Storm Constantine just sent me the cover for our latest anthology, Para Kindred. It’s marvelous.

Storm Constantine just sent me the cover for our latest anthology, Para Kindred. It’s marvelous.

The Hobbit: An Overindulgent Journey

Like any good moviegoer, I switched off my phone during The Hobbit, but nevertheless  my phone ran out of juice by the time I’d got home, so while it’s charging and before I go out to catch a party, here are some thoughts on the movie. Not a “review” per se, but a bunch of observation, questions, criticisms and maybe a few compliments thrown in.

Editing

All the worries that having three long movies represent one rather slim book were justified. I never read the book, but based just experiencing it and reading a couple of non-fanboy/fangirl reviews, I it obvious that heaps and heaps of material have been added or stretched to force an epic structure that doesn’t exist.

I’ve watched the extended cuts edition of the LotR trilogy a dozen or more times each, and I know exactly what was cut from the theatrical and then put back for the extended. In that case, I really enjoyed the material that was returned to the movie — lots of character moments or things that pay homage to the original books.

With Hobbit, I shudder to thing what was cut out, because seems like an awful lot was left in that could’ve been cut. Lots of conversations, vistas, special effects, jokes, battles, etc., that just didn’t need to be there except I guess they take up time. Overindulgent is the best word I can think of to describe the attitude to editing.

Dwarves

I have not read Tolkien, so forgive me for asking, but are Dwarves meant to be Scottish Jewish Klingons?! Seriously, being kicked out of their kingdom, forced into wandering, then wanting to reclaim it, plus all the large noses, some hooked, makes the comparison to Jews inevitable. Am I wrong? Meanwhile, the scenes at Bag End seemed basically to be Klingons with even more facial hair. Bad manners, very loud, weaponed and armored and all about their masculinity. I was waiting for a “Kaplach!” or whatever it is Klingons say when they toast. Jeezus. 

Another question about dwarves: Do they start out looking more or less like bearded men and then get huge noses and super eccentric beards etc. when they get older? Because I noticed the prince dwarf and a couple of the younger ones were handsome, pretty regular in the face, while the older ones had ridiculous huge noses, hair, beards. And then there was the “Fat Bastard” character. What was UP with having a dwarf in a “fat suit” rolling around for laughs? Was Mike Myers on the script team?!

Villains

Maybe this is just canon ignorance, but why are the orcs in this movie HUGE? Or at least why are some of them these super giant, troll-sized orcs, who have more regular sign minions? 

The chief enemy orc on the white warg was way off. First, he looked like a character out of Avatar, except white. Second, the CGI on him just didn’t work, especially not the scarifications. Why did he have red scar marks? He just did not seem real. And he was so, so, so a cardboard cutout evil guy.

The stone “Transformers” battle in the mountains. What. The. Fuck. I read in one review it was eight minutes. Should not have happened at all.

The Goblin King dude. Clearly they should’ve cast David Bowie. A clear case of Peter Jackson’s “More Is More” approach backfiring. Also: Another “Fat Bastard” character. Again, was Mike Myers involved?

The scene with the arguing trolls was way too long and is lame because they’re not really scary, they’re just stupid oafs with thick accents. Bilbo tricks them easily.

Good Parts

The best scene? Bilbo and Gollum alone. All of it, but especially the “duel.” Awesome. That worked perfectly. 

Best actors/characters? Bilbo and Galdalf and Gollum. The rest? Good, but with so many appearing at once, they all wound up more like caricatures.

Other Stuff

The bumbling wizard with the, what, tree wax? on his beard? And his really cute, dying hedgehog? And the rabbit-pulled sleigh? How ridiculous was that? I mean, maybe fun if you were high but otherwise, WTF?

Way, way, WAY too may “hero” shots of the dwarf prince standing on cliffs or hills looking into the distance with his perfectly shaped, straight, undwarfish nose. Are we supposed to fall in love with him? 

Galadriel and her perfectly arranged robes. Come on. The camera appears and she’s posed with her 5-ft. train trailing perfect down steps, back to the camera, then turns, looking perfect. Yes, she’s an elf, but really?

Christopher Lee’s Saruman dialog was flat. Well, the whole conversation in that council was flat, but Lee just didn’t have anything to say that didn’t sound like puffery. “Oh, our enemy is gone, pish posh..”

All that insane action and falling and fighting and crashing in the Goblin Town episode and NO ONE gets killed? Might be true to the book, but seriously? On a related note, not sure how dwarf prince ends up alive.

So many times there should have been dead dwarves or major injuries or at very least dudes endlessly running getting hungry (clearly dwarves like to eat), and yet, nope, they just go on and on, unscathed. How is that?

Minor thing, but Bilbos feet seem especially huge and hairy, even for a hobbit. Does that actor just have huge feet to start with? 

Overall 

I found the movie to be just about what I feared it would be — over-indulgent, under-edited, and full of gratuitous stuff (scenes, effects, effects and effects) that just should not have been there. The “more is more” approach really did not do it for me. Still, I wouldn’t completely pan it. For letter grade, I’d say B-, because there too much masterful film making, yet in totality, not so hot. I hope very much that movies two and three are better than this first one. Maybe there’s still time for Jackson et al. to take critics’ points into consideration and fix those before they go to theaters.

Writing Principles

One of the key principles in my writing now is, as I have discussed with Storm*, avoiding needless sentimentality, smarm and happy endings. I’ve been weeding this out of most anything I write now, something made easier by the fact that when I write Wraeththu stuff. I no longer think of myself as writing “fan fiction,” which often gets tainted by a drive to please the crowds and write what people want. Instead, I think of myself as crafting exactly the story I want and then when it’s done, presenting it as exactly what I want it to be. “Something’s Coming” was like that and the two stories in the new anthology are like that as well. And this novel definitely is like that. The novel is going to be gritty as hell. Not that nothing happy or good will happen, but I am not interested in indulging in stereotypes or smarm. I have another story I have worked on that is good but needs a de-smarming before it appears anywhere. Principles!

* Storm Constantine, my friend, mentor and often editor. And my favorite writer!

Rhythms of the City

As I go about my daily routines everybody else is going about theirs, which creates the opportunity for rhythms to arise — times at which our routines routinely intersect. This happens mostly when I’m riding transit or walking here and there. Here are a few of them:

If I ride the 9 o’clock 16 bus to work, a nice man with white-blond hair in a ponytail gets on in Virginia-Highland. I have learned that he works at a frame shop by LaVista & Briarcliff.

If I ride the 9:30 16 bus to work, a woman with Mayan nose gets on in Virginia Highland and a woman who works as a maid exits the bus in Morningside.

Riding the 6 northbound on Clifton in the morning I frequently see a guy who looks like an elderly Black Panther and woman with a limp who is in public health.

Leaving my building, The Healey, around noon on any day via the Broad Street doors, I will get a hello, in German, from Fevzy, the manager of Ali Baba’s.

If I am home Monday afternoon, if I look out on Walton Street around 4 pm, a big semi will pull up with all the tomato sauce and pizza ingredients Rosa’s needs every week.

If I ride the 6 bus from Lindbergh in the morning, I will either run into a coworker, Erica, or the guy who runs the bookstore at the Carlos Museum, Brent. He says hello and we talk about books.

Riding the CCTMA/Cliff Decatur shuttle from Emory to Decatur after work, I have a high likelihood of seeing: 1) older Chinese professorial-looking guy who’s always reading, 2) handsome albino guy who works in IT, 3) another guy I know from IT, or 4) guy who rides in the front of the bus every day, for multiple trips, as sort of the bus mascot. (I ponder that last one often.)

If I ride the 6 bus south from Emory around 6 o’clock, the famous Bike Shorts Willy will board the bus at the intersection (“his” intersection) at Briarcliff and Ponce. His “shift” is over so the first thing he does is pull a pair of regular long shorts over his bike shorts. He often waves to me. (I guess I am one of the few people who don’t burst out giggling when they see him?)

Getting coffee at the Forsyth St. Dunkin Donuts on a morning weekday, I will often run into the white-haired guy who works at a couple of restaurants on Broad St. He has a whole weird routine with the DD cashiers involving cat sounds. (I can’t make this up!)

Walking up or down Forsyth Street, there are a number of people who trade waves with me, only a couple of which I know by name. These include two hair stylists (one is named Christina, I believe), the owner of the dry cleaner, the security guard at 40 Marietta and everyone who works at Brite Creations.

Any time I walk by Brite Creations I can and do expect to have a conversation with Al and Cliff, who work in clothes and shoes. Al always hugs me, calls me “boo” or “baby doll,” then asks me what I’ve been up to.

There are more of these routines but for now I have run dry.

I have a very different take on who God is. Man invented God because he needed him. God is us. — Carl Reiner
This could not possible be more awesome. It is ME. OK, not me, but it’s about me, or people like me, who are rare, at least among my circles.
atlurbanist:

20 thoughts about living in Atlanta without a car
This is awesome. The Oppidan Omnibus has made a list of 20 things that apply to someone who lives in car-crazy Atlanta without a car.
A few of my favorites from the list:
You buy a lot of your stuff at grieviously unfashionable places because the low-profile boutiques and out-of-the-way markets are too much work to get to.
About once a week you reflexively pull out your Breeze card instead of your debit card to pay for something.
You don’t know what the big deal is about the parking at Atlantic Station.
You can walk up the escalators at Peachtree Center faster than people half your age or 30 pounds lighter than you.
My wife, pictured above with my kid, is a car-free Urban Warrior Princess of the coolest variety. I’ve heard or seen her experience many of these things. Do yourself a favor and take a second to read the full list.

This could not possible be more awesome. It is ME. OK, not me, but it’s about me, or people like me, who are rare, at least among my circles.

atlurbanist:

20 thoughts about living in Atlanta without a car

This is awesome. The Oppidan Omnibus has made a list of 20 things that apply to someone who lives in car-crazy Atlanta without a car.

A few of my favorites from the list:

  • You buy a lot of your stuff at grieviously unfashionable places because the low-profile boutiques and out-of-the-way markets are too much work to get to.
  • About once a week you reflexively pull out your Breeze card instead of your debit card to pay for something.
  • You don’t know what the big deal is about the parking at Atlantic Station.
  • You can walk up the escalators at Peachtree Center faster than people half your age or 30 pounds lighter than you.

My wife, pictured above with my kid, is a car-free Urban Warrior Princess of the coolest variety. I’ve heard or seen her experience many of these things. Do yourself a favor and take a second to read the full list.

MARTA Bus Quality of Life Improvements

During this morning’s rather crappy commute, I compiled a list of recommendations for MARTA to implement for better bus service in Atlanta. I’m not talking about routes or buses, but more quality of life stuff having to do with bus drivers and their behavior.

1) Create and promote hotline for riders to report bad bus drivers. “Bad” driving can include everything from actual driving (speeding, running lights, etc.) to rudeness to violating MARTA rules (phones, eating, taking lunch or pee breaks en route, having bus buddies).

2) Tell drivers that having “bus buddies” (friends or riders who stand up at front talking to drivers every day, for one or more trips) is not acceptable. It distracts the driver and intimidates riders who might need help knowing when to get off, plus it blocks people from exiting and entering the train.

3) When a bus driver is assigned to a new route, he or she should be given a map and written description of the route. Currently drivers on a new route seem to be sent out with no information and ask the -riders- where to turn, where to stop, etc.

4) Empower bus drivers to take a “No on my bus!” attitude. Instead of ignoring bad behavior — amplified music, loud talking, singing, eating, drinking, obscenities — bus drivers should be stopping bus and telling people off. Some of my favorite bus drivers have done this and guess what? It works!

5) No stopping the bus in front of the Quickie Mart to get a Big Gulp or sandwich or cigarettes or to take a long pee break. Especially no stopping and not giving riders an explanation — just stopping and disappearing. One time a driver got off, came back later with ice cream, and kept on driving while eating ice cream. What?!

6) If drivers are going to stop — say, if they are ahead of schedule and need to sit still — they should TELL riders why they are doing this. Often drivers just do it and don’t say a thing to riders. Everybody on the bus gets ticked off.

7) Drivers have digital meters telling them exactly how they are doing as far as schedule — behind, ahead, and when they are supposed to leave. Drivers should PAY ATTENTION to these things and do things like, say… leaving when they’re supposed to.

8) Bus drivers have got to stop having loud, obnoxious conversations with fellow bus drivers at stations, especially when their buses are full of passengers and are behind schedule. This also applies to bus drivers who stop buses when passing and talk across the road through open bus windows. Save it for later! Riders want buses on schedule and having your driving laughing and joking while your bus sits, late, and you know you are going to be late for work is maddening!

9) Drivers should be helpful. If a passenger is having trouble figuring out the fare box, don’t just let them fumble for 20 min. Help!

10) Do not keep buses at freezer type temps in the summer.

xo-skeleton:

nevver:

Dead at 47, Adam “MCA” Yauch

A very bad thing. 20-somethings everywhere cry, social media collapses in on itself. 

20-somethings? 20-somethings?????  More like 30- and 40-somethings…. i.e. my peers and people the Beastie Boys’ own age. Though there are many ultra cool 20-something and teens and probably even younger fans of MCA :) And yes, this 37-year-old is also blowing up social media, LOL. And so glad for Spotify. Listening to every album right now, thanks.

xo-skeleton:

nevver:

Dead at 47, Adam “MCA” Yauch

A very bad thing. 20-somethings everywhere cry, social media collapses in on itself. 

20-somethings? 20-somethings?????  More like 30- and 40-somethings…. i.e. my peers and people the Beastie Boys’ own age. Though there are many ultra cool 20-something and teens and probably even younger fans of MCA :) And yes, this 37-year-old is also blowing up social media, LOL. And so glad for Spotify. Listening to every album right now, thanks.

(via hightidewithmratomic)

The Change Goddess

From about five years ago. Found this on my hard drive. I love finding stuff that is better than I remember.

The Change Goddess
by Wendy Darling 

Note: This poem was inspired by the panhandlers, street people and homeless of Downtown Atlanta, who take in an awful lot of coinage. According to those who serve this community, most of that money goes towards drugs and alcohol. I started thinking of what else it might go to. 

I imagine her sitting, cross-legged, arms crossed,
Atop her pile of spare change,
Glittering and shifting, silver and copper.

Her worshippers gather in the gloom,
A sub-basement of low beams
And ancient creaking machinery.

“What have you brought me?” she asks,
Calm and composed, voice hypnotic,
To the men who come, with cupfuls of their offerings. 

A man steps forward:
“Got ‘bout 50 dollars today,”
He says, placing his cup on the altar.

The goddess glances down and smiles,
Uncrossing her arms and reaching for the cup,
Which she pours at her feet. 

“Thank you,” she purrs, beckoning him forward.
“You know you’re almost at the minimum,”
She tells him, just like last week.

“OK,” he says, stepping back.
“I know it will be worth it, a woman like you.”
He turns away, knowing he has to make shelter curfew.

No one else is left tonight, and the goddess purrs,
This time to herself,
As she lies back on the pile of change.

She will be leaving that night, she decides.
Too many men have nearly paid their dues,
Offerings to the goddess who they hope will consort with them.

A cell phone call and soon a friend arrives
With a van and boxes enough to carry
The haul of sacred change. 

The next day the goddess saunters into Kroger,
A hand truck stacked with boxes,
And begins to feed the CoinStar machine.

Orphaned at 37

As the youngest of five children I come from what is these days termed a “big family,” but sometimes — especially if I am being honest with myself — I feel like an orphan or someone who has lost most of their family to some catastrophe.

These thoughts came up this afternoon after finishing the book In the Beginning, which wraps up with the narrator’s family losing about 150 relatives to Bergen Belsen. The narrator has a brother, parents, an aunt and uncle, and a cousin in the United States and some other relatives who had moved to Israel while the getting was good, but everyone else in his family had either chosen to stay in Poland or had been trapped there. They were all slaughtered in the Holocaust. 

This was and still is a reality for masses of American Jews and Jews everywhere who survived while parts of their family, whole swathes of their family, even whole towns, were lost. How many Jews grew up without ever having met their grandparents or uncles or aunts or sometimes not even knowing where those family members went? Not having a real grave to go to? Thousands. Millions. It is a hole.

Back to myself, I did not lose family to the Holocaust. I’m not Jewish, nor am I a Jehovah’s Witness or from a family that was targeted by the Nazis. My family, at least my mother’s side, is German. And, no, I didn’t lose a chunk of my family to the First or Second World War. Remarkably, the big family on my mother’s side — my grandfather was one of sixteen children, my grandmother one of five — escaped pretty much intact. Shaken, but intact. As for my father’s family, they are rooted in England but had all settled in America by the early 19th century — some of them founding families of the early 1600s. 

So, no, there was no Holocaust or war that took my family away, leaving me an orphan. Instead, it was a set of circumstances that left me feeling like I am missing something most people have. 

The first circumstance is the fact that I had only one grandparent growing up — one I remember. My mother’s father died months before I was born. My father’s parents both passed by the time I was two years old and so I have no memories of them, although they did meet me. My one grandmother, with whom I was very close, was not around until I was five or six years old and she moved from New York to our home town. I took me until almost first grade to even know she -was- my grandmother because we called her “Oma” and no one had ever bothered to tell me that meant grandmother. We became very close and I think of her often to this day, but she died when I was nine. No more grandparents. 

The second circumstance is the fact that I have no connections to my mother’s family. My grandmother maintained contact with them over the years, mostly through letters and postcards, and also a few visits (back in the days of transatlantic passenger ships), but once she passed on, that contact was severed. I have a box of old letters but only received them recently. I don’t know my grandmother’s siblings names. I don’t know where in Bremen they lived. The same for my grandfather. Actually I know even less about his family. Even when I did genealogy work a couple of years ago and found records of the family, like my great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather serving on German commercial vessels, I still don’t feel I know anything. My grandfather’s uncle immigrated to America too and I don’t know what his wife’s name is. I know my mother grew up with cousins who were also in America, but I don’t really know how many. That was all so far in the past, before I was born, that no one ever told me any of it. And it seems odd to go asking now but I would really like to.

Another circumstance adding to this orphaning is the fact that my mom was an only child and my family almost may as well have been. I have often thought that if my mother had had siblings they would have been wonderful, incredible people, just like her. But she didn’t because, I gather, her mother couldn’t have any more children and there wasn’t enough room or money anyway. As for my father, his relationship with his brother and sister, and also his parents, was quite distant, especially after he moves two states away, to Massachusetts, and then within a couple of years his parents died. He had many fights with his brother and sister, about which I still don’t know much except they result in years of not speaking to one another or bitterness or jealousy. By the time I was old enough to understand family, say in elementary school, I already knew that I didn’t know my aunt or uncle or cousins well — and when I did spend time with them occasionally, I didn’t feel comfortable around them. My older siblings spent much more time with my uncle and aunt and cousins but I never did except on occasions that always felt forced.

Speaking of my siblings, I arrive at yet another circumstance that leaves me feeling orphaned, and that’s the fact that I’m the youngest of five children. And not just youngest, but youngest by a lot. My oldest sister was 15 or 16 when I was born. My two other sisters are within three years of her. My brother is seven years older. They are my siblings and we grew up together, at least when I was young, but they began to leave the house when I was a toddler and we were never all together after that. From about the fifth grade onward, I was mostly an “only child” — an only child with no grandparents and AWOL relatives. These days we are separated by geography but we also don’t stay in very good touch — or at least they don’t stay in touch with me. My sisters, close in age, talk more to one another. We all talk to my mother. But honestly sometimes I feel like they are my aunts and uncles or cousins more than siblings. Yes, we are close, but I don’t think it’s quite the same as it would be had I been my brother’s age.

So here I am with this feeling there’s a kind of hole in my life where my family should be. I do not mean, as some would think, that I long for a “family of my own.” I am not upset about not having a husband or same-sex partner or about not having children. I have never been into that. I can live with being a genetic dead-end. But what bothers me is this yearning to be more connected to those who came before me. This includes the living but moreso it includes the dead, people who were dead before I was even born. How I wish I could have known my Opa. What I would give to talk to him. What I would give to be with my father’s mother as she made cookies. Or to be able to go to Bremen and have family there who had stayed in touch for all the years, someone who was the grandchild of one of my Opa’s many siblings. I would like to have that connection and be able to embrace it, feel a real part of the greater whole.

Writing this has been emotional for me, as I hadn’t put all of these “circumstances” together until this afternoon, thinking about the Holocaust. I have often longed for grandparents or felt like I had no relatives or found it odd how distant I am from my siblings, but coming from a family of five children, the orphan analogy, the loneliness, had never come to mind. I do not think I will forget it.