intertribal: (meow)
New Year's Resolution #1: Get serious about writing.  It's put up or shut up time.  Those novels are not going to write themselves.

You may have been wondering what the hell I've been doing for the past two years (aside from getting a Master's degree and working almost full-time). Well, I've been mulling.  I've been outlining.  I've been making playlists.  I've been reading (not enough).  And now, I am absolutely ready to make a serious go at a novel.  But I'm at a crossroads: where do I start?

Option #1: Novel 1 out of 3 of my "American fascism" trilogy.  Set in a contemporary city in a slightly-alternative, highly-corrupt and "materialistic" America, it's more in the vein of Lewis's It Can't Happen Here than Roth's The Plot Against America.  One of my main characters, in law enforcement, is a "winner" in the current social landscape; the other one, a journalist, is struggling.  A new religious movement, and a new political party, sweeps the nation with the promise of transformative, transcendental change.  Now I love this story.  I love the messy, desperate, self-deceiving characters.  I kind of live and breathe them, actually - I stay up late tinkering with the outline, writing random scenes.  I've spent so much time planning this story, and am so excited about this story, that I could probably write it fairly quickly.  This is, hands-down, the option with the most momentum and passion behind it.  But: it's pretty political, obviously.  No John Galt speeches, and hopefully it's not a polemic - it's way more focused on characters' inner lives than the grit of political issues - but it's political.  It might piss people off.  And I worry that a potentially "controversial" book isn't the right choice for a debut.

Option #2: A stand-alone story about young Americans studying and working abroad in a fictionalized Indonesia.  The overarching theme is self-discovery: discovering what truly matters to you, what you'd be willing to do to get it, and who you really are.  The other theme is the interaction between the (naturally) self-absorbed post-grads and the politics of the foreign country that's hosting them, which is experiencing Sukarno-style turbulence.  So we've got a few overlapping stories: an ambitious scholar falls in love with the girl of his dreams, but she's heading toward a psychotic break; a rich kid with poor grades finds his calling with the military general who knows his father; one dude turns into a prophet and starts his own (very small) religion.  Now I "know" far less about Option #2 than Option #1.  I know the contours of the plot and the way each character develops, but I haven't spent as much time processing it.  I just came up with the title today.  I don't know the characters as well, and except for the girl on the verge of a psychotic break who becomes convinced she's possessed by the mask she's studying... I'm not as enthusiastic about this story.  On the other hand, I feel like it would make more "sense" to start here - it's a stand-alone, I too just finished grad school, I don't think it would be at all controversial.

Both of these stories are concerned with the way the personal snake wraps around the political axis (or sometimes, vice versa) - it's by far my favorite thing to write about.  Both flirt with horror (psychic powers in Option #1, evil spirits in Option #2), though that's not the main focus of either.  But they otherwise feel very different.

If I had my way, I'd keep going full-speed ahead on Option #1.  But I worry that that's not the strategic choice, right now.

intertribal: (girl you talk too much / shut up)
Yes, it's two horror movie reviews!  Not very extensive ones, I'm afraid, but still!

Don't you just hate those movies where dumb Americans go off to some far-off foreign locale and end up getting sacrificed by some deceitful Paganistic locals to some dark and primitive nether-god?  So do I!  And so does The Shrine.  I thought The Shrine was going to be one of those movies until about the 2/3 point, and I kept watching anyway because the acting is decent for a shallow little horror movie and I was curious, despite my distaste for the set-up, about the eventual reveal.  But surprise!  Things are not what you would expect them to be. 

Now none of this is going to change your life.  It's not Candyman or Japanese or anything.  It would be a great entry in the After Dark Horror Fest or a great episode of Masters of Horror or Fear Itself, if those shows were still alive.  A neat little short story.  A worthy contribution to horror as fun schlock.

Absentia is a strange beast, completely lacking in horror movie context and almost directionless.  The characters and setting are great, and refreshing for horror - two young adult sisters (one a former drug addict and one pregnant) just muddling through life in working class California.  Nothing glamorous.  The pregnant one has a husband who's been missing for seven years, and is declaring him dead in absentia.  She's also having horrible "lucid dreams" about him.  The former drug addict has now found Jesus.  You think it's setting up to be a demonic possession type thing.  It's not.  Really, really not.

This one feels much less put together than The Shrine.  It is flawed.  And considering what it turns out to be about - the tone is bizarre, subdued and unsettling and sad, something more befitting a ghost story perhaps.  But I feel like Absentia is both going for and accomplishes more, emotionally/intellectually, than The Shrine.  Probably because I am a sucker for horror movies that try to be artsy and sensitive.  But there really is something here, particularly about the rationalizations we tell ourselves about people that go missing. 

Both on Netflix Watch Instantly. 
intertribal: (baby got eight more lives)
Salon writer Laura Miller is all about Greg Mortenson.  Lying about being kidnapped by Taliban is "a bit irrelevant" and besides, he provides "a feeling of comradely motivation and a symbol of plucky American virtue."  Oh, vomitorium, like that girl in Hanna says.  I'm getting a little "not intended to be a factual statement" vibe from this whole thing.  Readers don't react so positively: "He accused real people of being Taliban kidnappers. That's not inspirational."  And "Confusing the Taliban with the people the Taliban are trying to take over and wipe out.  Bad. Bad. Bad. Bad. Bad."  And my favorite, "Sorry, but fabrication for the sake of a moral crusade is how we got stuck in Iraq." 

Hilariously Miller then backpedals out of her essay, so I guess her essay wasn't intended to be a factual statement either.  What are we even doing here?

Also, LOL@Jennifer Weiner: "I don't think writers get to choose the kind of books they write. It's a function of upbringing, education, inclination."  Always nice to see writers blame their choices on things beyond their power.  It's like "I don't control my character!  My character controls me!"

She's angry because Jennifer Egan, who just won the Pulitzer for The Goon Squad, apparently called chick lit "very derivative, banal stuff" - full context: "There was that scandal with the Harvard student who was found to have plagiarized. But she had plagiarized very derivative, banal stuff. This is your big first move? These are your models?... My advice for young female writers would be to shoot high and not cower."  And J. Weiner's all "And there goes my chance to be happy that a lady won the big prize. Thanks, Jenny Egan. You're a model of graciousness."  So on Twitter we now have anger that female writers bring each other down and consolations that commercial fiction and literary fiction are equally good and just write good books, readers will come and of course there's plenty of room to like everything!  Don't worry!  We all have a seat at the table!

On Bookslut, Michael Schaub points out that Weiner's written on her FAQ page, "Somebody actually asked me this at a reading once, at the Powell’s in Portland, which was not the main Powell’s in Portland, because Jennifer Egan was reading the night I was in town and not only is she a critical big deal, she also used to be a model, so which one of us do you think was going to get shunted off to the satellite store?"  Ah, passive aggressive self-deprecation.

And I'm like, well, at least sf/f isn't the only "genre" that has this drama with "literary" fiction.  Good Lord.
intertribal: (baby got an alibi)
Jon Krakauer has produced an investigative expose of Greg Mortenson and his memoirs about building schools in Afghanistan, Three Cups of Tea and Stones Into Schools (available for free at byliner until April 20th).  Krakauer seems mostly pissed off because the dramatic story was used to solicit donations for the Central Asia Institute - Krakauer gave them $75,000, and Obama gave them $100,000 - and there are now questions about fraudulent financial statements and misuse of CAI funds by Mortenson, as well as falsehoods about how many schools have been built. 

Three Cups of Deceit is pretty short (89 pages).  The first chapter is about inaccuracies in the "creation myth," as Krakauer calls it, about how he found this village that he pledged to build a school in (let's call it dramatic embellishment - what's worse is that he backed out of a promise to build a school in the village he actually went to post-K2, and then accused them of greed in his book for trying to hold him to the promise).  What's most aggravating is that Mortenson apparently portrayed a friendly visit to a Pakistani village where Mortenson was treated like the guest of honor as a Taliban kidnapping.  I mean, if that's so, that's not mixing up dates or locations - it's slandering a whole village of people, mislabeling photos of them as being of their "sworn enemies," etc.  Krakauer writes:
A preponderance of evidence indicates that Mortenson manufactured his account of being kidnapped by the Taliban out of whole cloth, apparently for the same reason he’s invented so many other anecdotes of personal derring-do in his books and public appearances: to inflate the myth of Greg Mortenson, “the astonishing, uplifting story of a real-life Indiana Jones and his remarkable humanitarian campaign in the Taliban’s backyard,” as the back cover of Three Cups of Tea puts it. The likelihood that anyone in the United States would ever discover the truth about what happened in an exceedingly isolated Pakistani village must have seemed infinitesimal to Mortenson.
If that's true, that's gross.  One of the people he's portrayed as a Taliban kidnapper says: "“Years later,” says Naimat Gul, “when I scanned through the book Three Cups Of Tea and read that Greg had been abducted and threatened with guns, I was shocked. Instead of telling the world about our frustration, deprivation, illiteracy, and tradition of hospitality, he invented a false story about being abducted by savages. I do not understand why he did this.”"  Mortenson has implied in reply that those who have contradicted his story are those who "do not want our mission of educating girls to succeed." 

The second chapter is about a lack of communication between Mortenson and the Central Asia Institute's board, lying in the book about turning down raises when he actually got even bigger raises, more making up stories about real people, using CAI "as his personal ATM," and generally being an egomaniac.  Particularly hilarious:
According to one of Mortenson’s friends, when he learned that Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love had bumped Three Cups of Tea from number one down to number two on the New York Times paperback nonfiction list, “Greg was furious. He started buying books like crazy, with the CAI credit card, to try and put Three Cups back on top.”
Krakauer estimates CAI's actual budget to be 50% fundraising and administrative funds, as opposed to the 15% they claim goes to fundraising and administrative funds on their web site (because they count book advertising and charter jets as program funds, not fundraising and administrative funds). 

Then in chapter 3, more lying about places in Afghanistan ("The most troubling irony is that the focal region of Mortenson’s work—the Shia region of Baltistan with its Tibetan-Buddhist heritage—has nothing to do with the war on terror, yet is primarily viewed through this lens in [Three Cups of Tea]."), abandoning schools after the physical building has been built, short of supplies or teacher training ("The statement about students learning five languages is absolutely false, says a CAI staffer, “not even true for a single school.” Most teachers, this staffer also reports, have never received any training from CAI."), simply lying about the existence of some schools, CAI filling in the many holes in their expense accounting, not listening to what the needs of the area are ("Their rationale for ranking clinics above schools, Callahan explains, was the appalling infant mortality rate in the Pamir. As one Kyrgyz elder told him, “If 50 percent of the children die before age five, who is there to educate?”"), driving away talented people at CAI, more lying about actual people, and unforeseen consequences:
The Afghan government provides a teacher who holds classes inside a yurt right in his camp, he pointed out, “so why would our children want to walk all the way down there to go to school, and then have to walk back up at the end of the day? The school is pointless. It’s empty. The border police seem to use it sometimes.”
Defrauding people is one thing - and an important thing, because of the bad name it gives to altruism and the betrayal of people's trust, etc. - but for me, the worst part is the creation of villains and danger, essentially just to make the plot more exciting, and slandering various remote but real people and communities to do so.  And then there's the role Mortenson plays in the greater U.S. narrative. 

And, this is my other issue.  My personal opinion is that Krakauer is right to call Mortenson's central argument - that increasing secular education in places like Afghanistan will discourage and eliminate terrorism - "uncomplicated."  It's part of a package of basic liberal common sense, and goes along with the health clinics mentioned above.  Everybody agrees that education and healthcare are good antidotes to the "primitivity" of terrorism.  And hey, education and healthcare can't hurt, from a basic standard of living perspective.  Then some people add economic development and other people add democracy and suddenly what cures terrorism is for "them" to be more like "us."  Which... seems kind of circular.  Education doesn't stop the U.S. from bombing weddings, doesn't close Guantanamo Bay, doesn't cut small arms supplies from Militant A to help fight Militant B.  But those are things that Mortenson's argument allow us not to think about.  Although I don't agree with Mark Juergensmeyer that secularism has created terrorism, he does have a much more nuanced understanding of terrorism-in-society, and his book is a decent antidote to this line of thought.  This facet of liberalism doesn't seem to have changed since the Dutch were trying to justify colonizing Indonesia with the Ethical Policy.  And basically, I just don't think it's enough.  Saying off-handedly that "oh, education will solve it" basically implies that properly-educated people are above this foolish behavior and there's no need to look at the behavior any deeper, because it'll just die out on its own when we hit them over the head with our logic hard enough.  Again... I don't buy it. 

I think this is particularly important:
“The way I’ve always understood Greg,” Callahan reflects, “is that he’s a symptom of Afghanistan. Things are so bad that everybody’s desperate for even one good-news story. And Greg is it. Everything else might be completely fucked up over there, but here’s a guy who’s persuaded the world that he’s making a difference and doing things right,” Mortenson’s tale “functioned as a palliative,” Callahan suggests. It soothed the national conscience. Greg may have used smoke and mirrors to generate the hope he offered, but the illusion made people feel good about themselves, so nobody was in a hurry to look behind the curtain. Although it doesn’t excuse his dishonesty, Mortenson was merely selling what the public was eager to buy.
intertribal: (baby got a poison gas)

Yeah, you clearly love the outdoors.  "I love nature, as long as I'm the only life in it!"  How sad.

As always, from the Koyaanisqatsi-esque "Bring In The Night": "Man is a destroyer.  His is not the joyous, self-confident destruction of the barbarian, nor is it the matter-of-fact and purposeful destruction of a predator fulfilling its natural imperative.  Man's destruction is the sour byproduct of life in dysfunction.  Man's destruction follows the deadly rhythm of life out of balance.  Man destroys his own life while also destroying all life on Earth, neither admitting to his destruction nor even recognizing it.  Man has squandered his powers, and our scorn for him has grown boundless."
intertribal: (teddy bears' panic)
Me and the headless, armless Goddess of Victory in front of Caesars Palace (I named a character after her in high school, before I realized a shoe company beat me to it).  Uploaded more photos here

It was 105 degrees and amusing, for the most part.  I did think the Moving Statues at Caesars were ridiculously kitschy, but the volcano at my hotel (the Mirage) was surprisingly awesome, as were the Bellagio fountains (maybe that's not so much a surprise).  The Venetian was really, really fragrant, the Luxor was lolzy, the Excalibur had a lot of fast food joints (I see why Jennifer wanted to die when she was assigned the Excalibur as inspiration on Top Chef last season), and the MGM Grand was confusingly large.  We were sharing the Mirage with the West Coast Dance Explosion's national finals, so the casino floor was half old people on slot machines and half pre-pubescent girls in really heavy makeup and glamour bikinis. 

The food was good. 
intertribal: (can't look)
I know, I only randomly do Friday links.  That doesn't mean they are not still links on a Friday.  Also, I changed my layout!
  • The wonderful Abigail Nussbaum writes about the TV show Justified.  I don't watch it, although it seems like my kind of thing.  I don't know, you can only have so many FX gritty crime shows in your life.  And by "so many" I mean one.  Nevertheless, the review itself is, like all of her commentary, delicious:
    Justified pokes and prods at its characters' concept of masculinity, but it leaves Raylan's alone.  This has the unfortunate consequence of suggesting that Raylan's is the true masculinity, the one to which all other men can merely aspire--unfortunate because Raylan's version of manhood is so very tenuous, based on a fictional construct probably garnered from TV shows, rooted in a culture a hundred years gone to which he has no personal connection... and quite obviously arrived at due to his burning desire to leave Kentucky and Arlo Givens in his rearview mirror. As I've said, Raylan often acts as the silent witness to other men's struggles with their manhood, only coming out of his shell when the season's overarching plot, involving the Crowders and his father, heats up.  It's only in these scenes that we see Raylan's polite exterior crack, and only in his interactions with Arlo that he comes close to earning Winona's characterization of his as the angriest man she's known.  But it's also in these scenes that the cowboy persona is most tamped down, so that the question of Raylan's anger and his relationship to violence is never really addressed.
  • Elizabeth Tamny makes a remarkable discovery about the way Hollywood portrays female writers: "It seems like there is this trope of the female author just transferring (painful events from) her life to paper. Bing bang boom. Writing!"  Mark Athitakis comments: "It may be that male writers on screen tend to be presented as Important Authors while female writers are presented as "Sad People Who Can Only Manage Their Heartache by Getting It Down on Paper.""
  • My friend Yue wants to go to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter like so bad, dude (article is not G-chat convo with Yue).  Although NGL, that Forbidden Journey rollercoaster sounds cool.
K, that's all I got.  Sorry, and have a good weekend.
intertribal: (blaargh)
Craig Arnold, an American creative writing professor and poet, was traveling the world writing a book about volcanoes. On April 27, he went on a solo hike up the volcano Shintake on the tiny island of Kuchinoerabu-jima, Japan. He hasn't come back. He might still be out there - the Japanese have given up, but Americans have found his footprints, leading to an area with deep ravines. From his blog, Volcano Pilgrim:
Danger has a way of cutting through melancholy, the real fear blinding you to the fear dimly imagined. If you could only always just have escaped death, you would never be sad again.

Now dark is falling, and you are nowhere near anything you recognize. At times you catch glimpses of Asama-yama through the trees, each time in an unexpected direction. You grow frustrated, you curse the hand-drawn map you made this morning. Anger drops you into sadness, and sadness into that slow sinking that you have never learned to pull yourself out of.

At first the temptation is strong to catch your balance, to put one foot out to stop yourself, not yet quite believing that you will be caught. But you learn no longer to think of catching yourself, to lose yourself in a dark loop of falling and falling, feeling at every turn a pair of hands to pick you up and put you into the hands of someone else. And your memories of this game, from your mistrustful teens, are of great comfort. Now, many years later, it occurs to you that you like being talked out of these volcano-climbing adventures, a reassurance that someone is looking out for you, has your welfare in mind, if not at heart.
You can write to your congressperson here.
intertribal: (Default)
If anybody wants to be extremely stressed out (ha!), they should try watching Locked Up Abroad.  The show has definite problems and some of the episodes are more about "held by terrorists abroad", but the first episode is pure Bangkok Hilton angst.  I watched Bangkok Hilton as, like, an eight-year-old, and it left a really strong impression on me.  Which is why this kind of stuff gets to me.  Also, the episode has really scary/depressing music.  Although the prison here is much less scary than the Bangkok Hilton. 

intertribal: (red red red)
This week, Guantanamo!!! It was an incredible experience.

We arrived in Gitmo on Friday and stared going around the town, everybody knew Crystle and I were coming so the first thing we did was attend a big lunch and then we visited one of the bars they have in the base. We talked about Gitmo and what is was like living there. The next days we had a wonderful time, this truly was a memorable trip! We hung out with the guys from the East Coast and they showed us the boat inside and out, how they work and what they do, we took a ride around the land and it was a loooot of fun!

We also met the Military dogs, and they did a very nice demonstration of their skills. All the guys from the Army were amazing with us.

We visited the Detainees camps and we saw the jails, where they shower, how the recreate themselves with movies, classes of art, books. It was very interesting.

We took a ride with the Marines around the land to see the division of Gitmo and Cuba while they were informed us with a little bit of history.

The water in Guantanamo Bay is soooo beautiful! It was unbelievable, we were able to enjoy it for at least an hour. We went to the glass beach, and realized the name of it comes from the little pieces of broken glass from hundred of years ago. It is pretty to see all the colors shining with the sun. That day we met a beautiful lady named Rebeca who does wonders with the glasses from the beach. She creates jewelry with it and of course I bought a necklace from her that will remind me off Guantanamo Bay :)

I didn't want to leave, it was such a relaxing place, so calm and beautiful.

I was back in NY on Wednesday and on Thursday I did some paper work at the office and went out for dinner. On Friday I flew to Miami for the weekend because I had a photo shoot for the magazine People en Espanol. So hopefully I might be a little lucky and have some time off to take the sun for a while :)

- from the horse's mouth, but found via nytimes
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Does no one know the song "Track III" off Der Blutharsch's When Did Wonderland End?  As in, no one on the internet?

What the hell.  I'm really not joking when I say it's one of the best songs I've ever heard.  But then again, no one seems to know Der Blutharsch except for this one girl whose shared library I listen to (how I discovered them).  This is a fact that makes me very sad.  I mean just look at this album cover.  Look at the awesome. 

They have albums called Track of the Hunted and Apocalyptic Climax II and When All Else Fails!  I seriously feel at home with them, in that really creepy way, you know, like Picnic at Hanging Rock home and The Serpent and the Rainbow home.  Speaking of zombies, my mother met a student while running the study abroad program in Malang who claimed to have met a zombie in Haiti.  That's crazy shit, but then again, Indonesians believe in little tiny vampires that are probably something like Fiji mermaids, but you never know with Indonesia.  Which is why the title of this post is what it is.  Who escapes hysteria by going to Borneo?  Borneo, home to the world's largest flesh-eating plant?  Who escapes hysteria by going anywhere in Indonesia?  Crazy people, that's who.  People who believe in zombies. 

Anyway, I'm going to do my best to transpose the lyrics, because I bought the song yesterday.

You come to me in the dead of night and I lay your dirty hands upon me
The blood ringing in my ears as you lay beside me now,
your stinking breath, smelling of death and regret
I want you more than I ever did before as I bleed for you
My desire for you is a curse, a scar, a wound which will not heal
I pray to God above to release me from this prison as I go down and I kneel
Your memory of the man I was before and the love I cannot feel
The night is closing in and I know man was born in sin
The woman screams and cries, freshly sees the murder in your eyes,
your journey through darkened skies, your adventure in blood and lies

I have no idea what this song is about, although I have my theories and they are all superlatively awesome.

Okay, speaking of Fiji Mermaids... WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS.  No, really.  He actually used a human corpse?  Jesus.  Yeah, no wonder, it's Mexico.  Sorry, Mexico.
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