Lucky 13

Photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash

Portentous. That’s the word that comes to mind when thinking of this past Sunday, January 20. The Saints played the NFC Championship game in the Superdome, there was a lunar eclipse, or “blood moon,” later that evening, AND Husband Tim and I celebrated our thirteenth wedding anniversary.

First thing that comes to mind, honestly, is that I can’t believe I’ve been blogging for more than three years. I wrote about our tenth anniversary in this post: Notching a Decade. And, the second thing, is that thirteen has never been a big deal to me. Not to make light of it — I get that triskaidekaphobia is a very real thing. Every time I get on an airplane with no row 13, or in an elevator in a building with no apparent 13th floor, I understand that the number inspires a real enough fear in enough people that such decisions get made.

It’s just never been a big deal to me. My feelings are akin to Jim Lovell’s, in one of my favorite movies, Apollo 13. His wife, Marilyn, expresses concern over the number of his mission: “Naturally, it’s 13. Why 13?” she asks. Jim Lovell’s reply: “It comes after 12, hon.”

The same thing goes for eclipses. I’m fascinated by the synchronized timing and alignment of these giant celestial bodies, and the tricks they play on us earth dwellers (click here for my observations of fireflies during a solar eclipse). But I don’t think they herald any particular play of luck: good, bad, or otherwise.

So, I did not feel any particular foreboding ahead of that NFC Championship game. Tim and I were there together, as part of our anniversary celebration. Our spirits, and optimism, were high. Yet, the Saints lost, in a particularly painful fashion. (A missed call by game officials in the last minutes of regulation play turned the tide against us.) For those not in New Orleans, let’s just say, to qualify the loss as heartbreaking is a grand understatement.

In retrospect, do I think the number of years we’ve been married, or the red moon, had any impact on the unfortunate turn of events for the Saints? No. I didn’t pre-game, and I still don’t. But as a fiction writer, these are the types of noteworthy details that add compelling dimension to any conflict.

And for the record, if I was writing this story, the Saints would have won. 😦

Yojimbo

So, I watched Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo recently. Decades have passed since the last time I’d seen it. And really, I’ve only seen it one time through. It’s not like I spent a long-ago summer watching and re-watching it. Though I might correct that mistake this summer. Thanks to Amazon, I now own a digital Criterion Collection version.

Two things stayed with me, from that single viewing years ago. One–the theme. It’s this fascinating mix of sounds. Opens with amazing percussion, then horns, and strings. And the second thing is the way Toshiro Mifune fights. It’s cemented in my memory as this mind-boggling run-run-stab-stab dance. No, not so much a dance, as an obstacle course. Like American Ninja Warrior, but with a lone Samurai killing machine.

Actually, it was modern-day killing machine John Wick that inspired me to revisit Yojimbo. The first John Wick was playing on TV, and something about the scene in the night club, where John Wick is going after the bad guy who murdered his puppy, made me think of Toshiro Mifune. Except with Keanu Reeves, it was more of a run-run-shoot-shoot kind of movement.

There’s so much I could write about Yojimbo. There are so many more masterly details I picked up on. But I’ll try to be succinct, and I’ll start with the two items that have stayed with me through the years. They’re both pretty elemental, and they didn’t disappoint.

  • The theme: in the beginning, Sanjuro (Toshiro Mifune) is wandering, and encounters a couple at a home on the outskirts of the town. The woman is inside at a silk loom, and the sound of it is very pronounced: two beats, a lull in between, two beats, all in an even rhythm. The theme mimics the sound of the loom–those same two beats, done via horns, thread through the music of the film. Subtle yet phenomenal.
  • Toshiro Mifune: it’s not just the way he fights, it’s the way he inhabits the character of Sanjuro. He’s shot from behind quite a bit, so the viewer sees right over his shoulder. You see the way he adjusts his shoulders in his kimono right before he fights. And sometimes after. He’s pretty badass.
  • Yojimbo as inspiration: I think its pretty widely known that Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars and Walter Hill’s Last Man Standing are retellings of Yojimbo’s story. But maybe less well-known is that my favorite comic book of all time, Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo, was inspired by it. Usagi is this awesome bunny, a masterless samurai who wanders through feudal Japan, helping the helpless along the way. If memory serves, his long-gone lord whom he could no longer serve (because he was dead) was named Mifune. Usagi was the reason I first checked out the movie Yojimbo so long ago.
  • And one last bit of trivia: Yojimbo is distributed by Toho Co., Ltd., one of the big film studios in Japan. The main reason I know Toho? One word; one big, green, word: Godzilla. So I was pretty thrilled when I received the production schedule for the cover art and layout for my next novel, The Trouble on Highway One. The designer had abbreviated the title on the schedule. Wait for it, it ties together, I promise. My new novel’s abbreviated title? TOHO. (Yes!!)

Hall of Mirrors

The view when I look left from my writing desk

I saw Skyscraper this past weekend, the latest movie starring Dwayne Johnson (a.k.a. The Rock). The movie ticked all the right boxes for me–wildly implausible but enjoyable. If there’s one thing I can say about the Rock, he sells the wildly implausible like no one else. He makes a bad movie better, and a good movie great.

Don’t think I’m spoiling anything by talking about the ending scene…it takes place in a hall of mirrors. A super-updated, high-tech hall of mirrors that viewers are introduced to in the first third of the movie. A not-so-subtle telegraphing of “you know the thrilling conclusion is going to take place here.”

Hall-of-mirrors fight scenes are pretty memorable, when done well. Watching Skyscraper’s version, I recalled the most recent one I’ve seen. It was in John Wick: Chapter 2, and it was Ruby Rose stealing the show there.

But given Skyscraper’s Hong Kong setting, and the visual element of the dragon used throughout the movie, I have to think that the mirrors were a nod to the ORIGINAL mirror fight scene in 1973’s Enter the Dragon.

It had been a while since I’d seen this seminal bit of cinema, and it’s been a pleasure watching it again and again on YouTube. If you’ve never seen Bruce Lee in action, don’t wait, and don’t finish reading this post. Skip straight to YouTube and check him out.

If the mirror scene in Enter the Dragon was an homage to some pre-cursor movie, I don’t know it. And given that it was Lee’s final film, it’s okay by me to let the movie claim “we did it first.”  Bruce Lee was another bright star that left too soon.

Personally, I encounter mirrors all the time, but I’ve never had a mirror fight scene. Don’t really want one. I’m not the most coordinated person around, and I don’t think I’d fare well in a fight. But I think there’s a way to take the elements of the scene and apply them to the skill I do possess–writing.

Bruce Lee’s character in Enter the Dragon (the character’s name is also Lee) hears the words of the Shaolin Abbott during the mirror scene:

“The enemy has only images and illusions behind which he hides his true motives. Destroy the image and you will break the enemy.”

While that quote definitely works for the scene, it’s kind of tough to extrapolate meaning to apply specifically to my writing. But digging a little further, here are Lee’s words that precede that quote:

A good fight should be like a small play, but played seriously. A good martial artist does not become tense, but ready. Not thinking, yet not dreaming. Ready for whatever may come. When the opponent expands, I contract. When he contracts, I expand. And when there is an opportunity, I do not hit. It hits all by itself.

Substitute story for fight and opponent, and writer for martial artist and I, and there are some seeds of wisdom I can get behind.

39 Hours in New York

Photo by Hugh Stevenson on Unsplash

I had the opportunity to go to New York City last weekend. I went to attend a celebration—my long-time friend Hud was marking a certain milestone birthday. Jet Blue offers a direct flight to JFK airport from New Orleans, that happened to be very reasonably priced at the time I booked it. I stayed in New Rochelle with my Sister Elizabeth, who was kind enough to offer room and board for two nights. So when you come right down to it, it would have been shameful for me not to make the trip to see old friends and get in a family visit, too.

The party was Friday evening, so I caught the 7:05 pm train from New Rochelle into Grand Central Station. I assumed it wasn’t as crowded as the train going in the opposite direction. I like riding trains, and I wish I could utilize them more often. I wonder how different my habits might be if I could commute via riding versus driving. Would I daydream as much if a train ride was an everyday thing? Because, man, do I daydream. I watch the buildings and train stops go by, and I wonder what type of stories I’d be inspired to write. “There are eight million stories in the naked city. . .”

And then, Grand Central! Talk about stories. GCT is pretty impressive. For some reason, Frankfurt’s train station (the hauptbahnhof) sticks in my memory as bigger and more impressive. But for U.S. train stations, Grand Central gets the prize. I think of all those stories intersecting.

My own story was close to intersecting, or rather, reconnecting to threads from the past. Hud’s party was a quick walk from Grand Central. Hud was one of the friends I wrote about just a few weeks ago, friends from my Los Angeles days. (He moved to New York from California several years ago). I was not the only one to make the trip to New York; I was thrilled that friends Craig and Bart also traveled to attend the party. And I met friends of Hud from his Texas A&M days that I had only ever heard about.

Several days on, I still have one overriding feeling: gratitude. A profound sense of gratitude. My Los Angeles days were a remarkable time, and I’m grateful that I still feel so connected to the friends I made while there.

I’m going to conclude with a quote from Thor: Ragnarok, which may seem like a big game of mental leap-frog, but hear me out. Central to that movie’s storyline is this quote: “Asgard’s not a place, it’s a people.” I feel that way about Los Angeles. It’s not the place, but the people, the people who populated my life who helped me understand the difference. The difference between making a living and making a life.

 

Three things I learned about Pacific Rim

I saw Pacific Rim: Uprising this past weekend. I thoroughly enjoyed it. The events in this sequel take place ten years after 2013’s Pacific Rim. So, only five years passed in real life, while ten years went by in movie time.

Still, that five years in real time is notable. By Hollywood standards, it’s a little lengthy for a sequel release. It seems to me, the hit movie makers don’t want to give audiences time to forget what they love about a movie. It seems even the most persnickety of filmmakers get their sequels out in no longer than a three-year time span.

But maybe I’m thinking way too much about this. Before the movie, I saw a trailer for Incredibles 2. That’s a fourteen-year lapse since the first Incredibles. Who knows?

Anyway, regarding Pacific Rim: I did not forget what I loved about the first one. That’s why I saw it opening weekend. I accompanied Niece Nicole and her friend Rachel to an early Saturday IMAX showing.

So what do I love about the world of Pacific Rim? Lots of stuff, but underlying it all is probably that it’s a story about kaiju. Who, in the Pacific Rim universe, are giant, engineered sea monsters. I have a very special place in my heart for Godzilla, so Pacific Rim pretty much had me at “giant monsters.”

When you mix in giant robots (Jaegers), who require a neural link (a drift) between two humans to operate, a plotline that incorporates the imminent destruction of Earth, and a compelling love story (at least, the first one had this). . .well then, count me in.

Oscar-winning Guillermo del Toro produced Pacific Rim: Uprising, but he didn’t direct it. He was producer and director on the first. So there is definitely some differences in style between the two movies, but I didn’t mind that. I appreciated that the second film begins with a voiceover, a recap of the events in the first film. The voiceover also sets up the main character, Jake Pentecost (wonderfully portrayed by John Boyega), without any unnecessary exposition.

The movie opens with Jake squatting in the abandoned, palatial homes of Southern California, an area that was never rebuilt after the events of Pacific Rim. I knew right then and there the movie would be a hit with me. I’ve always figured that would be something I would do, should the current paradigm of our world shift. As a matter of fact, that’s the only way I ever see myself living in a huge, palatial estate. I don’t see the point of it, even if I won the lottery.

Anyway, here are the three things that came as news to me:

  1. Guillermo del Toro didn’t write the original story. I had just sort of assumed he did, or at least had come up with the concept, and had someone else write the screenplay. But no, the credits at the end of Pacific Rim: Uprising said something about “Based on characters created by. . .
  2. . . .Travis Beacham.” So I guess the story concept, and the screenplay for the first, were written by this guy, Travis Beacham. Kinda made me think of how Roderick Thorp has a “Based on the novel by” credit on Die Hard. That novel is Nothing Lasts Forever. I’ve never read it, but Husband Tim has. From what he’s told me, it’s pretty different. But I digress, because the third thing I learned about Pacific Rim was:
  3. It was scheduling conflicts that kept Guillermo del Toro from directing, and Charlie Hunnam from returning to reprise his role as Raleigh Becket from the first movie. That’s what Niece Nicole told me. I knew Charlie Hunnam wasn’t supposed to be in the sequel, but in our post-movie discussion, Nicole and I marked all the opportunities there were for a nice little cameo.

And how there’s a wide open possibility for Raleigh Becket to return in Pacific Rim 3. Here’s hoping we don’t have to wait another five years for that.

The Last Jedi

**BE WARNED: This post contains spoilers. Unfortunately, not the spoilers I was hoping for.**

OK, so—Star Wars: The Last Jedi. I’ve seen it once, last Thursday, and I’m still undecided. I feel like I need to see it again, now that I know the story, to confirm what I like and don’t like about the movie.

I’m pretty firm in the opinion that I like Rogue One better. (You can read my appraisal here.) And I think I like The Last Jedi better than The Force Awakens, but that’s where I want an additional viewing to confirm.

Here’s what I liked:

  • The cast: Specifically, the new characters of Finn, Rey and Poe (and BB-8). The characters and the fantastic actors who play them were one of my favorite things about The Force Awakens. The characters really get a chance to develop, independent of each other, in The Last Jedi. (And at 2.5 hours, there’s opportunity for development. I believe this is the longest running time of any of the Star Wars.) And a few sub-points:
    • Chewbacca: Not a new character, but it’s a new actor inhabiting Chewie’s fur. The nuances and differences are super-subtle, but I think the Finland-born actor Joonas Suotamo does an excellent job of honoring the character work originated by Peter Mayhew, while putting his own stamp on this legendary Wookiee.
    • Poe Dameron: I have no problems playing favorites. Oscar Isaac’s Poe is a definite favorite. IMHO, he’s a worthy recipient of the Han Solo “scoundrel-fly-boy” mantle.
    • And the rest: Really liked Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Kelly Marie Tran, too. And yes, I’m only focusing on the Resistance actors. I’m one of those people who always wants the good guys to win in the end. (Sorry, Domhnall Gleeson—you’re a lot of fun as General Hux, but you’re with the First Order, so, you’re out of luck).
  • The setting(s): One of the main reasons I want to see The Last Jedi again—it might be the most visually appealing of all the Star Wars. The mining planet Crait, the island on remote Ahch-To where Luke has been spending his time—each is stunning in their own way. When I was younger, I used to want to escape to Hoth when I wanted to hide away. Hoth has been replaced by Ahch-To. It’s warmer, it’s definitely much greener, and there doesn’t appear to be any Wampa.
  • Luke Skywalker’s storyline: I don’t have any complaints about Luke Skywalker’s thread in this movie. I was very satisfied with how his character was woven into this new trilogy. But the overall story leads me to…

What I didn’t like: (here there REALLY be spoilers!) It all relates to a lack of resolution. Let me break it down…

  • Rey’s parentage: We are told in the movie that Rey’s parents are nobodies. Just some folks who sold her off for drinking money. Fine. If that is indeed the case, and not some subterfuge being perpetuated by Kylo Ren, I still feel like we’re owed something. Some flashback to complete the scene from The Force Awakens, where we see Rey as a small child being handed off on Jakku. Otherwise, why would you tease that scene?
  • Snoke: Dude has obviously been around a long time. He looks like he’s pieced himself together from mortal injuries before. Yet, he gets eliminated in this movie, and there’s no reference made to who he might be. Frustrating.
  • Princess Leia: I’m still so saddened by the loss of Carrie Fisher. We all know that she can’t be in the next Star Wars movie, which makes her role in this movie so poignant. There seemed to be so many opportunities to bring her character to a fitting and honorable end in The Last Jedi. But no. All I’m going to say, is, the pressure is on the storytellers of Episode Nine. How do you remove Leia’s character from the story in a way that does her character justice?

So, I would like to see the movie again, minus the expectations noted above. And then see how I feel about it.

Since Star Wars is one of the hugest commercial ventures out there, I’m sure that’s music to the filmmakers’ ears.

A Christmas Miracle

Temporary resident in Brother Dave’s yard

It’s Christmas, Theo. It’s the time of miracles. — Hans Gruber in Die Hard

So, being smack dab in the midst of the 2017 holiday season, I find myself looking forward to waking up Christmas morning, firing up the old Blu-ray, and watching Die Hard. While I enjoy the movie any time of year, I do find it takes on special meaning at Christmas.

Just like how it somehow feels right to watch Jaws around the Fourth of July. Though not every Fourth of July—in any given year, I’ll abstain if I happen to be training for an open-water swim race. It’s too spooky heading out into the water if Jaws is fresh in my memory.

But I’m getting sidetracked. I did not intend this post to be about my holiday movie-viewing habits. It’s supposed to be about a couple of rare occurrences that transpired recently.

First, snow in Southern Louisiana. That is rare indeed. The winter storm that just blew through much of the U.S. took an unusual southward dip. Last Friday, I drove to work through freezing rain, and saw some snow flurries later in the day. Though the snow didn’t stick on the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain (where I live and work).

The snow did stick roughly thirty miles away, on the north shore of the lake. I found myself over there on Saturday, making good on a long-standing intention to visit 2nd & Charles, a used bookstore. There are maybe 40 of these stores scattered throughout the U.S., and only two in Louisiana.

Another aside: I’m a newly-minted fan of this store / concept. I traded in a bunch of DVDs and Blu-rays, received a cash offer for them, and then spent slightly more than what I had just received on gifts. The net result was that I still reduced the amount of unused “stuff” in our house, and was also introduced to a really cool bookstore.

Anyway, once I crossed the 24-mile concrete span known as the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, signs of the previous day’s snowfall were evident. The white stuff was still showing—on the shoulder of the road, on pitched rooftops. I had lunch with my brother David and his family, and his north shore neighborhood still looked like a winter wonderland.

Which brings me to the phenomenon I really intended to write about. By pure happenstance, I saw all of my Louisiana-based siblings on Saturday. There are five of us here, (seven total—two sisters live out of state), and our respective orbits don’t typically intersect. And, we’re a pretty introverted lot, so gatherings and celebrations don’t come together as quickly or naturally as they might for other families.

Lunch with Brother Dave and his whole family—Sister-in-Law Barbara, Nieces Cherie and Veronica, and Veronica’s fiancé Josh—would have been blessing enough. I headed back over the Causeway with a full belly, and happy to have caught up with beloved family. And, I had enough time to make it to vigil Mass with Brother Jerry, or “Mass of the Ancients” as we’ve dubbed it. (Vigil Mass with Jerry is not a rare occurrence; we used to bring our mother to this Mass, and just never stopped once Mom was gone).

When I arrived at Jerry’s house, I discovered Niece Kate, recently home from her first semester at Mississippi State, would join us for Mass. Then, walking into church, what to my wondering eyes does appear, but Sister Susan and Brother Stephen. They usually go to the late Sunday Mass, but as the fates would have it, were at Saturday’s vigil.

So, lo, in the span of just a few hours, I saw all my Louisiana siblings. Mom, who passed away three years ago this coming Sunday, would have been very pleased by that turn of events.

Jones vs. Mews

Jones v. Mews—kinda sounds like a legal dispute, doesn’t it?

Nope, in keeping with the tone of this blog, it’s a movie / pop culture reference. I caught up on Stranger Things over the long Thanksgiving weekend here in the U.S.

I loved Season 1 when I watched it last year. Several months after everyone else did. So, I began streaming Stranger Things 2 this past Saturday. Several weeks behind everyone else. Again.

And, because everyone’s already seen it, I think I can keep this post spoiler-free. Heck, I still have 3 episodes to go, so there’s only so much I can spoil.

What’s jumped out at me are all the Aliens references in Stranger Things 2. Paul Reiser’s role is the most obvious. Since they all seem so apparent, I wanted to make sure I didn’t plagiarize anyone, or re-write what some other fan may have already written.

The top result from a quick Google search was a Vulture article by Brian Tallerico, “All the Ways Stranger Things 2 Is Like James Cameron’s Aliens.” NOTE: the Vulture article contains spoilers. Which, actually, I didn’t mind. But I might be one of the few people on the planet who actively seeks out spoilers. I hate surprises.

Anyway, sure enough, the very first thing the article points out is the comparison between Paul Reiser’s portrayal of Dr. Owens in Stranger Things 2, and Burke in Aliens. (After all these years, I still love to hate Burke. What a great weaselly villain.) The article also scooped me on the following:

  • The visual similarity of the worlds inhabited by the Demodogs in Stranger Things 2, and the aliens in Aliens. Though I would have gone a little further to point out the tunnels in the Upside Down and the sub-floor on LV-426…
  • The use of radar. It’s a brilliant device for tension-building. Observers see little blips on a screen (the aliens / Demodogs) descend upon their teams, while they watch in horror.
  • Flamethrowers are the chief weapon used against the monsters in each story.

But here’s something that wasn’t in Tallerico’s Vulture article: the cats. Jones from the Alien movies, and Mews from Stranger Things 2. My apologies to anyone who’s already drawn this comparison, but I didn’t see anything in a quick perusal of the Google results. Though I didn’t scan too far down. It’s a little surprising, since cats consistently win the Internet.

In the Alien universe, Jones, or Jonesy, is an orange tabby cat. Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) looks after him. The Alien vs. Predator wiki calls Jones a “ginger American Shorthair,” but where I come from, cats of his ilk are known as orange tabbies. Or more specific to my family, orange marmalade cats.

Here’s a fun fact: I grew up with the random knowledge that calico cats are always female. But just recently learned that orange tabbies are predominantly male, roughly 80% so.

Mews from Stranger Things is also an orange (marmalade) tabby. But is apparently in the 20% minority, because the Stranger Things wiki refers to Mews as a “she.”  Mews belongs to Dustin Henderson’s family; and, as such, appears to have a more pampered house-cat existence than Jonesy.

While Jones and Mews meet different fates, they are two cats who look similar, who have roughly the same presence in each dramatic milieu.

In a match-up, I’d pick Jonesy any day, but I won’t elucidate why, because that might be a spoiler.

So, there.

We’ll never have Arnhem?

It’s been a while since I’ve written about movies. They’re one of five categories I use on this blog, (I don’t count “Uncategorized” as a category) and I feel like it’s been somewhat neglected lately. So, time to correct that.

I watched A Bridge Too Far for the first time, just a few nights ago. This WWII movie, directed by Richard Attenborough, came out in 1977. It’s loaded with actors, an “all stars of the 1970s” cast: Sean Connery, Michael Caine, Laurence Olivier, Anthony Hopkins, Robert Redford, James Caan, Elliott Gould, Maximilian Schell. It being a war movie, there didn’t seem to be many roles for women—I think Liv Ullmann is the woman with the most screen time. She plays the owner of a house in the Netherlands where a bunch of wounded Allied soldiers crash.

Two casting choices had me scratching my head a bit—Ryan O’Neal as a baby-faced Brigadier General, and Gene Hackman as a Polish Major General. He spoke with an accent that felt mildly Eastern European.

It’s a looong movie, clocking in at nearly three hours. I fell asleep for a while in the middle of it (my couch is really comfortable). But I caught enough to get the gist of it. I thought the ending was really strong, so I was glad I was awake for that part.

A Bridge Too Far is based on Cornelius Ryan’s book of the same name. (William Goldman did the screenplay. Why does that name sound familiar? Because he also wrote The Princess Bride 🙂) Anyway, A Bridge Too Far tells the story of Operation Market Garden, a failed attempt to break through German defenses in the Netherlands, roughly three months after D-Day. In the Allies’ effort to secure the bridge in the Dutch town of Arnhem, a whole lot goes wrong.

At the end of the movie, British general Urquhart, played by Sean Connery, meets up with his superior, Lt. General Browning (played by Dirk Bogarde). Urquhart tells him how he went in to the mission with 10,000 men, and came out with less than 2,000. Browning tells him how Field Marshal Montgomery, who devised the whole plan, is calling Operation Market Garden “90 percent successful.”

I was pretty stunned by that. And suffice it to say, Montgomery does not come off well at all in A Bridge Too Far. It’s also pretty interesting that Montgomery is not portrayed in the movie (unless he showed up while I was sleeping). For what I saw, his orders are represented through Browning, who was the one to tell Montgomery before the operation, “I think we may be going a bridge too far.”

It all got me thinking about WWII in a different way. My schooling gave me, really, just a cursory knowledge of  WWII, from just the American perspective. I like to think that my understanding has grown over the years, much of it gained through movies. Earlier this year, it was Dunkirk that had me looking at history from different angles.

Dunkirk was in theaters this past summer. It, by contrast, is less than two hours long, and I did not fall asleep. While the details are not as fresh to me as A Bridge Too Far, I came away from Dunkirk thinking about this: all the really bad stuff that was going on in WWII long before the United States ever got involved. (The events depicted in Dunkirk happened in May 1940). And how insurmountable the odds seemed for the Allies. From that point of view and point in time, the eventual Allied victory was far from a “given.”

Casablanca always gets me thinking about that uncertainty, too—especially because it was made and released years before the war ended!

Anyway, I’ve probably yammered on enough about war movies. From the perspective of a writer who’s trying to improve her story telling, I found a lot to be gleaned from A Bridge Too Far, some from Dunkirk, and don’t get me started on Casablanca. That one’s a gold mine.

Quarter Report 2017: Star Trek TNG, Quanta, a New Year, and More

Chicago: I rode the L!

Annnnnnd, we’re back to The Fast and the Furious. I’ve written in these pages at least twice about the character Dom Toretto and his special brand of wisdom. When I first heard Vin Diesel utter the line “I live my life a quarter mile at a time,” I knew I had encountered a bit of cinematic brilliance. Something on the order of Patrick Swayze’s (as Johnny Castle) “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.” Or my own personal muse, John McClane’s “Yippee ki yay, *Mr. Falcon*” (as it appears in the censored version of Die Hard 2.)

Much like Dominic Toretto, I tend to think, and plan, in terms of quarters (yearly quarters, not miles). Discrete, three-month-sized chunks. As I reflect on the third quarter of 2017, I find it’s been pretty eventful. Some of the stuff I’ve written about (the eclipse, our visit to New Smyrna Beach, hurricanes, the release of my novel), but there’s plenty of other stuff I haven’t. Here, in no particular order, are some observations, tidbits, and events that have been swimming about in my particular cosmos in Q3:

  • Star Trek: The Next Generation, Outside In Makes It So releases today! This collection of essays covers every episode of Star Trek: TNG, plus the movies. It’s commemorating the 30th anniversary of the show’s premiere. I’m thrilled that my piece about the episode “Time’s Arrow” is included. You can find the anthology on sale here.
  • More about discrete chunks: While on a recent Internet search into famed physicist Max Planck, I discovered what he is most known for, and it’s this: quanta. Quanta, the root of the term “quantum.” As in quantum physics, quantum theory, Quantum Leap. Planck is credited with the hypothesis that the very nature of nature itself is not continuous, that change occurs in discrete increments. Regarding electromagnetic waves, he termed these discrete packets of energy “quanta.” This discovery earned him the Nobel Prize nearly 100 years ago. All these years of being fascinated and confused by quantum physics, and I’d never thought about the meaning of “quantum” before. And I’m sure some of you who have read this far are hoping you never have to think about the word again.
  • U2: I saw U2 in concert for the first time ever a few weeks ago. They are on tour, promoting the 30th anniversary of “The Joshua Tree” album. (Discrete chunks of thirty years seem to be a theme, here. I also attended my thirty year high school reunion this past quarter). Anyway, U2: during my heavy concert-going years (when I was between fifteen and twenty-five, roughly), I would have definitely bought tickets to see U2, if they had come to my town. (In those years, it was New Orleans and Tucson, Arizona). But they never did. I was glad the band opened the set with really old stuff, songs from “War.” The songs I would have wanted to hear, if our paths had crossed so many years ago. All in all, very worthwhile—plus, Beck opened for them, and he was fantastic.
  • Rosh Hashanah: I’m a little hesitant to write this, since I’m not Jewish, but I really don’t see this as cultural appropriation. I’m Catholic, which is a Judeo-Christian religion, and I’ve always been a bit ecumenical in my practice, anyway. So, Rosh Hashanah—about fifteen years ago, after a particularly rough twelve months (four quarters), I decided to start my new year’s resolutions at Rosh Hashanah. To give them a sort of beta test-run before January. With all this “30-year” backwards staring, I’m grateful that the arrival of Rosh Hashanah last week has me looking forward once again.
  • Chicago: And, oh yeah, I spent four days in Chicago last week with my job. It was a good time to be there, if a bit unseasonably warm. The pictures in this post are from that trip.

Spirit of Music statue, Grant Park
View of Lake Michigan and Adler Planetarium (I think) from Grant Park

 

Going home, connecting in Nashville