Monday, October 30, 2017

Stranger Things 2: That's a Relief!

Last week saw the much-hyped and long-awaited return of last year's surprise Netflix hit, Stranger Things. A critical success that was also insanely popular, the show is a sci-fi thriller centered on three nerdy, on-the-cusp-of-adolescence boys who are searching for their missing friend, and the mysterious girl with strange powers who appears in town one day. When we watched the show last year, we loved it, even my kids, who didn't get all the 80s references the way my wife and I did (and why would they? They didn't live through it!). The show was fun, provided some genuinely scary, tension-filled moments, and, most of all, had those kids. They were cute. They were sweet--and sassy. They had great chemistry and believable dialogue. Even where some of the characters ventured into the realm of cliché (the rich, pretty boy jock; the indifferent parents; the nerdy science teacher), you could mostly roll your eyes and let it go. It was a fun ride.

I approached the second season with trepidation. My experience with series, whether it's television, books, or movies, is that they eventually fail. Sequels--and with the title Stranger Things 2, the show's creators branded this like a sequel instead of a continuation--rarely live up to the quality of the original. Happy Days jumped the shark. Twin Peaks lost its way for much of its second season before David Lynch pulled it out of the fire late in its original run. The X-Files collapsed beneath the weight of its ever-expanding mythology, and Orphan Black, which I admittedly have not seen since early in its third season, was threatening to do the same. So I was a little worried about what might happen.

My worries were magnified after the first episode. It started with high action, introducing new characters, then seemed to lapse into too much scene setting, too much catching up. I understand the need to do that; even in this age of always-available shows and binge-watching, showrunners can't assume everyone's going to do this. Still, it seemed a little slow and pokey, a little unfinished. As the end credits rolled and the Netflix counter ticked down to the next episode, I wasn't really sure I wanted to go on. But I did, and I'm glad.

We watched another episode that night, then a couple more the next day, and a couple more the day after that. We will possibly finish the season tonight or tomorrow. And despite the obligatory romantic entanglements that seems like an industry standard, one episode where it seemed a character figured something out way too easily, and one episode that really felt like filler to me, my fears were misplaced. The show quickly found its groove. It felt like the first season in tone, it's provided plenty of thrills and humor, and it's allowing the characters most central to the show--the kids--to grow. And it's done it all without feeling like a straight-up rehash of season one. Stranger Things has not jumped the shark.

Do you watch Stranger Things? How are you liking this new season?

[EDIT: 10/31]: Jemi's comment makes me realize I asked the wrong question. Consider this also: How do you feel about the continuation of some well-loved series/franchise? Have you ever been pleasantly surprised? Deeply disappointed? Thanks!

Monday, October 23, 2017

The Lure of the Shiny

The good news? This isn't a post about politics, or Harvey Weinstein, or anything really unpleasant. The bad news? I don't know. Maybe it's not bad news at all. In fact, there really isn't much news at all.

Saturday was a good day for writing. I am now heading into the final hundred pages of the RiP. I'd love to have this back in Agent Carrie's hands on November 1, but that may be a bit of a tall order. I'm not the fastest writer in the world, and there's still some rejiggering to do, but progress!

While I was getting myself organized Saturday morning I had myself briefly tempted by the lure of the shiny--appropriate, since one of the chapters I was working on involved a father-daughter fishing expedition. Whilst searching through my papers trying to find a section I had rewritten (as much as it's a waste of paper and a consumption of rather expensive printer ink, I really like to have a hard copy for rereading/editing; it's much more fun to mark up), I found a printout of an outline I had sent to Carrie for the WiP last year--and gazed upon it with all the longing an eighth grade boy feels for his first crush. I wanted nothing more than to dive back into that manuscript, which is going to need one hell of a lot of work before I can even consider sending it to Carrie. It must be time to start working on it, those characters have been creeping back into my brain.

What is it about the new that is so attractive? I really like the RiP--again. And it had a nibble last year, which means someone at a publishing house really liked it, too. That glimpse of words with my main character's name on the WiP, though, was almost enough to make me say, "I can work on both of these at the same time; go for it!" I'm not sure I can, however, and it may not be wise to try it, though in truth, rewriting one thing and reading/making editorial notes on another are not the same thing, and require different parts of the brain muscle.

I've often said that the way I keep motivated is that I want my stories published, want someone to read them, and that the only chance of that happening is to finish what I start. Now, I can add this to the Kick-in-the-Pants toolbox: Want to work on that new shiny? Finish that thing you've been working on for weeks/months/years.

How do you resist the lure of the shiny new thing?

Music! I think I've posted this one before, but maybe not. It's on my mind lately, for reasons I can't explain. It never made it onto an official studio record, but if it had, it probably wouldn't have sounded as alive as it does on this rehearsal. Enjoy!

Monday, October 16, 2017

And Here We Are Again

Stop me if you've heard this one before. A man holds a position of great power and influence. He's at the top of his field, the top of his company. He rubs shoulders with the rich and famous and influential. He is rich and famous and influential. With a word, he can make or break careers.

And he is a sexual predator.

This week, it's Harvey Weinstein's turn in the spotlight. Last year, it was Donald Trump's. Before that, it was Bill Cosby's. The list is long and it stretches back forever, and I can tell you this: in the coming weeks, Hollywood will almost certainly be rocked by reveals of other predators amongst their ranks. Producers, directors, stars, casting directors: I expect we're going to be hearing a lot about men who have been using their power to make women miserable (yes, there are tales of men being harassed, too, and that is terrible, but the board is tilted far the other way).

The question is, "What causes this?" What causes a man to decide that it's okay to greet a woman in a hotel room while wearing nothing but a bathrobe, or demanding she watch him shower, or masturbate in front of her? What makes a man think it's okay to make what is essentially a job interview into a quid pro quo, I'll give you this job if you give me that job kind of thing? Are these men--the Harvey Weinsteins and Donald Trumps and Bill Clintons and Cosbys and Louis Mayers of the world time bombs of predation that will go off sooner or later, regardless of where they are and what they do, or are they products of power, corrupted by knowing they have so much control over another person's destiny?

The good news--in as much as there can be good news in all of this--is that women are becoming emboldened, are starting to speak out. Now we have to figure out a way to stop this from happening in the first place.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Sorry to see you go, Tom

I don't remember exactly when I first heard Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. I do remember back in junior high school, having an acquaintance who was fast on the way to becoming one of my closest friends talking Petty up enthusiastically--along with other bands I had not yet heard of, like Elvis Costello, The Pretenders, and Rockpile. Shortly thereafter, I was walking around with the organ riff from "Don't Do Me Like That" on auto-play in my head.

I was not a fan the way my friend was--is, but I certainly liked what I heard. I saw Petty for the first time at Madison Square Garden in the mid-80s, backing Bob Dylan. The Petty & the Heartbreakers segment of the show was miles above the Dylan segment. (though Petty had certain vocal stylings similar to Dylan--hello, singing through the nose--the key difference was that Petty sang so you could understand him. Dylan almost seemed to go out of his way to be incomprehensible.) I didn't see him in concert again for more than twenty years, by which time the band was (incredibly) past thirty. And while the show never felt like some tired, "We're in it for the money here's a bunch of oldies for ya" thing (the band was promoting a new album at the time and played four songs from it during the set), you knew every song. And they were all good.

After forty years, Petty was apparently planning to call it quits on the major touring and was looking forward to spending more time with the family and doing...well, whatever it is rock stars do when they 'retire'. This usually involves a quiet period followed by an unexpected album and tour. Sadly, we'll never get to see that. Thanks for the memories and music (and those goofy appearances on It's Garry Shandling's Show).

In Other News...

Yes, I'm going to get political. The Trump administration continues using "religious freedom" as cover for its assault  on "others." Last week saw the announcement of new rules allowing employers to not offer contraceptives/birth control as part of health insurance based on religious or moral objections. Never mind that this impacts some 55 million women, and will likely result in a huge uptick in unplanned pregnancies and abortions (at least until the GOP finds a way to overturn Roe v. Wade and brings us one step closer to the Christian Sharia they seem to crave). Meanwhile, last week the Department of Justice has taken the position that civil rights laws don't apply to transgender people from discrimination at work.Now, this would be fine if  the DOJ's position was that Congress should take action to extend that protection, but what's the likelihood of that? And what's the likelihood that this Congress would do such a thing? Yeah, that's what I thought.

And, still sticking with politics--in the wake of the horror in Las Vegas this week, I have come up with a way to actually get something done on gun control: convince Trump that the second amendment was written by Obama. You'd see an instantaneous shift in the meaning of "Repeal and Replace."

Happier News...

Louie DeBrusk was a high energy, low-skill player in the NHL whose best season saw him score eight goals for the Edmonton Oilers in 1992-93. What endeared him to fans wasn't the 24 goals he scored in 401 games, it was his willingness to fight. DeBrusk racked up 1161 penalty minutes in his career, fighting 214 times.

Jake DeBrusk is Louie's son. He is not his father. A highly skilled player taken in the first round of the 2015 draft, Jake made his NHL debut with Boston on Thursday night, and provides a feel-good moment in a week that desperately needed feel-good moments (stick with the video):

A priceless moment.

One last bit of hockey news for my Australian reader(s): On Saturday night, Nathan Walker became the first Australian to play in the National Hockey League--and soon thereafter he became the first Australian to score a goal in the National Hockey League! Congratulations to Nathan! [EDIT] I meant to include this, but forgot: the Australian Ambassador to the United States is...Joe Hockey. No kidding!

That's all I got. Let's hope this is a better week. How are you all?

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Reading List, 2017 (Part III)

Amazing that we're into October already, isn't it? Here's the list of books read and completed between July and now--have you read any of them?

The Good Life (2006), Jay McInerney. Unintentional re-read. I did not like it nearly as much as I thought, and I can't remember what I thought of it the first time.

The Returned (2013), Jason Mott. A TV show was based on this, but apparently not the one I watched, which was French and based on a movie that had no relation to this except the title and the broad concept. It seems there's a bunch of films/TV shows/movies called "The Returned" that all have dead people coming back, not in a Walking Dead kind of way. I really liked this one.

Cancer Ward (1969 edition), Alexander Solzhenitsyn. The toughest part of reading Russian writers? The patronymic! Thus, everyone is Oleg Filimonovich and Pavel Nikolayevich and Ludmila Afanasyevna. Good book, though.

Into the Water (2017), Paula Hawkins. Strong follow-up from the author of The Girl on the Train.

Dream Hoarders (2017), Richard Reeves. Non-fiction work looking at the growing separation between the top 20% of Americans and the rest of us.

The Wild Palms (1939), William Faulkner. I reached the end and said, "WTF???"

Amagansett (2004), Mark Mills. Murder in the Hamptons, post-WWII. Ultimately disappointing.

The Winter People (2014), Jennifer McMahon. Promising start that kind of fell apart in the last third.

The Shock of the Fall (2013), Nathan Filer. Schizophrenia makes for unsettling but effective narrator.

There it is. Nine books read, one a re-read. I note that, aside from Cancer Ward, which was a monster, most of these books were pretty thin in terms of page count.

In other news

... I had a good weekend of working on the RiP (huzzah! This revision has been difficult)

...On Wednesday last week, our high temperature was 85. On Thursday, it was 65. Fall has arrived (though we've effectively had no rain for three solid weeks now).

...Hockey season starts this week, yay!

...Though the Bruins could be a disaster this year. Boo!

Finally, the song of the week. Neil Young's After the Gold Rush. What have you been reading lately?