March 19th, 2011

Berthold Run

My attention span, let me show you i...

So many books.

So many books I haven't read yet.

I'm surrounded by 'em, same as almost everyone I know. I know the wisdom of "Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested," so some of those books flit in and out of my existence quickly, others have stayed with me since before I was an adult. (Example: my handle-with-care-or-it'll-fall-apart copy of Neil Gaiman's Don't Panic: The Official Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Companion, first trade printing from 1987.)

My reading lately, however, has been slow. A lot slower than my standards. I try to read a book a week, or at least (to come close to that) four books a month. In 2004 I read 69 of them, though that was a year where I wasn't working anywhere near full-time. Since then, I've read -- let's see -- 52 books in 2005, 30 in 2006, 39 in 2007, 45 in 2008, 51 in 2009, and 45 again in 2010.

This year so far, in two-and-a-half months, I've read five. To be more exact, five-and-a-third, as I'm slowly whittling my way through the wilds of Dickens's Little Dorrit. GET FASTER, MIND. I want to speed up again, read and absorb all those words.

Part of it? There's been a lot on my mind beyond all those words. Also probably too much reading of online stuff, quick stuff, easy-to-digest short chunks. It was a relief recently that I started and breezed through a 450-page non-fiction book. Also, weirdly, reading a "quick read" of a book, say a Sue Grafton mystery, almost feels like cheating. Weird block to have. I can enjoy many lengths and thicknesses of books. I've done that before. Still, I can feel like it's taking me away from reading something weightier, that I'm devolving into reading Chauncey the Happy Corgi+. The point is, READ, CHRIS. It's possible.

(Interestingly, I got sympathy and understanding for my recent slowness from a friend who reads a book a day. "You're busy," she said.)

I want this to be a blip in my reading experience. A hiccup. I'll accept that most books won't get read by me, that I don't have to read them all. (I don't have to finish them either, especially when they're offensive pieces of crap.) Here's hoping that I devour more books than slog through them. My devour-to-slog ratio is still heavily weighted in favor of the devoured books, glad to say.

This is part of my attempt to regenerate my enthusiasm for reading. And my focus for it.

+ Not real. Also not related to my long-hoped-for children's book, Bandit the Rabid Schnauzer Goes To The Vet. (The audio book would be read by Jack Handey.)

And on the other side of the wall? The Ark of the Covenant. I'm sure of it.

I have survived my first foray into IKEA.

So THAT'S what everything looks like.

I wandered, I appreciated many many goods, I didn't buy meatballs (I somehow felt entitled to free meatballs and they weren't forthcoming, and my being cheap kicked in), and I was amused that a mirror was called "fräck," which I'll imagine is pronounced like the Battlestar Galactica swear word "frak," even though it's probably not. Help, anno_superstar? Oh, wait!


It means "audacious"! More now known.
NCC-1701 Nebula 2

And I waaaaaalked, I walked so far away...

More known! Portland International Airport, a.k.a. PDX, passes the test of "a place that someone could walk to and from."

See, to see different scenery, much like last Saturday, I got a TriMet upgrade so I could travel through all three zones, not just the central two I usually travel in, and Maxed out to the airport. I read, surveyed the mass of humanity moving through the main terminal, and noticed some of the bits the company I work for has built at the airport. (That includes the parking garage/office building next to the control tower, the canopy over Arrivals/Departures, and the hallway connecting the north and south concourses on the gate side of security.)

Then, having more time than money -- after using a little bit of gift money to treat myself to pizza and a Coffee People Mexican Hot Chocolate -- and wanting to know the lay of the land, I looked for a walking path to leave the terminal. Guessed that there wouldn't be one on the south side of the terminal, because the Max station's there, and there wasn't, from either the departures deck or the arrivals level. Nothing obvious along the parking garages, either. Then I reached the north end of the arrivals level, and saw a marked path and a sign indicating it was a bike path. There. That would work.

(I get like this about sidewalks. When I was a week or two away from flying to San Diego for Comic Con, I checked Google Maps Street View to make sure you could walk out of Lindbergh Field down there, and you can. I seriously considered just hoofing it from the airport to the con hotel, because it's not THAT far and I imagined feeling industrious, but by the time I'd flown down there I'd come to my senses and got a cab. Still, I like knowing I have the option.)

That did work. Bike path became sidewalk became a crosswalk (at NE 82nd and Airport Way) became more sidewalk...which then went away because of construction, it really just curved into a chain link fence with torn-up everything beyond, so I had to back up and swing around a hotel to a road parallel to Airport Way so I could reach my goal, which was another Max station, but I also remembered that the Portland IKEA was down there, too, and I thought Why not? I can walk more and I walked to IKEA. Then I used a little more of the gift money to buy a three-zone TriMet ticket, to keep legal on the Max as I'd blown past the 2:00 limit on my earlier TriMet 3-zone upgrade. Good thing I still had some money as well as time.

I like knowing that, if an electromagnetic pulse hits my town or we're overrun by zombies, I'd be able to get places on foot. I could, if absolutely needed, even walk from home to my parents' place 30 miles away; one can walk 30 miles in a day, right? And here's another place I can reach by walking.

Again, thank you for letting me walk that far, My Legs. You're good legs. (The people who saw me wear a UtiliKilt that one time agree with that.)
Admiral Ackbar

If wishes were fishes: about the end of Disney's Aladdin

Got reminded of the fun and cleverness of the Disney version of Aladdin, a now (whoa) 19-year-old film that I've always gotten a kick out of.

Two of the writers, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, went on to such also-fun work as The Mask of Zorro and the Pirates of the Caribbean films. (They also, if I remember correctly, wrote an unused script for a planned American Godzilla that had Godzilla coming ashore at San Francisco, getting subdued, corralled and tranquilized, and -- I've always liked this image -- getting carried by a fleet of helicopters to a base for study. Godzilla broke out, of course, and attacked New York, because an American Godzilla just HAD to hit New York. Even Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin realized that.)

Elliott and Rossio also have been online since the 1990s, talking about their work in a great amount of detail. Google found for me this page where they discuss story issues on Aladdin.

F'r'instance, in September 1998, Ted Elliott said this about the final scene of Aladdin:
Visceral logic, as opposed to intellectual logic, is a shorthand way of reminding ourselves that plot -- no matter how clever or flawlessly logical -- in and of itself is not interesting unless there is an emotional context for it.

Likewise, it is sometimes not necessary to fill in the blanks in a plot if the emotional context does not demand it.

An example of this in our own work: the ending of Aladdin. The dilemma/decision Aladdin faces is whether to honor his promise to Genie (wish him free) or marry Jasmine (which he can only do by wishing to become a prince).

Given the intellectual logic of the plot, there was a really simple solution to this. It had been established that if someone else takes possession of the lamp before the previous owner has used all of their wishes, the previous owner still gets his un-used wishes (Aladdin uses two wishes, Jafar gets the lamp and uses three wishes, Aladdin gets the lamp back and still has one wish to left). So, when faced with the dilemma/decision of how to use his last wish, Aladdin could have just handed the lamp to Jasmine, let her make three quick wishes (including making him a prince), then the Sultan, Abu, the carpet -- and then used his last wish to free the Genie.

Kinda ruins the whole dilemma/decision scenario, doesn't it?

However, by focusing on the characters' emotions (and how the audience feels about the characters), we didn't even have to address this situation. The audience likes Aladdin, and is rooting for him to do the right thing. The audience likes the Genie, and wants him to get what he wants. In an earlier scene, where Aladdin reneged on his promise, the Genie is genuinely hurt (one of the story artists on Aladdin really liked the fact that it was the first time he ever got to board scenes where two characters who liked each other actually got mad at each other in ways that genuinely mattered to the plot, citing both this scene and an earlier one where Jasmine realizes that Aladdin's been lying to her).

Anyway, back on point: since the emotional context for Aladdin's dilemma had been clearly established, the intellectual logic cited above didn't matter. Handing the lamp off to others would have been logical within the plot, clever, and possibly even funny -- but it would have lessened the emotional impact of the scene, the characters, and Aladdin's decision. While we were aware of the intellectual logic of the scene, it was the visceral logic -- what the audience was feeling or wanted to feel -- that carried the day: Aladdin made a promise, the Genie is depending on him to keep that promise, what will Aladdin do?

We opted to follow the visceral logic of the plot. We then followed it up with another moment of visceral logic when the Sultan re-writes the laws so that Jasmine can marry Aladdin irregardless of him being a Prince. It made emotional sense that, after the experiences of the story, the Sultan would come to this decision (he cared deeply for his daughter, and wanted to make sure she would be 'taken care of' when he was gone; Aladdin certainly proved himself capable of that, among other things). This viscerally logical turn of the Sultan's character allowed us to dispense with the 'intellectual logic' problem of the law, as well as have even another moment of emotional/visceral logic: Aladdin does the right thing, and is rewarded in an unexpected way.
iAm iSaid

My exciting college freshman year

Scene: Henderson Hall, Bean Complex, University of Oregon, 1992-93 school year. I and fellow frosh Mike (not his real name, but I'm too lazy right now to try and dredge up what it is) hang out in the quiet halls.

Mike: Man, Saturday night...

Me: ...and you're still hanging around.

Mike: [looks at me] Tired of living in your one-horse town.

Me: Like to find a little hole in the ground.

Mike: For a while.

Me: Mm-mm-hm.

(I maaaaaaaaaay have posted this before (4/14 edit: I had!), but no biggie if so, here it is again. I hope it makes docbrite smile. Here's the Wikipedia entry on the song; here's a video of Billy Joel performing it.)