I’m not of the Heath Ledger generation. And the only bit of his work I’m familiar with is what I’ve seen in The Dark Knight movie trailers – but that was enough, I’ll admit, to get me really psyched about the movie, which is saying something because I haven’t even seen Batman Begins.
That said, his death last week got me and my wife and my friends talking a little bit about celebrities dying young. Ledger’s passing didn’t really hit any of us beyond the "wow, that’s sad" factor , but my friend Adam mentioned that an early-twenties person in his office was absolutely devastated.
So Jenn and I were talking that night about artist/musician/actor deaths that really gave us that gut-punch feeling. She mentioned George Harrison, and I do remember how sad she was when he died. Her parents were big Beatles fans and she’s always had a soft spot for the quiet one.
Next day, Adam and I had a similar conversation – to him, Ledger brought back the memories of River Phoenix, someone our generation sort of grew up with on film.
It’s weird, but I keep coming back to the week in April, 1994 when Kurt Cobain died. Not in a "Wow, his art really impacted my life" kind of way, but because that week came during a period of so many personal upheavals in terms of where my life was and where it was going.
For starters, Cobain died the same week a college friend of mine was killed. Their deaths are always linked in my mind, and I can’t untangle the surrounding days. I lived in Florida, and I got the news about my friend on a Saturday – I know because I just went back and checked my journals – the same Saturday that the news was breaking about Cobain, whose body had been discovered the day before. I made a nineteen-hour drive back to Ohio for a Monday funeral and was back in Florida again by Tuesday. Now, for years, I have sworn that I heard the news about Cobain after I got back. And that may be true. But for that to be right, it means the news – and it was BIG news – had to have eluded me for three solid days, which seems practically impossible these days, but now that I think about it, if you figure I was in a car listening to my Star Wars Radio Dramas and still kind of in shock about my friend, I guess it’s not that far-fetched.
At any rate – that’s the first reason Cobain’s death seems to have left an impact. Beyond that are issues that are tougher to describe: I was coming off a horrible long-term relationship, yet I’d also started dating Jenn. I was getting back in touch with people who had been extremely important in my life yet whom I had alienated while in that horrible relationship. (They will never know how much it means to me that they welcomed me back into their lives.) I had just started the new job which finally put me in my chosen career field and brought me permanently out of my post-college fast-food and line-cook world. (Though sometimes I wish I could still make a stromboli from scratch.)
Thing is, I associate Cobain and Nirvana with that entire span, from the best of my final years at Bowling Green State University through the worst and darkest times of my life when I lost my dad and turned my back on my friends and family, and on to the reconciliations and good times that came (not soon enough) after. I still have a promotional CD single of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" that came to my roommate, the metal director at our college radio station, during a fantastic summer – the first time I lived in an apartment away from home. Over the next couple years, when I was miserable (which was often), "Nevermind" was there. And when I met Jenn working in a McDonald’s in Orlando, we used to sing "Heart Shaped Box" from "In Utero" while slinging Egg McMuffins. (Okay, so we’d sing it while impersonating Fred Schneider. It’s still a Nirvana memory.)
I honestly don’t know if there’s a celebrity out there who’s passing will stick with me like that again. Don’t get me wrong: When George Lucas goes, it’ll hit me; Ray Bradbury, too. But while those are guys who’ve shaped who I am, they’re also of a different generation. People my age? If Kevin Smith died unexpectedly, yeah, I think that’d hurt. Wil Wheaton, too, because of the writing he’s done over the past few years and because "Stand By Me" is one of the best movies ever. I guess those are guys I kind of feel like I "know," even though I don’t, really. (Still – Kevin, Wil, look both ways when you cross the street, OK? It’s cool having you around.)
And maybe that’s another part of it: Maybe I’ve reached an age where it’s harder to be impacted by the death of someone I don’t know, simply because as we get older, odds are death’s going to hit closer to home sooner rather than later.
Finished up "The Harsh Cry of the Heron" in a two-hour blast early yesterday morning – it took more than halfway through for the book to really get its hooks in me, but I’m glad I read it. Put some thoughts together for a quick Field’s Edge review this morning.
And I’m still doing the "sold my first copy of the year" jig. "Crossing Decembers" has gotten a few more downloads at Wowio in the past few days, too. Now, if I can just get some local libraries and independent bookstores to take a copy or fourteen…
..with the results of this "Which Serenity Character Are You?" quiz (okay, maybe the actual, you know, piloting part’s not on the nose, but I did used to bullseye womprats in my Geo Metro back home)
I am Wash (Ship Pilot)
|You are a pilot with a good
if not silly sense of humor.
You take pride in your collection of toys.
You love your significant other.
Seriously – what a nerdful two-day span:
Up before sunrise on Saturday, partly because my better half left for work at 5:30, which usually wakes me up to the point where if I fall back asleep, I have those really effed up sort of dreams that leave me out of whack half the day, but mostly because my brother Adam came over for some Wii Sports Tennis. (Teamed up to win two of three matches. Should’ve stopped after the nailbiting come-from-behind win in the second because we got our trash-talking asses handed to us in the third.)
I also played through Episode III on Lego Star Wars.
Watched four of the six Season Two episodes of "Extras" and sat down with my daughter to catch the last forty minutes of "Harry Potter & the Sorceror’s Stone." (DVRed "Connor Chronicles," but haven’t watched more than the opening sequence, so I suppose I lose a couple points for that.)
Finally, I successfully dipped my toes into the open source pool, getting MuLinux running on an old laptop. (Think 8MB memory, floppy drive, USB-free, no CD-ROM, modem-only.) Clearly, I’m not doing my writing or blogging or emailing from this puppy, but considering I have no – and I mean NO – Linux experience at all, I’m pretty ecstatic about managing this without frying anything. And I’m having an odd sort of fun learning bit by bit on the fly.
So, to sum up: Superheroes, ninjas, video sports, Lego Star Wars, British sitcom, Voldemort vanquished, and a littlebit’o’Linux.
That oughta satisfy the geekneed for a little while.
I did not know Maj. Andrew Olmsted.
I had never read a single word he had written until today.
Here’s how I met him, in the first sentence of his final blog post: "This is an entry I would have preferred not to have published, but
there are limits to what we can control in life, and apparently I have
passed one of those limits."
He died in Iraq Jan. 3.
I love to read. I’ve been a full-time journalist for eight years and have spent almost a third of my life working at newspapers. Point? I’ve read an awful damn lot of posthumous profiles, obituaries, reflections and tribute stories.
Maj. Olmsted’s post – I don’t feel comfortable referring to him as "Andrew." It somehow seems rude, given that 24 hours ago, I had no idea he existed – is none of those, really, but it has hit me like few of those pieces of writing have.
He was 37 years old.
I turned 37 just before Thanksgiving.
The guy was my age. However our lives differed, we grew up in the same bigger picture. (Case in point: When I was six years old and seeing Star Wars for the first time, somewhere out there was a kid my age named Andy Olmsted, and guess what he was doing?)
And he was a good writer, too. Oh, he covered the deep stuff, the political and the war-related, obviously, but in his final post, he references Babylon 5 and Seinfeld and Greg the Bunny and The Princess Bride and requests that in lieu of mourning people "put on a little 80s music (preferably vintage 1980-1984), grab a Coke and have a drink with me."
It was a bizarre January day here in Northeast Ohio, almost 70 degrees, windy and rainy as the sky darkened during my evening commute. I listened to Nena’s 99 Luftballons, some Michael Stanley Band, a little Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, and some Psychedelic Furs, and thought about a guy I never met.
Ah, nothing like a fresh-baked batch of stuff I emailed to myself over the last week or so, starting with this paper airplane flight, courtesy of Fark. (Gotta admit, though – I watched it the first time without the sound on, and frankly, I liked it better without the music. Anyway…)
Next out of the oven, these fantastic "Why We Write" essays from DeadlineHollywoodDaily. I like this one from Carol Mendelsohn and this one from Greg Berlanti, but the one that hits closest to home is easily Howard Gordon‘s. It’s not the writing itself that’s the grind for me, though – it’s the starting and the struggle to find The Zone. That’s the best. The Zone’s always moving, though. Sometimes it sneaks up on me. Sometimes I can’t find it for weeks at a time but I keep banging the keys anyway because that’s the only way to wander into it again. (P.S. Go WGA.)
And sometimes, of course, the zone just vanishes into the ether, like it did just now, so I’m out the door, tossing these behind me as I leave:
I’m a big Indiana Jones fan. And I’m awfully damn psyched about the next movie. So I was excited to find this link to a Vanity Fair article about how George Lucas and Steven Spielberg went about making the fourth film in the franchise. (Thanks, Whitney!)
That said, early on in Jim Windolf’s piece, I stubbed my toe and couldn’t keep reading, because I was too distracted by these parts of the article’s early backstory:
At age 18, Spielberg sneaked away from the tram route of the
Universal Pictures tour and stepped onto a soundstage. He was a
movie-crazed kid who had already made a full-length feature, Firelight, an 8-mm. sci-fi extravaganza starring his sisters, and he wanted in.
The next day he showed up on the lot wearing a suit, his dad’s
briefcase in hand. It was a disguise good enough to get him past the
guards. He settled into an empty office and “worked” at Universal all
through that summer of 1965, making himself known to the
cinematographers and directors, creating for himself an unofficial,
It’s a good story, but what stopped me cold was that just within the past week or so, I read the Snopes entry discrediting this tale.
Now, in the big picture, is this a huge deal? No. Not by even the longest of long shots. (For what it’s worth, I really enjoyed the rest of the article, and Mr. Windolf still gets a belated thank-you for introducing me to Raiders:The Adaptation with his 2004 VF story.)
Yet the inclusion of this little bit bugs me.
Assuming for a moment that Spielberg actually told that story first-hand to the writer, then I think the mistake was in not quoting the director either directly or resorting to some indirect attribution. Why? Because then, true or not, the tale remains his. It’s the difference between writing John Doe says he didn’t shoot anyone that night, or "I didn’t shoot anyone that night," John Doe said, and writing John Doe didn’t shoot anyone that night.
I’ve been interviewing and writing long enough to know that somewhere along the way, somebody I has probably lied to me about a fact they knew I couldn’t prove, or, more likely, stretched a personal anecdote to make a point. Either way, I’d like to think that I made sure the reader knew those words and ideas belonged to the interviewee, and not to me.
In an entertainment feature like this one, there’s clearly room to allow the subjects to tell their stories without hammering them about every single detail from long gone California afternoons. But if, on the other hand, this backlot story simply made its way into the writer’s research file and he slapped it in as a fun little factoid without mentioning its source, then I’m a bit more rankled. A couple extra minutes of searching and all he would have had to do was include something about the tale either being well-worn, or oft-repeated-and-sometimes-varied or even simply, "sometimes disputed." (For that matter, he could’ve even just cited a source if the story appeared in a biography or another profile. Anything but present it as his own fact.)
Why does it bother me? Because whether the story’s true or not – and I’m not saying that a website like Snopes
is the final arbiter of truth, but merely noting that its article raises valid
questions – the way the magazine presents this Spielberg tale as pure fact strikes me as a little bit careless or lazy, and writers and editors on the Vanity Fair level should be neither.
I have to say I was surprised to find that I managed to read
25 26 books in 2007. Didn’t feel like that many, probably because I haven’t read anything new in the last month, and because – and this was a bit of a shocker – that 15 16 of the books I read were re-reads, although two of those were first read more than a decade back, so they hardly count.
When I look at the list, I see how easily I fall into books I have around the house: They get picked up while the computer’s warming up or while I’m eating breakfast or while the family watches American Idol and I want to be in the room with them, but not necessarily with Ryan, Simon, Randy and Paula. And still my Goodreads list continues to grow. (Hell, I haven’t even added the books jotted down on the scraps of paper in my top right desk drawer yet.) I need to get to the library more.
Shadows of the Empire – Steve Perry (finished around Jan. 28): Star Wars candy.
Rainbows End – Vernor Vinge (Feb. 6)
Han Solo at Stars’ End; Han Solo’s Revenge; Han Solo and the Lost Legacy – Brian Daley (from Feb. 6 to Feb 19) – As usual, Star Wars-related stuff, being pretty much available all over the house, gets re-read often.
The Giver – Lois Lowry (Feb. 16)
Literary Journalism – edited by Norman Sims and Mark Kramer (late March; read at work during lunch breaks)
Specter of the Past; Vision of the Future – Timothy Zahn (March; at home) – "I’ll take ‘More Star Wars Stuff John’s Read for $600, Alex."
Identity Crisis – comic trade paperback by Brad Meltzer ( April 9-13)
Ernest Hemingway on Writing – edited by Larry W. Phillips (April 29)
I Am the Cheese – Robert Cormier (May 29) – This is the first re-read that shouldn’t really count because I hadn’t read it since I was in college.
Harry Potter & the Sorceror’s Stone (started/finished around July 28th) – Okay, here’s the deal with the upcoming run through the HP books: When Deathly Hallows came out at the end of July, I read it aloud to my daughter, as I had the previous six. However, since this was the first one we were sharing brand new together, I promised her I would NOT. READ. AHEAD. When I’m in the Potterverse, I get so wrapped up in the stories that I plow through them even when I’m trying to read slow, so to satisfy my fix as we shared Deathly Hallows in small, nightly doses, I re-read the first six books. Thus:
Chamber of Secrets (July 30); Prisoner of Azkaban (Aug.3)
Deathly Hallows (The out-loud reading with my daughter wrapped up Aug. 5 in a marathon five-hour session that left my voice froggish for the next day or two. It was awesome.)
Goblet of Fire (Aug. 15) – Because, duh, I couldn’t just stop. And besides, having just finished the final book made for some interesting reading of books four, five and six, when the endgame pieces start shifting into long-range position.
Order of the Phoenix (Aug. 26)
Half-Blood Prince (Aug. 31)
Deathly Hallows (Yes, again, this time on my own, having just watched everything unfold leading up to it. Finished Sept 23, meaning that over a two-month period, I pretty much read nothing but Harry Potter.)
The Pornographic Flabbergasted Emus – Wred Fright (Oct. 3) – I knew Wred from my days on-air at WBGU, and this was a fun and bizarre trip back to that era.
Dancing Barefoot – Wil Wheaton (mid/late Nov.)
The Happiest Days of Our Lives – Wil Wheaton (mid/late Nov.)
Watchmen – Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons (mid/late Nov.) – This is the second re-read on the list that may as well have been new because I hadn’t read it since my sophomore year of college. I remember liking it well enough, but this time around, it just floored me.
Avengers: Disassembled – comic trade paperback (Dec. 2) by Brian Michael Bendis and David Finch.
Time Untamed – short stories by Isaac Asimov, Robert Bloch, Ray Bradbury, Clifford Simak, L. Sprague DeCamp, Theodore Sturgeon, John Wyndham and Fritz Leiber. Read this piece by piece during December. The Bradbury story, "Tomorrow and Tomorrow," is one of my favorites.
It was still dark at 7:30 when I woke up this morning to start 2008 and a couple thoughts flicked through my head. First there was, "Uh-oh. The coffee maker’s going to hit its automatic shut-off point," so I lurched out of bed and downstairs to the kitchen, poked the off/on switch twice to reset it, and stumbled back up and into bed. (Yes, to me, this was better than simply brewing a new half-pot later.)
Second, there was, "Wow. I haven’t slept in until 7:30 in awhile," followed quickly by, "It’s pretty sad that 7:30 is a luxury doze-in." What can I say? You get up at 5:15 five days a week, you get into a rhythm, like it or not.
Back under the covers, I listened to the wind and half-noticed as light began to come through the blinds. I’ve always loved having a bedroom on the second story, where the weather sounds close on the roof. The woods behind the house magnifies the wind, too. Seems to give it mass and a presence.
I jotted a couple writing notes, stayed in bed awhile longer, then brought up some coffee and a bowl of cereal and watched some "Firefly."
I’ll count that as a good start to the year.
(Addendum: I went out to the woods later and filmed a little bit of the wind and the trees and the creaking trunks. I thought it would make a nice bookend to my picture of the last sunset of 2007.)