Thursday, November 19, 2015

Week in Seven Words #272

"What we lack is TRUTH and COURAGE!" she cries. (Her friend's reply is a low murmur.) "No, NO!" she cuts in. "COURAGE! We have no COURAGE!" (Her friend continues murmuring.) "Nothing can get done without COURAGE!"

Along with packing for the trip, I need to prepare psychologically. I know there will be tension, anger and irrational arguments. Lingering grief too.

They sit cross-legged on the picnic table beneath the maple and feed each other pizza.

It's difficult talking to people who are always so certain. They like to give me a knowing, pitying look, like they've got it all figured out and they're just waiting for me to come around, any minute now, to their way of seeing things.

I attach the file, send the email, and hope for an outcome that isn't terrible.

When he sits by the shelves with his son on his lap and reads from the picture book, he sounds the words carefully. He looks puzzled at the bright children bouncing through the American city from page to page.

"I don't like losing," he says, as the centerpiece of his argument for why I should lose to him.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Dancer Taking in Paris

Earlier this year, the Opéra National de Paris YouTube channel posted short videos directed by Benjamin Millepied. They feature different dancers from the Paris Opera Ballet. This one focuses on Dorothée Gilbert and, all around her, Paris.

Friday, November 13, 2015

13 More Short Stories for Friday the 13th

Like I said the first time I posted a Friday the 13th short story round-up, I don't believe in the superstition of the day. But I'd like to share stories I've read that have some combination of dread, distorted thoughts, strange phenomena and/or horror.

Title: A Diorama of the Infernal Regions, or the Devil’s Ninth Question
Author: Andy Duncan
Where I Read It: Fantasy: The Best of the Year 2008

This coming of age story, set in the 19th century American South, reads like the set-up to a novel, or maybe a computer game; but it feels complete too. The main character, Pearleen Sunday, was dumped as a baby on the doorstep of an unscholarly museum. It's run by a man who likes to use magic tricks, sex, tall tales, and eye-catching visuals to draw a crowd. As she's growing up, Pearleen has a variety of chores, like working the diorama of the infernal regions - a huge moving strip of canvas that depicts all kinds of hellish torture to museum visitors. But whenever she stands behind it, cranking it into motion, Pearleen sees different images from what appears to be another world.

One day, a visiting magician, Farethewell, needs a last-minute replacement for a young female assistant in his magic show. When he asks Pearleen to step in, and she sees the humiliation in store for her, she flees and leaps into the back of the diorama, which leads her to the ghost-filled mansion of an old widow, Mrs. Winchester. And though she isn't in the infernal regions as depicted by the diorama, Pearleen will still meet the devil's son-in-law.

Pearleen chooses between a coming of age experience that would turn her into a sex object and one where she discovers where she might belong and what her powers could be. It's an odd adventure and hints at more to come.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Week in Seven Words #271

Three ladies leafing through books in a room hung with tapestries.

A rattling cart, laden with aluminum trays of warm fragrant meat.

The only splash of color in the office comes from a banner with a beach scene: sunset, gold sand, palms imprinted on curling waves.

Without the usual roar from the TV, there's a startling quiet in the house.

His know-it-all attitude masks a fear of the world and an uncertainty about his place in it.

Dinner isn't so much a minefield as a sea dotted with icebergs. What's above the surface is dangerous enough; below, there are contours and formations we can't bear to think about.

"Our online system works well. People can find things easily and save their search results reliably. Clearly we're doing something wrong."

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Veterans Day Viewing: Debt of Honor

Title: Debt of Honor: Disabled Veterans in American History
Director: Ric Burns
Language: English
Rating: PG

I watched a free screening last night for a documentary that will be airing on PBS tonight, 11/10, at 9 p.m. eastern time. Debt of Honor looks at the way the U.S. has responded to returning wounded veterans from major wars across history.

With advances in medicine and technology, there are many more people who survive serious injuries in the line of duty, but they might return with missing limbs, paralysis or with visible scars. These permanent injuries are among the challenges to returning to civilian life.

The documentary also focuses on mental health, particularly post-traumatic stress, in returning veterans. As far as we can tell, mental trauma has always been a part of war, with different names for post-traumatic stress ("soldier's heart" after the Civil War, "shellshock" after WWI), and our understanding of it increased greatly after the Vietnam War. But there's still much that we don't understand and a stigma remains. Often, it's the psychological issues (including but not limited to PTSD) that keep returning troops from merging back into daily life successfully. It's also a matter of redefining or readjusting their identity after spending time in a combat zone or military setting. And if they're injured or mentally traumatized, they need to find a way to make sense of life.

General attitudes have also varied, from one war to another, towards returning veterans and how to respond to those injured; and the documentary makes the point that since Vietnam, the military and the mainstream population have gone separate ways. There's a disconnect between them. We don't have a draft. Civilians may not even really feel any direct effects of war, and may live in ignorance of complex battles fought in places they wouldn't be able to find on a map. So when soldiers return, it might as well be from an alien world. Meantime, there are high rates of suicide among veterans and soldiers in active duty.

The film is well worth watching, so if you have time tonight and have access to PBS please check it out (or get the DVD at some other point). After the screening last night, there was a discussion panel that covered several topics, including inadequate care for veterans. For instance, Guam has a super-high rate of U.S. military service, but it's terribly short on VA resources. (Here's a short video on that.)

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Week in Seven Words #270

Held in place by the people around her, she falls asleep standing up in the subway car.

Flowers spilling out of the grocery store to meet the warmer air.

We have a short time together. Make it count, I think. Tell funny stories, crack jokes. But I can't think of anything. My need to perform is proof of the distance between us. I can only wave and gesture and pull faces like a clown; anything more subtle won't get noticed.

Coffee in a solarium. He wishes he could smoke indoors too. He takes out his lighter and turns it in different angles until a blade of sunlight springs out of it.

Fog probing the upper reaches of the tree.

It's hideous when parents turn one of their children into the brutal enforcement arm of their parental power. The child dispenses punishment - berates the other children, bullies and hits them. The parents watch calmly from their heights.

The fire station has fallen apart. A truck and a police car have smashed into the pizzeria. Mermaids bob in the harbor next to capsized boats. The future of Lego City looks grim.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

10 reasons to watch Double Indemnity (1944)

Title: Double Indemnity
Director: Billy Wilder
Language: English
Rating: Unrated

Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) is an insurance salesman who helps Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) kill her husband in a way that will increase the life insurance payout.

"Double Indemnity, Life Magazine" Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

Walter's friend and colleague, claims adjuster Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson), begins to suspect that Mr. Dietrichson's death wasn't an accident.

Why is Double Indemnity worth watching?