Posts tagged ‘books’

Just So!

12 August, 2012 | | No Comment

Pardon me – and join me! – while I a take a moment from recounting the tales of vacation to recall this evening.  We were gifted this evening by generous friends of the Human Tape Recorder with tickets to a new play being produced by the Acting for Young People (AFYP) group at George Mason’s Center for the Arts.  I accompanied the HTR to this play, Just So, to see our young friend Paul on what was not his first and what will certainly not be his last performance on stage.

The topic of the play, though, was a natural draw for me – it was written and directed by AFYP’s Lisa Nanni-Messegee as a re-imagining of Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories and parts of The Jungle Book, mashed up with the events of Kipling’s life as shown in the movie “My Boy Jack,” which is about the enlistment and subsequent death of his son John in WWI.  As a lifelong fan of Kipling’s work, as well as a solid fan of our friend Paul, I couldn’t wait to see it!

Having now seen it, I expect that this play could eventually find its way to a bigger stage with a wider audience.  It needs first to decide what it wants to be; the mashup takes tales written for children in the 1890s and finally published in 1902, and tries to find the intersection of these stories with the events of 1915, when his son died in the Battle of Loos, France, in WWI.  The Just So Stories treated in the play, both How the Whale Got His Throat and The Elephant’s Child, tend toward comedy, as do several of the parts of the Jungle Book.  (Baloo is hard to play as anything but a comedic foil.)  In the meantime, the guilt Kipling feels over his role in getting John into the Irish Guards is anything but comic, and the juxtiposition of the two doesn’t always work.  The audience may have been left in several scenes trying to decide which parts were supposed to be funny.  There were a few factual missteps:  for instance, at one point our young Kipling mentioned that he was the Poet Laureate.  In fact he was offered the post more than once, but refused it.   He *was* a Nobel Laureate, however – he remains to this date the youngest Literature Laureate, having been 42 years old when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907.

Speaking of young and talented, the actors, ranging in age from 18 to 11, were brilliant for their parts.  They were well chosen for their roles and performed them like the professionals that they aren’t yet – and there’s no question that some of them will be.  Noah M_, who played the young doomed John Kipling, was particularly brilliant, as was our Paul, who played Mowgli on the cusp of manhood and made him seem every bit as real as any teenager caught between child and adult.  Jessi S_, the young lady playing Kaa, the snake, was also exceptional. 

It was a well choreographed, well thought out play, and I enjoyed it a lot.  It lasted nearly 2 and a half hours, and the time flew by – the story was paced so well that I wasn’t the only audience member surprised by the hour when we exited.  The music was used well and often, and the props were minimal enough that they never got in the way of the story.  There was a musical called “Just So” based on those stories in 1984; this isn’t that.  I’ve been reading Kipling since I was much younger than tonight’s actors, and I’ve never seen or heard of anyone revisiting these two very different points in Kipling’s life in quite this way.  I expect that with some minor variations, this unique perspective will be retold in increasingly larger venues, and it should be.   For those readers in the DC area, it’s playing again tomorrow at the George Mason University Center for the Arts at 2 pm.  If you’re half the Kipling fan I am, it’s more than worth the price of admission – and I thank Paul’s parents again for the opportunity to attend tonight! 

For further reading in case you need a refresher on why Kipling’s still considered one of the best short story writers ever, I offer you a choice:  The Man Who Would Be King, a novella from 1888, or The Brushwood Boy, a shorter story written in 1895 and included as the capstone story in The Day’s Work in 1898.  The Brushwood Boy is probably my favorite short story ever. 



Guy Montag is Lost

6 June, 2012 | | No Comment

We lost the last of the giants yesterday.

I grew up on a steady diet of the four pillars of Science Fiction: Robert Heinlein, Issac Asimov, Arthur C. Clark, and Ray Bradbury. I would usually include Frank Herbert in that list, and Kurt Vonnegut around the edges of social commentator and fabulist, but Heinlein, Asimov, Clark, and Bradbury were unquestionably greats, were giants who shaped the worlds of the future as they wrote them. Between them they wrote more than 700 books (impressive, even considering 500 of the books were Asimov alone) and countless short stories, movie scripts, novellas, plays, and television and radio shows.

But Bradbury, who died at 91 years old yesterday, was a little different. Heinlein, Asimov, and Clark were known as the “Big Three;” Bradbury was there, was part of speculative Sci-Fi every micron of the way, but he wrote closer to the Earth than the others tended to. Even one of his most well known books, The Martian Chronicles, was still within our solar system – and the stories were uniquely human stories. His Fahrenheit 451 – required reading in many schools – is not only set on our world, but increasingly describes our world. The technology of media and the decline of print publishing today holds frightening echoes of Bradbury’s dystopia.

He wrote poetry as well. As a poet and Sci-Fi buff, I was excited to find a copy of an anthology of his poems. Yes, some were about sci-fi. Some were about flowers, and children. Most of them were proof that he was a better storyteller than poet. But still, he was one of the last of the Renaissance men – creating with words in every venue in which words can carry weight.

He will be missed by many. And if you’ve never read Fahrenheit 451, go get a copy. You’ll be glad you did.

Road Trips, Mall Rats, Highways, and Evolution

17 May, 2012 | | 3 Comments

I’ve put 500 miles on the Blackfish this week, just going to meetings. That’ll happen when your meeting on Wednesday morning is just south of Richmond and your meeting Thursday morning is just south of Delaware. Wednesday morning I woke at 0430 and drove to Ft. Lee, VA, meeting the cohort at the predetermined rendezvous point at the appointed time with military precision. It’s the same cohort I usually travel with to Huntsville, and so by meeting at the appointed time with military precision, I mean they were half an hour late. By the predetermined rendezvous point, I mean, of course, Waffle House. There is something greasily satisfying about Waffle House that makes it the perfect road food.

Ft. Lee is just down the way from the Petersburg National Battlefield, where Gen. Ulysses S. Grant cut off Petersburg’s supply lines, leading to the fall of Richmond and Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender shortly thereafter. Since the Civil War has come up in about a dozen conversations in the past few months, and I was done studying earned value management and zombies, I decided early this week that I’d finally pick up The Killer Angels, Michael Shaara’s famous book about the battle of Gettysburg. It had been on my to-read shelf for more than 10 years, but I always assumed it was a somewhat dry rendition of the facts of the battle, and found something else to do.

If you haven’t read it, it’s NOT a dry recitation of facts and history. It’s a well told, well crafted story with engaging, tragic, larger than life characters and fascinating dialogues and internal monologues. Within the first 15 pages, I was hooked, and I asked SOBUMD with her amazing library-foo to see if it was an audiobook somewhere. She brought it home the next day, and I’ve been listening to it for 5 hours to and from Ft. Lee and now today 4 hours to and from Aberdeen, MD. It’s a great story – I can’t wait to see how it ends, so if you’ve read it already, don’t tell me!

This morning I awoke again at 0430 and drove, this time, to Aberdeen, MD, arriving in time to find, no, yes, wait for it – a Waffle House. I can’t get enough of their greasy lovely food, nor into my older pants. Aberdeen is prettier than I expected, and the meetings there went well.

I took I-95 to Aberdeen, but I took the smaller Rt 40 most of the way back, at least into Baltimore. The interstates are fine for getting places quickly, but that’s about the only thing they really have going for them. On the slower, older, blue highways, as William Least Heat-Moon calls them, you can see the older America. It has stoplights. Some of them are at the intersection of the Past and the Future, where a simple car repair shop has a distinct carport right next to the highway and suspiciously Greco-Roman architecture, and you realize that this was once a filling station for highway traffic, 60 years ago, before the interstate came through and left this piece of road as a Left Turn to Nowhere.

The interstate, were you to open your windows while driving it, which is not always a great thing to do at 80 miles an hour, smells of diesel fuel and stress. The 20 miles of Rt. 40 I drove this afternoon smelled predominately of honeysuckle, and I left my windows down for all of it.

On the older roads, too, you can sometimes find those places where men of industry have started businesses next to icons, the features of the landscape that stick in the imagination, natural mnemonics that ensure you’ll remember their restaurant or gas station because it’s next to the Biggest Rock In Town or something. Mind you, once you’ve made that Left Turn to Nowhere, sometimes the true entrepreneur needs to create their own mnemonic, their own unforgettable icon to ensure you come back and tell your friends.

Chicken On The Roof

Chicken On The Roof

To wit, the Chicken On The Roof Grill. Don’t have a handy natural outcropping or memorable piece of landscape? Put a 20-foot plastic chicken on your roof and name your shop after that!

I didn’t stop. It was on the other side of the road (why did the Chicken On The Roof Grill cross the road?), and I wasn’t hungry. A spot of internet searching reveals that most reviews are along the lines of “take the Beltway, the food sucks,” so perhaps it was for the best.

Arriving home, I found I was in time to pick up the younger of the three lunatic children from school, and so fitting plan to deed I did that. This is always interesting, since right after school is about the only time they’ll both talk about their day. (I think they clear cache after about 10 minutes.) It turned out, on questioning, that the Reigning Queen of Pink had a bad day. This involved food that she’s not allowed to eat being substituted with other food she’s not allowed to eat, plus boys yelling at her. Number One Son asked, “Why were they yelling?”

BUMD: “They’re probably yelling because they’re 3rd grade boys, and 3rd grade boys are stupid.”
Reigning Queen of Pink: “All boys are stupid, and you [Number One Son], meaning no offense, are no exception. No offense, you understand, but you’re one of them.”
Number One Son: “How could I be offended at a true fact?”

These are the future leaders of our country.

Speaking of the future leaders of our country, because driving 500 miles in the last 36 hours wasn’t enough, I then this evening went downtown to Pentagon City Mall for a dinner meeting with a group from my company. The dinner was excellent, but of course the best part was before going in, I took the opportunity to circumnavigate the mall and notice the people, the sounds and the sights and scents and the sense of the place.

I almost wished I hadn’t. There, then, below me, were the quivering masses of humanity, walking and falling and running around in Spring Field Trip Season. Every other person was wearing a school logo or name tee-shirt, I suspect to help identify them to the leaders. It looked like there had been a mass breakout from the Sing Sing or Rikers Island Juvenile Detention Center, and all the escaped juvies had decided to go to the mall, yo. One group stood out in “Class of ” shirts, and instead of the year, they listed the names of everyone in the graduating class – the whole class. (You can do that in a small town. My graduating class would have needed the front and back of Hagrid’s dress robes to fit us all.) Those were the shirts; the young boys were otherwise in their best brown baggies and sporting their Bieber cuts.

The food court at a large mall may be 80 percent of what’s wrong with this country. Starting with the lack of Scotch dispensers. Smoke from the indoor BBQ joint clouded the upper levels, the sweet smell of charcoal, grease, and co-pays pungent in the air. I saw a fat man pay a thin man for a massage, in an open-air massage parlor – very likely the only physical human contact he gets all day.

There are no happy endings here.

Under the roar of it all, the songs of birds, struggling to hear each other inside this glassed-in urban forest they’ve adopted as home. Darwin would be proud; in 10 short years, these sparrows have evolved into flying mall rats, perfectly suited to life under the glass bubble. I noticed that they seem to instinctively flock toward younger children – genetic selection and experience has taught them that a 3-yr-old is more likely to drop the pretzel than an 8-yr-old. Mind you, the kids probably drop the pretzel out of surprise at seeing a bird in the mall. It makes you wonder if the pretzel shop lets the birds in, to drum up business by getting overstressed parents to buy new twisted baked goods to calm irate prepubescent consumers. No happy endings.

Like the like the open-air masseuse, like the Chicken On The Roof, like Longstreet and Lee at Gettysburg, there are no happy endings here. All I can tell you is that if you’re going to put 500 miles on your car in one week, make them good miles. Look out the window. Roll it down if you can. Skip the Interstate, skip the mall. Turn left next to nowhere, and explore the small spaces. You might find something neat, you might wonder how it got there, and you might wonder how the hell you’re going to find your way back to the road, but you’ll be glad you did. Tell ‘em the Big Ugly Man Doll sent you.

Passing the PMP Exam & Selling Out!

10 May, 2012 | | 3 Comments

So it’s a true fact that the past few months have been a little lighter on posts than usual.  Many of you may have determined that I was studying, which is true, or that I was busy with the office, which is also true.   However, my office is becoming (a little) more calm, and I’m finished with studying for a while.  I’m glad to be done, although I’m going to miss the dreams about Earned Value Zombie Management and the bit about “All Your Base Year and 2 Option Years Are Belong To Us.”

The Project Management Professional (PMP) exam was, while perhaps not brutal, a tough slog.  The 4-hour test took me 3 hours 57 minutes, which included a short bio break plus 45 seconds of me sitting with my eyes closed, palms up on the desk, reciting the Lotus Sutra, before I pushed the “I’m done” button with 3 minutes to spare.  The screen goes white for nearly a full minute, which if I hadn’t been expecting would have been completely panic inducing.  The screen came back, and I passed.  To say that I’m glad I don’t have to do that again is to flirt with understatement. 

One of the many study methods I used was taking practice exams, which not only gives you a sense of what to expect, but also gives you a sense of confidence that you can pass something like it.  (It’s also good for those of us who need practice sitting still for 4 hours.)  One of the questions on a practice test (though not the real one) was “What is the meaning of a concept called the ‘Journey to Abilene’?”  This took me back a step, since I hadn’t studied it at all in the 6-week course I’d been in – but I knew the answer.  FOBUMD, ever a paragon of learning, used to talk about it often enough that I remembered it off the top of my head, getting that one right in short order and helping position me for the rest of the exam.  Moral of the story:  Listen to your father, no matter what he’s talking about.  You never know when you’ll need to know that.  Thanks Dad!

In the meantime, I’ve been thinking about this blog.  It certainly wasn’t a photoblog, was it?  Despite my posting my daily pictures once a week for a month or two – when things got busy, that was the first to go.  I recall being very concerned that this didn’t become a photoblog; turns out I needn’t have worried. 

I think we’re due for a layout change; watch for that this summer.  In the meantime, I’m going to work on a few “in focus” notes about some of the three lunatic children – well, all three of the lunatic children, in fact.  Because I’ve told you about myself, but you’ve only ever seen the kids through my eyes – we’ll try for a more proper introduction one of these days.

In other news, Maurice Sendak has gone to play with the Wild Things.  I was honestly never a huge fan of his most famous book, but I loved and respected the poetry of it.  He was a great and influential author, and he’ll be missed. 

And speaking of great and influential authors, I finally read The Hunger Games the other day.  Pretty good book, and very influential in that sales of archery equipment are up 697% over this period last year.  I’m thinking of approaching a struggling industry and offering to write a book around their product for a small, nominal fee.  Why wait to sell out until you’re famous?  I’m going to sell out first

Oh, wait – I already did.  I’m a certified PMP.  D’oh!

Reading to the Lost Boys

2 March, 2012 | | 4 Comments

“The Winter is forbidden ’til December,
And exits March the 2nd, on the dot!”

So there I was, in my silk-lined yellow corduroy smoking jacket and red-and-yellow checked jester hat, with my jester balls bouncing for emphasis, reading to a gaggle of wide-eyed 3rd graders, when I wondered: “How did I get here?”

March the 2nd, you see, is a great date.  Not only is it the date, the dot upon which Winter exits Camelot, it is also, as you are most probably aware, the birthday of Dr. Seuss.  (Why is it that the two greatest children’s poets who ever lived had pen names?  Charles Dodgson and Theodor Geisel.  I’m thinking I need a good nom de plume.)

So in honor of the father of the Cat in the Hat’s birthday, the Reigning Queen of Pink asked if I would come to school this morning and read a Dr. Seuss book to her and her classmates, as was being requested of all the parents.  How could I refuse?  I was raised on One, Two, Red, and Blue Fishes, and most memorably, Fox in Sox.  (FOBUMD can still get his tongue around a muddle puddle tweetle poodle beetle noodle bottle paddle battle, which is of course what it’s called when tweetle beetles fight these battles in a bottle with their paddles and the bottle’s on a poodle and the poodle’s eating noodles.  But you knew that.)

So on with the silk-lined yellow corduroy smoking jacket and on with the red-and-yellow checked jester hat and off, with my battered old copy of Yertle the Turtle and the Reigning Queen of Pink, to school we went.

Reading with Yertle

Reading with Yertle, Rehearsing my Lines

Signing in at the office, I was greeted with “I dare you to go to your office like that.”  Since I work on an Army post, I politely demurred.  One of the school’s many saints, who has worked with both Number One Son and the RQoP, came around a corner, took one look at me and said, “I should have known.” I think it was the bouncing balls around my head that did it, but it could have been that Hugh Hefner aura I was projecting with the smoking jacket.  You never know.  I was also greeted warmly by the wonderful PTA President, who luckily did not have her camera.

Once signed in, I with the other parents milled about while waiting to enter the cafeteria, which is of course the official waiting spot – but we needed to wait before waiting since there were still a few dozen little darlings coming out of the cafeteria, having finished waiting for classes to start.  Three of these little darlings, on their egress from the cafeteria, walked straight up to me, like the crew of Stand By Me confronting their fears, except shorter, and they were girls.

Girl 1:  “Who are you?”
BUMD:  “Well, I don’t know yet.  I’m here to read this book.”
Girl 2:  “You don’t know who you are?”
BUMD:  “Well, it’s hard to be certain.”
Girl 1:  “You’re Yertle the Turtle?”
BUMD:  “I could be.  I’m not sure; I haven’t read the book yet.”
Girl 3:  “Are you a turtle?”

Damnit.  I didn’t see that coming, and I can’t answer this 7-year-old properly.  First, I don’t know her parents, and I would need to apologize for contributing to her corruption.  Second, it would be just generally inappropriate.  And third, the PTA President and a school staffer were standing right next to me.

Mind you, these are all reasons that I should answer her, also.  Because there is only one answer to that questionYou bet your sweet ass I am. 

Thinking quickly on my feet, I replied, “I’m not at liberty to say right now.”   Still, I felt the shame.  Look me up in 15 years, kid – I owe you a beer.  (I then checked with the PTA President and school staffer; luckily, they weren’t turtles, or I would have owed them a beer also.)  The girls must have sensed my discomfiture, because they vanished shortly afterward – whereupon we made our way into the cafeteria for some serious, adult waiting.

After hanging out in the cafeteria for a while, trying to avoid eye contact with other parents who probably thought *they* would make better readers, we were dismissed to our respective classrooms.  In mine, I found that 8 other parents had arrived to read to their respective children – a ratio of 9 readers to 23 little listeners, or as I like to think of it, 9 mouths to 46 ears.  Hardly seems fair, does it?  The teacher – another saint who remembers Number One Son – suggested we break into groups of our own kid and one or two others, and find a spot and read.  The RQoP hauled me to the center of the room and was looking for a place to sit and a friend to grab in the milling crowd, when I noticed a gaggle of five boys in a huddle, with no parent, asking said teacher what they should do.  She told them to find a parent group, and I looked at the obvious ringleader and said, “Hey, I’m a parent group!” 

This little punk took one look at my hat and said, “Oh, yeah!!!”  You could hear the exclamation points.  I was touched. 

And so the RQoP and the five lost boys and I moved to the back, and I rolled through Yertle the Turtle.  On page one, I noticed they were squirming more than I would have expected.  On page two, this continued.  By page three, I realized that I was completely out of practice reading this sort of thing to this sort of audience – I had been holding the book in front of me.  As soon as I switched hands and moved the book so that they could all see the pictures, I had them.  We got through Yertle, Gertrude McFee, and The Big Brag, and with 5 minutes to spare in our allotted time the ringleader asked if I could read his book – The Twenty Little Piggies.  I considered explaining that I was only there for the Seuss, but I had a flashback to the movie Stand By Me and decided to just read it – Gordie might be packing, you never know.  The piggies book didn’t suck, but it’s not Dr. Seuss.  Besides, I was rooting for the wolf – you know how I love a good pulled pig.

Once our half hour was up and all the piggies were accounted for, the boys decided that my balls looked like cat toys and began batting at them.  That the RQoP aided and abetted them in this endeavor did not help matters.  I made my escape with my book, my hat, and my sacred honor, leaving the lost boys to their lost boy games, and to their teacher. 

At least we know winter is over in Camelot.  Plus, happy birthday to Dr. Seuss!