Thursday, September 28, 2006

TV Done Broke

Indulge me, if you will, for a moment.* The image transfixing you is not Kandinsky gone electric but a frame from the father-son duel in Return of the Jedi. That red streak is Luke’s green lightsaber, the blue streak is Vader’s red lightsaber. You know that ain’t right.

Late last week the tipping-point cathode ray tube gave up the ghost, with the result that everyday people were now purple-and-green creatures.

I'm not a TV guy. Sure, I watch a few shows, watch more than I usually admit to myself, actually, but TV just isn't something I put a lot of, well, effort into. Not that it's hard to watch TV, mind you. There’s just so much else to do. My last sustained effort at following a show was for Gilmore Girls, seasons
two to four, an effort that was effectively terminated by a faraway screenwriting class that occupied the same time slot. That and that awful Logan. He just wasn’t right for Rory.

Not being a TV guy, I like keeping things simple. We don’t have cable or TiVo, or anything remotely close to being high speed, on demand, or in your face. Our $8 rabbit ears give us a dozen channels and that’s the way we like it. Still, I need a movie machine.

Luckily, I had enough phone points stored up on a little plastic card to call my buddy Adam, real-life Flash Gordon expert and curator of the Mongo Museum. He would know what to do. And indeed he did. Seems he had an extra 20-inch unit rotting in his Shadow-themed basement. We offered him an all-expenses-paid round trip to Bertucci’s and the deal was sealed.

Surveying my modest media center, I realized that the DVD player is on loan from Tom (the original, a Christmas present, having frozen upon Haldir’s arrival at Helm’s Deep), the VCR was given me by a former coworker (I'm on the second pair of headphones from him, and they're in need of more tape), and the TV I got when my grandfather died. I haven’t bought a single instance of consumer electronica in I don’t know how long.

What a wonderful feeling, I thought. We got five good years out of that TV. How long my grandfather had it, I have no idea. Contrary to popular folk tales, I am not a Luddite, freegan, dumpster diver, or
Montana militia man. I do like the idea of simplicity, however, making do with what is at hand, and wherever possible abandoning conventional trappings that no longer serve a purpose. Like the microwave, for instance, but that’s a whole ’nother story. See what the folks at Path to Freedom have accomplished with a little land and a lot of learning, patience, and care. I like the idea that a need arises and something out of left field swoops in and fulfills it, even if that something would rather gallivant in a swirling cape and flouncy boots.

The Adamic One and I hauled the old TV out to the curb for the next morning’s trash removal. I placed the remote control on top and wondered how long it would last.

By morning it was gone.

*One Thanksgiving Day, when I was a little guy, I insisted that I photograph the television, on which were playing the Detroit Lions and whomever they were playing. My parents explained that such a picture would not turn out, I persisted, and sure enough the screen appeared a murky 1970s brown in my Polaroid. But now, I thought to myself, ha-ha!, I shall photograph the TV with my new technology and we shall see who . . .

Monday, September 18, 2006

Wasters, Rhymers, Minstrels and Other Vagabonds

Yep, that’s us. Last week I attended the latest manifestation of the Minnesota Men's Conference. For over 20 years, poet Robert Bly, father of the expressive men’s movement and author of the landmark Iron John: A Book About Men, has led this gathering of cultural creatives and societal scofflaws from all over the United States, and from lands beyond.

Folks invariably want to know what this is all about. And it’s hard to say, really, especially to my corporate compadres. This blog, which takes its name from the small group I joined at last year’s conference, may serve as an explanation by example. It's an ongoing effort at working out my experiences as they relate to the practice of screenwriting, following the premise that any practice, diligently followed, can be a spiritual path.

And so as I piece together the details of my Norse epic, delve into my heritage and explore the mythic terrain that informs the pattern of my life, I have an opportunity to join the efforts of men like Bly, mythologist and storyteller Daniel Deardorff, Aikido instructor Tom Gambell, poet and educator Haki Madhubuti, and wizard of song Doug von Koss.

This work, and the work you are doing, is a chance to be a danger to so-called civil society, to reintroduce the wildness that this society insists be buried, to open the imagination to a vision of life that goes far beyond the duel failures of war abroad and oppression at home.

“Wasters, rhymers, minstrels and other vagabonds” were, according to Deardorff (citing Robert Graves), outlawed by Henry IV as a threat to the security of Wales. These unsuitables, ironically, were the keepers of myth and lore, including the Arthurian legends.

By contrast, Iceland, home of the sagas, was for several centuries a land governed not by a king but by a national assembly called the Althing. Each summer, the leading men of Iceland, the godis and their thingmen, would arrive from the four quarters to discuss the issues of the day, recite and carry out the law, and join together in celebration. Maybe they were on to something. Something like Bly's dream of ecstatic cultural transformation.

So what was last week about? Perhaps it’s best to leave it at this:

Myth and magic and skaldic mischief.

Singing and drumming, poetry and politics.

And ritual, lots of ritual.

As Robert would say, “Do you hear what I’m saying?”


Deardorff, Daniel. The Other Within: The Genius of Deformity in Myth, Culture, & Psyche (Ashland, Oregon: White Cloud Press, 2004).

Graves, Robert. The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth (New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1966).

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Saturday, September 09, 2006

Hey, I got somethin'!

So I got a cool thing in the mail today. A letter from the Austin Film Festival saying my script Disaster Man is a second rounder in this year's Comedy category. I'll take that. It's always good to have some external validation, a nod that says someone else out there "gets" Disaster Man, in which a spastic would-be comic book artist battles his professor for the ultimate action figure.* Naturally, it's about fascism.

Sure, a win would have been nice, and would have built on Disaster Man's Chesterfield semifinalist placing, but this felt like a gift. I wish I could say I'd carefully clipped five proofs of purchase from blisterpack cardboard, sent them in, and waited 8 to 12 anxious, mailbox-checking weeks for delivery. But I didn't. I forgot. It's been a busy summer. See you in Austin this October.

*The Crimson Shaman with Obsidian Gauntlets. No, you can't have him.

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Today in Scandinavian History: Battle of Kings

In 1000, Olaf Tryggvason, King of Norway, met his doom in the Battle of Svold. This runestone, DR 66 from Aarhus (which we didn't get to visit last time 'round), is thought to describe the events of the battle. (The text is on the other side of our friend here.)

Thursday, September 07, 2006


I won't lie to you. The last few days have been hard on me. Again and again I strive mightily to work on ye olde outline and treatment, and each time the Forces of Darkness marshal themselves against me. What with a leaking roof marring my newly repainted interiors, a resume in need of retooling so I look less like a junior spaceman and more like a redoubtable documentalist, a revised Act I by some Thomas or other to review, a marketing side project to edit, and supply problems of every kind, you could say I've been struggling. Concerned friends have feared the worst, that I've tossed aside my whole-foods, biodynamic approach to vital living, and am now comforting myself with Chicken McNuggets, fries, and a large Coke, sittin' alone and sad on the McPlayground see-saw.* It's been that kind of week.

And now the world is ending. For the better part of a decade I've driven to work along that crazy 422 East, always stealing an appreciative sideways glance at the verdant field just beyond the guardrail. But now this lush pasture is no more. For months I've watched it wither away, incrementally stripped of its wildness as an uncannily human structure was erected in its place. For a time it appeared to be a beer outlet, all fancy and new with its aluminum siding. But then the siding was covered over with some kind of faux adobe stucco. And then, the finishing touch. The box office.

"Cool," you say. "A movie theater! Surely, Ryan, you like movie theaters. They have movies in movie theaters." True enough, dear friends, and that is why the cataclysmic awfulness of which I write is so cataclysmically awful.

You see, the building pictured above is not a movie theater. It is a church.

For nearly as long as I've been tooling along 422, the members of this outfit have banded together in the only place they were able to meet, the Regal Marketplace multiplex. All well and good, I suppose, you have to put bodies somewhere, and I have nothing against churches or Christianity per se. But this? Christ would be rolling in His grave if He hadn't risen from it.

God. Now playing in a theatre near you.

*Thank you, D, for that lovely image.