Monday, December 31, 2012

Out With the Old...

I turned 30 this year.  Apparently, it’s a big milestone birthday.  I say apparently because I didn’t really think all that much of it, but everyone around me kept making a big deal about it.  “Oh, that’s a big one- how are you going to celebrate?” and “You need to really have fun on your big day; birthdays mean less and less as you get older” and “It’s a natural time to pause and reflect on your life thus far, don’t fight it” and still other unwarranted words of wisdom I don’t remember or have chosen to forget.  There was always encouragement to overindulge in introspection and contemplation and I had to fight pretty hard to stay out of that hole.

Because I’m disturbingly introspective as is- I don’t need anyone encouraging it.  And the single greatest struggle of my life has been to take myself less seriously.  Reading back on old journals I’ve kept shows me that I’ve made A LOT of progress in this area.  But momentary reflection on my thoughts on most given days proves that I’ve still got a LONG way to go.

So towards that end, I’m not going to take this evening to self reflect.  I’m not going to list off my goals for the year and recount each success or (more often) each failure.  I’m not going to overindulge in self-flagellation and give myself still more opportunities for such by making yet another list of goals for the next year.  It’s just not productive.

I know what I’ve done and what I haven’t done.  I know what I did too much and what I need to do more.  And yes, I have some goals for the coming year.  But I’m not going to publish them here- because I think that’s a prime example of what I’d like to do less.  No, I’m going to keep them for myself.

And I will try very hard to keep this space for the things that may actually be useful to others like fiction pieces and book reviews and utilitarian insights I’ve learned the hard way.  And I suppose that’s the rub- because even in my attempt not to make any resolutions, I’ve made one.

Happy New Year.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

#BestReads2012

I signed up for the Book Vixen’s 2012 Outdo Yourself Reading Challenge and gave myself the personal challenge of reading a book a month for the year.  With only a few days left in the year I’m gonna come right out and declare that I have epically failed to meet that personal challenge.  Of the 12 books I set out to read I have actually only read 7.  Well, technically 7 and a half if you count the fact that I’m stuck in the middle of Nicholas Nickelby and have little to no desire to finish it.  Everything sort-of fell apart in August and I have absolutely no valid excuse in the world as to why.  (Other than that I’m lazy and that’s the worst excuse of all.)  However, I did succeed in reading at least slightly more than I did last year, so that’s something.

Of the 7 books I have read I loved three of them, moderately enjoyed another two and really would-have sooner skipped the last two.  Since the title of the blog hop is “Best Reads” I’m going to focus on the three that I loved.  (Hmm… I’m sensing a theme in numbers here…)

1)      Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert
Her best seller Eat, Pray, Love topped my list last year so it’s no shock that she’s topping my list this year.  E,P,L introduced me to a woman who I am proud to say is one of my most favorite authors of all time.  Committed convinced me that her voice is so compelling that I’m likely to love just about anything she writes.  I plan to test this theory out next year by reading more of her works: I just received both Stern Men and Pilgrims for Christmas and am eagerly looking forward to seeing if her amazing voice is as lovely in fiction as it has been in non-fiction (I suspect it will be). 
I already wrote a lot about why Committed was so important for me so for the purpose of this post I’ll just sum it up thus:  For a topic as unimaginably complicated as marriage Gilbert does an amazing job of addressing a large variety of important points and concepts by looking both at historical trends and personal accounts and she does it all with the voice that I have come to absolutely adore.  It’s by far my best read of the year.
2)      Wicked by Gregory Maguire
This was my first exposure to Maguire as an author and I think it’s safe to say that he blew me away.  It was also a pretty novel (no pun intended) experience as I haven’t had a lot of formally ‘classic children’s tales’ turned into really intriguing adult literary experiences.  And this is certainly an adult tale- complete with sex, war, racism, religion, moral quagmires and all the self-loathing that comes from a character’s personal inquiry typical of coming-of age tales.  While I certainly wouldn’t sum it up as that, I will say that Elphaba’s journey is one of the most absorbing I’ve read and I’m more than willing to follow her son into the next level of the story- Son of a Witch is on my reading list for next year.

3)      You Suck by Christopher Moore
Another repeat offender here, with the sequel to one of my top reads from last year.  Christopher Moore is another one of my favorite authors.  He’s one of the funniest fantasy authors I know of, right up there with Terry Prachett, and his stories are like really delectable chocolate desserts: they’re really rich, seriously tasty and you can tell they took some intense effort to make.  His characters are both endearing and frustrating and they take the plot on a rollercoaster ride every time so you end up in a place you couldn’t quite have seen at the start.  And again, since You Suck is the second in a trilogy, it’s guaranteed that I’ll be reading Bite Me next year and will most likely love it just as much as I loved the first two.

I hate to end this best reads list in exactly the same fashion as I did last year’s since it seems indicative of a lack of progress.  But then again, if I have a perpetual resolution to read more next year I suppose that’s really not the worst thing since it means I still love reading, even if I don’t do enough of it.

Now hop along to another blog and read their Best Reads:
1) John Wiswell
2) Katherine Hajer
3) Cindy Vaskova
4) Johann Thorsson
5) Chaz Dillon

6) Elephant's Child
7) Chuck Allen
8) Katherine Nabity
9) Maria Kelly
10) T.S. Bazelli
11) Sonia Lal
12) Linda Wastilla
13) Danielle La Paglia 
14) Alexia

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Tis the Season

I’m not religious so I’m not at all insulted by the much bemoaned lack of Christ in Christmas.  Nor am I that deeply enamored with the holiday in general.  In all honestly, Christmas has been on a downhill slope ever since I found out Santa Claus wasn’t real.  (Which, needless to say, was a pretty long time ago.)  However, I do tend to get sentimental over holidays that are fabled as being a time for family togetherness and the warm fuzzy feelings that come from basking in the glow of your loved ones.

It is because of this that I still get a little caught up in the holiday season.  I still put up a tree, still decorate my office at work, still order Christmas cards with disgustingly adorable pictures of my dog plastered across them, still bake cookies and pies and other assorted holiday goodies and still buy, wrap and give presents to the people I care about. 

But even I, with my lowered expectations given the removal of the mythical man and constant attempts to self care in hopes of avoiding making myself nuts with the whole thing, have been feeling a bit overwhelmed this year.  I don’t necessarily think that the capitalist machine that runs this great country of ours is on anymore crack than usual, but that's not saying much given that the usual amount of crack is A LOT.  Granted, no one got maced on black Friday this year but people still got trampled, shoved and injured in the truly horrifying rush of shoppers.  People are still going bankrupt trying to pay for all this crap.  People are still stealing, car jacking and committing other illegal acts in order to obtain gifts.  And people are still being unabashedly bat-shit crazy in general.

As much as I try to avoid commercials, ignore the holiday catalogs clogging up my mail box, stay away from the mall whenever possible (which is not easy when the mall takes up about two thirds of the land mass of the town you live in) and otherwise shelter myself from the madness I can’t help but ask the question that many other people have been asking for years: is this really what the season’s all about?

I mean, that's been the biggest source of stress.  Mainly the money and not having enough of it.  But also the fear that what you got that person isn’t enough.  Which, of course, drives you to buy more in attempts to fix that.  Which brings you back to the issue of money.  It’s a vicious cycle.  And because I’m that kind of a person, I can’t help but think that I’m being brainwashed into participating in the whole cycle in the first place.  I’m plagued by the thought that perhaps I should just hand-make some really loving cards for everyone and nix presents all together.  Lord knows it would save a lot of headaches.

But part of me still likes wrapping up that box, handing it to that person, and seeing the expression on their face when they open it.  It makes me happy, I can’t help it.  However, I don’t want to go broke doing it.  And I especially don’t want to go broke because of some mass-produced external pressure to do so.  I am much like the turret pleading “I’m different!” in my own little voice.

So perhaps I need to find another way to try to get some of the warm/fuzzy feeling that comes from giving.  And we all know that giving without receiving is always a good way to give your soul some much needed TLC.  Given that fact, I am struck by the staggeringly large number of ways to do just that this time of year.  Toy drives, food drives, coat drives, blanket drives, blood drives and pretty much every other type-of drive you can think of are abundant right now.  Just about every organization in existence is eagerly accepting volunteers to visit with a senior, serve food to a homeless individual or donate their expertise in accomplishing a particular task.  Not to mention the fact that a large part of the Atlantic sector is still in a state of emergency because of the giant storm that struck a month and a half ago and they desperately need help. The possibilities are near-limitless and I’m guaranteed a bigger bang for my buck if I spend it on non-perishable goods rather than another present for a family member who probably won’t remember it in a month’s time.

So if you’re at all like me this holiday season, I remind you of the same thing I’m reminding myself of: the season is about giving, not buying.  So whether it’s dropping off a grocery bag full of food, a garbage bag full of old coats, a box of toys, a pint of blood or simply some time you’ll be doing good.  And our world could really use some more of that in the midst of all this madness.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Movie Review: Wreck-it Ralph


I think it's safe to say that I was destined to love Wreck-it Ralph before I ever saw it.  I grew up in the dawn of the magic that is the in-home gaming system, right on the cusp between arcades and the new consoles which would become a staple in most people's homes.  My brother and I spent our childhoods blowing my poor mother's hard-earned cash in both arcades and at home where we devoutly worshiped our NES.  Additionally, I've been known to absolutely love animated movies that are deliberately made to be adorable.  Put those two things together and you've got Wreck-it Ralph, a movie which has absolutely stolen my heart.

They grab you in the very beginning by throwing just about every single gaming reference they can possibly think of at you.  In one of the first scenes we see Bowser, Dr. Eggman, and the ghost from Pac-man leading Ralph to try to come to terms with his villain self in what must be the most endearing support group yet.  Then Ralph passes Q*bert on his way to Tapper's where we see the paperboy from Paperboy, most of the fighters from Street Fighter, Frogger- hell, even the paddles and ball from Pong are there.  The first fifteen minutes of the movie had me excitedly squeaking every few seconds as another reference was made.  And when the primary antagonist shows his true colors for the first time he uses the Konami cheat code, which made me absurdly happy.  They span the world of gaming by having main characters from an old-school or "retro" arcade game, a racing game and a first-person shooter and they capture the worlds, the graphics and the typical canon of those games really well.

But as with all of these movies, the characters are what makes Wreck-it Ralph the masterpiece that it is.  First we have Ralph who reminds me, and I imagine most people out there, of their dad or their uncle.  He has the personality of a truck driver or a construction worker (or in his case, a demolition crew leader)- he's a bit gruff on the outside but on the inside he's a big 'ol teddy bear.  John C. Reily was the perfect choice for him and fleshes him out beautifully.  Then there's Felix who is perfectly voiced by Jack McBrayer from 30 Rock and has all the innocent quirks that made us fall in love with Kenneth the page.  Then we have Calhoun from the fast paced first-person shooter which Jane Lynch brings home with the quips and sarcastic remarks she's so famous for.  And of course Sarah Silverman who was way more adorable than she is when doing her characteristic comedy as Venellope.  And, the interactions between her and Ralph are so endearing that you can't help but fall in love with the both of them.

Yes, Venellope, you are.

And last but certainly not least is King Candy, the main antagonist who we later find out was the one who embedded the whole arcade with the fear that we see in so many interactions.  He's voiced by Alan Tudyk who I already worshipped from Firefly and came to see as ranged from Dollhouse.  He's got a very Alpha-esque vibe here as he starts out flighty and becomes one of the most devious villains around.  He's so devious he's able to convince Ralph that the biggest betrayal he's ever done is in the best interest of the person he's trying to protect.

I sense a boss battle coming...

The plot, needless to say, is spot on and has all the conflict, drama, humor and redemption we would expect from such a movie and the last scene is so heartwarming it made me cry.  That's right- I said it!  I cried at a kid's movie and I'm not afraid to admit it.  I would argue that if you don't have some kind-of serious warm and fuzzy feeling at the end of that movie then you must be dead inside.

I can't say that Venellope took the place of Agnes and Boo in my heart or that Ralph replaced Gru as the best villain-turned dad ever.  But I can say that I haven't loved a movie this much (or cried this much at the end of such a movie) since Despicable Me.  And given my unending adoration of said story that's saying a hell of a lot.