Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Moment For Gratitude.

Tomorrow is the first proper day of principal photography on the first feature film by Hybrid Motion Pictures, JAKE, the first feature that I've written and the first feature I'm directing.

People have been asking what is the deal, and so a quick explanation: I started writing JAKE a little over two years ago, inspired by two things:

1. being at a point where I was not happy with my life, then realizing how foolish that was when I had so many things going for me, and

2. wondering what Jake Gyllenhaal's life would be like if he was named Jacob.

On the former point, there's nothing worth going into in public; on the latter, I've always been fascinated by how people choose to represent their name. I know Daves and Davids, and each are insistent on what they're called, despite what their birth certificate says. If somebody calls me Douglas, I know they're some subset of the following:

a. trying to get my goat
b. in my family
c. working for a government agency or otherwise referencing my name from an official document

But what makes me a Doug and not a Douglas? I don't know - well, I do know, but as soon as the words form it slips away a bit. Would people treat me differently as a Douglas?

Would people treat Jake differently as Jacob?

Anyway. I won't say more about the story, for now. What I will say is that, during this long gestation period, an incredible group of people have come together to help bring this project to life, and without them I wouldn't be heading to an office tomorrow to shoot the first scenes of the movie.

And I want all of them to know how incredibly grateful I am, for bringing my fifteen-year dream of making a feature to life, for coming on board this insane labour of love, and bringing so much more to it than I could have ever dreamed.

Thank you all.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Day One.


So long-time readers, who are undoubtedly sick of checking back for updates after my initial burst of activity, will recall that I had one goal for this year above any others. That goal, thankfully, was not updating this blog daily. Rather, it was writing and directing a feature film.

That feature film - which for no reason that I can think of, I've neglected to mention is called JAKE - has its first day of photography today.

The main body of the feature shoot is in August, but we're doing a couple weekends leading up to it, of which this is the first official shoot. (Facebook people will have seen shots from BATTLESHARK and RESOLUTIONS, which are in the same universe as JAKE but not inside the movie. All will be revealed. Eventually.)

I haven't yet decided how much to share here and elsewhere - part of me is bursting at the seams to share everything, while another part is fully aware that the more I keep close to the chest, the more exciting and interesting watching the final product will be. For now, I will err on the side of caution.

Wish us good fortune. (By the way, I should clarify that us is Hybrid Motion Pictures, and we now have our own website.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Simple Pleasure #1: Whitestone Windsor Blue Cheese.

So if I've learned one thing in the last month, it's this. You can't do something that's AWESOME!!!!! every single day. But you can enjoy simple pleasures, and they can be a small nugget of awesome in one's day.

So here's one, that's largely available to Kiwis: Whitestone's Windsor Blue Cheese. Now, this isn't my favorite pleasure of all time, or even my favorite cheese for that matter; it just happens to be something I enjoyed today.

(Incidentally, that Whitestone site has an amazing cheese FAQ, with more information than I could ever want to know on the topic.)

A few of you are recoiling; blue cheese haters, no doubt. I feel your pain. Until recently, I was one of you. I thought it was nasty, vile stuff. Why would you eat mold? (I recall a similar, embarrassing memory of refusing to eat raw fish, once upon a time.)

And then, not quite by force but reasonably close, I tried the Windsor Blue. First is the texture - unlike the average crumbly blue, it's a creamy texture. Then the taste - that characteristic blue cheese taste, yes, but melded with a much richer, creamier taste as well.

"It was ... okay, I guess." I think I said that, and then that night had some more. And some more. And some more.

And so, here we are, me enjoying NZ's most awarded blue cheese (despite what those sneaky Fonterra bastards would have you believe). It's a pricy cheese, but you see it on sale sometime, and I got a 1/4 wheel at Foodtown near its "Best Before" date for only slightly more than a wedge a quarter of its size would have cost. And so I'm working through it as quickly as possible, and with every nibble feeling grateful that I bothered to try something I spent so much of my life so opposed to.

And if you're ever in Oamaru, drop into the cheesery directly for a tour, a tasting, or just to stock up. (And if they have the Island Stream cheese? Send me some. Please. Now THAT is my favorite cheese of all time, albeit sadly unavailable these days.)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Apologies for the weeks of neglect, which we may or may not discuss at a later time.

I'll be working up something proper soon, but in the interim, the most awesome news story about Kiwis I've seen recently is here.

Also, Hybrid Motion Pictures has set up its own screening room at Vimeo; we've got our 48SECONDS 2009 entry (which will make no sense if you haven't seen AMELIE, but anyway), and coming soon will be both our 48HOURS 2008 and 2009 entries.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

hi I'm still here.

Have been a bit snowed under, back to work, preparing for 48HOURS, getting things ready for the feature, looking for a new flatmate. Will try to get some exciting content soon.

In the meantime, read about Scotch.

Or watch our contribution to the 48SECONDS competition, where you re-create a classic scene from a film with cans of V.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Awesomecation Recap

Okay, so this is kind of what happened, maybe.

DAY 1: Fly from Auckland to Sydney, then Sydney to Cairns. Boy is it hot. Meet Ransom, who's picked up the car, drop our bags off, change into shorts, go to the coast, naively thinking we'll go swimming. It's stinger season, though, the water's full of jellyfish and other unpleasantries. Instead we find a random bar by the shore, have a beer, and enjoy being away from home. The bartender gives us directions to a random swimming hole; it's not very big, but it's secluded, near a little waterfall, and the cold fresh water is luxurious. Dinner in Cairns, at an Asian place. What did I have? No recollection, but it was good.

DAY 2: Spend a gratuitous amount of time in Cairns. I get a haircut. We go to a wildlife zoo atop a casino, where we see alligators, birds, snakes, and the requisite koala, who's sleeping. We can pay $15 to get our pictures taken holding it. We don't. We say goodbye to the giant statue of James Cook and head north to the Barron Falls, which apparently are quite seasonal. We've arrived in the rainy season, at the tail end of a cyclone, and they're overflowing, phenomenal. Head up to Port Douglas, with the occasional stop to admire the beach. Book our dive for the next day, walk around a bit, have some dinner. I have kangaroo. It's pretty gamy.

DAY 3: Our first dive on the Great Barrier Reef. We're on the Calypso. It's my first time here, so of course it's amazing - abundant coral and fish life, along with Christmas Tree worms, nudibranchs, all the great little life forms I love to look at. It's not perfect - a recent cyclone has reduced visibility a bit, and I'm having some mask issues and generally feeling a bit awkward - but a bad day diving is still better then most good days doing anything else. Unless it's a really bad day, then you die. But that didn't happen! Also, strangely: the producer of Castaway, which I worked on in 2007, is on the boat. We have a good catch-up. A quiet night in Port Douglas - dives are exhausting things.

DAY 4: Our second dive on the Great Barrier Reef. We're on the Poseidon this time. Of the two boats, I'd recommend the latter for dedicated divers - it's much more focused, and the entire boat ride back we were bombarded with interesting information from our dive guides, as well as crazy stories, like the guy who spent fifteen minutes with his friends taking pictures underwater next to a sleeping crocodile. (That's not to knock the Calypso folk, who were very friendly, and possibly a better boat for all-around groups that have snorkellers as well.) Also, we see lots of amazing things - a huge Maori wrasse, sea turtle, and reef sharks, along with the usual array of trumpet fish, lizard fish, anemones, and what have you. Also: my first drift dive!

DAY 5: A meandering drive north to Cape Tribulation. As this is a tourist circuit, we try to get the jump on things, and cross the ferry relatively early. The Cape Tribulation area is all lush rainforest. There is a nature area that you can spend a silly amount of money when you get in to explore with audio guides and such. I don't recommend it; there's plenty of other free places to go for a walk, which we discover. We manage to have fortunate timing evading rain squalls in our walks through the rainforest, get some exotic tropical fruit ice cream (served in four small scoops, and only whatever flavors are on offer that day; I got black sapote, wattle seed, sour sop, and apricot), and then continued on to a river cruise in search of a crocodile. We eventually did see one, very far away; my only picture is so distant as to make Bigfoot shots look convincing, but we did see it. Even if we hadn't, though, a cruise down a mangrove-banked river is never not nice, in my limited experience. Then to our hosts, the Cape Tribulation Farmstay, a highly recommended accommodation set on an actual tropical fruit farm, complete with breakfasts of said fruits. Gorgeous. Capped the day with a trek to a creek that we'd heard about, just south of where the north-south road on the Queensland coast becomes impassable to anyone not driving a 4x4. A fifteen-minute hike in, and we're at a picturesque bend in the river, Emmagen Creek, a cool freshwater swimming hole with a steep face on one side and crazy people jumping off it. Myself included.

DAY 6: Went for a walk to one of the nearby beaches. I found a $50 note. It pays to look down. We loved our neighborhood swimming hole so much, we returned, and this time had it to ourselves. Idyllic, absurdly nice. Then decided to roll the dice on a "tropical fruit tasting", which turned out to pay off in spades. We got to taste ten different fruits, none of which I'd tried before. The most unique, quite possibly, was the breadfruit, which was baked with a bit of salt and really does have a breadlike texture; my favorite was the yellow sapote, which has a texture like a slightly chalkier avocado, the color of American mustard, and the taste of Awesome. A bit of time drinking beers and Internetting at a resort in the rainforest, plotting our next travels.

DAY 7: And those next travels: to Chillagoe. If you're saying "where?", so too did most Australians we met. Chillagoe is basically the inner outback, as far as you can go west without a 4x4, extra tanks of gas, and a year's supply of water in your car. It seemed like the best way to get a taste of what it might be like out there, and was well worth the journey. We visited a limestone cave, an abandoned smelter, a kangaroo-infested graveyard. We saw the sunset from Balancing Rock, then made our way into town to one of the few openexisting eating places, and had a lovely chat with the locals. All told, very friendly. (Unlike Moreeba, which we passed through and would rather forget.)

DAY 8: However, there's not a lot to do there, so we left early to see the Tablelands. Very quickly, we discovered that there's not a lot to do in the Tablelands, either. There are a lot of waterfalls, and we saw several of them; stopped at a local distillery and talked politics while we sampled their liqueurs; and ... um ... made our way back to Cairns.

DAY 9: Had a little time to kill in Cairns; watched DUPLICITY, which was really good. Had a flight to Brisbane so that we'd have no problem catching the once weekly Brisbane to Santo flight; wound up booking a horrendous accommodation there by selecting something off the airplane kiosk wall, that seemed like some place old men go to die.

DAY 10: Got up very very very early to fly to Santo. Our accomodations for the first few days were in Louganville, the main town on Santo, population 10,000 or so, and conveniently located to the main dive operations. We found a recommended local dive shop (Allan Power), set up our dives, and, with some time to kill, got a tour guide to take us to the Matevulu blue hole. (Does it seem like we're always swimming in freshwater bodies? That's because it's always hot. And now we've left airconditioning land.) The blue hole is astonishing; clear, gorgeous. On the way, we pass countless people with machetes, stern faced. I am nervous. Over time, I will learn that no matter how stern somebody looks in Vanuatu, if you wave and/or smile and/or say hi, they will almost always wave and smile back. The machetes are useful tools; clearing brush, opening coconuts, that sort of thing. We top off the night with our first kava drinking experience. Kava is a root that's ground up and mixed with water (often by chewing in villages; in the big city they use blenders), and drank. It has an earthy taste and roughly the effect of Novocaine.

DAY 11: Day 1 of diving the USS Coolidge, a WWII ship sunk by a friendly mine. It's so close to shore that you walk most of the way there through shallows, swim a little bit to a buoy, then descend to 18 meters (where the tip of the ship is). The stern of the ship sits at 70 meters; this is much, much more insanely deep than I intend to go anytime soon. Ransom's never gone beyond 18 meters, but our lovely dive guide Yvonne is very supportive and we do well, although my air consumption is out of control and I buddy breathe off her all the way to the decompression stop, where I breathe off a waiting tank until ascending. A morning dive, an afternoon dive, and then an evening dinner, where Ransom decides to order the "flying fox", aka fruit bat. He gets two, complete with heads. I forget my pocket-size camera, which we subsequently refer to as the BatCam for capturing moments such as this.

DAY 12: Day 2 of diving, and a very very special day. We do a morning dive on the Coolidge, going the deepest I've ever been - 40 meters - to visit a landmark called "The Lady". It's a great dive for lots of reasons - I'm improving my air consumption and generally getting a lot more comfortable, it's a grand adventure through the innards of the ships, and our guide Alfred Nambawon ("the best dive guide in Vanuatu") is both a great guide and a fun clown:

In the afternoon, we dive Million Dollar Point, one of the most unique dive sites ever. (Follow the link for a description; I won't spoil the surprise.)

In the evening, we do a night dive on the Coolidge, and this is, quite frankly, possibly the most awesome thing ever, and a completely unphotographable experience. We swim out to the Coolidge, wait for sunset, descend, and with our remaining light, swim without flashlights to a side cargo hold. In this cargo hold, thousands of flashlight fish live. We each grab on to a coral-encrusted pillar for support, and sit, watching the thousands of underwater points of light dot back and forth, barely illuminating the wreckage that surrounds them. I asked one of the dive instructors what it was like beforehand, and he said, with a big smile and faraway look in his eyes, "Like stepping into the Milky Way". That's about right.

DAY 13: Not our best day; both of us spend the evening sick. Our first hypothesis is the fish (we had the same for dinner, and had quickly determined that, being low season, food supplies don't turn over quickly at restaurants), but it just keeps on, and eventually we suspect it's the water. We survive the long, bumpy drive to our new residence: Oyster Island Resort. It's a gorgeous place, in the process of being renovated, and we're the only people here. We wander around a bit, exploring obscure beaches and abandoned kava bars, between spots of feeling sick. Mostly it's a lovely place to lay in a hammock and relax, while at high tide the water laps at the base of your bungalow.

DAY 14: Still sick. Ransom's started taking antibiotics (which I avoid, on the folk-wisdom principle that they "wipe out the good stuff") and is feeling good enough to go kayaking. In the afternoon, he convinces me to take a kayak out with him to return to the blue hole. It's a good trip, but I'm completely wiped, and wind up not leaving the bungalow til the middle of the next day.

DAY 15: Meanwhile, Ransom's gone off on an adventure to Millennium Cave. Something I really wanted to do, but am in no state to do. After hours of lying there, reading, watching the waves, eventually I make my way down for some lunch, talk with a local waiter for a while about many interesting things, which I'll post separately about. Ransom comes home with antibiotics for me, but I hold off; I've obtained some antidiarrheals earlier in the day, which seem to help, and I cling to my belief that they'll just kill the good stuff as well and then I'll get really sick, or something. Manage to go for a bit of a swim later, and have solid food for dinner. Getting better?

DAY 16: We leave bright and early - we have a flight to Tanna. Our driver is late and we have a nervewracking, impossibly slow drive to the airport, but it's all fine. After our time in Santo, which had a few restaurants and stores, Tanna is a further step away from Western civilization. We stay at the second nicest resort on the island; it has electricity (via generator) 8 hours of the day. There are basically no paved roads. (This will become important later.) There are no restaurants, near as we can tell, except those connected to resorts, and forget markets, unless you consider a piece of wood on the side of the road with coconuts and the like on it. (Which I don't mean to knock; getting a fresh coconut for 20 Vatu (US 20 cents) full of coconut milk, complete with having it chopped open with a machete when you're done with the milk to eat the meat, is a great deal.)There is, however, an active volcano. A very active volcano that spits lava regularly. So where do we go?

DAY 17: The morning deserves a blog post all its own; it's like a crazy adventure dreamed up by an 8 year old, culminating in that banyan tree shot posted below. The rest of the day is nowhere near so action packed; I'm feeling still pretty sick, and we relax too much and miss lunch, and have to head to the nice resort, where we spend too much on a sandwich, and our evening tour to a Jon Frum village is cancelled because of the rain rendering the roads impassable. Tanna is lovely, but we've spent the right amount of time here, at least in the wet season.

DAY 18: Still raining. We want to go see the Blue Cave (a blue hole inside a cave), but we can't because it's too dim. I don't exactly mind; I'm still pretty sick, trying to pretend I'm not, failing. There is nothing else to do except read, work on screenplay, amuse ourselves. That's okay; we fly to Vila today.

Except we don't. The rain is so bad that the plane from Vila to Tanna can't land, and after circling Tanna returns to Vila. We're told the flight leaves at 6 AM the next morning. We go to our resort for another night, meeting some new folks who had stayed at other resorts closer to the volcano and completely lacking in amenities like electricity, and have some drinks.

DAY 19: Our resort staff are asleep when we try to leave, and then everybody has to check out, with the numerous drinks from last night being slowly itemized. We get to the airport at 5:50 in a blind panic ... and we're the only ones there. Just six of us, and some mewling kittens. Eventually, two of our compatriots find the guy who runs the airport (and lives there), and he determines that the control tower in Vila doesn't even open until 6:30 AM. (The nice resort checked this out before dragging everyone to the airport.) It's kind of interesting, in a deserted Stephen King prologue kind of way, and I shoot lots of pictures.

Eventually, the plane arrives, and we arrive in Port Vila, the largest city in Vanuatu, located on the island of Efate. After the sheer remoteness of Tanna, it's a bit of a culture shock to be on paved roads, passing twenty-story hotels, checking into a lodge where we have a TV, DVD player, refrigerator, and microwave in our room. But here we are. And I'm still sick. Ransom drags me out to a walk into town to set up our dives, which I remember likening to the Bataan Death March, stumbling through the heat in sheer confusion. We set up our dives, eat lunch, go to the duty free, get some groceries, somehow get home, and I finally pull the antibiotic pin.

Shortly thereafter, we head off with another traveller we met on Tanna to a local kava bar. We dramatically up our kava intake, and everyone except me dramatically pays for it. By the end of the night, I'm the least sick one; I cook bolognese, which Ransom listlessly eats before passing out.

DAY 20: First of three days of diving. Ransom is working on his advanced certification, so I spend the first day diving with Jim ("The number one dive guide in Vanuatu" - apparently there's not a unifying body that judges such things). He's great to dive with, attentive to all sorts of small forms of life, including some crazy small swimming flatworms, and I'm finally getting my head around what I'm doing in scuba to the point that I really, really feel under control. One wreck dive (the Semle, a gorgeous ship which is easy to penetrate and home to lots of sea life) and one reef dive.

And oh, yeah, the antibiotics work instantly.

We also do our second night dive, on an unfamiliar ship: The Konanda. I've been reading SHADOW DIVERS, and the sense of using our flashlights to explore an unfamiliar ship is exciting, albeit the kid's play equivalent of what happens in that book.

DAY 21: Second of three days of diving, with two wreck dives: the Star of Russia and a return to the Konanda. The Star of Russia in particular is one of my favorite dives ever; the feeling of swimming between layers of a ship, now just horizontal girders, while pools of fish circle above you, is calming, glorious, a perfect synthesis of the natural and the manmade and utterly beautiful.

By this time, I think we're pretty laid back and not feeling like getting up to much; we spend the afternoon watching GUERILLA, the Patty Hearst/Symbionese Liberation Army documentary, and have dinner at a French restaurant, where I decide to try pigeon:

I guess it's good, for pigeon.

DAY 22: Third and final day of diving, and we head to the Cathedral, not quite a sea cave but steep walls on either side. It's one of the hardest dives I've done because of the current, but it's beautiful. Our final dive is at Twin Bommies, a coral reef, and a good relaxing dive after fighting the current on the earlier dive.

A relaxing afternoon, and we explore Port Vila a bit - there's a "nice resort" across the lagoon which we head to, and barely survive 20 minutes at, terrible drinks and "authentic" costumes unlike anything we've seen. But a nice reflecting pool! We go back, get some pizza, chill out and watch MAD DOG AND GLORY on DVD. Are we done? Kind of.

DAY 23: Part of our dampened enthusiasm is that we knew today was when the cruise ship descended on Vila, disgorging hundreds if not thousands of tourists, raising prices, basically taking a quiet pleasant place and making it horribly annoying. So we weren't planning on doing much. But we got up at 6, as we've been doing, and I suggested to Ransom that we try to make it to the Cascades before the cruise ship passengers do.

So we hop a bus to the Mele-Maat Cascades, we're the first one there, and spend a glorious hour and a half clambering about, swimming, bathing in waterfalls, taking pictures, luxuriating.

As we leave, we pass lines and lines of pasty confused cruise boat passengers. We hunker down at our resort for the balance of the day, finishing our groceries and books and rum, then fly to Brisbane, which is so dull that it's a pleasant return to civilization but hardly worth writing about, so let's just call this done.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

as I work on my Vanuatu writeup ...

I should note that my travelling companion Ransom has put together an extensive blog post on the topic for his employer, Mental Floss, along with posting a collection of pictures to Flickr.

While I'm linking to Ransom-related awesomeness, let me also include a link to his latest film, a motion-capture animated short about nanotechnology that is ludicrously more entertaining than that brief description might sound. It's been "going viral", and just hovering under 500,000 views; help him break over that magic number, or at least watch it and enjoy yourself for six minutes.

And while I'm linking to YouTube related things, I must definitely link to the work done by my film collective, Hybrid, on our entry in Cadbury's Unleash the Goo competition. I was only up for one day of shooting, but that was the day we shot exploding creme eggs at 3000+ fps (for non-film people: that's very, very slow, like 100 times slower than normal speed), so it was a pretty awesome day to be a part of; the final product is even more awesome than I expected from that day, will only take 59 seconds of your life to watch (plus load time), and can be seen here.

Monday, April 6, 2009

YOTA Books #6 - #12

Brief drive-bys because I know I won't have time to write a lot on all of these.


Kyle Baker is a - well, what's the term these days? Comic book artist? (Not really, for as he points out in his preface, comic book companies have oft had little use for him, despite his genius work on series such as DC's reboot of THE SHADOW.) Illustrator? (But he does so much more than illustrate ...) Visual storyteller? (Ack.) Graphic noveliste? (Double ack.) Anyway, UNDERCOVER GENIE is not so much a graphic novel as a collection of loose ends, part sketch book, part compendium of 1-4 page short pieces ranging from the absurdly deadpan to the scathingly incisive. Favorite gag, maybe: the guy who finds a genie who will grant him any wish, and the guy, thinking he's being clever and avoiding all the usual traps, wishes that everyone would love each other ... upon which he goes to buy his newspaper, only to be confronted with a query of where exactly he was yesterday.

#7: Richard Russo, BRIDGE OF SIGHS

The line of gray along the horizon is brighter now, and with the coming light I feel a certainty: that there is, despite our wild imaginings, only one life. The ghostly others, no matter how real they seem, no matter how badly we need them, are phantoms. The one life we're left with is sufficient to fill and refill our imperfect hearts with joy, and then to shatter them. And it never, ever lets up.

Blame love.

I'm a reasonably big Russo fan, and any book that has passages like that will keep me turning the pages. But there's a part of me that thinks that this book's desperate attempts to touch on every major issue of the late 20th century, one major and complex one via a deliberate act of obfuscating facts for the reader, is just too unwieldy in the end to really flow. This is a sideways way of saying that you should read EMPIRE FALLS first, basically. But I can't help but be enthralled by the stray sentences that unspool in my head, like this one:

I told him the truth, that I loved him and didn't regret anything about our lives together. But do we ever tell 'the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but, so help me God', as my father used to say, to those we love? Or even to ourselves? Don't even the best and most fortunate of lives hint at other possibilities, at a different kind of sweetness and, yes, bitterness too? Isn't this why we can't help feeling cheated, even when we know we haven't been?

So: probably least awesome book of the year that I've blogged about thus far (there's one I'm omitting; I despised it so much I don't even want to give it bad publicity), but I'm glad I read it. If anyone in Auckland wants my copy, let me know.

#8: Hunter S. Thompson, KINGDOM OF FEAR

I've already sung the praises of HST in this blog, but it's worth emphasizing just how freaking smart he is, behind all the bluster and drugs and animal hearts left on Jack Nicholson's door step at midnight (just one of many too insane not to be true stories left in here). It's not just intelligence, though: Thompson loves deeply, and only some deeply passionate could get as angry, sad, and committed as he does. This book bills itself as an autobiography; it's more a series of postcards from various points in his life, but that makes it no less worth your while.

#9: Redmond O'Hanlon, CONGO EXPEDITION

A complete blind buy at the Brisbane airport; despite being an esteemed Penguin Classic (orange cover and all), never heard of O'Hanlon before. If you haven't: basically, he's a British scientist who goes on 19th century-style expeditions to various obscure places, despite being not particularly fit or suited for it. The journey in and of itself is remarkable, both for its natural beauty and structural chaos. From medical ailments to impenetrable government bureaucracies to a seemingly endless parade of villages where one or more residents want one or more of O'Hanlon's travelling party dead, the narrative never wants for interest, even when O'Hanlon segues from a night boat escape to the color of the wings of the bird soaring over the river at dawn. What's interesting about his writing style is that he is, relentlessly, present tense. There is no back story other than that revealed in discussions as it goes on; events are only clarified in discussions with other characters several pages down the road; we begin in medias res and basically end there, too. The result is very experiential and engrossing; my only quibble is that, despite his seemingly microscopic attention to detail (he keeps meticulous accounts of his inventory, recalls several page discussions with chiefs and the like), he never discusses any of the mechanics of how he records all this detail (paper and pen? microcassette recorders? photographic memory), and as a result I have to slightly question how reliable it is as a whole. Nonetheless, it's a very awesome satisfying blind buy and I suspect I will be reading more O'Hanlon when I break through my backlog of other things.

#10: Robert Kurson, SHADOW DIVERS

Ransom brought this book with him; I'd have never picked it up on my own and absolutely loved it. It's a non-fiction account, written in third-person pulpy prose, about how a group of scuba divers uncovered a WWII U-Boat off the coast of New Jersey and began a multi-year, sometimes deadly quest to figure out what U-Boat it was and how it got there. As someone who was diving much easier, much safer wrecks, it was engrossing to see what the extreme end of a sport that I love and am just starting to grasp; but I suspect even non-divers would find this a great yarn, and for once I managed to overcome my somewhat blase attitude about WWII stories. Definitely recommended.

#11: John Hersey, HIROSHIMA

Another Ransom selection, and a WWII story of a very different stripe. This was originally released in 1946, and was one of the first English-language pieces of reporting on the events of Hiroshima from the perspective of the people on the ground; it combines eyewitness testimony from 6 survivors. Having been to Hiroshima myself and walked through the museum there, it wasn't as eye-opening as it might have been to someone less familiar, but even still there were new, horrifying images that will be burned into my brain til I die. (The one I can't let go of: a group of soldiers, desperate for water, all of whom had their eyeballs literally melted out of their skulls and faces so deformed that their lips couldn't open to accept a spout from a kettle; a priest gave them water by dripping it down a blade of grass.) This edition contains the follow-up stories of what happened in the subsequent 40 years. Strangely topical at a time where Obama is, finally, calling for the end of nuclear weapons.

#12: Haruki Murakami, KAFKA ON THE SHORE

The third Murakami book I've read (not counting some stories I read in AFTER THE QUAKE; the other two are NORWEGIAN WOOD and THE WIND-UP BIRD CHRONICLE) and possibly my least favorite; undoubtedly an intricate masterwork, bravely throwing together everything from 17th century Japanese stories about living spirits and Sophocles to Beethoven and Colonel Sanders, and it's pretty compulsively readable, but I didn't get a strong emotional throughline or sense of the overall goal. Nonetheless, so much cleverness abounds here that I don't think Murakami fans would be disappointed as such, and a few passages (such as the feminist critique of the library) really entertain.

So That Time On Vacation That I Was In A Banyan Tree

So I am back, and I have told you so little. I have much to share, many photos to wade through. Where do I start? Why not with a giant banyan tree:

giant banyan tree, Tanna.

Friday, March 27, 2009


(I managed to string together four consecutive weekends of awesome music experiences. This one took place in Dunedin on February 27th.)

It started unassumingly enough, at our friend Heather's house in November, where either Karen said to me, or I said to Karen, you know what would be good? A Guided By Voices cover band. An instantly brilliant idea, that seemed predestined to join the heap of many other wonderful ideas I had that would never eventuate.

But this one did. Is there something in the water in Dunedin? Maybe there is. Dunedin is notorious in New Zealand for being the launching ground of hundreds of bands, including many that are uniformly considered to be in the upper tier of NZ's great bands, and others that are more contentious but no less beloved (at least by me). Karen plays in one of them, Onanon, with Donald, who I worked with at NHNZ, but apparently one band wasn't enough for her.

(I'd soon discover that it wasn't enough for me, either.)

And so a month or so later, in an Indian restaurant around the corner from NHNZ, she pulled up a spreadsheet and we worked out which songs we'd try to play, who we'd try to get aboard, and so on. And I realized that if I didn't stop this, this was actually going to happen, and I'd be back behind the drums live for the first time since October 2003.

I didn't stop it, and Donald was sucked into the GBV vortex, and so too was Rob, another Dunedin musician who was passionate enough about GBV that he'd had a custom hoodie made with their name on it, and had actually drunk beers with lead singer Robert Pollard when both were in Osaka. We needed a name, and modeling off the previous successful GBV tribute band I'd seen (Giant Bug Village; the story of the night of the dueling GBV tribute bands is a bit too much to get into at the moment), we decided to keep the acronym. Bouncing off variations on the name until we reached homeostasis of a sort, we arrived at Gelatinous Bleary Vampires, and arranged a tribute night, where like-minded fans could also cover GBV songs. To give us the greatest amount of prep time, we arranged it for my last night in town, February 27th.

But another story runs concurrent to this, where I'd met another NHNZ editor, Chris, and started playing music in the NHNZ basement with him, first in wide-open free jams, and then honing to a small group to try to get a focused sound. Chris enjoyed, as do I, the semi-improvisational song structure, where rhythmic journeys can be interrupted by seismic noise. Ears and sensibilities aligned, we decided we also could play a show; when the date was picked for GBV tribute night, it made sense that we could play as well. Even though we didn't play any GBV songs, somehow I was enough of a connection. As the date approached, our lineup solidified, and we had a second connection: Donald joined our band, which somehow picked up the name The New New Randoms (UK), an elaborate inside joke based on our attempt to name the group The Randoms, only to discover it was taken. Thanks to my trips to Auckland, Don's membership in about three other bands, and limited access to the NHNZ basement, our practices were severely restricted, but we worked out four song structures, mostly for acoustic drums, electric drums, and guitar, with some variation.

The location for the show was a matter of debate. There were a couple options floated, the leading two being a venue in town and Chicks' Hotel, out in Port Chalmers (a 10 km drive from the center of Dunedin; a negligible concern for people from larger places, but a major journey for Dunedinites). I posed a simple question: Which was more awesome?

Chicks' was more awesome, there was no question, and so the show was booked for there.

From my perspective, the show was a big success. Lots of people came, in the end, despite concerns that it would be too much trouble for our friends to get to Port Chalmers. Our co-worker/local singer-songwriter Bill Morris threw in a couple countrified versions of GBV songs, and another trio threw in their versions of "The Official Ironman Rally Song", "My Valuable Hunting Knife", and "Back To The Lake". The New New Randoms (UK) unleashed 20 minutes of smoke machines, strobe lights, audience participation, tongue clicking loops, and general anarchy mixed with enough rhythmic coherence that nobody got too frightened; and Gelatinous Bleary Vampires unleashed a 45-minute set that was full of the hits and lots of instrument swapping from our default line up of me on drums, Karen on bass, and Rob and Don on guitar, and lots of shared singing:

"A Salty Salute" (extended 3-minute version; me on bass, Karen on drums)
"Teenage FBI"
"Watch Me Jumpstart"
"I Am A Scientist"
"Game of Pricks"
"Back To The Lake"
"Alright" (Karen/Doug 2 person version)
"Tractor Rape Chain"
"Surgical Focus"
"Motor Away"
"Hold On Hope"
"Blimps Go 90"
"As We Go Up, We Go Down"
"Atom Eyes" (me on guitar and vocals; Rob on bass; Karen on drums)
"Awful Bliss" (me on guitar and vocals; Karen on bass; Rob on drums)

And then we said goodbye to most of the NHNZ crew, who were ready to tuck in, but we weren't really done playing music, not by a long shot, and decided to give another go at some of our favorites, jamming out extended versions, different tempos, what have you, and rolled on until we were done.

And then we said goodbye to each other, not just for the night but for the foreseeable future, and I went home, at a surprisingly reasonable hour, a small mercy given my journey to Christchurch the next day, and I decided I must never again go 5 1/2 years without playing music live.

Monday, March 23, 2009


(I managed to string together four consecutive weekends of awesome music experiences. This one took place in Auckland on February 20th.)

Unlike David Byrne, I have seen Iron Maiden before. And, sadly, it was a bit of a disappointment. I loved Iron Maiden as a teenager; would always mow the lawn to POWERSLAVE or SOMEWHERE IN TIME, two of my most cherished tapes from the Columbia House music club. And I'd seen LIVE AFTER DEATH, and knew about Iron Maiden's larger-than-life stage antics. So when they arrived in Detroit on the NO PRAYER FOR THE DYING tour and announced they were going to go "back to basics", and proceeded to play their set with a minimum of stage fare, I felt like I'd missed out. Sure, they were fine musically (well, except for the bit where Bruce Dickinson lost his voice on "Run To The Hills"), but what I wanted was to have my mind blown.

I haven't thought a lot about Iron Maiden since then. Like many musical loves from my teenage years, they were indiscriminately tossed aside when I discovered punk rock and college radio. But I always would smile when I heard them in passing, and would tend to discover that a disproportionate number of my friends also grew up on Iron Maiden, and never lost respect for them. I mean, yeah, they're a heavy metal band, but they write 13-minute songs based on Samuel Taylor Coleridge poems! And their singer is not only a fencing champion, but a professional pilot, flying the Iron Maiden jet and even occasionally rescuing people when extra planes are needed and he's not on stage!

And then there's the fact that they're IRON MAIDEN. This cannot be understated, and it's more than just a tautology. It doesn't mean anything to be, say, Metallica, not in the same way, because Metallica twenty-five years ago was a very different enterprise, one that would have been embarrassed by what they've turned into. What makes Maiden different - and more awesome, in my scientific opinion - is that Iron Maiden has never strayed from what they are. They don't say, okay, now it's time for a ballad, or let's add keyboards, or play with a symphony orchestra. They're geeks who love fantasy, war stories, sci-fi, and horror, and mine it relentlessly for material, then set to music played with a deep ear for musical theory that they render almost invisible to anyone who's not into theory. And they've maintained a graphical identity, not just with their logo, but with their mascot Eddie, that's incredibly popular. I've never been to a show, ever, where so many of the people were wearing shirts by the headlining band. Here, it was 80%, easily.

Prefatory ramble done and dusted, how was the show? Freaking awesome. Earlier showers in the day had left me fearful, but they parted and we got to our standing area location ten minutes before the band started; perfect timing. (Some rain happened later; mostly, it evaporated before it landed on us, the air around us was so steamy.) A video intro, and then into "Aces High", the first track off of POWERSLAVE. A huge stage with multiple levels, fireworks, pyrotechnics, various scrims with images off their various records (and, for the 13-minute rendition of "Rime of the Ancient Mariner", a ship's deck), myriad and sundry wardrobe changes for Bruce Dickinson (a British army coat for "The Trooper", some crazy Egyptian mask for "Powerslave", and so on), and even a 12-foot puppet Eddie (SOMEWHERE IN TIME-era) for the climax.

And the song selection! I knew going in that this was largely pulling from my favorite era of Maiden, but I wasn't fully expecting that, given that I hadn't heard a new Maiden album since 1990, there would only be one song that I hadn't heard before ("Fear of the Dark", which I think hit in 1992 or something; an epic piece that instantly earned its place on the crowded setlist). "Two Minutes To Midnight"; "Wasted Years"; "Number of the Beast"; and, of course, "Run To The Hills". (Which a smiling Bruce Dickinson introduced by saying "If you don't know this one, you're in the wrong place.)

It was an expensive show and a big stress getting back to Auckland for the show (I flew back to Dunedin the day after the David Byrne show for work), and every moment of stress and frustration was wiped clean. My inner 13-year hasn't been so happy in years.

Friday, March 20, 2009

An Incredibly Scary Thing I'll Probably Do Again

So, between my last day in Dunedin and my scheduled ferry to Wellington at the start of March, I had a week to kill. Originally, my plan was to visit Stewart Island, which had eluded me my whole time in Dunedin. For those not in the know, Stewart Island is south of New Zealand's South Island, a mostly unpopulated wildlife paradise. Also, by virtue of being closer to Antarctica than the rest of New Zealand, pretty cold. And as the end of February approached, and Dunedin evinced a complete inability to produce even a halfway decent excuse for a summer, I decided I was freaking sick of the cold, and that it was time to head north.

Where to? Golden Bay is a perennial favorite, and was on the table for a while, but surely there was someplace new I could go. Akaroa is on the Banks Peninsula, southeast of Christchurch, and off the beaten path. I'd only ever wind up there if I was farting around in the South Island with time to kill and could easily afford the time for a sideways detour.

Yep, that fit the bill. And so, after a detour for my friend Andrew's birthday in Christchurch (a late-night double feature of grindhouse absurdities), I headed out there.

Akaroa is not incredibly scary. But as I arrived, mostly with the plan of sleeping a lot, I started forming the balance of my plan, which was to get my advanced scuba certification in order to be able to dive shipwrecks while in Vanuatu. Which meant heading further north to the Marlborough Sounds, an area I'd never explored at all. In amidst sleeping, hiking, and nice meals, I called ahead to book my course, with a dive shop that also dives the biggest post-Titanic shipwreck, the Mikhail Lermentov. As it turned out, the boat wasn't doing the Lermentov the Wednesday or Thursday - which, truth be told, was pretty fine with me because, not having dived for 2 1/2 years, I wasn't remotely prepared to do a challenging dive - but I could do the course those two days. Sounded great. Sounded like a plan.

So I arrive in Picton and pick up my advanced text, and have a brief chat, and learn that, in fact, we ARE diving the Lermentov, because the people who had wanted to go on Tuesday couldn't go because of bad weather. So I'll be diving it the next day. Still tired, I read the requisite coursework about wreck diving and deep diving, most of which reads to me like YOU CAN DIE SO MANY DIFFERENT WAYS IT'S NOT FUNNY blah blah DO NOT EVEN CONSIDER DOING A PENETRATION DIVE UNLESS YOU KNOW YOUR SHIT AMAZINGLY WELL blah blah LIKE REALLY ALL THIS IS INCREDIBLY DANGEROUS, WE'RE NOT KIDDING blah blah OH BY THE WAY, IT'S EVEN MORE DANGEROUS IF YOU HAVE ANXIETY OR ARE FATIGUED OR INEXPERIENCED.

So I have anxiety about being fatigued and inexperienced, and then have anxiety about having anxiety, and manage to wake up every single hour between 1 am and 6 am, and get picked up at 7:15. Meet the other divers, load up the truck, take everything down to the boat, take the boat out.

On the way out, the light is beautiful, transformative. Any idea that I had made a mistake is lost from my mind, watching reddish-gold light reflected off the waters. Suddenly, the boat drops to a near-halt. Our laconic captain informs us that there's traffic. I look in front of the boat: dolphins. All around us, groups of dolphins, jumping in and out of the water. In the distance, a playful dolphin trying to keep up with the passenger ferry as it comes into the bay. I had passed up the chance to pay money to go see dolphins on a boat in Akaroa, for reasons not entirely clear to me at the time, but subconsciously I remembered: go out for a scuba dive, and you get all that for free.

And after we resumed our trip, and reached the tail end of the 2-hour boat trip to the Lermentov wreck, I was informed that we'd be doing a penetration dive on the Lermentov.

I should probably pause to mention what a penetration dive is, though perhaps it's obvious: basically, a penetration dive is any dive on a wreck where you go inside the wreck. In the case of the Lermentov, most of its structure is still there, minus a lot of missing windows; it just happens to be on its side (well, and at the bottom of the ocean, but you knew that). The deepest point we hit on it was about 26 meters; I'm sure there's deeper parts.

I should also repeat a couple key phrases from my text (paraphrased), running through my head:

I should also mention that I do not consider myself a lucky diver, thus far. When I did my training, we learned various procedures for air emergencies. I asked my instruction how often she used them; she said she'd been on 100 dives and never had to use them.

My buddy had an air emergency on my very first post-training dive. Which is to say: when people talk about the worst shit that can happen on dives, I don't think "Oh, that's something that will never happen"; I think "Wow, that's another thing that could happen".

If everything inside me wasn't clenched like a drum, I probably would in fact have shit my pants.

Do I go? Of course I go. Of all the stupid things that I let fear paralyze me from doing, backing out of activities I've spent money on isn't one of them. Some part of me, that I rely on for moments like this, takes over the body and just goes through the preparation autonomously; and the boat captain has dived this wreck hundreds if not thousands of times, and assures me that as long as I stay right by him, everything will be fine.

And so, five of us descend, 26 meters, to our entry point to the Lermentov.

What none of us knew, before we went down, was just how bad the visibility would be. Visibility is highly variable, and the single variable that can separate a great diving day from a bad one. Particulate matter in the water can do a lot to reduce visibility. And on this day, the visibility on the Lermentov was about 5 meters. Put differently, roughly 2 1/2 body lengths.

Another little scuba fun fact. Generally, everybody starts with the same amount of air, but not everybody goes through it at the same rate. Lots of different factors, but a huge one is inexperience. If you're unnecessarily panicked (because, say, you're under 25 FUCKING METERS OF WATER AND INSIDE A SHIPWRECK AND HAVEN'T DIVED FOR 2 1/2 YEARS), you are apt to breathe heavier as well.

Conversely, on a deep dive, you can't come up particularly quickly, because you need time to decompress, so you have to have a decompression stop. Now this stop does have air, if you need it; you just have to be comfortable taking out your regulator and putting in another one. For experienced people, I'm sure, ain't no thang.

All of this is to put you in my shoes as the five of us enter the swimming deck of the Mikhail Lermentov, turned on its side. Ahead of us, a bar on its side. As we get close, I can see the one remaining bar stool that's still attached. And then, per our plan, we go up - which, in terms of boat layout, is sideways - to the deck at the side of the craft.

Which is windowed in.

And as I guzzle air, and we swim along, and I can barely see past my instructor in front of me, I realize I have no idea how long we're going to be in here, or how I'm going to get out if something goes wrong. We pass under window after window, but they all seem to be intact.

I eye my gauge warily. It's going down. Too quickly for my liking. How far do we have to go?

But wait for a moment. Because this narrative is oversimplified. To say this is an exercise in fear is accurate but incomplete. It is also an exercise in beauty. The beauty of decay is something I love; I take heaps of pictures of rusted and demolished things everywhere I go. The beauty of light through water is something else I love. And here are both, and as we pass through, and fish pass atop the windows I swim under, and light bounces off the silt in front of me, and as I look at the ship walls, walls I can already barely recall in the face of the surreality of the whole experience, I appreciate it is all, despite the compromised visibility, incredibly beautiful.

Which doesn't keep me from imagining horrific outcomes.

Finally, we reach an escape point. There's another passageway, going down into the ship, into darkness. (I should mention I'm the only one without a flashlight, on the entirely reasonable grounds that being the least experienced I'd be the most likely to drop it.) The captain and I briefly confer, with the limited sort of sign language and sharing of displays that's symptomatic of underwater communication, and I make it clear that I think I'm going to run out of air if I stay down, or at least make it clear that I want to go back up. (If we could talk, I would have said "How far is the next bit and do you seriously think I have enough air for it?". In lieu of that, I wasn't about to take a chance. So the rest of our party continues and, after our decompression stop, I come to the surface, still with about 70 bar left. (I left with 200 bar; generally, surfacing at 30 bar is a good target.) I talk with the captain, he says it's the worst he's seen visibility on the Lermentov this year, and is convinced we should do the second dive of the day elsewhere.

In the day and a half since then, I've done four more dives, including two on other shipwrecks, and now have my advanced certification. And the paralyzing fear has largely dissipated, replaced by imagining how I could handle the Lermentov with more skills under my belt and in better visibility. As I said goodbye today, I mentioned that I'd love to see it sometime with better visibility. Brent, the captain, said September's a great time for visibility.

Somehow, I'm actually considering it.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Awesomecation Postcard #2: Brisbane International Airport

Radiohead and latte machines are in the background and I am on the Internet. This is suddenly alien, because three nights ago I was in the outback, kinda. Chillagoe is an awesome place at the edge of nowhere with caves, an abandoned smelter, no Internet, lots of kangaroos (they get everywhere, even infesting the graveyard - to quote Mitch Hedberg, cutest infestation ever), and generally about as much outback feel as you can get without renting a 4x4 and doing river crossings.

In about an hour my plane for Vanuatu boards, and I'll be heading to Louganville, in Espiritu Santo. It's a diving hub, and our first 2-3 days will be spent diving. The grail is an old wreck called the USS Coolidge, but it remains unclear how much of it we'll be able to see with our limited experience. But there are numerous other dive sites, both wrecks and reefs, and the notable Million Dollar Point, home of thousands of kilos of weapons and machinery dumped into the sea after WWII.

Apparently there are a few Internet cafes in Louganville, and even more in Port Vila. Whether they operate at anything resembling a reasonable rate remains to be seen. Wow, that's a lot of r's in a row. It's really early. Breakfast time!

Monday, March 16, 2009


(I managed to string together four consecutive weekends of awesome music experiences. This one took place in Auckland on February 14th.)

Seeing David Byrne is something I've had a chance to do before, and avoided. I'm a huge Talking Heads fan - STOP MAKING SENSE is firmly in my top ten albums of all time (will post full list if anyone cares), and he's had his solo moments, but the idea of seeing him do stuff from just the solo albums seemed like it had to be, necessarily, disappointing.

But when the latest tour was announced, and songs from classic-era Talking Heads albums like FEAR OF MUSIC, REMAIN IN LIGHT, and SPEAKING IN TONGUES was guaranteed, I decided it was worth taking the plunge (even springing for a flight to Auckland).

What I didn't know at the time I bought my ticket was that David Byrne had just realized what would turn out to be my second favorite album of 2008. With the help of Brian Eno, EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENS WILL HAPPEN TODAY knocked me in the stomach with an unexpected helping of heartfelt emotion when I first put it on; combining gospel and soul elements with Eno-style electronics and plaintive Byrne melodies, plus an emotional directness to the lyrics. Go find "Home" somewhere if you can. It was the song I was most looking forward to by the time the concert rolled around, even more than any Talking Heads material.

"Home" did not get played. That this was barely a disappointment is partially due to the fact that I'd snuck a peek at a previous set list, but it was largely due to the fact that, apart from a great selection of material, the show was one of the best concert experiences of my life. Byrne came with, in addition to a standard backing band, three backing singers and three modern dancers. In general, the choreography of the dancers was very relaxed and naturalistic; evocative without being incomprehensible, and often deeply playful. Byrne would seem to stand alone from the antics, but then would have his legs positioned just right to allow a dancer to slide through, or turn his back just in time for a dancer to springboard off it, or fall backwards and let a dancer catch him.

(A side note for Talking Heads fans: it's amazing how much Byrne has changed as a performer since the STOP MAKING SENSE days. I love that movie, but Byrne is the inscrutable intellectual at the center of it, standoffish, making it seem that everything is quite deep, never admitting pleasure. These days, while Byrne hasn't lost his sensibility, he's deepened it with a straightforward joy, smiling often, taking simple pleasure in what he does. I can understand someone saying they don't "get" STOP MAKING SENSE; I can't understand somebody saying they didn't "get" this show.)

Is it heresy for me to say I enjoyed this more than I would have enjoyed a hypothetical Talking Heads reunion show? Possibly. But no Tom Tom Club, no late-era mediocrities included for the sake of balance, no simmering resentment on stage, and a whole new collection of great songs (including some, like "I Feel My Stuff", that really came alive on stage in a way they didn't on record); and I still got up to dance to "Burning Down The House". Plus we got "Once In A Lifetime", "Heaven" (with special guest Neil freakin' Finn), "I Zimbra", "Houses In Motion", "The Great Curve", "Life During Wartime", "Take Me To The River", "Crosseyed and Painless" ... and left with the sad beauty of "Everything That Happens Will Happen Today", a lullaby to a night of joy that left us speechless.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Awesomecation Virtual Postcard #1: Cape Tribulation, Australia.

Hello from the incredibly inaccurately named Cape Tribulation, resting in the shadows of Mt. Sorrow. I can only assume that James Cook had some bad news from his girlfriend or some such when he landed here, because this place is awesome, crocodiles, poisonous spiders, and all.

A rough thumbnail of what I've done since I got here:

WEDNESDAY: Arrived in Cairns. Got picked up by Randy. Hit a beach, discovered a local barman who directed us to a swimming hole under a waterfall. We found, we swam. Ate dinner. Slept early.

THURSDAY: Had a leisurely morning in Cairns. Checked out indoor zoo, saw lovely fatal things from behind plexiglass and the like. Headed up the coast, stopped at Barron Falls, a very seasonal falls that was very active. Can't wait to show you the pictuures. Made it to Port Douglas in the afternoon, checked in, leisurely evening around town. Ate kangaroo. It was kind of like gamey beef. Probably won't have it again.

FRIDAY: Scuba diving day 1! On Opal Reef (boat was Calypso). Visibility wasn't ideal as a cyclone passed nearby not too long ago, but was still THE GREAT BARRIER REEF, and full of heaps of amazing coral, iridescent fishes of many sizes, small nudibranches, and just general overwhelmingness.

SATURDAY: Scuba diving day 2! On Agincourt Reef this time, and a completely great day of diving. Helped to have a day to get comfortable under water, but then we saw so many special things: a sea turtle quietly feeding, a giant Maori wrasse, sharks, clownfish ... on and on. And I did my first drift dive ever. Fantastic day.

SUNDAY: Drive up Queensland to Cape Tribulation, deep in the rainforest. Stopped at the Discovery Centre along the way (unnecessary and overpriced; avoid). Did much more interesting bush walks, a crocodile-hunting river cruise (saw one at a distance, but the mangroves were worth price of admission) made our way to our paradiscal lodging at the Cape Tribulation Farmstay, and headed up to Emmagen Creek, a beautiful stunning freshwater swimming hole refreshingly free of deadly things.

MONDAY: Tropical fruit breakfast. Walk along the beach. Find $50 in the sand. Go back to Emmagen Creek, take pictures, snorkel, find fresh water turtle. Head back down, go to special tropical fruit tasting thing which is surprisingly AWESOME. Then to internet cafe/bar and here I am.

Hope you all are awesome.

Friday, March 13, 2009


In this book, the word "decoy" means "person". A person is always camouflage for something small and soft and possibly buriable.

A one-sentence review: this may be my favorite book I've ever read, and I'm not sure I can recommend it to anybody I know.

Okay, a bit more. Ben Marcus wrote another book I loved, THE AGE OF WIRE AND STRING, a perplexing book written as a series of brief essays where ordinary words are repurposed for different uses to unlikely and surprisingly evocative results. Unlike many of his peers, Marcus doesn't write sentences with particularly difficult words or structures; he writes sentences that are difficult because they raid our vocabulary for such unexpected results, and rewarding in equal measure to their unexpectedness.

Which may lead you to ask what the fuck am I talking about. Fair enough. For instance, a brief excerpt from a subsection of NOTABLE AMERICAN WOMEN, the second (and thus far only other) novel by Marcus, by turns more conventional and much more deeply strange, called System Requirements:

This book is unfortunately designed for people. People are considered as areas that resist light, mistakes in the air, collision sweet spots. At the time of this writing, the whole world is a crime scene: People eat space with their bodies; they are rain decayers; the wind is slaughtered when they move. A retaliation is probably coming.

The paragraph continues, but it's worth noting here, apart from the awesomeness of this writing as stand-alone arbitrary brilliance, that unlike many practitioners of contemporary literature, Marcus isn't just throwing some amusing shit against the wall to see what sticks. I had no idea the first time I read this, but virtually every idea in these sentences is refracted elsewhere in the book.

The lead character of the book is named Ben Marcus, and two of the other lead characters are his parents; one of them, his father, is being kept underground in the back yard while he is assaulted with language through a tube, and the opening diatribe is written from his point of view; the closing epistle, meanwhile, is written from the point of view of his mother, who outlines her parenting plans for Ben (and her husband's enforced role in them), amidst her attempt to achieve true silence.

That probably doesn't make much sense, nor would it make much sense to tell you that many pages are devoted to stuffing different fabrics into mouths to absorb emotions, the medical effects of various names upon Ben's sister, or instructions on proper diet while reading the novel.

Does this all sound silly? Occasionally it is; I laughed out loud, quite a few times. But it's also a deeply sad, passionately felt questioning of the entire enterprise of self-improvement and other-improvement, of the scientific method; of what we do to each other and how we do it.

All that said, I can't imagine that most people I know would be excited to stick with it; it hurt my brain deeply during the opening half, trying to adjust to reading normal sentences that didn't seem to make a damn bit of sense, and I fully appreciate why most would not mistake that for pleasure. But if anyone has read it or does read it, let me know what you thought, and if you found it as awesome as I did.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Awesomecation: A Brief Overview

In a normal year, a trip across New Zealand, with stop-offs in Marlborough Sound for wreck diving, Akaroa for chilling out, Wellington for jazz festival, and New Plymouth for Len Lye sculpture seeing, plus two of the best movies I've seen in ages (LET THE RIGHT ONE IN and HUNGER) and one of the most amazing, entrancing failures I'll ever see (WATCHMEN - I mean every word of that as a compliment, and could go on for ages about it), travelling with my good friend Jonny, would be a great vacation.

But this is the Year of the Awesome, and therefore that is the prelude.

Tomorrow I fly to Australia for the Awesomecation, with my friend Ransom (who I met in Portland and now lives in LA). It looks roughly like this, with the caveat that part of the nature of the Awesomecation is leaving room to find out awesome things on the ground rather than overplanning and not having room for unexpected awesome:

11 March - W
arrive in CAIRNS
get over jet lag

12 - 14 March - Th - Sa night
go diving

15 - 16 March - Su - Mo
exploring beautiful coastal land, more diving?

17 March - Tu, 18 March - W - TBD
exploring inland Australia - Tablelands? Outback?

19 March - Th
return to CAIRNS fly to -> BRISBANE
(just a brief overnight so we're well positioned for next day flight)

20- 25 March - Fr - We
diving, snorkelling, beach lounging, caving

26-27 March - Th-Fr
fly to -> TANNA, VANUATU
see another island! volcano! cargo cult! more!

28 March - 1 April - Sa - Th
to the big, action packed island! not even sure what we're doing, too many awesome options - figure it out as we go.

2-3 Apr - Th - Fr
in the evening. day or two in Brisbane to rejoin civilization, check out a zoo, chillax.

4 Apr - Sa
back home! for real!


reports and general Internet connectivity will be scarce, I assume. Will post virtual postcards when I can, and will try to set up some auto-publishing on some retrospective posts on some of the awesome activities that I've enjoyed this year tonight.

Take care.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

the briefest summation of previous and forward-looking awesome.

Saturday, Christchurch, Andrew's birthday double feature of THE PSYCHO LOVER and THE ORACLE: AWESOME
Sunday, Christchurch, MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3-D: mind-numbingly stupid except for the gratutious use of 3-D in pickax murders etc. which was AWESOME
Monday, Akaroa, chilling out, catching up on sleep, and having amazing meal at Ma Maison: AWESOMELY RELAXING
today, Picton, Dive on the Marlborough Sound of the shipwreck Mikhail Lermentov: THE SCARIEST THING I'VE DONE IN MY LIFE AND COMPLETELY AWESOME

tomorrow: more diving
Fri-Sun: jazz fest, Wellington
Mon: New Plymouth
Tue: Auckland
Wed: fly to Australia for three weeks of awesome with Randy in Queensland and Vanuatu!
and then: fly back to Auckland, get back to work, start making movie!

Expect updates to be scarce, I will try to write some more detailed things when I don't have to learn about enriched air diving immediately!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Tomahawk, Dunedin, NZ
np: Guided By Voices, "Alright".

scratching the surface of what is up, most of which I've probably mentioned or alluded to here:

- DARK DAYS IN MONKEY CITY, the show that I have been in Dunedin to work on the last 4 months, goes to air tonight (Tuesday February 24th) at 10 pm in the States. (No idea of international dates.) Credit-spotters, you won't see my name for a couple weeks yet (I came in late, and start getting credited on ep 5), but you'll get to meet our cast of monkey characters, hear the dulcet narration of John Rhys-Davies, and tell me what you think of it.

- Speaking of that TV show, we locked picture on the final episode today. It's mostly all over but the shouting now; my last day is Friday.

- Also on Friday: my proud return to the stage after 5 1/2 years (not counting that one song last month). My two new bands are saying hello as I say goodbye, at Chicks Hotel in Port Chalmers (just outside of Dunedin). Gelatinous Bleary Vampires have the same initials as Guided By Voices, whose songs they will be playing; I'll be drumming mostly, but also bassing, guitaring, and singing at various points. (Yes, I know bassing and guitaring aren't words.) Meanwhile, The New New Randoms (UK) carry on my improvisational-music side; we'll be playing some loosely structured tunes in varying styles, from ominous and drony to spastic and dancy to just kind of goofy.

- In the past two weeks, I have been back to Auckland twice. The tickets were originally purchased for the purposes of seeing David Byrne and Iron Maiden, respectively, both of which put on fantastic shows, which I still hope to write about at some point. It's also worked out as a great opportunity to refine my feature script with my producers and pass it out to the crew, and we're moving forward to shoot the feature in August. Go DIY filmmaking!

- Of course, there's a limited amount I'll achieve until I get back to Auckland; in the interim, I'll be travelling through NZ (a friend's birthday in Christchurch; a couple days chilling out in Akaroa; a possible scuba trip in Marlborough Sound; jazz fest in Wellington; and a night in New Plymouth), then heading to Australia and Vanuatu.

- And also, per my mother's suggestion, I'm going to try to get some random woman knocked up in the next month, as apparently it would be awesome for me to have a kid this year, and I'm running out of time.


- There's probably more. But do you know what is awesome, as I've mentioned before?


So here it comes, and goodnight to you.

YOTA Books #3 & #4: Anthologies-a-go-go!

McSweeney's THRILLING TALES is an issue of their periodical that transcended its bounds, and now lives as a stand-alone book. The conceit posited in an entertaining foreword by Michael Chabon is this: since the province of the literary short story has been ceded to the wistful evocative slice-of-life rumination for so long, a return to the pulpy tales of yore should be a chance for authors to explore and stretch themselves.

I'm not sure of his thesis - Stephen King has cranked out heaps of stories, for instance, most of which are better than what he's included here - but there are a number of good-to-great stories. Nick Hornby, Glen David Gold, Michael Moorcock, Michael Crichton (really!), and Dave Eggers (the latter in a story I've read elsewhere) all make solid contributions, as do less familiar-to-me authors Chris Offutt, Karen Joy Fowler, Laurie King, and Carol Emshwiller

But there are also a number of just hard-to-read frustrations, full of desperate attempts to cram in archaic or invented terms, or just poor marriages of style and content. Having read everything, I would say, by and large, that I could have decided within 5 pages of every story if it was worth continuing.

Still and all, I recommend it, for a smattering helping of awesome.

This collection is more encyclopedic in its medium - kind of. Brunetti has gathered many of the great names of cartooning, graphic noveling (?), and plenty of folks I've never heard of. If names like Art Spiegelman, Joe Matt, Chris Ware, Dan Clowes, Charles Burns, Jaime Hernandez, Chester Brown, R. Crumb, Adrian Tomine, Joe Sacco, and Seth (to name just a few examples) are vaguely familiar to you, here's great samplings of their work; included, also, are a smattering of older cartoons, including the astonishingly artful Krazy Kat pages, which I'd never seen before, and several pages devoted to Charles Schulz.

Then, there's the completely unfamiliar authors. Richard McGuire's piece "Here" is a free-association through time of the contents of a room, sad and beautiful; David Collier's "The Ethel Catherwood Story" is a simple piece of reportage that has stuck with me far longer than I anticipated; and John Hankiewicz takes some of the prosaic stylings of Adrian Tomine and hyper-intellectualizes them in "A Paragraph By Saul Bellow (1915-2005)" in a way that instantly pegged him as a kindred spirit. Just a few examples; there are dozens, and I could read this book every year and find something different that struck me.

The book is organized non-chronologically, but roughly from primitive doodling styles to the more complicated, according to the author. The other organizing principle - the complete absence of any superheroes or superheroic-type things. I find this a slightly troubling omission, especially as it remains unaddressed in the preface - it's like a conceptual donut, designed to omit a central idea without calling attention to its absence. This minor frustration aside, though, a swell compendium for anyone who ever had the slightest interest in, um, "graphic fiction".

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

NEVER NOT AWESOME #1: The Big Picture

An ongoing series of articles about that which I guarantee will be, quite simply, never not awesome.

The idea is simple: several times a week, The Boston Globe's Big Picture is updated with an entry collecting pictures on a certain theme.

The reasons it is awesome:
1. The photography is presented in a large format, so you can really see it in its glory.
2. There are about 30 photos on each page, so you get a wide variety of images.
3. The site veers between the significant political issues of the day, more generalized topics that are less focused on an immediate news hook but still significant, celebratory images of festivals and holidays, and the otherwise unclassifiable item of interest. Some days, you'll be horrified; other days, you'll be grinning like a little kid; still other times, you'll go back and forth in the same entry.
4. Almost always, the work of many different photographers is featured, so you get many different eyes on the same topic.
5. Inevitably, there is at least one image that you are convinced is the best photograph you've ever seen.

Some links to examples, which I'm not posting here because I don't want to shrink down the pictures:
The China Lantern Festival (My personal "Holy Crap" picture, henceforth referred to as HCP: #12)
Sailing, around the world (HCP: #24)
Bolivia and its new constitution (HCP: #25)
La Princesse in Liverpool (HCP: #6, but really the whole concept is pretty HC)
Bushfires in Victoria, Australia (HCP: #25)
Scenes from Indonesia (HCP: #8)
African Immigration to Europe (HCP: #34)

And that's just recent stuff. Comb through the archive and you'll be continually stunned, dazed by beauty, moved to tears.

You will be experiencing awesome.

Monday, February 16, 2009


It is easy to be awesome when everything is going well, it is more difficult when it is not. A trivial statement, but a true one.

Of late, there have been several bursts of non-awesomeness, none of which individually are too big of a deal but cumulatively have been a wee bit overwhelming.

On top of this is a question about at what point indulging in awesomeness becomes non-awesome strictly by its volume.

I hit that point about two weeks ago, basically, and have been a bit wiped since then. Again: mind follows body.

One thing that I have learned clearly is that I am not going to make it through the Year of the Awesome - or any year, really - without my friends. I feel fortunate and grateful and neglectful all at once, and am looking at integrating my friends into this project in various, hopefully non-intrusive and fully voluntary ways. For now, I shall just say thank you.

Another thing I neglected to share here was one iron-clad, definitively awesome moment, which was staring the stage with Robert Scott of the Bats and the Clean. I wrote about this for the Nonalignment Pact a little while back, and you can read it here.

There is much awesomeness afoot. I am writing this on the plane to Auckland, where I am going to have my first pre-production meeting for the feature film, and also where I am going to see David Byrne for the first time. Next week is Iron Maiden. The week after that, I take the stage with two bands to play full sets for the first time since 2003, which is a matter of perennial excitement, and then after that a week drive to Wellington (via either Stewart Island or Marlborough Sound - debate which is more awesome in the comments, please), then rocket to Auckland to fly to Australia for a week and Vanuatu for two.

Then, finally, home, and with it: moving back in, starting another job, and most importantly, beginning pre-production on the feature in earnest.

So I am not surprised that with the upcoming onslaught, my body has pre-emptively gone into self-protection mode. But my scatteredness has also meant I've been making mistakes, neglecting things.

So, for now, I am refocusing, getting my act back together, and this, I think, will be crucial for the upcoming awesomeness.

More soon. I promise.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Enemies of Awesome: "Fine."

I saw a movie last night that was nominated for a bunch of Academy Awards. It was fine.

And by being fine, it was, arguably, at a complete extreme from awesome.

What was wrong with it? Basically, there was nothing wrong with it, apart from a slightly strange overreliance on dutch angles. But in some ways, that was the most interesting thing about it - an unconventional choice, albeit a misguided one, that indicates some measure of directorial personality.

Everything else was, well, fine. Ten years ago, I would have raved about the performances (Oscar-nominated, and sure, they probably deserve it). I would have thought one of the plot choices was particularly brave. I would have applauded the fact that it takes on a big ethical question, avoids easy resolution.

But I've mostly already forgotten it. I expect in a year, I'll have a hard time remembering that I saw it.

And that's the difference between something fine - something good, even - and something awesome.

The awesome lingers, often in strange and unexpected ways. Whereas the good is a closed system, to be admired, nodded at, then walked away from.

One might choose a brief excursis on "fine" art here. I won't, but I will note that if you ask someone how they are, and they say "fine", they are usually lying. I know it's my default answer when I don't feel like discussing how I am, and I usually don't discuss how I am at times when things are Not Awesome.

I don't know how to end this, other than to note my resolve to try to avoid experiences this year that will end with me saying: "That was fine."

Like the sheep race I saw on Sunday. But that's another post.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

YotA Book #2: Lawrence Weschler, A WANDERER IN THE PERFECT CITY

Lawrence Weschler is a writer whose restraint in prose couldn't contrast more with Hunter S. Thompson (the author of the last book I read), but whose prose serves as a container for real-life stories of absolute awesomeness. I first discovered him via Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonders, his profile of the creator of the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Los Angeles, which is a perfect example of the sort of story that Weschler is attracted to - a man (thus far, they're always men) who develops a sudden, specific, overpowering passion, and dedicates his life to it, shunting practicality to the side.

So you have, for instance, the story of Akumal Ramachander, an Indian teacher who discovers an overlooked abstract expressionist painter, Harold Shapinsky, and sets to making sure the world knows about his art. For the first half, I was sure that it would all end in tears; or, perhaps, that there was an elaborate hoax involved. But these aren't the sorts of stories Weschler is interested in telling.

Something specific and wonderful about Weschler's writing style: he lives in little asides that others would leave out. His article on Nicolas Slominsky, for instance, has him follow up for a paragraph with an old acquaintance, whose comments are followed thuslike:

Mrs. Rosenbloom paused for a moment, then sighed. "Oh," she said, "I do thank you for calling. I've got into a wonderful mood just thinking about all this."

Completely unnecessary in terms of Slominsky's life, but absolutely emblematic of the sort of experiential piece of fabric that Weschler includes, and that others would choose to omit, and the inclusion of which deepens the richness of the reading experience - in fact, inclusive is a fantastic word to describe Weschler's writing style.

Another thing specific, that starts off not so wonderful and becomes wonderful - you tend to discover what the point is or what's interesting in real time with Weschler. This creates a couple stories where you're not really clear why you care at the start, only to have a certain point where the penny drops. I'm thinking specifically of "Gary's Trajectory", which contains page after page of mind-numbing detail on financial markets and rocket science, details that even Weschler clearly finds confusing, only to contain a rather abrupt shift in focus, about which I will say no more. "Slominsky's Failure" contains a similar structure - for the first ten pages, I just wanted to know who the hell this guy was and why I should care.

Weschler wanders, and lets his subjects wander, accruing details like Julius Knipl, real estate photographer, whose creator, Ben Katchor, is also profiled. But the wandering is an end in itself, not just the means. It is how they experience the world. They all see things differently from the rest of us. They are fascinating. Every time I think ill of humanity, I will try to remember this book, and remember that all of these extraordinary people are out there; not just those who are profiled, but the author himself, skimming across the lives of extraordinary people in his wander.

up next: Ben Marcus, NOTABLE AMERICAN WOMEN. Might get done with the McSweeney's book first; it's at work.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Other Awesome Goals.

I was going to post a series of posts, each more spellbinding than the rest, about the other goals I have for the Year of the Awesome. But I haven't, so I'll just mention them here, as well as taking suggestions for other ways to make the year more awesome.

In no particular order:

*Play live music again. I haven't played music on stage since 2003, with The Jet Effect. Thanks to the Awesome efforts of Karen (of Onanon), I've already got one gig booked for this year, playing with our Guided By Voices tribute band on February 27th at Chicks Hotel, which will double as my going away party from Dunedin. There may be other things in the works. I will be circumspect for now, you know the saying about one's mouth writing checks one's ass can't cash.

*Play 8 video games to completion. This one may seem bizarre; it may help partially to explain that I basically haven't played video games since 1992 or so, give or take a little bit of MIDNIGHT CLUB 3 for the PS2. I've become increasingly convinced that the average video game these days has more thought, more creativity, and overall more awesomeness than the average movie, and that further my job will somehow converge with video game creation. So I've bought an XBox, and begun my first game, BIOSHOCK, which supports all of my theories right now. I've got DEAD SPACE, MASS EFFECT, and BURNOUT: PARADISE cued up; further recommendations welcome.

*Go scuba diving 6 times. I got certified in 2005, fell in love with it, and promptly never went. This is mostly because it's a lot better if you have someone to go with. I'm rectifying this slightly by going to Vanuatu and the Great Barrier Reef in March with my friend Randy; I'm hoping to do additional dives with my brother when he comes to visit.

*6 new outdoor activities. I've sort of made up this number, and hopefully I'll come up with this many that I actually want to do. I've got 1 under my belt (paragliding). Skydiving is definitely in the cards, and undoubtedly other things will come up in Vanuatu - parasailing, jetskiing, and other suchlike things are being discuss. I was going to try surfing lessons down here, but there's a bit of a problem with Dunedin's propensity to pour poo into the ocean and for people to get sick as a result, so the beaches are close. (Ah, Dunedin? This is Not Awesome.)

*Find my photographic voice. Photography is my new hobby/obsession. I'm certain I'll take lots of different pictures, but I'd like to really develop a certain style that I focus on. But there's lots of interesting things to look at:

Long exposures?
Raglan fireworks

Low light exposures?

Very brief exposures?

Gig photography?

Macro photography?
Dragonfly on thumb.

Abstract nature?

Slice of life?
 Raglan parade

Or something else? We'll see.

*Get a new tattoo. The proviso is that it has to be at least as awesome as my current tattoo, which I'm still very happy with 4 1/2 years later. I won't get one for the sake of getting one, but I would love to find another one that I like as much as this one.

*Consolidate/sort out my web presence. I've got blogs, facebook, myspace, twitters,, other random domains, and soon I'll want something for the feature that I'm doing. Lots of these are outdated and unmaintained. Need to deal with it.

*Go on a date. Maybe even two. I mean, it's been almost three years.

*Get my health and diet issues sorted out. Obvious. Been procrastinating on this, which is Not Awesome. I apologize for this dereliction of duties in the pursuit of Awesome.

I also have vague ideas about awesome goals for reading, music, and TV and film-watching, getting my room to be awesome, planning my follow-up feature, something about work, learning to draw (at least well enough to make basic storyboards) and planning a big long trip for the future (2010 or 11, maybe?) to Southeast Asia.

That seems like a lot. But that's the goal: always, please, More Awesome.

Sunday, January 18, 2009


Dunedin, NZ
18 Jan, 11:52 PM
np: Superchunk, INDOOR LIVING

You know what's awesome, possibly the most satisfying moment for a screenwriter?

Typing the words "THE END."

You know what's more awesome?

Typing them two weeks ahead of schedule!

Feeling very, very excited, nervous, scared. I've written some scenes that I'm scared to direct (and that will definitely not be comfortable viewing). These may change/morph as the rewrite process kicks in.

But mostly feeling awesome.

And I finished Season 3 of THE SHIELD this weekend! And saw butterflies! And took some awesome pictures! (Will have to share later - still on my camera, and it is Late.)

Anyway, will try to have more writings about thoughts on awesome this week - my writing energies have been directed elsewhere, as you can probably guess ... but also going to finally go watch a movie at some point, something I haven't yet done in 2009. (I actually watched the first 90 minutes of A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE the other night, but went to bed. A whole season of THE SHIELD is a lot of watching, though, to be fair.)

okay, to bed, if I can stop jumping around and celebrating and singing along to Superchunk. Which is unlikely.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Awesome Hypothesis #2: Mind Follows Body

Throughout the year, I'll be testing various attitudes, behaviours, et cetera, to see if they make my life more awesome.

So, the no worrying thing. That was going pretty well for a while, then it started going a bit less well (although nowhere near as non-awesome as, say, the average day of 2008) over the past few days. There's two reasons for that.

One is trying to decide how to deal with non-awesome things. I knew that they would happen, and they are happening, only mildly to me directly thus far, but severely to people around me, and of course globally. Finding an appropriately awesome response to these things is, to put it mildly, challenging. I suspect that the most awesome thing to do is to do precisely as much as is in your power to do and move on, but I am pretty terrible at gauging what is, precisely, within my power. And also, I certainly don't want to be completely tone-deaf and inappropriate like - oh, yeah, that Gaza thing sucks, but hey! Year of the Awesome!

(Memo to Israel, and anyone else unclear on the concept, by the way: bombing civilians is Not Awesome.)

Then there's the other thing, which has been a bit of a dip in health. I felt my glands getting swollen-y on the way back from Christchurch, and ran a bit ragged in the subsequent days anyway. I'm not sick, but I am tired, and I find that as my body wears down, it informs my emotional response.

So: time to focus on my body.

Step 1: doctor's checkup. Last year, I discovered I had fatty liver. I cut back my drinking for a while, and then scaled it up a bit (though still far back from my heights). But at this point I'm shooting in the dark i/r/t my liver function, my cholestorol, and probably many things I don't know. Get some bloodwork done, calibrate goals for the year.
Step 2: exercise. Part of the reason I felt great over my holiday was that I was *doing* heaps of shit - kayaking, swimming, walking, paragliding. Now I'm sitting 8+ hours a day with minimal breaks. You know what's sad? I work next door to a gym. Not "next door" as in down the block; next door as in, literally, next door. I'm not sure if I'll join that for a month, but tomorrow I'm going swimming after work; see how that goes.
Step 3: sleep. Catch up on it, indulge in it. Take naps. Naps are Awesome.
Step 4: diet. Informed by step 1, but I know that I need to cut back on simple carbs again. (I cut them out last year; felt great; brought them back in, felt worse.)

So let's see if a. I can do all that, and b. it helps improve my ability not to worry.

Friday, January 9, 2009


Dunedin, NZ
10 Jan, 11:25 AM

So on Tuesday, I was faced with a difficult decision. My favorite new band of 2008, The Dodos, were coming to New Zealand, and arriving in Christchurch on Thursday.

Problem: Christchurch is a five hour drive from Dunedin. As I'm working Sun-Thu at the moment, that wasn't an issue, but getting there in time, doing that much driving, et cetera was all worrying. Plus, three different friends from Auckland were coming into Dunedin Friday night, so I couldn't even make a weekend of it - rush up, rush back.

I asked Alastair whether it was more awesome to go or stay and do writing, and he pointed out clearly it was much more awesome to go see a band you've been obsessed about all year instead of wishing you had gone.

So I went. The show was fantastic; I may write about it more in detail at some point, but I urge anyone reading this in Auckland to see them tonight at Kings Arms or (better option) tomorrow night at Leigh Sawmill. A few notes about the rest of the trip, with attendant photos here:

* On the drive up, there were some amazing clouds, which I took photographs of. Apparently the cloud formations are unique to the Canterbury region. Really? Wow.
* I stayed in jail, which seemed like the most awesome option. It was okay; friendly people and comfy beds, a bit noisy and not enough parking. In general, I'm pretty indifferent to lodging, so I'm fairly confident it was the most awesome outcome.
* On recommendations, I ate dinner at Dux de Lux, which was ... pretty good. It doesn't quite get an awesome, but I may have ordered the wrong thing. Trying alcoholic ginger beer was interesting; I expected it to taste like the non-alcoholic version (like a sweeter ginger ale, for Americans reading this), but in fact it was like a normal beer, only ginger flavored.
* The venue, Al's Bar (website currently mucked up, apparently) was really awesome, spacious, friendly barstaff, generally recommended.
* I took a bunch of pictures during the show as well. I was nervous about this, as I've never really done gig photography before, and didn't want to have it impede my enjoyment of the show, but I did want to take pictures for an article I'm working on (plus, you know, playing with the new toy). As it worked out, the opening band was The Ruby Suns, who I'm not a big fan of, so it was a good chance to take some pictures and figure out a few things without impeding my enjoyment. I didn't intend to take pictures during the Dodos, despite securing a frontal position in advance, but found myself wanting to do so, really enjoying it, and getting some photos I'm really happy with.
* The next morning, after effecting my jailbreak, had breakfast at Honeypot Cafe, which was much more friendly than the reviews at that link give it credit for, and got the biggest plate of bangers and mash I've ever seen.
* Then I did some music shopping at Christchurch's Real Groovy and Galaxy Records. Picked up a couple things for an awesome soundtrack for a ride home:
Nigeria Disco Funk
The Necks: The Boys
Sons and Daughters
... as well as DVDs of Einsturzende Neubauten and Pierre Henry.
* Also stopped in Alice in Videoland, which is a very cool video store, though mostly focused on rental.
* Had a quick jaunt through the Christchurch Art Gallery, where last time through I was fortunate enough to see a Giacometti exhibition. Nothing so awesome this time, though I was taken by the drawings and sculptures of Zina Swanson, who seems to share some of my obsessions of the intersection of the natural and manmade in a way that resonates with me. (None of those drawings are as awesome as the ones on display; that's probably why those are for sale instead of on display.)
* On the way home, dropped into Christchurch's Dress Smart and stumbled into the only Merrell outlet in the country. I think everybody in my family wears them, but I'd always been skeptical, and also not somebody to spend much money on shoes. But outlet prices! And they're in my size! Bought two pairs and retired my long-suffering current pair of shoes; if I'm not mistaken, my parents got them as a birthday gift for me in 2006. Suddenly feels like I'm walking on air.
* Stopped at a giant salmon, which was used as a cover for Gate's LOUNGE and thus topical to the article I'm working on, and in addition to getting pictures of that experimented with fast shutter speed photography.
* Stopped at a farm and got some fresh berries. They weren't as tasty as the berries I had the other day, but pleasant enough.
* Also popped into my favorite cheesery in the world, Whitestone in Oamaru, and picked up a hunk of their awesome Windsor Blue. I'm a huge fan of their Island Stream, which hasn't been on the shelf for years now; I found out that they have another batch in production that should be available shortly, although how widespread it is will depend on the amount of sheep's milk they can procure. Regardless: I see a road trip for cheese to Oamaru next month in order to take advantage of this (awesome) news.
* And got back in time to spend a great evening with Brendan, Luke and Tabitha (my Auckland friends); randomly wound up in a bar with a bunch of NHNZ people, so everyone got to meet everyone else. A great night.

I'm reasonably confident that even the greatest scientists couldn't have fit more awesome into the previous day and a half. Today, had a great breakfast with Luke and Tabi, and have a scuba re-certification, jam, and either a show out in Port Chalmers or more writing to look forward to. We'll see which one seems more awesome as the time approaches.