Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Things I Don't Understand

Today was a crappy day, a demoralizing day, for me, so I thought I'd cheer myself up by doing the one thing that never fails me: writing.  In this case, it's on my blog, but any writing will do to lift the spirits.

So now, things I don't understand:

-The first Rambo movie was called First Blood.  The second Rambo movie was called Rambo: First Blood, Part II.  So why the hell is the next movie called Rambo III?  And then they made a Rambo IV!  Shouldn't the third movie have been called First Blood: Part III, and the fourth movie First Blood: Part IV?  Because, technically, Rambo III is actually Rambo II: First Blood Part III, and Rambo IV is Rambo III.  So if you want to see Rambo III, you really should say you want to watch Rambo II, which wouldn't be the second movie, because that was the first Rambo movie, whereas the first Rambo movie was First Blood.  Got it?

-You have Rocky I-V, but the last movie is called Rocky Balboa.  Why not just call it Rocky VI: We Promise It's Better Than Rocky V?

-In the first Friday the 13th movie, Jason Voorhees's mother is the villain.  In the rest of the series (minus an imposter in one of the films), the villain is a grown-up Jason Voorhees.  My question: how could a kid age after he died?  Second question: what the fuck is up with the aliens and the family curse in Jason Goes to Hell (in order to spare myself the horror of bad movie making, I had my brother tell me the plot)?  Third question: if it was the Final Friday, why were there sequels?  Final question: Why were there any sequels?

-Why were there any sequels to the vastly superior Halloween?  The ending was perfect.  Leave it alone!

-Why aren't titles that include the word "final," when referring to movies or video games, actually final?  Examples: Final Fantasy, Final Fight, Freddy Dies: The Final Nightmare (glad they made New Nightmare afterwards, though still not as good as the original), Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday, all the Final Destination movies (well, okay, that one makes sense).

-Why did Rob Zombie remake Halloween?  What was wrong with the original?

-Why aren't temp agencies temporary?

-Supposedly there are websites that can match me with my "perfect mate," so why can't websites match me with my "perfect job?"  I mean, I know there are job search websites out there, but all of their job suggestions--based on my skills--are shit.

-Why did we still have a stock exchange after the 1929 crash?  Why do we still have it?  Wouldn't a little less greed in the world be a good thing?

-Why can't I be paid by the hour to write my novel?  People are paid at work to Facebook each other.

-If Roland Emmerich can continue to make shitty films that gross millions of dollars, how come magazines won't pay millions for my shitty stories?  Okay, but seriously, the fact that Roland Emmerich is still allowed to make shitty movies BECAUSE they make millions of dollars should be deeply disturbing to all of us, especially to those people who buy tickets to his movies.  Go see Ingmar Bergman, folks!  Or Steven Spielberg.  Hell, rent some Hitchcock, or (if you want the anti-Roland Emmerich) watch some Yasujiro Ozu.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Greetings from Seattle!

Greetings from Seattle, everyone!  I landed a little before eleven yesterday morning (PST) after a somewhat turbulent flight from Chicago (though seeing the Cascade Mountains in all their glory made up for it, I think). The flight from Hartford to Chicago was slightly worse in that, after waking up from a nap, I felt nauseous, being slightly dehydrated and having not loosened my sneakers before I dozed off.  Untying them and taking my feet out of my sneakers, while taking deep breaths, prevented me from "fainting upright," which happened once before on a flight.  Of course, lack of sleep the night before was also to blame.

Today I was treated to a typical Seattle day.  In other words, it rained.  Most of the day, the rain was a slight drizzle, to be broken up by sun, which was then covered by clouds, which fell again as rain.  At least it wasn't too cold outside, and I did see the sun twice.  Plus, the foliage here reminds me of Connecticut, though there are more pine trees here than there.  Particularly stunning was the foliage along a boulevard near the University of Washington, which reminded me of that day, almost two years ago, when I took the Japanese Proficiency Test at Tokyo University.  Same trees.  Same color leaves.

As of today, I have yet to explore the city proper (I'm staying in a suburb on the West Side), though I did get to experience city traffic today--again at the University of Washington, which is apparently called "U-Dub" by the locals.  So, I have nothing really exciting to report, except to say that, even though I have seen little of the city, and interacted with few of its inhabitants, I'm already really liking this place.  Maybe it has to do with all those good luck symbols that I saw in the week leading up to my flight--including an influx of lady bugs.  Lady bugs!  Maybe it's the more laid-back attitude I've noticed here.  Maybe it's the landscape.  I know it certainly ain't the 9.5% sales tax, though there is no state income tax, which means that if one were to live and work in Washington, and live near Oregon--where there is no sales tax--then one could, technically, only pay federal taxes.  I wonder if some people do.

I'm not sure if this post will substitute for my Sunday post or not, since I'm not in any sort of job searching routine yet.  I have a feeling my posts will be sporadic and short, but more frequent--for a time--than they have been in the past.  I should be getting into a routine by the time November rolls around, so my posts should become more regular around that time, too.  Now that my mom is reading my posts, however, I'll have to be more careful in what I say. ;-)

FYI: I've now switched over to Pacific Time, which apparently affects every post I've written on this blog.  The dates shouldn't be affected, but the times for all of my previous posts are earlier by three hours.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

My Next Adventure

Picture by my brother

Before this week is over, I will be in Seattle.  Not for a vacation, not for a temporary move, but (hopefully) for a permanent stay.  That I am able to do this at all is due to the kindness of semi-strangers (friends of my brother) who are letting me stay in their house while I look for a job.  They aren't asking me for much, other than cleaning up after myself and chipping in to help pay for food, which is why I have offered more than they have asked for.

Sometimes, when I think about the move, the word that comes to mind is "crazy."  I'm moving from the East Coast to the West Coast, from Connecticut to Washington.  How am I going to get my computer there?  How am I going to get most of my stuff there?  I can ship large quantities of items fairly cheaply through Greyhound (yes, they have a shipping service), but not electronics.  Nor my diaries.  They are too precious to me, as are other memories that I plan, at some point, to take with me.

It has been strange going through my old things, to see the drawings I did as a kid, to see the mazes I used to draw.  The mazes usually have a Link or Mario theme, since I played Nintendo games around the time that I drew them.  And these mazes weren't just mazes.  As my friend had shown me, you could put weapons for the hero to grab in the maze, which he would need to pass some of the monsters, or to defeat the boss.  Or a key he would need to unlock a door.  As for the drawings, they were often filled with gore, or scary creatures, or scary people--but they did not scare me.  They may have scared my teachers, but never my parents, and the teachers were wise enough to see my drawings as outlets for my creativity, rather than the first signs of a psychopath.  I might not be so lucky were I to draw such pictures today.

And then there's my PXL 2000.  Before I leave, I wish to convert all of my PXL 2000 tapes to VHS (the PXL 2000 camera, which was made for kids, used audio cassettes to record both audio and a black-and-white picture).  Unfortunately, I've experienced technical difficulties at every step of the way.  And just when my dad and I thought that we had solved every problem, the tapes didn't record, because the VCR wasn't properly connected to the TV.  And now the VCR is all screwed up, so who knows if we'll get that to work again.  In the meantime, I have other things to do, which I am doing while I wait for my dad to figure out what the problem is, one of which is writing this post.

Timing is everything.  I could wait until I had finished the latest draft of my novel before leaving to live on my own, but the timing would have been off.  In the same way, I could have stayed in Japan for longer than three years.  After all, the company I worked for would have hired me back, but I feared that my experiences, no longer being new, would become tedious, and while I would continue to function, I would not thrive.  So I left Japan, and so I leave home.  To thrive.

My older sister left about ten years ago, when she got married.  My younger brother left at various points, but was permanently out of the house at least a couple of years ago.  I am the last one at home now, and while I keep telling people this is a temporary move that will hopefully become permanent, I know that it is permanent, for if I cannot find a job in Seattle, I certainly won't be able to find one in Connecticut.  I might be able to in Boston, but Boston, to a lesser degree than Chicago, is too cold (temperature-wise) for my taste.

In fact, that is why it took me so long to settle on Seattle.  Originally I wanted to live in California, but it would have been too expensive.  Then I wanted to live in Portland, but I didn't get the sense that there's much to do in Portland.  Plus, I know nobody who lives there.  At least in Seattle, I will know the two people whom I live with (and meet a third, since the sister of the woman who lives there is also staying with them).  Also, I discovered that Seattle is as warm (or cold) as New England is, with pleasanter summers and less-harsh winters.

Most importantly for me, Seattle serves to link me back to Japan.  I traveled through the Seattle airport twice on my travels from Tokyo to home and back again.  Both times, I not only saw Japanese people speaking Japanese in the airport, but I also heard some announcements in English and Japanese.  I hope that the cultural mix will be even more diverse than that, since Seattle is a city, but the Asian element is critical in reminding me of those magical days in Japan, which will prove in years to come, and has already proven, to have a tremendous impact on my writing, my outlook on life, and my development as a human being.

I hope to continue updating my blogs from Seattle, as I will have Internet access and use of my hosts' computer.  However, I can't guarantee that I will be as regular in my postings, at least not until I've worked out my weekly routine.

I feel nervous, excited, scared, sad, happy, and adventurous about my move.  I have seen my good luck animal--deer--all throughout last week, in large numbers.  I take that to be a good sign.  I still have much to do, much to go through, much to pack up, but at least things are happening now.  My life, which was put on hold for a time, is now slowly surging forward again.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Fallen Bird

Today I gave a speech at my former high school about writing.  I also read some poetry and sold a couple of books to my former ninth grade English teacher, now head of the English Department and a creative writing teacher.  It went well.

The event I wish to write about, however, does not have to do with my speech.

It happened when it was time for me to leave my house and head to the high school.  I had opened my car door and had put my bag in the front seat.  That's when I heard a chirp.  Looking around, I saw a small bird lying next to the rear tire of the car.  It lay on its side, and though its eyes were open, I could tell it had been badly injured.

I scooped the bird up in my hands and brought it over to a pine tree that grows in my front yard.  I placed it on the nettles, but I had to pry its little feet off of my hand, as if by holding onto my hand, it was holding onto life.  I remember my dad having saved a bird that flew into our front window by petting it until it hopped up on his knee and flew away.  Since I had to leave,  I could not stay long.  Still, I petted it with my finger for a time before leaving it there, not sure whether it would live or die.  As I shut the driver's side door, I noticed a few little feathers on the glass.  It must have flown into the window.

As I ascended the driveway after giving my speech, I looked over at the tree to see if I could see the bird.  I figured that if it was no longer there, and there were not feathers everywhere (which meant that one of the neighborhood cats had gotten it), then it had survived.  But if it was still there...

As I couldn't tell from the car, I walked over to the tree.  I did not have to walk far.  There, lying on its side, was the bird--its eyes closed, its feet gripped shut.  On its head lay the fatal mark.

I found an oversized shoebox in my room.  I had bought shoes a month or two ago, so not only did I still have the box, I still had the tissue paper inside.  I went outside with the shoebox and scooped up the bird once again.  I lay it in the box, wrapping the tissue paper around it like a burial shroud, bordering it with the wads of paper that had been so recently stuffed in my shoes.  I tried to make the one near its head like a pillow, but I could not.  After putting the top back on, I placed the shoebox in an empty trash can in my garage.  No proper burial for this bird.  Just some kindness and affection shown during its last moments on earth.

I wish that I hadn't left the bird to its fate.  Might I have been able to nurse it back to life, like my father had done with a different bird, had I not been in a hurry to leave?  But if I hadn't gone to the car when I did, I may not have found the bird while it was still alive.  And while it may have died alone, at least it knew that another creature knew of its passing.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


Back in high school, my mom bought me a book called The Book of Success.  This book, edited by Richard Shea, was a quote book separated into twenty-three chapters, with the quotes in each chapter pertaining to that chapter's title (for example, a chapter titled "How Much Money Do I Need?" included quotes about money).  Still one of the most inspiring books that I own (and one that made me realize what a hell of a writer Melville was--though I still can't get through Moby Dick), the book introduced me to the world of quotations.  I have been collecting them ever since, through things I have found online, seen on TV, read in books, observed in movies, or heard in songs.  I also received a second book of quotes in college (from my friends this time) called The Oxford Dictionary of Modern Quotations, edited by Tony Augarde.

Most of the quotes that I collect are inspirational.  Some have to do with literature, others politics, still others people.  Some are just plain funny.  All are filled with wisdom.  And while it is impossible for me to share with you all of the quotes I have collected over the years (unless I want to spend most of my adult life writing this post), I will share with you some of my favorites.

Of course, no collection of quotes would be complete without some from Oscar Wilde.  Possibly the wittiest man who ever lived, he is also one of the most quoted.  Here are some of my favorites, and the names of the works in which they can be found (if known by me):

"All women become like their mothers, that is their tragedy; no man does, that is his."
     -The Importance of Being Earnest

"All great ideas are dangerous."
    -"De Profundis"

"I sometimes think that God, in creating man, rather overestimated His ability."

"I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma.  In the afternoon I put it back again."

"Men marry because they are tired; women because they are curious.  Both are disappointed."
     -A Woman of No Importance

Lady Hunstanton: I don't know how he made his money, originally.
Kelvil: I fancy in American dry goods.
Lady Hunstanton: What are American dry goods?
Lord Illingworth: American novels.
    -A Woman of No Importance

Likewise, no collection of quotes would be complete without some from Mark Twain.  A near contemporary of Wilde's (he was 19 years older than Wilde but lived 10 years longer), he also could be witty, though his witticisms tended to have more "bite" than Wilde's.  Here are some of my favorites:

"Noise proves nothing.  Often a hen who has merely laid an egg cackles as if she laid an asteroid."

"Love your enemy; it will scare the hell out of them."

"If you teach your people--as you teach me--to hide their opinions when they believe the flag is being abused and dishonored, lest the utterance do them and a publisher a damage, how do you answer for it to you conscience?"
     -addressing Joseph Twichell (letter?)

On Jane Austen: "Every time I read Pride and Prejudice I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone."
    -Letter to Joseph Twichell, Sept. 13, 1898

Like Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain also commented on writing.  The following quote is often misquoted (as is Wilde's about the comma).  Here is the correct wording:

"The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter--it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning."
     -Letter to George Bainton, Oct. 15, 1888

In fact, many of the quotes I collect deal with writing, writers, and art.  Here are some of my favorites:

"Art is as real as life itself, and, as life itself, it has no goal or meaning, it exists because it must exist."
     -Lev Lunts, Russian author

"True literature can exist only when it is created, not by diligent and trustworthy officials, but by madmen, hermits, heretics, dreamers, rebels, and skeptics."
     -Yevgeny Zamyatin, "I Am Afraid" (1921)

"No man can write who is not first a humanist."
     -William Faulkner

"Fiction, because it is not about somebody who actually lived in the real world, always has the possibility of being about ourself."
     -Orson Scott Card, Introduction to Ender's Game

"Artists who seek perfection in everything are those who cannot attain it in anything."
    -Eugene Delacroix

"The artist believes in the future because he lives in the future."
     -Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881), dedication of Boris Godounov

Finally, here are some of my favorite nonliterary quotes:

"Imagination is more important than knowledge."
     -Albert Einstein

"An artist is never poor."
     -Babette, from the movie Babette's Feast

"As long as one suffers one lives."
     -Graham Greene, The End of the Affair

"To die is nothing, but it is terrible not to live."
     -Jean Valjean, from Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

"We are drowning in information but starved for knowledge."
     -John Naisbitt

"No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted."

"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."
     -Eleanor Roosevelt, This is My Story

Feel free to share your favorites in the comments section.

Until next week!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Some Changes to My Blog

My poetry book

Please check out the side bar to see some of the extra features that I have added to this website, including a search option, an easier way to subscribe to my blog, and links to blogs to which I have currently subscribed.  Also, a poetry annual being released by Wild Leaf Press will include three of my poems.  The book will be available through their website starting October 15th.

Finally, if you still wish to purchase Digging Up the Past: Poetry from High School (1994-97), you can now do so directly (see sidebar, near the bottom).  Please do not send any money to my P.O. Box (previously linked), as it will soon expire.  You may want to act soon, however, as I don't plan on printing any more copies once my current batch runs out, and I have less than twenty copies left to sell.  Of course, if I get an explosion of people hitting the "to buy" button, I may reconsider. :-)

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Copyright Laws in America

Rama, Hanuman, Sita, rain
A scene from Sita Sings the Blues, by Nina Paley (

I was originally going to write about video games, but there will always be time for that.  Plus, after watching Sita Sings the Blues, I got to thinking about copyright issues, and how little I know about them (this link helped).

For those of you who haven't seen this movie, there's a reason for that: some of the copyrights to the songs used in the movie are held by music studios and (in one case) by the Songwriters Guild of America, even though the recordings of these songs, by Annette Hanshaw, are in the public domain.  For this reason, the creator of this movie, Nina Paley, decided to distribute the movie online (here's an interview in which she explains her decision).  To drive home the point even more about how dumb copyright law has become in this country, Annette Hanshaw, and several (if not all) of the songwriters, are dead.  So, who is really benefiting from this law?

Depends on whom you ask.  The Copyright Term Extension Act entry in Wikipedia includes arguments for and against this extension of copyright.  Personally, I find the extension of corporate copyrights to be excessive.  In fact, I don't know if corporate copyrights should exist at all.  Corporations can make money off of publishing or distribution rights independent of copyright, and to recognize them as "creators" is dishonest, at best.  They may have employed the creators, but they did not create the work itself.

Contrast this line of thinking with guidelines regarding most magazine submissions.  If a magazine publishes one of my poems, they have first-time publishing rights, which means that they can publish my poem in an issue of the magazine and make money off of that issue irrespective of how much money they pay me, but they must ask for my permission if they wish to publish my poem in a different publication, or in more than one issue.  In the meantime, I am free to sell the poem to other magazines.  In other words, I remain the owner of the poem, and any subsequent publication in magazines of my work must be okayed by me.  Of course, if this action were followed when it came to publishing books, a person could have his or her book published by multiple publishers, or go with a different company for the paperback release (instead of a separate division within the same company).  But, the only person to lose out would be the publisher, not the artist.

The same goes for movies.  Artists could release their films with multiple studios, or decide to release it under a different studio for each new medium (theater, DVD, TV).  But would this be practical for the artist?  I doubt it.  I imagine that if copyrights disappeared tomorrow, most artists would still choose to distribute their work through only one company, and they could still sign contracts concerning distribution.

Besides the length of copyrights, another problem with copyright law in America concerns derivative works.  Supposedly, artists can create derivative works from each other , even under current copyright law (otherwise, shows like "SNL" couldn't exist), but by the time they find out what kinds of derivative works they can't release, it's too late, as Sita Sings the Blues proves (after all, you'd think that songs sung in the late 1920s would be in the public domain by now, wouldn't you?).  And since that movie shows great respect for the songs in question, why the hell are studios being so greedy for artists who are no longer in a place where money matters?  Answer: it costs more to renegotiate the terms of using these songs in a movie than the money that would result from a renegotiation (see Nina's interview).  Even in the case of living artists, I can't remember any of them going after illegal music downloaders (in court, that is), but I do know that several companies have, due to the conditions imposed on them by copyright law.  Interesting to note that some of those same companies were accused of price gouging.

If we were a society that relied on oral tradition, copyright law wouldn't exist at all, since the works are owned by everyone, equally.  In addition, there is no "definitive" version of each story and song.  Each person who tells the story or sings the song brings something new to it, improving upon the original.  Plagiarism is not a problem because the storyteller or musician never claims that the work is his or her own, and only profits from the differences that he or she adds to it, since the basic story or song would be well known to that society.  In that way, artists get credit for their creations, though less blatantly than having their names attached to the work.

Even so, having a "definitive" version in art is a fairly recent concept, even in our writing-based society.  Shakespeare wrote for his actors, resulting in different versions of several of his plays (for example, one version of Othello does not include the "Willow Song").  Mozart often reworked older compositions of his when asked, on short notice, to present music at concerts.  Sometimes the orchestrations would reflect the different forces he was given to work with (orchestras were not uniform in their instrumental makeup at that time).  That is why one version of his Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K. 550, is scored for clarinets, while the other version isn't.

As for creating derivative works, Beethoven wasn't the first person to use a chorus in a symphony, just the first person to be remembered for it.  One of the chords in a Liszt composition is close to the fabled "Tristan chord" in Wagner's Tristan und Isolde.  And how many times has Shakespeare been quoted or parodied in movies, TV shows, and cartoons?  In fact, if Romeo and Juliet hadn't been in the public domain (not that it would ever have been a problem, since copyrights didn't exist back then), Leonard Bernstein couldn't have written West Side Story.

I propose two things.  One, instead of increasing the shelf life for copyrights, shorten it.  Sixty years, no matter how long the lifespan, should be plenty of time for an artist to reap the benefits of whatever he or she wrote, composed, or painted, as well as satisfy the money-hungry distributors.  Plus, that should increase the amount of art around us.  Artists would feel the need to keep creating as they got older, since royalties for earlier works may not last till the end of their lives.

Two, define the public domain better.  If a recording of a song is in the public domain, the compositions should be in the public domain.  In fact, in addition to copyright info, books, music, and movies should include the date when they will enter the public domain (and no new copyright laws retroactively changing the date to a later time).  That way, there's no question about what can and cannot be used by other artists.  After all, no ideas are original.  What is original is the presentation of those ideas.

In conclusion, it's the law that needs to change, but the creators can force the issue, as well, by refusing to go along with current copyright law concerning their works (such as Nina Paley did--her work is under a Creative Commons License), or lobbying to give up some of their control on ideas that didn't originate with them and should not end with them.  I know that, as a writer, all I want is to get recognized for my work, and to get paid a fair amount of money for it.  And if I weren't paid for my work?  I would still write.  This blog is proof of that.  But I wouldn't write as much.