Showing posts from May, 2011

What We Make of Ourselves; Part 2: South Riding (TV)

It doesn’t matter if we’re living in the big city, an itty-bitty hamlet, or something in-between, we all expect the same access to the world around us... and for the most part, we get it, with internet, cellular technology, and all those forms of transportation at our disposal. Go back as little as eighty or so years, though, and that wasn’t the case... not in a place like South Riding, the small Yorkshire town at the heart of a recent BBC production of the same name. ❖ ❖ ❖ ❖ ❖ ❖ ❖ When the train stops in South Riding and thirty-something Sarah Burton steps out onto the platform, her look of consternation speaks volumes; trains, it seems, do not adhere to the same rigorous time schedules in this northern backwater as they do in London--something which isn’t likely to improve her odds of making a good impression at the job interview for which she’s now running late. She arrives with only a moment to catch her breath. That moment, however, is a telling one; a quick look at the other interv…

What We Make of Ourselves; Part 1: Upstairs Downstairs (TV)

Destiny. Fate. Call it what you will, but the fact remains that all of us start out, to a certain extent, either cursed or blessed by circumstances entirely beyond our control--namely, the sort of conditions into which we’re born. There’s little rhyme or reason to it, of course; it’s all a matter of biology and luck-of-the-draw as to our parents and their respective situations. Kings and queens are just as likely to have half-wits for heirs as paupers are to bear geniuses. (And no, I’m not discounting the importance of “nurture” in the old “nature vs. nurture” equation, I’m merely pointing out the randomness of it all when it comes to innate abilities.) That kind of randomness--and whether or not we attempt to change our lots in life or just accept things as they are--struck me when watching a pair of mini-series which aired (on PBS, here in the States) recently. The two stories have their similarities and differences, but it was how each character’s situation in life informs his/her ac…

Werewolves (plus Vile Vampires & Steamy Steampunk) of London

The saying “You can’t tell a book by its cover” is an interesting one, because we almost never use it when talking about books, do we? We pull it out to describe the slovenly fellow who paints delicate watercolors... the fragile-looking woman who packs a mean right hook... or maybe, the old, driven-by-grandpa four-door that surprises with a souped-up V-8 under its oxidized hood. The point is that none of those things involves a book.  More interesting, perhaps, is that the saying isn’t strictly accurate; I think you pretty much can guess what a book will be like by studying its cover. The artwork may not jibe completely with the author’s words, but you can usually get at least a sense of what kind of story you’ve picked up, and if there are any blurbs, quotes, or snippets on the cover, those all provide yet more clues to what lies within.  But, what happens when there is no cover? With the growing popularity of e-books, it’s becoming more and more common to access something only via som…

A Windy City Cocktail: Jack's Reunion

We may not give much thought to it one way or the other--in fact, I’m pretty sure we don’t--but no matter what else we do, we’re constantly doing one thing: filing away memories, for later retrieval at some unspecified date.  Case in point? All we have to do is hear a song playing in a store, catch a few minutes of an old movie on TV, get a waft of a certain perfume while walking through a room, or read a name or phrase in a book... and suddenly, without even trying, we’re right back in the middle of whenever, reliving in our minds some episode--either momentous or inconsequential--from the past.  Good, bad, and boringly-mundane memories... our minds are like so many rows of filing cabinets in a huge warehouse, with vast storage space to hold all that stuff as we accumulate it with each passing day. But, we might ask, why do we have so many memories? Is their purpose, by turns, to titillate, amuse, anger, and/or embarrass us... or do we learn something valuable from them, as well? ******…

Conspiracy and the Persistence of Memory

They say we gain wisdom with age... and, although that seems like a no-brainer (for how could anyone not gain wisdom, knowledge, etc., the more years lived and the more experiences had?), I suspect the reason behind the oft-repeated platitude is two-fold.  First, it’s no doubt intended to cheer us up. Waking up each day with another twinge or crick--even as we observe our mental capacities and physical abilities gradually diminishing and going the way of the dodo bird--is hardly encouraging. We need something positive to cling to, so, by golly, wisdom it is. The second reason--while related to the first--is a bit more organic, I suspect. The bigger truth may be that we truly need such reminders, because, under the best of circumstances, we really don’t have a handle on what goes on in our brains.  Author Matt Richtel doesn't go the wisdom route; instead, he paints a fascinating and terrifying picture of what may lie in wait for all of us, in Devil’s Plaything. ***10010110101101001***  …

Happy Mom's Day

I've never been one to give much thought to my relationship with my mother; she's just... Mom, and we've always been two very different people.

Still, for all our problems--the mild annoyances, and those areas in which our opinions, beliefs, and attitudes do a complete 180 from each other--the inescapable fact is that I wouldn't be, precisely, who I am today... were it not for her.

Am I going to spout some claptrap about how, with each passing year, I feel closer to her or understand her better? Um, that would be a big "no". On the verge of acknowledging that the things which have always made me grit my teeth are now just cute little eccentricities? Again, a resounding no. ("Hell, no," would be my woefully-inelegant response to that, actually. I just don't do sentimental.)

But, there are a few things I definitely like and respect... things that (usually) make it possible for me to bite my tongue and silently tolerate the rest, even.

So, here'…

The Folly in Using Time to Change the Past (on monsters, mayhem, & more)

We’d all like a re-do now and then, wouldn’t we? After royally mucking up something--saying or doing the exact wrong thing--think how fabulous it would be to have a second chance to make things right.

Therein lies the problem, of course: it’s not possible; for there to be any second chances, we’d need the ability to go back in time.

Ah, but what if time travel were possible... if we had the technology and know-how to traipse back and forth between present and past? If we had the opportunity to go back and undo whatever--and then, to do it differently--wouldn’t most of us take it?

~ ✠ ~ ✠ ~ ✠ ~ ✠ ~ ✠ ~

At a large (and highly-anticipated) London congregation of geographers, naturalists, botanists, and journalists in 1861, the stage is set for Sir Richard Francis Burton, famed (and famously-controversial) world explorer and linguist, to--hopefully--lay waste to some of the spurious claims recently made by his former-friend-and-exploring-partner, Mr. John Hanning Speke. Tonight will be Sir…