Friday 5: Makin’ It

From here.

  1. What skill seems like it would be really fun to learn?
    I think this is an answer a lot of people would give, but I’m going with tending bar. I’m not even much of a drinker, but I love the attention to detail, the gadgets, the cool names, and the happiness a good mixed cocktail gives people. I have a few of the toys I picked up a few years ago just to play around, and I created my own drink, the Tangeriney Tini, a vodka martini with fresh-squeezed tangerine juice, bruised (not muddled) mint leaves, citroen vodka, and sugar. There might have been one other ingredient but I’m not remembering what it was.
  2. Which of the winter Olympic sports would you love to compete in?
    Curling for sure, but biathlon would be pretty great. Cross country skiing interspersed with marksmanship? It’s a strange combination but I like the solitude. Also, if I could ever get up the guts, the monster ski-jumping looks like it would be a thrill.
  3. What fun craft did you make when you were a kid, in school or at camp or somewhere else?
    Well I was a Boy Scout, so I made a ton of interesting stuff. When I was a Webelo, we made small catapults. That was cool. When I was in elementary school I read an article about making paper, then finally got around to trying it in high school. That was always fun too. I did it a little more in college and then taught R how to do it, and she loved it so much she later introduced it as a club activity when she was teaching. She was a lot better at it than I was.
  4. If everyone in the world is the best in the world at some very specific thing, what are you most likely the best at?
    Speaking of R, this is her theory, that everyone in the world is the best in the world at one thing. I know I’ve written about this before, but I fantasize about being a graffiti artist, and I developed a unique lettering style. There’s only one person familiar enough with it that she could identify it as mine as soon as she saw it (also R: duh), but it is mine, so I’m the best in the world at lettering in that style, maybe. It has some elements of the Wu-Tang style, with those fat letters and sharp points, and some of my friend David’s with his off-center holes in letters, but if you knew their styles and you saw mine, you would never confuse them.
  5. What’s something you own that was handmade by someone you know?
    I may as well continue the R theme begun in answer 3. She once made me a felt-covered heart-shaped box (are you hearing Nirvana at this moment? I am) for my guitar picks. The picks are long gone, of course, but they had holes drilled in them so I could always have one around my neck, kind of a useful and aesthetically cool thing for a wannabe guitar player. I still use the box, and I drill holes in all my picks now.

Friday 5: Space

From here.

  1. Of all the spaces in your residence, which is most powerfully your space?
    I live alone, so it’s all mine, but the bed, which I only use for sleeping, has to be the most mine. Sleep is such an intimate thing, something I’m thinking a lot about lately since this sleep study and subsequent sleep apnea diagnosis. Yes, I have it. Supposed to make arrangments next week to pick up the CPAP equipment and sit through the class on how to use it properly.
  2. What’s the most spacious space in your everyday life?
    My desk at work is in a rather spacious office. I get up all the time and pace about thirty feet in one direction and back. But I walk to work a few days each week, and some of that walking is through rather spacious areas. Lately I’ve enjoyed the way the Chinatown Cultural Plaza looks in the early predawn hours and have enjoyed walking through that section of town through which Nuuanu Stream passes.
  3. What’s a good song about space?
    A few that leap to mind: “Space Truckin'” by Deep Purple, “Interplanet Janet” from Schoolhouse Rock, “Space Lord” by Monster Magnet, “Satellite Sky” by Mark Heard, “Brain Damage” by Pink Floyd, “Lost in Space” by Avantasia, and “Stars” by the xx.
  4. What’s under your bed?
    Carpet! My boxspring is on the floor without a frame, and my mattress is on the boxspring. I like it this way because I’m short.
  5. What are your thoughts on typing one or two spaces after sentences?
    I learned to type on a typewriter, so one space seems weird to me even though I know wordprocessors space everything to be visually appealing with just one. Since we use one space officially in my workplace, I’m slowly learning to type just one space after a sentence, but it’s a very difficult adjustment.

Review: The Exhibition by Lisa Ottiger

The Exhibition
by Lisa Ottiger (2014)

[disclosure: The writer is a coworker of mine. I purchased this book without her knowledge but I wrote this review with her knowledge, mostly because I was too excited about the novel not to let her know how much I was enjoying it.]

If I begin with a plot summary of Lisa Ottiger’s The Exhibition, you might not stick around to read the rest of my review, so I’m going to say up front that I really enjoyed this self-published novel for its literate prose, interesting characters, and engaging story, even while admitting that based on a description of the plot alone, I might not have read this if I were not acquainted with the author. I’m going to recommend it especially for fans of upmarket fiction and historical fiction, but I don’t read much of either genre and I’m glad I read this, so pick it up if you just appreciate good writing.

In mid-19th-Century Paris, a Filipino painter named Miguel Rey struggles to establish his reputation in the art world. He has real talent, but his ethnicity and race may be too much to overcome in upper-tier Parisian society. He finds a reluctant patron in a wealthy snob of a woman who agrees to hire him for a portrait of her sickly daughter Inès. He spends part of his time with Inès and her family, working on the portrait, and the rest in his starving-artist’s studio, working on his art. Miguel’s a complex character given to violent outbursts fed partly by a fiery temperament and partly by a chip on his shoulder put there by a lifetime of being underestimated because of his skin color.

Other important characters are the young doctor Patrice, Inès’s brother and Miguel’s classmate in art school, and Leda, an employee at Patrice’s hospital who may have crossed paths with Miguel in her other job, late at night in Miguel’s seedy neighborhood.

The characters are well defined, and Ottiger gives us plenty to like and dislike about each at the same time. Some readers may have difficulty enjoying a novel with such flawed (read: despicable) characters, but I was sympathetic with them all even when I didn’t want to be. If it helps, one character does rise above the others in perhaps a typical but very well-developed way; I could feel the writer’s affection for the character growing with every appearance, something that makes me smile even now, months after reading the novel.

It is the writing that picked me up and carried me through this interesting story. Ottiger has a nice, poetic sense of visual description, as when she flashes to a scene at a cockfight:

The men wait anxiously, spitting red betel juice on the floor and fingering the anting-anting amulets they wear around their necks, arguing or craning their necks to get a better view of the sandy ring. Mostly shirtless and shoeless, the smell of hard labor and hard luck rises off them, lingering like a miasma in the low-ceiling room.

Her sense of place brings some new glimpses of even that most-described city in the world, Venice:

It is the beginning of February and Carnival has washed over Venice, an ecstatic flood of sensuality for forty days and forty nights lasting from Three Kings’ to Ash Wednesday. At night thousands of lamps light every bridge and piazza and the city seems to float on a burning black sea.

It brings me no pleasure to point out a few flaws, but my relationship with the author pretty much demands it. Like too many self-published novels, this one could really have used some professional editing. I know what it’s like: you are so familiar with your writing by the time you share it that you can’t see technical glitches you’d have picked up in someone else’s work. But the glitches are distracting. There’s also a strange tense-shift early in the story, and I’m not convinced that this is an author’s error. I have gone back to figure out what I might be missing, but it still looks like a tense-shift to me, dramatic enough to remove me from what is otherwise a rather immersive reading experience.

Unlike a lot of self-published works, I really think this one could have found a home if the right people had read it. I’m no marketer, but I know good writing when I read it, and someone should have found a way to make it work. If only they were all as well-conceived and well-executed as this.

Four stars out of five: I really liked it.

Friday 5: Functions

From here.

  1. What are you holding your breath in anticipation of?
    I had several answers to this question a week ago, but I’m drawing a blank now. How about payday? I’m not broke yet and it’s only three days since my last payday, but I’m still already looking forward to the next one. This new job situation is difficult in that department.
  2. What most recently gave you goosebumps?
    This is going to sound terrible, but I recently wrote something about some people who got together to create a scholarship for a friend who died recently. I sent it out for approval by invested parties, and when I read it again a week or so later, I admit I got some goosebumps over the shared affection and good intentions. Yeah, I got goosebumps from my own writing. What a jerk!
  3. What’s giving you that pain in the neck?
    I’ve actually had a literal pain in the neck since Monday, when I fell asleep in a weird position and woke up with stiffness. So there’s that. My figurative pain in the neck is from some plumbing problems we’re having in my rented house. Don’t make me think about it; it’s going to stress me out.
  4. What’s making your heart ache?
    You know, I’m not sure. But I’ve been feeling something in there lately. A weird emptiness I can’t figure out. It’s not exactly a yearning but a puzzlement. My heart is confused by something but I don’t know what it is. I’ve been thinking a lot about turning 49 (holy crap) in January. Maybe it’s that. My heart is aching over lost youth.
  5. What are you yawning at?
    The University of Hawaii at Manoa’s football team has been super yawn-inducing this season. At least in recent years it’s been bad but interesting.
    This year it’s bad and boring. I’ve also been yawning over food choices on campus lately. Today I was super hungry at lunch on one of those semi-rare days when I plan to buy lunch at work. I couldn’t think of a single thing available (and choices are considerable) I wanted to eat. I managed to find something appealing (Indian food always does the trick) and enjoyed it very much, but it bums me out that I wasn’t looking forward to anything.

Someone Said There’d Be Cookies

I’ve gone quite a while without tipping over into the dark side. Don’t really know why, although having a new job I like is undoubtedly part of it. The thing about depression, if I have it (and people have told me they think I have a low-grade version of it) is there doesn’t have to be a reason for it, that in fact it defies reason. Yet I know people who have that seasonal brand of it, triggered by winter. So maybe there can be reasons not to teeter, you know?

It’s real, though, and it’s been with me since my teens. Before one of my professors put a name on it, I just thought of it as erratically periodic inability to function normally beyond one or two necessary things. Since in my adult life I’ve always had jobs, the one necessary thing has always been that. I remember a two-week period in Hilo when I got out of bed to do my shifts in the writing center, but skipped all my classes and just went back home to bed. I wrote a poem about it, probably my best, in which I compare taking medication for it to putting on my face, like makeup. It was cool because you stare into a mirror before you open the medicine cabinet, when your face swings out of view. Then you take your pills, put them back in the cabinet, and shut the door, watching your face swing back into place.

That one is probably publishable but I’ve never submitted it because there’s one word in it I don’t like and I’ve never found one that works for me. Stupid fricking poem.

I never did see a doctor about it, and so I’ve never taken anything for it, which my writing professor encouraged me to do. I’m not ruling it out.

The thing is, I’ve managed. And in times when I’m best equipped to consider it, I feel fine, or as fine as it gets (the shadows are always in the periphery, and I am always aware of them). I don’t like the thought of making a decision like that when I’m in the depths. Is that stupid?

I’m writing about this now as a reminder to the better me, when he shows up, to think about this. You know, to consider how miserable this feels, just the fighting off of the darkness. I’m not even in the pit, but I keep looking back over my shoulder to see if I’m distancing myself from it. Mixing my metaphors now, but it mostly makes sense to me. It feels horrible. Might I improve the quality of my life without always pressing down on this bruise?

But what if this bruise is the thing about me that makes me who I am? Who am I without the darkside? I know that sounds melodramatic but I’m being utterly sincere.

Maybe, though, if I can let go of Good Friday, I can really feel Easter. I might like that.

Whatever I Think of in Fifteen Minutes

I’m doing NaNoWriMo this year. I sat it out last year so I could think things over, but I think that, unless there’s a good reason not to do it, I’ll keep doing it as long as I’m thinking of myself as a writer. More reflection on this later. I do not have a story idea yet, or even a genre, but I think I’m going to write something in third-person omniscient, which I have never done before.

Each of my parents separately said I’ve lost weight when I saw them this weekend. It’s nice to hear, and I can actually say it’s true. I have to admit that when I’ve gone into the bathroom and seen my reflection, I’ve noticed it myself. It feels pretty good.

Ben Folds is coming to Honolulu next year. I’m going to give myself a few weeks to think about it, but unless a better show is announced in that time, I think I’m going.

Did a teeny bit of volunteer work this weekend. It felt good too, even though it was slightly out of my comfort zone. I was originally scheduled (without my knowing it) to work alongside one of my new colleagues who I think I’m developing a real-life friendship with, but she got sick at the end of the week so that didn’t happen. That was a disappointment, yet I still had a pretty good time.

I recently bought a cheap (less than a hundred bucks) Chromebook and it’s a piece of crap. It will serve my purposes in the short term, but I’m annoyed that it’s only a stopgap, short-term solution. I’m especially annoyed because there was a decent one for the same price on display at Walmart, and I messed around with it a bit and liked it, but the stupid stores didn’t actually have them in stock. So I mail-ordered this other one and was not the least bit surprised to see it was a piece of crap, but ah well. It’s what I get for being cheap, I guess.

Friday 5: More (and more) Questions about Buildings and Food

I’ve been crazy busy and pretty stressed these past couple of weeks. And strangely, the busy-ness and stress aren’t even related. Somehow the stressful stuff seems to be working itself out on its own, which is something of a miracle. The reason it was stressful to begin with was that there was nothing I could do about it.

Friday night I went to the hospital for a sleep study. My doctor thinks sleep apnea may be one of the reasons my blood pressure is alarmingly high, which I haven’t written about yet but will. I don’t sleep well in strange places, so my doctor prescribed a sleeping pill (generic Ambien), which I took right before they put electrodes (or whatever those things are) on my chest, and sensor on my upper lip. I drifted off with the TV on (ESPN, which is great background noise to fall asleep to) and my phone next to me. If after four hours I exhibited symptoms of sleep apnea, they were to wake me up, put a CPAP mask on me, and see if it helped me for the rest of the evening.

They did wake me. The mask wasn’t that uncomfortable, although maybe that’s because I was on Ambien. I have no idea if I slept better the rest of the night, but I guess I’m going to find out in a couple of weeks.

Of course I hope I don’t have it, but having it and identifying it would mean solving a couple of issues. It’s a weird place to be.


Friday 5s for last week and this week from here and here.

  1. What’s the best layered food?
    I’m declaring a three-way tie, which is wussy but I’m so hungry lately that they all sound like heaven right now: lasagna, tiramisu, and Big Macs. Yeah, baby. Bring me them all.
  2. What’s the best rolled food?
    I’m going with burritos here. I like sushi better, but really it’s nigiri sushi that makes me weak in the knees, and that’s not rolled.
  3. What’s the most recent cuisine you’ve tried for the first time from an ethnicity not your own?
    A couple of years ago I tried Chamorro (the native people of Guam) food from a food truck on Kapahulu Ave. I had chicken kelaguen with red rice and it was delicious! The combination of grilled chicken with lime juice and fresh coconut? Heavenly. I went back the next week, and then they closed the food truck lot and I never saw that truck again. I’m not sure, but I think that was my most recent indoctrination into an ethnic food not my own.
  4. What’s a food that scares you?
    Definitely weird organ meats. I just can’t. I consider myself pretty open-minded about food, but my discomfort with these kinds of foods isn’t just visceral. I’ve thought it out very rationally, and I just don’t want to eat it.
  5. What’s something you eat solely because it’s good for you?
    Bananas. I’ve hated bananas all my life, but because I think I should eat them every once in a while (I’ve got a recent addiction to acai bowls, and those area almost always served with sliced banana), I launched an effort to make myself like them. For the past few years, I’ve had a banana every so often, usually slathered with peanut butter and sprinkled with brown sugar. At first, I also had it with a huge glass of water so I could chew chew chew chew really quickly and then down it with a huge swallow of water. As time went on, I used less and less peanut butter and sugar, and now I can eat a whole banana right from the peel with nothing on it. I don’t enjoy it, but I don’t really dislike it either.
  1. The first week of October is National Customer Service Week in the United States and Kenya. Where have you received especially good customer service?
    The Wine Cellar in Makiki comes to mind. I don’t buy wine very often, but when supermarket wine won’t do, I make a trip there and tell the clerk what I have in mind. He (so far it’s always been a he) never makes me feel stupid and always gives me a range of choices with good advice. I’ve enjoyed every wine I’ve picked up there when I’ve been bold enough to ask for advice, which hasn’t always been the case. I once asked for “something with bubbles for people who don’t drink wine very often,” and he led me to an Italian sparkling wine that was “one or two grapes short of a prosecco,” and it was exactly right for the group I shared it with.
  2. The second Saturday in October was National Tree-Planting Day in Mongolia. When did you last do anything resembling tree-planting?
    I’ve planted quite a few trees in my day. I’ve moved a few with my dad, and I’ve done several tree-planting service projects with my Boy Scout troop. Those were all in my teens, though. I think about ten years ago I planted a few herb things in my back yard. That might be the most recent.
  3. October 4 was World Animal Day (the feast day of Francis of Assisi, the Patron Saint of Animals). What’s an obscure animal you know a thing or two about?
    A couple of months ago, I wrote something about the scarlet Hawaiian honeycreeper, or ‘i‘iwi. It wasn’t published; it was for a contest entry related to my work. It’s a threatened species, but it’s the third-most common native land bird in Hawaii, with an estimated population of 350,000.
  4. October 6 was National Poetry Day in Ireland and the United Kingdom. What’s a line of poetry that springs to mind now that you’re thinking about poetry?
    “Let us go through half-deserted streets, the muttering retreats of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels, of sawdust restaurants and oyster shells.” (T.S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock).
  5. What’s in your pocket?
    I’m not wearing any clothes right now, but the pockets in the shorts I just took off contain my bus pass, my driver’s license, my work ID, my Costco card, a debit card, a Pilot Precise V5 rolling ball pen (black), $22 that I need to stretch out until Monday night, and a 16gb jump drive.

Friday 5 for October 13: Dear Old Golden Rule Days

  1. when did you last raise your hand to be called upon, to get someone’s attention, or in response to a “how many of you…” question? or heck, for any reason at all?
    We were at an all-staff workshop a couple of months ago at work, and we sat at tables of six to eight, some of us volunteering for certain roles during the training. I volunteered to be the table’s reader, which involved reading from the materials into a wireless microphone for the whole company when prompted by the facilitator. When it was our table’s turn to read aloud, the facilitator asked, “Who is my reader at this table?” and I raised my hand. What a boring answer!
  2. when did you last have to do anything akin to homework?
    I’m still doing some of my side work, which is work at home all the time. The most recent was yesterday.
    I finished a mobile app review about medication trackers. Another boring answer!
  3. when did you and your friends last go outside to play?
    For the university’s Aloha United Way campaign, the campuses on Oahu (plus the UH system offices and the foundation for which I work) participated in a fundraising obstacle course contest. Although I did not participate in the race itself, I was there to cheer for our team. The course was a hamster ball sprint, the spin-around-the-bat-and-run thing, an obstacle to crawl beneath and an obstacle to climb over, a sprint wearing those giant sumo costumes, a tricycle race, a word unscramble, and a plank race. I went just to be supportive, but it turned out to be really fun.
  4. how’s your penmanship nowadays?
    I noticed last year that it had become rather sloppy and hurried-looking. So I’ve been making an effort to write much more neatly. My hand-written notes at work tend to be pretty messy, but when I’m writing something for someone else, my penmanship looks pretty good. I’ve been complimented a lot in my adult life for having good penmanship for a guy.
  5. among stuff you periodically eat, what reminds you most of your lunches in the school cafeteria?
    I’m going to say canned pork and beans, which I am a big fan of and which our school offered as a side dish rather frequently. I prepare them a lot of different ways, but my favorite way is to put the can in the fridge, then open it when it’s cold, add some ketchup and a little bit of brown sugar, stir, and eat right out of the can. Reminds me of my days as a Boy Scout.

Review: Broadway Danny Rose

Broadway Danny Rose (1984)
Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, Nick Apollo Forte. Written and directed by Woody Allen.

Woody Allen’s Broadway Danny Rose is low-key bizarre, filled with jokes that aren’t very funny and situations that are more uncomfortable or weird than they are comical, but somehow Allen creates a character in Danny Rose who is pathetic, sweet, miserable, and (this is the most important part) heroic in a mundane, pitiful way. I almost couldn’t wait for it to be over, but when it was over I was awash with sadness for a character I wasn’t sure I even cared for.

In the film’s opening scene, Danny Rose is being remembered by a group of comedians gathered for lunch in Carnegie Deli. It’s unclear whether these men are his friends or just some guys who knew him, but while nobody seems to be heartbroken about his death, there’s certainly no animosity as they share their stories.

They remember Danny the talent agent as a shmoe, a guy who gets taken advantage of, a guy who can’t seem to get a break, a guy who keeps trying when it’s clear to everyone else that he’s doomed to failure. He takes Lou Carnova, an aging lounge lizard, as his new client, and things seem like they’re about to work out for him. There’s a nostalgic wave of retro appreciation for this kind of music, and Carnova gets a chance to perform for Milton Berle, who may be interested in taking him on tour. But Lou’s mistress Tina causes problems when she refuses to show up with Danny for the show. There follows a pursuit by gangsters and a completely unbelievable sort of bonding between Tina and Danny.

Way in the background of this ridiculous story is something else, something I originally described but just deleted because it wouldn’t be fair to give it away. But it is the reason this movie exists, and when Danny does something improbable near the end, it’s completely believable and we want it to happen because of something we most likely didn’t pay much attention to.

It’s an act of storytelling I’ve never seen before: a whole movie explained and redeemed by one scene involving something seemingly unimportant. It leads me to think I missed something earlier in the film, perhaps multiple somethings. It feels almost O. Henry-like in the way it catches you off-guard, only it’s not a Henryesque twist. Rather, it seems to say we’ve been looking so closely for one meaningless thing about Danny Rose that we missed the really important stuff about him, that we watched a movie one way and missed what it actually is.

Or maybe that’s just me. Still, when a movie affects you in a way no movie ever has, something brilliant could be going on. I’m not ready to call this a brilliant movie, but it’s so much better than I expected, and possibly better than I deserved.


PS: I forgot to mention Mia Farrow, who’s pretty fantastic in her performance as Tina. I don’t know much about Farrow the actress, but she surprised me too.

Review: All About My Mother

All About My Mother (1999)
Cecilia Roth, Marisa Paredes, Antonia San Juan, Penélope Cruz, Candela Peña. Written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar. In Spanish and Catalan, with English subtitles.

This one caught me slightly off guard. Although it’s emotionally overwrought and in some places overdone, there’s a sincerity in the characters and a gentleness of spirit that had me attached to characters I would normally have found barely tolerable. I’m developing a few issues with Pedro Almodóvar, but I keep going back for more of his rather different filmmaking language and his genuine sympathy for his characters.

In All About My Mother, Manuela returns from Madrid to Barcelona, in search of the father of her son. She meets Rosa, a young nun who works in a shelter for battered prostitutes who has problems with her family and her convent, and she is reunited with an old friend, Agrado. Agrado is a transsexual prostitute who’s tough, witty, and sensitive. His affection for Manuela and Rosa, and their affection for him, are the glue holding this film together. Agrado has an amazing scene where he performs an impromptu one-person show for a raucus crowd disappointed at not getting the performance of A Streetcar Named Desire it has paid for, but Agrado’s charm and sense of humor win the house over, and they win the viewer over as well.

Cecila Roth as Manuela is a chin-up, eyes-ahead, Mary-Tyler-Moore-like character, a woman who knows who she is and seems ready to handle whatever the world is ready to throw at her. And the world does its best to beat her into submission. Some of this is difficult to watch, but Roth’s performance is very good. You’d be friends with a woman like Manuela.

As I wrote in my review of Volver, one thing you learn from Spanish films is that love is reason enough. This theme is highlighted here: not only is it reason enough to do the silly, crazy things you do, but it’s reason enough to keep going when the world conspires to stop you. I wouldn’t call this an uplifting movie, but there’s a note of hope that makes me feel pretty good.