28 July 2014

Let's Twist Again! (where twist means blog)

Dear friends and any readers left of this blog,

After a lengthy hiatus I have decided to give up this blog. But not for the reasons you may think. I just want to branch out a little, and trivialities were getting kind of boring. But I'll still be blogging. I've developed a new blog with my good friend, Heather, and it's more observational and conceptual, I think. We just launched it today, and you can read it here:


I hope any lurkers around here will find it interesting. I know I let this site go by the wayside, and I am sorry. But this is a new beginning.

-Rob (I'll be R.R. over there)

22 November 2013

Audrey Hepburn, JFK, and Benny Goodman

Thanksgiving Break has officially begun. And it couldn't have started at a better time.

I've been sick most of this week (if not the whole month). Since my last blog post, I've gotten sick three times. It's been terrible. I have such a weak immune system, always have. And everything I've had to do as regards to school, activities, religious life, home life, etc. has been taking a toll on my health.

So today I sit before you (well, not really, my words do) and I will say a few words about things on my mind.

First: It's November 22nd, 2013. Fifty years ago, on that afternoon in Dallas...but of course you know the story. It's been referenced everywhere: the media, movies such as Parkland and JFK, countless documentaries, and history and English classes. Obviously I wasn't alive on November 22nd, 1963, so I can't really give an opinion on how extremely devastating it might have been (being, that is, the psychological implications of JFK's assassination) but I knowe ynogh that it was extremely tragic and shattered the idyll of America forever.

As you likely know, I'm obsessed with the period in American history around 1940 to 1965. It was a golden age in American history- the Second World War had just ended, Wall Street and the economy were back in business, everyone was happy and relieved, rock and roll reached its height, and fedoras. I love most everything from that era - the clothing, the music, the slang...

Of course there were some not-so-great things, such as the USSR and the Cold War. The devastation in Europe, Japan and elsewhere after the War was horrifying. As stated above, America's innocence and idyll was shattered. Camelot will never come again. There was still racism, sexism, and chauvinism (those last two are superfluous) in America at that time.

But not every age is perfect. Today's society is better than most ages in history, but it's not perfect either. We are besieged by an barrage of horror stories: crises in the Mid East, genocide in the Sudan, the unrelenting recession that's been going on for the better part of a decade, the terrible music (I'm so facetious here)...

But the 40's through the early 60's (after which hippies, drug culture, and platform shoes came on the scene, ruining everything) were a very awesome time. It started by dancing to the tune of jazz numbers by some of the greats (Count Basie, Benny Goodman, and Glenn Miller, to name a few) and ended with The Twist, Elvis Presley, and Buddy Holly. (I owe quite a bit to Buddy Holly - my glasses, hair, etc are a homage to him.)

And then movies! Movies weren't silent any more, hadn't been for a decade or so. But now some really amazing movies came out, the "Golden Age of Hollywood". Casablanca, Rebecca, Cyrano de Bergerac, pretty much any Marilyn Monroe movie (I kid, I kid...or am I?)...and of course, a true classic: Audrey Hepburn's Breakfast at Tiffany's.

I'm a fan of Truman Capote: In Cold Blood is one of my favorite novels and the movie that came out some years ago was very good. But Breakfast at Tiffany's is just amazing. It is one of the most unequivocal ironies of my life that I have not once read the original novella that Truman Capote wrote. But he did write the screenplay of the movie, and that was amazing. I can just picture myself being "Fred". :) it is a must see movie.

“I’ll never get used to anything. Anybody that does, they might as well be dead.”


27 October 2013

My Right Arm Is Complete Again!

I've just finished designing and fixing my Hallowe'en costume. It's gonna be epic.

I was originally going to be a mime, but the costumes were all sad and disappointing. I've had the idea since about fifth grade, when a family friend dressed up as a mime, and it was a really cool costume. However, she had made it herself and we just didn't have the time this year to do so.

So then I got to thinking. And so, lo and behold, for the fourth year in a row, I picked my costume from the Victorian/British Imperialism era. Behold...Sweeney Todd!

Photo Credit: impawards.com
It's going to be a very interesting costume. The last three years (four, if you count the Phantom of the Opera in 6th grade) I was the Mad Hatter, an Indian maharajah (think the evil character in Moulin Rouge), and a Victorian gentleman vampire. My favorite of these was the Mad Hatter. It was brilliant, elegant, powerful, and got lots of compliments. I don't think I've taken so many pictures with random strangers who were amazed.

So this year I'm a demon barber. Sweeney Todd, for all the sadly uninitiated, is the legend of a barber on Fleet Street who kills his customers maniacally. He arranges a deal with the pie maker downstairs, Mrs. Lovett, who sadly doesn't have enough money for meat. Suffice it to say that Sweeney need not worry about where to hide his bodies, and Mrs. Lovett didn't need to pay for meat anymore.

It's a gothically twisted story, and was a fixture in Victorian melodramas. Because, you know, Punch and Judy wasn't enough. (Once day I'll discuss Punch and Judy, the most amazing show in the world.) But then, as the Victorian age died out, in the Gay Nineties, so did Sweeney.

In the 70's, however, playright Christopher Bond rewrote the story into a play. Now Sweeney had a wife and daughter. A licentious judge lusted after the wife, imprisoned Sweeney in Australia, and kept the daughter while the wife killed herself. Spoiler alert: Sweeney returns, he kills the judge, his wife (who somehow survived, and he didn't know until afterwards), the judge's Beadle, Mrs. Lovett, and his daughter (no, the daughter survives.)

In 1979, the venerable Stephen Sondheim, who also made the amazing gem "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" made the play into a Tony-winning musical. The rest is history. In 2007, Captain Jack Sparrow Johnny Depp, Bellatrix Lestrange Helena Bonham Carter appeared in the film version, which was delightfully amazing.

But you probably knew all that anyway. :) But I do hope this year will be an epic year, on par with the Mad Hatter. But here, until the next post, I leave you with a playlist: the film's soundtrack, which has the songs from the original musical, a bit modified:


16 October 2013

Hanged for Theft

We decorated our house yesterday. My mother, a great fan of all things Hallowe'en, was extremely enthusiastic, but I guess we all were. It's Hallowe'en, man! *shrugs*

We have about four or five skeletons. Not that big, and obviously not real, just about 30-inch plastic skeletons. Last year my brother had the bright idea to tie a string to one's neck and hang it off the tree closest to the sidewalk. I don't know if people noticed, but they likely did.

This year, however, he took things to an even more grim, darkly humoristic sense.
"I'm becoming more like you, Rob, I swear."
"It's a good thing."  "Not really."

He did the sign in all of five minutes, while the rest of us were tying cobwebs to palm trees and much else. I suggested he redo the sign to say something more poetic and archaic, like:

Let it be Known that this Day, 
October 15th, the Year of our Lord 2013
A shameless Prisoner hath been Hanged from this Tree
For the unpardonable Vices of Theft, Larceny and Treason.
Let his merciless Ending serve as a Justly Warning
To any who would attempt such a treacherous Deed.

He wasn't up for it, though, he said he had no more cardboard or paint. Oh well. But it still would have been nice. If people could understand it. Maybe "Hanged 4 Theft" is a good sign, then. People can understand it.

What do you think? 


12 October 2013

NaNoWriMo 2013!

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, for all the uninitiated) is fast approaching, twenty days away to be exact. (What is NaNoWriMo, Rob? You write a novel in a month, the month being November, to take advantage of the terrible snowy stormy weather sunny, nice SoCal weather occasionally punctuated by rain and clouds, to write a novel. That's it. Read to the end of this post for me to teach you how.)

This will be the third year I participate in NaNo. The first two years have been very interesting to me. The first time I attempted this, I wrote a simple yet complex story about a group of teenaged kids and a mad professor who go island-hopping across the Pacific to find a pirate's lost legacy. I titled it "A Forgotten Legacy", it was 27000-odd words and is 107 pages long.

Last year I tried something more different. In standard Canterbury Tales fashion, I took seventeen (or eighteen? I'm still not sure) characters, made them tell stories to a narrator known as "The Interviewer" (well, actually, his name was Christian Harland, but The Interviewer sounds more ominous), and combined the stories. It was, stylistically, a disaster. Think LOST, combined with The Canterbury Tales, combined with something written by Borges, combined with a World History course. Yeah. I had characters referencing others that didn't exist, I had many unrealistic situations that at the time seemed perfectly plausible, and more.

That novel is unfinished. I technically "won" NaNoWriMo, I passed the 40,000 word goal I set, but the novel is unfinished. I wrote the novel out of order - big shocker - and that explains the plot discrepancies. Like the Canterbury Tales, it's unfinished and several characters have no story to tell. I even have one chapter where a character gets ready to tell his story, then nothing....until the next page where I continue with, "He finished his story. Christian stared at him."

Yeah, I'm not even gonna explain that. I got very insane towards the end. But the reason I chose the novel at all was to write short stories, stick a frame story in the interstices, and call it a novel. That's why I failed. (Though the short stories, the ones I finished at least, are pretty good, to be honest, to stand alone.)

But this year is different! My first year was simple, my second was too complex. I need a happy medium in order to make this year successful. I have a plot idea, already, not sure if I'll use it, but it's out there. It will tend to be philosophical. I've always wanted to write philosophy, mainly existentialism, because I'm a fan of existentialism. But we shall see, won't we?

(If you're interested in doing this, go to their site if you're an adult, and their other site if you're under 18. What's the difference? If you're on the adult site, you must write 50,000 words, minimum. As a kid you can set your word goal, that's pretty much the only change. You can set your goal to 100 words if you wish. :P)

The really neat thing about NaNo is the past couple of years, if you finish, you get a publishing offer from CreateSpace, where you can get 5 free paperback copies of your novel. I've gotten the offer both times but of course haven't done it. The editing's a nightmare. But this year, I will do it. Definitely. Third time's the charm, they say, but this time I will really try to get those copies. Ad astra por aspera.

One final thing: if you're interested: see how my younger self took NaNo last year. That was with the complex novel. Reading the advice I gave, no wonder I didn't finish it. Plus, it was my second ever blog post. :)


08 October 2013

The Ourang Medan Explained

Who's ready for a ghost story? :) It's October, and remember, I wish to set a mood, since Halloween is imminent and it is my favorite holiday.

This "ghost" story is unverified, though I wouldn't be surprised if it was real. That being said, let's begin!

The year is 1948 (some accounts say 1952 or 1947). There is a ship, The Silver Star. It's an American US Navy ship, and it's posted in Indonesia with other ships, off the coast of Medan, an city on Sumatra, in Indonesia.

One day they, and some other ships in addition to Dutch radio outposts, receive a distress call from the ship SS Ourang Medan, an Indonesian ship (Ourang Medan means "The Man from Medan".) The distress call goes as follows:

“All officers including captain are dead lying in chartroom and bridge. Possibly whole crew dead." [morse code follows] "I die." 

Silence followed this grim message. Shades of terror. So the Silver Star intercepts the Ourang Medan over the sea and the crew gets on the Medan. Their gaze is met by dead men: the entire crew of the Medan is dead, frozen in horror, with their facial expressions contorted into fear. But the one thing they had in common was that all the crewmembers' arms stretched towards the sun.

The crew went down. All along the hold, the captain and his men lay dead, just like the rest. However, the most disturbing part was that the boiler room, which should have been over 100 degrees (think: it's a boiler room on a humid day near the Equator) was extremely cold. Many of the Star's crew shivered as they walked around the inside of the ship.

The worst was yet to come. As the Star's members attempted to investigate further, a fire broke out in the depths of the ship (nitroglycerin and other chemicals mixing with seawater have been blamed) which prevented any more investigation. As the Star sailed away the Ourang Medan sunk beneath the waves, never to be seen again.

The reason this story is so haunting is because of its uncertainty. The story first appeared in a newspaper in 1952. Many magazines since have reported the story. Yet many have tried to locate the ship's registers and records and have been unsuccessful. Lloyd's Shipping Registrar, a ship register that is fairly comprehensive and who should have had the Ourang Medan listed, does not have it. Other contemporary records during the time don't mention the ship.

Many explanations have been given for the Ourang Medan, including UFOs, methane and nitroglycerin gas, cannibals, and mass suicide. I won't go over them here, but I hope you realize and can appreciate the extent and uncertainty of this story. It's certainly disturbing. Perhaps that's why many don't believe in it. Do you?