Lexifabricographer For when the right word just won’t do…

April 25, 2016

Prince and the Canberra Heater Rule

Filed under: news of the day — Tags: , , , , , — lexifab @ 9:58 am

Canberra has a bizarre cultural tradition you might have heard about. This is it: you invite social censure if you switch on your household heating before Anzac Day. Ask anyone who lives here for more than a year or two – if they don’t say it themselves, they will still be well aware of having heard it.

The specific consequences of infringing this oft-recounted social directive are never made clear. After a bit over seventeen years living here, I’m not yet sufficiently local to speak with any authority. But I infer that breakers of the Anzac Day rule are considered to be a bit on the soft side. They lack, I understand, the intestinal fire that will see them through the bitter winter.

Me, I’m just cheap. The longer we can put off cranking up the ducted heating the better. Our September gas bill is a shocker.

Still the “rule” has undeniable power. No matter how cold it gets in early April, you can’t help but hesitate before throwing the switch. Eleven on days when there’s frost outside and the car windscreens are all iced over.

You question yourself. “Do I really need to warm up?”

You ask yourself, “Couldn’t I just put on a jumper?”

You find yourself actively considering whether to just tough out the cold when the switch for the heater is right in front of you.

It’s astonishing how small, seemingly insignificant social pressures can influence our behaviour.

A few days ago as I write this, Prince died in what are still mysterious circumstances. Despite being in the right age group – my teen years were in the eighties – I never really got into Prince. I liked all the same songs that everyone else liked, but I never dug any deeper than listening to ‘Purple Rain’ a few times and digging about half of the Batman ‘89 soundtrack.

But this week’s massive outpouring of shock and grief at the untimely death of a celebrity – a state that 2016 appears to be conditioning us to never leave – has got me reconsidering my mildly indifferent stance. For one thing, it’s pretty obvious when you actually pay attention that Prince was a prodigious talent – singing, dancing, playing All the Instruments and etc.

More to the point, the sheer abundance of opinion on social media (and in traditional media, for that matter) exerts a quiet strength. I don’t think I even registered the moment this week where I went from being somewhat indifferent to strongly pro-Prince. It definitely happened. Unless something terrible comes out in the wake of investigations into his passing, that’s probably going to be my opinion for good.

It was a seismic shift affecting one small corner of my mind, but it happened without my even noticing it until after the fact.

(There’s probably some kind of book marketing lesson to be learned in that, but who cares?)

Instead I’m going to link to my favourite Prince moment from a few years ago, at a memorial concert for George Harrison. He’s not playing one of his own songs, but he plays with such effortless virtuosity that it might as well be his.

Listen to the whole thing (or start at 3:25 to skip listening to Jeff Lynne and Tom Petty singing, if you must). If you didn’t have an opinion about Prince before, this might change your mind.

 

April 18, 2016

Back to the Island 3.7 – Not in Portland

Filed under: back to the island,reviewage — Tags: , — lexifab @ 10:58 pm

Quote: “You haven’t thought this through, Jack. Your plan’s not going to work.” – Juliet Burke

Summary: Everyone argues about the dangling plot threads from the previous episode: Will Jack let Ben die in surgery (and will it be deliberate or another screw-up)? Will Kate and Sawyer escape and or will Danny finally get to kill someone in revenge for Sun shooting Colleen? Drama!

The Best Bit: The reckless desperation of Kate and Sawyer’s escape is exciting and features a very unexpected diversion down one of the series’ weirder rabbit holes. But nothing quite tops the fact that Ben wakes up during his own surgery and successfully negotiates for his own life despite the fact that virtually everyone involved would be happier with him dead.

The Worst Bit: Jack does a lot of treading water in this episode, loudly and angrily restating his previous positions while other things happen. He manages to outdo himself in the final scene by arrogantly browbeating Juliet into telling him what Ben said to convince her to save him. It’s aggressive and arguably bullying, though Juliet’s weary but calculated response – “I’ve been on this Island for three years, Jack. Three years, two months and twenty-eight days. He said that if I let him live and helped you that he would finally let me go home” – is delivered with real emotional punch.

The Literature: There’s no time for anyone to pick up a book in this classic run-through-the-jungle shoutfest. The closest thing to a literary allusion is the A Clockwork Orange scene, about which more in a moment.

The Mythology: Well. Doesn’t “Not in Portland” open up a can of worms? First of all, in the Juliet flashback we get our first introduction to Richard Alpert, played with slightly-goofy-terribly-sinister charm by the wonderful Nestor Carbonell. He’s pretending to be a recruiter for a Portland biotech startup, but he’s really one of the Others and also a bus murderer. It’s not everyone who gets to write that on their resume. Oh, and Ethan’s there too, but more or less only so that we know straight away that Alpert’s up to no good.

The other key new element is Room 23, where Alex’s boyfriend whatsisnamewhocares (aka Karl) is being torture-programmed by weird visual images and a genuinely unendurable industrial metal soundtrack. This is apparently where recruits go to get indoctrinated into the gun-toting jungle fetishist cult of the Others. The blipverts on Carl’s giant TV screen announce “God loves you as he loved Jacob”. They also make pronouncements like “Everything changes!” and “We are the causes of our own suffering”, which sounds like the take-home messages from a particularly vacuous TED talk.

The Episode: So. This is the first episode of Lost after a long hiatus caused by the infamous 2007 Hollywood writers’ strike. During their down-tools, the senior writer-producers of the show are alleged to have got together to map out the rest of the series. Everything after this point, we are told, is driving the series towards its climactic episode. I’ll have stuff to say about that when we get to Season Six, but for the moment it’s fair enough to take it at face value.

In terms of moving forward, they come off the blocks pretty hard with “Not in Portland”, laying plenty of pipe for the rest of the series in between the gun fights, tense negotiations and sudden betrayals. Juliette’s back story is sad – Elizabeth Mitchell performs crushing, unbearable sadness as well as anyone in the business – but feels artificially manipulative to me. It’s mainly constructed to make the Others looks ruthless (we knew that) and to establish that she has good reason to hate Ben.

It’s good, but except for the bit where Juliet’s ex is bus-murdered, it’s not that memorable. Call it seven botched spinal surgeries out of ten.

April 15, 2016

Zine crazy

Filed under: news of the day,wordsmithery — Tags: , — lexifab @ 3:17 pm

I sent a newsletter out last night, to my teeming list of six (count ’em all!) mailing list subscribers. It was a surprisingly nerve-wracking experience, which lines up with my general experience of self-promotion. In other news, I sometimes vomit before or after interviews.

The point of doing the newsletter, even though I don’t really have a lot of writing career to promote at the moment, is to get some practise at the marketing side of the business. It’s an interesting aspect of a professional writing career that I’ve never given any real consideration, for the very sensible reason that why would I? But on the off chance I ever stumble into some modicum of success as a writer, I’d rather have built up some of the basic non-writing skills that prop up the career.

Having a well-maintained mailing list is one of the things every discussion of book marketing mentions sooner or later, whether the author in question is traditional or self-published. Members of a mailing list are self-selecting volunteers who want to be there (if they didn’t, they’d unsubscribe), which makes them more likely to be receptive to your personal news than all your cousins on Facebook or all the random fashion bots that follow you on Twitter.

Besides which, I’ve missed writing wacky amateurish ‘zines, which I’ve hardly done at all since high school.

Another reason included the first episode of what I currently plan to be long-running serial adventure. I figure if I’m going to have a mailing list, I want to make it worth clicking on. It doesn’t hurt that having an outside obligation means I’m much more likely to finish a piece of work than if I leave it to my own devices.

The big reason to put out a newsletter, if I’m being much too blunt for my own comfort [1], is that I crave an audience. I want people to hear what I have to say. Or no, not even that, because the existence of blogs and social media more than adequately provides a soapbox sounding off about whatever. What I really hope for is confirmation, however transitory and slight, that I possess the minor super-power of being entertaining or at least amusing through the medium of storytelling.

I’m like that kid (i.e. me) who ties the towel around his neck, climbs up on the shed and jumps off in the hope that this time he’ll fly. And then does it again, and again, and again. [2]

That sounds self-deprecating and defeatist, but it’s not intended that way. It’s painfully apparent to me, from observation of my own habits as a consumer of art, that it’s very difficult for writers, musicians and artists of every other stripe [2] to capture the attention of an audience, or to hold it for more than a moment. The world is too busy, too loud, too crowded with distractions. It’s hard to stand out. And like all things that are hard, it takes time and work (and probably a lot of mistakes) before you can get better at it.

Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely subscribe to the notion that creating art is a worthwhile pursuit in its own right. But that doesn’t mean I want to or should have to create in a vacuum. Art is much more interesting and compelling to me as a conversation between unique voices than as the isolated mutterings of a lonely madman. Even if the conversation is barely about a murmur at the moment, I’d still prefer to be having it with other people.

Anyway, if you’re reading this and you missed out, you can still go over to my author website and subscribe. I’ll resend the April newsletter in a week or two to any late signups, so you won’t miss out on the first part of Orphans’ Moon.

 

[1] As I typed this I was very, very uncomfortable and maybe a little bit nauseated

[2] And each time, assuming this isn’t the time he breaks his damn fool leg or worse, he gets a little bit better at tucking and rolling on impact.

[3] Poets are especially fucked. I’m glad I’m not trying to be a poet.

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