Wednesday, March 11, 2009

On Stephen King

I was ecstatic when Rob told us we would be reading "On Writing" by Stephen King in our feature writing class this term. Though I've probably seen a movie or two based off of his source material on accident, I knew nothing of King the writer before reading this book. Strange to me that he would produce easily the most important piece of literature I have ever read, when I'm not even a fan. Given to me as a gift by my parents who always fostered my desire to write about 4 years ago, I was immediately drawn to King's approach to writing, he's a no bullshit kind of guy and I appreciate that.

Of the many many lessons I took away from the half dozen times I've read this book the two that stick with me the most are to be a great writer you must be a great reader, or in his own words "Read a lot and write a lot. There's no way around these two things that I'm aware of, no shortcut." I never quite understood in reflection why my writing was so much better during summers where I was as prolific with my eyes as I was my pen but suddenly it made sense when reading that line. Good writing rubs off on you, you cannot exist in a medium you do not appreciate. I have taken that mantra and applied it to everything and thanks to King I actually try to read the newspaper now.

The second most important lesson is to "Kill your Darlings." In the book King has a sports editor in high school named Gould that takes a red pen to his work and shows him more in ten minutes than he learned in 6 years of English lit, composition, fiction, and poetry classes by getting rid of all of the personal indulgences and embellishment and making the story readable. As Gould says "When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all of the things that are not the story." Whenever I edit I try to use what I call the 'King' rule and hack off 10% because I know I was just writing for me when I started, now I need to tell a story to others though and they don't need to hear every flowery bit of prose I can cram into a page. I'm not here to impress people with my massive vocabulary or my ability to conjoin metaphors, if I want to write like that fine, put it in a notebook, but once it goes in print it needs to be fit for consumption by others. Since I started going in with that mindset I have noted my writing has become crisper, stronger, and carried more power and clarity.

In short I love "On Writing" I recommend it to anyone that has even the slightest inkling to become a writer professionally. It summarizes all of the things you must know about writing without any hoops or fire pits to cross in the process.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Who Watches "Watchmen?"

It takes a special kind of a person to enjoy a movie like "Watchmen." Fan worshiped and critically endorsed, "Watchmen" has long been a household name in graphic novel reading. Written in 1986-87 by Alan Moore, author of "V for Vendetta" and "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen," "Watchmen" is a gritty, cerebral, honest morality morass that reeks of influences ranging from Raymond Chandler to Bryan Talbot. It’s important to note that "Watchmen" is not based off of a comic book, but rather its bloodier grown-up cousin the graphic novel. You will not find a traditional hero, be he super or spider, in this film; this is a world where heroes die and the unthinkable takes place. This is the world of Rorschach and The Comedian, where little girls get eaten by dogs and internal organs stick to ceilings.

Set in an alternate version of the mid '80s, with our nation still caught in the throes of the Cold War, the United States has emerged unquestionably victorious in Vietnam due to the timely intervention of its masked champions. But once the war is over, the heroes find themselves obsolete and unwanted by the public who forces them into retirement, vigilantism, or accepting government positions. Things seem to be quieting down until one of their own, The Comedian, is murdered at the hands of an unknown assailant. This puts a burr in the boot of Rorschach, who tries to rally allies against this invisible hand and pull their attention away from the sky, where all wait for the ominous nuclear forecast to come true.

The question when going into a movie based off of one of your favorite books, comics, or novellas is never "How good will it be?," but "Will they screw this up?" And in this case they didn’t; at least not completely. Granted if you’re looking for a reason to hate "Watchmen" you’ll find it; it has its flaws. At times the violence crosses into the threshold of unnecessary gratuity, some of the rich background subplots like the interaction between a newspaper stand owner and kid, or Rorschach’s psychiatrist and his wife are marginalized to create space for the elephantine narrative that makes up the main story, and blue penis (I say no more!). But every decision I saw running through film maker Zack Snyder (of 300 fame) I agreed with. Deviation from source material was minimal; if anything Snyder can be accused of embellishment, adding fight scenes and violent upswings to presumably maintain the interest of those mistakenly seeking an action film. At curtains though, the only thought that crossed my mind was "it was the best we could hope for." Deep in my heart of nerd hearts, I wish every great piece of literature could be transformed into a "Lord of the Rings"-type trilogy, but I understand the restraints placed upon the adapters and for what it’s worth Snyder made the transition to big screen as painless and honest as he could.

No more was the dedication to source material apparent than Jackie Earl Haley’s depiction of Rorschach, the smallest badass this side of John McClane. Just imagine a five foot nothing, ugly as sin red headed Dirty Harry and you get the idea. When he wasn’t occupied with throwing deep frying oil on inmates and growling some of the best lines I’ve ever heard uttered (“None of you understand. I’m not locked up in here with you, you’re locked up in here with me!”), Rorschach provided the beat of the city through his Phillip Marlowe-like narrative, spouting hardened phrases and his simplified view of the world: that extremes require equal force to contain them.

All of the characters in "Watchmen" are pillars to aspects of moral relativism, giving you an equal opportunity to find an identity in one of them. The Comedian (Jeffery Dean Morgan) sees people as animals, so he decides to be the biggest and the meanest dog in the yard. After thinking of Morgan as that Ghost from "Grey’s Anatomy" that my sisters seem to love, I was surprised he was able to pull off the brutality and reckless abandon of the role, but he did an exceptional job. Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson) is a timid genius of a man trying to inject some good in the world. His interaction with The Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman) gave the film a kind of normality that bordered between lovable and boring from scene to scene. Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup), the one true ‘superhero’ gifted after an accident with the ability to rearrange matter, plays the role of the apathetic observer and arbiter. Being the ace in the hole of the United States' military, Dr. Manhattan’s only connection to the world seems to be Silk Specter. A character of introspective reflection and sadness in the novel, I was disappointed to see him relegated to a role of heavy machinery that simply moved plot along as needed. Ozymandias (Matthew Goode) also seemed to not carry the same level of gravitas he possessed in print. Written as an altruistic wealthy playboy fashioned in the image of Alexander the Great, he too seemed to fall short of expectation, shown instead as a cold, distant environmentalist.

Watchmen is a visual feast, akin to the styling of artist Dave Gibbons' original drawings. The characters pop against the gray dullness of the world. Costumes of the heroes are fashioned ironically after muscle suits and spandex you would come to expect from comic book characters, which serves only in further compounding the sense of surrealism that surrounds the film. With a few glitches, the soundtrack was well arranged and carried you into each storyboard with the appropriate level of tension and dismay. Although I was delighted by the opening collage set to Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin,” some of the selections seemed awkward and ill-placed. Most notably was Leonard Cohen’s Hollywood-saturated classic “Hallelujah” set to a love scene, which may sound idyllic but set the wrong tone.

All in all though, while "Watchmen" fell short of becoming the epic it deservedly should be, it still retains enough thoughtful pause and unique personality to warrant a viewing. At the very least I hope it prompts those who have not thumbed through the source material to give it a shot and revel in the texture and grime of its predecessor. So who will watch the Watchmen? Well I hope you do, dear reader, and if you attend with an open mind I think you’ll find something worth seeing. I give the Watchmen 4 blue penises out of 5.

Taken from my article at The Commuter

Friday, March 6, 2009

LBCC Tells Global Warming to go to Hell

Mayors, Senatorial Aides, and good ole’ fashioned regular folk gathered in the forums of LBCC on Feb. 4 for a national teach-in about global warming. The purpose was to create a dialogue between officials and students about how energy conservation is being combated on a local level.

Stefan Seiter, program chair of Agriculture at LBCC, emphasized that the gathering was not created to help spread awareness on the issue, but rather discuss actual movement towards minimizing wasteful use of resources in the area, the topic of the day according to Seiter was to be “…actions, actions and solutions that will move us forward.”

In attendance on the panel of speakers were; Dan Whelen aide to Congressman Peter Defazio, Corvallis Mayor Charles Tomlinson, and Albany Mayor Sharon Konopa.

Sustainability, the new code word for ‘going green’, was on the tips of everyone’s tongues as the panel read prepared statements listing their goals on influencing changes around the area. While Konopa spoke about careful urban planning, Tomlinson outlined goals to create more efficient building practices and curbing excessive use of water and electricity. After railing on former President Bush a little, Defazio’s letter went on to speak on the importance of investing in natural gas and the inclusion of the global community in finding solutions saying “Global Warming is by definition a global problem.” Once a review of their statements was concluded the panel of three fielded questions from the audience about what measures are being taken on a City and State level to turn Linn-Benton green.

Whelen briefly spoke about funding allocation from the stimulus package being pushed through right now estimating that of Oregon’s piece of the pie 85 million will be put towards improving transportation and 305 million will be allocated towards updating highways and bridges statewide. Tomlinson later remarked that a team had been put together to discuss ways to reduce congestion on the bridge leading out of Corvallis, with plans to meet on Feb. 6 to start outlining ideas.

After an audience member in attendance inquired about plans for a connecting bike path, Konopa responded saying that it was “Something that is in our plans, it’s just held back by a lack of funds.” Tomlinson followed up by saying that Corvallis had already begun plans to build their own bike path to the extent of city limits, in hopes the two cities might someday be connected.

Discussion about the famed “Green collar” jobs also took place, with Tomlinson saying he hoped that some of the fees recently voted in by OSU students could be used towards helping supplement green collar job creation by stimulating work force development. While LBCC currently lacks environmentally focused programs, interest was raised by students at a later brainstorm session for the creation of a two year degree.

When asked about their influence on making drastic changes to the environment in the area, the mayors stressed their primary role is advocacy, but they did have a hand in altering the landscape in terms of city planning. Konopa spoke several times that she felt strongly about slowing urban sprawl and felt big changes could be made by small alterations in the construction of homes and office buildings. Says Konopa “We’re going to be reviewing our development code, there are many little things that would help.” Among her suggestions were making plug ins for electric cars mandatory in garages, and alterations to new roofs being built on homes to facilitate alternative energy like solar panels and wind turbines.

She also stressed vertical development, like building parking garages up to save on land, or pushing for smaller homes with lower ceilings that required less energy to heat. Tomlinson echoed her sentiments, suggesting a system where new housing was required to fulfill an Eco-friendly point system, making small alterations on buildings until they have enough green accommodations to fulfill the prerequisites to be built. Tomlinson was also excited to talk about other small ways to save energy like using a rainwater catch system to store winter water for summer use or attaching reneweable energy charges on utility bills, who’s proceeds would be invested into conservation programs around the city.

Tomlinson hopes that discussions like the one held on Thursday will continue between the two cities saying to the audience gathered at the forum, “Your university president has been a catalyst to bringing our two cities together.” He further commented that the problem of dealing with Global warming on a local level is sometimes problematic, but he saw real promise in gatherings like the Teach-In, “It’s an issue of political and regional cooperation, I look forward to working with the mayor of Albany and her council in the future.”

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

5 Reasons To Read My Lists

When the Commuter staff took it’s trip to the Associated Collegiate Press conference in San Diego this last week, we learned a lot about each other:
1. Twenty hours is too long to spend in a car with anyone
2. People that own boats are jerks
3. We all like lists
4. We like to make lists
5. We want to share some of these lists with you

Five reasons why Canada sucks
1. Eskimos.
2. I use honey on pancakes, I don’t need you.
3. We already took all your good celebrities.
4. Three Vowels? Greedy hosers.
5. U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

Five reasons why Greg’s hair is fantastic
1. You can leave him outside on a cold night without concern for his well-being.
2. Looks like you might be able to fit like 50 gummy worms in there.
3. Makes him easy to find in crowds.
4. It hides the scars.
5. You ever seen it? I don’t even need a fifth.
Five reasons why Gary is a better copy editor than you 1. He’s right. 2. You’re wrong. 3. He knows it. 4. You know it. 5. Its pronounced DIS-UHN-TER-EE. 6. He probably already found something wrong with this list.

Five reasons it’s better to be a werewolf than a vampire
1. You can grow a sweet beard.
2. Vampire rice is terrible.
3. No tuxedos and crappy accent.
4. Most public restrooms are only available during the day.
5. Wesley Snipes doesn’t want to kill you.

Five best things to say in a Christopher Walken voice
1. “Wow.”
2. “Gary, shut up.”
3. “He’s a nice guy, give him a chance.”
4. “We driving?”
5. “I don’t like ghosts.”

The San Diego Chronicles:Day 2

I awoke in the golden splendor of California. Having been a 21-year resident of my beloved state I expected sunshine, but nothing can really prepare you for the re-immersion into California weather after being away for so long. It was as if God coated his fist in sunshine and punched me in the face, and I spent the first two hours squinting like a nearsighted newborn. Passing through Sacramento and Los Angeles, I had the urge to go to a theme park, whose lack of presence in Oregon I find disturbing, but since we were on a mission we went to the second most magical place on earth: In-N-Out. Now I know everyone talks the place up like it’s the Shangri-La of burgers, and it is, but I learned long ago some people say they hate the Beatles just to be cool, so I didn’t want to run that risk with those among us that had not yet experienced the majesty of an animal style double-double before and kept my mouth shut. My devotion was rewarded by Max, who had never eaten there, reaffirming my faith in the best burger franchise on the west coast (suck it Burgerville). After rocking our way further south we finally landed at our destination.

Now, I had never stayed at a Marriot before (the Casillas clan is more of a Best Western crowd), so I was anticipating something pretty good from our convention hosts. I became quickly disillusioned as we ambled upward to our rooms, where I first noted the enormous volume of people trying to cram into the two functioning elevators; a minor inconvenience, but things really fell apart when we reached the rooms themselves. A mere $540 a night will apparently get you a single bed and a tiny balcony, internet access is $13 a day, parking in the hotel lot is another $13, with no kind of complimentary breakfast provided so you have to buy an eggs benedict for $25 or walk a few blocks. When we came down, they neglected to inform us (and apparently anyone else attending) that they required a fee to secure a room with two beds so as we only had access to two rooms that weren’t even big enough to fit a cot into a couple of us had to spend the night on the floor. Once we came downstairs to the pool though, it was apparent where at least some of the money went: the pool area was beautiful. Hammocks and round umbrella-laden cushions were everywhere, the fauna was lush and spilled over every vacant inch not coated in marble or pillows.

I almost forgave the shysters after experiencing that man-made paradise firsthand, but unfortunately I did not have enough time to lounge as we had a keynote speaker that very afternoon. It may have been the long drive, but I could not stay awake when she spoke. She seemed nice enough, a reporter on international affairs who was clearly passionate about her work, but transferring that passion to her audience seemed to be more of a challenge, at least from my perspective. I made badges for our group to pass the time and stay awake, but ended up nodding off for a few minutes near the end. After I woke up I was greeted to the news that there would be a mixer by the pool. After fitting as many wings as we could onto our tiny plates we clustered around a tiny table and I got a good look at our present peers. What struck me the most was how dressed up some of them were; James and I made an attempt at suiting up but it was clear we were the only ones in our party that matched with the crowd. Journalism is serious business elsewhere, it seems, and other papers were looking the part; the whole festival smelled of douchebaggery and I kept a wary eye out for telling signs that I had trapped myself for a weekend in a hotel full of bros. After our makeshift meal we set out into the night, heading to the store to buy some essentials, where I managed to find a pair of replacement sandals for the ones I had lost. The rest of the night was a blur of singing patriotic Canadian songs, arm wrestling competitions, and Christopher Walken impressions.
-To Be Continued

The San Diego Chronicles:Day 1

The staff of The Commuter was sent down to attend the Associated Collegiate Press Journalism Conference in San Diego this last weekend. This is our story. ‘Insert Law and Order noise’

The trip down has been awesome so far. We split our parties into two vans, and I think I got the better half of the deal (no offense Lids, Rob, etc!). Our motley crew consists of yours truly, that lovable dilettante Greg, big pain James, head chef of my heart, Asian sensation Jon, Mad Max who presumably came to find Mt. Doom, camera lush extraordinaire Becca, the Gar-bear, and merry MaryAnne.

After I spent about an hour trying to think up nicknames for everyone, I noticed several things were amiss. Firstly, Jon had managed to keep his shirt on for more than an hour in an enclosed space (a new record). Secondly, my laptop was refusing to charge. On top of that, the ventilation in the van sucked, for some reason even on full blast cool we were still getting lukewarm air blowing in our faces. This problem was further compounded by the vast quantities of perishables we had on our person that we were desperately trying to consume in time. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to the ham in time to save it from becoming a big plastic hot pocket of failure.

Despite the minor setback, most of the trip through went well, and I spent the wee hours of the night not being raped at rest stops along the freeway, and watching anime with Max and James while Greg desperately searched for a fifth reason why zombies are natural. As things settled down and the ’90s mix got quieter, we found our corners and tried to sleep in excited preparation for the day ahead. I found a window in the back of the van and spent the night trying to kick Jon in the head as he lay on the ground eating tacos in the dark.

-To Be Continued!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

LBCC Set to Take Another Shot at Championship

After leading the southern conference last year with co champions Mount Hood, the roadrunners are poised to bring home yet another title to LBCC. Greg Hawk has helped build a legacy for the team over the extent of his tenure as head coach that is 25 years deep and 6 regional and conference titles high, success he attributes to what he calls a “blue collar program” that centers around hard work and repetition. “Guys that came here and didn’t go to the big schools play with a chip on their shoulder, and they’re going to go out and battle you all day long. And if they don’t get it done we’re going to retool and we’ll be back the next day better,” says Hawk.
After a fielding a strong sophomore group last year, the Roadrunners may be suffering from the displacement of a few key roles.

Notably on the defensive end where changes were made that brought fresh players to the forefront. Last year MVP conference Pitcher Liam Baron is expected to step into a leadership role on the team previously filled by center fielder Mitchell Nelson who now plays at the University of Dayton in Ohio. Baron may be standing alone on the mound however as the turnover of a fresh team shows a lack of support from the bullpen.

Says Hawk,“Our depth on the mound isn’t what we thought it would be, coming into the spring we lost a couple guys to injury and our number two pitcher just didn’t want to go to school.” As it currently stands the only relief for the Australian star may be former freshmen all south relief pitcher Trevor Smith who doubled last year as an infielder . “Pitching and defense is what’ll win you championships” says Hawk “We’re just not sure how our defense club and infield are going to perform yet. That was a strength last year and we’ve got to grow in that position. We’ve got good players, they just haven’t gone through the repetitions. After a few games I think we’ll be right back where we were.”

The outfield suffers from no such shortage of talent as the grassline will be guarded by three all conference players that help comprise the core of powerhitters the team has been gifted with this year. Returning 6’2” right fielder Blaine Goodwin is one of six players in the lineup that come from a background of being a clean-up hitter. Says Goodwin, “I think we’re looking pretty good, we’ve got a lot of swingers. I really think we can make things happen.” Help from the plate should produce exciting results in the Roadrunners season and help offset any kinks that need to be worked out during initial games.

“We’ve got big outfielders that can run and hit. We’ve got some big hitters, I like our chances we’re going to score a lot of runs and if we play defense we’re going to win a lot of games. Im excited to watch them play. I’m excited for the season to start, I wish we were starting today.” says Hawk. LBCC is set to kick off their season on Feb. 28 against Gray’s Harbor at The Dalles with their first game against last year’s rival Mount Hood taking place on March 26.