Translate

My books can be purchased as e-books for only $1.99. If interested, just click here: Books.
Match Play is a golf/suspense novel. Dust of Autumn is a bloody one set in upstate New York. Prairie View is set in South Dakota, with a final scene atop Rattlesnake Butte. Life in the Arbor is a children's book about Rollie Rabbit and his friends (on about a fourth grade level). The Black Widow involves an elaborate extortion scheme. Doggy-Dog World is my memoir. And ES3 is a description of my method for examining English sentence structure.
In case anyone is interested in any of my past posts, an archive list can be found at the bottom of this page.
My newest novel, Happy Valley, can be found here.

Thursday, December 31

New Year's Eve 2015

On the internet, I stumbled onto a list of ten overlooked films on Netflix, most of them little independents that didn’t cost much to make and didn’t make any waves when they were released. We decided to watch Short Term 12 and were happy we did. It was a quiet, quietly told story about a California shelter for “underprivileged” (a term hated by those it refers to), often abused children. Grace (Brie Larson) is one of the counselors there, mid-twenties but with an unusual empathy for most of her charges. She is living with a co-worker, Mason (John Gallagher jr.), and discovers she’s pregnant, but isn’t sure if she wants to keep the baby or not. Her past is revealed in her relationship with a new charge, Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever), a young girl who’s been abused by her father. I remember not long ago seeing a similar film called The Road Within, but this one was about ten times better. Critics loved it. We loved it. You should see it and love it also.

What will we be doing to celebrate this night? Probably much as the parents in Zits do, head for bed at the "geezer midnight." To borrow from an old Sinatra standard, “At the End of a Love Affair,” I sing, “So I drink a little too much, and I think a little too much, and my voice is too loud when I’m out in a crowd, but what else can you do, at the end of another year?” Yes, we’re at the end of another year. 2015 is coming to its final, frigid close, with an uncertain, hopeful future next year. 2015, weird weather all over the country, all over the world. Weird politics (What could be weirder than Donald Trump as aspiring presidential candidate?). Weird terrorists and terrorist acts. Weird technological advances (or retreats?) with a skyful of drones, with highways about to be full of driverless autos, with an Internet getting ever deeper and darker and a Cloud getting ever more expansive, with a world climate that is changing with polar ice caps melting and oceans rising (Are we the cause of this climate change or is it part of an earthly cycle?). But time and world problems will go on and we’ll all find some way to fix them.

After this last blog for 2015, I’ll run them all off with my Clikbook printer into the last volume of my annual journals and blogs. This one will make twenty-two such volumes for my kids to one day find and exclaim, “Whu . . . whu . . . what in the world is all this?” Twenty-two volumes of about 200 pages each, about 250 words per page, all together about 1,100,000 words. That’s a lot of words. And when I die, they’ll be like 1,100,000 snowflakes floating on the wind, landing on a deserted field somewhere, melting and disappearing in the afternoon sun. I guess that would be fitting. I’ve had fun writing them and I hope a few people have had fun reading them. Happy New Year, readers, wherever you are.

Wednesday, December 30

New Norm Sex

Amazing how far we’ve come in the last decade in our attitudes about sex and sexuality, especially as reflected in our books, our television shows and films. Our 19th century Puritanism prohibited language in our books that was then considered too Anglo-Saxon, too risqué, too explicitly vulgar. Even as late as 1951, J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye was banned from most high schools because the word “fuck” was there for the world to see when young, innocent Phoebe saw it on a graffitied wall. There were other reasons for the book’s being banned, but the language is most often mentioned as the cause. Writers for the rest of the 20th century continued to contest linguistic barriers, and now we have virtually no literary restrictions on how sexual acts can be described. And the same freedoms have become the norm in films. Commercial television is still catching up but will soon be as explicit visually and linguistically as films and the liberated tv networks already are. Who knows if this trend is good or bad? I think it reflects a new freedom that may allow us finally to see ourselves as we really are—hetero-, homo-, bi-, trans-, . . . whatever. Sticks and stones, as the saying goes, but words and images can never harm us. I still cringe a bit at all the Viagra and Cialis commercials on the tube, but that’s only because I’m old and still remember how prudish we all were back when I was a young man.

Several nights ago we watched for the first time the Netflix original series, Grace and Frankie, with Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda as the two women of the title, Sam Waterston and Martin Sheen as their husbands. And after forty years of marriage, the two men, partners in a law firm, have decided they’re in love and want to be partners in bed as well as in law. They want divorces so they can have a same-sex marriage. Funny people (especially the always funny Lily Tomlin), funny situation. But only a few years ago, such a show could never have been made. And most of us certainly wouldn’t have been amused by two men kissing each other on-screen, let alone what they might be doing in bed. But in 2010, paving the way for same-sex marriage, we had The Kids Are All Right, with Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, and ark Ruffalo.
And the kids as well as most viewers were all right with that. Even earlier, in 2005, we had Brokeback Mountain, with Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal as cowboy lovers. But ten years ago male homosexuality on-screen wasn’t so readily accepted. But it was a start. And now we have Eddie Redmayne’s portrayal of a man transgendered to a woman in The Danish Girl and Jeffrey Tambor’s portrayal of a similar switch in Transparent, the Amazon series. In real life, we heard Bruce Jenner’s announcement that he wanted to become Caitlyn Jenner, and most of us applauded his decision. Most viewers have accepted these portrayals by Redmayne and Tambor, and critics are raving. Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara are also receiving accolades for their roles as lesbian lovers in Carol. Viewers have accepted it, critics rave. It’s the new norm in language and sexual orientation. You can accept it or deny it, but it’s here, and it’s here to stay.

Monday, December 28

Cardinals Send Packers "Packing"

It was a good weekend here in the Valley. Colder than I like, but still warmer than a lot of the places I’ve lived. But good because the NFL Cardinals beat the Green Bay Packers, beat them up pretty badly, 38-8, and sent them “packing” back to their Wisconsin roots, shut the mouths of all those green and gold Packers fans who now reside in Arizona but maintain a feverish allegiance to their past-life Packers. Also, maybe now the rest of the country will finally acknowledge that the Cardinals are the best team in the NFL. And if they can stay healthy, they may even win that elusive Super Bowl. I’ve been on the wrong end of too many Super Bowls, rooting so hard for the poor Buffalo Bills in their four-in-a-row trips to the big game in the 1990’s, losing that first heartbreaker to the Giants when “Wide-Right” Scott Norwood couldn’t make a 37-yard field goal on the last play of the game, then losing the next year to the Redskins, and then the next two to the detestable Dallas Cowboys. Oh, the heartbreaks! And then in the 2008 season, the Cardinals “coulda, woulda, shoulda” beat the Steelers in that agonizing Super Bowl defeat that was even more painful than the four losses for the Bills. More painful because they beat the Steelers every way but in the final score, instead of at least a field goal to end the first half it was an interception by James Harrison and an improbable hundred-yard runback along the sidelines with no one able to knock him down or out of bounds. Thus, at the end of the first half, it was 17–7 for the Steelers instead of a 10-10 tie. And that final blow on a play with only 35 seconds left in the game, Cardinals leading 23-20, the catch in the end zone by Santonio Holmes with one toe within half an inch of being out of bounds to score the game winner with only 29 seconds left in the game, giving the Steelers a 27-23 win. Take away those seven points for the first half interception, and the score would have been a Cardinals 23-20 win. Oh, the pain of it all. But maybe this Cardinals team can make up for the suffering by winning this, the 50th Super Bowl.

Thursday, December 24

Christmas Eve, 2015

Here we are, Christmas Eve, 2015. The country is experiencing strange weather—the East having record-setting highs, with no snow in sight, the West having snow and soup for the holidays. But who needs a white Christmas to celebrate this time of year? The country seems to be in good shape despite what the GOP hopefuls are saying. The world could use a little hope for the future, make that a lot of hope. But we’re approaching a new year. Let’s all hope 2016 ushers in a new time of peace and understanding. I hope everyone out there in Net-land has a nice Christmas.

Tuesday, December 22

Donald Trump!

It’s been nearly six months since I first wrote about Donald Trump and his declaring for the GOP race for president. Back then, I couldn’t believe anyone would accept him as a legitimate contender for our highest office. But in that six months he’s managed to snare a surprising number of Republicans who think he’d be just the man for the job. We still have eleven months to go before we elect our next president. Will we continue for nearly a year to see this buffoon on tv and in the newspapers, hear his chest-pounding, his rants and insults of anyone who dares to contradict him? He seems to speak only in exclamation points, with no real substance about what he’d actually do if he were elected (God help us!). Meanwhile, the world looks askance at us, wondering how we could even consider electing someone as bombastic as Donald Trump, a man who opens his mouth and says anything he wants, not matter how exclamatory and insulting it may be. You’d think, with all the feet in his mouth, there wouldn’t be room for anything else. He may actually hang around until next November. If Republicans actually nominate him, Hillary will walk into the White House in a landslide.

Sunday, December 20

"Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"

Since it’s December 21 tomorrow, the winter solstice, I thought it would be most appropriate to write a short essay on a winter solstice poem by Robert Frost. Many people are familiar with his “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” especially familiar with that closing quatrain, with the last lines about having promises to keep, and miles to go before “I sleep.” It’s such an innocent little poem, almost like a verbal Christmas card, with such innocently simple words tying it all up with a neat little Christmas bow. The speaker (Frost? A country doctor? A farmer?) is on his way by horse and carriage to some unnamed destination (His home? The village?). It’s late at night (“the darkest evening of the year,” thus, probably the longest night of the year, December 21st), with soft New England snow falling, no one around, almost perfectly silent. He stops along the way to contemplate the snow and the nearby woods. He looks, considers the beauty of the scene, then continues on his way. It’s all so simple that you’d think anyone could have written it, even a child. Here it is.

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

See? Just a simple little picture painted in simple language in a simple poetic form. First, let’s look at this simple form: four quatrains (four-line stanzas) in iambic tetrameter (four feet of alternating unaccented/accented rhythm; a rhyme pattern that is a-a-b-a in the first stanza, followed by b-b-c-b in the second stanza, hooking the second to the first by using the rhyme in the third line of the first stanza as the predominant rhyme in the second; then doing the same for the third and fourth stanzas. This pattern is called interlocking rubaiyat (although a strict conformity to this would have five feet instead of four). Simple, right? The poet could go on and on, hooking together each stanza with the preceding in a poetic daisy-chain. Frost chose to use only four stanzas. But how to get out of the interlock? In his case, he simply repeats the last line, giving him a final stanza of d-d-d-d. Not such a simple form after all, is it?
Now, about that simple little Christmas card picture. Critics have almost universally pointed to that lovely, dark, deep woods as a Frostian death wish. He’d love to go into those woods but life’s obligations keep him from doing so, and he has years (“miles”) left to live before he can die (“sleep”). Or maybe the critics have all read too much into it, and it really is simply a little innocent Christmas card and not an ominous death wish. What do you think? Oh, yes, and happy winter solstice tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 9

The Voice & Frank Sinatra

We’ve been watching the finals on The Voice, the ABC equivalent of Fox’s American Idol. In many ways it’s better than Idol with the four judges more active participants in the process of separating the wheat from the chaff, the sets for the individual performances better and more elaborate, and the wardrobes of each performer classier. Several similarities, though, are things I’ve complained about in the past—the cheesy, unclassy waving of arms by the two sections of the audience near the front during the performances, and too much sound interference during performances. Why would the producers of these two shows have thought this arm idiocy was something they needed? As I said before, the waving arms look like sea anemones undulating back and forth. But even anemones would be able to keep better time than some of the idiotic arms. Also, both shows seem to encourage the audience to scream and holler during performances. We already have too much background noise from too much backup singing and over-loud orchestrations; we don’t need audience noise as well. I say, again, if we really want to find the best singer on these two shows, we should at some point hear the finalists all sing the same song, and sing it a cappella. That would really separate winners from losers. After last night, the field was pared down to the final four: hefty Jordan Smith, country cutie Emily Ann Roberts, the tall Arkansan Barrett Baber, and red-headed Jeffrey Austin, who made it by way of a saving vote among the middle three contestants. Of the four, Emily and Jordan don’t stand a chance, with either Barrett or Jeffrey winning it all, and I’m betting that of the two, Jeffrey Austin will come out on top. Now, if we could just get Voice and Idol to do away with those irritating arms and audience shrieks.
And speaking of Voice and voices, how could I ignore the CBS special last Sunday of Sinatra's 100th birthday? It was very good, almost as good as Frank was. But too many of the guest singers doing Sinatra standards sounded like they were in a karaoke bar. I'd rather have heard Old Blue Eyes singing some of the numbers, up on the video screen singing to us from his grave. Instead, we got only pieces of him doing "It Was a Very Good Year." Nobody, nobody, can duplicate his phrasing and timing. Michael Buble may come close, but that's it. As Duke Ellington once said, Frank was always aware of the beat. The band could play it as it was arranged and they never had to wait for Sinatra to catch up, or to catch up with him if he ever got ahead (which was never). Impeccable timing. Most of the guest singers did all right, but they sang it in their own standard ways, and my ear could always hear the difference between their versions and Frank's. Thumbs down on Adam Levine, who tried to sing "The Best Is Yet to Come" (and he was certainly right about that); Zac Brown, with a bad rendering of "The Way You Look Tonight"; Garth Brooks tramping through "The Lady Is a Tramp"; Celine Dion giving us a few phony tears with her rendition of "All the Way"; and Harry Connick Jr. begging for luck on "Luck, Be a Lady" (but crapping out instead). Tony Bennett did his 89-year-old "I've Got the World on a String," but did it in his own version. The evening's standouts? Host Seth McFarlane surprisingly doing well with "One for My Baby," Alicia Keys in high-key at the piano with "I've Got a Crush on You," and Lady Gaga closing out the evening in a tuxedo, doing her own version of "Theme from New York, New York," ending it with a shadow version of Sinatra with cocked hip and hat. It was a very good finale.

Monday, December 7

Mockingjay Part 2 & Spotlight

I and millions of others felt compelled to see the last of the Hunger Games quartet, Mockingjay Part 2. I say “compelled” because once one has invested well over six hours in the first three episodes, one simply can’t ignore or skip the last two hours.. It was only okay, and now I’m glad it’s over. I’m sure that Jennifer Lawrence, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, and the rest of the cast are just as glad to see the end of it. We got to see Jennifer Lawrence bloom from that girl in the first “Games” to the woman she became in the last one, a woman who has become one of the most sought after actresses in the world. The film was about three stars out of five—lots of action and running around trying to get into the city, a neat tying up of all the loose ends from the first three segments. But also a kind of tiredness about the outcome. The script faithfully followed the book and even if one hadn’t read the books, we all knew where that final arrow was going. No more Hunger Games, but the conclusion sort of dolefully suggested that mankind would feel a need in the future to crave power, to require more games to satisfy our “hunger’ for death and destruction. It’s a dark side of human nature to enjoy the pain of others, sort of like what the spectators in the Roman Coliseum must have felt when they cheered the bloody deaths of the Christians, having the power of thumbs up or down for the combatants. I’m not sure whether I’d give Mockingjay Part 2 a thumb up or a thumb down. But I’m happy to be saying goodbye to Katniss and Peeta. May they live in peace. Maybe.

And now I turn to a five-starrer, Spotlight. I can’t imagine any film more unlike The Hunger Games. As with All the President’s Men, we witness the inner workings of a big-city newspaper as its reporters dig into the unsavory story of Catholic priests and their abuse of young men and women. And the especially unsavory cover-up by the church hierarchy for too many decades of that abuse. It’s 2001 in Boston, and the paper is the Boston Globe. The Spotlight unit is made up of three reporters headed by their chief, Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton)—Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), and Matty Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James). At the insistence of their new editor, Marty Baron (Live Schreiber), the four of them agree to stop what they had been investigating and instead look into allegations of abuse by several priests in Boston, a city made up of 53% Roman Catholics. Their investigation would not be well-received by that majority of Bostonians nor the Church and its priests and bishops and cardinals. The film chose not to sensationalize this story by flashing back to scenes of abuse; we only hear of it in the interviews with victims. One young man, when asked if the sexual activities were consensual, just shook his head, his face anguished as he replied, “How do you say no to God?” He went on to explain that it was more than a physical rape, but a spiritual rape. The extent of the abuse and the extent of the cover-up became apparent by movie’s end. It was an appalling story but one that had to be told. The film as well as the acting of Keaton and Ruffalo will very likely be nominated for Oscars, as well they should be. This is not a movie I’ll soon forget. See it, and you won’t forget it either.

Wednesday, December 2

Beautiful Faces

Like most red-blooded American males, I’m attracted by feminine beauty. I don’t mean the Playboy bunnies or the ladies featured in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition. Those women are almost too pneumatically bountiful to be believed, and air-brushing can eliminate an assortment of physical flaws. I’m talking about facial beauty and not the whole package. In film, Marilyn Monroe was overall gorgeous, as was Rita Hayworth, Grace Kelly, and Sophia Loren, as is Julia Roberts, Angelina Jolie, and Hallie Berry. But when judging women in film and television as facially beautiful, consider Veronica Lake, whose looks were dominated by that cascading hair that hid half her face; Katherine Hepburn, whose high cheekbones looked sharp enough to cut poor Spencer Tracy to bits; June Allyson, who might best be described as cute; Grace Kelly, ice princessly gorgeous; Julia Roberts, whose mouth seems capable of swallowing whole watermelons; and Angelina Jolie, who appears too regally cold. Three female film stars from the past whose faces I loved—Gene Tierney as Laura, Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca, and then, of course, Liz Taylor as young National Velvet girl and later the gorgeous Cleopatra woman. And now, in television, I’m in love with five faces: Bridget Moynahan in Blue Bloods; Angie Harmon in Rizzoli and Isles; Cush Jumbo in The Good Wife; Kearran Giovanni in Major Crimes; and Jamie Alexander in Blindspot. Bridget Moynahan and Angie Harmon are classically beautiful. Cush Jumbo (What an odd name), Alicia’s new law partner, Lucca Quinn, has eyes I could swim in. Kearran Giovanni, Major Crimes’ Amy Sykes, has a face I’d love to put on canvas (that is, if I had any artistic skills). And Jamie Alexander, as the tattooed Jane Doe on Blindspot, has eyes to die for. There, my list of facial beauties past and present.

Blog Archive

Any comments? Write me at jertrav33@aol.com