Monday, May 31, 2010

World Steam Expo

So, after mentioning on the blog that there was a steampunk convention in town, I decided to just go.  And I had a really good time.
I spent a lot of time in the game room this convention, mostly because my friend Matt wanted to look at some games.  One of them happened to be Arkham Horror.  The goal of the game is to prevent monsters from taking over the town of Arkham.  It took a long time just to explain the game, and even while I was playing it, there was a small moment where I was confused.
But I am always really impressed with the art and storytelling that goes into these games.  The art is always so intricate and lovingly-done.  And all these complicated, tabletop games have elaborate-crafted narratives behind them that set the foundation for the story but also allow a lot of room for differences game to game.  Together, there's this incredible world-building going on, where they create full universes (and then some) for the game to take place in.  As an aspiring writer, I can't help but admire all the time, creativity and work that goes into them.
As complicated as a lot of these games are, I'm not sure that I really want to play them all the time, because some of these games can take hours, and unfortunately, I don't usually have time.  I don't play games often, but when I do, they're usually more as a filler while I think over something important, so they're relatively simple computer games (Solitaire, Mahjong, Bejeweled, Destruct-O-Match).  So I don't think I would invest in these games for myself, but maybe occasionally play them with friends.    
I also tried to get some pictures of the coolest steampunk costumes I saw while looking around.  I didn't get all of them, but I did get a few.

Here we have a young woman, not that it's easy to tell.  One of the things that was really popular at the convention (but I haven't seen much elsewhere) were these leather masks that people were wearing.  They sort of seem like a steampunk update on a similar idea from cyberpunk and cybergoth ten, fifteen years ago.

A mannequin doing the steampunk.

One of the many merchants at the convention.  I like that she incorporated green into her outfit.  A lot of people just do that brown, black and cream look, but it's nice to seem some color.  I also really love all the many things on her belt.


This guy was one of the most impressive costumes I saw.  I didn't ask where he got those tanks, but they looked really good.  (Though, like a lot of things in steampunk, not necessarily easy to move in.)  I love that he's doing a steampunk version of a Civil War soldier.  It would probably be easy, if you were a Civil War reenacter, to adapt your uniform into something steampunk-like.


One of the guests of honor were the creators of Girl Genius.  Here's one of them now, making a funny face.

Seriously now

She then apologized and asked to take a more serious picture.  What for? I thought.  I got a great picture of you right there.

Good day, ma'am

A young man looking super swab.  This picture illustrates my point of how easy it is to do steampunk.  He's wearing clothes that most professionals have, plus a few accessories and touches to complete the look.  If he was at a business conference, no one would think "steampunk," but yet he's really looking the part here.
There are more pictures up at my Flikr, if you're interested.  
One of the strangest things was that we had to leave the convention to get lunch.  Police officers and others stopped us to ask us about our outfits.  (Nicely, of course.)  We weren't particularly overdressed, just a little odd looking. 

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Jeff Daniels, William Shakespeare, and Ringo Starr

I got a whole list of shows for the next year or so at the Macomb Center for the Performing Arts. It looks like they're going to be doing all sorts of interesting things in the next year. Jeff Daniels is coming in October. I 've heard such good things about Escanaba in da Moonlight, I'm curious as to what a one-man show would be like. In January, Romeo and Juliet will come. I actually don't like this play that much; if I'm going to see something of Shakespeare's, I would rather see Hamlet or MacBeth, my favorite, but I keep hoping, every time I see a Romeo and Juliet, that someone will change my mind about it. They're also doing a rendition of The Secret Life of Bees, which intrigues me because I knew there was a movie version, but I was unaware there was a stage version. And next May, the Macomb Symphony Orchestra is doing The Beatles Revisted. Like just about everyone, I love the Beatles, and would love to see exactly what they mean by "revisited." It's hardly as if they've gone out of style.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Puppet Collection

I was reading today that the Detroit Institute of Arts (one of my favorite museums) has a large collection of puppets.  In fact, it's the largest collection of puppets anywhere.  It's called the McPharlin Puppetry Collection and was established in 1951.  The reason this is news to me is that they're not usually on display because they're so delicate.  There's something very whimsical about the Chaldean Kings and I love the expression on the Rockefeller Mask.  I'm always impressed with the delightful things they have at the DIA, but this totally caught me off guard.  I was reading that they also apparently have Kermit the Frog, but I haven't been able to find a picture online of the one they had.
It's also the 125th anniversary of the DIA, so apparently they're planning on celebrating this year.  If you haven't been lately and live near Detroit, go.  It's a lot of fun.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Stroller Coaster

My friend Caryn tipped me off to this band she recently discovered called Stroller Coaster. I'm listening to them now, and I have to say, I'm really impressed. They sound like they're in love with a lot of bands I love: The Hard Lessons, AC/DC, Cato Salsa Experience, Metallica, even The Beach Boys. I approve of this band, though I'm not impressed with "Drink my Purple Kool Aide," which sounds like something one of my high schools boyfriends would have written when we were in the 9th grade, and not in a good way.
I'm always keeping an eye out for a new band to love. I love discovering bands no one has heard of, since it feels like you have some great secret to share with only those who are cool enough to appreciate certain things. In the last few years, I've been crazy about indie-folk-cool Robert Francis, Spitzerspace Telescope and Double Saginaw Familiarity. And The Outer Vibe, The Hard Lessons and The Javelins, which are not so much folk but rock.
One of the few things I love about myspace is how easy it is now for a band to start a page on themselves and how easy it is for me to find them and listen to their stuff. I'm old enough to vaguely remember a time before myspace when finding cool bands was such a struggle. I fell in love with Silver Bullit's "People Get Real," Papas Fritas, Spoon, Ted Leo's "Parallel," The Action Slack's "Joan of Arc" and a whole other slew of bands or songs when I was thirteen. Trying to find more information and songs by them online back then was a massive pain. If they were American, I could sometimes find them on Amazon, but almost never just in a store. If they weren't American (I'm looking at you, Cato Salsa Experience and Silver Bullit), I'd be forced to get whatever I could, which sometimes was just a brief mention of a label's website. I still don't have the album I want from Cato Salsa Experience (The Fruit is Still Fresh) because it would cost 48 dollars to import it. Suffice to say, myspace makes me happy, since at least I can legally stream some of their other stuff.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Paris Review

I've spent part of today reading through parts of recent issues of The Paris Review.
I really love this interview with a Tibetan monk. He's had a very dramatic life story, involving running away from Chinese Communists and living in exile in India. This would be great material for a movie.
I also enjoyed the discussion that Annie Prolux has with her interviewer about naming characters and the great outdoors. I would love to see what happens when someone combines her character's names with J.K. Rowling's. Something tells me they would be delightful.
Also, John Ashbury made collages? Cool.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Steampunk Convention

My friend Owen has informed me that there is an upcoming steampunk convention in Detroit
called the World Steam Expo. Brilliant!
It looks like there are going to be tons of events that I would like: a mad science fair, high tea, craft classes.
I'm kind of wondering what a steampunk masquerade would look like. Masquerade is usually associated with the Renaissance, not alternative-19th century. Also, I feel like if I go to a masquerade right now, all I'm going to be able to think about is the feminist theory I read a few months ago on the subject. Which might be reason to go in and of itself.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

In Defense of Derek Walcott

My friend Erin, despite liking Omeros, really hates Derek Walcott. Why? Because he apparently claims that he is writing poetry for the Caribbean people. But, as Erin has argued to me at least ten times in the past eight months, writing for the Caribbean people is pointless because the literacy rates in the Caribbean are so low.
So, a few weeks ago, I was flipping through the 2009 Pushcart Prize, which I originally bought for a class I’ve since finished. I happened upon Walcott’s “White Egrets,” which is apparently from Epiphany.
As with so many things in my life, it was love at first read. At one point, he described something as curved as an ampersand, which is one of the coolest descriptions I’ve ever read.
Reading Walcott made me wonder how right Erin was or wasn’t about him.
I know that I am a researcher at heart, and when I come upon a problem, I go looking for answers.
I discovered that literacy rates in the Caribbean, in the mid-80s, were generally 90%. As the eighties went on, literacy slipped in almost all countries. Omeros was published in 1990, which means that at the time he was writing, he was probably thinking about keeping the literacy rates afloat.
What frustrates me about Erin’s claim that no one in the Caribbean can read is that it assumes that all non-Western countries are automatically incapable of providing education to their citizens. It also assumes that there is no difference in literacy rates over time; that for these countries, it’s always been low. That’s not the case.
What I suspect Walcott was trying to do was to begin creating a literature for the Caribbean. How many Caribbean writers can the average American citizen name? (Most are ignorant of Hemingway’s love of the region.) As Franz Fanon explains in The Wretched of the Earth, non-Western countries are culturally dominated by the West. What those non-Western countries need and deserve is a literature that they can claim as their own: written by, for, and about them. Walcott, a native of Saint Lucia, in writing stories for and about the Caribbean, contributing to a small group of Caribbean writing, including Jean Rhys, Claude McKay, Julia Alvarez and even Aime Cesaire, who inspired Fanon, pictured below.
Obviously, Walcott can’t do it alone, and I can’t imagine that he doesn’t know that. But we should not discount his writing, or his mission, just because of the unfortunate news that literacy rates are down in the Caribbean.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Mr. Fix-It

Mr. Fix-It is a rom-com that attempts to be a sports story about car racing and a film about older people, but it just ends up being a hard-to-watch mess.
The movie follows Lance, played by David Boreanaz, a man who pretends to run a computer repair shop, but in reality is a front for his business fixing guys back up with their ex-girlfriends. Boreanaz charms these ex-girlfriends, then turns into something worse than his client to make his targets appreciate their last boyfriend, driving these women back into his client’s arms. It’s the sort of disgusting dribble that makes me even less interested in returning to my ex’s.
Predictably, Lance doesn’t believe in love. So, of course, as any rom-com narrative goes, he’s ripe to fall in love. And, also predictably, he falls for a conwoman who does the same thing he does: con people into getting back into their old relationships.
The movie was designed to be more likable to those who are disinterested in rom-coms: men. The main character, a man, spends time working toward his dream of racing cars. Most of the characters in this movie are male, save for Lance's love, Sophia, played by Alana de la Garza. But none of that makes up for the poor writing. The jokes are corny at best and fall completely flat. It even looks at times like the actors are confused by their own lines, as if they're preforming a play in a language they don't understand.
If anything, this movie might make men appreciate more mainstream rom-coms for at least creating coherent narratives.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Last Days of Disco

Jerry Bruckheimer would have you believe that movies are big things: big explosions, big guns, big stars, girls with big...well, you know. Unfortunately for Bruckheimer and sometimes for an audience, movies are very much about characters and how likable they are. This is probably the biggest problem with much of The Last Days of Disco: none of the characters are particularly likable.
The movie follows a group of upper-class twentysomethings in the early eighties as disco music goes out of style. If you were thinking, based on the title, that the movie would follow the music in some way, you're wrong. It kind of follows club life, but it would be easy to lift these characters and their story lines, and place them in other places. They could easily be transported to Regency England or a futuristic colony on Pluto. The movie feels like an overdrawn play, similar to Closer.
And they are incredibly grating characters. When they're not being proto-yuppies, they're simply self-involved. Charlotte, played by Kate Beckinsale, is a frenemy in training, who clearly has few things going for her beyond controlling her friend Alice, played by Chole Sevigny. Des, played by Chris Eigeman, is a womanizer, pretending to come out as gay to women when he loses interest in them. Tom, played by Robert Sean Leonard, gives Alice two STDs their one and only night together. Naturally, Charlotte and Des end up together, and on some level are perfect for one another, because they're both awful people. Characters on CW shows are less painfully to watch. The only exception to this is Alice, who, as the film progresses, becomes a more assertive character. Watching her bloom is a real treat, but for the most part, the characters are as shallow as the plot, which is mostly about the hookups and nightlife of Charlotte and Alice.
Interestingly enough, the soundtrack is spellbinding, which features, you guessed it, disco music.

Kay Ryan Interview

I found this great interview with our soon-to-be-ex poet laureate Kay Ryan. 
Her book The Niagara River has phenomenal poetry.  They are short and as tight as a drum.  She gets compared a lot to Emily Dickinson, and if you read her poetry, you'll see why very quickly, even though Ryan is a little more whimsical than Dickinson, and not so obsessed with death.
I'm really sorry that she'll no longer be the poet laureate, though I'm excited to see who gets picked next.  (My vote?  Carolyn Forche, though I would be happy if they went with Robert Bly or Pamela August Russell.) 

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Madiba: The Life and Times of Nelson Mandela

You would think that my African history class would have talked about Mandela, seeing as he is one of the few African leaders most Americans can name, but he was only mentioned once, very briefly. So, I decided to go do my own research into him, and stumbled across this documentary, Madiba: The Life and Times of Nelson Mandela.
I found this documentary was very helpful and was easy to understand. Mandela was Xhosa, which surprised me (I assumed he was Zulu.) He was part of the anti-apartheid movement, along with many others. Unlike a lot of the other leaders, he was kept alive in prison on the off chance they had to have someone negotiate for power. And, as all Americans know, he was released from prison in his 60s and would eventually become the president of South Africa.
But there are lots of things that I didn't know about him. One of the things Mandela is most often associated with is nonviolence in the style of Ghandi, but the film showed Mandela did not condemn members of the movement who resorted to violence. It also showed how, when Mandela was on the run, he ran into a covert CIA agent, who gave him up to the white South African government. The most shocking fact was that Mandela, who spent time in a prison for hard labor, can no longer cry because he tear ducts have been so badly burned by the sun. I didn't even know something like that was possible.
The film had some really great footage. Mandela looks totally different in the young pictures of him. (Though, considering Mandela is now in his 90s, he looks really good.) They also showed some footage from Come Back, Africa, a film on the lives of South Africans in the 50s, mostly using the incredible mining footage.
What was really strange and good about this documentary was the end, where it criticized Mandela's economic policies. It discussed how Mandela has allowed Western companies to exploit South Africa for its resources, mostly diamonds. It explained how Mandela was in the pocket of these companies as early as the 50s, when they gave money to the movement. It then showed the dire consequences of this, mostly the rampant unemployment and poverty. Although this section of the documentary felt tacked on, I liked that it didn't make Mandela out to be a saint when he wasn't.
I'm declaring this research a success.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

loudQUIETloud: a film about the pixies

The Pixies are that band whose music you’ve heard but probably never heard of, unless you are a hardcore early 90s music fan. The documentary loudQUIETloud follows their reunion tour, showing how disconnected the members are from one another, shedding light on what probably broke them up in the first place. Black Francis and Kim Deal seem particularly at odds with each other, which is probably why they had separate tour buses.
What I really wanted to see was more about Joey Santiago, his wife Linda Mallari and their band the Martinis. When I was in middle school, my friend Emily was obsessed with their most famous song “Free,” and I ended up falling in love with it too. I’d like to see an entire documentary following them, or even Deal, the female singer and bass guitarist.
As someone who likes but is not a huge fan of the Pixies, I really liked this documentary. There was something brave in showing how uncomfortable much of the film was and band members were.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Do Not Go Gentle: Notes On Reading Poetry Outloud

One of the best things about poetry on the Internet is that it is easy to access poets reading poems. I'm not sure, in this above example, of "Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night," if this is Dylan Thomas or not, but if it is, I'm struck by how powerful and certain his voice is.

The first time I heard Sylvia Plath's voice, I was really surprised by it. Even now, there is something about her voice that feels foreign to me, like the voice doesn't quite fit the words. Her voice is so proper; she makes me think of good, elite breeding, New England winters on Seven Sisters campuses, quiet nights on a summer's coast. Her words are so angry, so reckless, so unlike her voice. I love the juxtaposition. "And then I knew what to do." You can just barely hear her say "do" at that moment; it's almost a whisper.
The best poems are the ones that, when read outloud, haunt your dreams. There's something haunting in both of these poets.