Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Friday, June 23, 2006

The Village

We finally watched M. Night Shyamalan's The Village. Or, should I say, Margaret Peterson Haddix's The Village, since the film shamelessly pillages her 1995 novel Running out of Time? I hear that makes three questionable stories of Shamalan: many folks thought The Sixth Sense cut too much from Orson Scott Card's The Lost Boys, and he's been sued by some other screenplay writer for ripping off his script in Signs.

Actually, with this movie, we could throw in another unattributed source, since the whole "Those Who Are Not Spoken Of" plot line has been lifted straight from every Scooby-Doo episode ever made. I think Hanna-Barbera should seriously consider their legal options.

Which is sad, because I enjoy Shyamalan's movies. I think, if the stories were credited to their authors, I would not think any less of Shyamalan himself . . . but if he's trying to brand himself as the creative genius who comes up with these stories ex nihilo ("written, produced, and directed by...") then giving credit where it's due might cramp his style.

I enjoyed The Village, on the whole, but there were a number of inconsistencies that bugged me (warning: spoilers follow):
  • So, there's eight or ten elders, who seem to be late-fifties, early sixties . . . and they are supposed to have engendered this entire village? There must have been 75 or 100 people in that community. Even if each pair had eight kids a piece, they couldn't have populated the town inside of one and a half generations. Well, maybe they could, but they must've been mighty busy.
  • Ivy keeps alternating between a stumbling, uncertain blind person and a fleet, bold, unwavering wonder, a feminine Master Po. One moment she's running flat-out in an open field, the next she's stumbling through the woods, thrashing her arms around.
  • Anyone who has kids would have to be skeptical of the behavior of the children in the movie. Like when the families are huddled in their basements while "Those Who Are Not Spoken Of" are pounding on the doors . . . their kids are all doe-eyes and helplessness, but I know if my son Aidan was in a similar circumstance he would be going berserk. And do you really think you could keep the kids from trespassing into the woods? Run this little experiment at home: put out a line of yellow flags, and then tell your five-year-old (or fifteen-year-old) that they are not allowed to cross it. Ready? Go! See what I mean?
  • Noah is just the village-idiot-that-could. He might barely be able to speak, but he can find a costume under the floorboards, surmise its meaning and intent, put it on by himself, escape from the village completely undetected with said large monster-suit, hunt down his true love and attempt to scare the bejezus out of her . . . wow. All that, and he still manages to fall for the old toro-toro routine with the pit.
  • Speaking of Noah's accomplishment, what about that whack-job he does on Lucius? Somehow he managed to bring his rival to the brink of death with a six-inch knife without hitting any major organs . . . leaving him to hang on from "an infection" that a quick hit of penicillin will fix right up. Did he study swordsmanship with that guy from Hero?
  • Most glaringly of all . . . how does a history professor . . . yes, I said history professor . . . come to believe that he will somehow preserve himself and his family from all evil by isolating themselves from the outside world? I mean, if he were a refugee from Williamsberg, I could forgive him his circa-1880 utopian vision . . . but a professor of history should know better. He should know about all the other utopias that have failed. More importantly, he should understand human nature. Jealousy, covetousness, greed, theft, murder, rape . . . all these things predate the invention of money, liquor and firearms.

For all that, the movie's still worth seeing.



I heard on the BBC this morning that some fellow had travelled to Gambia, presented himself in chains to an audience of 3,000 people, and asked for their forgiveness for the sins of his forebears from the 1600s for their role in the slave trade. He was formally forgiven by Gambia's vice-president, who symbolically released him from his chains.

(Incidently, I tried to google up the news story, but there are scadzillions of links related to slavery reparation. I had to go to the BBC website to find it. My blog will only add to the noise.)

Now, there were mixed reactions to this apology; some of the crowd had positive responses, and some negative. I have to admit, I have mixed feelings about it. It seems rather self-indulgent to allow yourself the mantle of sins committed by someone else 400 years ago . . . as if you matter that much. It seems even more indulgent to accept the forgiveness for such ancient misdeeds without some more meaningful act of contrition. An apology might be heartfelt and appreciated as such, but it doesn't exactly mean much if it stops there. Now, if this fellow went so far as to divest himself completely of his Western-sized fortune (which he must consider to be ill-gotten gains) and give it to the descendents of Sir John Hawkins victims . . . well, that would be worth some attention. But I that didn't happen, as as far as I know it has never happened.

So is this merely a bourgeous attempt to win a sense of moral superiority, or wash away a little bit of white guilt without forsaking our comfy lifestyles? It's about 95% that . . . but the guy did say one thing that caught my attention. The BBC reporter was dutifully grilling him on why such an apology would have any meaning, coming from someone like him after so long a time. He started to say, "I think it's really important that people have the chance to . . . " In my mind I was filling in the usual liberal-minded sentiment: "have their suffering acknowledged", or some such thing.

But then he finished the sentence: " . . . have the chance to forgive."

So he saw that the importance of the event was not that all those Africans receive his apology, nor that he receive their forgiveness. The transformative power, if there was any in this ritual, was that they had the chance to forgive. If they could, psychically speaking, release themselves from the burden of the sins committed to their people . . .now that might be something.

Thursday, June 22, 2006


The Wall Street Journal ran a review today of Christopher Noxon's Rejuvenile, a detailing of the cultural phenomenon of adults acting more and more like kids. It caught my attention, since I've been meditating more and more on the fact that I'm not "young" anymore, though not yet into "old" either.

We all know the kind of people he's talking about . . . people over 30 wearing "Why Be Normal?" buttons. Men with gray hair in ponytails . . . or women with gray hair in pigtails. Women of a certain age wearing leopardskin print skirts.

Now, I'm not quite as prudish as the WSJ reviewer was. I think that a slight amount of whimsy in one's demeanor and decor is OK. It's like the black smudge on Ash Wednesday . . . it's a signal to everyone that you don't take yourself too seriously. After all, cutsey-to-the-point-of-infantile has long been enshrined in the popular culture of older Americans in grand old tradition of Kitsch. So if it makes you laugh and feel a little less burdened by adulthood . . . why not?

The problem, of course, is when it's more than just a highlight. We all know that older people trying to look younger is about as silly as young people trying hard to look older. In either case, it betrays a sense of not accepting who you are. (To which, of course, some people will say, "But I really am this kid-at-heart. I like to play with my Barbies and go to Disneyland." To which I say, "Yeah . . . that's what all the pseudo-punks with spiked hair and black nail polish said down at the Cup-A-Joe. They all said they were being true to themselves. Funny, but they all wound up looking a whole lot like each other, more than themselves. But then they grew up, and got straight jobs, and all that stuff faded away, and they saw it for what it was . . . affectation. An attempt to define themselves with things that are ultimately shallow and without substance."

There are other ways to succumb to affectation. Just watch American Beauty to see all the ways that people use success and power and other "grown-up" things to hide their pain, just as much as childish relapses to muscle cars and smoking dope. It really doesn't matter what games you play . . . in the end your life is still a game. Whether you're trying hard to look like an adult, or trying hard to look like a kid, the question is the same: what are you really doing with your life?

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

We're #1! . . . um . . . you know, the . . . 'Canes?

So, the Carolina Hurricanes have won the Stanley Cup . . . at a time when the rest of world could apparantly care less. I knew that the public attention would be slightly muted due to the other Cup . . . you know, the World Cup . . . but I had no idea how much until now. When I just went Sports Illustrated to find a story of the victory, one day after it happened, and I had to stare at the home page for about a minute and a half before I could find any link at all . . . and that was just to find the hockey link. Then I click through, expecting to find the story . . . and I spend another 30 seconds just trying to find a link to the story. In web terms one minute is an absolute eternity to spend looking for something.

While Carolina fans are overjoyed, the rest of the world has already moved on . . . if they were even watching at all. I wouldn't know why, except for their opponents in the seven game series. "Edmonton? Where the hell is Edmonton? I don't even know what state that's in." So I imagine everyone else in the U.S. is feeling the same way about the 'Canes. "Carolina . . . ? Isn't that in Chapel Hill?"

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Aidan, in bed, talking to himself

"So . . . I'll get Redtail back from Malcolm in the morning."
"And then . . . I'll give Malcolm a different animal. And he can keep that for a little longer . . . "
"And then . . . he'll bring that back . . . and I'll give him a different animal . . . "
"And he can keep taking a different animal, and keeping it a little longer each time . . . "
"But eventually, when it's over, it's over."

Monday, June 19, 2006

Ladies and gentlemen . . . the Supremes!

The Supreme Court had a big news day -- two rulings, one preserving the Clean Water Act of 1974 by a cat's whisker, and another on the admissibility of 911 records as evidence.

What makes these two cases so interesting together, in the same news day, is that they typify what's going on with today's court. The High Court tends to produce these unanimous "gimme" decisions on subtle matters (such as the 911 call case), or else we get these intense 5-4 decisions that keep Congressmen awake at night and turns every judicial appointment into a epic battle (as in Justice Kennedy's solomonic tie-breaking vote on how to regulate wetlands). Maybe it's just me . . . I should probably check the record to see if that's really how the numbers shake out, but it seems relatively uncommon to get a 7-2 split. Occassionally I hear about 8-1 decisions where Thomas or Scalia need to get something off their chests in a dissenting opinion, but other than that not a lot of uneven splits in the court opinion.

As I had written before, what makes the Supreme Court decisions interesting is that they illustrate philosophies in action. You get to see what makes a philosophy what it is, by seeing separate philosophies have drastically different readings of the same laws and the same judicial principles. It reaffirms my faith in philosophy as an essential discipline of intellectual life, rather than just a vestigial organ of liberal arts colleges . . . you only have to hang around appeal court decisions to realize: "Philosophy isn't abstract or unreal . . . philosophy is everything." There is nothing admissible or inadmissible, but thinking makes it so . . .


Sunday, June 18, 2006

(Demanding Role)'s Day

The problem with Father's Day (or Mother's Day, or Secretary's Day, or Personal Bodyguard's day if they had one) is that the person is usually being honored for doing a demanding job that, given a moment's peace and rest, they would rather not have to deal with. So, when everyone says, "Let's make Dad feel special" (or Mom, or Nancy, or Guido) they usually do it in a way that requires (you guessed it) more demanding attention from Dad.

The ugly truth is that Mom and Dad really don't want people doing something extraordinary to make them feel special, because extraordinary things are work, even when you are theoretically on the receiving end. Even if you do something relatively low-risk like going out to eat, it still takes time and planning.

What Mom and Dad really want is perfectly ordinary ways to make them special. Usually, "Give me a little peace. Let me just sit here in a comfy chair and read in a quiet house. Let me sleep. Let me have my own way for once." This is known to every mother and father, but is of course unspeakable because it betrays the awful truth that sometimes this role isn't all it's cracked up to be. And when your five-year-old brings you his hand-made, hand-wrapped something-or-other as a token of his love, you know that he doesn't need hear your true desires, which, if voiced, would sound something like, "I love you more than life itself. Now go away."

And, if you think about it, the whole holiday is counter-productive in the whole "punished by rewards" sense. Of course we like to hear from our loved ones that they love and appreciate us. But when the gesture is enforced by a compulsory holiday, it means slightly less. It has shades of King Lear. Do you really think we're doing all this to get an ugly tie and a new crescent wrench?

But, of course, part of being a good person is knowing how to gracefully receive a gift and a compliment. So we smile, we say thank you, we bask in the love we feel and is felt by those around us. Mostly we're just glad that the ordinary days are what are so precious to us.

The Search is IN

NPR ran a story today about a Supreme Court decision to allow evidence gathered when police enter a private residence with probable cause, but unannounced. Now, I have never thought about such things before in my life, but I always tune in to Nina Totenberg because High Court rulings almost always have an interesting mix of ideal philosophy and real-life politics to make them interesting fodder for argument and discussion. This one, especially, caught my attention because anyone who watches Law & Order (or any other crime procedural made in the last twenty years) is used to hearing about what can or cannot be introduced as evidence in court. How many times have we heard a judge on L&O say, "The search is out"?

For what it's worth, I think the court ruled correctly. When the police have probable cause to believe a crime is being committed, they ought to have some latitude on how they go about investigating the scene, including not announcing themselves right away. We really don't have to give perps a few seconds to flush their stash down the toilet. But I also thought the police were right to say, "It's still a really good idea to announce yourself," if nothing else to avoid getting shot.

How remarkable it is that, not only do we have a system for deciding what police can and can't do, we actually have TV shows almost entirely devoted to the subject. Thanks to police dramas, the average citizen actually has a pretty good grasp on topics such as Miranda warnings, search warrants, rules of evidence, double-jeopardy, and every other aspect of due process. I have to wonder if this particular genre exists in other cultures . . . does Singapore have police procedurals? Does England, for that matter?