The Week That Was, or This Is He Who Smells

An overheard conversation between bath and bedtime:

6YO: “Ciao”…”Ciao” means…uh…”Ciao” means “hello” and “goodbye” in…in…
Amy: Italian.
6YO: In Italian.
4YO: (clomps in on cast) ¡Hola, Big Dogs!

Despite a nice plate of shrimp, peas, orzo, and fresh parmesan, our children decided to skip that and eat the lemons off the cutting board. One of them danced like a robot while basically using her nose as a juicer. “Lemons are so sweet!” she yelled, and kept dancing.

Then she told me about watching a bird eat a poisonous snake during her zoo field trip. The little one decided to eat some cherry tomatoes and raw spinach leaves to go with her lemon slices. Maybe the zoo talk inspired her to eat like the turtles we saw there eat lunch once.

Later that night:
6YO: What are you doing?
Me: Fixing lunches. What are you doing?
6YO: The cat puked in our room.
Me: Can you tell mom?
6YO: She knows.
Me: Ok.
6YO: She stepped in it.
Me: Why are you telling me this?
6YO: Can I please may I have some ice water?
Me: Sure. Then bedtime.
6YO: With ice.
Me: Ice water with ice. Got it.

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Richard Matheson wrote the story that became the Twilight Zone episode everyone knows (or should know!) with William Shatner. He wrote “Duel” which became Spielberg’s first feature-length film (or at least the first one most people count). When playground discussion went to horror movies, kids would talk about Trilogy of Terror‘s sequence with a Zuni doll, based on Matheson’s “Prey.” It was the only part of that film I ever heard anyone talk about. Stephen King has said that Matheson is the writer that most influenced his own work. “Prey” seems to directly influence King’s short story “Battleground” and the “General” sequence in Cat’s Eye (1985). Matheson also sets his stories predominantly within the “normal” US households and neighborhoods. For example, King took Dracula and brought the idea to a Maine town in ‘Salem’s Lot, but this homeyness has often been a strength of King’s work.

He also wrote I Am Legend, a great apocalypse novel that became The Last Man on Earth (1964), Omega Man (1971), and finally I am Legend (2007). While I haven’t seen the latest adaptation, Last Man on Earth is my favorite. Omega Man is a laugh riot even as an apocalypse film.

Ray Bradbury called him “one of the most important writers of the twentieth century.”

If that isn’t enough to make you go read his work then I don’t know what is.

I don’t know if this is truly the best of Matheson, but it is an amazing introduction to his short fiction. If I would have discovered him in high school, I don’t think anything could have kept me from writing horror fiction. What really clicks reading these stories is how writers take ideas from each other and re-work them. He’s a link between someone like Poe or Lovecraft to King.

 

 

Way back in February, I wanted to watch some more Buñuel. That didn’t happen until recently. Robinson Crusoe (1954) and Simon of the Desert (1965) make an interesting double feature. Crusoe is a favorite book of mine (the first book I remember re-reading), but this movie version isn’t great. It does, however, create a bizarre claustrophobia that helps achieve the mood of forced solitude. Evidently the film was made in some thick and dangerous jungles, while interiors were done on soundstages. This packed frame is the opposite of the visual imagery often seen with island narratives where we get broad expanses of sky and beach. Thematically this makes sense in something like Lord of the Flies (1963) and the chaotic freedom the boys feel without having grown-ups. I found the claustrophobic effect in Crusoe surprising and interesting, but not worth watching the film again.

Simon of the Desert also features a character dealing with solitude, but one which is self-inflicted. Also, the visuals of the man atop a pillar surrounded by desert and sky are the opposite of the cramped images from Crusoe. A short essay by David Heslin, “The Impotence of Asceticism: Luis Buñuel’s Simón del Desierto,” digs into the history of St. Simon and what Buñuel does with it. The film is short–I’ve heard a variety of reasons why–but it is an interesting mix of plot and Buñuel’s surrealistic images and sequences. It’s also perverse and funny, like his films often are.

That ending! Glorious for those who want to engage with the ideas and likely maddening for those who want everything neatly worked out.

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Candles aren’t a usual topic here, but I do enjoy them. I decided to be a part of our department’s Secret Pal this year. I generally don’t like this kind of stuff and I wanted to push a little outside my comfort zone. Anyway, I received a Frostbeard Studio Oxford Library candle and it was fantastic. Thanks, Secret Pal! When I used that one, I tried The Shire, and while it’s a lighter fragrance, it’s nice, too. These are perfect sensory accompaniments to night reading or listening.

I really wanted to get the Old Books candle, but it is the only one I’ve seen with bad reviews. People who like book smells are persnickety–maybe. The major complaint is that it just smells like vanilla.

Once I leave The Shire, I’m journeying forth nosewise and elsewhere Frostbeardian.

 

The Week That Was, or I Wish the Shoe Fit

This week included speeding tickets, stomach viruses, the stinkiest, and ultimately most inedible, Brussels sprouts ever, and a white-knuckled trip to work in rain, standing water, and without streetlights, among other slight disasters.

My just-turned-four-year-old got a special present of pull-ups for her birthday because of the stomach virus.

Taking care of sick children did allow for a lot of snuggling, watching cartoons, and some reading.

Getting writing done is another story.

I did write a Lost Chords on the heavy metal art book Hellraisers.

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It’s been two decades since I’ve seen Buñuel’s work, with the exceptions of Un Chien Andalou (1929) and L’Age D’Or (1930). These are strange, beautiful films I revisit every year or so, each containing images seared into my visual memory. Well, aural memory, too. Almost every version of Un Chien I’ve seen uses “Tango Argentino.” It’s a piece of music that I hear in my head on a weekly basis. I’m not kidding. Maybe I should have given a warning before that link.

With Viridiana (1961)Buñuel managed to anger not only film censors, but also Franco and the Vatican. There is a fearlessness to his work, even if some argue that some of his metaphors are too obvious. I don’t know. Those images! These films were uncanny and almost incomprehensible when I was a young viewer. I enjoyed and felt transported by that quality. Now I can see the historical and social implications in his work and the films have taken on multiple meanings.

He was asked to change the ending in order to make it less suggestive. Originally, Viridiana goes into her cousin’s room and it is assumed that they are beginning an affair.  [spoiler here] He reshot it and had three characters sit down to play cards, and suggest the beginning of a polygamous relationship among them. And the censors okayed that ending! Cojones, Buñuel!

There are a several films I’ve missed by him (Robinson Crusoe?) and I’m hoping to dig into his work more formerly over the next year or so.

 

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Tom Hart’s How to Say Everything is a fantastic addition to the art/craft/storytelling shelf. Seriously. I found it as smart and warm as it is inspiring. I’m hoping to take a class at his Gainesville school, The Sequential Art Workshop (SAW), and who knows, maybe I could develop some online classes in literary content that he wants the school to have? I’ve been trying to establish a creative writing class for years and there just doesn’t seem to be money available to make that happen in the public schools where I work. But then again, it would be great to do some sort of film, philosophy, literature, or mythology course for these students. SAW’s website includes some free resources among other cool items.

I read excerpts from Hart’s Rosalie Lightning, his most famous work, several years ago and I just can’t read it in its entirety right now. I had a baby almost the age of Rosalie when I started reading it, and I knew the background story from a friend who teaches at SAW sometimes. What I read was beautiful and painful. The book is about the deepest love and loss that may be possible. I am planning on reading some of his lighter work, though, and I’ll read Rosalie some day.

 

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I ignored Danez Smith’s Don’t Call Us Dead initially because of the oxen-like contrariness I seem to have about something I hear about too much in popular culture. Finally, after so many people I respect had mentioned this, including Ashley M. Jones, I decided to check it out.

Smith’s work is confrontational, political, personal, and can somehow be serious and seriously funny at the same time. Their use of form in this book is fantastic–styles that work against the traditional stage or page dichotomy. These are poems that live on the breath and breathe on the page.

 

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Delaine is awesome. Not My Small Diary is a series that she has edited for more than two decades now, while also doing her own autobio comics series My Small Diary. I was so excited to get this one because I’ve been a fan of the the series and the “unexplained” since before I could read. I had more than one Time Life collection on oddities, and for a brief period I had cable which made Monster Quest a great way to start a weekend.

The bittersweet center of this collection is that within days of getting mine it became known that longtime contributor (he’s possibly in every anthology in the series) and all-around cool comix guy Mark Campos took his own life. Unlike a lot of contributors and fans of this series who knew him personally, I can’t say that, but I can say that I deeply enjoyed his work and his contribution was always one of the first that I read. His work reminded me of some of my favorites from MAD (Aragones, Jaffee, etc.), and while he could be funny, he also took that cartoon style and fused it with so many disparate influences, and wound it through his own perspective, moods, and tones.

He is missed.