Thursday, April 30, 2009

Lego Nation

I've cut the cord.

I have amassed a large, varied, and frankly, fabulous, Lego collection over the years. I've played with them from the age of 7 or so on, and never stopped.

Last month I bequeathed them to the girls. It wasn't easy. I've been holding out, because I didn't want them lost, broken, or scattered all over the house to be painfully stepped on at 2 a.m. whilst making your way to the bathroom. But they're old enough now. I made them take blood oaths to put all the Legos in the box when they're done, and put away the box, and they're been faithfully following my instructions. I've held a few of my best creations back: my space lobster, my submarine, my underwater mining tractor. Because they're just too damn cool. But the rest of them belong to the girls now.

The nature of Lego has changed over the years. You used to only be able to get sets of blocks with no specific purpose. You built whatever you wanted. Most of the Legos these days are kits with a specific thing in mind--a Stars Wars spaceship, a pirate ship--and included in the kit are step-by-step instructions on how to build it. It'd be easy to rail against the lack of creativity involved with including instructions in Legos. But disingenuous. Because a kid might build it according to the instructions the first time, but then they're going to rip it apart and build whatever they want. Because that is the nature of kids.

And that is the nature of Lego.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Incapable of Her Own Distress


I've got the first third of the New Novel nailed down to the support beams pretty well, I think. Starting to show it to a few eyes whose skills I trust. I figure I'd leak a taste of it out here on the blog as well.

It's got eight narrators (this isn't mere narrative trickery, but a device with a point: these voices are all disconnected from each other), but only three primary ones. Cassie is one of them. This is the first couple of pages of the third chapter, the first time we get a glimpse of her.

We like Cassie.

The title of this chapter is not, incidentally, the title of the book. It's from Hamlet. I think you're allowed to steal from Shakespeare.

Incapable of Her Own Distress


She waits to take her pills until after she has sent Henry to school. Small gray teeth of anxiety begin to bite at her brainstem, but she waits. She needs to be on track, making sure he has his mittens, his hat; she needs to double-check that his coat is zipped, his pants legs are tucked inside his boots. It gets cold during these Minnesota winters. She needs to make sure he has his backpack, his homework, his lunch money.

After he is safely inside the school building and she is back at home she goes straight to the bathroom and washes down the two pale yellow pills, needle teeth already insistent at the back of her head, a hard rain of teeth. She sits and watches a little television, waiting for the fog to descend. It generally takes about twenty minutes, and she watches the shifting maps and swirling graphics of the Weather Channel until she feels the world go soft at the periphery, like worn flannel.

She washes the breakfast dishes next, every day. She has a tendency to get lost in the reflections of light in the soap bubbles, the pattern of dried cereal on the edge of a bowl. It is not unpleasant. If Henry were here she would feel thin fingers of panic in her belly--keep it together, don’t let him see, be here for him, be here for him now--but as long as it is just her, just washing dishes, she lets it slide, falls into the sensation a little, tries to enjoy it.

She floats through the house, making the two beds, putting away toys, placing pillows back on the couch. Her movements are slow and fluid, as if she is moving through air gone thick, and in a sense it has. She feels suspended in solution, like an apple bit in Jello. I am Ophelia, she thinks to herself, a reference from a smattering of community college literature courses she took a lifetime ago. Poor, mad Ophelia.

She is Ophelia, dusting the screen of the television.

She is Ophelia, putting the dishes up to dry.

She is incapable of her own distress.

The fog has cleared somewhat by three o’clock, when it is time to pick up Henry. Cleared but not wholly gone, and so she hangs back from the other parents, fearful of their prodding glances, of her own inability to make conversation. She stands in the grass behind the playground, partially hidden behind the idling swingset, the hard, cold metal of the monkey bars. She told the man from the birthday party she is ashamed of her car, her dress, Henry’s clothes, and while there is some truth in that, it is not the whole truth.

He is a nice man.

He has nice eyes. Everyday brown, everyday black pupil, but what she notices and remembers is the darker brown at the edges of the iris, circling the pupil, as if there is another color there entirely, eclipsed by the everyday brown, waiting for discovery.

She is thinking about his eyes as she takes Henry to the car and then home, the day they talk together at the playground. He does seem like a nice man. She is surprised at her ability to converse with him so easily. She is so shy, so much of the time, and he has a disarming ability to pull her out of her own head. But then Henry is by her side, the world shifts to him as it must, as it demands, and the man fades in her memory, swimming far out to the recesses of her waking mind. There are more important things to attend to.

Lately Henry has been biting himself. He bit her once, and she yelled at him, and did not feel guilty for yelling, but she is concerned at the result. He’s biting himself instead. He never does it in front of her, but in his room, hidden away, and she only knows of it because of the tell-tale moon-shaped bite marks that are left, in pairs on his arm like parentheses. She asks him about it. He always denies it.

So. She makes a point of staying with him, from the moment they get home from school to the moment they go to bed. Not that it’s difficult to do. Even before the biting began they spent nearly all their time together. She doesn’t know anyone in the neighborhood. It’s mostly retirees, in a tract of modular houses one step up from trailer homes. Her neighbors have no kids for Henry to play with, and she feels no need to get to know them. Their kindly smiles as they see her walking down the street with him suffice for her. She is a single mother, she has a young boy, she is a saint in their eyes, and if they have darker opinions about her raising a child out of wedlock they keep those opinions behind the solid front doors of their homes. They come by a few times a year, with Easter baskets of gooey chocolates, plastic balls and bats at his birthday, puzzles and blocks at Christmas. They offer handfuls of candy at Halloween, a place at the table at Thanksgiving. But other than holidays, other than the public smiles displayed to her from across the street, they are not a part of her daily life.

Henry is her world. She is Henry’s world.

They are complete.

Still, the man at the birthday party was nice.

Nice eyes, she thinks.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Chaos Beneath the Calm

This pic was discussed on a buncha astronomy blogs a few weeks ago (the Planetary Society Blog has the best discussion). It's a close-up of Saturn's rings. Ignore the big pointy shadow on the right, that's from Mimas, a moon of Saturn. Note instead the jagged shadows along the diagonal of the pic, where one ring is casting shadows on the next ring in. Cool, huh? No one is quite sure what is causing it, though the best guess is there is a lot of variation in size in the particles that make up that specific ring (though, interestingly, not the others). Alternately, it could be a bunch of smaller particles clumping up, due to gravitation. So the rings are not so much flat surfaces as a bunch of tiny moonlets bouncing around, colliding, clinging together for awhile, blasting apart, reforming into new groups. I like the idea of such a seemingly serene structure having all that chaos teeming just beneath the surface. Metaphors abound.

The reason, by the way, the shadows can be seen at all is that the rings are very close to being parallel to the sun's rays (think of trees casting long shadows in late afternoon).

Here's a close-up.

Mysterious Space Blobs From the Beginning of Time

The blog has been rather clowncar-centric lately, what with the new house and the girls and vacation and all, so it's back to space.

This is a huge mysterious space blob, very far away and thus from the very early universe (only three other objects more distant than this have ever been seen). No one knows what it is. The beginnings of a black hole? The early stages of one of the first galaxies? The cosmic egg from which Mothra hatched?

It's called Himiko, after an ancient Japanese queen, thus reinforcing the whole Mothra vibe. Apparently, the peer-reviewed paper that announced the discovery actually refers to it as a "blob" 34 times. No one knows what to call it.

Too cool.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Zen of Constant Motion

Quite the week at Casa de Clowncar.

We're officially under contract for the new house. Now what our realtor refers to as "the dance," where we bring inspectors in, and start fine tuning the deal.

Our current house goes on the market Monday. We're ready. And realistic; we won't sell it for months, most likely.

I went to Grand Junction to teach a two-day web design workshop (which went very well), but a freak April snowstorm closed Vail Pass and trapped me in the mountains Friday night. Bored and lonesome. Drank the better part of a six-pack, watched some baseball, then Star Wars I (a dreadful movie, but the spaceships are cool)(and the Anakin Skywalker backstory has some genuine mythic heft to it).

Drove a hellish, white knuckle coupla hours over Vail Pass the next morning, dodging semis and reckless SUVs in the snow and ice and slush. Scary. Had some good road trip music at top volume to help me through: Tom Petty, James McMurtry (Larry's son), Michelle Shocked, Talking Heads, Robert Earl Keen.

Got home Saturday afternoon. Spent Sunday readying the house for show. And not eating. Because tomorrow is, once again, the operation that I will not name but which rhymes with "zolonoscopy." Fun.

The coming two weeks are just as busy.

Gonna be a wild ride. Oddly, kinda looking forward to it. Stay tuned.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Ramen Express

We're making an offer on a 2-story brick Victorian today. Built in 1892 and lovingly restored. So, the weekly menu for the (hopefully) short time we carry two mortgages: ramen with diced chicken and broccoli; ramen with shredded roast beef and green beans; ramen with scrambled eggs and peas (this last one is so popular with the girls they've actually named it: Daddy Soup).

Yes, I'm quite the ramen noodle savant.

See that window at the very top of the house? It faces out of a classic unfinished attic, with sloping walls, exposed insulation, the whole bit. My writer's room. I'll put in a floor, then walls, as I finish the New Novel. Fitting, eh? Building a room as I'm building a book.

Mets play their first game in their brand new ballpark tonight. It's named after a bank that took taxpayer money to stay afloat and promptly paid 400 million to buy naming rights to the stadium. Greedy Bastards that Took All Our Money and Flushed It Down A Fucking Hole Stadium, I like to call it.

I have vowed never to refer to it by it's corporate name. And I never will.

But good luck to those Metros tonight.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Flocking Birds

This is just gorgeous. I found it on Slate, who found it on Jason Kottke's blog. I've watched it like five times. Be sure and have the sound up and hear some wonderful music form the Amelie soundtrack. The visuals and the music are eerily in synch.

Like Dark Side of the Moon and The Wizard of Oz.

powerlinerflyers from wes johnson on Vimeo.

Also found on Kottke's blog: 10 steps to perform in case you accidently swallow a Higgs boson. Pretty funny.

Mets had their first loss yesterday. It is telling that the first hit Perez gave up was a three run homer. Yikes. What a frikkin head case.

Life is moving at a cheetah's pace. A decision on a home is imminent.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Trust Your Stuff

Mets won. Yankees lost. All is right with the world.

I just broke the 28K mark on the New Novel. Felt as if I was turning the corner on the first quarter of the thing in terms of plot. So, that's good.

There's a great piece of pitching advice which is also pretty good writing advice: pitch, don't aim. If you try too carefully to throw the ball to the exact spot you want - lower inside corner, say - you'll lose all your natural motion and throw the ball in a straight line, incredibly easy to predict and thus to hit. A better approach is to trust your stuff. You know what you're doing, you've been practicing forever. Let it fly. That's how to throw that curve ball high over the strike zone that suddenly surprises everyone by breaking at the last second and dropping into the zone for strike three.

Time-suck of the day. Star formation game. Create massive stars that supernova and create shock waves, to corral stellar material together and form smaller, more stable stars. I made 19!

If you do nothing at work today because of this, blame Bad Astronomy.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

In case you were curious as to how Gamera spends his free time

This is nothing earthshaking, just some really pretty HD video of the moon, as taken by India's current Chandrayaan mission. Very soothing to watch - if you're having a stressful day just stop, take 2 minutes off, and see the craters slide by like ocean waves. If you wanna skip to the end you'll see the really cool bit, as the orbiter approaches the terminator (the line where day meets night) and the moon's surface disappears in a honeycomb of shadows.

I don't know why the opening text is Japanese. You'd need the ask Ms. Riofrio, the Babe in the Universe, from whom I stole this. Personally, I find it adds a real Gamera vibe to the whole video, as if our little turtle friend in doing a lunar fly-by to pass the time.