The Evening Mouthful

reasoned splutterings & hasty wisdom

Archive for February 2008

‘The Outsiders’: A Book Review

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Currently Listening
Eragon (Soundtrack)
By Patrick Doyle

Before I say anything else, I should say that I read the book in the space of a day and in three sittings. It gripped me very hard and it was difficult to put down. Keep this in mind as you read the following criticisms and analysis: whatever impression you get of my feelings for ‘The Outsiders,’ remember that I was spellbound and am grateful I had a chance to read it, and for excellent friends who recommended it.

I suppose (never having written an in-depth book review) that I should begin by saying what I liked about it. And indeed, there was quite a lot I liked. The two technical things that impressed me the most (once I thought about it at length) were these: that the book should have been so convincingly composed, and that is seems practically ageless, given the nearly forty years since its original publication. The book (about a 14-year-old boy) was written by then-16-year-old SE Hinton and I had no indication while reading that it had been written by a teenage girl. Of course, many of the first-person musings that constitute the bulk of the narrative are general enough that they could be the thoughts of someone from either gender, but this makes it no less astounding: how many beginning writers would think to generalize the narrative, instead of disastrously trying to make the thoughts of their protagonist painstakingly realistic and peculiar to a single gender? The result is both free from defect and refreshingly easy to read.

Perhaps the reason for the book’s surprising longevity is the fact that life in the ‘bad part’ of town hasn’t changed all that much from the ‘60s, and another reason could be that antiquated cultural references are few and far between, and those that are mentioned are coincidentally back in style, or at least never were out of it (Paul Newman, Elvis, and the Beatles, to name a few).

But moving on from rhetorical technical aspects, a few other things stood out as well: the first-person narrative of the story, told by a rather young protagonist, gives the book a very authentic, matter-of-fact and innocent feel. To have told the story in the traditional third person would have never worked, and the story thrives on the obvious honesty of the narrative. Ponyboy tells things simply and at face value, and his budding intelligence happens upon simple but profound ideas and truths seemingly on the spur of the moment. The story has a compelling humanity to it which I latched onto very quickly, and which I’m sure makes it easy for everyone to relate, no matter their station in life.
What’s much more impressive, though, is Hinton’s ability to make every aspect of the story both real and understandable. Everybody has their flaws, and everybody has their strengths. The poverty and repugnance of the hood receives a breath of revealing and genuine life and depth, and while it doesn’t make the reader wish to live in or even visit such an environment, it is nonetheless eye-opening and I found myself empathizing closely with the characters, even in the midst of the shocking and terrible events of the story.

Indeed, this empathy forms the real core of my attraction to the book: “Everyone’s got it rough,” Ponyboy exclaims simply, and the book spares nothing in getting this across. The upshot is that the reader not only sees the characters as fallible and needing help, but also realizes that the same is true of the real people around him. A very practical benefit I got from reading this book is that I am more aware than ever about the needs of my own brothers and sisters and friends, and can see them as deeper persons with their own problems and anxieties, their own dreams, ambitions, and plans. The problems of selfishness and blind pride (which are often manifested simply as self-pity or ‘navel-gazing’) are very real in my own life and the book revealed to me something about how ignorant I am to others’ issues. Recognizing that people besides me need help and love is the first step towards actually living a life of loving, serving outreach, and the book was instrumental in developing such an outlook for me.

But it was not without fault. The most obvious is that Ponyboy and his circle live a life without any moral rules except their own. Aside from their superficial fear of the police (and the punishment they bring), the long arm of the law is nothing to them: it’s not a thing to be afraid of and to obey, it’s something to challenge, defy and defeat. This is understandable given the setting of the story, but it’s not acceptable. And any redemption in the story comes from fallible human sources. Ponyboy and Johnny, after fleeing the murder scene and becoming wanted killers, are labelled as ‘heroes’ for saving children in the church fire and are acquitted because of their young age and unfavourable environment. But Johnny and Ponyboy both feel very guilty about the whole affair, and their consciences are unrelenting in their accusations: this could have been developed easily into a sub-theme dealing with sin and moral absolutes (WHY do the boys feel so guilty? WHY are their consciences condemning them? How to they KNOW what they did was wrong? Why are they afraid in the first place? Are they simply scared of cops, or is there another, bigger, more spiritual reason?), and despite the boys eventual (and laudable) decision to turn themselves in, it never really goes anywhere useful or constructive. The boys become celebrated heroes before they ever have to face the music and own up to the consequences of their actions.

I’m aware that this novel is not idealist in nature or intent: I can live with the fact that the author is not writing a religious story and is depicting things as they are and not as they should be. But I can’t understand why the author never even hints at the way things should be. Oh sure, Ponyboy and Darry dream of a better life and can’t wait to ditch their lousy surroundings and quit all the pointless fighting, but the book never really stops to ask how they’ll get where they want to be. More violence? Hopefully not. Self-sacrifice and basic, honest hard work? Maybe. But while the book suggests that Ponyboy has learned something about the lives of others, and how his own life isn’t maybe as important or unique as he thought,  the theme never really strays from the humanistic “Look out for Number One” principle, which, while veiled and diluted in the narrative, claims that we ourselves are the answer to our problems: we can fix things on our own. I as a Christian know this is not the case: but will other readers be so discerning? It’s not beyond hope, but it does present a little bit of a risk. While nothing immediately dangerous or even edgy could result from reading the book, it can set up a small precedent which paves the way towards making unwise decisions. It doesn’t cause wrong thinking outright, but it could lead to thoughts about who’s in charge of our lives that could lead to decisions that could cause wrong actions and behaviour. In the end, it was this ambiguity, this middle ground with no real aim at true morality, this way of leaving things up to the reader for ultimate decision, that made it an ultimately tragic story for me.

Remember, I said at the beginning that I am very glad I read it: that’s because the book encouraged me to be a better, more loving person, to care about people as people and not obstacles, to see problems as opportunities for positive growth instead of compromise. But the story itself ended on a distraught, empty note which sort of offset any positive memory the book left. I can’t remember the good things about the book without simultaneously remembering it’s strange ability to be intensely moving without actually moving you in any particular direction. It suggests no obvious taking-off point, but ambiguously nudges the reader towards himself for direction. The main character grows much during the course of events, but ends up, if anything, worse: markedly more hardened at the end, having turned from a harmless victim of unfortunate upbringing (one who couldn’t harm another even if he had to) into a cynical kid who would kill someone with a glass bottle and know all too well what he was getting himself into. If only he could have learned how to love his enemies as much as he loved Johnny… but no, that wouldn’t do, this is a secular book, and that kind of Love only comes from One person.

Written by Dave Dueck

February 25, 2008 at 8:26 pm

Posted in regular

Live from the Abyss, Feb. 24 Edition

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Currently Listening
Arsene Lupin
By Debbie Wiseman
Le Grande Cafe

PROLOGUE, WELCOME and APOLOGY

First off, to those illustrious persons who have been added to my audience this week, allow me to extend my warmest welcome. Thanks for reading! I shall strive to provide the highest quality literature which you have naturally come to expect. My audience continues to expand. It’s my own doing, you know, and I hope it’s in a good way.

Last week I bemoaned the fact that my life had seemingly gotten so boring that my updates were no longer interesting to write and therefore not worth reading. Subsequent feedback gave the lie to this notion: maybe people enjoy reading them after all, and for this I am extremely grateful. Nothing is more pathetic than a budding author whose writing is deplorable but is oblivious to it and keeps writing abominable tripe and forcing it on a tortured public. I’m glad my audience enjoys these updates despite the common, domestic qualities my day-to-day life has assumed, and which I am still convinced finds its monotonous way into my weekly missives. And if you really DON’T enjoy them, I thank you for loving me enough to say that you DO, or at least say nothing at all. It feels good to be appreciated, or at least blissfully ignorant of hate.

Last week I also said I thought I’d be addressing abstract intellectual concepts and challenging ideas as a way to break up the monotony of my letters, but I decided against this for a couple reasons: first, although I may find intellectual discussion interesting and entertaining to write about, I’m not at all sure I’d be helping the boredom issue by shoving philosophy onto my audience unless I took great time and risk to try and make it a worthwhile read. Second, I found that my life isn’t nearly so boring if I just take note of what goes on and pay more attention. Third, it would be far more worth my time and yours if, instead of dry, humanistic intellectualism and philosophy, I wrote about more immediately applicable things like theology, doctrine, and practical living out of Christianity. However, I will not do this because frankly, I’ve got a lot more work to do in applying Christ’s principles before I can go lecturing others about them.

So I decided, during the course of the week, that I would jot down any notable things that happened (so as to remember them) and dramatize them into something more epic and elaborate than previous ho-hum updates. There turned out to be quite a lot to jot down, and in order to fit it all in and make it worth reading, I had to start writing this blasted letter a whole day and a half ahead of time. It doesn’t help that, in making this letter ‘interesting,’ it’s gotten so long that my audience will surely swoon after a single glance, defeating the purpose altogether. So, for my sake and your own, I advise you to have an open schedule and a glass of artificial stimulants handy before continuing. I recommend a mug of coffee and a glass of Orange Juice with Lemon. I am sorry about all this, really I am.

LIVE from the ABYSS
Being Dave Dueck’s latest, greatest Update, detailing his Week and the Adventures Therein

Dozens, perhaps hundreds of generations of Skittles had been created, lived their miserable, boring, unpredictable lives, and finally eaten without experiencing the things being experienced by the Skittles I now popped between my down-turned lips and chewed, while brooding over my unfortunate (but perhaps unremarkable) circumstances. This’ll be an interesting thing to put in my update, I mused bitterly as I ground the stale lime-flavoured candy between my teeth. Stale Skittles are normally not my first choice when I eat candy, but this particular pocketful had cost only a quarter, and I rarely find better uses for loose change than candy machines, and I couldn’t have been expected to know that no one had activated this particular Skittle machine in perhaps over a year, if not much longer. I think perhaps the most maddening task in the universe would be to calculate the average lifespan of a Skittle. I often used to wonder about the mysteries of candy like this. The reasons for the mere existence of mini-M&Ms were particularly elusive and baffling, but a friend has recently helped me to begin clearing this up.

While I chewed, I look down at my right wrist, bleeding profusely into a brown napkin, provided free of charge, courtesy of Panera Bread. It stung like nobody’s business, and I was beginning to be actually glad of the hardness of my candies: at least it took my mind off my bloody extremity.

I had been at Best Buy with my brother Mark. We’d been dropped off by my Dad and Sister Grace, who were on their way to Panera Bread to go over Grace’s math lesson. (One of the many benefits of the home schooling system: if you get some questions wrong on your test you can at least count on a free cinnamon roll and a cup of coffee while Dad engages in a bit of oratory.) Anyways, Panera is right next to Best Buy, so me and Mark had them drop us off. I went because I was hoping beyond hope that the store was selling the newest James Horner score. Mark went because, well, Best Buy has lots of bright electronic things on shelves, and those are always fun to look at. We walked in and went to the soundtrack section of the music department. Besides a young couple and their very audible child hovering in the vicinity of the ‘Hannah Montana’ section, the place was deserted, as usual. One of the benefits of being a soundtrack collector is that your tastes are decidedly outside the mainstream, and you can be left in blissful, solitary peace as you browse the (usually very limited) selection.

Mark lighted upon a copy of the ‘Halo 3’ soundtrack, which he already owned in copy-protected digital form. I don’t blame him for snagging the physical record, though. The packaging is attractive and superior in quality, and in case all his hard-drive based methods of music storage suddenly decide to give up the ghost, he’ll have a dependable backup. I couldn’t find what I was looking for, so I muttered a few things under my breath and looked to see if the store carried anything else worth my waning savings. Nothing. We walked over to the HDTV section and watched some of ‘Treasure Planet’ on a massive screen, which in turn rested on a shelf practically as expensive as the TV itself. When that lost our interest, we went to look at speaker systems, which also soon caused me to lose interest. Technology is very engaging and entertaining and all that jazz, but seeing all those astronomically high price tags at the same time is rather off-putting.

I waited for Mark to get through the checkout and we headed for the exit. I exhaled a grateful prayer as we passed the door attendant: he was talking with a customer and we didn’t have to acknowledge any ‘friendly customer service.’ As we walked out, I saw a dusty, ancient Skittles machine in the corner and remembered a lonely 25-cent piece in my change pocket. I fished it out and headed for the machine. Mark laughed. “No way! You’re seriously getting some?”
“Sure, why not?” He was obviously not aware of the amount of Skittles you could get for a quarter, but I’ve been around the block a few times and picked up a few useful bits of knowledge in Chicago, so I DO know the amount of Skittles you can get for a quarter, and that’s a lot. You can get approximately two pocketfuls of Skittles for a quarter if you know where to look. I don’t know what they charge for regular packets of Skittles at checkouts (isn’t it something like 75c?), but I know you can get more than a packet contains from the lowly machines, and for a fraction of the price. If you’re daring enough to go the black market route and risk discovery and subsequent incarceration, you can get wholesale crates of Skittles for mere pennies. All you need is good connections.

I cranked the handle of the machine and allowed the river of rainbow-coloured goodness to flow into my cupped hands. There were so many that my hands overflowed and I dropped a bunch. (But I picked them up. Hygiene isn’t as important as getting one’s money’s worth… sometimes.) I filled my jacket pockets with the loot and we walked outside.
It was cold. Probably in the single digits, and with a very stiff breeze to boot. I like cold weather, though, so I concentrated on my candy as we headed over to Panera to meet up with Dad and Grace.

Panera and Best Buy are not in the same strip mall. Best Buy is big enough to get its own building. The strip in which Panera is located is back-to-back with Best Buy, so we had to walk around the building and climb over some rather tall snow hills to get to Panera. All the snow that gets ploughed out of the parking lots has to go somewhere, and in Best Buy’s case, it was out back. These hills were all of eight or nine feet tall on average, and it was so cold that they had long since frozen into solid, jagged mini-mountains (or massive molehills). They were probably the second-highest bits of terrain in metropolitan Minnesota, but I could be wrong. The very highest summits in the cities, though, are undisputedly the Mouldy Mountains of Maple Grove. Maple Grove is a shopping centre so large it has its own mayor, an entire city made of restaurants and shops. Housing, playgrounds and other suburban staples are a myth in Maple Grove. It is also an area under continual development, so large hills and mountains of construction-related dirt and grass are in abundance. They tower above the passing pedestrian at a totally heard-of altitude of eighty feet or so above sea level.

But outside of Maple Grove, tall mountains are much more scarce, so it was with no little amount of awe that Mark and I surveyed these nine-foot monsters in front of us. They formed an unbroken chain extending at least a block or so in either direction, so we opted to climb. Bad move.

I reached the summit and began looking for a suitable route down the other side. I saw what looked a promising direction and gingerly stepped out. My foot hit a patch of ice and down I went. My hip smashed into the side of the cliff and my hand went out to slow my descent. VERY bad move.

My right wrist once featured an unmistakeable callous, just below the meaty part of my palm. This callous had been formed over the course of three years, as a result of my prolific use of computer keyboards. There are probably many people who have developed a similar callous as a result of typing for hours on end, but I was particularly proud of mine. It spoke of countless hours of editing work and the flow of hundreds, nay, dozens of ideas from head to Microsoft Works Word Processor Document. (As many of you know, I edit video and am an amateur writer.) There had once been a dry spell where my computer work had slackened and the callous softened. When I later resumed my keyboard-whacking orgies, it actually blistered!

As I reached out my hand to slow my descent in the Best Buy parking lot, my wrist caught another jagged edge of the ice face and the callous, in its entirety, was torn right out of my hand. Completely. Four or five layers of skin just disappeared. I could probably go back to the lot and find them in the spring when the snow melts, but it wouldn’t be much use.

I wasn’t aware of the callous’ disappearance at first, however. Remember, it was very cold, and I wasn’t wearing gloves. My hand was buried in three or four inches of snow immediately following the removal of the skin, and when I pulled myself out of the fetal position at the foot of the cliff and stood up, the wind was blowing on the wound with all the knife-edge ferocity it could muster. My hand (and most of my forearm) was completely numb. My hip wasn’t, though, and I had an old hockey bruise there that appeared to have been painfully resurrected, so it occupied my attention more immediately than my shattered wrist did.

After deciding that my hip wasn’t bleeding (at least externally), I examined the ground for escaped Skittles: my jacket pocket wasn’t zipped and I was sure some of the rascals had managed to jump free while my attention had been directed towards ground, which during the fall had seemed to become very important indeed. But the snow was and inch or two deep where I’d landed, and if any Skittles had jumped ship, it would take more effort than I thought it was worth to rediscover them. I could probably go back in Spring and find them still there, grinning stupidly and wondering what good it had been to escape when they’d no locomotive powers with which to actually travel once they’d escaped, but it wouldn’t be much use if I did: they were already stale when I bought them and who knows how hard it is to eat a Skittle once it‘s been sitting in a parking lot for several months? Is sever months and abnormal time for ANY Skittle to remain intact? I was once interested in this kind of thing…

I brushed the dirt and snow off my butt and back and realized something was wrong with my right hand. Examining it, I discovered a surprising amount of blood exiting my wrist, while a not insignificant amount of dirt and ice had managed to get in. I believe it is a credit to my character that I couldn’t think of anything stronger to say than “Man, that super hurt!”

Mark wasn’t listening, though. He’d slipped and fallen too, but had escaped injury. He picked himself up and we walked into Panera. My first stop was the Men’s Room, where a faucet and some warm water dealt with the majority of the dirt and ice, and a paper towel began the thankless task of assimilating my fluids. I walked out of the bathroom and found Mark receiving money from Dad for a cinnamon roll. There was money for me to have one, too, but as you already know I had a whole pocketful of junk food vying for my affections, and I had paid for mine with my own cash. Priorities…

I grabbed a couple more napkins as I made my way to our table.

Such was the excitement of the early portion of the week, but the remainder proved just as exciting and eventful, though it shall be difficult to write about it. Not, mind you, because words and descriptions fail me (as they often do), but simply because my trusty typing callous has been replaced with a massive, deep, extremely sensitive sore which makes the formerly enjoyable task of typing potentially very hurtful. But I can shrug it off, especially with the help of a coffee and Orange Juice with Lemon, one of my more reckless methods of artificial stimulation.

Wednesday proved particularly full: since Grace’s hockey season ended a couple of weeks ago, my driving schedule has loosened a bit and I only drive Mark to school once in a while. But Wednesday, Grace had a just-for-fun hockey practice with her team, and I drove her to and from the arena, just like old times. That was in the afternoon. In the morning, I drove the kids to swimming lessons at the YMCA. This time, instead of working out and reading at the YMCA as usual, I ran errands. I went to the thrift store, where the incredibly rare happened: I bought nothing. There was nothing notable in the CD shelves except two John Williams soundtracks I already owned, and there were no smart clothes. (I’m actually stretching it: I didn’t want to admit that for once I was too cheap even for the Thrift Store.)
I made my way to the Library, where I picked up my reserved book (The Outsiders, SE Hinton) and a couple others, ‘Ben-Hur’ and ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.’ I also found a good New York Philharmonic recording of Respighi’s ‘The Pines of Rome’ (A favourite classical piece) and DVDs of ‘Dr. Who’ and ‘Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.’ After checking out my books, I experienced my most embarrassing Blonde moments to date: I walked towards the door and stopped while I waited for the automatic door to open. After about 25 seconds, it struck me that the main reason the door wasn’t opening automatically was because it wasn’t an automatic door after all. I don’t know why I didn’t realize this sooner: I’ve been going to this library regularly since 1995, and it’s never had an automatic door, not even once. I’m just glad a line of angry, impatient library patrons hadn’t formed behind me by the time I came to my senses and sheepishly pushed the door open by myself. I did get kind of a weird look from a Hispanic guy who was coming in through the next door over. Besides the strange look, all I remember about him is that his jet-black hair was perfectly groomed and his moustache and goatee were impeccably cared for: he looked as much like the French hero D’Artagnan as I’ve ever seen a Mexican look. But I still don’t see how it matters.

After this I went to Half-Price Books, where I found mint copies of John Williams’ scores for ‘Born on the Fourth of July’ and ‘Memoirs of a Geisha,’ the latter featuring stunning performances by Itzakh Perlman and Yo-Yo Ma. I also picked up a fine-quality recording of Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘The Pirates of Penzance.’ (You may be wondering how I was too cheap for the Thrift Store but willing and able to shell out good dollars for music at another store: I can only praise Half Price Books for their low, low prices while realizing there was maybe something resembling truth in my remarks about the Thrift Store‘s selection.)

I made my merry, loot-laden way back to the YMCA and picked up the siblings, and upon reaching home, I tore into the new material with a kind of reckless, literature-hungry abandon. I eventually drove Grace to the arena as described above, and spent the remainder of the afternoon reading. But as profitable as my errands-trip was, and much as I love reading, the best part of the day was yet to come. I allude to the illustrious Orpheum Theatre and the London Cast Production of ‘My Fair Lady,’ an acclaimed musical for which I only paid 20 scant American dollars to see on Wednesday, February 20th, opening night.

Formal dress occasions are rare enough and difficult to find in my schedule, but when the chance to attend such posh events arises, I do what it takes to fit it in. Especially when student rush prices are in effect and a mere pittance is all that needs to be forked over in order nab a ticket. The invitation was offered by the Clearman family. The invitation was accepted by myself, Mark, and Grace. I was originally slated to drive the party to the metropolis for the event, but when Julia Clearman offered to drive (having driven their own vehicle all the way from St. Francis area), I relented and did not drive. I felt rather stupid and churlish to make a girl drive, but I had a throbbing headache (not a caffeine deficiency, I consumed two cups of tea just prior to the venture), and I was incredibly tired after the day’s exploits. To drive would have taxed me greatly. Nonetheless, a pang of the conscience tells me I should have driven.

We got there in plenty of time and bought admission. While we waited for the doors to open and seating to begin, we admired the swanky architecture, the ornate atmosphere, the regal carpet, the posh patrons, and the ‘Spamalot’ posters. Upon being admitted into the anterior of the theatre, we began cooing at the beauty of our surroundings. It was really a sight to behold. Gleaming Baroque décor, mannequins dressed in the costumes which would be featured in the musical, uniformed attendants and bellhops or whatever at every corner… we thrilled to each and every thing.
Taking the lead, I brought everyone to the top floor of the theatre (where the doorman had told us our seats were) only to find a dirty, deserted yellow hallway with a couple of security guards who told us we had to go back downstairs and enter the seating area from below, which we did (me turning a bit red at having led everyone all the way upstairs for supposedly nothing). I was, I admit, very put out when I later saw other audience members entering the seating area through the top-floor doors. From that point on, guard or no guard, I made sure to enter and exit the seating area through the top-floor doors, so as to make up for not doing it earlier. Strangely, I didn’t see any security guards for the remainder of the evening.

But I didn’t care very much: I was engrossed by the excellent musical. ‘My Fair Lady’ is nothing short of spectacular, especially when performed with such professional vigour as the London Cast did. Simply stunning. If anyone in MN desires to see this marvel of the stage, it plays at the Orpheum, Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis, until March 2nd. The only black spot on an otherwise terrific evening was that my headache was unrelenting and only grew worse as the evening unfolded. When we got home at 11:45 that night, I was sinking fast. I attempted to read for a bit, but I was gone. The next day I did not wake up in time. Not even close. A hangover is nothing to sneeze at on a Saturday morning, when it couldn’t matter less. On a Thursday morning, though, when it could matter very much less, it is a great inconvenience. I woke next morning in desperate search of a coffee and an Orange Juice with Lemon.

Thursday: I spent the afternoon watching ‘Star Trek VI’ alone in my room. Perhaps a detailed introspection of my fascination with cheesy science fiction will grace an update in the near future. Suffice it for the present to say that a bag of Fritos and a cup of coffee, combined with a lonely afternoon and a Star Trek movie, make for a very agreeable (if frivolous) occupation indeed.

Friday: Grace and I went to the Chiropractor. The waiting room was crowded, so Grace assumed the only available seat while I stood in the corner, my hand thrust into a casual pocket. A random patient was called back to be attended to by the staff, and just after I had claimed his seat, the ancient man sitting next to Grace piped up. “Hey, I’ll trade seats with you so you can sit next to her and hold hands.” The old guy was obviously oblivious to the close resemblance Grace and I share, but I saw the humour in the situation and accepted his gracious offer. I found it a bit puzzling that Grace did not condescend to hold my hand for longer than a couple of seconds, but my pride (such as it is) remained mostly intact.

After returning home from the Chiropractor’s office, I packed up and prepared for festivities. Mark and Joel and I had been invited to my best friend Rob Sirpless’ house (along with many other friends) for a dinner party. I picked Mark up from school, and after a short lunch we drove to Blaine. Dinner was not until 6:30, and we arrived around 1:30. We spent the large interval between arrival and dinner playing hockey at a well-kept nearby ice rink. Upon our return to Rob’s house, we greeted the many more guests who had arrived in our absence, and dinner was eaten: ka-bobs, French-fried potatoes, pineapple, French bread, and brownie sundaes. The meal was prepared by my good friend Taylor Peterson, an excellent chef. The evening was spent in much laughter and silliness. Surely this was the most enjoyable evening party I’ve attended since our own family’s party on December 29th of last year.

Saturday: I spent the morning eating a lazy breakfast and going back to Half Price Books, but not for music this time. Instead, I bought a hardcover edition of Mary Shelley’s philosophical classic, ‘Frankenstein.’ I also found a wonderful Essential Edition copy of Bram Stoker’s amazingly worthwhile but understandably terrifying masterpiece, ‘Dracula.’ Despite the book-oriented nature of my shopping trip, I caved and bought a recording of classical piano pieces performed by the renowned Japanese artist Lang Lang. I spent the bulk of the afternoon writing this update (I’d never have time to write all of this in the three or four hours of free time I usually have on Sundays) and I of course did quite a bit of reading. Reading always inspires me to write, and after an hour or two of writing I eventually get fed up and go back to reading, which usually inspires me to write some more… a vicious circle indeed, but not an unbeneficial one, academically speaking.

Saturday evening we watched ‘The Brave Little Toaster’ (a classic animated feature which everyone should see at least six times) and ‘Dr. Who’ after a dinner of pizza. Normally we buy Little Caesar’s or Papa Murphy’s pizza, which are pretty big, but this time we just had frozen pizzas, which are considerably smaller. I observed, not without some puzzlement, that no matter what size a pizza is, I can only ever eat four or five pieces max. The pizza could be eight feet across and I’d still down four or five pieces. It could be two inches in diameter, perfectly sliced, and I could only manage four or five pieces. Joel said it’s purely psychological, which I took to mean that if I just get beyond my naïve, habitual preconceptions, I could eat as many as six or seven pieces of an eight-foot pizza, or as little as one slice from a two-inch pizza. Or something… an interesting topic, at any rate.

See? I told you so. This was way too long and now I’ll have to type very loudly in all capital letters to wake you up. SO I LIVED HAPPILY EVER AFTER UNTIL NEXT WEEK, WHEN A LOT OF WONDROUS AND PERHAPS TERRIBLE THINGS HAPPENED TO ME, MAYBE INVOLVING TERRIBLE MUTILATION OF MY ANATOMY (AMONG OTHER THINGS), AND I WROTE IT ALL DOWN IN YET ANOTHER LETTER, BUT NEXT WEEK HASN’T HAPPENED YET SO ALL YOU CAN DO IS PRAY THAT I’LL DO ABSOLUTELY NOTHING NEXT WEEK SO YOU WON’T HAVE TO READ ABOUT IT.

Cheerio!
Love All,
Dave Dueck

Written by Dave Dueck

February 24, 2008 at 4:33 pm

Posted in journal

Hung Over?

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Currently Listening
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast: The Broadway Musical (Original Broadway Cast Recording)
By Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, Tim Rice
No Matter What

It is with a sense of relaxation and pleasant lack of physical ailment that I chronicle my week. I mention physical ailment because it is usually my habit to sustain powerful headaches, pseudo-hangovers, and a sore anatomy after a weekend of such excitement as this past one. Any one of the pastimes in which I indulged could have left me rife with nasty headaches and inability to talk without drifting off into impolite, fitful naps, but thankfully, I am whole, with an entire pot of hot green tea by my side and a little porcelain cup with which to drink it.

Friday began the fun with my best friend Rob Sirpless and some other best pals (Steve Lundstron, Andrew Gulbranson) coming over to play hockey: the forecast temperature was supposed to be downwards of zero, but in reality it was about 15 degrees. We began at about 3:30 and played until 5:30-ish, and took a break for pizza. Afterwards we hit the ice again, only to find half the rink dominated by people wearing not ice skates, but boots. Ugh! Despite the limitations of trying to play hockey with only one goal and five people, we succeeded, I believe. Highlights included watching Rob go head-over-heel with the boards, ending up in the snow bank headfirst, and watching Steve Lundstrom trying to slide into the goal on his stomach, but stopping about 15 feet short of his goal, his sweatshirt and sweatpants dangerously beginning to part ways in the middle. We concluded the evening with an inane but clever escapist drama called ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’ (pretty good despite some gratuitous kissing and an annoying German blonde who looked like a mannequin) and a joke-telling session. It all ended around 11:30 and I, despite the unexpectedly early onset of a hangover, drove Rob home. On my return trip, I rolled down all the windows,  my celtic music blaring as I roared down the highway at 65 mph, half-asleep. Good times! (Mom, I was joking about the half-asleep business…)

The following day was far less demanding got off on a rocky start: I woke up with a monolithic headache. It was truly of Biblical proportions. I think I know now what a true hangover feels like. It was cleared up after a glass of OJ and a mug or two of black coffee, but I still wonder how I managed to sleep the previous night. Every time I woke up that night I was assaulted by battering rams… from inside my head. I stayed in my jammies after breakfast and wrote some more of my novel. A strange but satisfying feeling, sitting there in flimsy flannel pants and a coarse old T-shirt, whacking away with enthusiasm at a keyboard as ridiculous ideas for an offbeat comedy flow through my twisted intellect (or what the mice have left of it). Anyways, I got a LOT of great ideas for my book and shall finally be able to continue it. Nothing worse than writer’s block. I exhausted my patience around 11:30 am and got up to walk around and perform some basic hygiene. Following this I did some reading and music listening. After lunch I went for a long walk to nearby Twin Lakes, taking the scenic route. I took a bunch of photos as I walked, of anything that caught my fancy. You can see these pictures at http://www.flickr.com/photos/davedueck, or on my Facebook if you happen to frequent the place. Saturday night we played more hockey. By rights I should have been wasted by the end, but strangely I feel neither sore nor especially exhausted after such exertion any more: must be my semi-regular YMCA trips paying off.

Today was potluck day at Church. I’ve not much to say about it except it was good to eat lunch at church again: it was my first potluck since being home from Chicago.

Valentine’s Day was this week, as I’m sure you all know. This day has become nearly meaningless for me. Many of you may recall my update last year regarding the ‘Love’ holiday: I was helping to videotape the IBLP HQ Valentine’s Day Banquet. It was my first real video job in Chicago, and the experience was not a particularly pleasant one. I think it hardened me towards Valelntine’s Day, at least for a while. Mind you, I’ve nothing against it really, but the prospect of a back-breaking, rushed, complex video job on a holiday while everyone else is dining on wondrous cuisine by candlelight irked me. Now, of course, this is not a concern for me. Those days are over. But Valentine’s Day is still a day I can only celebrate by eating the chocolates Grandma gives us and saying ‘Happy Valentine’s Day’ to everyone I see. It holds no practical, real meaning for me. I did go further than I have in the past by dressing up and taking my sister Grace to the movies that night, but it came and went with leaving so much as a ripple. Granted, I’m only 19 and single, so maybe one day it’ll come and I’ll anticipate and enjoy it, but I was surprised at how blase I was about it this year. I tell myself it’s nothing and I shouldn’t care, but there’s just something disheartening about it. Whatever.

My music has ended, my green tea just ran out, and so did my (lately weak) creative juices: I don’t know what else to write about. My mind tells me that something must have happened on Monday, Tuesday, and/or Wednesday, but I can’t remember. And if I could, I’ve no way to make it interesting to read. I suspect my updates have gotten pretty boring since I arrived home, and I often wonder why I still write them, but maybe it’s because my experiences are no longer interesting or terrible: maybe because I’m in a normal place doing (mostly) normal and harmless things, there’s just nothing intrinsically peculiar about my experiences that would spark my creativity and sense of humour like they did when I lived in Chicago. So perhaps instead of writing about EVENTS and things I DO, I should start writing about IDEAS and things about which I THINK. Abstract concepts abound with opportunities for creativity and humour. Hmmmm…

Whilst I spend this week trying to think of abstract ideas for my next update, I hope you have an enjoyable Monday and good plans for Friday.

Ta! Love All,

~Dave

Written by Dave Dueck

February 17, 2008 at 6:28 pm

Posted in journal

Never the Center

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Currently Listening
Gangs of New York
By Howard Shore
Brooklyn Heights III

I don’t think I’ve had such a crazy week since I’ve been home. Wowzers.

And not just regarding business of schedule and all that poppycock. This week, in addition to my crazy responsibilities, I had such conflict and fluctuation of emotion that time and words would fail me in presenting an accurate description and explanation. The best I can do is to say that my feelings were very, very high at points this week, and very, very low at others, and sometimes neither high nor low but left and right, and as far in those directions as possible. But rarely did I spend any time in the middle portion of the spectrum we like to call ‘normal.’ And the really weird thing is, I don’t know why. I don’t even know if this makes any sense.

Anyways…

A simple blow-by-blow commentary about my week would prove tedious, full as it was with simple everyday-type things (driving siblings to hockey and school, delivering newspapers, visiting YMCA for swimming lessons and workouts, etc.). These are things I’ve talked about often before, and I shall stop beating your ears with descriptions of these mundane things. (I may do the same with talk about my beard… eventually. :D) As always, mixed in with the mud of the mundane were a few undissolved pills of exceptional blessing. For example, my recent trips to Half Price Books have been unusually profitable this week. I don’t often buy books there: I have enough books already to choke a Giant Squid and I need not buy more until I’ve read what I have. Instead, I go there to buy movie scores (soundtracks). As many of you know, I am a soundtrack collector and enthusiast. Half Price Books is an excellent place to go for these due to the incredibly low prices. Selection is limited, but occasional gems have been unearthed recently. This last week I found these albums:

Arthur and the Invisibles (Eric Serra)
The Passion of the Christ (John Debney)
Star Wars: A New Hope (John Williams)
Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (John Williams)
Gangs of New York (Howard Shore)
The Very Best of John Williams and the Boston Pops (Broadway Edition)
Pearl Harbor (Hans Zimmer)

The scope, the sheer breadth, depth, power and beauty of orchestral/symphonic music is well represented in this group of CDs alone. The amazing thing is I paid under 30$ for the lot. The RCA Special 1997 Edition of the ‘Star Wars: A New Hope’ CD set that I bought is in mint condition and sells for upwards of 50$ on the regular market. I paid a mere 4$. God knows a thing or two when it comes to blessing. Score! (pun intended.)

Another highlight was the arrival of many out-of-state relatives for the celebration of Grandma’s 80th birthday party. We had such a blast: Saturday, we had an extended family portrait taken (an exhausting ordeal, as you can well imagine), followed by Chinese cuisine for lunch. There were so many of us, we dominated the restaurant and other customers were turned away. The food, while delicious, arrived slowly: appetizers managed to fill us up despite their slow delivery. I believe it was a good ten minutes or so between food items (and ones which weren’t meant to fill, at that). Eventually, the main courses arrived, and instead of being delivered at distant intervals like the appetizers, they were thrust upon us with such speed that we were soon swamped. I say nothing against the staff of the restaurant or the food: both were excellent and my experience was an enjoyable one. But the sheer mass of food being delivered after I was already full (darn appetizers!) made things a bit… er… fulfilling towards the end. I daresay I had a few of my own satellites afterwards.

The rest of the day was very casual: talking, watching TV (a rare thing for me to do), playing games, and watching the photo-slideshow DVD I was commissioned to make for Grandma as a joint present. For dinner we had pizza and we watched ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ (one of my favourite movies and certainly my guiltiest cinematic pleasure). I had a great time, as I’m sure the rest of the family did. The day was made all the better by lots of new snow and more very cold weather. VERY cold.

Tuesday, as many of you know, was the day of the political caucus. I did not attend, sadly. I was, for strange and obscure reasons, physically and emotionally exhausted that day and in a very cranky mood. This evaporated as I talked on the phone with my sister Paige later that evening (she can always cheer me up), and I feel bad for not going, but there you are. You can’t attend them all.

I finished reading ‘That Hideous Strength’ by CS Lewis. Very, very good novel. I like spicy food because it makes me react, makes me take notice. For the same reason, I like unconventional clothing and eclectic music. And for the same reason, I liked ‘That Hideous Strength.’ Besides having an incredible moral message, a compelling, enlightening story, and some of the best protagonist redemption I’ve yet encountered, it’s the first book that has made me Afraid in quite some time. And I mean Afraid in the old, can’t-go-to-sleep-or-I’ll-have-nightmares, little-kid sense. Lewis himself subtitled the story ‘A Modern Fairy-Tale for Grown-Ups,’ and it’s easy to see why. I shall not deliver here a synopsis or describe it in any detail: but it was chilling and thought-provoking in a way that I’ve rarely seen even in Lewis’ other works. I highly recommend it, but with the recommendation comes a warning: besides being an intellectual challenge (harder to read than the average novel), it’s quite gruesome and dark. It’d make a GREAT Christian R-rated movie. 🙂 My nest books in line are ‘The Outsiders’ and ‘The Man who was Thursday,’ which I started but was forced to postpone.
Thursday we took the little girls sledding. It’s the first time I’d been sledding in over a year, and we had a great time. Taking a little sister down a steep hill into a patch of trees is one of the great experiences in life. Such screams! And then a heart-pounding chase (quite literally) up the hill to do it again. My best pal Rob Sirpless came over for the night. We went to see a high-school production of ‘Oliver!’, the acclaimed Broadway musical. And what a show! Perhaps not up to par, technically, with other high-school musicals I’ve seen, but we had great fun. I’m on the lookout for a good recording of the music, it’s a new favourite musical, along with ‘Les Miserables,’ ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ and ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel.’ Good stuff! After the play, me and Rob indulged in a late-night PG Wodehouse orgy. He is still the funniest author I’ve ever read, and I’m dashed if I don’t buy a few more of his books pretty soon. We laughed so hard that night my ribs ached and my eyes streamed tears. I’ve been considering recording a few of Wodehouse’s short stories as audiobooks, but I don’t know if I could read them aloud without bursting out in laughter. We’ll see…

Grace’s last hockey game was on Wednesday. The first game of the playoffs was also the Cooper Hawks’ last. It wouldn’t have been so bad if the refs weren’t making very bad calls, and the rival team being a bunch of snots, and the rival fans being so loud and rude. We all left with a very bad taste in our mouths. Compounding the negative atmosphere that evening was the fact that Grace, upon arriving back at the home arena on the team bus, was unable to contact us to come and get her, so she ended up walking most of the way home, while I went to the arena and waited/looked for her for about 1/2 hour before driving home and finding her only about a block or two from home, in bad spirits. Whoops. I was kicking myself that night.

This continues to get longer, and I’m thinking of more and more boring things to say, so here I’ll close, before things get outta hand. God Bless All! Laters,

~Dave

Written by Dave Dueck

February 10, 2008 at 5:44 pm

Posted in journal

Live from the Abyss! (And a poetic song)

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Currently Listening
Kingdom of Heaven
By Iestyn Davies (connter-tenor), Catherine Bott (soprano), Harry Gregson-Williams
Ibelin

‘Dave’s Update.’ Mehh. Bland!

Paige gave me a great idea: she sends us a weekly update of her activities in Dallas, largely copying me in doing so. I figure I should show her what it’s like and copy her by calling my updates something catchy and official like she does (hers is ‘The Dallas Weekly). So mine is called ‘Live from the Abyss!’ (Based on the dark, subterranean room whence these updates come every week. My bedroom is in the basement, las room on the right.) So there, Paige! Take that!

Well, that was probably the most exciting thing about which I can write today: the week was pretty uneventful. I shall post a poem of mine to make this letter a bit more entertaining, but on the whole I can’t promise much diversion this week

I find myself loaded with very, very good books nowadays. The library gave of its plenty and I am beset by such masterpieces as ‘The Man Who Was Thursday’ (GK Chesterton), ‘That Hideous Strength’ (CS Lewis), ‘The Mysterious Island’ (Jules Verne), ‘Oliver Twist’ (Charles Dickens) and ‘The Elegant Universe’ (Brian Greene). The variety of subject matter presented in this group is wide enough to interest me no matter what my mood is, and it is most wonderful to stay up until the small hours of the morning, engrossed in top-notch literature. Chesterton, in particular, amazes me with his incredible articulation and masterful command of English. It inspires me, to say the least.

My life and habits have become regular enough to form to proverbial ruts in the road: my schedule is no longer exciting, despite its variety, and no matter what way my road twists, I feel I’ve been there before. But to keep this from sounding depressing, I shall take the analogy in a slightly different direction and liken my predicament to a bobsledder. A bobsledder becomes familiar with every inch of the track on which he races, but he doesn’t mind because his concern is not with the excitement of a new, unknown change of direction. Instead, he learns his course as best he can and then focuses on perfecting each individual portion of the track, so as to go faster and therefore excel. This is my outlook: now, being familiar with my schedule and duties, my focus must be on performing them as best as I can, and this is made all the easier by knowing what comes next. The cheap thrills of unknown territory last only a moment, and the satisfaction they bring is only of the kind which comes from having survived. The thrills of a well-planned and well-executed venture are much more substantial, though, and the satisfaction is of the same kind you get when designing a cool domino pattern on the floor.

Reading and writing have become a staple of my free time, but I find myself missing video creation. So I’ve stepped up production on another short film, the third and final entry in our ‘Spyder-Tron’ series. While not very worthwhile as artistic exercises and not very funny (they’re almost entirely composed of in-jokes), these films give me a chance to stretch my editing legs and play with complicated technical effects, and usually serve to expand my knowledge of my editing software to a pretty good degree. In an attempt to make the new video entertaining to mainstream viewers, though, I am going to write a script for it (for better jokes and plot) and buy the necessary items for effective green-screen effects (stuff neither of the original ‘Spyder-Tron’ films had). I’m hoping to have it done sometime in May.

Two things stood out from the schedule-grid of this week: Grace’s last hockey game of the regular season on Thursday, and our little ice-skating venture on Friday. Neither one was exceptional enough to merit its own paragraph, but they were both pretty fun and exciting. The hockey game was good because Grace’s team displayed fervor and skill (though they lost… pity), and ice skating was cool because we went to a place where the rink was a series of interlocking ponds surrounded by tall office buildings. It was dark and not too cold, and although we are no strangers to ice skating, the new location made it fresh and invigorating. It was great!

Today at Church, the sermon was (I think) mainly about Spiritual gifts, but a question the Pastor asked at the beginning occupied my mind for the duration of the sermon, and it was this: ‘Do you ever find yourself overwhelmed by what God has done for us?’ It kind of grabbed me. DO I ever find myself so overwhelmed? Yes, once, when I was saved. Perhaps even on several occasions. But I certainly don’t perpetually maintain such an attitude. I asked myself if such an attitude is a legitimate goal. I think it is: to be overwhelmed by God’s redemptive work is to keep one humble, and to keep one humble is to keep one repentant, and to keep one repentant is to keep one teachable, and to be teachable is to accept and obey. All in all a good goal, I think. But how to achieve it? A good way is to regularly immerse one’s self in the Bible: it is full of explicit descriptions of Man’s unworthiness, and Christ’s mercy and blessing despite our unworthiness. If we are continually reminded of this, we can be continually in a spirit of humility. And the more humble we are, the more overwhelmed we shall be by God’s mercy. More on this later, as I learn more.

Well, I can’t really think of anything more to write, and you’re probably itching to read my poem so you can get on with your life, so I’ll wrap this up. Keep your nostrils free of obstruction, and try to find time to unwind and relax. I know I do. Love All!

~Dave Dueck

(The following is a rather unwieldy poem (and soon-to-be song) which is inspired by characters from ‘The Enterprising Vagabonds.’)

[All]
I had no idea what on earth was going on
I only knew one thing: Everything was really wrong
I decided I must do something or else I’d have no fun
Had no idea of the mess I’d have when I was done.

<Chorus>
‘Cause I gotta big conundrum, it’s fillin’ up my life
Nothing’s going right for me, it’s causin’ lotsa strife
And if something isn’t done about it soon enough, I think
I’ll go nuts and all my world will travel down the sink.
***
[Blueberry]
My problem at the moment is people with no dough
They want my riches quickly, but they just don’t quite know
I’m reluctant to share my cash with folks who don’t pay back
If they need some help they’d better get it from some other quack.

[Very-Soft]
I wish some folks would wisten, and heawken to my needs
I gweatwy need some tweasuwe, and some gowden, jewewed beads
Yet peopwe stiww make fun of me, and withhold such jewewwy,
And they’d bettew stop focusing on themselves fow once, and think mowe about ME!!

<Chorus>
***
[Frances Drink]
Pirates are usually so rich and fancy-free
But today I find myself reduced to poverty
My regular adoption of a carefree attitude
Is gone and now I have assumed an air of uncharacteristic inquietude.

[All]
We all know what we want, but what we want is not one thing
We all want what’s right for us, and that means arguing
None of us is ready for the answer to our snag
Our ideas of how to get along are blurred, and dimly vague.

Written by Dave Dueck

February 3, 2008 at 5:55 pm

Posted in journal, poetry