Fog

By the time she took her leave, darkness had fallen, and the fog with it.  Together these obscured the path so thoroughly as to make her memory doubtful – even memory built up over years of taking this road, thousands of times.

This route should never feel anything but friendly – and yet, cloaked in obscurity as it was, every mile turned foe.  Nothing promised that the curves would remain as she had always encountered them; nothing could assure her that the trees and ponds and buildings by the way did not lay under some enchantment of their own, shifting thither and yon.  Whole minutes had gone by since she passed the last traffic signal, had they not?  Surely she should have reached the next red-light-turned-green by now.  But in between the road stretched on and on, with only fresh darkness on the horizon.

Ghostly eyes of lamps passed intermittently in the dimness, floating in the mist, whatever car or carriage they might be attached to invisible.  She shuddered at the thought of a deer, or a man, wandering out into the road, standing frozen while her car barreled into it.  Him.  Worse was the thought of a driver approaching without any lights, colliding twice as fast, with pulverizing force.

Pondering this, she eased off the gas and played idly with the headlights.  The regular lamps were dimmer, and thus of limited use – but the high beams fell on the cloud of water droplets, illuminating no further.  However slow she went, it couldn’t be helped – she couldn’t see.

No wonder fog stood in for fear.  Not only would it veil the unknown twice over, but it sent even the familiar into oblivion: dementia come sixty years early.

Review: Pontypool

On Sunday, I saw an atypical vampire movie. The weekend prior, I saw an atypical zombie movie.*  Next up: atypical werewolf movie! I’ve no idea which one, though, so please comment with your suggestions, and in the meantime, let me tell you about Pontypool.

Were you to say “Hmm, you don’t strike me as a zombie movie watcher,” you would be quite correct. But Pontypool is a zombie movie the way Signs is an alien movie, which is to say that the plague-monsters themselves don’t get a lot of screen time. In an hour and a half of film, there are perhaps twelve minutes of shuffling revenants, and fewer of gore. There is neither a shotgun nor a cricket bat to be seen, and only a few splashes of red against a subdued background of bluish grays.

That said, there’s a lot to hear. The film is set in a radio broadcast studio built in the basement of an abandoned church, and most of the suspense and horror comes from what information can be gleaned from people calling in to the station, sometimes mid-attack, reporting a mob of people converging on the doctor’s office or a car being buried under a “herd” of people. Since none of it is shown, the mind is free to imagine just how awful those attacks might be. The responses and actions of announcer Grant Mazzy, his manager Sydney Briar, and assistant Laurel-Ann Drummond underscore the terror of ignorance and the slowly-dawning horror of understanding.

Even the former shock-jock is creeped out.

Even the former shock-jock is weirded out.

That creeping comprehension makes the movie. From the first two minutes, shown below, each little word is significant. The missing cat and its name; the people speaking French; the BBC broadcaster; the Valentine’s Day cards: all of it matters, and it takes watching and re-watching to understand why.

The pacing, the music (curse you, creepy violins!), the language, and silence all put the viewer in thrall. I had to talk to bring myself out of it a bit, had to eat my popcorn with determination, had to hug the friend sitting next to me whilst watching it. I’m no nail-biter, but it’s full of nail-biting tension anyway. There are those moments when one is left hollering at the screen, Don’t call him! No, hang up your phone! Such is the way of suspenseful movies: they mess with you as they draw you further in.

More thoughts and some spoilers under the cut.

Continue reading

Why I Haven’t Read That Book Yet: Introduction

The Egotist’s Club was not necessarily founded to be strictly a literary blog.  Sure, we love Dorothy Sayers and Lord Peter enough to own them as godparents of sorts, and we do read, write, and talk about reading and writing a great deal.  But we also blog about the movies we watch, our observations of society, food and drink, music, and craftsmanship.  Anything pertaining to humanity is fair game: its feats, its fascinations, and its foibles.

And yet…we have, perhaps, given ourselves a rather bookish reputation.  This creates certain impressions, such that every once in a while, there comes a conversation wherein a friend will edge near me, glance about furtively, and then confess that she never got all the way through Lord of the Rings.  Or he’ll say “You’ll judge me for it, but I never did read all of the Narnia books.”  Or “I know everyone’s read it, but I just haven’t finished Hamlet.”

Then I have to tell them how after reading The Hobbit, I started The Lord of the Rings, got to Bree, and stopped.  And then I started again, got to Weathertop, and stopped.  I started again, got to Moria, and stopped.  There was just so much walking, guys.  Eventually I was a sophomore in college, where (seemingly) everyone loved Tolkien with an undying passion, and I had that exact same anxious twinge because I had never made it all the way through.  It came to pass that I befriended the Scrupulously Exact Physicist, who, on hearing this confession, urged me to repentance, saying “You have to read them!” (and moreover, penance: “And then read The Silmarillion!”)  Have been so commanded, I finally muscled through the entirety of  Fellowship, and in fact the entire trilogy – partly by reading during an extremely dull class; never let me claim that Science 101 profited me nothing.

My point is, sometimes you just haven’t read a book, or you feel like it’s too late for it, or sometimes you try reading it and then stop, and far be it from me (or from any of us, really) to make you feel bad about that.  I think the xkcd approach is the best to take:

Randall Monroe, you are totally right about the Yellowstone supervolcano.

Randall Monroe’s right: it’s cool to be around the first time someone picks up that book you love so much.

So this week is for confessing the ways and reasons we are the antithesis of a book club.  To wit, this is the week we (or, well, I, at least) tell you Why I Haven’t Read That Book Yet.

Feel free to join in!

Roadside Rescues

Last week, I was getting on the entrance ramp to US-23N to head to work when Friday Night came on my radio.  I may have accelerated more than was wise, which resulted in the car spinning about some 270 degrees and coming to a stop off the left side of the ramp, mostly on the shoulder but jutting a bit into the median.

Which, no matter how smooth the aftermath, is alarming.  Fortunately, no one hit me, I didn’t get stuck in the snow, and I hadn’t gone off the right side of the ramp, which slopes down into a clump of trees.  The only casualty was the splash guard, which was partly dislodged from under the front bumper.  And so I thanked God for my safety, resolved not to listen to the radio whilst on entrance ramps henceforth, waited for the adrenaline to stop flowing, and carried on driving to work.

~~~

Yesternight, having decided to get my hair trimmed, I was driving down Sheldon Road when I hit one of those potholes they’ve made such noise about.  Bam!  Immediate flat tire on my front passenger side.

Which was incredibly annoying.  Dang and blast it all, there went my plans for the whole evening: haircut, picture for a new passport, going home to read and clean and generally Take Care Of Business had all been swallowed up by waiting for assistance and the expense of getting a tire fixed.  Fortunately, I was able to get off Sheldon, my phone was charged, there was a spare tire in the trunk, and the plans were more or less etched in Jell-O anyway.  And so I thanked God for that and made some calls.  With my brother Mark’s help, I cancelled the hair appointment, called AAA for roadside assistance, and ordered a personal pizza delivery given the expected 2-hour wait.

Settling down to read Something Wicked This Way Comes, I was heartened when a woman stopped her minivan to ask if I needed help.  “Nah, I’m fine – just waiting for Triple A,” I told her.  I said the same to two teenage boys who stopped their vehicle some minutes later.  When the third minivan stopped, I said “Well, I’m waiting for roadside assistance, but if you want to change a tire, well, go ahead.”  So this fellow parks his car, digs a couple of lug wrenches from my trunk, reveals a secret compartment (!) with another full-sized spare tire in it, and spends some 20 or 30 minutes trying to remove the lug nuts.  He wasn’t successful, but we spent the time chatting about the neighborhood, the schools and churches our families have attended, Michigan’s foster care system, urban beautification efforts in Detroit, his mum’s garage sales, and the startling spending of the wealthier folks in Grand Rapids.  Eventually he gave it up as a bad job and we sat in his car until the AAA guy arrived.  Ten minutes thereafter, I headed home.

~~~

This morning, I got on US-23 ever so carefully, my radio off, since I have the capacity for basic learning (although I suppose that’s up for debate.  Maybe I should be taking a different route?  Different car?  Moving to Panama?).  Everyone was driving around 35-40 mph given the snow, which seemed reasonable enough.  A little over a mile down the expressway, the person in front of me braked.  I also braked – gently, I thought, but evidently not gently enough: the car spun around 180 degrees, until I was facing oncoming traffic.

Which was swift and baffling and even more alarming than last week’s adventure.  Fortunately, I was on the right shoulder, neither hit the guardrail nor rolled down the slope, and no one hit me.  After a couple minutes, there was a wide enough gap that I could drive across and turn the car around; a few minutes after that, a wide enough gap to ease off the left shoulder and back onto the road, hazard lights flashing all the way.

And so I thanked God for my safety, drove the rest of the way as carefully as I could, and prayed we all might be delivered from the snow and ice.

Clearly I’ve been delivered three times already.  This reveals God’s glory to me if to no one else…but I keep wondering if it might not be more glorious for Him to send a thaw?

That Hideous Habit

It’s been two months now that I’ve been talking to myself in the Club.  This is a lonely state of affairs, but at least we have good port, yes?

Not that it matters, as I have left the Cockburn ‘96 untouched.  Though the bottles have settled again, that’s the sort of thing I’m unlikely to consume by myself.

Always drink in celebration, never in consolation; and if you must drink in consolation, never drink alone.

Always drink in celebration, never in consolation; and if you must drink in consolation, never drink alone.

I can only assume that my sister muses are all busily engaged elsewhere, or that the Prince of Stories has stayed far from them and thus they are uninspired.

Perhaps I should tell of stories I’ve read lately, but I tell you what: I picked up A Severe Mercy to reread it, and threw it down in frustration because I’m so irritated at how much delight Sheldon and Jean shared.  I picked up Gaudy Night, and though I love the writing, the storyline, and the honest exploration of what constitutes a woman’s work, rereading it tore at my heart just as much.  At present I’m working my way through That Hideous Strength for the third or fourth time.  I’m not convinced that its denouement will distress me any less, but at least the book prompts more general thoughts and questions about the role of science in society and the role of man in the universe.

One of the most ghoulish images in it is the bodiless face: a bit of skin, a horrible flap of mouth, a drooling tongue, carefully preserved by dials and tubes and various climate controls.  It is able, through the worst sort of manipulation, to speak, but none of us would regard it as alive.  It is not viable, not an entity on its own, unable to wipe the saliva from its lips.

Pausing in my reading and pondering this sad facsimile of a Head brought to mind a question posed to my Philosophy 101 class, years ago when I was a Hillsdale freshman.  “Say that you could be hooked up to a machine that would provide you intense, unceasing pleasure, for as long as you wanted it.  Your body’s physical needs for nutrition etc. would be taken care of.  Would you opt in?”  We all declined (with the possible exception of the class smart aleck; I can’t recall), stating that our lives were meant for more, yes, even if it involves suffering, that we wanted to accomplish things, that surely there is a difference between manipulation of the brain and the real deep delight of taking some sort of action and reaching some kind of result.  Our various arguments – some more reasonable, others more emotional in nature – all denied the humanity of a being attached to a dopamine dispenser.  We declared that such an existence, no matter how pleasurable, did not suit the dignity of a man.

All of which is to say that my freshman-year self is standing in judgment of my present-day self, since my present-day self has spent huge chunks of time – embarrassingly long chunks of time, really – reading and reading and reading fanfiction online.  “That’s not so bad,” you say.  “Fan-written stories?  Surely you’d get impatient with them if they were rubbish.”

Sadly, I don’t.  I click ever more furiously.  I go for the hit.  I keep clicking.  It is everything I admitted in my Obsession Confession Session, if not worse.  The Twitter account @VeryShortStory summed it up well:  I fed the King another story for his pleasure. It was his opium. He lived in my words, while outside, his defeated kingdom crumbled.

Study in Pleasure Receptors: a self-portrait

Study in Pleasure Receptors: a self-portrait

Sisters, please come back, lest you find the place in ruins.

Fearful, Human, Holy

For those of us who live more or less by solstices and equinoxes, there are a few weeks of summer yet, but for those whose lives follow the academic calendar, the summer is already dying or, perhaps, already dead.  And so it goes, and so all things on earth go.  So all men go, whether from a bored child’s gun, a poor driver’s car, a cancer, a chemical attack, or a thousand other things, the list ending with the quiet “old age.”

Typically I skip to that one, unwilling to acknowledge that any one of the people I love the most could be taken from me at any moment.  It’s difficult to face the fact that I am mortal and will one day be dust, but far more difficult to face the potential loss of parents, brothers, or friends.

*

How terrible to love what Death can touch,
and find one’s shadowed cloak of apathy
ripped off by fears of life made misery
should it approach to keep you in its clutch.
Perhaps I wouldn’t fret or fear so much
were there some way to fill a treasury
with moments shared, safe from Time’s thievery:
that song, those eyes, paths nigh-forgot, and such.
But fleeting moments never are enough,
not even when they’re in the present tense,
for Time is Death’s dog, hounding us by flight.
It might well sound like greed rather than love
to wonder what I’ll do, when you go hence –
still, greed is not more eager for that night.

*

I don’t remember hearing the line ‘Tis a fearful thing to love what death can touch, but it seemed the sort of thing that I couldn’t have invented on my own.  My attempts to find out who said it first brought this post to my attention.  Seems a 12th century fellow wrote the poem (unlike me, more out of remembrance than fear).  It is a fearful, human, and holy thing, he says, to love that which is mortal.

How much more fearful and holy, then, is divine love, which submits itself to death for the sake of the beloved?

Your life has lived in me, indeed.

Requiem for an Automobile

Yesterday morning I was in the kitchen making breakfast, when I heard a dull thud from the street. “That sounds almost like a small accident,” thought I. “Wouldn’t it be funny if that was someone running into my car?” Secure in the knowledge that such event was unlikely, I went back to my yoghurt.

I am currently living with a friend in Texas while I desperately assiduously job search. It is a residential neighborhood where many people park in the street. As driveway space is limited, I parked in the street as well.

Before I swallowed even one spoonful of yoghurt, my curiosity and slight anxiety started pricking. Well, more like nagging and poking. Incessantly. So I looked out the front window.

I should have seen my sweet little car sitting quietly directly in front if the house.

What I saw was a mangled bumper gently rocking on the sidewalk.

Through a slight haze, I managed to notice the neighbor’s yard had a new lawn ornament: my car. My faithful, lovely ride was straddling the sidewalk, rear end crumpled.

EbyCarWreck

For seven years and two cross-country trips, this car has served me faithfully and resolutely, and I killed her. Right after I replaced all the breaks, too! Why did I not remember that Texans can’t drive? Why did I park on the street?

But strange things started to happen. After the sadly-born call to the police and insurance, the trauma and drama did marvelous things for the community. Three runners stopped to watch and chat. (To be fair, the car was blocking their path.) Four city utility vehicles (two water inspection officers, one “community patrol” guy, and one fire truck cruising the route,) pulled over to “check on the crash”. Human curiosity is a fascinating thing. Five neighbors came to stand and watch. One, the lady whose lawn my car now adorned, fluttered over to ask for the whole story, and pat my arm sympathetically. Tragedies bring people together in the most exciting and human way.

So, farewell, my hard-working automobile! Even in death you continue to help people gather together. Go to the Happy Car-Crushing Ground!

Dare to See Beauty

I have often propounded – in writing and in conversation – the belief that art teaches us to see beauty. More, this is the main purpose of art.

I have talked, quoted, referenced, scribbled, and thought.

But I have not acted.

So this video felt like a punch in the stomach. This is a fashion photographer who saw photo of disabilities and physical differences in medical textbooks, and was horrified by the ugliness portrayed. He instinctively recognized that those photos, that strangeness, does not show respect for the human person. In fact, most photos of say, down syndrome, make the condition look terrifying.

And rather than just think about it, Rick Guidotti acted on it.

He frames his work in terms of “thinking outside the box” and “redefining beauty”, but his work is much, much more. His enthusiasm and love and recognition of beauty are infectious: he sees the beauty of human life so clearly that makes it visible to everyone in his photos. He is an artist.

I have always been under the impression that the fashion world makes the heart mind and soul small and closed. Silly prejudice. But Guidotti’s work made him better able to see the joy, life, and love that are the real components of beauty. He began with albinos, and since then has been photographing people with chromosome 18 syndrome, marfan syndrome, et al.

This video cannot be imbedded but please click here to go watch!

He closes with the challenge: “Dare to see beauty! Once you see it, it will overwhelm you!”

“People say I reveal the ‘inner-beauty’. Nonsense. There is no inner-beauty. There is just beauty. Dare to see it.”