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Andy Kaufman – A trickster in comedian form. I admire the way he treated life as a piece of performance art. I came to him late; I doubt I ever heard of him while he was alive, but Kaufman fan Peter David kept bringing him up as someone who made life stranger. (David did a “What an idea…” column that said Imagine: if Andy Kaufman faked his own death, as a lot of people believe, then maybe he was the one responsible for all those Elvis sightings in the late ’80s. Wouldn’t that be a cool idea for a story?) The film about Kaufman’s life was decent, but with an opening I thought was brilliant at conveying how he’d mess with people. And, I admit, sometimes in private I do his “Mighty Mouse” routine… (Later Addition: After I wrote this, I was preparing to leave for work and thinking about the end of the film, and thought to myself “And the R.E.M. song starts playing”)…and the R.E.M. song starts playing, on the radio. I liked that timing.)
Ballet – Beauty and athleticism, combined! I admire the strength and litheness of ballet dancers, and find that very attractive. Portland has a decent and ever-better ballet scene, including the Jefferson Dancers program for high school dancers and Oregon Ballet Theatre; OBT has a well-earned reputation for both the health of its dancers and for having a good variety of body types. You don’t have to be willowy to be a ballet dancer. Look at 5-foot-tall and compact former OBT dancer Vanessa Thiessen.
Film Music – I’ve studied its use, to the point where my college thesis (“Pointing the Way to Salvation with Music”) involved music for film. I’ve paid attention to how music’s made for movies since I was a kid; I was more likely to be humming Harold Faltermeyer’s theme to Top Gun than singing any of the songs. In the Nineties I was first a reader of and then a contributor to Film Score Monthly, which at the time was a 10-times-a-year paper publication and now has both an online presence and a strong CD soundtrack label. Even now, when I don’t buy as many film scores on CD as I used to in the mid-Nineties, film music still comprises more than half of my music collection. (I most recently added Ilan Eshkeri’s very Michael Kamen-esque and sweeping score to Stardust and Basil Poledouris’s score from For Love of the Game.)
Hiking – a natural outgrowth of my fondness for walkin’. My family and I have hiked, for example, in Shenandoah National Park, so I’ve been on a short stretch of the Appalachian Trail. I currently lack a good pair of boots, however, so I manage what I can walking-wise with my sneakers. And Oregon is an amazing state for hiking. When living in Hermiston, Oregon, I’d often walk along a deserted stretch of the Columbia River north of the town, just me and the river and the hills and the plants visible. Very quiet and calming.
Lemony Snicket – Another trickster type. The books A Series of Unfortunate Events hooked me immediately when I read Book One in 2002; I’ve read every book in the series and graduated to the author’s adult works (published under the writer’s real name Daniel Handler). He pulls off the feat of conveying things that are awful or flat-out horrible, and still showing humor in the midst of the awful stuff. I’ve laughed out loud at some of the audacious writing tricks he’s pulled off; he can play with literature.
Letter writing – I correspond. I get twitchy (OK, twitchier) if I don’t. It’s a habit the military encourages, and when my dad was serving on aircraft carriers for six months at a time I’d write him a lot. I’m proud that on his last cruise (U.S.S. John F. Kennedy, in the Mediterranean from summer 1988 to February 1989) I wrote him 40 letters and postcards. I found out later that Dad would read my letters out loud to his staff in the Air Ops command center he commanded. The men were surprised the letters were being written by a 15-to-16-year-old (my birthday was in the middle of that cruise). Positive reinforcement!
Sandman – The reason Neil Gaiman and Caitlin R. Kiernan know each other, so it’d be worth it just for that. And as so many people can tell you, it’s a hell of a feat what Gaiman and the artists pulled off over several years of comic-making. It’s the first piece of literature to make me wonder what a mammoth smelled like.