up on what the disease is and how we can help my Dad.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The ATL

The meeting in Atlanta turned out to be one of the best I've attended. A great opportunity not only to meet everyone with whom I've been emailing or video chatting with, but a chance to share ideas and brainstorm -- which is exactly what we did. We even whittled down a few ideas into at least one major proposal.

Usually with these trips, I don't have much time for sightseeing -- flying the first day, meeting the next, flying home on the final day. So I neglected to pack a camera. Looking back, that was incredibly stupid of me because our hotel -- the Hotel Indigo -- sat next door to the Georgian Terrace Hotel where Vivian Leigh stayed while filming Gone with the Wind and directly across the street from that was the Fox Theatre. And also because after our all-day meeting on Friday, we hopped aboard a Fur Bus (to everyone's surprise) and toured many of Atlanta's tourist attractions...albeit after they were closed. We started with dinner at The Varsity for burgers, hotdogs, and fries, and to listen to the cashiers shouting "What'll ya have? What'll ya have?". We even managed to squeeze into the old high school desks they used instead of traditional seating. On the walk back to the bus, a few people snapped pictures of the Olympic Torch with their iPhones. From there, we stopped at -- in no particular order -- Turner Field, the World of Coca-Cola, the Georgia Aquarium, Centennial Olympic Park, the CNN Center, and finally the Margaret Mitchell House. In three hours, we saw what would normally take a few days to see and had a blast riding listening to loud dance music and just being silly.

Of course, I walked back to the Margaret Mitchell House the next morning to snap a quick pic with my Blackberry before joining the rest of the group for breakfast at the Broadway Diner.

These are the only good pictures I was able to take with my phone: a metal scorpion outside a Tequila bar; the inside of the CNN Center with its world's longest free-standing escalator; and the Margaret Mitchell House. Oh, and I did manage to unlock the Atlanta badge on Foursquare.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Into the Wild Blue Yonder

I should be in the air by the time this posts, wending my way to Atlanta with a stopover in Salt Lake City. (Why I have to go Northeast to go Southeast is a mystery to me.) This means I will be in the air for at least 8 hours. Luckily, I have a book or two -- The Bostonians by Henry James and A Dog's Ransom by Patricia Highsmith -- not to mention a notepad with pages of information about a new short story that I need to get out of my head. Zombies and movie stars...should be interesting.

It's a work-related trip -- my second such this year -- so much of my time will be in meetings and training sessions. But being a Foursquare addict, I also have my route planned out to obtain the coveted Atlanta badge so I have quite a bit to cram in before my return flight Saturday afternoon. (Like any good writer visiting Atlanta, I plan on stopping by the Margaret Mitchell House which isn't too far from the office.)

Image from Foursquare Atlanta.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

History Repeating

Yesterday morning, I managed to be the first person in line to vote at my polling station. And it was an exhilarating experience, marking my ballot, watching it zip through the scanner (to electronically record my vote), sticking the sticker on my shirt, and waling out the door to a smattering of applause. Yes, people clapped. Shocked me, too. This marks the second time since reaching voting age that I stepped into a polling station. Before then, it was all absentee, but these last two Presidential election felt too important to not vote in person.

We watched the results last night, and a particular song kept going through my head, so I searched YouTube and found the video for it. Maybe it's apt - maybe it isn't, but I kinda like it.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Those Dancing Feet

Last night, we met with our friend Clark to catch a production of 42nd Street staged by Musical Theatre West. They have a reputation for putting on Broadway-caliber shows, and this latest was no exception.

For those not familiar with the musical -- either on stage or on the big screen -- it tells the story of Peggy Sawyer, fresh from Allentown, PA, and trying to make it into her first Broadway show: Pretty Lady produced by the one and only Julian Marsh. It's a wonderful look into what goes on backstage when trying to put on a show and features great music, with classics like We're in the Money, Lullaby of Broadway, and 42nd Street. And it's definitely a dancer's show.

The opening number is one of the few that has ever caused chills to run up and down my spine: the curtain rises part way to show a solid wall of tap dancing feet as the boys and girls audition for the chorus line. When the curtain rises, it's a dazzling display of tap dancing that leaves you in awe. It's scenes like that that make me wish I had learned how to dance (and act and sing). And the momentum keeps steamrolling as the show continues, not letting the audience rest for a moment.

We enjoyed the entire performance -- the dancing, the singing, the incredible cast. And now, I want to re-watch Ginger Rogers in the original film.....

Saturday, November 03, 2012

The Heart of the Matter

My Dad called last Sunday night, leaving a message on our home voicemail. We didn't return home until late so I returned his call from work Monday morning. He started with his usual banter about how everything's okay, the repairman fixed his lift chair so that he could sleep at night (since he hasn't slept in the bed for more than 10 years), telling me about how much he dislikes my brother's unkempt beard, and so on, being his usual, jovial self. Then, he mentioned his doctor.

"Well," he said slowly, "the doctor heard some rattling in my chest and thinks I've got the beginnings of congestive heart failure."

My thoughts stopped for a few moments with those three words.

When my brain eventually re-started, "Are you sure?"

"He seems to think so." My Dad spoke so nonchalantly about it, as if it were just par for the course. Here was my Dad, who'd survived four major heart attacks, prostate cancer, and an horrific head trauma, telling me that he has an incurable disease. Correction: he may have an incurable disease"You know how my ankles and feet are always swollen. Even the water pills don't seem to do much. He thinks that's a symptom, and the rattling pushed him closer to it."

"But he's not sure?"

"Well, I have to go in for more tests, but he's probably right." I heard him sigh. "Growing old is terrible."

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Queer Fish, Too

A new speculative fiction anthology is out -- Queer Fish, Volume 2 -- containing my short story Renovations. I'm excited as this is my first all-gay anthology, and I hope it won't be the last. Not to disappoint anyone, but those two gentlemen on the cover have nothing to do with my short story -- though I'm curious to find out in which story they do appear.

And I almost forgot: if you have an account over at Goodreads, the publisher of Queer Fish, Volume 2 is giving away 5 copies, so enter you name now!