Wednesday, December 29, 2004

How to write a best-selling fantasy novel

Never take the easy way out of a crisis

How to write a best-selling fantasy novel

Sample quote: "Fantasy Worlds always have inexplicable gaps in their technology. They are ruled by councils of venerable sages who are the guardians of the accumulated learning of thousands of years and yet have never got around to inventing anything that might actually help them against wights, trolls and orcs - such as a .44 Magnum. Many Fantasy Worlds possess fine metal working, wood-working and the ability to make crossbows, catapults and elaborate secret trapdoors but have no wheeled transport."

(via The Presurfer)

Sri Lankan Blogger

Swept Away

A blogger and photographer reports from Sri Lanka:

Extra Extra

Some stunning images. And note the contrast between the post of December 25th and that of the 26th -- a reminder of how quickly the world can turn upside down.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Quotes of the Day

Quotes of the Day

"Life is no more than a dew drop balancing on the end of a blade of grass."
--popular Buddhist saying in Sri Lanka

(via Mad, Mad World)

"That which prevents you from doing your work has become your work."
--Susan Sontag, 1933-2004, RIP

Monday, December 27, 2004

Word of the Day: callithumpian

Word of the Day

callithump (n)

A riotous, noisy parade

As a Broadway connoiseur, Helena thought of her apartment above 42nd Street as the realization of a dream -- though she dreaded the annual New Year's Eve callithump.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Quote of the Day

Quote of the Day

". . . sometimes all it takes is a wink or a nod from some unexpected place to vary the tedium of a baffling existence."
--Bob Dylan, Chronicles, Volume 1.

I'm only about 50 pages into this book, which I got for Christmas. But I can already tell that it's going to be a pleasure to read all the way through -- not so much for what it reveals about it's always enigmatic subject but for the mesmeric voice it's written in.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Close Encounters

Close Encounters

Seen on the street today:

A young guy with swirling tattoos all over his face and a prominent nose ring, walking a large bulldog. The bulldog was by far the better looking of the two.

Down at the Station

I visited a city police station today, for the first time in my life, to report my stolen bicycle. I was slightly nervous about it, expecting a grim, film-noir environment full of no-nonsense officers. Instead, it seemed more like a run-down car rental agency, complete with a long wooden counter, tacky Xmas decorations and a TV on the wall tuned to the Food Channel. (The perky woman on screen was demonstrating how to make a holiday pizza. "A party is never more than a half hour away," she said.)

Behind the counter and milling around the office were several jovial cops who kept cracking jokes. I felt like I had walked onto the set of a 1980s sitcom. After I explained that the bike was stolen from my basement, the officer who took down my information asked me if I was the owner of the building. I said that I live in a condo and that I own just one of the units. "But who's the building's owner?" he wanted to know. The female officer sitting next to him chimed in to explain the condominium concept.

After I listed the details about the bicycle and the theft, they had me sit in a separate room, where I shared a bench with a young woman who appeared to have been in an accident, or possibly beaten up, though not too badly. She was chatting amiably on a cell phone. After about five minutes, I was summoned back to the front counter, where I was given a form I would need to obtain the official police report to give to my insurance company.

In sum, an utterly banal experience. I've heard that Alfred Hitchcock had a life-long fear of policemen. Maybe a visit to the local station would have cured him of it.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Quote of the Day: "It was the night before Christmas . . ."

Quote of the Day

"It was the night before Christmas. The house was very quiet. No creatures were stirring in the house. There weren’t even any mice stirring. The stockings had been hung carefully by the chimney. The children hoped that Saint Nicholas would come and fill them."
--"The Night Before Christmas" by James Thurber "in the Hemingway manner"

Hilarious. Read more at The New Yorker.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Random Acts of Poetry

Random Acts of Poetry

All Night

All night, by the bed,
the numerals flicker and burn

like cold, cerebral flames.
I hear no ticking,

just the gentle heaving
of your breath,

the electrical hum
of existence.

The numbers
keep on slaying time

with lunatic precision.
A steel needle

words on my forehead,

repetitive sentences,
coils of nonsense.

The clock
loves counting:

one, two, three
hours unwind

like spools of film
from a preposterous movie

that drags on till morning,
that fades into sleep.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Consciousness Streamed

Consciousness Streamed

The most wonderful time of the year: My bicycle has been stolen. Oh well. I got it for free when my wife won some contest. Easy come . . . It's really hard to find Xmas cards for my business contacts that aren't tacky, saccharine or overtly religious. I always end up with some quasi Currier & Ives snow-scene type as a compromise. Boring . . . my holiday shopping is done, except that I'm waiting on UPS to deliver one more package. Will it come in time? What would this season be without a bit of suspense? . . . Freezing rain today. Odd that none of the Xmas songs mention that type of weather . . .

Friday, December 17, 2004

Holy Grail, Batman!

Keep on playing those mind games forever . . .

Some call it magic, the search for the grail.

All about the never-ending search for an old cup.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Economics Made Easy

Economics Made Easy

"There's a trade deficit. That's easy to resolve: People can buy more United States products if they're worried about the trade deficit."
--George W. Bush, renowned economist

What, me worry?

(via Talking Points Memo)

All the Lonely People

All the Lonely People

For that lonesome guy on your Xmas list: "Lap Pillow" Offers Solace to Lonely Men

Kind of sad . . .

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Word of the Day: Popinjay

Word of the Day

popinjay (n)

A vain or conceited person

When Victoria discovered that Friedrich had a whole album of photographic self portraits, she began to think of him as a bit of a popinjay.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Home for the Holidays

Home for the Holidays

Take one suburban house, add 60,000 lights and 250 holiday figurines, and what do you have? For better or worse, a quintessentially American* way to say that Christmastime is here again. Check it out at Lighting up the Season. I wonder what the neighbors think.

*Not so quintessential, actually. I am now informed that these expressions of exuberant electrical Xmas excess also occur in Australia, and maybe other places, too.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Random Acts of Poetry

Random Acts of Poetry


Winter calls you back like a long-lost pearl.
The sky unfreezes at your gaze. Old stars blink out
as you rise above these ringing hills.

We can exhale at last, our faces tilting like pious flowers
at an outdoor revival. Your forgiveness
defies cold logic. Our mouths gape; we're stupid fish.

I don't deserve to live,
any more than a scabrous lizard deserves to bask on a rock
in the palm of the desert.

burnt me one summer; I could only stagger, red and tight.
I learned to fear you that year.

But the paltry days twist every misgiving inside out.
I wear layers of woolens,
my breath steams our cold panes, I shiver in the dark.

Today this spinning planet bows to sanity.
Ice will crack and slide
from the roof. Each new year, a gift.

Friday, December 10, 2004

You Will Go to the Moon

You Will Go to the Moon

I liked to read books about space as a kid -- so much so that I even thought I would be living (or at least vacationing) on the Moon by now. Mostly, though, I enjoyed the books for their illustrations of sleek spaceships and bizarre planets. Today, you can still see some classic examples of those naive dreamscapes on a website devoted to space art. 10, 9, 8, 7, 6 . . .

(via Maud Newton)

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Deep Thoughts

Deep Thoughts

Why is coffee often advertised as "mountain grown"? What's so great about growing coffee beans on a mountain instead of, say, in a valley? . . . Can you get high from sniffing book bindings? That new book smell is one of my favorite aromas. Eat a book today . . . My son wants to know if "everyone" will move to another solar system before the sun blows up several billion years from now. "I suppose so," I said. It's never too early to start planning for your move, the realtors say. Sometimes I wish I could do it now . . .

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Close Encounters

Close Encounters

Seen on the street today:

A young woman wearing a Santa-type hat, walking with two children. She kept yelling "Hey Faggot!" repeatedly to a man walking on the opposite side of the street. After a while he yelled back for her to "shut up." I got the impression that they knew each other.

Word of the Day: lickspittle

Word of the Day

lickspittle (n)

A fawning underling, a toady

Mr Maus was thrilled by his appointment as the department's manager, until he discovered that "the Big Cheese" wanted nothing more than a lickspittle in the position.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Consciousness Streamed

Consciousness Streamed

How many versions of "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" are there? Every time I turn on the radio in the car (which my wife keeps tuned to the "all holiday classics" station) I hear it. I'm getting plenty sick of this treacly musical endorsement of marital infidelity . . . I can never find the right pen for me -- either the ink is too light and hard to read or it's easy to read but bleeds through to the other side of the paper. Maybe I need thicker paper, not a better pen . . . Watched a two-hour documentary about Ben Franklin on The History Channel last night. Their conclusion: Franklin remains an enduring mystery, a man of many masks, perhaps because he had "no inner life." Is that possible? Can someone be that wise, successful and influential and essentially be a mindless robot? . . . Misty tonight -- hard to decide whether to use an umbrella or not. I didn't feel any drops, but I saw them in the nimbus surrounding a street light. Is it raining or not? I decided not to bother with the umbrella, then came home damp but not "wet." So much ambiguity . . .

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Eureka: a "Retro Idea Library"


The Retro Idea Library is a free source of 1940s/50s-vintage stock photography dedicated to deep thoughts and moments of pure inspiration. (Apparently, us guys only got good ideas back then when wearing a necktie.)

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Brain Dump

Brain Dump

Mysterious rumblings from the apartment above mine -- I think the guy who lives up there is either installing new kitchen appliances or fooling around with a jackhammer. Time for a white noise CD . . . I never think to flip the page on the wall calendar until two or three days into the month. I did it this morning and discovered that the picture symbolizing December is a shot of Marilyn Monroe in a tight red sweater. All I want for Christmas is . . . It sometimes seems that the more coffee I drink the sleepier I get. I wonder if caffeine has a reverse effect after a certain point . . . It is very disconcerting to reach for your favorite coffee mug and find a bug crawling on it. Maybe I should take this as a sign to drink more green tea.

My Excite

Big Brother is watching you

All hail our Fearless Leader. If it's good enough for Kim Jong-Il . . .
You could look it up . . .

The top ten words looked up in Merriam-Webster's online dictionary this year were: 1. blog 2. incumbent 3. electoral 4. insurgent 5. hurricane 6. cicada 7. peloton 8. partisan 9. sovereignty and 10. defenestration. Today's challenge: use all ten in a sentence.

"Florida's insurgent 'Hurricane' blog criticized the incumbents for electoral shenanigans, which it compared to a plague of partisan cicadas roaming the state in a peloton and threatening its sovereignty with defenestration." (Not sure if that really makes any sense, though.)

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

4D Meets 3D

For the time-traveler on your shopping list . . .

A four-dimensional solid projected into 3D space: The 120-Cell.

And only $400!


Random Acts of Poetry

Random Acts of Poetry

Third Eye

I look at the trees,
see them clothed in winter sticks,
but also the blaze of fall,
the glut of summer,
spring’s threadbare coat.

I see the house,
each shingle a molecule,
the timbers in phantom trees,
the windows blowing
in the sands of Pangea.

I watch this property
eaten by spectral flames,
the frame a glowing skeleton,
ashes at the end
of every twisting path.