Tuesday, November 27, 2007

1408 is Great

When I first saw this poster, browsing Blockbuster Online, I thought maybe John Cusack and Samuel Jackson had been teamed up in a historical drama about the year 1408. Maybe John Cusack would put on a corset, and Samuel L. Jackson would stare into middle distance and contemplate oppression. As it turns out, not.

I sometimes feel hesitant about movies based on Steven King stories. After all, Lawnmowerman. You know? But I have never been disappointed in either John Cusack or Samuel L. Jackson, so I trusted these actors. And 1408 was fantastic.

Here's the premise: John Cusack is a writer who goes around debunking hauntings. He publishes books about the "Most Haunted Country Houses" and "Most Haunted Mansions" etc. but he does not believe in ghosts, he has only eye-rolling for wide-eyed proprietors and their warnings of locking your door against spooks. In the first scene we see him investigating a bed and breakfast that's supposed to be haunted but turns out to be about as spooky as a mushroom omelet. Then he gets an anonymous tip: Don't stay in room 1408 of the Dolphin Hotel in NYC.

When he arrives in New York to stay in room 1408, after having to sue the hotel for the right to do so, hotel manager Samuel L. Jackson gives him dire warnings against it, as well as a whole dossier of pictures and case files from suicides in that room. Many, many suicides, usually after less than an hour in the room. John Cusack rolls his eyes and marches upstairs, enters the room, and closes the door.

After this point, all the other actors and actresses in the movie fade into the background, and it's John Cusack's stage. Whenever I see a great performance like this, I think, "Who else could have pulled this off? Nobody!" This may or may not be true, but Cusack's natural sneer, his indifferent posture, and his cool factor really made this character work. Totally, totally amazing. It was so creepy, so ghastly, so horrifying that I almost crawled into my husband's armpit for safety.

There was no gore. No decapitation. No severed leg flying through the air. This was not Saw or Hostel or Grindhouse or any of those bloodbaths. This was pure, tight, excrutiating psychological thrill, and it was perfectly, perfectly executed. Okay, well, the ending was a little loose, but... I'm glad of that. I needed a little breathing room by the end of the movie.

I wholeheartedly recommend this. It's the best kind of horror movie. No disgusting tearing apart of flesh, nobody burned alive, no goofy monsters, and you can go to bed and sleep well, because the situation is so specific (just in room 1408!) that you don't have to worry subconsciously that the horror is going to get into your house.

Five pumped fists for 1408.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Nanowrimo Day 21: A New Goal

Categorize this under "Excuses, Excuses, Whatever."

I made a few changes this year which hurt my output:

1. Going to Disney World in the middle of November. Not only did this throw off my writing during the trip, but it also threw off my children's schedules, which made them more needy after the trip, and my husband's work schedule, which made him less available to help me all month. It's critical to Nano-ing that he take the children away out of the house for hours at a time during the weekend, and while this happened multiple times last year, it did not happen at all this year.

2. I did not ask for help. Last year and the year before, Ahno took the children during the week at least one afternoon per week so I could be alone in the house and pound out some words. I didn't ask her to do that this year.

3. I decided to write literary fiction instead of a children's book or genre piece. I knew it would be harder to get volume on a piece of writing that I actually care about and want to be perfect. I should have known I was in trouble when I threw out so much of the first chapter and started over. This was in week 1, before Disney World, before whatever else happened.

For these reasons, and more importantly my belligerent unwillingness to just overcome everything and write anyway, I am not going to reach 50K this year. I am, however, going to set myself a new goal of 25K and see if I can do that. I have already written the hardest part of the book, and I have also edited as I go along so that I'm very happy with what I have. If I can end the month with 25K that I'm proud of, I will call that a personal victory.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Writing About Death

It's hard to write about death. I didn't realize how hard it was until I tried to really do it myself. There was a professor at my college who did it well: Richard Messer. When I had him as a writing teacher, I was 19 and 20, and writing saucy, trouble-making things. He responded positively to something about my writing, which gave me confidence to keep doing it. Here is an excerpt from his book Murder in the Family.


I kept her old leather coat--but she had that brand new beautiful yellow one,
why was she wearing this, her father's castoff, shabby and too big? I put it
on and feel the hairs on my neck rise. Something has fallen out of the
sleeve and under the table, then under the bed, as if it were alive. Down on
my knees, I feel into the darkness under the box springs. The soft whorls of
lint dust. It is at this moment I know again that someone else is in the
room. At the table by the window in the other room. Someone who sits writing
down everything I do with a black pen on white paper. And if the leaden pen
stops its slow-motion scrawl, the wall of language will dissolve, and there
will be nothing between me and the writer, between the writer and the

Together we watch a name appear on the white surface: Bruno.

The one on his knees rears up as though struck. And so he has been
struck--by the thought of his children dying. Where are they? They have to go to
school, tell curious playmates what has happened. They don't want to stay home.

He explains this to himself and it is to Bruno he speaks, the one who sits
like a bear, the one who records, the one who listens. All week he has only
been going through the motions; he knows it now. People around
him try to act as though nothing has happened; so does he. But Bruno knows
better. From the moment he recoiled in the hospital morgue after seeing her
body, he has been split in two. The part of his life he lived through her
began to recede into the past, calling out to the rest of him like someone
buried alive. That it will always be this way is what he fears most. That he
will never feel wholly involved, wholly there in the world again. That,
diminished, preoccupied, he will drift on in the prison of an unreal
present-past, always reaching back inside himself, trying to save her.

At the time I knew him, I thought, wow, what a dark, kind of melancholy person, what a grey and haunted person. He was kind of scary and cool. Now that I'm older and I'm trying, myself, to write about death, I respect the writing he was doing. Death is really physical and low, and the awfulness is grinding and slow. The part right after the death is so breathless, how mundane, but your legs keep moving forward. I am not entirely sure what made me dig out this book and look at his work, but I'm glad I did.

Another one of his line that I have never forgotten is about how he wondered if he had spent his life trying to wake up, or trying to go to sleep. And in another, he says the dawn came through the window searching for survivors. Pretty amazing stuff, and it sticks with me after lo these long fifteen years.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Nanowrimo Day 19: The Sentence that Could Not Be Written

Yesterday I did it.

Maybe it was Marta's comment that pushed me over the block. She said, and I paraphrase, that if there seems to be a chapter that cannot be written, then maybe there is really just a sentence that cannot be written, and if I could identify that sentence that could not be written, then I could get over myself and just write it. After all, *identifying* the sentence is practically writing it. I would have to write it in my head in order to identify it.

So I thought of the sentence that could not be written, and by thinking of it, I wrote it. And then I wrote the whole rest of the chapter. It was nightmarish to write. At one point I leaned over to Dan and said, "I can't write any more of this chapter. It's too awful. You have to help" And Dan's response was, "Would you like to hear some dead baby jokes?"

I did punch him. But I also put it in the novel. Hehehe. I have now accomplished what I really needed to accomplish with Nanowrimo, which was to force myself to write that chapter/scene/sentence, which has been hovering over me for years. I feel better.

Thank you, Marta! For your inspired comment, you will receive one Bookbeast. You may choose which one you like, and tell me, and I will mail it to you, with my effusive thanks.

Best Car Game Ever: In and Out

This game will keep you awake when it's two o'clock in the morning, and you've already been across four state lines, and another latte will make you vomit, and another mile will see you in the ditch, because you've been hitting those wake-up strips, and you can smell death. It is a good game that can last for 100 miles or maybe even all the way home. You do need a partner to play. A living partner who is also awake.

Here's how you do it.

The first person says a book title or song title or something... like:

Hard Day's Night

Then the next person takes one of those words and says another title with that word in it, like:

The Night We Never Met

Then the next person takes one of *those* words and says *another* title with that word in it, like:

I Met You

The next person says:

Crazy for You

Like that. Sounds easy, but it gets hard. There are certain titles that seem like a dead end, but there are of course really very few. If there's a way in, there's a way out. You may find yourself cycling past "Baby Love" by the Supremes or "One" by U2 a couple more times than you'd think.

There are three levels of play:

Level 1: Competitive. Limit your play to only movie titles, or only book titles, or only song titles, or some other tight category. Try to stick your opponent with a hard one, like "Layla" or something. Try to win by putting them in a spot they can't think their way out of. Another way to make it harder is to decide that you can't play out on the word you played in on. Like you can't follow "She Loves You" with "All you Need is Love" and then "Love Actually." You have to go to "All of Me" or "Need you Tonight" or whatever. A super-hard way to play is to go for two word titles, play in on the first word, play out on the second word.

Level 2: Casual. Song titles and movie titles and book titles and even tv shows. Still try to win, but don't be as vicious.

Level 3: Ridiculous. Song titles, movie titles, book titles, tv shows, idiomatic phrases, stuff you heard on the radio an hour ago, etc. The point of playing at this level is not to win, but to keep the volley going as long as possible. More collaborative than competitive.

The next time you're going from one end of the country to the other and you need a way to make the miles fly by, turn off the show tunes and try "In and Out."

This game was invented over a decade a go by me and Joshilyn Jackson while we were on a car trip from Chicago to Atlanta. I feel compelled to disclose that other games we invented on that trip included impersonating NPR nuns, and turning Madonna songs into FAQs.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Take the Books to Disney World: The Transformative Power of Spinning Teacups

Today, We the Living by Ayn Rand and A Room of One's Own by Virgnia Woolf were escorted through the Magic Kingdom by me, and also by Anxious Pleasures by Lance Olsen.

I recently read A Room of One's Own for the first time. Oh, I "read" it as an undergraduate, but I didn't really pay any attention. I was not interested in reading about feminism because I was too busy rolling by eyes at it. What I found, when I finally got to it, was that the book was surprisingly funny, and not just some stuffy crank about how rough women have it. In fact, even way back then, Virginia Woolf was telling women to get on with life -- make something, do something, say something, discover something -- and quit howling about men and how awful everything is.

The Magic Kingdom is all about girls having rooms of their own. Minnie Mouse even has an entire house of her own:

Ariel has that nice grotto:

And we all know who lives here:

A Room of One's Own had no trouble getting into the party spirit. We the Living, however, which is about the Russian Revolution, and, you know, the human spirit and stuff, had more difficulty relaxing.

She didn't see the point of riding a flying elephant.

She didn't think it was, after all, a small world. Then there was the part where she almost got into a duel with Woody the Dancing Cowboy.

The Country Bear Jamboree is just pap for the masses.

Not even cool chillin' in a rocking chair by Tom Sawyer's Island worked.

When a book is so deeply into nobly self-sacrificing itself strictly for its own individual gain, sometimes you just have to ditch it by the turkey leg stand and run off. So, Anxious Pleasures and A Room of One's Own snuck off on their own to the Haunted Mansion.

Here's Anxious Pleasures on Goofy's Barnstormer:

The front row seat was taken by someone's crazy little children:

Trying on Christmas headgear:

How about a horse of one's own?

I'm not surprised that Ayn Rand's book was able to resist the seduction of the Magic Kingdom. She's a grim sort, and determined. If spinning teacups won't change your mind, then nothing will. Still, can you not imagine Kira and Leo on the teacups, spinning the winter away? Instead of dying in the snow, so close to the border, so close. At least they had their day at Disney, with no tuberculosis in sight, no snow, and a small world after all.

That's it for this trip. I appreciate those who have linked to this project. Tomorrow we are on our way back to Virginia.

See ya real soon!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Take the Books to Disney World: Even Kierkegaard Gets the Muppets

Today three books accompanied me to Disney MGM Studios: The House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus, Fear and Trembling by Soren Kierkegaard, and As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner.

There are two "thrill rides" at Disney MGM Studios: Tower of Terror, where an elevator car gets yanked up and down, and up and down, and up and down again, causing the contents (book and human) to freefall periodically, and the Rock and Roll Roller Coaster, where you get shot around in the dark, including upside down. The House of Sand and Fog rode both these rides, even the freefalling one, even though I was actually crying at one point, crying for my life to return to me.

Here's The House of Sand and Fog blending into the decor inside the Hollywood Tower Hotel (where the aforementioned elevator is located):

Here he's posing with a fellow fan of freefall:

This guy said, "What's the book about?"
And I said, "Well, it's pretty depressing. So I brought it to Disney World to cheer it up."
And the guy said, "Fair enough."
Brits don't demand too much explanation when it comes to odd projects.

The House of Sand and Fog and As I Lay Dying both really loved the Beauty and the Beast live show. Here they are watching a foggy scene, and the scene where the beast lies dying:

They further bonded over some pin trading:

And at the "Honey I Shrunk The Kids" playground. Here's The House of Sand and Fog playing hide and seek:

Look on the rocks behind the giant tub of Play-doh, As I Lay Dying! I think that's where he's hiding!

Oh, wait, it's only Fear and Trembling, having another pout.

Don't get pizza sauce on your Oprah's Book Club badge, The House of Sand and Fog. And sit up straight in your high chair.

It wasn't until we got to the Muppets in 3D Movie that Fear and Trembling began to appreciate the outing. Kierkegaard said he liked the muppet community because each member maintained his own uniqueness and character, and there was no assimilation or group mentality. He also said it was difficult to understand, and therefore inspiring. It may have been made more difficult by his refusal to wear the 3D glasses, but... I didn't want to press him. He kept leaping into a fake props box marked "2D Fruities."

One final literal interpretation. The House of Sand and Fog in Tattoine:

Tomorrow is our last adventure in the Magic Kingdom. A Room of One's Own has been clamoring for a seat on the tour bus. We the Living too. So it'll be girls' day out, with Anxious Pleasures to chaperone, naturally.

Nanowrimo Day 15: It's Good to be Stalled?

I have not been writing, at Disney World. I had lunatic visions of me coming home from riding roller coasters with the kids all day to sit here on the intensely floral sofa and tippy-tap my way into full fat word count quotas. That has not been the case. I'm too tired, not just physically, but inside my skull. I'm self-aware enough to know that the "I'm really tired" thing may be a cover for the unwillingness I feel to write that chapter I can't write.

I am not, however, sad. My fingers are not typing but my brain is working. My book is growing in the dark. I have only got 10,000 words, which is fairly disastrous, considering I have exactly two weeks to get done, and I'm not home yet. I may not finish Nanowrimo this year. I'm going to keep writing, to get as far as I can. If I get to 25,000 then I still wrote about a third of a novel. I think I will keep writing after Nano is over. I don't think this book is tied to this month.

If I can get over that chapter that must not be written, and just write it, then I think this book will launch into the book I have been trying to write for almost eight years now, since the day I put the last sentence onto my first novel, and conceived my first child. And if it takes me until Spring to finish it, well hey, I think I can find something to be happy about there.

I just have to write that chapter.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Take the Books to Disney World: Moby and the Magazine

Moby Dick and One Dimensional Man have been having arguments. Apparently Herbert Marcuse had a grammar school literature teacher who told him that Moby Dick was all about good vs. evil. And you know we can't tolerate good vs. evil here in Dialectia. I have found I can't leave them alone together. Moby Dick came with us to Epcot this morning, but he was only allowed out of the bag for one exhibit: The Living Seas.

He fidgeted through the Nemo ride, but enjoyed the aquariums:

Here he is touching the real shark skin. Reminding himself that it's not good vs. evil, it's shark vs. shark. The whale is the man is the whale. He can relate to the story of Finding Nemo. The plot about "fish are friends, not food" could have been lifted from the text of Moby Dick, when the cook talks about sharks governing themselves. I can't be bothered to look it up right now. I don't even know if my legs still work, after all the walking we did today. But whatever. It is eerily similar.

Here, Moby Dick watches Turtle Talk with Crush. A whale makes a joke appearance. Moby Dick is stonily silent.

After the show, he goes straight for the sauce:

I love this book. This is the actual copy that I first read, at 15, when I first fell in love with it. It still has my purple underlining in it, kind of faded on the page. Maybe taking the book out in public was a bad idea, but in spite of all its stumbling bravado, in spite of all its raucous and embarrassing energy, I'm glad I showed it a good time.

For the rest of the day, my new friend Zyzzyva (The San Francisco Literary Magazine)was the guest of honor.

Zyzzyva wanted to ride Mission: Space and Test Track. I somehow sublimated my motion sickness and loathing of confined spaces to indulge this cute desire.

In the cockpit of Mission: Space, Zyzzyva was in the "engineer" slot, which means he was responsible for pushing the button to put the crew into hypersleep. There was one other button he was supposed to push that I can't remember, but let's not strain ourselves. After all, he is a magazine, not an engineer. As my seven-year-old says, "Oh mother, don't be crazy. It is all pretend." Here's Z in the cockpit:

Here's Zyzzyva waiting in line for Test Track:

After the ride, Zyzzyva displayed a perfunctory interest in the ethanol fuel display, but then I caught him getting information on "the most enormous SUV's made anywhere on earth" from the guy at the GM booth.

Later, Zyzzyva rode "Soarin'" which is all about handgliding over his native California. He did not exhibit much emotion, but I'm sure he was moved.

Here's Zyzzyva at "Innoventions" learning how to make paper. Very relevant information, for a book:

And here he is learning to make a robot. A cast member is teaching him. Moments before, the cast member said, "I don't know how to teach a book anything." Yet below, he is posing with his finished product. Plastics are the future, did you know?

Literary magazines are not the future, though. Nope, still not.

Tomorrow, The House of Sand and Fog attends "Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party" and poops a candy cane, then disputes ownership of that candy cane, then kills itself spectacularly in Mickey's Country Cottage.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Take the Books to Disney World: An Interruption

I regret leaving my mobile phone on the counter this morning, when I should have packed it into my bag. There are no pictures to post. You cannot see Moby Dick having a rage episode on an unsuspeting tourist. You cannot see him getting thown out by security. You cannot see Anxious Pleasures (a Kafka rewrite) posing with the movie poster for the "A Bug's Life" show. These are pictures I will have to get off my other camera when I am back in Virginia. I will post them here, on this post, after I do that.

Tomorrow it's Epcot. I will pack my phone.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Take the Books to Disney World: On the Way to the Magic Kingdom

We're going to the Magic Kingdom, and Heidegger is wearing mouse ears.

On the Way to Language is on the way to Space Mountain. So, Martin Heidegger, what is your relationship to the words, "Space" and "Mountain"? Have you ever considered your relationship to these words before? Do they touch the innermost nexus of your existence? Or what?


To undergo an experience with something -- be it a thing, a person, or a god [or a mechanical roller coaster all in the dark with whooshing and screaming] -- means that this something befalls us, strikes us, comes over us, overwhelms us, and transforms us.

I don't have any good pictures of me helping Heidegger ride Space Mountain, because it is dark in there. I do hereby swear on my own becoming that I held him up high, and he was probably really transformed.

Here is One-Dimensional Man by Herbert Marcuse, watching the comedy show "The Laughing Floor," based on the movie, "Monsters Inc." If you're not familiar with Marcuse's classic critique of moden society, here's the gist: we're all a bunch of happy, fat, complacent conformists, who just accept everything comfortable and normal, because individuality and freedom is too hard for our enormous middle-class asses. He also believes that waste and destruction are bad. This book was big in the 60's, yes? Are we together now?

He thought the monsters were really two-dimensional and that the jokes were repressive.

He didn't feel right about the dualism of Buzz Lightyear's battle with the Evil Emperor Zurg, either. Good vs. Evil. So reductive. So farcical.

Marcuse went on to say:

"In the most advanced areas of this civilization, the social controls have been introjected to the point where even individual protest is affected at its roots. The intellectual and emotional refusal to 'go along' appears neurotic and impotent. [Curse you, Star Command!!!]"

It's just what I've always privately felt about Disney: Not dialectical enough. They should work on that.

Here's Marcuse glowering at the guy who sings in the Carnival of Progress:

Great big beautiful tomorrow, forsooth!

At the Swiss Family Robinson's Tree House, he yearned for a return to simpler times, when people rebelled against the hulls of their ships, got themselves properly shipwrecked, and then lived in trees. When revolution was really possible. And simple machines could change your whole plumbing situation.

On the Way to Language was down with the treehouse life, but I have to say it was a real drag how he wanted to read, read, read every single sign in the whole park. Enough with the words, buddy. We get it.

After one last attempt to cheer up One-Dimensional Man, we stowed him in the stroller and let Dr. Zhivago join the party. Here's Marcuse on Aladdin's Magic Carpet, griping about how pretending to be a prince just plays into the existing imperialist norms. Whatever. Go get spit on by a camel.

Does anyone need to go look up dialectic? No? Alright.

The good Dr. Zhivago was a bundle of energy, right out of the book bag. He fell in love with Cinderella at first sight during the afternoon parade. Then, at Splash Mountain, he had to be pulled down off the roof of The Laughing Place. Here's the angry parent of a child he was taunting, revoking his playtime privileges. Time out, Dr. Zhivago, if you're going to act the fool at Disney World.

Here's Dr. Z on the Thunder Mountain Railroad. Not the five o'clock express through the steppes by any stretch of the imagination, but of course, he still wanted to sit in the front. I can't totally grasp the significance of railroads to the Russian Revolution, but that's probably because at that point in the text I was so beset by eight syllable surnames that I was crying on my sleeve.

Tomorrow, it's a trip to Animal Kingdom for Moby Dick and Anxious Pleasures. Rowr!