Super Sleuth and Scrapper

Sherlock Holmes. The new super sleuth and scrapper? Trading in his deerstalker and Inverness cape for a hepcat hat and a working-class shirt and vest.

Yes. Well at least that’s how Guy Ritchie has portrayed the master sleuth in his new flick.

It’s fantastic. A film that brings back the whole idea of what going to a movie should be about: excitement. And how often do we get that in our hyper-virtual world?

Lavishly filmed, too. Holmes’s Victorian London is a gritty, steampunk city chockfull of Hieronymus Bosch wonders. I just wanted to slow the film down to explore the dark alleys, the warehouses, the docks, the Thames, 221 B Baker Street.

Robert Downey, Jr., is perfect as the cerebral, lugubrious, eccentric genius with a liking for cocaine. And although Holmes is less than physical in the books, he is definitely no Socratic couch potato. He knows boxing and Baritsu — a form of martial art — and is also proficient at single-stick and fencing. So it’s not so far-fetched for Ritchie to imagine Holmes as a street-fighting mind maverick.

And the rapport between Jude Law as Dr. Watson and Downey is right on. Fiery spats between the idiosyncratic mind of Holmes and the more practical one of Watson.

Although I must admit that my favourite Holmes would be Jeremy Brett, the Elric of Melniboné of Sherlock Holmes. Physically, Brett was the ideal master sleuth: thin and hawkish and tall and coldly analytical. His Sherlock Holmes was so damn good. In fact, I think he really sucked the DNA of the character right out of the books.

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General Hotness

I’m not a Luddite. (I haven’t even stepped foot in an English mill.) But it is the day after Steve Jobs brought the tablet down from the mountain and I don’t feel like the future is at my fingertips — yet.

The iPad is great device for consolidating my movies, music, books, magazines, newspapers, and the Web into a sleek and stylish silicon invention. But it’s still an iPhone on steroids.

I plan to get an iPad, because if I have to carry electronic devices, I like the idea of having one that can do it all. Bit like having a Swiss Army Knife compared to having a knife, can opener, scissors, saw, screwdriver, file, etc, etc.

But I don’t see how it is going to dramatically change my life except for the fact that having a touch-screen interface will make me feel like I’m a passenger on the Millennium Falcon watching the stars whiz by and chatting with my own protocol droid.

Well almost. The iPad is still light years away from an android that has a human form and can accompany me like my very own neural shadow.

If technology really wants to dazzle me, then create me an android with built-in apps, a beautiful face, a colorful binary system of wisdom and humor, and an oracle operating system.

Or an iPaw. A bio-engineered hand that can pleasure me. And instead of buying apps, you can purchase lovely fine-grain leather gloves for it. And instead of downloading movies, it’s got its own built-in memory of good moves. And instead of connecting to the Web, it connects directly with your pleasure zone. And instead of having a digital library at your fingertips, you have fingertips at your beck and call.

And I do wonder what the iPad will do for the future sales of books. Ebooks are priced so much less than their paper cousins, it makes me wonder what electronic books are going to do for authors who want to make a living from writing. Are writers going to earn even less? Will writers become the factory workers of the Internet Revolution?

Now onto the body politic.

I, like my fellow countrymen, listened to the State of the Union address last night. I am constantly surprised by how Obama, even with rhetoric, can persuade me that everything is going to be OK.

And what the hell is with the GOP? They all looked like assholes. Were they doing that intentionally? They looked so glum and sour and old and uninterested in doing a thing but sitting on their laurels. Is that the image of government they want to portray? One of relics who are apathetic even about opposing and putting up a fight. They could have at least booed. The role of politicians as statues is frightening. It makes me think that they are capable of nothing and are all lazy, well-paid bureaucrats.

But then it still amazes me that anything gets done in government when such a huge ideological chasm exists between conservatives and liberals. I know I can never be swayed or even convinced by conservative principles. How do they do it?

Now onto the human body.

NPR has a section on the Rembrandt drawings at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. Wow. And to think he just quickly sketched them. Amazing. www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=122954481

The Life of a Savage

God, I love Moleskine notebooks. I have one on me. It’s full of my scribbles. I keep a record of books to read, music to listen to, scraps of dialogue I overhear, story ideas, notes to myself to remember to get a pair of new shoes at some point, quotes, a list of things to do and not to do, and whatever else is jamming my transmission.

Apple can bring on its new tablet, the iPad — which sounds like a woman’s hygiene product or a diaper for an aging Rastafarian — but it will never compete with a notebook and pen.

Technology can keep us all prim and proper in life, but books and notebooks keep us scruffy around the edges, and I like that.

And E-books may be the future, but what people who make such statements fail to understand is that the majority of people who buy books are writers. And writers will never have a bookshelf with a single reading device on it, they’ll want it stuffed with books.

All this fuss about electronic books is just another raw fascination with the new, but the new is a T Rex: doomed to extinction because the next big meteor of human invention is on the way….

“It is time for writers to admit that nothing in this world makes sense.” Chekhov

Here’s some good writerly advice for editing from Isaac Babel: “The rubbishy words go into hiding and you must dig them out.”

CURRENTLY READING

The Stone Gods by Jeanette Winterson. A real page turner. Winterson at her best with a story that deals with a futuristic planet called Orbus that is facing the same problems as ours: running out of resources and suffering severe climate changes. Instead of dealing with the potential catastrophes, however, the citizens spend all their time and energy getting bio-enhanced and looking for a new planet to relocate to.

The City & the City by China Mieville. The master of the New Weird.

CURRENTLY LISTENING TO

Ivor Cutler. Scottish songwriter, poet, and humorist.

Fisherman’s Blues by the Waterboys.

Aural Sculpture by the the Stranglers.

To Lose My Life… by the White Lies.

Surprised by Joy

My house lost electricity last night. For about 3 hours. It was nice. We lit lamps and candles and ate within their glow. No sounds but for the drumming of the rain on the windows. It’s amazing how silent a house can become when appliances are shut off.

I liked it. Lounging on the sofa, just beyond the dancing yellow flames, my four-year-old daughter lying in the crook of my arm, listening to the rain and the wind, unreachable, content, and longing to put the kettle on for a cup of tea.

“Of all modern notions, the worst is this: that domesticity is dull. Inside the home, they say, is dead decorum and routine; outside is adventure and variety. But the truth is that home is the only place of liberty, the only spot on earth where a man can alter arrangements suddenly, make an experiment or indulge a whim.” G.K. Chesterton

Planet of the Apes

I just read an interview with Paul Bettany in the Guardian (www.guardian.co.uk/science/2009/feb/12/charles-darwin-rutherford) about his new role as Darwin, the man who brought us evolution.

Not surprising to me, at least, is that the religious hordes are riding out on their shibboleths and denying our human past for a holy spook. But then only something like 39 percent of Americans believe in the theory of evolution. Which then tells me that the remaining 61 percent are living with misguided principles. So much of what the dazed and confused believe has had such a powerful role in the shaping of our lives, and I want to say lets try a bit of the atheists world-view for a change and see if that will make a change.

I’m not saying that science has all the answers, but it asks the big questions whereas religion says pluck out your humanity and replace it with the eternal.

Science allows us to evolve, move forward and experience new life. Religion simply moves us backward, allows a lapse in progress as a moral obligation. Religion has not let us evolve, does not advance us intellectually, creatively, emotionally, or spiritually. It is not a creative force but a destructive one. A spiritual life is one of an ongoing connection between the self and the spirit. Religion severs this connection and says deny the self, which is in essence denying the spirit, for the sake of some eternal nowhere.

A life of spirit is not a giving up of the self to a savior or God but an acceptance that we are all part of a greater unknown. Organized religion only wants to stymie humanity, weigh it down with eternal promises or damnation, take away our atoms and cells and replace them with edicts and commandments and sermons.

But change is at the soul of us all. Change is our basic element more than carbon.  Change is our building blocks but religion wants us to believe that this is not the case and that the root of our humanity is a state of eternity.

God is stasis. Jesus leads only to a spiritual freezer where we are all just lumps of flesh waiting for the hand of God to defrost us and give us eternal life.

I for one am glad Darwin killed God.

The Seduction of Night

So, I am 19.2 million miles into the 584 million miles traveled by the Earth on its yearly journey round the sun. What a wonder twelve days can create!

And here in Maine the days are already lengthening. The winter sun no longer heaves a golden sigh into the coming dark.

It’s a long journey into night at this time of the year. There’s a primal instincts to shut oneself away and wait out the long white nights. I want to resist the temptations of night, grab hold of the active, more busier me, making me imagine my quiet house in the country deep in the crucible of night surrounded by city lights, lit up and electrified and buzzing.

But night has a stronger pull with its slowness and silence and tug of the inner, creative life. I find myself reading more, writing more, sleeping more, relaxing more, thinking more with both the dark and light sides of the brain.

The darkling world of night is about slowing down, unwinding from the fastidious, the daily chores, the life without a dreaming space. It’s about feeling the slowness of the stars in their slow, seasonal rhythm. It’s about sharing the intimacy of the dark with another, too. It could be just sitting on the couch, the lights dimmed, the cat purring on a pillow, a hot cup of chamomile steaming in your hands. Not talking but communicating with touch, a hand on the curves and contours of a foot, massaging the tiny toes, warm like hibernating animals, and the night seemingly pulsating at the darkened window, pressing itself against it with a cold suddenness, as if it, too, feels the need to be noticed.

There’s even a thick, heaviness to the daytime in winter. As if my mind’s also bundled up, relying more on its intuitive, dreaming self than on its reasoning, calculating one. Like the mind wants to sit in its skull and feel soporific. But not lazy or unresponsive. More like I’ve devoured lotus petals and I am between cognition and dreams, existing on the liminal and experiencing more thoughts.

But we can’t neglect the body. And I don’t necessarily mean going to the gym to open the pores and race our mind away from winter. I mean taking care of the body with good food, varying it each day and not being dependant on the repetitive meals, but challenging our palates by adding spices, more parsley and basil, having smaller helpings, any thing to give the body something more to do than just plod through another meal.

And there are the pleasures of winter and its cold, too. That tingle of cold when you undress before bed. The shiver in the morning as you dress in the sharp light. A night walk with your breath like a ghost, hearing the slow slosh of the ocean, a dark mass under a darker mass, the distant lights of a town shimmering, and no sound save for the crunch of snow and ice, and if you are lucky the far-off call of an owl or the fleeting glimpse of a fox padding across the pitch black road, something soft and warm snug in its jaws.

And what would winter be without fire? That necessary warmth that is so more visceral and organic than the forced air and the unseen sludge of the oil in the tank. There’s no interaction with a thermostat, no giving or yourself to the task, it’s all just the easy satisfaction of turning up the dial. Not with a fire. You have to participate, you have to work to feel that warmth, you along with the fire must rise to the occasion. It’s a gradual warmth, too, it’s never instant. You have to feed the fire, be attentive to its every flame. And so you become more attentive, more focused, sense and feel, understand give and take, night and day. The distance between opposites becomes less, and a slow understanding sinks in with each snap of wood, each curl of orange flame, each shovel of ash that is cleaned away and says that all things come to an end and so be conscious of the impermanence, be mindful of change, and reflect on these moments of life. See the dark of winter as not something to escape, but something to embrace.

Phoenix Rising

Don’t postpone pleasure. These three little words are what’s put me back into blogland.

The ashes of 2009 have settled into the grate and now the brief flame of a new year is flickering.

And it’s starting on a good note for me. In March a short story of mine is being published in a science fiction anthology published by DAW. The collection is called Timeshares (www.amazon.com/Timeshares-Jean-Rabe/dp/0756406153/ref=tmm_pap_title_0) and is edited by Jean Rabe and Martin H. Greenberg. It contains 16 stories about time traveling. My story takes place in the trenches of WWI and includes the poet William Blake.

The cover reminds me of an episode from Dr Who, which is fantastic because it brings back a fond memory of my brother and I hiding behind our grandparents’ couch terrified and thrilled by Daleks, Cybermen, and all the other space monsters. Timeshares

And I’m also going to plug my good friend Matt Mayo’s new book, Cowboys, Mountain Men & Grizzly Bears (www.amazon.com/Cowboys-Mountain-Men-Grizzly-Bears/dp/0762754311). It’s a collection of 50 gritty tales from the Wild West that will have you wishing you had a bullet to bite.

CURRENTLY READING

Whitechapel Gods by S.M. Peters. A steampunk fantasy set in Victorian London where Newtonian gods rule.

LISTENING TO

XX by the xx. A London band that sound like the Cure, the Velvet Underground, Shelleyan Orphan, Chris Isaak, and the Welsh post-punk band Young Marble Giants. Can’t get enough of them.

In This Light and on This Evening by the Editors. Brilliant third album that makes me think they’ve been listening to a lot of Ultravox.

Manafon by David Sylvian. My favorite songwriter’s new one that is so stripped down to his vocals and the occasional sparse sound. It sounds like the metal skeleton of a train shunting in the bleakest of landscapes. I want to like it but it’s not happening yet.