Monday, December 6, 2010

Drumming diary: Good Times, Bad Times II


I cannot even believe I managed to play that. I'm sweating all over the place, my feet itch, and my ears are hyper-sensitive from how loud I have to crank up my headphones to hear over the drums. BUT I CONQUERED THAT BITCH. HAH. *epic fistpump*

Ahem. Okay. Calming down.


Okay, okay, so, I finally got the heel-toe double-tap technique down. It's still a little hard to switch from single taps to double and back--especially at 150 bpm--but I'll get there. It's all in the toes. From there its just managing to get the timing of the breaks right.

Now pardon me while I dance around my house.

Life on the Internet: The Social Network review (***1/2/****)

Winter's Bone and Inception finally have some competition for my favorite movie of 2010. For anyone who hasn't seen The Social Network yet, you really must. Let me count the ways:
  1. Aaron Sorkin script that assumes, nay, demands intelligence and attention to keep up.
  2. Excellent direction by David Fincher, that master of alienation.
  3. Oscar-worthy performances by Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, and Justin Timberlake. Yes, Justin Timberlake.
  4. Trent Reznor wrote the buzzing, menacing score, which I am listening to right now. It's available for download at the price of $5. (Also, anyone who wants to catch the strange, lovely cover of "Creep" that was featured in the trailer, it was done by Scala.)
  5. A prophecy of our modern lives, as provided by Timberlake's character Sean Parker, the erstwhile founder of Napster: "We lived in farms, then we lived in cities, and now we're gonna live on the internet!"
Sorkin and Fincher build their whole movie around that line, bending some facts to fit their thesis of how one little website has changed our world forever. Beginning in 2003, the film opens with Mark Zuckerberg getting dumped by his (fictional) girlfriend Erica. Spurned by her and the Harvard fraternities both, he seeks some way of re-inventing himself and winds up inventing Facebook instead. Along the way he gets pounded with lawsuits by fellow students, the Winklevoss twins, who claim that he stole the idea of a social-networking website from them, and his former best friend and first CFO Eduardo Saverin, who alleges that Mark shafted him out of his 30% share and co-founder status.

Obviously the great irony here is that the world's biggest social network was built by a completely socially inept misanthrope who severed his own personal bonds one by one on the path to that illustrious 500 million "friends." Jesse Eisenberg is fantastic as that misanthrope, all tics and blankness and motor-mouthed insults, with just the faintest quiver of sorrow underneath. He can see the relationships around him unraveling but is so swept up in his own genius that he can't figure out how to stop.

The film leaves ambiguous just how much validity lies in the lawsuits, or in the suits who are pressing them. Zuckerberg might have led on "the Winklevii" (as he dubs them) in order to develop his own website before theirs got off the ground; but then again, as Mark himself puts it in the film, "If somebody makes a chair he does not owe money to everyone in the history of the world who made a chair." The Saverin lawsuit is more one-sided: recently leaked emails and IMs show that not only did Zuckerberg and Parker shaft Saverin, the real-life version of events was even more cold-blooded than the movie depicts. Saverin eventually settled for an undisclosed sum, 5% of the company shares, and has been re-instated on the site as the co-founder.

Despite that victory it's hard not to feel for Eduardo, especially as played by the British-born Garfield. He has an innate likeability and humanity to him that, as the film progresses, actually becomes a burden. Eduardo never had a chance to understand or keep up with Facebook: he was too human. Facebook--and most social networking websites--have forever changed the way we relate to other human beings. It has brought the world closer together and made us more alone than ever before. Sorkin himself commented on Facebook in an interview: “I feel like social networking is to socializing what reality TV is to reality. In a way we’re performing for each other.”

That's what Mark was looking for: a way to present himself as something better, someone who could keep a girlfriend and make it into fraternities. Someone desirable. Sean Parker understood Facebook better than Mark himself; he's a walking performance, all self-invention and narcissism. But Eduardo, with his nice-but-not-too-nice suits, gentlemanly manners, and slightly-pathetic desire for an emotional connection with Mark (pathetic only in how impossible that wish turns out to be), is squarely a city-dweller in the land of the Internetites. He exists outside of the machine. He is just himself.

Which makes his betrayal all the much more effective and poignant. When he finally flips out, the first thing he does is smash Mark's laptop, forcing him to disconnect and--finally and possibly for the last time in Mark's life--have a real-life human interaction. Eduardo's anger is our anger, because there is that tiny, betrayed part in all of us who hungers for something that no blinking cursor can give us.

I would be remiss in my duties as a feminist if I did not mention the depiction of women in this film, or the lack thereof. Other than Erica, effectively played with intelligence and strength by Rooney Mara in the 5 minutes of screentime that she gets, the female characters are all one-dimensional, either there as (mostly Asian) arm candy or as lawyerly exposition devices. Other reviews have commented on this already, and Sorkin has defended himself in the media by saying that it accurately reflects the misogyny in tech culture.
I am actually inclined to accept Sorkin's defense, especially given his decent track record with female characters. (David Fincher is another story, but he wasn't the one writing the script.) Sorkin may have bent the truth, but there's only so much bending one can do in a culture of angry nerd boys who extoll the virtues of beautiful Asian women as the ultimate girlfriend, as Saverin does in the movie and Zuckerberg does in real life.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A Man's Castle: Paranormal Activity and the American Marriage

(Note: this contains spoilers for both Paranormal Activity and its sequel.)

In 2007, an Israeli-born aspiring director and writer named Oren Peli set up a film shoot in his own home. Using a home video camera, two actors he hired for $500 off of Craigslist, and the barest outlines of a script, he shot a ghost (or demon, to be more accurate) story that kicked around Slamdance and some other LA horror festivals before it clawed its way up the ladder to Steven Spielberg's lap.

Released in 2009, Paranormal Activity cost just $15,000 to make, but went on to gross almost $200 million worldwide. For those keeping score, that officially makes it the most profitable movie of all time, in terms of return on investment. It spawned a sequel that appropriately came out around Halloween 2010. Shot in a similar manner, that one cost a cool $3 million and has so far made $166 million worldwide, still a gaping profit margin. There are rumblings of a third.

I find it difficult to believe that the simple storyline and setup can work for a longer franchise, but both films managed to be chilling and effective. And not only because of the things that go bump in the night: the films also portray the all-too human demons that plague American marriages. In both movies, the demonic possessions of women are heavily--if inadvertantly--aided by the callousness and carelessness of the women's husbands.

In PA1, Micah and Katie are "engaged to be engaged," but have been cohabitating for a while when the movie starts, long enough to settle into a marriage-like existence. When weird things start happening around the house, Micah insists on filming them, despite Katie's misgivings. This has happened to her--and her sister--before, when they were kids. Micah doesn't listen to her wishes, though, and starts challenging the dark force inhabiting their house. Katie calls in a paranormal expert; Micah scoffs at the idea and bullies her into not calling a demonologist on the expert's advice. He insists that he can fix this himself, saying, "This is my house, you're my girlfriend, I will handle it." He breaks promises to Katie and buys an Oujia board. Every move only escalates the problem until it manifests into full-on demonic possession. By that time, you're almost rooting for the demon to kill this douchebag. You'd be right.

In PA2, which acts as a prequel, concurrent movie, and sequel all at once, Katie's sister Kristi has just had a baby boy with her husband Dan, adding to their household that includes a daughter, Ali, from Don's previous relationship, a superstitious Hispanic nanny named Martine (magical non-white person alert), and a German Shepherd. When strange things start happening around their house, all the women in the house have strong reactions: Kristi recalls some childhood hauntings, Martine burns incense and chants to keep the demon at bay, Ali is at first excited but changes her mind once she does a little research. The dog worriedly stands guard over the baby.

All is for naught, though, because Dan is the kind of guy who will blame a supernaturally-slammed door on the wind and refuses to listen to any arguments to the contrary. No action is taken, as his opinion is apparently the only one that matters. Hell, even the (female) dog's agitated barking goes unheeded, except by the demon, who puts her in puppy hospital. When events finally escalate beyond Dan's ability to explain away, the solution Martine presents is horrifying: they will use a crucifix to transfer the demon to the next blood relative, Katie, thus setting the events of PA1 in motion. Ali protests, but Dan whips out a line that echoes Micah's--"It's my house, it's my wife and my son. This is my decision."

All of this becomes even more interesting once you consider the fact that neither PA1 nor 2 employed a conventional script. Instead they used "retro-scripting," in which the director laid out basic scenarios and plot developments then let the actors make up their own dialogue. Now, it is entirely possible that two separate directors instructed their lead actors to go the route of chest-thumping king of the house, but it's also possible that the actors went that way on their own. I tend to believe the latter: in both films there was a sense of hesitancy on the actors' parts before they committed to claiming dominance over their house and everyone (female) within it; once they had, then it was full-steam ahead. That says a lot about how engrained that kind of male dominance still is in our households and especially in our marriages.

Except then it backfires, in both cases, rather spectacularly. In PA1, Micah's taunting and the toxic energy around their marital squabbles allow the demon to worm its way into Katie's head. Her first act of possession is to kill Micah. She then saunters over to PA2 and the Reys' house, where she snaps Dan's neck like a twig and kills Kristi.

I hesitate to call this a feminist commentary, both because it's still an otherworldly force attempting to possess the bodies of women, and Kristi is about as innocent and powerless a victim as one can find. However, the movies subtly make the point that the demonic possession is almost beside the point: these women have already lost control over their lives and bodies to the men in their homes.

Monday, November 29, 2010



I finished up, appropriately, with the end of the story.

There was a photograph resting on his pillow. Even from his place in the doorway Sam could see the two wolf eyes staring out at him and he stilled, standing where he was for a long moment before he finally eased the pack from his shoulder and crossed to his bed.

The picture was of a werewolf. Its face was an odd cross between a wolf and a gorilla, with thick round eye sockets and a long snout. Its eyes were green and stared up at the camera, alert but unafraid.

It was Sam. He didn't know how he could tell-- beside the obvious, because when the hell had David been hanging around with any other werewolves? Sam didn't remember him leaving to get his camera at any point during that last full moon, but his memory of that night was spotty at best.

Besides that, though, the picture had something about it, some invisible power... the same power that had been in that picture of Mary, standing in the back doorway of the house.

Sam knew that he'd never done anything to deserve that kind of power, but he wouldn't question it.

So, yeah, the end of the story but not the end of me WRITING this story. I'm serious when I say that I've probably got another 30,000-40,000 words to go yet before this is a real novel. I've the basics of the story laid out, though, so it'll just be a process of stitching them all together.

As far as NaNoWriMo goes... I really enjoyed it. I'm great at working to a deadline, so that was a great motivator. I might start seeking out other contests and challenges--maybe not 50,000 words in 30 days, because WHOO BOY. But perhaps something else along those lines.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

NaNoWriMo: Sam's body

4777 words to go.

This is from late in the novel, I think near the end of the second act. I tend to bounce around a lot when I'm writing, like flinging droplets of ink on a piece of paper then going back and expanding from those initial points. This is after Sam and Mary and David have started sleeping together.

Sometimes it felt like there were two Sams. One of them was a white-trash thief with nowhere else to go and no one. He'd lived an ugly life, had ugly things done to him, and he'd die an ugly death. The other lived in a nice house with a new GED on the wall and was thinking about college someday, was loving Mary and David, was loved, was hot.

He'd never been hot before, not the way they made him. His body had never been something that he liked: he was shorter than most dudes and scarred up pretty bad. He didn't know shit about fashionable men's clothing or how to work out and eat right, and his hair was probably starting to grow permanent hat-head. He was too skinny in the chest and too chunky around the waist and he had blackheads permanently embedded across his nose... Sam had long lists of things that were wrong with him.

All of which were completely aside from the fact that he spent about half the month either working up to or coming down from the full moon and at the mercy of some truly haywire hormones that left him raw and nervous or shaky and sick.

Or that he spent one whole night as something else, something hairy and dangerous and wild, and he could never remember any of it through the haze of drugs.

It did no good to whine about things he couldn't change, though. Mostly he just tried not to think about it that much.

When he was with Mary and David, though, all that seemed to drop away. They made his body feel good in ways that he hadn't even known were possible, and they made him feel good about his body. They liked him despite his flaws-- or maybe they didn't even see them, somehow, because Mary loved to run her hands over his back and David waxed poetic about his mouth.

Sometimes Sam imagined that they were physically changing him, drawing over the old Sam with their lips and fingers.
Sam's emotional arc is learning to take control of his life instead of being terrified all the time and just blindly letting things happen to him. A big part of that process is gaining some measure of control over his own body, something that he's never really felt that he had before. He's still a werewolf, he can't change that, but he can change the way that he treats that condition, learning to accept it and himself rather than letting himself be drugged into a haze and not even remembering what happens when he wolfs out.

Despite my jumping-around style of writing, I've got pretty much the whole first act of the story written. It clocks in at 22,500, which means a full rough draft of the novel will be about 90,000. So, even after this I'll have a lot of work to do. I'm actually really looking forward to it.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Drumming diary: The double-tap, and manpris

I'm still hard at work on Good Times, Bad Times: I've got the movements down, I've just got to get my speed up. Towards that end, I'm trying to learn the single-pedal-double-tap. I've previously mentioned that John Bonham never used a double bass pedal; he emplyed a technique in which the drummer rocks hir foot on the pedal, hitting first with the heel then the toe.*

This creates a double-tap on the kick perfect for playing the "e-a" of a triplet (1-e-a-&-e-a-2-e-a-&-e-a). When you really get going, it sounds like a horse galloping. Supposedly this is going to send my speed on the kick through the roof. Cool. On the downside, whoa nelly my calves and shins. This one is going to take some getting used to.

On another note, I think I've discovered why some drummers wear, ahem, manpris. (Capri pants for men.) Today I sat down, having muffled the hell out of my kick in order to keep from driving the neighbors (more) insane, and started playing the hell-toe technique whilst wearing a pair of sweatpants with a fairly loose leg. The mallet struck the kit on my heel-hit, rebounded, and immediately caught in the hem of my pantleg, preventing any attempt at the toe-hit. This has happened a couple of times while playing the kick with single hits, but never with the consistency of a heel-toe double-tap. It's a fairly rock-genre technique, so I wouldn't be surprised to see a lot of those guys and girls in shorts, or at least rolling up their pant legs, as I did.

The More You Know. ~~~*

* I actually had a well-meaning friend of mine tell me that it was toe-then-heel. I don't know if other drummers do it this way but ho man, that so does not work for me. Having my foot arched up off the pedal when I'm hitting with the toe causes the mallet to come flying back and nail me in the top of the foot. YMMV.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

NaNoWriMo: Day 21

Whew. I can't believe I'm still on track for my work count; one of the other bartenders quit so I've been working 36 hours for the last two weeks, plus training some new people. Besides not having a lot of time to write I've been pretty much exhausted. I'm fairly introverted and having to be in constant conversation/supervision with another person sucks the life straight out of me.

BUT. I am, in fact, on track to finish. And somehow I'm still really liking my book! I feel like I'm doing a good job at making Sam a sympathetic protagonist--he's prickly and kind of hates the entire world and oh yeah, he's a thief, but he also feeds the neighbor's neglected dog and plays peek-a-boo with his girlfriend's son, who has fetal alcohol syndrome. He secretly really wants kids of his own but he's a) worried that his own physical abuse (and implied sexual abuse) as a kid would make him a bad dad and b) a werewolf.

Augh, now all I can think about is the future story wherein Mary is pregnant with David's kid, but Sam names their little baby girl Lily and whenever he wolfs out he's like, "GET AWAY FROM THE BABY. MY BABY. GRRRRR." Even Mary's demon is kind of impressed, and stops trying to kill Sam on a monthly basis.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

14-year-old is way more eloquent than you

In Ann Arbor, Michigan, a teacher was recently suspended for disciplining a student who had used hate speech against gays. The teacher is fighting the decision.

This is Graeme Taylor, who is a 14 year old student, speaking in support of the teacher. He is gay. I want him to run for president.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

NaNoWriMo: wrong word counts?

Has anyone else doing NaNoWriMo noticed that the word widgets don't update properly with your word count? Like, for instance, I'm at 21,688 right now. Yet this is what the widgets read:

Obviously that's not a big deal right now, but that makes me nervous for the end of the month. Am I doing something wrong? Did I screw something up in the updating process?

ETA: Wait, now it's working. Nevermind. I guess there's just a delay.

Friday, November 12, 2010


And now Bob Bryar from My Chem has made an appearance in my NaNo.
The kitchen manager came out in his apron and Sam twitched, staring. The guy was big and blond. He wore a thick black hoodie with the sleeves rolled up; his forearms were covered in prison tattoos.

He was also a werewolf.

Sam didn't know how he knew, exactly, there wasn't any particular smell or physical feature that showed in their human forms, but he knew right away. The cook could tell about him, too, if the quick double-take was anything to go by.

Sam almost walked out right then...except then he'd have to go back home and explain to Dave and Mary why he still couldn't find a job. He held his ground, trying not to crinkle his liquor permit in his fingers. The kitchen manager didn't say anything, just looked at Mr. Eldritch.

"This' Sam Owen," Mr. Eldritch said, gesturing between them. "Sam, this is Bob the kitchen manager. Sam's gonna be bartending for us."

"Cool," Bob said, his flame and knife-scarred scarred hands tucked in the front pockets of his apron.
He's a minor character, but symbolically very important: due to the horrific way he was turned, Sam is terrified of other werewolves (and therefore terrified of himself). His tentative friendship with Bob represents his personal journey towards self-acceptance.


This week has not been good for NaNoing. One of the other bartenders at work quit, so I'm holding down, oh, 33 hours? When I asked for 25? Yeah. No good. I didn't write a lick all yesterday and stayed up until 3am last night cranking out yesterday's word count. Now I've got......2.5 hours before I've got to leave for work. And I still have yet to cook a single dinner for myself this week. I've been surviving on nuts and yogurt and pears. Soooooo hunnnnngryyyyyy.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

NaNoWriMo: Mary's demon

A little interlude in which Mary explains how she came to be semi-consensually possessed by a demon:

"How did you get that?" he asked Mary.

Her expression turned guarded. "David never told you?"

"He told me what it was and how not to piss it off. He didn't tell me how you got it."

She sighed, shifting in place a little. Her knee knocked into his. "When I was a girl, I had dreadful dreams. I'd dream that I was dead and rotting in a coffin, that I had murdered my entire family with a knife, things like that. They went on for two years, until one day a woman came to the door. She told my parents that she was a nun, but she had no habit. When she saw me, she laughed and acted like she knew me.

"That's the first time I heard the voice. The voice knew her. I could feel it, too--it hated her, but it was happy to see her, too. I think maybe it loved her."

"Bullshit," the demon's voice growled, making Sam jump.

Mary didn't bat an eyelash. "She'd been following this one demon for a very long time. She kept finding it and exorcising it, but it kept coming back. Some of the people it had possessed died during the exorcism. That's why it had chosen me--the nun didn't want to see a child die and the demon knew that.

"But the demon didn't want to go back to Hell, either. It was tired. They were both so very tired, and I think maybe she had come to love the demon back, in a way." She paused a moment as if waiting for a response; when the demon remained silent, she went on. "So she spoke to my parents and then they offered the demon a deal. It could stay in me so long as it didn't actively harm me or let harm come to me. In exchange the nun would not try to exorcise it, nor would she prevent it from seeking another host after I die."

Sam listened to the whole story in silence. "What happens if the nun dies?" he asked.

Mary smiled a little, faintly. "It wasn't a nun, Sam."

I think the demon might have a New Yawk accent. Why, I have no idea. But that's the joy of magical realism! Nothing has to make sense! \o/

Also, in my head Mary now looks like Christina Hendricks.

ALSO, also--apparently I have something about demons and women named Mary and threesomes. (People who know me from the Supernatural fandom will get that reference.)

NaNoWriMo: Day 9

Just realized that I haven't had sexytiems with myself in days. T'would appear that NaNo has completely wiped out my sex drive. I've never been happier to be asexual, man; if I actually had a romantic partner, I would feel so bad for that person right now.

I also have not shaved my legs in two weeks. I strongly doubt that there will be any leg-shaving at all in the month of November.

Aaaaaaand, that's your TMI post for the day! Ta-ta, gotta get through another 700 words in--shit, three hours.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

NaNoWriMo: Days 4-6

Consolidating a bit--I've broken 10,000 words, which is amazing. I just keep imagining the Red Leader from Star Wars: "Stay on target...stay on target..."

I had one of those delightful moments yesterday wherein I discovered an idea that my brain had already put in place. Do you ever get those? It feels like there's some other part of me that's someplace just ahead, laying down track to connect my thoughts together in such a perfect line, it's hard to believe that I hadn't consciously laid it out that way to begin with. Of course David can steal people's souls with his photographs (though not really; it's more that he can take their feelings out of them, and he's very careful only to take bad things out of people who need them taken). Of course the demon that lives inside Mary keeps him from taking photographs of her; that's the only way their marriage ever worked in the first place. Of course that all ties in with the theme of self-acceptance, and how so often, emotional intimacy means letting someone else see all the gross, weird things inside ourselves, all the neuroses and baggage and, yes, the demons and wolves.

Well done, brain, well done indeed!

Another point of some amusement is how many people that I know in real life are finding their way into the story. Hello, David. Hi, Nikki Molly. Sarah, yay! This only gets awkward in David's case, as I have to write him having
b)in a threesome
c)that involves both a man and a woman. (Pretty sure Real Life David is straight.)

Yyyyyyyeah, that's probably a standard hazard when you're friends with a writer.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

NaNoWriMo: Day 2

I don't even know. I guess I have something for strong human women holding werewolf dudes by the back of their necks. *hands*

It helps if the strong human women are possessed by semi-friendly demons who are contractually obligated to help the woman (and the plot).

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

NaNoWriMo: Heeeeeeeere's JOHNNY

I wonder if anyone's ever submitted an entire novel of "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" for NaNoWriMo. Someone's got to have tried that, right? I'd guess that they've got ways of preventing it, though. More's the pity.

On the subject of my NaNo: I'm kind of in love with it right now. We're in the honeymoon phase, I think, where it's all flowers and intimacy and figuring out the character voices. In particular I adore Sam, which is handy given that he's the main character. He's just such an angry, adorable little fucker. Witness:
"At least I didn't choke," Sam muttered.


"Sometimes in fights I don't do anything, I just stand there. I didn't this time." Because of the moon, the voice inside his head whispered. You could never do that on your own.

"And you think the fact that you did this time is a good thing? I just picked you up from jail, dude. Maybe violence isn't something to aspire to. Just a thought."

Sam bristled. "What, I should let people walk all over me?"

"No, but I think there's a big difference between defending yourself and breaking a guy's nose for sleeping with your girlfriend. There are other ways of solving that." Sam scoffed and David shot him a frown, his brows knit together. "You think I'm wrong?"

"I think," Sam said, "I think you live in nice fucking house in a nice fucking part of town. I think you have a rich daddy who likes you and you've never had to really work for anything. So no, I don't think you know shit."

They drove on in silence. Sam stared out the window at the houses and yards passing them by.

"You know, Sam," David said after a while, "sometimes you make it real hard to like you."

"Yeah, well, ditto," Sam shot back without turning.
AWWWW, SAMMY, look at your precious little >:( face. You hate everyone in the world, don't you, bb? Don't you? N'awwww. (This snippet is made more amusing by the fact that David is pretty much the easiest person in the world to like. He's like a slightly less randy version of Jack Harkness.) (Very slightly.)

Today's "A Softer World Comic"

NaNoWriMo: Day 1

I've never done National Novel Writing Month before, but I've always wanted to. For those who don't know, NaNoWriMo is where you try to write 50,000 words in the 30 days of November. From midnight Nov 1st to Nov 30th, people all across the globe become hermits, pounding out the word count to the tune of 1,667 words a day.

I'm doing pretty well so far --

My novel is tentatively called "Nature Boy," a magical realism urban fairytale about a young werewolf cat burglar who falls in love with the married couple whose house he broke into (though he kind of falls in love with the house first). The wife has two voices and the husband takes pictures in his sleep that become famous works of art. Without knowing about the burglary, they fall in love back. AND THEN POLYAMORY.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Drumming diary: Good Times, Bad Times

This week, on Rachel learns the Zep...

After a necessary hiatus, I've gotten back to work on "Good Times, Bad Times." The muscle memory had faded a bit, but it's returning. Really, the only part that's giving me any trouble is this one:

C=Crash, R=Ride cymbal, T=high tom, S=Snare, FT=Floor tom, Bd=Bass drum, Hf=Hi-hat pedal played with the foot.

That's a long string of triplets played pretty exclusively with the feet. The hands are involved, but it's mostly half notes played on the hi-hat pedal with the left foot (1+2+3+4+) with triplet beats on the kick with the right foot (-ea-ea-ea-ea-ea-ea-ea-ea, with the - representing the half notes played with the left foot). Bonham loved his triplets. He was also known for his speedy foot, and thus had no compunction about throwing, what, 10 triplets in a row on the kick?

Incidentally, this track was the first one on their debut album, and thus was the world's introduction to Led Zeppelin, and John Bonham. Everyone who knew anything about drumming stood up to pay attention. Even the drummer who influenced his technique, Carmine Appice of Vanilla Fudge, played his kick triplets with a double-kick drum setup; but Bonzo did it solo.

I'm not that fast yet, so whenever I'm sitting down or even just standing still, I'm playing triplets with my feet. I'll catch up to you yet, Bonzo. You and your little dog, too.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Why I don't support the injunction against DADT.

I joined the Army when I was 17, a couple of months after 9/11. At first I was in the reserves as a PFC, but then I received an ROTC scholarship and went to college to train for the officer ranks.

I'm also queer. I was active in the GLBTA and there were some nights when I would attend both an Army training session and a queer pride fundraiser in the same night.

I know firsthand the damage that DADT does to individual soldiers, unit cohesion, and the Armed Forces in general. It requires queer soldiers to either limit their social contact with their comrades to the point that they never have to lie about their personal lives, or it compromises their honor. It removes skilled technicians from the ranks at a time when we are fighting two wars and desperately need them.

DADT is wrong by every standard we could apply: constitutionally, morally, and functionally.

But placing an injunction against it that slaps the whole system down is not the right way to go about ending DADT. I know the military. If there isn't a very detailed manual telling them how to deal with a situation then they just...won't. And there will be situations to deal with: the soldiers around me in the cadet ranks were tolerant to the point that several knew about me and chose not to say anything, but enlisted combat units? Those are the guys who either didn't have the IQ for Armor or actually wanted to be enlisted Infantry. In the words of Joe, an enlisted Infantry soldier I spoke to a couple months ago on the subject, "We're the kind of pricks who'd shoot a fag."

Basically, if this injunction stands, we will see dead queer soldiers. We will hear rumors of beatings and abuses, but the chaos of such an abrupt change would leave queer soldiers with no proper channels to make a complaint. We will see a spike in friendly fire. We will essentially have thrown them in there with no safety net, no protections, and no way to defend themselves. Then we'll get the regulations and support network--but it will be reactionary and too late for some.

We need to do this the right way. We need to give the military time to set up proper support that can ease the transition--and that's key, making it a transition. An injuction in federal court that ends DADT so abruptly is not good for the Armed Forces and it's definitely not good for queer soldiers.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Fighting hate with laughter

I think of all the It Gets Better videos thus far, this one is my favorite: a bunch of queer comedians got together at the Gotham City Comedy Club for a night of laughter and encouragement.

This is a great runner-up, though: a cop and a Marine, in uniform, in love.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Drumming diary: ~The Process~

I have a very specific process by which I learn how to play a new song on the drums. My specific process, let me show it to you in glorious MS Paint flowchart:

Click for larger view

Monday, October 4, 2010

Bullying and the It Gets Better Project

I don't know what is sadder about this interview: the fact that the father seems so horribly guilt-ridden, or that he keeps accidentally referring to his deceased son in the present-tense.

On the subject of bullying, Dan Savage has started the It Gets Better Project on Youtube, in which queer adults record video messages aimed at their teenage counterparts, encouraging them to hang in there in hopes of a better life. I'm not too familiar with Dan Savage's politics and I know he's done or said some things in the past that ticked people off; however, I very much like the project itself, and wish that I had a camera so that I could contribute. I especially liked Sarah Silverman's message:

So true.

If you feel like submitting something, please do! My socially-isolated, miserable past teenaged self thanks you and would have been very much encouraged by something like this as a kid.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Because whore means exactly what we all think it means.

Indie band The Like recently gave an interview in which they disparaged Lady Gaga for dressing like a "whore," and insisted that they were much better than that. Which, first of all:
"The Like" lead singer Z Berg
I don't think I've ever seen Lady Gaga's nipples. If I had, however, I'm pretty damn sure that Lady Gaga would have WANTED me to see her nipples.

But more importantly than their sour grapes and hypocrisy, it bears repeating that it is never okay to shame other artists or other women for not expressing their sexuality in a way--within morality--that falls in line with our own choices and how we present ourselves.

I could get snippy here about how The Like look and act like they stepped straight out of a softcore American Apparel ad, all doe eyes and long hair and coy smiles and really short skirts; but that is how they choose to dress and IT IS VALID. It is a valid aesthetic to shoot for, and it will help sell their albums just as Lady Gaga's brash, alien-queen outfits help sell HER albums. And there is nothing wrong with that, nothing wrong with using one's sexuality to sell a long as one acknowledges it then doesn't turn around and criticize someone else for doing the exact same thing, just in a different way.

Seriously, ladies, stop tearing each other down. I don't listen to either of your albums, but there are precious few female success stories in the industry.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Drumming diary: Dazed & Confused...yeah, no

This week, on Rachel Learns the Zep...

There's nothing quite like starting to learn a new song and thinking, one-third of the way through, "HOLY JESUS WHAT HAVE I DONE???"

I'mmmmmm notgonnabelearning "Dazed & Confused" anytime soon. If my drumming abilites were a twelve-step program, it'd be about a ten, and I'm on six. It was the triplets in conjunction with 12/8 time that did me in--plus, I'm not entirely certain that the tab I've got is accurate. There's this part where--shit, it's hard to explain if you've never played rock drumming. But okay, though...there's this particular pattern to songs that you KNOW, that can learn to find in any rock or blues song and maybe somebody changes it up to be interesting but you don't take this EXACT pattern of crash-snare bass-bass-snare and move it ONE BEAT UP for TWELVE MEASURES, so that the crash happens on 4 instead of 1 and the snare happens on 1 and 3 instead of 2 and 4 where it BELONGS, DAMMIT. That is just WRONG. That is a WRONG TAB, and I hate wrong tabs!

The offending section. Okay, you see on the first line, about halfway through, how there's a break? There's the "groove" of a song, and then there's a "break," where the song changes up and throws in some crash or toms or something. In this case it goes CRASH CRASH CRASH then some patterns on the toms. Lather, rinse, repeat. The break isn't the problem, though: it's the fact that when we come out the other side of the break, at the end of the second measure on the second line, we go into this pattern that is just...WRONG. They've got the crash on 4! and the snare on 1! WRONG.

SO. We're switching to "Good Times, Bad Times" instead and setting "D&C" back a few weeks. Or months. We'll see.

Movie: Winter's Bone (****/****)

I've been meaning to see this one for a long time; fortunately the Fox Tower 10 theater downtown has been playing it for a month and seems likely to continue given the strong buzz around the film. It won the grand jury prize at Sundance and is easily the best film I've seen all year, or in recent memory.

Winter's Bone is the story of 17-year-old Ree Dolly, played by the 19-year-old Jennifer Lawrence. Abandoned by her father physically and by her mother mentally, Ree is raising her younger siblings on her own in the hard-scrabble Missouri backwoods. When her convict father goes missing and puts their house up for bond, she has to track him down through the terrifying, meth-infested veins of her own distant relatives in order to keep the shreds of her family together. It's film noir, Deliverance-style.

The people she encounters are more terrifying than any creepy-crawly movie monster that I've ever seen, all the more so because of their basis in reality. John Hawkes from Deadwood is particularly effective as Teardrop, Ree's uncle who's a violent wife-abuser and a crank dealer but is also the only person willing to help her. When you first meet him he scares you shitless; but as Ree digs deeper in her search, she overturns so many scarier people--like her great-aunt Merab, played by the pinch-mouthed Dale Dickey--that when Teardrop appears again at a crucial moment and "stands" for Ree, you want to hug the bastard.

Ree (Lawrence)

Set direction also deserves praise. Every inch of their lives rings true to me, from the trampoline set up in the backyard to the trash in the yards to the way Ree summons her siblings into the kitchen to watch her cook deer stew so that they'll know how, down the road. I grew up as a middle-class household surrounded by rural poverty. I have seen homes like theirs; I have known girls like Ree, who defy any explanation of how they grew up tall and straight among such crooked, strangled surroundings. For despite all the obstacles she faces, Ree has a self-possession far beyond her years. Lawrence turns in an amazing performance, watchful and fierce and determined. It doesn't hurt that she's gorgeous, too.

The film also has the glorious, rare quality of having both a strong female lead and a gifted female director, Debra Grank, behind the camera. One, I imagine, is tied to the other, or both are symbiotic. I'm not saying that it's impossible for any male directors to have strong heroines but when people defend, say, Christopher Nolan's clear lack in that department, they're quick to point out that he's writing from a man's perspective. So if we want to see complex, independent female characters with autonomy and emotional depths, we'd better support our female directors--since apparently we're not allowed to expect that out of men. (And yet Kathryn Bigelow earns glowing praise and the first female directing Oscar for a nearly all-male war film. Funny how that works.)

Don't wait to see this film. Get it now in theaters, then again on DVD. It's amazing.

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Monday, September 20, 2010

Drumming diary: Your Time Is Gonna Come

This week, on Rachel Learns the Zep...

Well, that was relatively painless, especially after the uphill slog that was Whole Lotta Love.

I still find myself longing for a different kit. Athena -- my jazz-fushion forest green PDP MX Series -- has served me well over the years, but if I'm going to continue in this Zeppelin vein, I should really get something that gives me a better BOOM for my buck.

<-----The noble and valiant Athena, who I got for $475 off Craigslist, complete with hardware, cymbals, and throne. I KNOW. I felt like a thief in the night.

Ideally I'd want to go with something similar to Bonham's kit, or at least something a bit more straight-rock. Nice big floor tom, maybe some kind of kick mount so I can finally get my heavyass 20" ride cymbal on a stand that isn't about to fall over at the first stiff breeze.

I have a mental list of everything I'd buy if I had the money:
--Lasik eye surgery
--Jaw surgery so my jaw wouldn't crack every bloody time I try to eat a sandwich, and also that my teeth would finally meet in front
--a gun
--a car, any car, sweet Jesus

So, yeah. It's on the list, but my eyes and oral health are a bit higher on the DEFCON levels right now.

In keeping with the helpful pattern of easier song-harder song-easier song-harder song, I'm thinking I might do Dazed and Confused next. For those who can't read drum notation, that would be a (much) harder song. It's got a tempo jump in the middle, going from 52 bpm to 190, multiple triplet-oriented fills (Bonham loves his triplets), and is gonna be very tricky to count out.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Silken tresses fluttering in the ----- SHWACK

NY Mag's Vulture has a fluffy piece about the fashion choices of recent female action heroines. On the surface it's pretty meaningless, but they do address a pet peeve of mine: women fighting with their goddamn hair in their goddamn faces. (Never watch an Army movie with me. I will sit there the entire time grousing about flyaway hairs and trousers untucked from boots. Female soldiers do not wear ponytails, dammit, it's high-and-tight or a tight bun!)

I have hair all the way down my back. There is nothing more annoying than having it slip free and fall in my face, and I'm not even doing battle with ravening zombies/slathering aliens/killer robots on a daily basis. (Woe.)

I guarantee you that the first thing any real-life woman would do when facing battle with a baddie is tie back and/or hack off her hair. Yet these movie heroines are doing backflips and firing guns and riding helicopters with their long locks fluttering free in the breeze. I keep waiting for one of their silken tresses to get stuck in a rotator blade.

But maybe that's the point. Mass media insists that long hair is sexy, and dangerous woman are usually sexified (as if in order to make up for the fact that she can kick a man's ass--don't worry, dudes, you can still imagine her sucking your dick!). It's sexy becuase it's vulnerable, because it would be totally and completely impractical in an actual fight. It's a way of declawing them.

(Vulture's 100% right about Milla Jovovich, too. Hotcha.)

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The "VS." is what gets me every time

Here in Portland there's a station called 94.7 KNRK--"Alternative Portland," which in my opinion is kind of a redundancy; Portland is pretty damn "alternative" on its own--and on Saturday nights you can catch Squid's Modern Mix, which features mashups of modern songs with classics.

This is how I discovered such amazing things as:

Jimi Hendrix vs. Muse: "The Blackout Cries Mary"
The Rolling Stones vs. the Dandy Warhols: "Sympathy for the Warhols"

Both of which are FUCKING AMAZING.

Drumming diary: Whole Lotta Love

This week, on Rachel Learns the Zep...

Apologies for the long absence: I have been preoccupied with beating a legion of centaur-riding, flaming-chainsaw-wielding Betty White clones into submission. Or struggling through "Whole Lotta Love." Whichever sounds more impressive.

(<-----I love Portland.)

Anyway, I have emerged mostly victorious from the battle with WLL. It doesn't sound perfect, but it's about as good as it's gonna get, considering the giant, 36-measure drum solo in the middle and the fact that they go merrily skipping off count towards the end. GDIT, Zeppelin, hold a beat!

(From my notes ------------------->)

Next I'm learning "Your Time is Gonna Come," which is one of my favorite Zep songs, and not just 'cause I'm the vengeful type. It's an odd tune, incorporating an old-time church organ, an out-of-tune Fender, and some steel guitar lessons, along with some sweet harmonizing.

It's also one of the least-heard Zeppelin songs: they only played it once, and then not in full, at a show in Tokyo in 1971.

But oh, how epic it is.

The drum part calls for a second floor tom, so I'll have to squish both of those down to one as I have yet get my hands on the cashola for some new equipment. It looks like there's a fairly reputable notation available online, so thank god for small favors and wish me luck.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Addendum to The Deep Freeze: Imaginary Women

Several different blogs have picked up my post about Christopher Nolan's woman problems. Which is exciting! And a little bizarre! At least, the post on OhNoTheyDidnt felt a little bizarre. o_O

Response has been all over the map, but a couple of readers took issue with my reading of some female characters. Specifically, they contend that Mrs. Jankis from Memento and Mal from Inception should not be counted as female characters because, as NerdGirl puts it:
But the film's established that memories are unreliable in dreams, so the remembered Moll (sic) isn't her either. She's a shattered reflection of the women Cobb loved. All that remains are the fond memories to torture him and the projection of his guilt who wants him to suffer – because he feels he deserves it. Which, come on – he does.

To which I respond, fair enough. Both of these female characters were (for the most part) memories and mental constructions in the minds of male characters. Perhaps that deserves a category separate from the Madonnas, Whores*, Antagonists, and Dead Wives that populate Christopher Nolan's films: Imaginary Women.

Unfortunately, I can't understand why the readers feel these could be used as a defense of Nolan. Far from it: these constructed women have absolutely no autonomy or agency. They literally do not exist outside of the minds of men. They aren't even real women! Natalie, the femme fatale from Memento, is IMO a stronger female character than Mal or Mrs. Jankis: she's manipulative and hard-edged, yes, but she is clearly a resourceful, intelligent survivor. And she's a real woman. So that puts her one-up on the other two.

And while we're on the subject of Inception...whoo boy. And people say I'm critical.

(*NerdGirl also took issue with me dismissing a female character in Insomnia as "a whore." I didn't. I said that she represented the "Whore" side of the classic Madonna-Whore complex that permeates so many of our media products, as based on the fact that the character spends about half her screentime coming onto one man or another and is given very little else to do. I just want to be clear on that point; I would never bandy about such a female-negative term in a non-academic sense.)

Friday, August 13, 2010

Because nothing says enlightenment like a whiny, rich white woman who ditches her loving husband to learn from the wise, mystical natives

I have issues with Eat, Pray, Love. Fortunately, I am not alone. In fact, some people have enough issues to fill a BINGO card! Behold!

Credit to Dodai Stewart and Sadie Stein

Saturday, August 7, 2010


Haha, well, I'm not the only one who's talking about Chris Nolan's lady troubles.

By tenshinofushigi.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


Another one of my Twitter stories has been featured on Thaumatrope! Woot!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Deep Freeze: Christopher Nolan's woman problem

fridge, v. to kill off a female character solely for the purpose of giving the story's main male hero a reason to angst. Coined by Gail Simone in response to a storyline in The Green Lantern in which the hero's girlfriend is killed and literally stuffed in his refrigerator. In 1999, Simone started a website, Women in Refrigerators, that lists all of the comic book women who have been fridged.

Unless you've been living under a rock lately, you've heard of director Christopher Nolan's new movie Inception. It's a long-generating story, one that he's been working on for over a decade, biding his time and building up enough of a reputation in Hollywood that he could get the backing for his dazzling mindfuck of a pet project.

And build up a reputation he has: Nolan has had a string of hits, both financially and critically. On the review-aggregating site Rotten Tomatoes, not one of his films rates below a 75%. His last movie, The Dark Knight, grossed over 1 billion dollars worldwide. There are precious few filmmakers in Hollywood who have so successfully balanced artistic achievements with the culture of spectacle, not so much infusing blockbusters with a decent story as crafting intricate scripts that just so happen to have blockbuster potential.

It's a goddamn shame, then, that he feels the need to fridge the hell out of his women.

In case you haven't figured it out by now, THIS POST CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS FOR ALMOST EVERY CHRISTOPHER NOLAN MOVIE EVER MADE. Also, I am not a scientist or a professional researcher.

Don't get me wrong: I love Christopher Nolan's movies. Memento is one of my favorites. I own The Dark Knight. Next week I will see Inception for the third time in theaters. But there's always a lingering icky feeling after the credits roll, when I watch the actors' names rise from the bottom of the screen and try to remember whether any of the women listed did anything important other than die. More often than not, the answer is a resounding no. And when they do live, they're usually evil.

Don't believe me? Let's have a look.

CASE STUDY: Memento (2000)
The movie that made us all sit up and go, "Christopher WHO?" A crackerjack film noir told in reverse about an amnesiac named Leonard (Guy Pearce) who's looking for the man who killed his wife...or is he?

The women:
Natalie (Carrie-Ann Moss). A bartender who Leonard meets on his search through the underbelly. By turns helpful and treacherous, Natalie ultimately manipulates Leonard for her own purposes, using his disability to kill off or maim those who are threatening her. She's undeniably shady, but just how bad she is depends on your interpretation of the movie's events. Alive, antagonist.

Mrs. Jankis (Harriet Sansom Harris). Apparently she has no first name. Leonard repeats the story of the Jankis' several times: Sammy Jankis has the same brain damage as Leonard, but his wife doubts whether or not he's faking it, so she decides to test him. She asks him to give her an insulin shot, then another one in a few minutes after his memory has erased the first. Surprise, surprise, he wasn't faking, and she dies. This is the first instance of a wife dying due to her husband's actions. Dead.

Leonard's Wife (Jorja Fox). No, seriously, Leonard's Wife is her official credit. She didn't get a fucking name either. Oy. Anyway, she actually sort of dies twice in the movie, once when she and Leonard are first attacked; she survives the attack, but Leonard doesn't remember that, and the loss drives him through most of the film. It's revealed at the end, though, that she was actually the one with the insulin, and Leonard invented Sammy Jankis and his wife in order not to deal with the guilt. So really we get two dead-because-of-her-husband-wives for the price of one. Dead.

CONCLUSIONS: Two dead, unnamed wives inadvertantly killed by their husbands' conditions; one femme fatale. We're off to a bangup start. Movie also fails the Bechdel Test: at no point in the movie do two women even speak to each other.

The Bechdel Test: a litmus test developed by writer Alison Bechdel in 1985 to gauge the agency and autonomy of a story's characters. The test has three parts: 1) Are there two female characters who 2) talk to each other 3) about something other than a man?

CASE STUDY: Insomnia (2002)
Detective Frank Dormer (Al Pacino) hunts for serial killer Walter Finch (Robin Williams) in Alaska with the assistance of a local cop named Ellie Burr (Hilary Swank). After he accidentally shoots his partner and covers it up, though, he and the killer wind up morally entangled, and Ellie gets suspicious.

The women
Ellie Burr (Hilary Swank). Here's a good one: Burr practically salivates over Dormer at the film's outset, telling him that he's her idol, but she's also the only one sharp enough to catch the mistakes that Dormer made in his cover-up. Despite getting no backup from the rest of the local cops, who call her "Nancy Drew," she solves the mystery on her own and is the only one left standing as the credits roll. Technically she's an antagonist for the main character, but she's a principled one with plenty of agency. Alive, antagonist.

Kay Connell (Crystal Lowe). Every serial killer story needs a naked, beaten female victim, and teenaged Kay Connell fits the bill. She's already dead before the opening credits, so we only glimpse her in flashbacks and as a bloated corpse on a morgue slab. (I couldn't find any pictures of her that weren't naked and mutilated, so I didn't put one up.) Dead.

Tanya (Katherine Isabelle). Kay's "best friend," who was sleeping with Kay's boyfriend. Portrayed as a callow Lolita who comes onto Dormer and doesn't really care about her dead friend. Alive, but a Whore.

Madonna-Whore complex: a psychological condition in which men divide women into ultra-"pure" Madonnas who can never be sullied with sexual intimacy, and dirty, dirty Whores who can never possibly be wives or mothers. As in men's minds, so in culture. For example: every single Taylor Swift video, ever.

The hotel manager (Maura Tierney). According to IMDB, she's "Rachel Clements," but I don't recall her ever being called by her name in the film. She's shown to be hard-working and professional, but is also deeply compassionate. When the sleepless Dormer is coming unglued, she listens to his desperate confession and advises him. This is the first instance of another motif in Nolan's films: women acting as the conscience of men. Which, hey, it's still using a woman as a secondary prop to a man's emotional arc, but at least she isn't evil. Alive, good.

CONCLUSIONS: Not so bad. We have two strong, principled, professional women, though one of them is technically an antagonist. We've also got a dead, mutilated teenager and a Whore, kinda balances out? No on the Bechdel Test: no two women speak to each other through the whole movie.

CASE STUDY: Batman Begins (2005)
Taking over the Batman franchise, Nolan took him back to his roots for an origin story, detailing how Bruce Wayne trained himself into a crime-busting machine.

The women woman
Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes). As the one woman in Batman Begins, Rachel is brave and smart. As the only ADA with the figurative nads to stand up to the crime syndicate, she's an invaluable ally to Batman and Jim Gordon. She's also another "conscience woman," directing Bruce away from vengeance after his parents are gunned down. (Which, by the way, isn't it funny how much Bruce flashes back to his dead father? While never seeming to give a thought to his dead mother? Yes, I thought that was funny, too.) Rachel does need to be saved an awful lot. Alive, good.

CONCLUSIONS: No chance at the Bechdel test, but Rachel is still a fairly good female character...

CASE STUDY: The Dark Knight
Nolan's second entry in his revival of the Batman movies.

The women
Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal): ...d'oh! Now, obviously the Batman franchise is based on pre-existing material, so Nolan can't 100% be blamed for this one. But still, every comic book director picks and chooses which canon to use from the books, and this is what Nolan chose. (God help us if he ever tries his hand at Catwoman.) ETA: I've been informed in the comments that Rachel Dawes was NOT in the comics and that her movie character was not based on any recognizable pre-existing Batman character. So Nolan created a woman and introduced her into the Batman universe solely for the purpose of killing her off. Not only does her death provide angst for Bruce Wayne, it turns Harvey Dent evil and Jim Gordon borderline-suicidal. Wow, screw fridging, that's like a deep freeze! Dead.

Detective Andrea Ramirez (Monique Gabriela Curnen): Shown to be Jim Gordon's strong right hand, despite the fact that she's a rookie. She ultimately betrays them all to the crime syndicate, gets Rachel killed, and almost gets Jim Gordon's family killed. Alive, antagonist.

Barbara Gordon (Melinda McGraw): Exists in the movie solely to be Gordon's wife, mother of his children, and a Madonna. The only time she's ever seen outside their home is when she and her children are taken hostage by Two-Face; she puts up absolutely no fight even when the dude has a gun to her son's head. (And while we're on the subject of Gordon's family: Gordon's son is "Jim Gordon, Jr." but guess what his daughter's credited as? "Jim Gordon's Daughter." That's right, she gets no name, and it's made explicit in the movie that she's not her father's favorite. Nice.) Alive, but a Madonna.

ETA: I totally forgot about Judge Surrilo! You know, the female judge who was willing to preside over Dent's prosecution of all the mobsters at once. You know--the one who gets blown up. Yeah, that one. Dead.

CONCLUSIONS: All the women are either dead, evil, or a Madonna. The film sort of passes the Bechdel test in that Ramirez calls Barbara Gordon to warn her that she should leave the house; but that's done at Two-face's gunpoint, so it's sketchy at best. Apparently the only way to get women to talk to each other in Nolan movies is to point a gun at them.

CASE STUDY: The Prestige
Two rival magicians, Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Borden (Christian Bale), duke it out in turn-of-the-century England.

The women
Julia (Piper Perabo). Angier's wife. Drowns--half-naked and bound, onstage--during a botched magic trick; the messup was possibly Borden's fault, and her death incites the antipathy between the two. The manner of her death is of some importance: there's a strong undercurrent through the movie about the sacrifices that magicians make for their craft, and it's understood that women are a necessary sacrifice. See below. Dead.

Sarah (Rebecca Hall). Borden's wife. Hangs herself in despair because of what she believes is her husband's fickle nature and unfaithfulness. What she doesn't realize is that she's actually married one of two twin brothers; they never tell anyone the truth because it would mean exposing their best magic trick. So basically Borden watches his wife sink into depression and alcohol abuse rather than tell her the truth, all for the sake of his career. Lovely. Dead.

Olivia (Scarlett Johansson). She is first Angier's assistant; Angier sends her to spy on and sleep with Borden, and she switches sides in disgust. She's a good accomplice, particularly for Borden who she helps revolutionize his career. They fall in love, but she also becomes disgusted by his fickleness. Again, the twins can't be bothered to tell her the truth. Despite being traded like a pawn between the men, she has a fair amount of agency and independence. One could argue that she's a Whore, but given her sympathy for the dead Sarah and her decision to leave Borden, I think that she avoids that trap. Alive, good.

CONCLUSIONS: Two dead wives, twice the manpain. (Or well, triple, if you count the twins separately.) This story, too, was an adaptation; but, again, Nolan chose to take this project on. Something about dead wives really appeals to him. Sarah and Olivia do speak to each other once, but only so that Sarah can object to Olivia calling her husband "Freddie," so it's definitely about a man.

CASE STUDY: Inception, 2010
A team of extractors led by Dom Cobb (Leonardo Dicaprio) invades the mind of an energy magnate, but they're dogged by a shade from Cobb's past, Mal (Marion Cotillard).

The women
Mal. Let's get the obvious one out of the way: the dead wife. And not only is she dead, we actually see her die four times over, both in dreams and in real life. Twice are suicide, once she's shot by her husband, and once she's shot by the movie's other woman. Her madness and eventual real-life suicide were her husband's fault. After her death she haunts his subconscious and is the film's femme fatale and villain. Plus, most of the time she's she's not even real. Besides the few flashbacks where she's crazy and suicidal, she spends most of the movie as a goddamn projection of Cobb's memory of her, laced with his guilt and self-loathing. She has absolutely no autonomy of her own. It's like Chris Nolan's worst hits, all wrapped up in one admittedly-gorgeous Frenchwoman. Very dead, antagonist.

Ariadne (Ellen Page). Curiously, the film that has the worst representation of women also has the best female character that Nolan can offer to date. Ariadne is described as an ever better architect than Cobb was, she's the only teammember who calls him on his emotionally-disturbed shit, yet she is a constant support and guide for him. She's the supreme example of woman-as-conscience, persistently pushing Cobb to face his demons. Ultimately she's the one who completes the job they were hired to do, by shooting shade-Mal and literally drop-kicking Fischer out of Limbo. As the newest teammember, she's a stand-in for the audience, asking all the questions we're wondering; though Cobb is the main character, we're meant to identify with level-headed Ariadne. However, she is still a prop to Cobb's emotional and physical journey. We do see her "die" at one point, stabbed by Mal no less. On the scale of Christopher Nolan movies, she's pretty damn good, but he's still got a long way to go. Alive.

CONCLUSIONS: A decidedly mixed bag. The very best and worst, packed into one. It also comes closest to passing the Bechdel test: Ariadne and Mal talk, but Mal is technically a projection of Cobb's mind and their conversation was subtextually about Cobb. So it's debatable.


+ Going through the IMDB database, I counted up the number of named characters in the above movies. (Although as we've seen, "named" is a fairly relative term -- "Gordon's Daughter" and "Leonard's Wife," for example.) There were 94 names roles for all of Nolan's major films. (I'll confess I haven't seen Following or Doodlebug. If someone has, please chime in.) (ETA: Somebody did chime in! Ryan Meray reports: "In Following, the only woman in the film dies. Also fails the Bechdel test.") Even being generous with what constitutes a name, only 23 of those roles belonged to women.

+ Of those 23, only 17 had speaking roles (more than one line).

+ Of those 17, only 9 were alive at the end of the movie.

+ Of those 9, 5 were antagonists, Whores, or Madonnas.

+ That just leaves the hotel manager in Insomnia (who apparently has a name -- I was generous there), Rachel Dawes in Batman Begins, Olivia in The Prestige, and Ariadne in Inception. One of them dies in a later film, and one "dies" in a dream, one is almost a Whore, and one barely has a name.

+ Of the 6 women who are wives in Chris Nolan movies, only Barbara Gordon survives her movie. Of the other 5, 4 commit suicide.

+ Of the 8 women who die, 6 are inarguably cases of fridging. Remember, "fridging" means killing a woman off solely to give the main male hero a reason to angst. The two wives in Memento match this profile to a T, as do the two wives in The Prestige, Mal in Inception, and Rachel Dawes in The Dark Knight.

But fridging is obviously only part of a larger problem in Nolan's cinescape. Recent studies have shown that women get only about 30% of the speaking roles in films and tv shows, despite making up half the population. In Nolan movies, only 23% of the named roles are women. I haven't the wherewithal to examine the percentage of speaking roles that belong to women, but I'm guessing that it's not many.

Again, let me be clear that I am a fan of Nolan. I belive he's a visionary. But speaking as a woman who watches his movies, I find myself longing to see someone like me onscreen, who doesn't die horribly. I want to believe that he is better than this. I want to believe that he just hasn't been challenged on it yet.

Consider this your gauntlet, Mr. Nolan.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Thaumatrope twit-fic

My 140-character story about the Big Bad Wolf has been published by Thaumatrope, a Twitter magazine for Sci-fi, Fantasy, and Horror fiction! Check it out!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Inception's plot, summarized in handy graphic

Credit to dehahs on deviantart. I love it when the universe of a work is rich and deep enough to inspire creativity in others. Judging from the amount of fanart and fanfiction that I've seen already on the Interwebs, Inception is definitely one of those works.

San Diego Comic-con: the Nerd-Herd rideth

Through the infinite kindness of friends, I was able to get a) a free all-weekend pass to the San Diego Comic-con, and b) a free place to stay while down there. All I had to pay for was the plane ticket, transportation and food, which, I'm still living on ramen for the rest of the month, but ENOUGH OF THAT REAL-LIFE WHINING. To the con report!

I missed Thursday night, unfortunately, and thus didn't catch Tron, The Walking Dead, or the Avengers panels. Boo. My plane landed around noon and I got to the con at 1:30 or so. After picking up my pass I went straight to get in line for "The Joss Whedon Experience," which started at 3:00; but when I got there the line was so long that it wrapped from one end of the convention hall to the other. Security told me point-blank that I wouldn't get it. This was my first brush with The Doom Ballroom. A warning to future con-goers: if you're seeing any show in Ballroom 20, get in line three hours in advance. I never tried to see anything in Hall H, but I suspect it comes with the same warning.

Suffering that early defeat, I wandered out onto the exhibition hall and immediately regretted that life decision. It was terrifying! I've always had a problem with crowds but HOLY JESUS, this was bad. Honestly the biggest problem wasn't even the sheer number of people, it was that people would stop to take pictures of the Halo soldiers squad, or the Slave Leias, or a Big Daddy from Bioshock, and the clumps of picture-takers would swell like tumors as more people stopped to see what the excitement was about. I had decided at the last minute not to take my digital camera with me as I haven't got the money to buy an SD card and thus wouldn't have been able to take many pictures anyhow. I had planned to buy a disposable camera; but at the con I resolved against even that, and instead put my head down and slogged through the crowds. If you want some better pictures than I could have took, here's a good set.

I headed back upstairs for more panels, dropping in on the "Spotlight on Stan Lee" for some batshit ramblings--most disorganized panel I saw, but charming in its own way--including Stan Lee's history of writing "romance stories" and how he got his start as an office bitch in his wife's cousin's publishing company. An interesting tidbit to me was the details of how the Comics Code got started: it was all really due to Dr. Frederic Wortham, a psychiatrist who wrote about the harmful effects that comic-book violence and sex had on children, and was quoted as saying, "If I should meet an unruly youngster in a dark alley. I prefer it to be one who has not seen Bonnie and Clyde." Dude was really scared of kids.

I slipped out of that panel halfway through and rather abruptly ran into Zachary Quinto, aka Spock in the new Star Trek, rather randomly hanging out in the hall taking pictures with fans and signing autographs. He was unexpectedly tall, but just as good-looking. Probably sensing the oncoming nerd-herd of fanboys and girls, security whisked him away before I could get any closer. The security down there was kind of ruthlessly effecient, yo.

I continued on to "Graphic Novels: The Personal Touch," with Gabrielle Bell, Howard Cruse, and Jillian Tamaki. It mostly told me stuff that I already knew. I left some samples of A Teenager's Guide and Nevermore with the panelists, then left the con to forage for food. The surrounding restaurants were, surprise surprise, ridiculously pricey. The Gaslamp District was full of steakhouses and lobster houses and the like; if you're at SDCC and trying to eat cheap, be prepared to walk a ways up 5th Street (the street that the convention hall lets you out onto). If you go up far enough there's pizza by the slice and a Subway, or if you get all the way up to Broadway then take a left and walk two blocks, you'll find Horton Plaza, a big mall with plenty more options including a Panera where I ate a very good breakfast on Monday. Basically, bring good shoes and expect to walk a ways for your cheaper lunch.

Heading back to the con, I went straight to get in line for the "Girls Gone Genre" panel, which was the best life decision I made at the con. GREAT panel, featuring women from many different sides of the entertainment business: Felicia Day, Kathryn Immonen, Laeta Kalogridis, Marti Noxon, Melissa Rosenberg, and Gail Simone. Annalee Newitz, the EIC of I09, moderated. They talked a bit about being women in their respective fields, and had very different reports. Marti Noxon called Joss Whedon "a bigger woman than I am," and had a very positive, even sheltered experience writing on his shows; Melissa Rosenberg definitely had met some resistance and was usually the only woman and least-paid member of a staff. A very interesting comment that several of them made was that they were not taken seriously if they were at all "glamorous." If they showed up in a dress their opinions were brushed aside; but if they wore sweats and didn't wash their hair, they'd be listened to in the writing room or wherever they needed to convince men to hear them.

Kathryn Immonen gave Marvel credit for several initiatives that had brought in more female writers, and scoffed at accusations of "stunt casting" on the creative teams of books. Laeta Kalogridis was once fired from Bionic for "not writing women well," and was replaced by a male writer; yet Jim Cameron is her biggest mentor and ally. Gail Simone initially passed on Wonder Woman because she didn't want to be the chick writing a chick book, but she says now that she doesn't write for one or the other, she just tries to write good stories. They all agreed that the idea of writing specifically for female or male readership is pretty ridiculous. Kathryn Immonen reported that in certain sections of the comic book industry, "female readers" are synonymous with "non-readers," and Melissa Rosenberg reported that it's always a shock to movie studios every time that a product is driven by women, like somehow they forget that women exist in between those peaks of involvement. On the subject of a Wonder Woman movie (they were all frothing at the mouth for one), Laeta said that while movie studios want a star to drive up box office, that's a mistake: superhero movies don't need star because the character is the star. Melissa is launching her own production company called "Tall Girl Productions," geared towards female-friendly projects.

After the panel was over, there was a huge giveaway of books and sweatshirts for Marti Noxon's next project I Am Number 4. (I tried to read the book that it's apparently based on, but it was pretty bad. Concept was cool, but the prose was awful. Here's hoping she can translate it better to a different medium.) The hoodie giveaway was a nightmare: all the boxes were stacked at the back of the room in one location, which created a huge tumor of panel-goers all trying to get a shirt. After watching in horror for a bit, I took action and climbed up on top of the box mountain, ripping them open and throwing hoodies out into the crowd. It was kind of awesome, the best part of which was when Gail Simone--in an elegant dress and hair do-dad--elbowed her way through for a hoodie. I said I'd trade one for a hug; she obliged and I told her she was an inspiration. She asked what I was inspired to do and I said "write comic books!" and we engaged the High-Five before I returned to Hoodie Mountain.

(It should be noted that the entire time I was waiting for and in this panel, my friends Kristen and Lauren were waiting for the True Blood panel in the Doom Ballroom. After waiting in line for 2.5 hours, they didn't get in. SERIOUSLY. Ballroom of DOOOOOOOOOM.)

After getting dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe with some of the boys from the Dark Horse booth, Kristen, Lauren and I headed back (passing director Edgar Wright on the way) for "Worst Cartoons Ever." And dear God, they were so bad. This is a long-running panel, so if anyone goes again, DO NOT MISS IT. Aside from old crowd favorites like Mighty Mr. Titan, there was this one...the one with the monkey. That's all I can call it. The title was actually something like Experimental Animation, and Jeff Beck, who was emceeing the panel, said it would give Guillermo Del Toro nightmares. He wasn't kidding. It was the creepiest shit I've seen all year. Everytime you thought the creep factor was at 10, it went to 11. I can only hope that they show it again next con, because the crowd freaking loved it, even as we were cringing backwards in our seats.

I started off Saturday bright and early with the "Marvel Comics Writers Unite!" Which was actually something of an accident on my part, but turned out to be an awesome accident because Matt Fraction! Does anyone else out there know the awesomeness of Matt Fraction? I will confess I walked away with something of a boycrush. Dammit, he had scruffy hair and snarky wit and a skinny black tie and nerd spectacles and big leather bracelets on both his wrists and spent the entire panel staring at the table in front of him rather than making eye contact with the audience, even when he was being witty and fanboying the other panelists. He also mentioned having a daughter and how much that has affected his desire to write strong female characters, because he knows that he and his wife will raise her to be an independent thinker and if he writes exploitative crap he'll have to answer for it one day. In other words, precious! I wanted to put him in my pocket and take him home with me. I'm only human, dammit! Gonna have to look up his stuff now.

Next was "Spotlight on Gerard Way," which was kinda underwhelming. Besides Way, Scott Allie and Gabriel Ba were on hand, but no one really had too many new projects that they could talk about. Way called himself lame and said that he couldn't talk about the movie at all. They did confirm that Killjoys is coming out next year for sure, as is Way's album with his band. There was a cute moment when a little boy in the audience presented Way with little Lego versions of The Umbrella Academy characters, and he admitted that he gets so shy when people do that or when they cosplay his characters. They all wanted to see someone do a Spaceboy cosplay. The umbrella represents protection, Way wants to see Gary Oldman as Hargreeves and Jared Leto as Kraken, he and his wife had a geekout over Joss Whedon the night before, and if Gerard ever wrote The X-Men, he could only do it if the cover read The Motherf'ing X-Men.

After that panel ended I braved another trip into the exhibition hall to visit Artist's Alley and try to network a bit, then swung by the Dark Horse booth to check up on my peeps. It was super-crowded so I jetted, but I was told later that during the Gerard Way signing that transpired shortly after I left, one girl was so excited to see him that she spontaneously started bleeding from the nose and mouth. The Dark Horse peeps did their best to take care of her, but she apparently had to lie down on the floor of their booth for a while. Which, whoa. Also later that day, someone got stabbed with a pen. There were all sorts of rumors about this flying around the con, including an inter-fandom argument between zombie-lovers and Harry Potter fen in which someone's eye got gouged out, but the truth is that two grown men got into an argument during the Resident Evil panel about one sitting too close to the other, and one of them stabbed the other near the eye with a pen. I can't even qualify that with a joke.

ANYWAY. Kristen, Lauren, and I went to the "Queer Press Grant Roundup Panel." The folks behind Prism Comics are giving out $2,000 to encourage LGBT comic book creators. I'm totally going to try for this! This is exactly what I need.

After that I warily headed toward the Doom Ballroom. Miraculously, there wasn't a line for once and I slipped into the end of the Fringe panel. I don't watch the show but the cast seemed absolutely charming, especially Joshua Jackson. Whenever someone asked them a question, they would respond and then someone on the cast would come up with a trivia question; if someone in the audience got it right, they got a free shirt; if they got it wrong, they got a free shirt anyway. One of the questions pertained to the secret ingredient of some kind of compound used on the show, and Joshua Jackson was all, "Hey, I've got a great hint for this!" before taking a sip of water and leaning close to the mic to burble it between his lips. The audience member guessed marijuana and Jackson chirped, "You win a t-shirt! And a five to fifteen year prison sentence!" Like I said, charming. I should really watch that show.

The next panel in the Doom Ballroom was "The Vampire Diaries," which I do watch and was thoroughly excited for. Most of the cast was there, and were hilarious. For some reason I didn't take notes on this one, so I'm relying solely on memory. Nina Dobrev and Paul Wesley were gorgeous and immaculate while Ian Somerhalder looked like he'd just had sex in a broom closet. Which, come to think of it, Matt Davis kind of did, too. Make of that what you will. Davis and Steve R. McQueen sat at the end of the table and spent most of the panel snickering at the others, particulary at any comments that could remotely be construed as dirty. Writer Julie Plec described them as "Beavis and Butthead." Somerhalder said he hates playing scenes in which Damon is being a good guy; he doesn't know what to do with himself (which probably works for Damon). McQueen wants a girlfriend who doesn't die. They confirmed that we'd be seeing werewolves then played an exclusive sneak peek at next season, which mostly consisted of people stabbing each other and Damon telling Stefan that he kissed Elena and Damon making out with Katherine (OR ELENA?) and then Katherine telling Damon that she didn't love him, then her telling Stefan that she DID, and Stefan telling her that he hates her and then her GUT-STABBING STEFAN, and H'OH MY GOD, YOU GUYS, IT IS ON. SHIT IS GONNA GO DOWN AND KNOWING THIS SHOW, THAT'S ALL FROM THE SEASON-OPENING TEASER.

Ahem. Annnnnyway.

Next up the girls and I went to "Gays in Comics: Year 23!" As a quick aside, I've heard that Westboro was protesting the con; apparently they did it Wednesday, the first official day of the con, so I missed them. I'm strangely regretful about that. From the sound of it, the counter-protests were awesome. Most of this panel was devoted to talking about developments and the expanding roles of gay characters. An audience member came up with the best question of the night: do people feel like it's important for gay characters in comics to actually come out and say "I'm gay," or is it enough for it to be strongly implied? Some of the panelists (the straight ones, actually, not that I don't feel like this could be a valid viewpoint) felt that it's not important for us to know right away that a character's gay, and that a person's sexuality shouldn't be their defining characteristic; Howard Cruse, the godfather of gay comics, though, raised the excellent point that the default assumption for all characters--and for society at large--is that everyone's heterosexual, and for us to be able to find one another requires some identification. I fall into the latter camp, but I acknowledge the former as the ideal scenario. We shouldn't have to identify ourselves becuase it shouldn't have to matter; but until it stops mattering to the Westboro Baptist Church, we're going to need to speak up if only so that we can find and support one another. That's my .02 cents.

Got up bright and early to brave the Doom Ballroom with Lauren for Glee. We spent probably two hours in line, and got in at the end of American Dad, which I really wasn't too happy about. I had always known that Seth MacFarlane was something of a smug prick, but wow. He's a monumental smug prick. He and the other panelists started making fun of the people who were coming up to ask questions. One guy had a monotone and MacFarlane asked him if anyone had ever told him he had a robotic voice, then answered the question in a robot monotone. I'd feel worse for the fans if they weren't a bunch of pricks, too: as we were hanging out in line a guy in a makeshift 300 costume walked by and one of the American Dad fans yelled sarcastically, "Yo, way for half-assing your costume, dude!" It was like a bunch of frat boys invading a Magic: The Gathering party. I wanted to summon the Nerd-Herd Security Squad and have them thrown out.

Flip that whole vibe around and that was the "Glee" panel. Ryan Murphy was there, as was Chris Colfer, Amber Riley, Heather Morris, Kevin McHale, Jenna Ushkowitz, and Naya Rivera. (No Mark Salling, though he was scheduled. Alas! Hope he didn't get sick or something.) Before the cast came out they rolled a highlight reel of season 1; the crowd loved all of it, but especially Burt Hummel's anti-"fag" speech. Everyone kept bursting into spontaneous applause and yelling, "That's right!" and "I love you, Mr. Hummel!" The cast were lovely. Chris Colfer was wearing a Transformers t-shirt and told us that he felt right at home as he is "a huge, awkward nerd" himself; he'd love to do "Time Warp" on the show, and Ryan Murphy teased us with the possibility of a Rocky Horror episode. Jenna is a Vampire Diaries fan as well and was in an actual glee club in high school. I want to be Amber Riley's friend in real life. They have the post-Super Bowl timeslot and will be doing some kind of tribute episode there. Oprah was scarier for them to meet than Obama. Next season will be more intimate with the characters and at some point we'll be seeing Mercedes go to church and taking Kurt along. Chris got veeeeeery nervous, all wide-eyed Bambi, so apparently that was the first time he was hearing about that one, too. I spent the whole panel waiting in line to ask a question: I thanked Ryan Murphy and Chris Colfer for their work then waved a threatening fist at the panel and demanded a boyfriend for Kurt. They promised that we'd see one soon but didn't give specifics, the buggers.

After that was over, we barely had time to eat lunch before the con started shutting down. Kristen, Lauren and I parted ways and I wound up sticking around the Dark Horse booth to help break everything down (usually they throw out everyone without an 'exhibitor' pass, but they had an extra one at the booth and so for the latter half of the day I was 'Brian'). My primary function was putting boxes back together and loading things up. It was long, exhausting work, but actually a lot of fun for me and my "must-be-helpful" instincts. The exhibition hall was almost nice without all the people packed in there. I wound up getting a Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Panel to Panel book that had a page torn out and was gonna be thrown away. One of the ladies organizing the company dinner invited me along and I wound up going to a very nice steakhouse/lobster restaurant right across from the convention center with about half of Dark Horse. Most excellent food, and marvelous company. Unfortunately I had to leave them before the party got into full steam, but such is the way of it.

In all, a fun but exhausting weekend. By the end of it, everyone was desperate to get home to their own beds, and Oregon water. Walking away from it, I'm most excited for the Vampire Diaries season premiere. SHIT'S GOING DOWN.