Derik Badman's Journal

May 2020

2020-05-02 09:31

Finished up Meander, Spiral, Explode: Design and Pattern in Narrative by Jane Alison last night though I ended up kind of skimming by the end. The introduction set me up for something that I don't feel like the subsequent chapters followed through on in an engaging way. A lot of analysis of individual stories or novels for theme and notif and then she applies the design pattern in question as a metaphor to the text. But it all feels rather weakly argued and the difference between many of the patterns seems arbitrary. I much like the idea of thinking about alternate ways of organizing texts beyond a conventional narrative arc, but this book did not give me much to really think about in that regards.

Also finished up Delany's Neveryona which in many ways is not organized around a traditional narrative arc. Pryn, the protagonist, leaves her home in the mountains, travels to the big city, travels to the land in the south, heads back to the city, the end. There is a moment that sort of acts as a climax in the penultimate chapter, but it is not really the result of a great build-up. It is sort of a resolution of a mystery that stretched across the novel and a few of the preceding stories in the series, but it also creates its own mystery as to what actually happens to Pryn, what is real, what is not. In a sense, it is the resolution of a quest. Pryn is told a story in the first chapter (by one of the many protagonists from the previous stories that she meets) about a treasure. In the end she sort of maybe finds that treasure. But in between the treasure or the quest is not really her goal or motivating factor or even a driver of the narrative events.

The novel is much more organized like a bildungsroman and a travelogue. Pryn gains knowledge and experience; she sees parts of the world; she meets all different sorts of people; she has a variety of experiences. In the end, is there resolution? No. But I expect part of the point is there is not resolution to the many situations and ideas and problems that she is faced with. It's a fascinating novel in a fascinating series, that is so unlike any other sword & sorcery or fantasy fiction. I wish there were more work like it (but I think there is not).

Sitting outside on the porch today, writing on my laptop and enjoying what is turning out to be a beautiful sunny day. The birds fly by, the birds sing, dogs bark in the distance (and not so distance, as our new neighbors have a little dog). I spent the morning catching up on reading articles and have no plans for the afternoon but to... write? read? watch a movie? I am going to do a bit of RPG planning, as after we finish the second part of Eric's The Sprawl adventure tomorrow, we are, if there is time, going to try Mausritter, a simple game in a Mouseguard type world. I'm hoping to run it a bit... improvisationally. Roll up some hexes and NPCs and plot ideas, and a few simple maps from Alex Schroeder's Textmapper.

Some reading...

A really good interview with Frank Santoro about his comic Pittsburgh one of my favorite books from last year.

A.S. Hamrah moved from n+1 to The Baffler, which disappointed me as I actually read the former, and his new column is up. No one writes movie reviews like him (his collection The Earth Dies Streaming is well worth reading), he rarely tells you clearly if he liked a movie or not, he just lets you decide based on what he has to say about it.

2020-05-03 09:25

Watched Otto Preminger's Bonjour Tristesse yesterday afternoon. I'd seen it years before, but I didn't remember it well and something about Jean Seberg got me to rewatch. She was still a teenager when she made it, and the movie well plays up her immaturity. At first she seems a little more grown up than she is, but as the movie progresses (especially when maternal figure Deborah Kerr shows up) we see her childishness come to the fore, before she ends up as a kind of disaffected young adult. The whole thing is structured as a flashback with narration, where the time of the narration is filmed in black and white and the analeptic plot is in brilliant color. It's a clearcut device to showcase the depression and disaffection that we know most come as result of something in the past, but as such it is effective. The black and white sections have more narration too, which further distance the viewer from the characters and action in a way that nicely mirrors the narrator's (Seberg's character) distance from her own life.

Yesterday, I read a review of Laura Mulvey's Afterimages at Senses of Cinema which mentioned how Godard chose Seberg for Breathless because of Bonjour Tristesse which is probably what triggered me choosing that when browsing the Criterion Channel for something to watch. That same issue has a few short essays on Hiroshi Shimizu's movies, like this one on The Ornamental Hairpin_, which I've had on dvd for along time (in a Criterion set of Shimizu movies) but never watched, so I plan on watching that at some point this week (it stars Chishu Ryu of so many Ozu movies).

Just worked up a small hex map for Mausritter to start prepping for running that. The online Location generator was super helpful in that regard to quickly work up 19 hexes with a few landmarks and details. Now it's just a matter of adding some more details to a few of them (a number of the details ask questions), generate a few NPCs (also a generator), and make some connections between it all. The generators do surprisingly well in creating inspiration (of course the city next to the hex with the waterfall would have pigeon riders, how else would you get up and down cliff that must be there). There are also adventure site and hook generators that provide some more starting points. I don't expect we'll be started playing today (hopefully just character generation), so that will give me more time to work up a few more elements (maybe some factions, stock at least 1 dungeon of some kind). Even after all these years I'm still not always sure what I really need prepped for a session and what is just extraneous or something I'll only need later (if the game gets that far). The balance between given players choices and being prepared for those choices can be hard.

2020-05-06 08:27

Life continues at home and apparently I have been too distracted to write. Story three continues coming together, as it gets longer and longer, the fantasy aspect of it because less and less prominent, except in the sense that it's all made up. Am I mostly just writing historical fiction but in a world that is poorly researched and otherwise imagined? Not exactly, though almost. I've been reading this book Eighteenth-Century Women Artists: Their Trials, Tribulations and Triumphs by Caroline Chapman which has been giving me ideas about my character (a woman artist in a similar milieu), but I don't have a strong desire to get too far into pseudo-history. I perhaps needs to add a bit more of the fantasy/unusual aspect. But on the other hand I don't want to go all making up complicated magic systems and maps and made-up words for things. That is rarely the most interesting part of the fantasy works I like.

I returned to The Cinema of Ozu Yasujiro: Histories of the Everyday by Woojeong Joo after a long hiatus. The book is chronological and the early chapters did not engage me a lot because I have not seen a ton of Ozu's early movies, especially the silent ones. I put the book aside for a long time, and then returned to it by skipping to the later chapters where I am familiar with most/all of the movies addressed. In the end, I still did not find a lot to engage me in the book. It gets a lot into the weeds about topics that do not hold my interest strongly. Also, the author has a really annoying habit of overusing Japanese words even when there are English equivalants. This not only ends up sounding pretentious but it becomes hard to follow unless you remember what the word in question actually meant when first introduced, often in some earlier chapter. I'm putting this one into the "weeded" pile. Though it did make me want to revisit more Ozu movies. I have a small Criterion set of some of his early crime dramas that I haven't watched yet.

I finally watched Shimizu's Ornamental Hairpin (1941) on Sunday. It's a quiet drama that takes place at a resort during the war. A young man (a solider on leave I believe) injures his foot on a hairpin accidentally left behind by a previous resident. She returns to the resort to apologize to him, and then ends up staying to escape her life in Tokyo. Shimizu uses lots of long shots, and a lot of the drama comes around the man's attempts to walk on his injured foot. One overlong scene has him trying to walk across a narrow log bridge that spans the shallow river. The woman, some children, and other residents he has become friendly with are all cheering him on as he stumbles and sways across the bridge. It's a strange, sometimes inconsistent movie, with an ending that is melancholy, though not clearly not a happy ending, just unresolved.

We also watched Talk of the Town (1942) with Jean Arthur, Cary Grant, and Ronald Colman, part of a collection of Arthur's movies on the Criterion Channel. It too was a bit inconsistent. Sometimes funny and charming, sometimes political and patriotic, sometimes just boring. The main story about a man falsely accused of arson by a factory owner and an apparently corrupt judge, is interspersed with a three way romance (which man will the woman choose?!). The political angle ends up too patly solved and is, of course, quite unrealistic, especially as it works in one of the characters being a Supreme Court justice. Entertaining for a bit, but not rewatchable.

2020-05-08 08:26

Finished up the new season of The Last Kingdom on Netflix yesterday. It's a show that I got into more the longer it was on (I think it got better as it went on, not sure if that was related to a change of who was running/writing the show or what). It's based on a series of novels (and based on the plot summaries, seems to be moving through them very quickly) that take place in 9th/10th century England about attempts to unify the country's kingdoms and the ongoing conflicts between Saxons and Danes (i.e. Vikings). The production values are high and the writing is effective in portraying the milieu it is set in: politics, religion, and war in a turbulent conflict filled period. This latest season also did a great job at showcasing a variety of interesting female characters in different roles (something historical series don't always do well). The protagonist's daughter in this series has a great scene where she's basically scoffing at the conflicts around her because they are all based on ancestral rivalry and revenge. She's the new generation, and they are ready for integration, which seems to speak towards the (actual) future of what happened.

Lots of animal sightings this week. I saw the groundhog in our yard munching on a bunch of greens. Two catbirds built a nest right outside our kitchen window. Two baby doves were waddling around the driveway. Three separate rabbits on my walk the other morning. The two ducks were back in the creek. Gold finches at the bird feeder. Various fox appearances, sunning on our back deck, or out hunting. And a red bellied woodpecker just hammered on the house right near me (and then quickly flew off, thankfully).

I'm going to run Mausritter for the first time on Sunday. I still need to spend some time working up an adventure I'm making (the small dungeon part is done, but I need some setup and encounters). I also grabbed a small adventure the author just released this week, so I can give the players some options.

2020-05-10 09:27

Not sure where yesterday went or what I spend most of the day doing. Ended up doing a bit of cooking (hummus, tabouli, coleslaw, though I guess only one of those actually involved "cooking" anything), and some chores and some reading and some movies...

I rewatched Ozu's Tokyo Story. While there a number of his movies I've seen multiple times, Tokyo Story is one I had only watched once despite it being the film of his that is most highly regarded (it's always very high on the BFI list, #3 in the most recent one). When I first watched it (after I guess watching some of his other films) I was not hugely moved by it, and since then never revisited. And after rewatching it yesterday, I'm not sure my opinion has changed. There is something missing from it, that I find in his other films. I'm not totally sure what it is though. There are a lot of characters, like many of his films, but the primary focus is on the old parents. We never get much of a sense of the various children. They have lives and are a bit neglectful when their parents come to Tokyo to visit, but we really get no insight into their lives other than that they are busy. In comparison, a lot of the other films have a lot more balance between the generations, often even a conflict between the two. It is perhaps odd for me to say, but maybe I find Tokyo Story too slow and uneventful even for an Ozu film. Even from a visual perspective, I didn't notice as much the formal beauty of the shots and sequences as I do in many of his other works.

I'm running a session of Mausritter, a rules light Into the Odd variation, that is basically a setting much like Mouseguard. Not even sure why it struck me as something to run, perhaps a combination of the very light and simple rules along with the numerous GM side generators for inspiration. I was able to quickly generate a small hex map with various spots of interest, a few settlements, a few NPCs. I'm trying not to overprep. I do have 1 small dungeon keyed out, which a bit of a hook for it. We'll see what happens. We've been trying to stick to about 2 hours, which doesn't require a ton of prep considering we're also making characters.

As I was walking this morning, I saw the fox run through a yard. I think I surprised him, probably hunting squirrels or rabbits. The ducks were also back in the creek, though they also swam off when I got to the bridge and looked down on them.

Feeling a bit... out of sorts this week. As has happened a lot recently (longer than the quarantine), I'm often not sure what I want to or should be doing. I've stalled a bit on my writing, and then I start feeling like I should be working on that, rather than doing something else. But there's no external reason for me to do that, so why do I feel the need to feel obligation to doing it. I could just read and watch movies all weekend, why not? I ordered a couple books yesterday, which is probably a sign of my restlessness too, considering I haven't finished the last ones I ordered (which just arrived this week) or even the ones before that from a few weeks ago.

As I prep this past week's posts for posting, I notice how much I repeat myself even with the span of a week. How is my memory that poor?

2020-05-11 08:58

Ran a session of Mausritter for the group yesterday. We made characters and then started with a mission. Light prep by me, but with some added details from the players, and drawing some connections to various elements already on the map, things came together ok. We didn't even really get into the rules as it never became necessary to need them. That will likely change as the party is about to work on a plan to invade the hideout of some cultist/bandits.

Yesterday's movie was Ozu's Good Morning. Like Tokyo Story I wasn't a huge fan of this one the first (and only) time I watched it, but I actually like this one more this time around. It's more of a comedy than the other late Ozu films, and the children are more prominent (not generally my favorite part of his movies), but it's also in brilliant color which always makes his compositions and attention to detail really pop. The narrative is based around a group of homes that are all within like 10 feet of each other in what seems like a really unusual setup. I'm not clear how realistic the closeness of the houses is for what doesn't seem like a real densely packed urban area. There is not a lot of drama in this one, it's lighter and amusing.

2020-05-12 08:01

Seems too cold out lately for early May, still going out with two layers on for my morning walk (flannel shirt and sweatshirt).

This morning I finished Joanna Russ' The Two of Them (1978). I was so close to finishing last night but didn't want to get to that point where I was falling asleep while at the ending, and I didn't want to rush through just to finish it before I fell asleep. I've not read a ton of Russ' work, though I guess this is the third novel of hers I've read (and a short story or two). This short novel is about a "Trans-Temporal Authority" agent named Irene. As a youth in the 50's she ran off with an agent name Ernst (we see in flashback their first meeting) and then he becomes her trainer/lover/father-figure. About half the plot takes place on this other world that is vaguely futuristic arabic-islamic, where Irene ends up taking away the daughter of their hosts, because the girl wants to be a poet and on her world that is not allowed. Irene rages against the chauvinism/sexism of the culture on the planet, so she basically forces the father to sign some papers so she can "rescue" the daughter (who is not exactly abducted since she agrees to go).

I've seen some criticism of this book for its portrayal of the pseudo futuristic arabic-islamic world. It has plenty of clichéd elements and tropes, though I think that is partly on purpose, as the in-world logic of these people is that they basically started this planet and adopted this whole culture. The way they treat woman can seem facile and awful in its portrayal, but what becomes obvious in the second half of the novel, as Irene, Ernst, and the girl are travelling away from the planet on a ship, is that Irene's milieu is not really better. She begins to realize how much the organization she works for is sexist and how Ernst treats her is not all she thought it was. So the one cultural portrayal sheds light onto the other.

This is not the type of science fiction where everything is logical and explained. Whatever a "Trans-Temporal Authority" is remains vague at best. It's not about that, it's about the cultural criticism and the messaging and the women. Towards the end Russ starts to insert an I-author narrator, offering versions of the story "I was going to..." that at first is a little jarring, primarily I think for how late it comes into the book, and how unexpected it (still) is in science fiction. But I also think it works to bring... reality, the reality of this world the book exists in, to the fore as another part of the story.

I've got another book of Russ's work The Adventures of Alyx, which includes her earlier sword and sorcery stories, coming soon, and I am looking forward to reading it.

2020-05-14 08:28

Yesterday morning I finished up Jean Ricardou's Place Names after starting it the night before. Ricardou is someone I've seen mentioned a lot over the years both as a critic and a novelist associated with the Nouveau Roman, but I never read anything by him. This novel from Dalkey Archive appears to be the only one of his works available in English (translated by Jordan Stump who also wrote a book about Queneau). It's a rather Oulipian affair, a guidebook clashed with a mystery/conspiracy, that is rather playful, turning in on itself, repetitions, games, puzzles, metafictional in the way it makes the novel part of the novel (but without bringing Ricardou/author into it). The structure of it is at point exposed as somehow based on 8 chapters in 8 parts following some kind of logic, and it all has an element of theory about it in regards to language and meaning. It was a quick and enjoyable read, but also felt kind of hollow to me in the end. Not as engrossing and mysterious as a Robbe-Grillet nouveau roman, and not as fun and amusing as a Queneau or a Perec novel.

Last night I finished up another story in Delany's Neveryon series. Probably about two thirds through the four books now. Noticing how much the stories... not exactly reflect each other... but keep switching perspectives from one to the next, to show different facets of the world and especially the characters. In Neveryona, Pryn, the protagonist meets a few of the characters from the stories in the first book. She also briefly spends time with two smugglers, who are really only seen a bit from her perspective. Then in the first story of Flight from Neveryon "The Tale of Fog and Granite", the protagonist and focalizing character is one of those smugglers (who... I believe we never get a name for), so we see him a bit later in life, still smuggling. At one point he is even reminded of Pryn (though he no longer remembers her name), and we get a brief moment of his perspective on a bit of the previous novel.

The subsequent short story (that I read last night), "The Mummer’s Tale" is a long monologue, a conversation where we only hear the one speaker, from one of the mummer's of a travelling show. The show appeared previously in Neveryona where Pryn ends the novel travelling with them, though I'm not aware the narrator of this story is explicitly mentioned. The mummer is talking to an old friend (unclear at this point to me if he is someone seem previously or not) and ends up telling a story about his other friend, who we eventually realize is the smuggler from the previous story. In this case the monologue is taking place a decade or more later (time has really passed!), and we learn about the smuggler, before he started smuggling. Do the later stories continue this kind of flip flopping of perspectives? I don't actually recall. I've definitely read the beginning of the series more times than I've read the end of the series.

In non book news... I keep seeing the two ducks as the creek during my morning walks. Perhaps they've decided to settle in here. I hope they are careful about the fox... and stupid people who let their dogs off leash in the park. I keep telling myself I should go down and "feed the ducks" but they seem to be doing ok. I was watching this morning as the female was dunking under the water to root about under a log that sits in the creek. She seemed to be finding something under there to eat, as when she'd came up her beak would open and close. The male just stood next to her keeping watch.

I stalled on my third story days ago, but I had an idea on how to radically change its structure (inspired by thinking about the nouveau roman), so it's not just a sequentially record of events. I could probably string out one event after another of a plot for a long time, but it starts to feel easy and boring after awhile. I like structure; I like constraint; and I guess I needed to remember that.

2020-05-16 10:54

Another beautiful day here, so I'm spending some time on the porch enjoying the weather and the sounds of nature (and not enjoying the sounds of yard machines). One of the doves, noisily flew up and landed on the railing right in front of me, perhaps not expecting me to be sitting here. It (still don't know how to tell male from female doves) stayed a bit, looking at me, close enough that I could see the lovely light blue (almost robin's egg) ring around its eyes. I never noticed that before. Doves never look like much from a distance, no flashy colors to jump out at you, but on closer inspection the patterns of their feathers, the greys of all different hues, and the irridescent sheen of all sorts of blues and greens and pinks is really lovely.

Spent the earlier part of the morning watching Olivier Assayas' The Clouds of Sils Maria, which I really loved, rather unexpectedly. I almost removed it from my Criterion queue after watching his earlier Irma Vep the other day. The latter was not so great. I got to the end because I kept expecting something interesting to happen, something to emerge from the plot, but other than a cool and brief scene that closes the movie, I never really got a sense of the point of it all. It stars Maggie Cheung as herself, come to Paris to be in a remake of Les Vampires by a director played by Jean-Pierre Leaud. He seemingly asked her to do the part just because he saw her in a film and wanted to see her in a catwoman type suit as worn by the character Irma Vep in the original. The movie too seems to partially just exist to have Maggie Cheung wear a catwoman suit. They film some scenes, the costume woman hits on Cheung, the director hates the film and either really or fakely has a breakdown so some other director can be put on the job who wants someone else to star in it. Two interesting scenes... in one Cheung puts on her suit, seemingly breaks into an occupied hotel room, and steals a necklace that she then throws off the building. It is not totally clear to me whether it is real or fantasy, as the next scene finds Cheung in the suit, asleep in her hotel, claiming she didn't wake up because of having taken sleeping pills. It leaves open the idea she was just dreaming, but also that maybe she did dress up and go act like her character. The ending scene, finds the new director and crew watching what the previous director had edited together so far, a black and white sequence of parts we saw them filming previously but with all these abstract geometries scratched (it looks scratched though maybe it was done digitally) into the film. The result is actually really interesting to watch. It runs a bit and then the film is over. It all felt unresolved and meandering.

The Clouds of Sils Maria on the other hand was excellent. It stars Juliette Binoche as a famous older actress, basically herself, and Kristin Stewart as her personal assistant. They play off each other really well and their interactions basically are the movie. The actress agrees to act in a sequel to a play that made her famous as a 18 year old, basically playing the same character but 20 years later. Chloe Grace Moretz (who it took me a moment to recognize from 30 Rock) plays the actress who will now play the young woman's part, and who seems to at least vaguely be more like the real Kristin Stewart, at least as I have some vague background concept of her career and popularity with tabloids). As Stewart helps Binoche rehearse her lines it starts to become clear that there are vague connections between the play's themes and their real relationship, which adds a ton of interest and ambiguity to the goings on. Their relationship is a complicated mix of professional and personal, that is not without a buried romantic component. It plays out with a lot of subtlety and mystery that I really appreciated. I can totally see myself watching it again.

It was a happy coincidence that the movie mostly takes place in the Swiss Alps, which is vaguely how I've been thinking about parts of the fiction I've been writing. There are lots of lovely shots of the mountainous landscape and scenes of the protagonists walking around it it, that I enjoyed and provided some visual inspiration.

I have a completely open weekend, no games scheduled, no chores really to do. I'm going to find some other movies to watch as my Criterion queue is getting out of control. Hoping to finish up the Neveryon novel I'm reading too, so I can pause from that series for a bit to read something else. I think its also time for my second quarantine haircut, since the barber's been closed for months now.

2020-05-17 11:16

Before heading out on my morning walk, I opened the window above the hope chest with its homemade cushion, in front of the bird feeder, so that Buddy could smell some fresh air and watch the birds. We both immediately notice one of the foxes (the male I think) trotting down the sidewalk away from the house. I think he likes to come up from the den through the brush next to our house, and then head off down the street. A few minutes later on the other side of the block I caught back up with him, crouched in the grass at the end of a driveway, apparently stalking something.

I'm out on the porch again, less warm than yesterday with an occasional cool breeze, but still quite pleasant. Numerous birds are flitting about, occasionally stopping to sing on some nearby surface where I can get a good view of them. One little brown guy, a carolina wren I think, is singing loudly from the branch of a nearby tree, and when he sings his tail feathers twitch. In the corner of my vision I can see the new neighbor's dog running the perimeter of their yard, a flash of white behind the arbor vitae that separate our yards.

Was thinking about the rather long list I could make of animals I've seen just on my block. Even just in the past couple weeks its been rather surprisingly extensive.

Since I enjoyed The Clouds of Sils Maria so much, I watched Assayas' Summer Hours this morning. Shortly into it there is scene where the three adult children of an older woman give her a new telephone. Her phone works fine. She takes one look and says its too complicated. It reminded me of whenever my brothers and I would try to give mom presents like that (we stopped trying, at least I did), but it also reminded me that I had seen the movie before. Must have been many many years ago, but throughout I had vague bits of memory of it. It's a quiet movie mostly dealing with the children in the aftermath of the mother's death as they handle the estate, which includes the collection of their great uncle, a painter who is famous enough to be having a multi-city retrospective 30 years after his death. In some ways its a meditation on legacy and art as objects imbued with personal memory and emotion but also of societal importance, as well as monetary value. There is a little bit of each. One valuable vase is given away to the mother's longtime housekeeper. The woman has no idea of its values and tells her nephew she wanted to take something that wasn't valuable. Two Corot paintings are sold, under some contention between the children, because they are the most valuable things in the collection. Other objects are donated to the museum both for legacy reasons and for tax exemptions. Some objects are kept as personal favorites or reminders. The practical meets the artistic.

Tried to watch The Sniper one of the Columbia Noir movies on the Criterion Channel yesterday, but ended up giving up on it. It had some nice high contrast, dark shadow film work, especially in the hilly streets of San Francisco, but the story was just so uninteresting to me. I have perhaps already reached the point of saturation with film noir that I love and want to watch.

2020-05-19 08:46

Once again worked too much yesterday with too many things to do coming from too many directions (not to mention all the pure garbage like dealing with spam, a neverending source of frustration).

The Criterion Channel has a few early Douglas Sirk movies up, from before he more famous melodramas like Magnificent Obsession or Written on the Wind. We watched Shockproof last night, with a script by Samuel Fuller, who I have heard of, but I guess only know as the writer/director on Pickup on South Street (which I do like). It's described as a thriller, though it is much more a melodramatic love story with a really buried crime element. None of the leads are very good, and the plot is at times nonsensical or just underexplained. Some really nice framing and lighting/shadows in the earlier parts. The ending was the most cursory, tacked on, happy ending I can ever remember seeing. Clearly Sirk's movies improved a lot in the subsequent years.

2020-05-20 07:55

I finished up Flight from Neveryon on Sunday. The last part of the volume is The Tale of Plagues and Carnivals a novel from 1984 that is considered the first about the (at that point) emerging AIDS crisis. As an active gay man in New York City at the time, Delany brings autobiography into the novel. The narrative shifts between telling of a sexually transmitted plague in Neveryon, fictionalized autobiography about Delany and some acquaintances in contemporary New York City, and outright essayistic commentary both about the writing/novel and the disease. To the new reader it can be a bit of a jarring shift from the previous parts of the series, though not totally unexpected, as all the volumes also include various pre and post matter relating the stories both to Delany as a character/author and a related (fictional, but... set in the "real world") scholar who translates a (fictonal) ancient manuscript that Delany supposedly used as a basis for the setting/stories.

But with this novel, the "real world" intermingles with the sword & sorcery world at various levels. Not just the insertion of the narrative about Delany in NYC during the early days of AIDS, but also characters crossing between the two worlds. There are still long sections solely based in the fantasy world, that, as I suspected but didn't recall earlier, bring the "Master" who was the unheard recipient of the monologue in the previous story. Various (most? all?) of the characters from the previous stories also make smaller (subtler) or larger appearances throughout. In two important sections, we see people misinterpreting events from previous stories, a common theme throughout the series, as the interpreters make use of information to prove their views and are either naively or willfully ignorant of what goes against them.

In multiple postscripts from subsequent editions, Delany updates his information about AIDS, with quite a bit of information that can be surprising. In particular the very limited number of studies to understand how people actually got the HIV virus sexually (blood transfusions and sharing needles being much clearer methods). It is perhaps too a propos to be reading that as the world is enduring this current pandemic. At one point in the novel, when the source of AIDS, HIV, is discovered, it is announced that they think medical science is 2 years away from a vaccine. That was 1984. 36 years ago now.

2020-05-23 13:29

Finished up the last Neveryon book the other day. The last two stories return in different ways to the beginning of the series. "The Game of Time and Pain" returns to Gorgik "the Liberator" who is the protagonist of the first story in the series and plays varying roles both real and imagined throughout. In this story he narrates events from within the timeline of the first story and his return to the location of that event, showing his changed perspective along with his changed position in society. The second tale "The Tale of Rumor and Desire" takes place at various points across the series, telling the story of a bandit and ne'er-do-well who at first seems unconnected to any of the other stories or characters, but then at one point his narrative comes around to intersect with one of the earliest scenes in the first story of the series.

In "The Tale of Gorgik", the first story, which is also reprinted in this volume as the last story, Gorgik, as a youth, before being forced into slavery, is out in the city near his house and sees a young collared slave sitting against a cistern. He is fascinated by the slave and his collar and keeps coming back to look at him, finally, at one point, seeing the slave remove his collar and throw it into the cistern. This scene clearly effects Gorgik's later life, but we learn in "The Tale of Rumor and Desire" that that slave is the bandit, and he was wearing the collar, not because he was a slave, but because he was ostensibly using it to turn tricks with people who would be interested in such a thing. It's another one of the many cases in the series of symbols and interpretation that are turned over.

The book ends with a long afterward by Delany where he discusses many of his influences in particular the various theorists who inspired the work. The usage of semiotics and psychoanalysis is at least minimally obvious to anyone familiar with the topics, though I'm not sure knowing the sources and concepts add to the stories themselves. As Delany's interpretations and evocations of the theories it is probably better to take them as is, than to try to map them to any particular source. I've reread the series more than once now (I think the full series only twice but the earlier volumes perhaps thrice) yet somehow parts of it always come as a surprise. In fact this time through I had no recollection at all of the last story.

This morning I watched Jacques Rivette's Paris Belongs To Us his first full length movie from 1960, which I've never watched before. For Rivette it was short (2:20) and quite engaging throughout. In numerous ways it felt rather noir-ish. A young woman is throughout performing a sort of investigation (and frequently wearing a trenchcoat), looking for a tape recording of music by a man who kills himself, or is perhaps murdered) before the film starts. A few characters are convinced of some kind of vast ranging conspiracy, often seeming quite paranoid, while the protagonist gets involved in their lives and at least at times is convinced of its truth. Like many Rivette films there is also a theatre production going on. The movie is dark and often set in enclosed spaces, small rooms (most of the characters seem to live in single room apartments). The conspiracy theory builds to a fervor at the end, and then, poof, it is extinguished as the characters learn the actual reasons for the two deaths that are a focus of the plot. And in some ways, that is a relief, there is no grand conspiracy, but then also... there are still three deaths (one likely murdered by fascists, one driven to suicide, one shot at the end) that didn't require a conspiracy. In many ways it felt very cynical.

2020-05-24 10:54

Watched Kieslowski's Blue yesterday with a young Juliette Binoche (seeing lots of her movies lately). I saw this one many many years ago when I was in college and spent a lot of time renting a large number of the (not that numerous) videos in the "foreign" section of the local Hollywood Video. I've retained a good view of it since then, but actually found it only average with this viewing. Kieslowski is great with using sound and color as part of this narratives, but I found this story about a woman whose husband and child die in a car crash rather... linear and too simple. He is also good at adding small symbolic elements to his movies, but sometimes they seem too unclear. For instance, the woman finds a mouse and its babies in the pantry of her apartment and is pretty freaked out, then talks to her aging (and demented (as in having dementia... is that how you'd say that?)) mother to be reminded she was afraid of mice when she was younger. Then she borrows a neighbor's cat to put in her apartment. I'm just not clear on the purpose of that subplot. Some of them are just mysterious, like a man she always sees on the street playing a recorder. He seems to be playing music by her dead husband (who was a composer). At one point she finds him sleeping on the street. At another time her friend notices that he is gone but he forgot his recorder. Another time we see him getting out of a fancy car with a woman inside. When the protagonist asks him about his music he just says he makes it up. It's all a bit strange, and feels like something that has a meaning I am just not getting.

I continued the trilogy with White this morning, which I thought I had seen, but clearly, if I did, I had absolutely no recollection of it. It was even less satisfying. The main part of the movie is slow and then suddenly the protagonist if framing his wife for his own death (very unclear how that actually works), and somehow he is in the prison yard where she is being held. It got into this weird thriller plot at the end but without any of the elements you might expect from such and leaves logic behind. Alas. I guess I'll still watch Red next, though now I'm maintaining some skepticism. I was quite moved by Kieslowski's The Double Life of Veronique when I rewatched it recently, so it's disappointing to not feel the same with these.

2020-05-25 10:44

A long weekend means it's Monday and I don't really know what to do.

Played a second session of Mausritter yesterday, which as always seemed to go really slow. Had to use the rules more which forced me to... use the rules... and try to figure out how to handle situations that the rules don't cover (quite a lot in such a rules light system). I tried to err on the side of "yes, you can do that", with a side of "but..." I think it's easy to get in the mindset of making things difficult or a challenge or add some element of chance, when really, you don't need that. The game continues on regardless and people (theoretically at least) have fun. We had some combat which was good for seeing a bit how to handle opponents and how tough they should be, definitely made the leader of the bandit group the party was dealing with a bit too easy. But also it kept combat really short, and I think started to lend itself to a little more descriptive action. I like the simpler rules a lot. I need to query the players on how they feel about it, now that we've used them a bit more.

I watched Claire Denis' Let the Sunshine In this morning, and... feel pretty ho-hum about it. It stars Juliette Binoche (again) as a middle aged painter divorcee trying to find love. I think on the whole her real issue is that almost all the guys in the movies were real douche-y. Not really anything else to say about it, it just didn't grab me. Had a weird ending where she goes to some kind of psychic and he talks to her for a long time as the credits roll. I was amused in one scene, she grabs this large framed photo in her studio. It's a picture of a woman among some paintings, also one assumes in her studio. My brain immediately thought "that's Joan Mitchell" (who my wife loves, so I'm sure I've seen photos of her in books or at shows we've seen of her work). A pretty quick image search found the photo and I was right.

Been watching a bunch of Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes, seasons 3 and now 4. They are good as partial attention background, while cooking or doing puzzles or something. At times it feels like all the characters are too well defined ahead of time. There are rarely any surprises about how anyone acts. I do think this is something that keeps the writers and audience engaged with Data the android, as they consistently play around with him and his search for humanity and emotions. This allows him to be a lot more dynamic over time than everyone else.

2020-05-27 16:15

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So I've watched a lot more Star Trek: TNG. Noticing how rarely any of the crew who get to speak are women. They put a lot of young women in the background of scenes, standing at posts, or walking in hallways, but the only time they really get to do anything is if they are a love interest for one of the primary male cast members. The episodes are pretty inconsistent in quality, but somehow I keep watching them, because it is easy to just turn one on and not think too much about it, which is nice when I'm not feeling well. (Addendum a few weeks later: The issue with the women actually improves a lot in the later seasons. They seem to consistently have more minor female characters, than in earlier episodes, and not always just for a love interest. The addition of Ensign Ro to the cast helps too, though she is sadly not in a ton of episodes.)

Just took a walk in the park behind the house and as I was crossing the little bridge over the creek I saw a bird swoop low past the bridge and land on a branch. At first I thought it was the cooper's hawk, but it seemed too low to the ground. Definitely bigger than the average bird around here. I maneuvered around to get a better look past the leaves and saw it was some kind of owl. Not a real big one, but definitely an owl. I've never seen an owl around here before. Oddly, three or four robins were harrassing the owl, making a racket around it. Finally it flew off, and they chased after.

Did end up watching Kieslowski's Red on Monday, I guess. I think it was my favorite of the bunch. It's filled with the coincidences and parallelling that appear in his movies, but compared to the other two in the series felt more engaging to watch. It has a lot going on, and gets involved with a small handful of characters. It does feel quintessentially "art house movie" in the way the characters talk and act and how the plot moves, which feels like a statement I should offer some more clear examples for, but I can't really. It's like a host of elements that create the general feeling and mood.

2020-05-30 09:54

A stressful, busy week at work, means not a lot of writing. I'm still struggling with the feeling that I need to be able to do too many things at too high a level. I feel like I'm reaching a point where jack of all trades is not good enough for the scope and scale of the work, but with all the economic uncertainty lately I can't expect there will be a chance for me to move into a more specific specialized role at any point. I was not feeling great off and on for the past week too which hasn't helped and then we had some downtime yesterday which just made things worse, as I had been hoping to take the day or at least the afternoon off. Last time I was going to take a day off something else came up and I couldn't.

The weather has turned this week though, warmer, sunnier, more like spring-summer than it had been. Though that means my office temperature was in the 80s a lot this week, as we haven't turned on the a/c yet. But it was so pleasant out this morning when I took my walk. Rain fell hard last night as Lianne and I were playing a game of Scrabble, and this morning things were cool and still wet, with rain still dripping from the trees. I saw a yellow-shafted northern flicker for the first time (I had to identity him later). A large bird (smaller than a crow but bigger than a bluejay) with a trapezoidal black bib and a triangular red spot on the back of his head (and apparently yellow on the tail though I missed that), he was pecking at the cracks in the sidewalk, hopping along staying just a bit ahead of me as I watched. Really beautiful bird, one more for my still theoretical "animals on the block" list.

Sitting out on the porch again this morning and it is still really lovely, the right temperature with a nice light breeze. I have no plans for the day, no plans for the weekend. I'm not sure if that is good or bad. I'm still struggling a bit with a uncertainty about what I should be doing with myself. Lately it's been a lot of movies, some reading... not much else. I haven't played any video games since the stay at home order started; I haven't worked on my stories for a few weeks now; I did some minimal rpg prep (and that has so far gotten me through 2 sessions plus probably one next weekend); I haven't worked on any coding projects in weeks; I haven't drawn anything in a very long time; I haven't played music in more than 5 years. I'm just not sure what holds my interest I guess. Maybe this is my version of a midlife crisis. I'm not looking for a new wife or a fancy car just... something to do.

The one thing I have accomplished (as this journal shows in evidence) is watching a lot of movies (and tv shows, which I don't always write about). I watched Mati Diop's Atlantics on Netflix the other day. I had heard really good things about it when it played some festivals last year (she was the first black female director to be in competition at Cannes) and I was not let down at all. Highly recommended. The film takes place in Senegal (which I had to look up to place on the map, its the north west coast of Africa) and is wonderfully rich. The setting is an unknown one to me, but it never felt completely different or that my interest was solely in the location, but it was interesting to see parts of the lives and milieu of people of different classes in that country. The plot starts off with a bunch of men who have not been paid in three months for their construction work. They seem to be working on some kind of buildings that are in the shadow of this giant curving skyscraper that is frequently shown in the distance jutting into the sky with no other buildings of even close to the same height in the area. The design of the building and its singleness in the landscape makes it look like something out of a science fiction movie, like a spaceship landed. The contrast is even more striking the more you see of the streets and buildings where the narrative takes place. It is a constant highlight in the movie of class differences.

The plot shifts pretty quickly to one of the young men's girlfriend, Ada. She is in love with him but is betrothed to another (wealthier man). One night she goes to a friend's bar/club and... it is just women, many crying or looking forlorn. The men went off on a boat in an attempt to get to Spain for work (this is apparently the plot of Diop's previous short film). Ada's boyfriend went too. From here the plot follows two interrelated lines, one is about Ada as she struggles with the idea of marrying this other man, missing her boyfriend, and what happens when people report seeing him after her future bedroom in her future husband's house is burned. The other is more of a group narrative involving a variety of the young women and what becomes a supernatural fantasy. The supernatural aspects slips in slowly and is primary to the plot but is never too overt. It is more like a ghost story than anything else, as the spirits of the young men (dead at sea we learn) inhabit the girls and confront the man who owes them their salary.

The film is engaging in story but also beautifully filmed. The cinematographer is the same woman who filmed Sciamma's Portrait of a Lady on Fire, one of my other favorites from the year, and the long shots of the landscape and the Sugimoto like images of the ocean and the horizon punctuate the more conventional shooting of the actors and their settings. This is one I would watch again.

2020-05-31 10:41

Saw a mole run across the yard this morning as I was doing some (minimal) yardwork. Another animal for my list. The mother fox and three kits visited the yard last night. Not sure if there are only three left now or if the other two just weren't visible, but it seems more likely the former.

Another beautiful day with nothing to do sitting out on the porch.

Watched Jacques RIvette's Celine and Julie Go Boating between yesterday and this morning. I haven't seen if for many years, since it played at the local theatre (that was anywhere from from 5-15 years ago I guess). Of what I've seen of Rivette's films it is an odd one, much more playful and surreal. And it is very surreal, in a classic Surrealism sense. There is tarot and magic and symbols and coincidences and wandering in the streets and chance and clearly some kind of connection to the unconscious of the characters, not to mention a number of dreamlike sequences. And in some way there is kind of a mad love. I don't know I've noticed it in previous viewings (or if I did, I have forgotten I did), but there is a strong lesbian subtext to the protagonists relationship. They meet (or do they, it's actually a little unclear if they already know each other or not), when Julie is sitting in a park reading her magic book, and Celine rushes past dropping her sunglasses. Julie picks them up and gives chase. What follows is less cat and mouse and more like a game as Celine drops items and pretends not see Julie, and Julie picks up the items and pretends to hide. The chase ends when Celine heads into a hotel and rents a room. The next morning Julie finds Celine in the cafe across the street and they exchange a few words and an item (one of the things that was dropped). Later Celine appears at the library Julie works at. Then later still she is sitting in the stairway of Julie's apartment building with a strange, seemingly improvised story about a house she worked in with a man and two women and maybe a murder (which now that I write that oddly echoes later events in the film). After that the women live together and sleep in the same bed. We never see them in the same bed at the same time, but in two scenes one brings the other breakfast in bed and they are each in turn in the same bed on opposite sides of it, so the implication is pretty clear. Celine secretly chases off Julie's childhood crush who returns to marry her, too. It seems fairly clear throughout in their relationship there is a strong subtext. Even by the end after a series of spells they adopt a daughter, creating a family as they go boating off into the credits.

A major part of the plot involves a strange closed up house. When one of the women enters it at a specific time, she only comes out again later that day with no memory and a piece of hard candy in her mouth. When she later eats the candy she remembers bits and pieces of the day (like a dream), wherein a kind of closed room drama plays out in the house involving a widower, his daughter who is murdered, the mother's sister and... another woman whose relationship is unclear. Celine and Julie alternately appear as the nurse caring for the girl (who is sick somehow). This story is, as mentioned, sort of related to the story Celine tells earlier in the film, but also we learn that the house next to the weird house is where Julie's grandmother lives. Julie lived there for awhile as a young girl and was friends with a girl who lived in the house and there was a nurse she was afraid of. None of the characters in the movies make any explicit connection between this and the drama unfolding but there is a clear implication like a dream unconscious.

The whole thing is very loosely filmed, apparently with minimal crew, and cowritten by the three main actresses and RIvette. I actually don't know much about the production or even have read much of anything about the movie, but it seems like it was to at least some extent improvisional. At over 3 hours in length it is long and at times repetitive, but quite fun and enjoyable.

Just read this excellent article by Elif Batuman from n+1 Short Story & Novel that is both a critique and a call to arms about short stories and novels. The things she complains about in modern american short stories really resonated with me, though it is also very clearly about "literary" fiction though she never explicitly says that, that I recall. The essay is well written and smart and witty so I've added her novel The Idiot to my to read list.

I never cease to be amused by how much the cat birds in the yard just hang around all day, going here and there, singing or squawking (they can be both beautiful singers and awful squawkers). More often than not I see a bird in the yard and moving about nearby and it's one of the cat birds. They seem rather active and frenetic as a species.