2007, was that you? All I felt was a distant suck of wind! Dizzying, to say the least.
A lot of good things happened, actually. I'm now working full-time for one of my former freelance outlets and very happy about that — it means that much more stability in what can be a very uncertain world.
I'm contributing tons of what I hope are good reviews to AMN, although at the expense of stuff written directly for my own site, but I'm really not too worried about that. I may be writing about the occasional title I can't stomach (like Space Pinchy — sorry, Dark Horse), but for the most part I get so much good stuff — Tanpenshu, Berserk, Oldboy, Blade of the Immortal (all of which are, yes, Dark Horse titles; they do far more good than bad by me), and so on — that there's no point in complaining.
And as someone else once said, "I'm still here."
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I've been thinking about what to do with the review copies I get that I don't actually keep, and apart from giving them to friends I know who are on limited budgets, I have a few other ideas. The best one so far is to donate them to the manga libraries of one or more local cons, where I know they'll be warmly received — or maybe donate them to the library itself, although I'd have to check into the policies they have regarding donated materials. (Not all libraries can just take stuff willy-nilly; sometimes they are forced to turn the material around and sell it at a book sale to generate revenue for the library system.)
For those not in the know, the manga libraries at your local anime con work like so. You go into a room, turn in your con badge, and in exchange are allowed to browse a big looseleaf binder of all the titles they have. You can only look at one book at a time, but you can swap it out as many times as you like until they close the library for the day. When you're done, you collect your badge and hustle on over next door to the karaoke booth to wreck your vocal chords (or whatever else you've got in mind). If you're a fast reader and you've got an hour here or there, you can get caught up on a lot of comics this way — especially stuff that might be out of print.
I actually did that with Jiro Taniguchi's Benkei in New York, which I'd been curious about but had never spent the money on. (I feel it's a good-but-not-great book, with some interesting ideas that are not developed well, but if you're a Taniguchi fan his artwork is topnotch as always.) I did the same thing with as many volumes of Cromartie High as I could pack into an hour, although that almost backfired on me because I spent a good deal of that time with my fist shoved into my mouth (or my face smothered in my knapsack) trying not to crack up out loud. </digression>
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See you all next year!
I have a character I play intermittently in my Japan-themed RPG environment — a Buddhist nun, tiny and blind and lame since birth, who memorized the Buddhist canon by hearing it read aloud to her. She lives in self-imposed austerity, although her father (who does have money) insists on providing her with servants — who live as she does, austerely — so that she doesn't starve to death. (She's willing to make a few such concessions — after all, it's hard to spread the dharma when you're dead.)
At one point I had her say one of the usual Buddhist vows: "Though sentient beings are numberless I vow to save them all." Another player who was new to the game — and probably didn't know about Buddhism in detail — said something like "Whoa, is she nuts?!" I laughed, but at the same time I was actually kind of touched by that outburst — there was just something charmingly naive about it, something that cried out to be spoken to. So I explained as best I could.
A person who takes that vow [I said] doesn't expect to fulfill it literally. It's a mind-expanding gesture, a way to take the limitations of your life and explode them from the inside. You've probably seen the Adidas "Impossible Is Nothing" ad campaign at one point or another. I took a shine to it the first time I saw it: it was a clever pop-culture packaging of hope and aspiration. (One of the early iterations of the ad, since turned into a poster, showed Muhammad Ali in his famous "Get up and fight!" moment.)
If you do away with rational limits of what's possible or impossible, even if only in a provisional way, you aim that much higher by default. The hardest thing in the world is to do away with those kinds of self-imposed boundaries, to look beyond them and see something else, both for yourself and the benefit of the world around you.
One of the things that arrived shortly after I got back home from Christmas festivities was a book called Rice Bowl Women: Writings By And About The Women of China and Japan. I confess that I cut right to the Japan part of the book first, and found that some of it essentially duplicated material I already had in other parts of my library, but the non-duplicate stuff there was more than worth it. The Japanese side of the book also could have afforded to be longer, but maybe that was because of the material culled for it (and there's a reference to seven stories in the Modern Era section of the book, when only five show up — I wonder if two were cut).
Lady Sarashina's "As I Crossed A Bridge of Dreams" is my favorite so far, and is so immediate, direct and precise in its language that it could have been written yesterday. This is something I've noticed about a great many Heian-era writings, actually — they do not seem to date at all, except in the most topical sense, and are in some ways a model for what I might be trying to accomplish with the hero story. (Musashi, despite being written in the Thirties, doesn't have the flavor of something dated about it either, although that may not be the fairest comparison since the quality of the translation may also have something to do with it.)
One of the more interesting inclusions is Mishima's "Patriotism", which takes on an odd new light in the context of the book that I had not credited it with having before: it seems more like the story of the wife, rather than the soldier — especially given that she's the one left to follow her husband's example. The editor's comments pointed out that Mishima had a great many strong and independent female characters in his stories, although in a story like this it's left open for debate what direction that strength was pointed in.
Maureen Dowd's Op-Ed column in today's Times is about Christmas.
Like many other people I'm dismayed at the way Christmas is always such a commercial enterprise in every respect — if for no other reason than the way it is pushed (and pushed, and pushed) on us as an excuse to spend money. Nobody over the age of twelve is going to find this a revelation. But what's most dismaying to me is how it's confined all to the end of the year, confined to a very specific ritual, etc. It's something we can find an excuse to compartmentalize.
That said, I can think of at least one counter-argument to why any particular sentiment, like Christmas or Thanksgiving, gets packaged up in this fashion — it's sort of an adjunct to why, for instance, we shake hands or use certain utensils at the dinner table. It's a broadly-acceptable way to take these feelings, which can be expressed in a way that makes people uncomfortable ("I love you, man!!"), and give them a sanctioned space to be expressed, even if there's a little overkill involved. It's a way to take these things and give them a built-in context for their expression, which I guess isn't a bad thing.
So maybe Christmas is worth keeping for a bunch of reasons. It's a sanctioned space to give something back to life. I just feel that it's okay to give back the other 364 days of the year, too.
Here's a library in Queens that has an idea that will either have you applauding or recoiling: They refer library late fees to a collection agency.
For bigger library systems that lend out things like musical scores and CDs, being more stringent about this sort of thing does make sense. The hard part, as the article explains, is getting people to use the system without abusing the system — and also punishing those abuses without scaring them clean off.
I've had more than my fair share of library late fees — including (most embarrassingly) a book that slipped between the pages of another, larger book and went missing for months on end. I was prepared to pay up to replace it entirely when one day I pulled the bigger book off the shelf, wondering why it had this funny bulge. The missing book landed on my feet and I spent minutes on end laughing at myself.
I spent Christmas up at my in-laws' place, surrounded by some terrific people - most interesting of all being mom-in-law's deacon, one of those people who really does talk the talk and walk the walk. We got to chatting and I admitted that while I wasn't religious I was still determined to do the right thing whenever I could, whatever the circumstances. The Dalai Lama once said "Kindness is my religion," and I think he was speaking for a great many people when he said that.
I didn't get a lot of goodies, but that's again one of those things that I don't really focus on. I'm happy just to still be here; everything else is gravy.
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On a less heavy-duty note, I got Castlevania and Locoroco for the PSP — first two new games I've had for the console in a long time. I'd had my eye on both for a while, but ended up wishlisting them in time for the holidays.
A couple of friends had some bad news for me — one disheartening, and the other catastrophic. I won't go into either of them here, for the sake of privacy, but let's say they cast a serious pall over not just the season but next year as well.
Sobering, to say the least, and a reminder that whatever problems I deal with on my own are middling compared to what other people go through.
You don't have to look very hard to find something to remind you that every day you are still here is a good day, and that "an inch of time is worth a foot of jade," as Zen master Takuan once put it in his koan.
I turned 36 today. The festivities were myself and the missus in NYC, meeting my parents for a really lavish lunch, and relaxing at home afterwards. Most of the actual gift-giving will probably happen around Christmastime (that's usually the case anyway), but I did get one gift so far that was a real joy: the Art of Vampire Hunter D book. Leafing through it reminded me all the more that there needs to be a live-action D movie.
I also checked out Hellboy on BR-D and was deeply impressed - actually, being impressed with the movie was kind of a foregone conclusion since I'm already a Guillerimo del Toro fan, twice as much so now after Pan's Labyrinth. He might be a fine choice to bring D to the screen; his directorial flourishes make this kind of material feel fully-rounded and human, and not just a way to mount a bunch of special effects.
The only reason there are no reviews of BR-D titles yet on the site is because the software bundled with the BR player has no screen capture function, which is incredibly dismaying. Then again, that software in general is so crippled as to be almost useless, and copy-protection has absolutely nothing to do with it — how smart is it to create a media player that can't even seek to an arbitrary point on a disc when you know darn well the title in question is authored to have that ability? Dumb, guys, just dumb.
I had a rather glum conversation earlier with a friend who was, with some reluctance but also no small sense of frustration, withdrawing from the anime club that he had given a good deal of time and attention to over the past several years. His reasons for doing this were twofold: 1) he needed more time to devote to some other projects, and 2) he really didn't feel like a good many of the other people in the club were taking his suggestions seriously.
The second issue was something that had been bubbling for quite a while, and it finally boiled over when he was flat-out told that a series he had lobbied hard to get shown (Hajime no Ippo, a series I've also tried to promote when possible) was being pulled from the schedule at quite literally the last minute. This was bad enough, but what was even more irksome was that it was apparently losing out to another show that didn't have one-tenth the wit or spine.
This wasn't something that had happened once, either; it was a pattern. Time and again he would push hard to get genuinely interesting and daring material included in the lineup, only to have it greeted with indifference or hostility, and to have everyone fall back to watching shows that didn't particularly need the context of an anime club to appreciate. I'm reminded of the folks who drive hundreds of miles to a convention and then spend most of their time camped out in a hallway somewhere playing her exact same video games they have at home.
I guess it all goes back into the same subject I've touched on repeatedly these last few weeks and months. Most people are not looking for an adventure when it comes to this stuff, and that's not criminal or ignoble. It just is, and the only way to work around it is to trend as gently as you can towards showing them something new. If that doesn't work, then go look for another context to do that in.
It's heartbreaking to realize that you're not connecting, that something you care deeply about is simply being brushed aside. But it's also not something to be trapped in; you have to go to the people whose tastes you know can be enriched by yours.
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The next Eclipse set has been announced from Criterion, and it's a doozy. Three films by William Klein, including Who Are You Polly Magoo? and the mind-blowing Mister Freedom, which is so far out there that if I don't review it here, you are free to stand over me with a baseball bat until I get it written.
I've also got a copy of Superbad in the queue, which I've heard enough good things about that I might make it my first Blu-ray review (gasp).