Breakfast with Pandora caters to everyone interested in ancient Greek and comparative mythology, good stories, the craft of writing, food, theology, education, and other humane things. Ask a question at teenage underscore heroes at yahoo dot com.
recommendation: it's good. I liked it. Go see it. It's possible
even your 13-year old daughter, who has sworn off "kid" movies,
will like it.
Dug, the dog, who is the best part of the movie.
Second, a technical note: It wasn't until after the movie that my
companion, who paid for the tickets (thanks, C.!), let me know
that if you want to see "Up" in 3-D, you have to pay $2 extra.
"And you don't even get to keep the glasses," she pointed out.
I don't see any reason to spend the extra $2. For me, it made the
film literally darker, as if I was watching it wearing sunglasses
(the lenses of the 3-D glasses are tinted). I much preferred the
parts I could see clearly without the glasses.
Third, the movie itself: it's both the same and very different
from every Pixar film you've ever seen. The wife character,
Ellie, looks like Mrs. Incredible. The boy, Russell, looks like
the humans in "Wall-E." There is an emotionally-affecting montage
of shots with beautiful, understated music, like the "When She Loved
Me" segment of "Toy Story 2."
So much for the similarities. "Up" has a very different feel to
it from other Pixar films. First, there are only two main
characters and one villain, plus three supporting characters: the
dog, the bird, and the floating house (and the last two don't
have any lines). There is no real plot. The first half of the
movie is very dark emotionally, colored with loss, regret,
frustration, even rage. Much of the movie is spent with the main
character, Carl, trudging along with a garden hose tied around
his torso. Yet the entire theater was constantly engrossed.
I won't give much away, because you should go see it. The idea is
that Carl and Ellie, the perfect couple from childhood, make
plans to go to South America and have an adventure. Through many
circumstances, they are not able to go, until late in life the
widowed Carl decides to have an adventure. An adventure he gets,
but not as planned.
It seems to me a gamble to make an old man the protagonist of a
children's film, even though the irrepressible Russell, the
archetypal motormouth third-grader, allows young kids a feathery
edge to hold on to. Carl's affect is beyond curmudgeonly-- it's
downright scary. He is angry at the world that things can't just
go on forever as they always have, and he is not beyond braining
someone in the forehead (and drawing blood) with his cane when
that someone has disarranged a little piece of his carefully kept
When Carl is forced by outside circumstances finally to stop
dwelling on the past and do something about his life, the movie
begins to "take off," so to speak (you'll see). Russell, a canary
yellow-clad boy scout type, moves in, and we're in business. Yet
there is plenty more before anything really happens.
There is plenty more to this film in general. My favorite was
Dug, the "talking" dog, who is a born scene-stealer. He is worth
the price of admission by himself. I hope someone does a movie
with cats who talk by the same technological device that enables
Dug's thoughts to be vocalized. It will be very revealing of
So much for the movie. I don't feel as if I can say any more
until more folks have seen it. Definitely an experience for the
Pixar sets its bar so high and has to top itself so thoroughly
every time a new one of its kind comes out, that the movie can
become overwhelming: too fast (as with "The Incredibles"), or too
detailed visually, as with this movie. There were times when I
was going cross-eyed with all the detail, especially when they
had 50 dogs on screen. Even though this somewhat qualifies as
slow-paced, there was too much to see. It was like eating a
triple-chocolate cake with a chocolate milkshake and a Hershey
bar on the side. All good, but maybe too much.
Same with the message of the film. There was a lot to think
about, a lot going on emotionally, for me at least. I guess the
young kids will not worry too much about the process of aging,
the dynamics of love and marriage, or the dilemma of parenting
and loving children. But all that got me right here.
The message about getting out of your self-imposed emotional
paralysis and going for it also shot me in the heart. Did it
And, if you are nostalgic for the twentieth century, "Up" will
make you pine for it, for all the trappings of that time when
movies were black and white, houses had gingerbread facades and
yards had white picket fences, we had time to lie face up on a
blanket and imagine the shapes of clouds, and the rainforest in
South America was exotic and far away, instead of fragile and
I guess that's one other place where "Up" is like other Pixar
films. Pixar makes its money on nostalgia. And this time, what
Pixar made me do was feel nostalgic for old Pixar movies. I think
I'll go out and get a copy of "Toy Story 2." It's not as
software-enriched as "Up," but it makes my heart sing.
Since I have over 500 posts on this blog, many of them date-non-sensitive, I now and then get a stray comment on an old post.
This morning I checked my comments to find two extensive ones on this post about Odysseus' death.
Image: Klimt, The Kiss
The commenter, who apparently is a Greek national, wanted to correct me on my details. He began his first comment this way:
You are wrong my friend.
He then goes on to retell what he considers to be the actual version, and supports his comment thusly:
I don't know where you heard that but I'm Greek and I study Odysseus from a little child.
He also added another comment with more story details that began this way:
This as far mythology counts. Historical facts are that Odysseus had advisers that explained him a dream he saw. They told him that he would be killed by his own son...
Two things interested me about these comments. First, Greeks are famous for claiming to know the real scoop about Greek Mythology. Scott Huler, who wrote this book about retracing the path of Odysseus in the modern day, encountered a Greek woman who was absolutely sure that Odysseus existed the same way that George Washington existed. My commenter, likewise, makes sure that we know that there are "historical facts" involved with Odysseus' life.
Second, as I looked back at my sources of this story, I realized I had included or created a mystery version which I now can't find.
Originally I said that Telegonus, the son of Odysseus by Circe, killed Odysseus, then took his corpse, along with his wife Penelope and son Telemachus, back to Circe, who made all three immortal.
I now don't know where I got this story.
There are lots of versions of Odysseus' death, but the closest to the one above are, first, from Pseudo-Apollodorus: Telegonus takes the corpse of Odysseus and Penelope to Circe, who marries Telegonus and Penelope together and sends them to the Isles of the Blessed, a kind of Greek heaven. That version is here.
The other is from a scholar's note appended to a text of the poet Lycophron. In that version, Circe brings Odysseus back to life with a potion and marries Telegonus to Penelope and Telemachus to a woman named Kassiphone. That quartet goes to the Isles of the Blessed, and the implication is that Odysseus stays with Circe. Fun times for Circe.
So, I probably should change that post of mine on Odysseus' death, but I don't know how yet. There are other versions besides the ones quoted, and if you want to read them, look (for example) in Timothy Gantz' Early Greek Myth (Volume 2), pages 711-713.
And thanks to my Greek commenter for loving Greek Mythology.
Via Genie and Facebook, this link to a WSJ article on the Muse. A friend of Genie's on Facebook asked the question whether there were any male muses. It reminded me of a brilliant poem, "Apollo Takes Charge of His Muses," by A.E. Stallings, who loves to re-envision ancient stories.
They sat there, nine women, much the same age,
The same poppy-red hair, and similar complexions
Freckling much the same in the summer glare...
All nine of them very quiet, and the one who spoke
"Of course he was very charming, and he smiled,
Introduced himself and said he'd heard good things,
Shook hands all round, greeted us by name,
Assured us it would all be much the same,
Explained his policies, his few minor suggestions
Which we would please observe...
"None of us spoke or raised her hand, and questions
There were none; what has poetry to do with reason
Or the sun?"
The subtext of the poem is at least double. Stallings is thinking of the notion that at one time, Greek religion was matriarchal, and was co-opted into a later patriarchal system by younger male gods such as Apollo, with Zeus as #1 patriarch.
There is also the contemporary idea of someone-- such as a (male) corporate bean-counter-- coming into an enterprise, such as publishing, and deciding for a (female) group of editors who and what needs to be accepted for publication, without regard for real inspiration.
Apollo is a musician for sure, but Stallings is right that he is not an inspirer. He treats music more as an expression of sound harmony rather than as a medium of stories.
The mother of the Muses is Mnemosyne, or memory, and I don't think it's a coincidence she's female or that the Muses' father, Zeus, has nothing to do with inspiration and plays no role in it. Memory is a property of civilization-- a means by which civilized folk cherish human endeavors and learn from them-- and women are on the whole civilizers.
Of all the gods, maybe Dionysus comes close to being a male muse, as he is the sponsor of tragic drama and the facilitator of transformations of all kinds.
The cardinal rule of blogging to a general audience is consistency-- that is, blog every day or every other day if you want people to follow you.
Photo: Do cinnamon buns bring up happy memories for you?
Another general rule is to find your niche and stick with it. If you are passionate about techniques of growing grass, for example, write the heck out of that and seek out the places on the Web where others are lawn-happy too. Pretty soon you will be making a quarter a day from Google AdSense.
I follow neither of these rules. Recently a friend said, "At first when I saw your blog, I said, 'This is all over the place, it's too broad.' And then I realized, it's just you. You have all these interests."
True. The thread that knits all my posts together is good stories, but even that is a very thin thread that doesn't close the circle completely.
And I have no excuse for not having posted in ten days, except that I had other things on my mind, some of which will have its place here soon.
But among the many things that have occupied my spring so far, I am quite excited about a continuing education class for older adults that I'm teaching at a local university. It is a writing course, something I don't have a whole lot of experience with, but which interests me very much.
The premise of the course is to use the five senses (hearing, sight, smell, touch, taste) as a trigger and an enhancer for writing about one's life story.
A trigger, as in using a certain sense perception (such as the smell of the perfume Opium, which was the favorite of one of my first girlfriends) to trigger or bring forward, almost involuntarily, images and impressions from one's memory.
An enhancer, as in using vivid, sensory-rich language to bring writing to life. Last week, the class was studying hearing, and I played the sound of a diesel train passing by, blasting its horn with a doppler effect. Listen here, and click on the one that's been most downloaded, over 2300 times.
I have always been fascinated by trains, but this particular sound brought out some extraordinary writing on the part of the class. One student, for example, used the word "tweeting"-- as in the chirp of a bird-- to describe the canary-like rasp of metal wheels on metal rails as the train faded into the distance.
"How can something so delicate come from something so powerful?" she wrote.
Listen to that clip and see if you can't hear that lovely, delicate chirp at the end of the segment.
I'm sure other writing teachers teach this approach, but I don't know any, and I'm happy with not knowing any. I always enjoy feeling as if I'm the only one doing some special pedagogy.
Anyway, if you do follow the blog and get impatient from my lack of posts, feel free to drop me a line and ask a question. I am nothing if not a people-pleaser. But regardless of the frequency of posts, I can't see letting this go. It's been about 4 years now and over 500 posts, and I love it.
Life is always passing strange for me, a guy who lives his life mostly in the past or in the future, but rarely in the here and now.
Last night, for example, I had a dream that I had a reunion with the tour director of my school's 2004 trip to Italy. We caught up.
Photo: Time to slow down, live in the present, and grill some shrimp.
So it makes sense that I would lose a large number of consecutive hours this week to engrossing myself in a 30-year old memory that came to me by UPS.
One of my oldest and dearest friends, who is moving back to our native California, asked me if he could ship our Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) stuff to me. Yes, "our," because when we were in high school and college, we used to run a game together as dual game masters.
And it wasn't a couple of twenty-sided dice and a hexboard. It was at least twenty pounds of stuff, a great fraction of which is a collection of Alarums and Excursions (A&E) fanzines, to which we contributed in the late seventies and early eighties.
In those days, my friend and I were minor celebrities on the Role-Playing Games (RPG) convention circuit. D&D had been out for less than a decade, and we were among the first wave of gamers who were creating their own house rules to improve on the skeleton that the first D&D books provided.
RPG evolved out of board wargames, with complicated tables and dice rolls elaborating all the possible outcomes of a particular battle or move in a battle. RPG is like a board wargame, but with individual combatants. Once the door was opened to the individual-- and the individual personality-- gamers expanded play out to include everything an individual can do.
Every RPG game thus took on the potential to evolve into a Lord of the Rings-type continuing saga-- called "campaigns" by aficionados. And game masters began to develop not only tables and dice rolls, but also back stories, maps, and descriptions for all the things that happen and all the places you can go in that type of tale.
It's addictive, if you have imagination and the ambition of becoming a god. My friend and I put in hundreds of hours on our world-- looking back on it, I'm astonished at the level of detail we added, much of which players never saw.
No wonder I made a D in Trigonometry. I was too busy.
A&E, the zine, or more properly, the amateur press association (it is still being published!), was the worthy predecessor of blogs and online forums. We typed our posts on stencils, waxy templates for a mimeograph machine, and sent them by mail (not "snail" mail-- it was the only mail available then) to the editor, who ran them off and collated them into a thick sheaf of RPG passion secured by three staples.
We included discussions of new rules, reports on our campaigns, descriptions of creatures and items to be found in our world. We also had comments, and slow-motion flame wars. You've never lived until you've been part of a dispute concerning "closed" versus "open" worlds that takes over a year to die down, fought in installments every month or two.
Or maybe you have.
Life was slower then, much slower. People got as mad as they do now, but they had time to simmer down. That's why if you read the disputes in A&E, they sound almost courtly compared to what happens online nowadays, when people curse first and ask questions later.
Dave Hargrave, game master and author whom I've written about elsewhere (and most recently, here, in issue #4), could be rough and prickly in A&E, but he never came anywhere near what online flamers do nowadays. Here's a sample, from a "discussion" with a fellow enthusiast in A&E 61, September 1980:
I have corresponded with you enough to know you are not a dummy; why now the patently weak assault upon a system you have never participated in? Simply because I disagreed with something you said is no good reason to make obviously unsupportable statements.
I do think that the Internet polarizes. You can say whatever you want in the heat of the moment, and it's preserved forever, and searchable. In order to forgive, time has to blur deeds done so that they feel less serious. But if you can call up a person's previous sins at the touch of a button, the wound can stay fresh and fester all at the same time.
But my personality type says I'm a Hephaestus-like pollyanna, so I'm way too much about harmony at all costs. Please, don't mind me. Flame away.
What will I do with this twenty pounds of the past? Playing a game with it might make sense. It's all there, all the tables, the dice, the data, even the lead figurines (my favorite is the techno centaur). I wish there was an FRP museum to donate the stuff to. I think it contains lessons.
But mostly, it contains the temptation to live deep in the past.