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It's a fine line between living for the moment and being a sociopath.

Patricia B McConnell: For The Love Of A Dog.

Pema Chodron: The Places That Scare You

Daniel Wallace: Mr Sebastian & the Negro Magician

All paths lead to the same goal: to convey to others what we are. --Pablo Neruda

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Location: Oxfordshire, United Kingdom

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Thursday, December 15, 2005

An Animated Christmas: The Director's Cut

Over the weekend, I was buried under the anxiety of my Christmas card project. Two weeks to go, and not a single card had been made. Never mind the envelope addressing and gourmet stamp licking. So, I did what any project manager woefully behind schedule would do: I re-scoped the project.

If I could come up with a way of sending cards without sending cards, *that* would be a good solution. I was considering how much my cred would plummet if I sent out some naff Hallmark e-card. On the verge of concluding I should just get over it because no-one sends Christmas cards anymore, instead I decided to make an animated movie. Somehow, in whatever altered state was affecting me on Saturday, it seemed to me easier to make a movie than to cut and paste a couple hundred addresses into an e-card website. Yeah, I thought, it'll chafe less to do something I've never done before.

Just quickly jumping to the end of this story, I should mention that I did, in fact, end up sending a little animated movie as my Christmas card. Observing that it's a movie that required no skill whatsoever would be rude of you. The point is, I achieved a lofty and laudable goal: I got out of sending Christmas cards, and still sent Christmas cards. The finished little movie is here, and you don't have to poke around much to see just how brain-dead you could be and still reach the troughs of cinematic prowess I achieved.

That doesn't mean I didn't spend hours and hours on it. Labor? Oh, I laboured. But like all great auteurs, my masterpiece was cut to ribbons in the last moments before release by the faceless damn studio suits.

Which is one way of saying that I failed to notice the software I used had a limit of 18 lines of dialogue. When I say I failed to notice this, what I mean is that I had already enthusiastically poured myself into a 1,400 word script. It then became clear I would have to edit down to "hello", "goodbye" and a loud belch in between.

Now, however, basking in the glow of my movie's fantastically successful theatrical run on screens acros this great wide spam list of mine, I think the time has finally come for the original material -- the vessel of my true artistic intent -- to come to light. I think enough time has passed -- 6 days -- for the public to embrace the foundational work as the avant-garde genius it was.

So, without further pomposity, I give you the original manuscript of "A Spencer Christmas".

* * *

[Houston and Flame-Haired Angel appear in their living room, with a bright fire burning in the fireplace, and a beautifully decorated Christmas tree. Flame-Haired Angel wears a sexy, red Santa’s Helper outfit. Houston is, inexplicably, a snowman.]

Houston: Hey, Angel, could you give me a hand? I’m struggling a bit.

Flame-Haired Angel: Sure. What’s on your mind?

Houston: Well, remember those Eiffel Tower Christmas cards I made last year?

FHA: Uh… Remind me.

Houston: You know, I drew ornaments on the Eiffel Tower to make it look like a Christmas tree?

FHA: Oh, I loved those! Such a sophisticated Holiday pastiche of self-reference to our time in Paris!

Houston: Right. Plus the obvious sub-textual critique of the materialistic hagiography that is modern Christmas.

FHA: They also had a homey arts-and-crafts vibe that rendered your creative insecurity completely transparent.

Houston: Exactly. Tres arty. But I’m stuck on what to do this year as a follow up. I got nothin’.

FHA: Gosh, and it’s getting late. No ideas at all, my big Slush-Tush?

Houston: Bupkis. Nada. Niente. Rien. Zilch.

FHA: Ooh, you’re so multi-cultural! Even Yiddish to include our non-Gentile brethren in these seasonal holiday remembrances!

Houston: Shhhh! Bill O’Reilly might hear you. He’ll say I hate America.

FHA: Especially since you haven’t sent any Christmas cards, yet! What are you considering?

Houston: I thought maybe I’d blog a prose poem paean to altruism, but that seems a little…

FHA: Pretentious? Insipid? Naff and narcissistic?

Houston: Exactly. And -- just to equal your challenging alliterative panache -- a little louche, lame and lazy.

FHA: Why not just pick a really nice plastic object on Amazon and send everybody one?

Houston: Well, I’d like to say it’s because no gift is that universal but, really, I’m just too cheap.

FHA: How sexy! How about a romantic candle-lit bath, ya big Snow Pirate?

[FHA and Houston move to a sumptuously candle-lit bathroom, where a full tub awaits. Houston is still, rather inexplicably, a snowman, challenging the audience to imagine how a snowman will manage a hot bath.]

FHA: You’re still looking tense, my Frozen Lamb. Can I help with your Christmas card problem?

Houston: Well, you’re a creative goddess. Got any ideas I can skive off you and, you know, present as my own?

FHA: Not off hand, my Erotic Ice-Capade. You see, I’m not sending out any cards this year.

Houston: What are you doing instead?

FHA: Well, I considered writing a cheery holiday sentiment on my new resumé and sending that out.

Houston: What kind of message did you have in mind?

FHA: “Happy Holidays Especially If You’re Hiring”

Houston: Huh. How many did you send out?

FHA: Actually, I decided against it in the end. It just seemed a little too…

Houston: Mercenary and self-serving at a time when we’re supposed to be focused on others?

FHA: Yeah. So, instead, I’m just going to close my eyes on Christmas Eve, and sing a quiet song dedicated to my friends and family.

Houston: You mean, like, a cosmic vibration kind of thing?

FHA: Totally. I think everyone will subconsciously feel they’re sharing my holiday love bomb, you know?

Houston: Damn. You come up with the best stuff.

FHA: It just seemed a good way to send Christmas wishes to those I love, and the only way I could include the dead and the un-born.

Houston: Man! Even stem cells will feel the love! I wish I had your bang-on creative instincts.

FHA: Thanks. I feel lucky it comes so naturally. I just close my eyes and the good ideas flow.

Houston: So, what are you going to sing?

FHA: AC/DC’s “Back in Black”. But with, you know, a Christmassy feel.

Houston: Tribute to your Australian roots, too. Nice touch.

FHA: Speaking of which, I need to pack for the trip home. My plane’s tomorrow.

Houston: I’m gonna miss you somethin’ chronic, lover.

FHA: Your wanton, unbridled, public devotion is endearing, you Big Popsicle.

Houston: Hey, before you pack, can you help a bit more with my Christmas card dilemma?

FHA: I’d like to, but the triviality of your Hallmarkian struggle is filling me with ennui.

Houston: Well, any recommendations to at least get the creative juices flowing?

FHA: Try putting on some Kenny G. Or drip some Tabasco in your eyes. Both work a treat.

Houston: Uh, I might just help you pack, instead.

[Houston and FHA walking on a beach in Australia. Houston, persisting as a snowman in true Dada-esque fashion, looks uncomfortable in the heat.]

Houston: It’s so good to be close to you again, babe. And your family, of course. And my wine cellar.

FHA: You’re too sweet, Chill Chunks. Hey, how did your Christmas card conundrum come out?

Houston: Fantastic, actually. I had a breakthrough and decided to make a movie I could send to everyone by e-mail.

FHA: Wow! How groovy! How impressive! How renaissance!

Houston: Yeah. It’s an elegant cloak on a cheap stunt to make me look hip even as I approach 40.

FHA: And it cleanly dodges your obvious failure to get off your ass in time to send real cards?

Houston: Exactly. You think anyone will notice the ruse?

FHA: Unlikely. I mean, people still believe Saddam was somehow linked to Al Queda.

Houston: Fair point. The old fantasy of hot tyrant-on-terrorist action is just too good to let go of.

FHA: So, what’s the film like?

Houston: Kind of Truffaut meets Spielberg meets South Park, but with crushing Yuletide verisimilitude.

FHA: Wow! Sounds perfect, my little Arctic Auteur!

Houston: Not quite. I couldn’t figure out how to make the soundtrack loop “Sookie, Sookie”.

FHA: I can see how that would have spiked your hipness quotient with in-the-know groovers.

Houston: A veritable billboard of pointy retro bona fides.

FHA: Stop! You’re making me hot, you Salacious Snow-cone!

Houston: It’s not me, Angel. It’s 43 degrees out here.

FHA: Golly! That’s 109.4 Ferenheit!

Houston: *Now* who’s being multi-cultural? I love how sensitive you are to my brazen American-ness.

FHA: Wanna see brazen, Blizzard Boy? Take me somewhere private and I’ll let you peak under my fur trim!

Houston: Oh, Angel! There’s just one thing we need to do on the way…

[Houston and FHA appear in front of a set that looks eerily like a Perry Como Christmas Special. Snow falls gently outside the window, upstage left, and Houston is still, you know, a snowman.]

FHA: What was it we needed to do before getting slushy, you Frosty Flirt?

Houston: Just this: Happy Holidays, everyone!

FHA: Whether it’s Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Saturnalia, Solstice, or the feast of Isis…

Houston: …We hope your celebrations are full of love, family and friends.

FHA: And may your New Year be one of health and passionate living.


Sunday, December 11, 2005

Lots of colours together, naked

After Shanghai, pretty much any city in the world looks multi-cultural. Paris sure does. White people, black people, brown people, and even "yellow" people. (If they're yellow, I'm freakin' fuscia.)

One of the most striking things about London, during my few minutes of wandering between Underground stations last week, was what an extreme mosaic it is. It may or may not be one of the most multi-cultural cities in the world, but it's the most mixed bag I've seen in a long time. And it isn't just that there's a wide variety of shapes, sizes and colours walking around; it's that they're walking around holding each other's hands. I see a lot of black/white and Asian/Caucasian couples in my neighbourhood, but London makes Paris look romantically monochromatic.

Maybe my inner Cupid is a lefty, but seeing so many inter-racial couples made me wonder why more of the world isn't that way.

Dishes remain in the sink, breasts remain undocumented

Looking back over the week, I realised, today, how much I've been posting. As Anonymous Pedantic Proofreader notes, there have been a few errors along the way, but I'm looking at quantity, not quality. It's a guy thing. (I think all the links are fixed, now.)

In a week, Flame-Haired Angel and I will be together, again, after three weeks of me living small in her absence. Being without her is just bad for me. It isn't a dependency thing, it's just that I don't live healthy when she's away. We've had two beautiful, blue-sky days in Paris, this weekend, and I've had my butt stuck to this chair for pretty much the whole time. I went out, briefly, only twice. Both trips were after dark, and one was to get more blank media for burning CDs. Pathetic.

On the up-side, I've done just about everything on the to-do list, including a pre-trip haircut and Christmas cards galore! Well, kind of. A few corners had to be cut, but items a-plenty were duly checked off.

What hasn't been happening is writing. Plenty of blogging, to be sure, but little actual writing. I've been meaning, for example, to write a piece about breasts. My friend Eric has been bugging me to write about sex ever since I suggested that I would start writing about sex. What I don't get is why he doesn't get it. I mean, he's a man, and he doesn't understand how, when I say I'm going to do something, I might not actually get around to doing it? Eric: stop shaving your chest, buddy.

Since I haven't made good in the writing-about-sex department, I thought I could at least write about breasts. It's a topic with a lot of possibilities. Consider that there are more breasts on the planet than there are people and you get an inkling of the possible scope of the topic. And that's just the breasts themselves; nevermind the related hardware.

You'd think I could've cranked out a soulful homily to mammaries without blinking. I've started a couple of titillating pieces, but have yet to get anywhere. Oh, the irony of not being able to focus on breasts. Maybe I'm just so bereft of being without Flame-Haired Angel's personal set that I'm unwilling to consider the subject at all.


Friday, December 09, 2005

Hugging Shakespeare

Went to a conference in London, today -- over in the morning, back this evening; love the Eurostar -- and made one of my best recent decisions: blow off the latter part of the closing cocktail thingy, and meet up with my old friend Shakespeare for some mojitos and some mo' huggos before the return trip.

Shakespeare and me been friends for twenty years, since Chapel Hill college days, and I think she's only gotten more beautiful as she's mellowed into who she is. And that's saying something; she started out a stunner. Now, it's never right to start a description of someone by saying how good looking they are, but with some people it would just be a lie to start anywhere else. I don't feel so bad about it in Shakespeare's case, though: we haven't been friends for twenty years because of how she looks.

But we don't talk frequently enough, and we haven't gotten to look at each other good and long for a bunch too many years. Hell, she ain't even been to Paris! Three margaritas/mojitos later, and a whole lot of talk about the search for joy, and the girding of ones loins on the road thereto, we kissed each other's foreheads and said goodbye, with promises of Shakespeare in Paris in February.

* * *

For those of you following Flame-Haired Angel's path to Costume Design stardom, she's meeting with the Costume Director of the Sydney Theater Company as I write this, and she's already gotten an offer to work on a short film in January. She just rocks.


Recent talking points shown to be bullshit

This piece goes another step toward making the case plain that those who are accusing anti-war protesters of being revisionist are, um, being revisionist.

Listen, here, to a more extensive delineation.



I got up at 4:30 yesterday morning to get the first Eurostar over to London, and now my body clock is all screwed up after having napped both there and back.

The train stopped about ten minutes from its destination at Waterloo Station in London, and we were told two "clandestine passengers" were being removed from the outside of the train. Mind you, they would have been clinging onto the outside of the train since Paris, two hours earlier. And it's pretty freakin' cold here. You really gotta want it bad.

Unfortunately for them, our stowaways didn't get it. The English bobbies met the train at Waterloo.


The unthinkable is us

I’ve written some about how devastated I feel at the confluence of America and torture.

Fortunately, someone else is articulating this feeling better than I am:

To some extent civilization is nothing more than leashing the beast within. When you go to the dark side, no matter what the motives, you run a terrible risk of destroying yourself in the process. I worry about the men and women who are engaging in this torture regime. This is dangerous to their psyches. But this is true on a larger sociological scale as well. For many, many moons, torture has been a simple taboo --- you didn't question its immorality any more than you would question the immorality of pedophilia. You know that it's wrong on a visceral, gut level. Now we are debating it as if there really is a question as to whether it's immoral --- and, more shockingly, whether it's a positive good. Our country is now openly discussing the efficacy of torture as a method for extracting information.

… We are now a society that on some official levels has decided that torture is no longer a deviant, unspeakable behavior, but rather a useful tool. It's not hidden. People publicly discuss whether torture is really torture if it features less than "pain equavalent to organ failure." People no longer instinctively recoil at the word --- it has become a launching pad for vigorous debate about whether people are deserving of certain universal human rights. It spirals down from there.

When the smoke finally clears, and we can see past that dramatic day on 9/11 and put the threat of Islamic fundamentalism into its proper perspective, I wonder if we'll be able to go back to our old ethical framework? I'm not so sure we will even want to. It's not that it changed us so much as it revealed us, I think. A society that can so easily discard it's legal and ethical taboos against cruelty and barbarism, is an unstable society to begin with.

At this rather late stage in life, I'm realizing that the solid America I thought I knew may never have existed. Running very close, under the surface, was a frightened, somewhat hysterical culture that could lose its civilized moorings all at once. I had naively thought that there were some things that Americans would find unthinkable --- torture was one of them.


Thursday, December 08, 2005

Dickey's Nuts

Christopher Dickey in Newsweek:

For any of us who lived through the cold war, Bush’s attempts to equate the scattershot writings of Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man, Ayman al-Zawahiri, with … the Soviet empire are just mind-boggling. In his Veteran’s Day address …, Bush started four paragraphs with the phrase “like the ideology of communism.” He longs transparently for the challenge of an Evil Empire, like the one his idol Ronald Reagan confronted, whether or not it exists.

This is nuts…

This grab from Dickey's article The Terrorist Temptation is after the same point I was trying to make -- albeit with less precision -- here.


Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Off with their heads

or, "Long Live the King"

I'm a bit behind on my reading, so it's only tonight I've gotten around to the three articles linked below, published at various times over the last few weeks.

Read them.

You: "Why am I in prison?"

Them: "Give us a few years; we'll think of something. Sit tight."

Think back to the origin of the United States as a nation. When the frame of law that would become the constitution was hammered out, there was one point on which most everyone agreed: don't give the executive too much power. Most folks weren't in favor of giving the Federal government much power at all, preferring to leave the heavy lifting to the states. But there was even wider agreement that the President should in no way resemble -- and certainly shouldn't be given a basis on which to become -- a king.

We'd just fought a king, and especially rebelled against his unchecked power, and we'd decided that the right of the people to push back on government power trumped the possible advantages of central authority. Everything in the Constitution is aimed at limiting governmental power in favor of the rights of the people in the name of freedom, justice and the flourishing of a new kind of nation that we would call a democracy, which is necessarily based on the enforceable rights of free men (and eventually women). We'd later call that stuff the American Way.

The American Way has gone out of fashion. Since 1305, even the King of England has had to give prisoners a reason for being held. You can't be held without being charged under the law. This is called the writ of habeas corpus. The Bush administration considers it a nuisance. It thinks it should have powers to detain un-charged prisoners whenever it wants to. It is doing so today, and is trying to legislate to make those powers permanent. In other words, it believes it should have power even kings have not had for centuries.

Let us remember that such power was stripped from kings because they couldn't be trusted with it.

I challenge any Republican/conservative/right winger to tell me why suspending habeas corpus is necessary and, more importantly, how it can possibly be defended in a nation that aspires to justice and freedom.

"Patriot" Act, my ass. In a country founded on the principles of freedom and justice, this is a precisely anti-patriotic act. You want to export freedom? Manufacture it at home.

* * *

On the administration's track record of failing to come up with the goods on terrorists it has insisted on detaining without charge or trial:
Public Enemy No. 43,527

On the administration's attempts to give us fewer rights to appeal to the courts, and imprison us on its own terms:
The Formerly Great Writ

On one powerful Republican Senator getting habeas exactly wrong:
Senate Demerit


Monday, December 05, 2005

You gotta hope she doesn't quit knitting anytime soon

Credit MySensitiveGirlHole. (Could I make that up?)

In a freaky coincidence, I have even had dinner at the very same Rosewater Supper Club as mentioned in the mad Stitch 'n' Bitch blog post linked to above. I've even indirectly blogged about it!


In the ...

Does anyone else worship Sniff 'n' The Tears one and only hit the way I do?

I think not.


Two great tastes that go great together

Two of my favorite things: Ira Glass's "This American Life" radio program, and plain truth.

...at OneGoodMove (When you get there, click on the audio link.)


Friday, December 02, 2005

Totally random...

...but unexpectedly beautiful.