Lights from Salem

Musings and thoughts of a traveler and armchair linguist on his journey through the ups and downs of life.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Tristan's List of Movies and Books of 2013

As usual at the beginning of the year, I recap the list of books I read, and include a little review, if appropriate.

The asterisk (*) by the author’s name indicates those were exceptionally good books.

This year I'm including some new twists: I'm going to list the best book I read in the fiction and non-fiction category, and I'm also going to include the movies I watched, all with the same self-imposed “rules” and “features” of the list.

As always, these are books I read this year, not only just books that came out this year. Most of them were written ages ago, some of them centuries ago.

None of the movies I watched were made centuries ago, however.

These are all my opinions, and these lists are mostly for my amusement, and for the occasional two or so requests for recommendations of books to read that I get during the year.

Some conclusions:

-Robert Heinlein had a brilliant imagination and was a great story teller. This is not, however, the same as saying he was a great writer. His characters and dialogue have aged horribly, and I wonder if they sounded hokey even at the time they were written.

-Seems I hit the spirituality books a little hard this year. Sweet. 

Books I Read in 2013

1. Abyss, The by Orson Scott Card; based on screenplay by James Cameron*
a. Excellent – As much a novel as a supplement; fleshes out story perfectly

2. Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan*
a. Sublime. From all of the elements in it, I should not have enjoyed this book. And yet it was perhaps the richest and most fascinating book I read this year. It’s the kind of book that makes me want to write. The second two books in its trilogy are very nearly equal to it.

3. American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History by Chris Kyle, Scott McEwen, Jim DeFelice

a. Good, a little too homegrown for me, but haunting to read due to his untimely death.

4. Bankei Zen: Translations from The Record of Bankei by Peter Haskel (translator); Yoshito Hakeda (editor)*
a. Sublime – Clear, beautiful, to the point. From the East, but so clear it can be easily accessed in the West; old, but has lost none of its freshness.

5. [Title removed at publisher’s request]*
a.  Small but powerful.  If you read this book, it’s because it has found you, not the other way around.

6. Broken Angels by Richard K. Morgan*
a. Sublime. Dense, though at times a bit confusing. The second book in the Takashi Kovacs trilogy.

7. Brother of Sleep by Robert Schneider*
a. Very good, magic, lyrical.

8. Calvin and Hobbes Lazy Sunday Book, The by Bill Watterson*

9. Clear in Your Heart: The Radiant Mirror of Self-Shining Awareness by John Wheeler*

10. Dark Half, The by Stephen King
a. Good, kept the pace going, but ending between the Thad and Pangborn seemed abrupt.

11. Dirty Enlightenment: The Inherit Perfection of Imperfection by Peter Brown*
a. Very good though hardly a primer for his “field”.

12. Dismantling the Fantasy: An Invitation to the Fullness of Life by Darryl Bailey*
a. Sublime, Gentle, Poetic, Clear. This book breathes life.

13. Essence Revisited: slipping past the shadows of Illusion by Darryl Bailey*
a. Very similar to “Dismantling the Fantasy”. The clarity of Bailey’s words remains excellent

14. Hannibal by Thomas Harris
a. Good – Dark and sexual.

15. Hannibal Rising by Thomas Harris
a. Ok – Felt unrelated to the Hannibal series, far-fetched and forced. Weakest of the saga.

16. In The Land of Invented Languages: Esperanto Rock Stars, Klingon Poets, Loglan Lovers and the Mad Dreamers Who Tried to Build a Perfect Language by Akira Okrent*
a. Very Good, nice intro to the history of conlanging.

17. Inferno by Dan Brown

18. Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton*
a. Very Good – Well-paced, exciting, dark. Second time reading it: First novel I had ever read; I originally read it in third grade.

19. Key to Rebecca, The by Ken Follet 

a. OK, slow until the last 70 pages or so. Before then I had considered giving up on the book.

20. Life Above All Else by Gilbert Schultz*

21. Light Behind Consciousness, The: Radical Self-Knowledge and the End of Seeking by John Wheeler*
a. Very good, though not as good as “Awakening to the Natural State”

22. Longest Day, The: June 6th, 1944 by Cornelius Ryan
a. Good, well-written, interesting German points of view

23. Look for Yourself: The Science and Art of Self-Realization by Douglas E. Harding*
a. Sublime – Some of the clearest pointers in the West on so-called Eastern spirituality.

24. Lost World, The by Michael Crichton
a. Second time reading it. Originally read in grade school.

25. My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf*
a. Very good – cinematic and well-developed portray of Dahmer as told by someone who knew him when he was a teenager.

26. On Having No Head: Zen and the Rediscovery of the Obvious by Douglas E. Harding*
a. Excellent, clear, friendly: An excellent book on spirituality.

27. One Good Thing by Preston M. Heller*
a. Very Good; occasionally a bit heavy-handed and in need of an editor, but overall well-told.

28. Op-Center by Tom Clancy, Steve Pieczenik
a. OK, slow-paced yet felt rushed.

29. Open to the Source: Selected Teachings of Douglas E. Harding by Douglas E. Harding, Richard Lang (Editor)*

30. Orders from Berlin by Simon Tolkien
a. OK, interesting premise but a bit dull and predictable.

31. Reason for God, The: Belief in the Age of Skepticism by Timothy Keller
a. Good and Challenging; Good book to have in one’s arsenal to discuss conservative Christianity

32. Red Dragon by Thomas Harris
a. Good – Good story, okay writing.

33. Red Planet by Robert A. Heinlein
a. OK – Quite aged and characters act corny.

34. Ruins, The by Scott Smith
a. Good, dark, hooks you in.

35. SEAL Warrior: Death in the Dark: Vietnam 1968-1972 by Thomas H. Keith and J. Terry Riebling
a. OK; fascinating but author’s voice was a little too macho for my taste.

36. Secret Window, Secret Garden by Stephen King
a. Good, Surprisingly suspenseful and satisfying.

37. Silence of the Lambs, The by Robert Harris
a. Good – Interesting story, good characters, okay writing.

38. Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein
a. OK – Dry and Plodding.

39. Suffer in Silence by David Reid*
a. Very good, almost documentary-like. Plot is fairly thin, but fascinating and very well-written.

40. Walking Dead, The: Vol. 17: Something to Fear by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Cliff Rathburn and Tony Moore*

41. Walking Dead, The: Vol. 18: What Comes After by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Cliff Rathburn and Tony Moore*

42. Weirdos from Another Planet by Bill Watterson*
a. Very good – imaginative and touching, as always

43. Woken Furies by Richard K. Morgan*
a. Very Good – The slowest paced but the most complex of the Takashi Kovacs novels so far. 

Best book of the year:

Fiction: Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan

Nonfiction: Dismantling the Fantasy: An Invitation to the Fullness of Life by Darryl Bailey

Runner up: All of the books I read by Douglas Harding.

Movies I watched in 2013

Along with the reviews, I'm going to include what I thought were the best features of the film, and what it might get nominated for if the Academy Awards were run by me.

The ones with this goofy looking thing (§) mean that I saw it prior to 2013, but watched it again in 2013, which is the first year I started making a movie list. 

On some of the movies I did not include the years they were made.  My list has evolved over time in terms of detail, but I don't always go back and fix the past shortcomings.

1. 13th Warrior, The (May 2013) (Okay)
a. Good visuals, bad character development. Nice depiction of language learning

2. 42 (April 2013) (Very Good)*
a. A bit clichéd, but some good photography and an excellent performance by (and make-up job on) Harrison Ford.

3. Act of Valor – 2012 (October 2013) (Very good)* §
a. Macho and propagandistic, but exciting, interesting and full of excellent cinematography.

4. Babakiueria (March 2013) (Very Good)*
a. Surprisingly funny, effective, and cutting satire on aboriginal/European POVs. Very recommended.

5. Battleground (Jan 2013) (Good)
a. A slow but well-told story about a group of American soldiers during the Battle of the Bulge, focusing on their psychology rather than on the fighting, similar to A Thin Red Line.

6. Beyond Thought (Awareness Itself) (Jan 2013) (OK)
a. A ho-hum documentary about the state of Awareness that is aware of all things.

7. Captain America (June 2013) (OK)
a. Good, but flawed and a little shallow.

8. Captain Phillips – 2013 (October 2013) (Excellent)*
a. Suspenseful and well paced. The last 5 minutes are some of the most moving ever filmed. My nomination predictions: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Hanks), Best Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Sound Editing.

9. Conjuring, The – 2013 (October 2013) (OK)
a. Had some creepy and suspenseful moments but was too formulaic.

10. Contagion – 2011 (October 2013) (Very good)*
a. Suspenseful, cold, stark. Focus more on the situation instead of connecting with any characters. Some good cinematography.

11. Croods, The (April 2013) (OK)
a. Boring and clichéd. Some funny moments but very very few.

12. Cropsey (December 2013) (OK)
a. Interesting documentary but somehow unfulfilling.

13. Debt, The (May 2013) (Very Good)
a. Good plot twists, good acting.

14. Devil’s Double, The – 2011 (October 2013) (Very good)*
a. Disturbing and dark. Dominic Cooper’s performance is unbelievably excellent.

15. Die Brücke – 1959 (July 2013) (Very Good)*
a. Well-told; brave enough to show some realistic violence.

16. Django Unchained (Jan 2013) (Excellent)*
a. Excellent action/comedy/drama. Arguably Tarentino’s greatest film, second only to The Inglourious Basterds. Christoph Schultz gives an excellent performance.

17. Ender’s Game – 2013 (November 2013) (Good)
a. Fairly faithful, but felt rushed and lacked the depth and heart of the book. Predictions: visual effects.

18. Event Horizon (April 2013) (Good) §
a. Clichéd but spooky and intriguing haunted house story in space.

19. Everest: IMAX – 1998 (October 2012) (Good) §
a. Good photography, as always with IMAX.

20. Fire in the Sky (May 2013) (Okay)
a. Interesting story, but a bit boring.

21. Flight (2012) – December 2013 (Very Good)*
a. Well acted, well directed, excellent crash scene.

22. Frighteners, The – 1996 (September 2013) (Very good)
a. Surprisingly good dark comedy.

23. From the Earth to the Moon (June 2013) (Good)
a. Good but not as interesting as I’d hoped.

24. Good Day to Die Hard (Feb 2013) (Poor)
a. Disappointing, hollow, half-baked, terrible character development. The weakest entry in the series. The car chase was the very entertaining, though.

25. Gravity – 2013 (October 2013) (Very good)
a. Very suspenseful and very straight-forward story telling. Very interesting that finally space is portrayed as completely silent. My predictions: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress (Bullock), Best Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Visual Effects, Best Sound Editing, Best Art Direction-Set Direction, Best Editing

26. Great Gatsby, The [2013 version] (June 2013) (Good)
a. Energetic: Possible Oscars: Art Direction/Set Direction, Costume Design, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Direction, Editing

27. Hobbit, The: The Desolation of Smaug – 2013 (January 2014) (Very good)*
a. Bleak but superior to first film. Less campy. Nominations: Visual Effects, Sound Effects, Sound Effects Editing, Art-Set Direction, Costume Design

28. H. H. Holmes: America’s First Serial Killer – 2003 (November 2013) (OK)
a. Interesting tale, but rather blandly told. A bit cheap-looking.

29. Hangover, The: Part III (June 2013) (Good)
a. Funny, but the weakest. Nevertheless, nice to see the formula changed a little bit.

30. Hellbound: Hellraiser II (March 2013) (Okay)
a. Good make-up effects and set pieces, but felt more like a couple of chapters rather than a stand-alone story.

31. Iron Man 3 (May 2013) (Very Good)
a. Slightly darker, good, but not the best in the series.

32. Jurassic Park* (April 2013) (Excellent) *§
a. Classic film, and 3D looks surprisingly good.

33. La vita è bella (Life is Beautiful) – 1997 (November 2013) (Good)
a. Good and touching. Slap-sticky, but still magical.

34. Lawless (Feb 2013) (Good)
a. Good, but didn’t live up to expectations. Tom Hardy did very good voice work.

35. Life of Pi, The (Jan 2013) (Good)
a. Very good adaption…My predictions: Best Picture, Director, Cinematography, Editing, Visual Effects, Adapted Screenplay

36. Lone Ranger, The – 2013 (July 2013) (OK)
a. Entertaining but long and a bit drawn out. Good use of scenery. Possible nominations: Visual Effects, Sound, Sound Effects Editing, Art Direction/Set Direction

37. Man of Steel – 2013 (June 2013) (Good)
a. Nice back story, fun to watch, and moments of brilliant cinematography, but a bit disappointing. Predictions: Visual Effects

38. Master, The – 2012 (July 2013) (OK)
a. Interesting look at Scientology, but very slow moving. Excellent performances, however.

39. NeverEnding Story, The – 1984 (Good)
a. Famous movie, but acting and effects, and probably overall feel, are best left for children. Still entertaining though.

40. Now You See Me (June 2013) (Very Good)
a. Fascinating and smart. Good twists. Possible nominations: Director, Cinematography, Visual Effects, Supporting Actor (Woody Harrelson).

41. Oblivion (April 2013) (Very Good)*
a. Surprisingly good and moving. Haunting; great special effects, cinematography, sound and acting.

42. Others, The – 2001 (October 2013) (Very Good)*§
a. Brilliant ghost story, excellent acting, especially from the children. Great cinematography.

43. Perfect Vagina, The (Jan 2013) (Good)
a. Interesting reporting on how some women are opting for plastic surgery on their vulvae to make them more “idealized”.

44. Psycho – 1998 (October 2013) (OK)
a. A remake of the original 1968 version. Some chills and suspense but felt hollow. Excellent cinematography, however.

45. Red Corner – 1997 (November 2013) (OK)
a. Interesting; listening to the interpreters was the most interesting part.

46. Red State (May 2013) (Very Good) *
a. A bit confused and heavy handed, but mostly well-done and surprisingly dark.

47. Rescue (September 2013) (Good)
a. Well-shot, but slow IMAX documentary.

48. Rescuers, The (March 2013) (Very Good)* §
a. An old, dark Disney classic. Brought back nostalgic memories of music and art work from the children’s book and tape that were adapted from the movie. With gunshots, kidnapping, skulls with diamonds in them and scenes of children putting on pajamas, its interesting to wonder how the MPAA would rate it now.

49. Ring of Fire – 1991 (November 2013) (OK
a. Good, but expected more of a geological documentary rather than a presentation of life in that area.

50. Rosemary’s Baby – 1968 (October 2013) (Very good)
a. Good acting and a disturbing ending.

51. Ruins, The (May 2013) (OK)
a. Good adaption: decent B-suspense/horror.

52. Se, Jie (Lust, Caution) – 2007 (November 2013) (OK)
a. Well acted, but dragged.

53. Serenity (March 2013) (Very Good)
a. Very good, not quite perfect, moving finale to the series “Firefly”.

54. Session 9 – 2001 (November 2013) (Good)
a. Beautiful use of locations. Not terribly original.

55. Silver Linings Playbook (March 2013) (Very good)
a. Touching comedy/drama. Sensitively portrays a family’s frustration about mental illness. Jennifer Lawerence’s character is very fascinating.

56. Sinister (March 2013) (OK)
a. Interesting horror film. A little too clichéd but still created an atmosphere of suspense; had some jumps; gore was mostly suggestive.

57. Species – 1995 (October 2013) (Boring)
a. Dull and fairly unoriginal. Considering the list of some good actors, everyone gives a flat performance. Best features were some of the designs by H.R. Giger and the actresses’ attractive body. Made me really wonder if it was made to cater to some kind of fetish.

58. Spectacular Now, The – 2013 (September 2013) (Very Good)
a. Very well done and un-clichéd. Possible Oscars: Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay

59. Star Trek: Into Darkness (May 2013) (Very Good)*
a. Happy to hear Klingon used and see Kronos, even if it was just a brief scene.

60. Sum of All Fears – 2002 (September 2013) (Good)§
a. Entertaining and suspenseful.

61. Talvisota (January 2013) (Good)
a. A long, but good tale of a group of soldiers during the war between Finland and the Soviet Union. Often slow, but well-acted. Directed at a Finnish audience, so some background on the war itself is useful before watching the film.

62. Ted (March 2013) (Good)
a. Great one-liners; not as funny as I’d hoped, but some hilarious moments.

63. Three Kings – 1999 (June 2013) (Good)
a. Good example dark humor and war.

64. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – 2011 (July 2013) (Good)
a. Layered, dense, worth re-watching

65. Valhalla Rising – 201? (November 2013) (Boring)
a. Beautiful cinematography, and artistic but mostly meanders about and drags.

66. Wolverine, The – 2013 (July 2013) (Good)
a. Interesting, fascinating introduction, but mostly action and light on story.

67. World War Z – 2013 (July 2013) (Good)
a. Nothing terribly original, but interesting look at a crisis on a global scale.

68. Zero Dark Thirty – 2012 (Feb 2013) (Excellent)*
a. Great film in docu-drama style. One forgets they are watching a movie and feel as if they are watching the real thing. Climax is genuinely suspenseful. One of the best-directed films of 2012.

69. Zwartboek – 2006 (August 2013) (Very good) *
a. A bit contrived, but an interesting WWII drama from a presumably little-discussed resistance group. 


Before publishing this, the Academy Awards published their list of nominees from 2013.

You can see it here.

I stand by my personal nominees though.  Over the years, I've become more and more skeptical of the Oscars.  I still think they are fun, but I don't take them nearly as seriously as I used to.

My next blog entries will be back to meandering and other nonsense, as usual.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Mugs Are In Danger Around Me

(Note: Written the night before)

So. This week I think I may have turned a corner. At the beginning of the month I started drinking soda again after a month of giving it up. Every time I do this, I feel fine but then miss the sweet taste of Coke or root beer or whatever, and then every time I drink it again, the joy is incredibly short lived as they taste more and more like the chemicals they are. This week I bought a Cherry Coke and a Cherry Pepsi. I finished the Coke but didn’t enjoy it like I had hoped. But the Cherry Pepsi I just couldn’t do. For some reasons my body just was not getting any sweet, sugary happiness from it and I dumped the last half of it into my roommate’s flower pot.

Maybe it is time to just throw in the towel.

On the topic of beverages, earlier this evening I went to a teahouse, my new favorite haunt in Austin, to translate a document for an organization I volunteer for. I made the mistake of ordering a tea that not only was disappointing in flavor, but also had such a high caffeine content I about jumped through the roof. At one point my hands were jittering so bad I nearly spilled my glass. Had I succeeded in spilling and breaking the cup it would have been the second time within the space of a week I’ve knocked over and destroyed a drinking vessel. However, in the case of the first one it was a mug in the shape of a mason jar that I knocked over with my hands. I was in my room and thought I saw something move out of the corner of my eye, which in fact turned out to be nothing. But in the process of moving, my flailing hands hit my plastic mug and sent it flying of the desk and smashing across the floor.

This would be the second time I’ve broken this model of jar, so now I'm on my third mason jar mug. I guess if I were a drinking device, I would not want to be around me this week.

There were very few pieces to clean up, but it only drove home the point that I really do need to clean my room, as it looks like a tornado hit, and then crashed on the couch for a week. So that will be my task for tomorrow before I go home to Nebraska for Christmas.

The weather has finally started to pick up temperature-wise, which is good news for my sissy reptilian-esque core body thermostat. Also, Operation Meet People has been going well too, after seeming like it dropped off earlier this…well I about said winter but in fact it would be late fall when the weather decided to become treacherous, and my mood became reclusive.

My roommate asked me if I was excited to go home. I told her I wasn’t really, but that in fact I rarely get excited about anything. This is something I’ve never understood, but it’s never been a problem in my life. I suspect it’s a bit like my inclination towards introversion: for most of my life I thought something was wrong or missing from me, that I was somehow mis-constructed or lacking, when in fact I just liked being on my own. There’s no quicker cure for what’s wrong with you than discovering that there is, in fact, nothing wrong with you, despite what others might say.

So when I tried to think about what I do get excited about: seeing a movie or reading a book I’ve been looking forward to, or seeing a friend I’ve missed for years, I guess there is more of that. But when it comes to my family, there is something different. Maybe it’s just a matter of becoming more independent.

It does not mean that I am not happy to go home, nor does it mean I don’t look forward to it. It just means that I see it as something that is coming, and accept it as such. I felt the same when I went to the Peace Corps or to Germany or to teach English in Prague. There were moments of excitement, and a general happy anticipation, but mostly just a contemplative curiosity or acceptance.

I have made no New Year’s resolutions this year. I didn’t last year and I did admirably, so this year I expect an equal amount of resounding success. But I am keeping not only a list of books that I’ve read, as usual, but this year I also started keeping track of movies I’ve watched, so you can expect to see that. I have stopped caring so much about what the Acadamy Awards thinks, so I am going to include what I think were the best movies, at least out of what I saw, and I have yet to see all of the Academy Awards movies of the past year, but as a general rule I avoid musicals anyway.

So I’ve spoken my piece tonight. Nothing terribly profound I would gather. Unless you consider smashing dishes poetic, I would hazard this hasn’t been my most moving work yet. But I’ve written it and I had a half-way decent timing doing so, and now that my caffeine buzz is fading into ether, maybe I shall, too, for the evening.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

And So, A Warm Farewell to November

Austin has been cold these past couple November weeks.

Till just recently, the grey weather has sat unmoving in the sky like a meditating stone and the stillness has seeped down into the trees and the buildings and the grass and certainly it has affected me.

It comes has no real surprise, then, that my energy level has been fairly low, although it gets like this at this point every year.

The weather affects my mood, it subdues it and makes me more melancholy.  However, I do not call this depression.  Depression sucks the life out of you.  Melancholy is more like a dense buzzing of energy, like the contemplative embers after a fire.  After the blaze burns out, they stand guard to keep you company.  And in my case (and in that of many others) it's where much of my creativity seems to lie.

I have found the pursuit of happiness to be too exhausting and disheartening, in a world of constant flux and change.  I have also found pain to be a wonderful teacher, and see that it can be seasoning to life, something that adds flavor and a bittersweetness to it.  In this sense, pain need not be an enemy, and it need not be a source of suffering.

And it seems appropriate since, true to the flux of Life, this is a time of flux for Tristan.  But this melancholy feels more like a cocoon of change rather than a hinderance.

A new roommate recently moved into the house I'm sharing, and my inner cat came out, in that I mostly barricaded myself in my room for three days while I got used to someone new sharing the same tiny space after months of just two people at home.  This is just another way to adjust.

Lest this note sound too somber, this is not a case of me sitting in a pool of self-pity at all.  This is more an deeper appreciation of how to see the world, and to look at it with as little judgement as possible.  To see it for what it is, and to see what I really am.

To see what we call pain in the world and realize that perhaps, that does not have be to be a source of suffering, but just one aspect of a deeply nuanced life.  To look at the feelings that move in me, and the thoughts that move in me, and no longer view them as the be-all, end-all of life, it is welcoming of everything, unconditionally.

A celebration of life is not a celebration of happiness.  The sky does not celebrate sunshine over dark clouds or night.  The sky welcomes it all and what needs to happen happens.

For life flowing through human beings, is it any different?

If anything comes from this post, I hope it is that just because something doesn't feel happy doesn't mean it is wrong for that time.  What if happiness is not the same as joy, or bliss, or peace?  Life plays many tunes.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Intense Conversations

Apparently I am incapable of having relatively light small talk.  When I've spoke with people, many of them say they enjoy talking about deeper things (whatever that may be in their case: religion, science, politics, or what-have-you) but say how at work they engage in small talk.

Which is fine, except for when I've engaged in small talk, I've been told it's intense.

I don't know how to mold this talking around.  When I meet someone new I often am extremely curious about them and have always seen this as flattery, although over the years I have come to see how it can make people uncomfortable.  So I try to hold off on such an approach till I know someone better.

But this intense curiosity still leaks through usually without my own being aware of it.

For those of you who don't know, I moved to Austin in very late July.  I tell people I moved here in August because that feels more honest.  But then I feel like I've lied to them so the next time someone asks me I say July.  I should just say "late summer" and let them puzzle over it.

So far I have found employment working as a valet driver at a hotel downtown.  In fact I have found I love working with people.  I discovered that while teaching English.  But while speaking with guests gets me plenty of small talk practice, the topics get old and plain and feels like it's going to flake away, like badly painted wood.  I walk away starved for conversation.  Such conversation I can find with some of my co-workers.

I should make clear that I no longer see this intensity as a bad thing, or a draw back.  It arises in what is Tristan, the same as my preference for red over orange arises.  It's not something I have control and is neither good nor bad.  I know that I don't use it to hurt people, and I think that's the main thing.

I have made a couple of friends in the city and spending time with them has helped me ease into this new location, for which I am thankful.

Really, though, even tougher than thinking of small talk conversations isn't the toughest thing for me at the hotel.  That would be seeing young couples together.

It's nice to be in a city around people my age.  It can be frustrating, too.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Musings on a Podcast about Love in the PC

Yesterday I was listening to an episode of PRI's The World in Words, a podcast dedicated to language- and international-related news from around the world.  I am chronically out of date, sometimes years behind on podcast episodes, so the idea of using them to stay up on current events is a bit of a joke for me.

This particular podcast was meant to be heard in February of last year, I believe.  And the topic was love: words for love in other languages, stories of internationally-crossed lovers and things of that nature.

What got me particularly interested was when they started talking about the Peace Corps, which readers of the blog will know, I served with in Peru back from 2008-2010.  In the segment they interviewed RPCVs and had them tell their love stories.  One statistic that was given was that 3/4 of all PCVs fall in love or get engaged or married to another PCV (and in some cases, nationals of their host country).

And while listening to the podcast, I felt how Cupid had apparently dodged me again.  I was surprised how much it stung.

It would not be quite accurate or fair, however, to say that I found absolutely no chances at romance of any kind in Peru: I was lucky enough to meet a couple of women who where interested in me.  However, timing was always off, so these possible would-be relationships were short-lived, precious though they were to me. 

As with most people when I was younger, finding a partner was the primary goal of my life.  I had other dreams of course, but if I only found the right woman, then that hole in my soul would be filled.  I would be complete and my life would be balanced.

Of course, that's a crock of shit, but it feels believable, and it caters to our physical feelings as well as the nonsense popular culture pushes on its victims.  But it's baseless: No person can fix another person, and what's more to the point, it's selfish to lay that responsibility on another person who has a life of their own.

As life has gone on, this need in me to find a girlfriend has died down quite a bit, or its matured away, as I've become more comfortable with myself.  But of course, it's still there to a much lesser degree.

For some reason unknown to me, the Fates, if there is such a thing have more or less given me a single person's life, where I look all around me and see people in relationships.  That has made some of the few romantic connections I've made in life to be extra sweet, and something I cannot take for granted.  And I would certainly say that's a good thing.  And perhaps why with many of those people I still am close friends with, despite the relationship having to change, usually, again because of timing (ie, leaving the country because my job there was finished, or because my visa had expired). 

It is quite possible that people have sent me messages that for some reason I've not seen.  I don't like the thought of that, but that's how humans work (or don't work, as the case may be).  And if that is indeed the case for anyone, I wish I could somehow give an appropriate apology and say that for some reason, I just didn't notice the signs.  That's probably of little comfort, but I can say from experience I know how it feels, and I wouldn't wish it on anyone.

In any case, listening to this podcast reminded me that, although I have grown to become much more comfortable with myself, there is still a yearning in me that feels that desire for a connection, for a relationship that isn't cut short by the fact one of us is soon to move on to another location.  And although by now it's often dormant in me, it never lets me forget that it is there.  Life is already precious, but (I imagine) it can take on a unique shade of wonder when shared.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Writing from Vacation

Dear Readers,

I recently took a much-needed vacation away from the lumberyard to visit a friend I made in the Peace Corps.  We hadn't seen each other in almost 3 years but had kept in touch via snail-mail letters.

Recently she invited me up to visit her in Colorado and participate in a 5K race she had helped organize.

The vacation has marked the first time I've been able to travel away from home for more than a day or so, and it has been like a breath of fresh air.

Since I last wrote in January I have been busy with work and I started studying for the GRE to go to grad school and study library science.  However, in the course of contacting librarians I started to see that librarianship might not be what I had originally imagined it to be.  Over time and with consideration, I have decided to not pursue this path.  I am currently looking for a more international or language-related profession, and while I have some ideas, I am not prepared to write about them here just yet.

I have also been making plans to move.  The fact is, as I've stated before, I cannot stay in my small hometown and find what I am looking for in life.  I need to move, I need to be in a city around people and opportunities who can help me point me in a direction, and quite frankly, I need to be around people my own age who I can have a social life with.  It is as simple as that.

To stay sane, however, I have continued with classes from the local community college, and am just on the point of finishing an intro to ASL (American Sign Language) course.  I have found ASL to be a beautifully expressive language, and when I move I hope to find a community I can practice it with and learn much more.  I doubt I'd want to be an ASL interpreter professionally, but I don't rule that out, and besides, it's a culture I'd like to learn more about.

Things are going well at the lumberyard, although it has been one of the most difficult jobs I've ever had in terms of work culture.  I have great respect for people who work in construction or hold blue-collar jobs.  They do the work that is dirty, uncomfortable, heavy, hard, and so forth.  But they are really the ones who make the world go around, at least in a very significant way. 

I've also learned something by being around them (and others, it's not just work related) on days when things are exceptionally challenging.  I feel that this is an important lesson and one that so many people miss:

If someone has upset you, it is more your problem than theirs, if you want to call it a problem even.  Often, people - be it coworkers, friends, family or whomever, will say or do something that hurts your feelings.

The pain is natural and I don't think it should be fought against.  However, if you hold onto it, that is  your problem.  And moreover, we are never exactly in the other person's shoes and so don't know why they said or did what they did to hurt us.  Often, I suspect, they didn't intend that way or even realize they had said something.  But even if they did, whatever caused them to be a pain in the bum is something they'll have to live with. 

I think this is quite liberating because it helps one to not dwell on why someone did what they did, and also, if you are not holding onto resentment, the energy feels like it flows more naturally and more healthily, to help heal any wounds that might have formed.

In any case, that's my wisdom for the night.

I wanted to add one more thing: Some readers (maybe even you) have left me messages.  If I don't get to them for a long time, I apologize.  I often write when I feel I have something to say, and lately that hasn't been very often. :-P  But as a result, I usually don't know when I get a message.  When I see one, I try to respond as soon as I read it.  I just found a way to get notifications when someone leaves a comment, so hopefully this will no longer be an issue.


Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Annual Books I've Read List

Dear Readers,

For the past two years at the end of the year I've included a list of all the books I've read in those past 12 months.  With only six and a half hours left in 2012, I thought it was safe to assume I wouldn't be finishing my novel this year, so I'm including my list now.

Also, starting in 2013, I'm considering doing the same thing for movies that I watched that year, or at least a recap of what I thought the best were.

So, without further ado, here is my list of my 51 books, with comments where I felt moved to write something about that book.  (CZ) means I read it while in the Czech Republic, and and as usual, books with a * symbol indicate books that were above average:

  1.  20 Something Manifesto, The:  Quarter-Lifers Speak Out About Who They Are, What They Want, and How to Get It by Christine Hassler  (CZ)* -(I'd recommend this book to anyone who is in their twenties or just about to enter them.  For people just trying to get on their feet, this book might just have something to offer.)
  2. Alien by Alan Dean Foster (based on screenplay by Dan O’Bannon)
  3. Atlantis Code by Charles Brokaw (CZ)
  4. Born on a Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant by Daniel Tammet (CZ) *
  5. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown
  6. Case of Need, A by Michael Crichton (writing as Jeffery Hudson)
  7. Catching Fire (The Hunger Games Book II) by Suzanne Collins *
  8. Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger by Stephen King - (I actually first read this book back when I was just in grade school or middle school, but it was so long ago that I felt like I needed to re-read it before I set out to read the series.)
  9. Dark Tower II: The Drawing of the Three Stephen King
  10. Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands by Stephen King
  11. Do It NOW! by J. Donald Walters
  12. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (first in 2005?), November 2012* (I first read this as a freshman in college, but I've come to start re-reading books I've enjoyed in the past, so I wanted to put this towards to front of my to-re-read list.  An amazing sci-fi novel, even for those who don't like sci-fi.)
  13. Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James (I was in Prague when this came out, and when I got back everyone seemed to be talking about it, so I read it to see what the big deal was.  It's not as good as everyone says, and it's not as bad as everyone says.  I won't bother with the sequels, though.)
  14. Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The by Stieg Larsson (CZ)*
  15. Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, The by Stieg Larsson (CZ)*
  16. Girl Who Played with Fire, The by Stieg Larsson (CZ)*
  17. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (CZ)
  18. Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker (CZ)
  19. Hunger Games, The (Book I) by Suzanne Collins*
  20. Langoliers, The (Novella in “Four Past Midnight) by Stephen King
  21. Mockingjay (The Hunger Games Book III) Suzanne Collins*
  22. Mysticism: Christian and Buddhist by D.T. Suzuki (CZ)
  23. No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama Bin Laden by Mark Owen with Kevin Mauer*
  24. One Essence by Sailor Bob (CZ)*
  25. Patriot Games by Tom Clancy (CZ)
  26. Resonance in the Heart by Gilbert Schultz (2x) (CZ, USA)*
  27. Rogue Warrior: Red Cell by Richard Marcinko (CZ)
  28. Spiritual Enlightenment: The Damndest Thing by Jed McKenna (CZ)* (This book is almost worthless for those seeking spiritual fulfillment, but I gave it an excellent rating because it actually is very entertaining.  I listened to the audio-version, which was excellently produced.)
  29. Teach Yourself Czech by David Short February 2012 (CZ)
  30. Thinner by Stephen King (CZ)*
  31. Ultimate Twist, The by Suzanne Foxton
  32. Walking Dead, The: Survivor’s Guide by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Cliff Rathburn and Tony Moore*
  33. Walking Dead, The: Vol. 1: Days Gone Bye by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Cliff Rathburn and Tony Moore*
  34. Walking Dead, The: Vol. 2: Miles Behind Us by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Cliff Rathburn and Tony Moore*
  35. Walking Dead, The: Vol. 3: Safety Behind Bars by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Cliff Rathburn and Tony Moore*
  36. Walking Dead, The: Vol. 4: The Heart’s Desire by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Cliff Rathburn and Tony Moore*
  37. Walking Dead, The: Vol. 5: The Best Defense by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Cliff Rathburn and Tony Moore*
  38. Walking Dead, The: Vol. 6: This Sorrowful Life by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Cliff Rathburn and Tony Moore*
  39. Walking Dead, The: Vol. 7: The Calm by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Cliff Rathburn and Tony Moore*
  40. Walking Dead, The: Vol. 8: Made to Suffer by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Cliff Rathburn and Tony Moore*
  41. Walking Dead, The: Vol. 9: Here We Remain by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Cliff Rathburn and Tony Moore*
  42. Walking Dead, The: Vol. 10: What We Become by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Cliff Rathburn and Tony Moore*
  43. Walking Dead, The: Vol. 11: Fear the Hunters by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Cliff Rathburn and Tony Moore*
  44. Walking Dead, The: Vol. 12: Life Among Them by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Cliff Rathburn and Tony Moore*
  45. Walking Dead, The: Vol. 13: Too Far Gone by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Cliff Rathburn and Tony Moore*
  46. Walking Dead, The: Vol. 14: No Way Out by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Cliff Rathburn and Tony Moore*
  47. Walking Dead, The: Vol. 15: We Find Ourselves by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Cliff Rathburn and Tony Moore*
  48. Walking Dead, The: Vol. 16: A Larger by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Cliff Rathburn and Tony Moore*
  49. Why Men Don’t Have a Clue and Women Always Need More Shoes by Allen and Barbara Pease (CZ)
  50. World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks
  51. You Are No Thing by Randall Friend* (The book of the year on my list.  By far one of the most sublime books I've read, and also one of the shortest.  This obscure little title will be read by few, but for those who find their way to it, it might change their life completely.)