Tuesday, December 22, 2009

John Hodgman, Popeye, and phobias

I just finished listening to Ken Plume's Annual Holiday Podcast with John Hodgman. I highly recommend--nowhere else have I heard such an insightful comparison between Robin William's rendition of "I yam what I yam" in the film Popeye and the classic Prisoner theme. Actually, it's to the former discussion that this post relates.

Mr. Plume and Mr. Hodgman spent more time talking about the Robert Altman film Popeye than some might consider listenable. I, however, found it fascinating. I viewed the film this past year for the first time since I was too young to form a solid memory of it. This is how I discovered that Popeye formed the seat of one of my lifelong phobias.

Popeye came out when I was still in diapers. I had a vague recollection of viewing the film when it became available on VHS (a primitive precursor to Blu-Ray, for those too young to remember), but I couldn't recall any details.

On a seemingly unrelated topic, I've feared large sea creatures for as long as I can remember. Strange fish mildly creep me, but anything with tentacles sends me into tremors. Luckily for me, I live in a landlocked Midwestern state. The northern portion borders on Lake Erie, but nothing with tentacles lives in those waters--I checked before ever setting a toe in. My husband has often mocked my fear--when octopi or squids appear on television, he points out how small and harmless they are. But these are not the creatures I envisioned in my mind. The tentacled monster I fear has never been captured by marine biologists, but deep in the recesses of my intuition, I know it lurks below, waiting for me.

The only time tentacled monsters become an issue is when I go on vacation to any place with an ocean. When I visited San Diego this past summer, I made plans to go surfing at La Jolla Shores. Two days before my trip, my most ridiculous phobia made national news: with no earthly explanation, giant squids suddenly began washing up on La Jolla Shores. This was one of those seminal moments that crystallized my belief in god(s), and that s/he/they love to fuck with me. Luckily for me, I surfed without incident, but part of my mind stayed ever on the squids while I surfed those waters.

A couple of months later, my husband recommended we watch the Altman film Popeye. He's an E.C. Seger fan and has often attempted to persuade me to read some of the collections of his work that hide somewhere in our house. [Note: since listening to Hodgman and Plume expound on the subject, I'm now motivated enough to search for them.] He did manage to get me to watch the film, which I stated I had seen once as a toddler.

I quite enjoyed the surreality of the film, and watched it with interest until one of the last scenes. In it, Popeye must rescue Olive Oyl from the sea, where Bluto has tossed her. Then, she gets dragged down below the water by a giant tentacled sea creature--the very sea creature that has haunted my deepest mind for decades. A sudden realization came upon me, a suppressed memory rising to the surface. This was the basis of my tentacular fear, dredged up from the most enmeshed early memories of my mind.

I don't blame my parents for exposing me to a lifetime of tentacle fear; if anime is any indicator, such a fear is healthy and expected, at least for Japanese girls. I also don't know if the revelation of my phobia's root has cured my fear. I suppose I'll find out next time I travel to the ocean.

Oh, and go listen to that podcast.

Monday, December 21, 2009

THATCamp. Yes, that one.

The Humanities and Technology Camp, or THATCamp, was begun by the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. An "unconference", it's a place where professionals in the fields of humanities and information discuss issues in digital humanities, and how these technological changes affect us all.

THATCamp has since spread to several cities, including Columbus, Ohio. I am honored to be selected as a THATCamp Columbus participant this year.

The (un)conference takes place January 15-16th this year. As such, a good chunk of my writing energies between now and then will be devoted to developing a fascinating and educational session. The novel comes along, albeit slowly.

If you'd like to see what I'm planning on discussing, you can take a look.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Frank Herbert's Dune

I finished Frank Herbert's Dune yesterday. Before I go on, I'll take a moment to let all you other sci-fi geeks air your concerns.

Yes, I know the book's been around longer than I've been alive, and it's a classic. No, I can't justify not having read it before now, being a spec fic writer and all. Somehow, it took me this long to get to it. But, better a late geek-gasm than none at all.

Paul/ Maud'Dib's transformation in the book is probably my favorite aspect. I love watching how we shift from the perspective of outsiders, dismissive of the desert-roaming Fremen, to living with the Fremen themselves. To an outsider, the giant sand worms are at least an inconvenience, and at most deadly predators. To the Fremen, they take on the role of sacred Makers, and a valued form of transportation. I have much to learn from Herbert's writing.

I do have issues with how women are portrayed in the book, but that's a matter for another post. Now, on with finishing my own novel.

By the way, I've decided on yet another title change (yes, I know this will probably get changed by an editor anyway). I'm changing it from Slideways to The Sundering Gate. What do you think?