September 25, 2016

Hillary Clinton Memes

I'm an ardent supporter of Hillary Clinton for the 2016 Presidential election.

Horrified by the lying, racist asshole running against her, I didn't know what to do to help, so I've been making these little meme posters and spreading them around. I realize they're not brilliant slogans or anything, and the designs are pretty basic, but they reflect how I honestly feel about Hillary Clinton. I want her to be President of the United States. I think she's smart and strong, progressive and caring, and will be terrific for this country.

Her opponent is a terrible human being.

I'll be adding more memes to this collection as I make them.

Please share.

Thanks!












September 24, 2016

Review: The Steel Remains

The Steel Remains The Steel Remains by Richard K. Morgan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Decent fantasy adventure with a gay, swordfighting hero. Character descriptions are lacking, but the evocation of the physical world, the motion and action and settings, is excellently done, particularly the plentiful violent fights.

The dialogue, especially the cursing, seems anachronistic and awkward, as does the attitudes toward homosexuality, perhaps without more cultural basis for this universe. But then the whole system is confusing, with various races and cultures and planes of existence not described clearly so that it seems a bit of a haphazard mishmash. Most of the big action in this world has happened already -- a war between races has recently ended -- and so this is just a minor flare-up for grizzled late-life veterans. The adventure isn't a big deal.

Ringil, the hero, is likable and sexy enough, and he carries us through. Another protagonist, an alien female warrior turned diplomat, is more sketchily defined, although she has her moments of interest. A third, a dragonslaying chieftain, doesn't have much to do.

The biggest problem with the book is that the villains aren't very scary or effective and so the climax fizzles. The baddies didn't have much of an agenda anyway and it's a letdown.

There are one or two pretty hot sex scenes.


July 19, 2016

At What Does Henry Stare?

In certain old wives' tales, it was said that you could see ghosts and spirits if you peer through the space between a dog's perked ears.

July 12, 2016

Review: The Wise Man's Fear

The Wise Man's Fear The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The second volume in the Kingkiller Chronicle continues the arcanist Kvothe's fascinating journey to his destiny. Again, it's a wonderful fantasy novel, full of surprise, magic, adventure, excitement, and characters to care about.

And again, the accretion of Kvothe's influences and education is the real thrill. Few shortcuts are taken by Rothfuss as he details all the information Kvothe takes in. For all the adventure, it's ultimately an academic quest he's on, and one that's never less than fully engrossing.

The genre influences of the story are equally as compelling. There's academic life like Harry Potter and The Magicians. There's an unreliable but hilarious and lovable narrator like in Gary Jenning's awesome Aztec (and somewhat lesser The Journeyer). There are basic quests abroad that remind of Dungeons and Dragons, Lord of the Rings, Elric of Melnibone, and even Adventure Time, among many others. Ultimately, though, the style and storyline create an entirely entertaining narrative that transcends its amalgamations.

I particularly enjoyed the digressions of place in this book -- across the seas to a new city, with a new set of social mores to decode, and into the realm of the fey, for some fun sexual training with a goddess.

It's all a delight to read. And the biggest sorrow when it's over is that the final book in the trilogy hasn't been completed yet, and is apparently a few years late! Hurry, Patrick! We want more Kvothe! Don't leave us hanging.


Review: The Name of the Wind


The Name of the WindThe Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a terrific fantasy novel. After a somewhat pokey opening frame, we get into the history and childhood -- the influences -- of the hero Kvothe hiding in plain sight as an innkeeper in a small town. What I love most about this book is its sense of being unhurried. Rothfuss takes his time, drawing us into lovingly delineated and described worlds, letting us live there, showing how Kvothe gathers his experiences step by step, building the man he becomes.

Kvothe is a fascinating and funny individual, vastly and multidimensionally talented but subject to a brashness and temper that often gets him into trouble. Nothing is entirely easy, and even though he's given more gifts than most, he's also dealt some truly difficult blows by fate.

I love a training narrative. We follow Kvothe as he learns on the mean streets far from his wandering clan, pulls himself to his next goal, and starts his perilous magical, practical, and musical education at an academy. It's all rendered in meticulous detail, showing us all the fun parts of learning, and all the frustrations, too. I was spellbound.

The language only helps. Lovely metaphors abound, and Rothfuss's writing is as good in a thoughtful moment as it is at an exciting fever pitch.

It's one of those long, sprawling bildungsroman in which you keep checking how much is left of the book because you don't want it to end.

Thankfully, the next book, The Wise Man's Fear, is available!


July 10, 2016

My Favorite Fork

This is a picture of my favorite fork.  

After many years of dedicated, intensive usage, it's got a crack in its handle now, but that hasn't lessened my fondness. I'm always happy to see it in the sink, drying rack cup, or utensil drawer, and I hum a little multi-toned purr of pleasure when it is the fork I will be using for my meal.

I do not know where it came from. Perhaps from a thrift store in Denver or San Francisco? Those were two places where I bought used utensils. It's also possible that it was left behind in a home and I adopted it. I don't think I stole it from anyone or inherited it from my grandmother like so many other kitchen supplies. I simply must admit that I don't remember its provenance. It feels as though it has always been with me, but I know it's only in my adulthood that it's been mine, perhaps for the past 15 or 20 years.

It has perfect balance and weight for my hand and the tines are just long enough and not too wide and it has no tinny taste. Most importantly, the wooden handle doesn't dent my fingers like some full metal flatware. The handle has a silky yet firm grip to it, and the line where the wood and the metal meet feels entirely seamless, which is also crucial because it makes me believe that no food or gunge gets stuck in the connector, although nowadays I worry a little about the crack. 

The subtle scrollwork design -- almost fleur de lis but not quite -- is delicate and minimal and reads on my fingers' sides as a touch of slight texture, increasing the security of the grip.

I love the way it feels in my fingers so much that years ago I inspected the fork carefully and found these words imprinted into the back:


INTERPUR
STAINLESS STEEL
JAPAN

It's Japanese! A little research online and I discovered that the pattern was from the 1950s and was quite popular. I haven't matched up this exact fork to any existing patterns -- the ones I've found in similar styles had wider or more rounded tines -- so I'm still unsure if the handle is real rosewood or synthetic. (The way it's cracking makes me suspect synthetic.)  

The research led me to eBay, of course, where I bought a vintage, used set that mostly matches. I love the set, even though it has wider forks and cake forks, and some of the tablespoons arrived with their edges chewed up from a violent dishwasher. They all still feel good in my fingers.

What's your favorite utensil?

July 03, 2016

The High Bridge

As I was writing about Highbridge Park yesterday, I realized that I'd never been to the new pedestrian walkway on the refurbished High Bridge, even though it had been open for months. So during my mid-afternoon walk with Henry, I took a left on Amsterdam Avenue and steered him downtown.

It's not the nicest walk from my block to 172nd St, passing a couple off-ramps onto the Harlem River Drive, crossing the US1/Trans-Manhattan Expressway/I-95 overpass as it ducks under the Bridge Apartments, and strolling by some sketchy blocks of liquor stores and auto parts and dodgy bodegas. I was the only blanco for blocks, and while that doesn't bother me -- I'm certainly used to it -- it's always a little notable. I've always found it best not to stand out on the streets of NYC.

Henry doesn't really help with remaining inconspicuous as would be my preferred mode. He's much more friendly and social than I am, saying hi to everyone we walk by. So far it hasn't gotten us into trouble, but I'm still guarded about interacting with strangers on the street and probably that won't stop anytime soon.

Anyway, we got to the Highbridge Play Center, where there's an enormous public pool. We skirted that, and walked across the lawns of the park alongside the pool and through a couple of birthday parties and exercise classes to the steep stairs down the cliff that led to the High Bridge. There was a good sized crowd navigating the steps with us, neighborhood kids with their parents and tourists and downtown folk on an uptown excursion.

The pedestrian walkway is quite attractive, with red brick across the bridge. The view is both industrial and pastoral, with the park along the Manhattan side, and the transportation hubs and Metro North railway on the Bronx side. Facing south, the skyscrapers of downtown jut into the haze, while uptown the river snakes around a bend, crossing back across the tip of Manhattan toward the Hudson. The tall fence of wire netting along either side isn't particularly aesthetically pleasing, but preventing jumpers must be a priority, I suppose.

Henry and I walked across the bridge, stopping just over the river on the Bronx side, and back again, and then headed back up the stairs, around the pool filled with buff Dominicans and excited children, and along the rough streets of uptown, heading toward home again.




July 02, 2016

Highbridge Park

highbridge park
Across the street from my apartment building is Highbridge Park.

Officially, Highbridge Park, named after the High Bridge, an old pedestrian aqueduct that is the oldest bridge in the city, begins at 155th St. and continues all the way up to Dyckman St. in Inwood.

Where I live, it's not much of a park, really. It's a cliff between my street and the Harlem River Drive far below, winding along the Harlem River between Manhattan and the Bronx. A single path traverses the park, which is occasionally used by joggers and cyclists and park rangers and more often used by drug users and dealers and teenagers escaping prying eyes.

Unless you lean over the rock wall along the upper edge of the park, the path below is invisible from the sidewalk and hidden from the highway, too. It has very few exits back to the street, and most of those have been closed by the city, or there are police barriers blocking the steps. So it's too isolated to feel safe down there. I've only walked the cliff path a few times, as the feeling of being trapped is overpowering.

It's pretty clean, though, and well-tended with beautiful flowers and lush greenery. Ignore the empty drug bags scattered around, and the ubiquitous blue cigarillo wrappers.

About 10 blocks downtown, the park widens into a recreation center, and a little further down than that, a large public pool. About 10 blocks uptown is a busy playground and basketball courts that are always packed with hardcore players and semi-pros and their fans, with blaring music, hookahs, and a general party atmosphere. The low path along the cliff surfaces toward the street just past the courts, and winds through a well-manicured park where people picnic and have birthday parties, and just up past that is a terrific, big dog run where I take Henry in the evenings to romp with his doggie friends.

Since I've gotten Henry, I've become very well acquainted with the whole stretch of the park uptown from my apartment, as I walk at least six blocks of it five times daily, and walk the full 11 blocks to the dog run at least three times a week.

I have a great fondness for the old-fashioned rock wall that separates the top of the park's cliff from the sidewalk and the street. It's the same style as the rock walls surrounding Central Park and various other city parks, and feels classic New York to me.

Along with the beautiful and varied trees, plants, and flowers, I've seen quite a lot of interesting wildlife in the area, too, including skunks, squirrels, chipmunks, large families of raccoons, possums, and of course lots of mice and rats and colonies of cats, as well as birds beyond my abilities to recognize.

This week I saw a bright yellow snail on the rock wall eating lichen the same color as its shell. Manhattan may be paved from top to bottom, but life finds a way. I'm expecting to see a coyote any day now, or maybe a fox. Updates as they occur.

June 21, 2016

Throw that typewriter, Lillian!

I've always hated and loved this scene from the 1977 movie Julia in equal measure.

Jane Fonda, playing the playwright Lillian Hellman, has writer's block, even though she gets to work at Dashiell Hammett's gorgeous beach house. Smoking like an angry chimney, she gets so frustrated with writing that she lets out a growling groan and throws the typewriter out the window.

While the scene captures the spirit of writer's block, or anger at one's own writing limitations, or the exasperation of digging for inspiration, it's also stupidly exaggerated and over-the-top. The scene always seemed to me like a Hollywood conception of writing, a way to make sitting and typing appear visually interesting when in reality there's nothing more boring than watching a writer try to write. While Fonda is amazing overall in the movie, the groan she lets out is ridiculous and awkward, and it's preposterous that she would throw the heavy typewriter out the window. Imagine tossing your laptop! Really, it's so outrageous and dramatic and silly and unlikely, even embarrassing in its false earnestness, a surreal joke of writing's torment played as tragedy, that it reads as camp.

In other words, it's so bad it's good. Smoke and scream, Jane! Throw that typewriter, Lillian! The sand in the typewriter keys will make writing so much easier later.

June 14, 2016

Omar Mir Seddique Mateen Was One of Ours


I've been trying to pull my thoughts together about the terrible tragedy that happened in the early hours of Sunday, June 12 at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Because otherwise I can't think of anything else.

First and foremost, nothing I write here is meant to deny the lives, pain, and suffering of the victims and their families and friends. I have spent the days since the killings weeping for those brothers and sisters killed by that twisted beast of a person who renamed himself Omar Mir Seddique Mateen, and desperately trying to get a handle on the horror.

The ISIS link is weak. He was an American. I look to Mateen's father's homophobic statements, the statements of the patrons of the club who recognized him, the terrible relationship with his first wife, the beating of his second wife, which all strongly hint at a repressed homosexual forced into an ill-suited life. Perhaps he turned to radical Islam to find help, justifications, the way so many same-sex-oriented Christians have turned to their churches for spiritual guidance and found only more intolerance and homophobia and reinforced self-hatred, or were shunted into conversion camps.

I'm not discounting mental illness, I'm not discounting violent images of massacres in the media, I'm definitely not discounting a more specific personal vendetta such as a failed secret relationship, or his failures to become a police officer, or a sense of rejection from the community, or that his gun license to carry semi-automatic assault weapons probably confused him into believing he had a license to kill. Perhaps he derangedly devised this mass murder as a way of covering for the unforgivable shame of his own emotions, his jealousy of happiness and freedom and acceptance of life's excitement which were denied him by religious and societal and familial pressures. Those joys can be terrible things to witness if you're not allowed admittance. But the honest truth is that I don't know. I can only do my best to try to unravel it because maybe if we find the reason why we can prevent it from ever happening again. 

He was one of ours.

I didn't say he was gay. I said he was homosexual, same-sex oriented. Gay is societal. Homosexual is biological. He was not part of the gay community. He hated it enough to attempt to obliterate its existence. He couldn't access it. That's the tragedy, I think. But of course I'm seeing it through the prism of my own experiences.

You know, the gay community, bars, clubs, etc., probably saved me when I was feeling most ostracized in my youth and provided me with most of my friends in life. But it’s a rough, cutthroat world, too, and very unforgiving and mean-spirited on occasion, and then sometimes so welcoming and loving. We come together in difficult times or celebration, but it's an easy world to misinterpret, a frustrating, frivolous world, if you're already witnessing it with a skewed, solitary, and damaged perspective.

These events include so much stuff coming together in a total perfect shitstorm – religion, family, sexuality, ethnicity, exclusion, marriage, abuse, failure, power, violence, guns, hatred, shame – that it’s hard to grasp, and it's grotesque, and I think we’re all turning it over and over to try to cope.

It seems to me that ISIS is a distraction, a cover story, from a murderous, evil group only too happy to provide one.

I don't want to hit anyone’s triggers by suggesting abuse, but with this level of hatred in his explosion, I'm nudged by the idea that there are molestation issues, too. Really there’s no direct red flag for me to point to yet, other than a sympathetic sense of the damage I’ve felt from similar victims. I’ve also had direct second-hand experience of guys telling me that these ultra-repressive segments of society are rife with the rape of boys and young men because there’s no other possible outlet for the hot insanity of sexual repression. I’ve heard it from guys escaping from the Hasidic communities, Saudi guys, Iraqis, Iranians, Syrians, and Afghans. It’s systemic, and deeply ingrained in their cultures as acceptable secret behavior between men, particularly in the cultures with a public bathing component separate from women. So my radar went up. Remember when that Iranian fuckwit Ahmadinejad gave that speech to the UN declaring that there were no gays in Iran? He used the same derogatory word the shooter’s father used, hamjensbazi, which means, roughly, “same-sex sluts.” It's my understanding that some segments of Arabic culture allow a certain amount of secret homosexual sex but not gay identity. It’s ancient and toxic. It's unspoken, whereas in the U.S.A., the "love that dare not speak its name" sometimes never shuts up.

I do blame the parents. If parents are absolved from culpability for the horrible actions of their adult children, then why are parents so proud of accomplishments? "MY son won a Tony award!" "MY son shot up a fag bar!" Responsibility cuts both ways. We don't really know how the parents feel or what they taught their son, other than the father reiterating that only God should punish homosexuals. But somehow I'd bet these parents did not have a healthy dialogue with their insane, mass-murdering son about the spectrum of sexuality in his youth. Instead of their soft apologies, I would have them say, "I realize that our religion and the hate it spews contributed to the homophobic insanity of our son, and I will regret my contribution to that hatred for the rest of my pathetic life. Perhaps if I had not been blinded by my delusions, I could have helped my son accept his own internal struggles and worked with him to express his confusion and discomfort in loving ways. I deeply regret my life choices and I am filled with sorrow for the victims for all eternity and I hang my head in shame for my failures as a parent and as a human being." Let's start there.

I’ve been fighting the forces of homophobia my whole life, and that struggle continues on ahead unabated. Meanwhile, gun control is a great next step for our country.

Ultimately, it seems to me that Omar Mir Seddique Mateen went on a murderous rampage, killing beautiful dancers in a club, rather than confront the deep darkness of his own sexual shame.

So what am I suggesting with this mess? I'm saying look at the damage the hateful homophobic messages of religion, politics, society, and family have wrought.

I'm not claiming as ours the loathsome murdering homophobic monster Mateen became. I'm claiming a broken boy and crying for his suffering. Rightly, he paid for his horrific, unforgivable madness with his life, but the forces of homophobia must be stamped out as well.

The true villains are those who instilled this hatred for gays -- and himself -- in Mateen's twisted heart.

June 10, 2016

Yeshiva University: Nowhere but here.

I've been puzzling over Yeshiva University's new slogan for weeks now: "Nowhere but here." 

Is this a denial of the afterlife, an affirmation that the trappings of this world are our only sure moments of existence? If so, why not have a prettier campus? 

Or is it a take on "Be here now," an exhortation to live in the moment and be fully awake to the happening of experience? 

Or is it a refusal of awareness of the world outside of this strange uptown shtetl, a proclamation that nothing exists outside of the invisible walls of this small university ghetto enclave? 

I haven't figured it out.

Also: the owners of that yellow bus should rethink their name. It sounds like the passengers just began taking hormones.

June 09, 2016

Artist Hadieh Shafie

Hadieh Shafie, Fragments 1, 2013.
According to the website of the Leila Heller Gallery, which represents the artist:

Hadieh Shafie was born in Tehran, Iran in 1969. Currently based in the United States, the artist constructs intricate designs with low-relief paper sculpture. Her compositions are reminiscent of traditional Middle Eastern art, while the artist hides hand-written and printed Farsi text within the folds of elaborate paper spirals. Both process-oriented and impossibly refined, Shafie’s skillful works are often monumental in scale, overwhelming the viewer with a visual feast of color.

I adore the swirls and the secret messages on the scrolls, which say, in Farsi, "Love" or "Love/Passion". "Fragments" above reminds me of Van Gogh's "The Starry Night". There's also something biological in the more colorful works, a petri dish or lichens in a sulfurous hot spring, or else interestingly entirely inorganic and chemical, like rust. Or I'm reminded of eye tests for color blindness, along with the obvious Arabic patterning, or textile warp and weft, or dream phosphenes swirling behind one's eyelids. Mainly, the art harkens back to libraries and data, stored information in a scroll, the beauty of books on a shelf. Was this what the racks in the lost library at Alexandria looked like before their knowledge was destroyed forever?

Hadieh Shafie, Seven Colors (Telesm Series), 2014.

Visit Hadieh Shafie's website for more information.

May 28, 2016

Favorite Puppy Products

Since getting my sweet puppy Henry about a month ago, I've bought many toys, treats, training objects, and cleaning products I've never bought before.

Tonight I'd like to tell you about two that have proven spectacular.

Donkey The first is a toy, a stuffed animal we just call Donkey. It's official name is goDog Checkers with Chew Guard Technology Tough Plush Dog Toy: Donkey. These come in other animal shapes, too, including an Elephant, Kangaroo, Pig, and both a White Rooster and a Brown Rooster. The manufacturer guarantees that the toy will last longer than the usual plush chew toy, and it has lived up to that and then some. While Donkey has gotten somewhat dirty over the past month, Henry hasn't been able to rip a single seam, which is amazing. As a rat terrier mix, he's made short work of most of his other stuffed chew toys, but Donkey keeps lasting and lasting and is greatly beloved. It has crinkle material in its ears, and squeakers in its limbs and chest. Henry loves to run from room to room carrying Donkey, which he can do much more easily now that he's doubled in size from when he first got the toy. It was pretty hilarious watching Henry carry the 8" doll around when he wasn't much bigger than it. The Donkey is washable, too, but I haven't had a chance to clean him yet, as laundry in NYC is a hassle when you don't have your own washer/dryer.


Speaking of cleaning, the second product is the aptly-named Nature's Miracle cleaning spray. This was recommended to me by all my dog-owning friends, and they were all absolutely right. It's amazing. Not only does it kill the smell of puppy pee and poop in my one-bedroom apartment, it seems to dissolve excrement. That's right, the color of poop just melts away and wipes cleanly, with no staining or darkening. For the first few weeks, Henry decided that his favorite place to poop would be on my yellow shag rug in my bedroom. (Yes, very foolish to have a yellow shag rug during puppy housebreaking training.) No matter how carefully I watched him, Henry would take advantage of a nanosecond of my diverted attention, and hit the same spot behind the bed on the rug. He's a poop ninja! Nature's Miracle has saved the rug, getting out the mess even in the deep crevasses of the shag. I'm already on my second bottle, and it's almost time to buy a third. I cannot recommend this product highly enough.

I'll be back to recommend more puppy (and eventually dog) products as I discover them!


May 21, 2016

Review: Howl's Moving Castle

Howl's Moving Castle Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Even though I am a big fan of the Hayao Miyazaki movie and own it on DVD, I'd never sought out the source material, but I started seeing recommendations for Diana Wynne Jones's novel so often that I figured I should check it out.

It's quite different from the movie, which is mysterious and dreamlike and follows a sort of inexplicable logic that sometimes dissolves into an apparently willfully opaque surrealism. Those are reasons why I love the movie.

The book is clear and reasoned, and for most of it, quite practical in its progression. That concrete, specific approach to magical whimsy is one of my favorite combinations, and when mixed with Sophie, the protagonist's cranky charm, the story has moments of achieving the tone of a classic like Mary Poppins or The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It's an exciting adventure in the first half, with the spell Sophie is forced to operate under really getting to the heart of some fear in children that hadn't quite been named. It constrains her and frees her at the same time, and that's quite an impressive feat.

Howl, the brash young wizard, has his high points of amusing fussy petulance, but I never fell in love with him, and I don't believe Sophie quite did, either. She had a more involved relationship with Calcifer, the fire demon, than she seemed to with Howl. Perhaps that's one reason why the story seemed to run off its rails about 3/4 of the way through. It gets muddied and dull, and the adventure which had so painstakingly been set up and populated fizzles.

Also, Sophie's sisters had become so literally interchangeable that I lost track of which one was which, and it didn't seem to matter. Her stepmother steps back into the story for no discernible reason, and I struggled to remember who she was. Poor Michael, the erstwhile wizard-in-training, has his story get short shrift, too. And we never get to meet the Witch of the Waste, really, before she's removed from the equation with what felt like unfair dispatch.

I'm tempted to read the further adventures of Sophie, Howl, Calcifer, etc., to see if the stories improve with time. This was half a terrific book, and I can see why the movie went its own way.


May 07, 2016

Effort

This fingertip is calloused with age and use
and can no longer call down magic
party tricks on command.

This party knows about disappointment,
a ride with tame horses,
even with the glitter and breakage.

This ride pours out his heart
into hot chocolate mugs,
then lurches and veers,
staining the kitchen.

This heart chokes on chicken bones,
whips off an odd-numbered veil,
as it squats in the muck to seek a lost child.

This child enumerates his ears and toes
while broadcast on a static channel.
A push of a button would reconcile God's armies,
but he won't lift a fingertip.