Friday, April 27, 2012

the secret lives of goldfish

One of our goldfish is dying. 


I dare you to read my mind...
This is the second time for this particular fish.   The first time was at least a year ago.  It started acting strangely, lying listlessly on the bottom of the tank for a day or so, which was followed by a phase of darting frantically from side to side, as though his tail were on fire, or he were desperately fleeing from a goldfish-sized Grim Reaper.  It’s really kind of sad to watch a goldfish flee from the Grim Reaper in a tank roughly the size of a motorcycle helmet; it would be like watching one of us trying to dodge him in a locked cruise ship cabin.  From there, he appeared to go into something like a fish coma, floating through the tank in strange positions, such as pointing straight down, or tilting sideways like a swamped sailboat.  After about a week of exhibiting these strange behaviors, he must have been granted a reprieve from said Reaper, because he mysteriously – and abruptly – returned to health, and has been a perfectly normal goldfish since.  That is, until last week, when I saw him laying on the gravel at the bottom of the tank.  At first I had forgotten this had happened once before, and I prepared to break the news of his imminent demise to the rest of the family.  Then he started his frenzied, tail-on-fire swimming, and it all came back to me. 

Our fish tank sits on a dresser right next to my writing desk, which I affectionately refer to as my perch (in the avian sense, not the fish species; that would be weird).  Right now, he’s resting limply over the side of an overturned ceramic seashell, looking like he’s at death’s express elevator door, just waiting for it to close and give him his final ride to the top of the tank.  But his fins continue to swish faintly, and his gills are moving, so who knows?  Two minutes later he is swimming head-first repeatedly into the gravel, and two minutes after that, doing a pretty good imitation of an alligator’s death roll.

I helplessly wonder about this goldfish.  Is he suffering?  Sure looks that way to me.  Is he really dying?  I wish I knew.  Is the whole thing a desperate bid for attention?  I wouldn’t have asked this, but right now he is peering at me, one huge eye filling up a small hole inside a large, hollow rock, as though surreptitiously gauging my reaction.  Wouldn’t it be more humane to put him out of his apparent misery?  But I remind myself that he recovered once before; wouldn’t it be wrong to give up on him when he’s already demonstrated such amazing recuperative powers?  (In my mind, I keep hearing the classic Monty Python and the Holy Grail line, spoken by the old man who is being ignominiously hauled away with a cartful of people felled by the Plague, pleading feebly:  “But I’m not dead yet…”)

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Let the adventure begin!

Those of you who read The Forward Path section of the blog may recall that I mentioned that I have begun work on a novel. 

This is true.

I also mentioned there that I would probably be posting tidbits of this work in progress every now and then for your reading pleasure and/or ridicule.  

This is also true. At least starting today it is.

Having just checked to see if I spilled the beans on what the novel is supposed to be about, I can confirm that my first novel is a twist on the Greek myth of Hercules and the Twelve Labors.

I love Greek mythology, and it seems that it's enjoying something of a resurgence recently, what with Percy Jackson, and Clash of the Titans, and God of War, and all that.  I passionately want to write a story that really does justice to those great tales of old.  

I spent the first few months of this year struggling with how to tell the story, or more accurately, nailing down the voice with which I wanted to tell the story.  I tried several different ways:  first person from the protagonist's point of view, first person from the antogonist's point of view, and some strange hybrid of first and third person.  In the end, I think I was guilty of being too clever, of trying to do too much, when what I should be focusing on is simply writing my first novel.  I'm not saying that those weren't valid ways of telling this story, maybe they are potentially even superior ways of telling this story, but the point is, I've never written a novel, and maybe, just maybe, there are enough challenges in that process to keep me busy.  

So tonight I sat down and began the story over, this time in straight third person limited (which means a narrator tells you the story, and can give you the thoughts and feelings of one character, in this case the main protagonist, whose name is Les).  When I did that, I felt like things started to click in a way they hadn't yet.  I got very excited about what I wrote, and in my excitement I have decided to forego, wisely or unwisely, my most cardinal rule:  never post anything the same day that you write it.  

I won't go into all the reasons why it's not a good idea to post something without allowing the heat of creation to dissipate first.  I could, but I don't want to talk myself out of it.  Getting into a writing groove is kind of like getting drunk: in the moment everything you say and do feels golden, it sounds and feels like the best thing you've ever done, and the golden afterglow tends to linger for awhile.  It's only the next day, when cold, painful reality is back in control of your life, that you realize that half of what you said was utter garbage, and the other half only has the potential to be decent, if you're willing to invest the sweat-equity to make it so, that is.  Being drunk has the added advantage of blurring your memories, allowing you to half-believe in the greatness you achieved in your inebriation; writing has the distinct disadvantage of providing you with a complete and accurate transcript of your inebriation. 

Regardless, I've decided to post this without review and while still under the influence (creatively, not alcoholically).  I trust that readers will compensate generously for this fact, as well as for the fact that what you are about to read is a first draft, and as such, is subject to all the flaws and shortcomings that make them first drafts to begin with.    

All you need to know in order to understand what happens is that the main character, Les, is a boy of roughly fourteen years of age, who has a strong mistrust, and perhaps even, downright dislike for, his stepmom Julia, whom his father married a short six months before.   The father is temporarily out of the picture, and in this scene, stepmom Julia is driving stepson Les to an unknown destination...

So, without further ado, and before I chicken out, let the adventure begin:

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Honey, there's an AT-AT in the yard again...

Whenever I encounter evidence of creative intelligence on the internet, I feel compelled by some form of fraternal solidarity to champion it.  I think it’s partly a natural instinct to draw attention to something special amidst all the ordinary, like finding an unusual seashell in the sand.  Part of it is selfishly motivated; the idea being that if I am willing to help draw attention to quality artists and writers who may be flying somewhat under the radar, perhaps someone will do the same for me at some point.

In doing research for posts about Disneyland and Star Wars, I recently discovered the work of two artists who have created some pretty amazing pieces.  Their work is totally unrelated to each other, but they both flow from a similar premise:  take pop culture icons (Disney animated films in one case, and Star Wars in the other) out of their existent context and visualize them in a new way. 

Generally speaking, I love it when someone can put a new and imaginative twist on familiar ideas.  I think that’s one of the reasons Wicked is so popular; it puts a clever spin on the old Wizard of Oz story.  Reinvention keeps things fresh, and sometimes it can even alter how we see the original.  

Look at what happened after the movie Airplane! came out in 1980.  It essentially killed the airplane disaster movie subgenre because nobody could take them seriously anymore after seeing Airplane!  

When Seinfeld used Michael Jackson’s song “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” as part of a final episode montage showing the characters variously celebrating and dancing over the years, it forever changed the way I think of that song.  It’s been 14 years, and neither Elizabeth nor I can hear that song and not immediately remember the joyous exuberance captured in that montage. 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Repaying the Debt #3: Michael J. Fox

“You don't save a place in the rest of your life for it to take over. You just live your life the way you want to, and it assumes the space that it naturally needs.”

You might think that this is someone talking about gaining weight, or planting a tree, or raising a ferret.  But these are the words of Michael J. Fox, and he’s talking about his attitude towards living with Parkinson’s Disease.

Michael J. Fox is an amazing individual.  There.  That’s the way I should have started this post.  Diagnosed with young-onset Parkinson’s at 30, he was eventually forced to give up a full-time career as a highly successful TV and film actor.  Though he initially struggled with the reality of living as a person with Parkinson’s, he has since allowed it to transform him into something far more inspirational:  someone willing to bravely serve as the public face of the disease, an advocate for all those who suffer from it, and a galvanizing force for advancing and funding the cutting-edge research that will eventually cure it.

I was reminded of Fox’s incredible faith and relentless buoyancy in the face of this grave medical condition by an interview he did with Marlo Thomas (yes, That Girl) which appeared last week on The Huffington Post.  Thomas has begun a series called “Givers,” in which she talks to people whom she considers to be “givers” in their approach to life, as opposed to “takers.”  Her interview with Fox is the first in the series.  I would gladly twist your arm to get you to read the interview.  Hopefully, it doesn’t come to that.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

10 Great Disneyland Moments

Whew!  Finally, it’s back to business after a family trip to Disneyland, a visit from my cousin Mike, his wife Donna (tbf of the blog, by the way) and their adorable twin girls, my birthday festivities, and Easter.  Geez, I don’t think I’ve been away from the blog for a two week interval since it started.  I can feel it, too; my funny bone’s a little stiff after that much time off.  Give me a minute to stretch it out….

Okay, well, I guess it’s about as loose as it’s going to get.  Let’s move on, and maybe I can work it back into shape along the way. 

Going to Disneyland is a pilgrimage our family makes, on average, about once every two years, which is just about long enough to ensure that there are always several new things to see sprinkled in amongst the old favorites.  This time, that included the revamped Star Tours attraction (finally, the ride as it should have been from the beginning!) in Disneyland, as well as two in California Adventure: the Little Mermaid ride (cute and cleverly imagineered, and very much a Disneyland-esque ride, which I think reveals a lot about the direction that California Adventure seems to be heading; maybe we can talk more about that later), and the World of Color water show in Paradise Bay (the sort of thing you can just imagine Walt himself gleefully announcing on his old TV show - it makes the “Dancing Waters” of the Bellagio in Vegas seem like a long row of sadly deluded drinking fountains). 

I have a head full of things to write about after visiting the conjoined theme parks.  I’m not sure how many of them will see the light of day as blog posts, but I do know which one I’d like to start with:  my list of 10 great Disneyland moments. 

So what is a great Disneyland moment?  For me, it’s when the kid in you comes out again to play after a lengthy grounding.  It’s about losing yourself in the pure fun and wonder and enjoyment of life, and then the sudden awareness and appreciation of the fact that you can still lose yourself in that way.  It may come from a ride, from an iconic character, or a certain place in the park, but they all generate special, signature feelings that you just don’t get anywhere else.  You may or may not agree with the ten I’m putting out there, but then that’s half the fun of a list like this.  Let the discussion begin!