Monday, December 27, 2010

RESOLVED: cats are adorable

Normally I don't do New Year's resolutions, because I think they are hokey and also kind of pressure-making, which might be the point. But ever since I've started making daily to-do lists (about which, more later), I've reconsidered it, for what is a New Year's resolution but a to-do list for the entire year? So I've made a few very basic resolutions which I think I can complete, and am sharing them online, because I have heard that nothing makes you want to stick to a resolution like sharing it with the "blogosphere." OK here goes!

1. Write in this blog at least 50 times. This works out to one post a week, roughly, which seems do-able. Of course I am not going to say "post every Friday" or something because that's just setting myself up for failure. So maybe sometimes there will be two posts in one week or weeks without one, and that's okay. This is where having a dedicated specialized topic for my blog would help, but oh well, that's not the way I roll.

2. Write at least five short stories. Again, this doesn't sound very impressive, until you realize that I only wrote two short stories this year (and one was flash fiction), and a whopping zero the year before. I'm never going to be as prolific as some people, but if I can sound like sort of a jackass, I kind of think I have a fairly low crap-to-noncrap ratio. Instead of a dozen awful novels on my hard drive, I only have two, and I don't think one of them is very awful at all. I don't write unless I feel I truly have something to say, and while this leads to some very long droughts, in some ways this is better than having a billion words to pare down and refine. Perhaps it is not a good idea to even put a hard-numbered short story writing goal on this list, considering that I've proven that I can't possibly stick to the writerly maxim of "write every day," but I feel five stories is more than achievable even with my scattershot output, and even if I only get three, well, that's better than this year or the year before or really any year except 2005, which was a freak year in so many ways which I will not get into right now.

3. Do everything in my power to get a driver's license. I can't control whether I will pass the test or not, or whether my eyes will even be good enough to get a (restricted) permit. But I have to try. If all goes well with the eye doctor next month, I'll take my knowledge test the next day, and then on to state-mandated driving classes. If things don't go well with the eye doctor... I find another eye doctor (or a surgeon, since implanted contact lenses are something I want to do eventually anyway, this is the final excuse). Maybe I'll get another half-dozen failures on my permit, but I doubt it; I kind of think driving will be a lot easier for me this time around thanks to Vitamin R.

4. Write another zine. No way this one won't get done. It is on the list so I can have at least one goal on this list which is sure to be achieved. HA! (P.S. Obligatory distro link drop.)

There are of course other things I hope to achieve, like getting a part-time job, and making some more friends in Maryland, but those aren't really things you can put a benchmark/timetable on like you can writing projects. "Make five friends/receive 12 callbacks from potential employers?" That's just silly. Besides, as this is my first time making New Year's resolutions, I figure it's better to start small, sort of like I did with the to-do lists.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas is a time for nitpicking TV shows

Well, Christmas is almost upon us. I really don't get the logic behind holding a festive holiday in the worst season, and as such I'm not a big fan of Christmas. Nevertheless, I did a little bit of decorating, picking up a bright pink tree at Target, which led the cashier to ask "what are you going to use this crappy little tree for, I mean look at this thing!" "Um, it's going to be my Christmas tree." She was incredulous, saying "oh no, honey, you want a BIG tree." But one of our cats likes to crawl up big Christmas trees, and anyway, they are a pain to set up and tear down. So, crappy little tree it is! (And yes, said cat has still managed to knock it over like five times, which is partially why there are no ornaments on it.)

I also attempted to make a gingerbread house, which was foiled when I managed to break the roof, and dinosaur-shaped sugar cookies, which I managed not to break, but did manage to eat within 24 hours after baking. I am not at all domestic, but Christmas can kind of be a way to pretend that I am.

Thanks to the magic of Hulu, I was also able to get into the holiday spirit this year by watching the Christmas episode of Sliders, a television show I appreciate both ironically and non-ironically (most of my TV watching is ironic, by the way). I don't think I've seen this episode since it originally aired. So anyway, inspired by Chris Sims' recaps of holiday episodes of Xena: Warrior Princess and Walker, Texas Ranger, I present the following recap of "Season's Greedings," the Sliders Christmas episode.

For those unfamiliar with the show--which I'm going to assume is almost everyone reading this blog--it follows four adventurers as they travel to alternate dimensions where small changes in history can lead to worlds either very similar to or very different from our own on "Earth Prime." In the first two seasons, this meant largely alternate history stories that were generally well done. In the third and later seasons, however, the alt-history pretense was dropped and it became just another CGI-laden adventure show which had a tendency to kill off characters for absolutely no reason.

The Christmas episode is near the beginning of the third season, which means that it's only alt-history in the flimsiest sense ("what if... everyone lived in a mall... in the SKY?!"), but is not as horrible as the episodes that come after a certain character, Prof. Maximillian Arturo, is killed off. That character is played by John Rhys-Davies, a classically-trained scene-chewer better known by most nerds (neeeerrdss!!) for playing Gimli the dwarf in Lord of the Rings. I don't really remember his part since I slept through most of Lord of the Rings.

ANYWAY. This episode is Arturo-centric, which means that already it was destined to be at least a moderately entertaining episode. After escaping a world of jealous "pygmies" (their word, not mine), the Sliders decide to give thanks at a denominational chapel, where they arrive just in time to help a woman abandon her baby. The Professor ignores his own Prime Directive and vows to find the mother, and takes the gang to a mall suspended on a cloud in the sky. Now, you'd think that a civilization which has learned to defeat gravity would do more with this technology than stick malls into the sky for absolutely no reason, but perhaps I'm expecting too much realism from a show about interdimensional wormholes.

At the mall, the Sliders bemoan this world's consumerism, which actually doesn't seem much more brash than our consumerism. The alt-mall is not really that much more flashy or decadent than any real mall around the holidays, and as it was filmed in a real mall, there's a fair amount of product placement, making the complaints about consumerism (and later, subliminal advertising) a little hypocritical.

You can't pay for housing or food with cash on Debit Card World, so the team gets hired to work at the mall by Wade's (the cute, petite lady Slider who you shouldn't get too attached to, because yeah...) alt-sister Kelly, whose hairstyle and shoulder pads are imported from alt-1987 (unless part of the alternate history here is that Dallas never went off the air). On an exposition walk-and-talk, the mall manager describes the debt-slave setup of the mall, where you can be fired and kicked out of your mall-provided housing for not spending enough money. This is illustrated by a scene where someone is reprimanded for saving money, which again, doesn't seem all that outrageous if you know anything about the history of company towns. Or maybe it's supposed to be an obvious parallel?

More outrage over this world's rejection of the true meaning of Christmas in favor of rampant consumerism follows, as Arturo (playing Santa Claus) bores the greedy children of Debit Card World with morality tales, until he spots Carol (oh, brother), the baby-dumping woman from the first scene. She, however, manages to fend him off with a janitor's cart pushed strategically in his path. Arturo then decries this as one of the worst worlds they've landed on, which seems a little rash considering they have already landed on a world that's a giant prison, and a world run by J. Edgar Hoover. But that doesn't hold a candle to forgetting the true meaning of Christmas.

The conspiracy B-plot deepens, as Quinn (for the newbs, he's the boy genius who invented sliding) and Arturo find out that Carol is a debt-slave, and Rembrandt (comic relief/everyman character) becomes addicted to shopping through subliminal advertising. Quinn then preaches to alt-Kelly about the artificiality of Debit Card World's Christmas. Case in point: they don't even use real Christmas trees! Of course, I don't know anyone who DOES use a real Christmas tree, and it wouldn't make any sense to use a real tree in a mall anyway. But I guess this is supposed to demonstrate Earth Prime's moral superiority over other dimensions, with our subtle, understated celebration of Jesus' birthday.

We're then treated with more first-class acting by Rhys-Davies, who tries to guilt Carol (oh, brother) into taking back her baby by recounting his mother's death in the blitzkrieg, and the terrible abandonment fears he now has, which is ironic if you remember that he abandoned his own son. Or maybe the writers just forgot that bit of character history. This is the third season, they just didn't care. The C-plot, involving Wade and her alt-family, chugs along. That plot isn't very interesting.

The crux of the mass consumerism and debt slavery is revealed to be the subliminal advertising in the commercials, which isn't really subliminal advertising since the messages are on the screen long enough for you to see/read them consciously, and anyway, subliminal advertising doesn't work and especially wouldn't work on a large scale. Again, I'm nitpicking at a show about interdimensional travel. But it's a lot easier to get me to suspend belief over something that just doesn't exist than to believe in something that's been proven NOT to exist.

Anyway, it's Sliders to the rescue, as Carol (oh, brother), Quinn, and Wade break into the mall president's office and randomly pound on his computer keyboard, which as we all know from 1990s sci-fi, will get you into any computer security system, no matter how guarded. Meanwhile, Arturo continues to indoctrinate the children of Debit Card World with his tales of the real meaning of Christmas. He self-righteously tells the mall president that his reign of consumerism is over now that children have been instructed about “true values,” showing that Arturo has perhaps too high an opinion of most children's attention spans. Seriously, these kids aren't going to remember being told a Christmas story by John Rhys-Davies, no matter how classy his voice is.

Finally, there is a confrontation between alt-Kelly, Quinn, and the mall president, and Quinn socks the president in the jaw, since pretty much every season three episode had to end with some kind of fight or chase (there is also a short chase). Everyone convenes at Wade's alt-family's house for sappy songs and recollections.

Preachiness aside, this is a decent episode, especially considering that it's in the third season. If I do more of these sarcastic Sliders episode recaps, I'll have to pick a really awful episode like the Dune or Island of Dr. Moreau homages.

Anyway, happy holidays, readers!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Sliding Into My Driver's License Permit Test

My computer has been broken for the past two weeks, which is why I haven't been posting here, or on my "real" Livejournal blog. Rob's computer doesn't have the same graphics software that mine does, so I can't draw the comics that I've been planning to post here or the new header for my distro site. My Corel Painter disc is around here somewhere, but damned if I can find it... and my computer will be back soon enough anyway (I hope!).

Last week I studied for my driver's license permit test. It was not so great. I'm a person who learns more by doing things than reading about things, and the driver's manuals are not interesting reading in the least. Kinda dry actually. I read through parts of them (especially the parts about turning) several times, and I still think they could have done with a few more illustrations. Or maybe a narrative. "The Maryland Department of Transportation Presents: Learning to Drive: Starring Captain Caution and the Stop Sign Kid: A Graphic Novel."

Anyway, Maryland's DMV has a section where you can take practice tests comprised of questions from the real knowledge tests. I set a benchmark for myself: if I could take four perfect tests in a row, I am prepared to take the test. (I don't know why it's four, it just is.) The site said that if you had read the driver's manuals, you would be well prepared to take the test.

Not really! Maybe it would, if the questions themselves weren't so confusing. Like this:

Q: What is the best way to avoid an accident?

A. Search ahead for hazards.
B. Keep your eyes on the road.
C. Take a swig of your beer, it will help you concentrate.

It seems that B would imply A; however, after taking the test a few more times and memorizing the answers, A was the right choice. And there were several questions like that, where it could have easily gone one of two ways. So I wound up failing most of the practice tests, which sent me into a tailspin of self-recrimination because oh my god am I really this dumb? and well I am a 29-year-old taking a driver's license permit test WTF is wrong with me?? and I will never be a real adult. And then making plans to move to Montana long enough to secure residency because they have the most relaxed driving test in the country. You just have to, like, back out of someone's driveway and you pass. Or so I've heard.

I'd planned to take the test yesterday, but the poor test results made that seem impossible. So yesterday instead I took some more practice tests and... I passed. Several times in fact, although I didn't get 20/20 four times in a row. Now I'm shooting for next Thursday as the "big day." I still have a long way to go to get a driver's license (60 hours in a car with someone, classes, and passing the practical test), but the permit is the first step toward showing that I'm serious about driving and thus real adulthood. It's important to me to get this license before I'm 30. Mostly because, as weird as I feel about taking a permit test when I'm 29, and being in classes with people a decade younger than me, it's going to be that much stranger if I'm 30 and doing those things.

Otherwise, I've been spending this week putting up roughly a quadrillion auctions on Ebay and decorating for Xmas, normally my most-loathed of all holidays, but I put up some decorations anyway. I've also been watching first- and second-season episodes of Sliders on DVD, which was my favorite show in junior high, but lost me when it stopped being an alternate history show and turned into Farscape. This is an example of how weirdly uneven my SF fandom is: despite reading/writing a lot of SF (although less now than in the past), I watch almost no sci-fi TV shows, and in general I don't like science fiction movies. There are some exceptions, like the aforementioned Sliders (although I don't think I'd have watched it if it had premiered even two years later), and original Star Trek. Oh, and Lost, which I watched in its entirety over the past few months and have mixed (but generally positive) feelings about. I didn't even see Star Wars until I was 21. I think part of this is that like a lot of girls, I didn't spend my childhood watching those things and pretending to be Luke Jaywalker or whatever with plastic light swords, so when I watch them as an objective adult, I can only see the rubber alien masks and ho-hum, standard Hero's Journey storyline. Watching these Sliders episodes supports this theory, because even though I can see how objectively awful the show is, it's still enjoyable to me.

Or maybe other adults don't see Star Wars et al as objectively-awful-yet-enjoyable. Maybe I am just a jerk who is totally making fun of something you hold near and dear to your heart! Deal with it, nerds!!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

38 hours in philadelphia

So last week I went to Philadelphia for two days. Despite being a native Pennsylvanian, I'd never been to Philly, except for the block that the yearly Philly Zine Fest is held on. Pittsburgh tends not to like Philly, and vice versa. We think they're practically New Yorkers, they think we're a cowtown. After being in Philly, I think this latter pronouncement might be true. Philly is really, really big! /childlike amazement

First we (the friend I was staying with, a new acquaintance, and me) went to the Mutter Museum, the museum of medical oddities. I had never realized before how large a fetus is. I'm almost certainly never going to have kids anyway, but man, just thinking about how large a fetus skeleton is makes my ovaries crawl up into my lungs. There was also a display of old medical equipment, including an X-ray machine for use at shoe stores to measure feet to ensure a proper fit. Oh, those wacky 1950s!

Afterwards we passed the park pictured in this post, which had a bunch of game-related statues. Then we went to South Street, which reminded me a little bit of the South Side in Pittsburgh only BIGGER. We followed that up with a viewing of The Room (this is now the fourth time I've seen it, I think).

The next day, my friend and I walked around the Northern Liberties neighborhood and I became envious of the urban gardening there, some of it in very unique containers (see pic). I'm not very good at keeping alive things that don't claw and whine for their food and water, so I haven't done any gardening. Although I'm thinking about starting it up this next spring/summer, depending on if we live in our current house another year.

Damn, I really miss living in a city. Yeah, Baltimore is right next door to my town, but I can't just walk out the door and be in a city environment. The fact that I can't drive sort of accentuates this, since distances that "should" take twenty minutes instead take several hours of planning travel, waiting for the bus, waiting for the bus back, walking to wherever it is I'm going. Kind of a pain to do this unless you have a specific need to go into the city. And what with not having a job yet, I kind of don't.

So: Philly! I like it. Can't wait to go back (only two hours away on Megabus!).