Saturday, July 21, 2012

Bathroom Monologue: John is Not a Shark

During the reformat I lost my Skype information and had to create a new account. But how could I convince my friends to add me to their contacts when no one was online?

This, like everything else, can be solved with a Bathroom Monologue.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Bathroom Monologue: Missing: one short-haired cat burglar

one short-haired cat burglar

lost little kitten, no collar
wears leather two sizes too small
may be in possession of rare coin collection

REWARD offered for coin collection
cat burglar need not be returned
photo of body acceptable

REWARD DOUBLED if she’s cut in half

warning: claws v. sharp

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Bathroom Monologue: Mana From Heaven

There’s peculiar weather in the most southerly isles. It’s more predictable than the seasons themselves, more predictable than war and politics, more predictable than old milk turning to new smells or young love turning to old disappointments.

One day a year, and on the same day every year, it snows yellow and green flakes across those shores. They’re cold as ice, and they stack and stick and turn into fluffy mounds of odd snow, and they taste something like powdered mango that’s gone off.

Originally the islanders ate such flakes out of poverty, but soon they realized the unique properties of the annual precipitation. It appears anyone who eats these “mana flakes” is given the gift of magic, able to cast spells from the tops of their heads and keep going until they tire themselves out.

Folks fly from island to island, and conjure parades of imaginary creatures, and do the same old card tricks they always do except for this day they’re real. There is something like a two of spades really vanishing rather than going up your sleeve that tickles a certain kind of person. I spent one such frosty afternoon listening to a little girl teach her pet pink elephant how to sing. Never been much of a mana flake eater myself, though I do enjoy watching the tourists frolic in waking dreams. My hotel takes all major credit cards.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Consumed: Walter Lewin, R. Scott Bakker, and Saint's Row The Third

Today the second and final of the "lost episodes" of the Consumed Podcast is up and available. It's our most eclectic mix of topics ever, and features one of my favorite pieces of media in years.

That media is Saint's Row the Third, a videogame from THQ and Volition. In many ways it is what ignorant people think Grand Theft Auto is: loud, crass, violent, anarchic and shameless. It pulls the rare trick of taking slews of potentially offensive material and turning them into something lovable; it's an open-world game so absurd that everyone I've shown it to has fallen in love with it. There's just no other game out there that has a giant purple stuffed bunny lashed to a whaling ship as a lure so a gang of drug-running luchadores can jump you. The podcast discussion gets particularly fun when we realize this game passes not only The Bechdel Test, but tests for representations of transgender characters.

On the more serious side, we also have two books to discuss. The first is R. Scott Bakker's The Darkness That Comes Before, a Fantasy novel that Max actually enjoyed for once. Bakker's philosophy and psychology makes us question recent trends in characters who know or manipulate too much to remain believable, and the tenuous relationship between skepticism and religion worlds with bizarre and inscrutable events.

Lastly Nat provided us a copy of Walter Lewin's gorgeous For the Love of Physics, which may be the best science-advocate book I've read. If you haven't seen Lewin's energetic lectures on Youtube, then you should check them out (just as soon as you give our podcast a listen). He begs comparisons to Hawking, Sagan and Tyson, and we ponder what the best ways are to teach Physics, the science that seems to turn the most number of people giddy, while still scaring off so many others.

They are about as different as three topics could possibly get, and yet it's one of our best podcasts. A big pat on the back to Max for digging this one out of the archives and polishing it up. You can get the episode for free right here.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Who is the most despicable antagonist in fiction?

Next Tuesday I will be hosting a meta-blog on this very site. All writers and readers are welcome to participate, and it only takes one sentence to pitch in. To participate, simply answer the following question:

Who is the most despicable antagonist in fiction?

Give us the name, the source material, and if you please, a sentence or two on why. Ideally you’ll tweet this to me @Wiswell or leave it in the Comments of this post. It can be from any form of fiction, including sequential art. The answer will look something like this:

Ken Kesey says:
Screwtape from C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters. He spends the whole book advising Wormwood on how to ruin a life and he’s insipid about it.

Though I doubt Mr. Kesey will participate, you are welcome to. I’ll be happy to you’re your name to any blog, page or book you please. Submissions end on Sunday, July 22nd. On Tuesday, July 24th, we'll see a master list of everyone's answers. Keep your answer short, keep it honest, and we ought to have an interesting and diverse list of what people see as despicable.

So, what do you think?

Monday, July 16, 2012

True Stories of John: Grandma's 95th Birthday

This weekend I did my good deed for the year. I spent the last several months wrangling my brother, sister and aunt from three very different locales and shuttled them down to Maryland for my grandmother’s 95th birthday. 

While there were many good moments this weekend, the best came months before it, when my family members were goaded just enough that they took over the planning and didn’t need a mastermind anymore. They needed me to start it, tell them where to go, who to call, what was covered, what to do when, and then, without me knowing, I was being told who my ride was and where to sleep. It was like a plan coming together, though one that required eight-hour trips each way for my sickly body.

The whole thing was worth it when my grandmother opened the door, laid eyes on my brother, and her face opened up. Later my sister, a fully grown chemist, laid on the sofa with her head in Grandma’s lap and they reminisced about life twenty years ago. 

I got an entire restaurant to sing Happy Birthday to her while the waitress brought in the cake we snuck behind Grandma’s back. On Sunday morning we sat with her on her actual 95th birthday and she dug out faded envelope with her baby photos, her high school graduation, college graduation, and wedding with the original John Wiswell.

Everyone managed to step on someone’s toes at some point this weekend because that is how families work, but I could not have asked for a better birthday for my grandmother. We got her a tiara, and slippers, and a card that sang “Born to be Wild,” and learned that Grandma doesn’t know what “Born to be Wild” is.

Of the many highlights, my favorite is below.

Her final birthday gift was a brand new copy of Fifty Shades of Grey. A gag gift (or ball gag gift, if you ask me). It turns out my sweet old granny knows what this book is and hollered laughing at the ceiling over it. She promises to hide it under her pillow when polite company comes over. It’s only better that the book was Mom’s idea.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Bathroom Monologue: Revenge of Pigs

The Pigs were mistrusted, distrusted and even disdained after the revolution, so their generosity was surprising to many, especially to horses. The farm fell on hard times without centralized management, and it turned out winter kind of sucked as far as food supplies. Their offer of unlimited grazing appealed at first to the forgiving, and then to the hungry. The Pigs promised hundreds of miles of land for which any beast could sup on all the grass they found, open to everyone, refusing no one. They would even stay here, refusing to eat of the foreign grass and look after the farm while the other animals ate abroad. It was their attempt to show they were more equal than others. Day by day their haters dwindled, largely in the face of no local vegetation, joining the steady stream of free-thinking critters excited for a free meal. They’d never heard of a “tundra” before, but they couldn’t wait to get there.
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