a wheel, a witcher, and a patrol

1) Doom Patrol is coming back. The current season (the fourth) was split into two parts, and for a long time it wasn’t clear if the second half was ever going to be shown. The episodes were completed, from what I’ve read, so the current strikes weren’t a factor. The series has been canceled (also from what I’ve read — these things are always in flux), but we wanted those final episodes.

And now they are (in theory) coming. I’ve said it before, I like some different shows, but there’s nothing like Doom Patrol.

2) I’m watching Wheel of Time (Season 2), and I’m enjoying it, but I’m realizing that I’m enjoying it at a distance. Based on what I’ve seen online, the fandom mostly consists of 1) devoted fans of the book series, who are either interested in or dismayed by (or violently opposed to) the ways the show’s story deviates from the books, and 2) people who have not read the books but who are captivated by the complex story and/or emotionally attached to one or more of the main characters.

The acting runs the gamut from very good to actually great. I’ve seen several people online declare that they are on “Team Liandrin,” and book readers point out how thoroughly evil Liandrin is, but Kate Fleetwood, who plays Liandrin, is riveting in every scene she’s in. This reflects how I watch the show: I’m not rooting for anybody in particular, or for the “good” characters or the “evil” characters. I’m here for the complexity and the mysteries and the design elements, and the acting.

3) Season 3 of The Witcher is over, and it was very satisfying. A lot of people didn’t like it (and many of them had made that decision before the season even started, for reasons which I have no interest in), but I enjoyed it. Not perfect (no season has been perfect so far), but I had a good time. I’m eager for Season 4, but production hasn’t started yet, and there are various strikes, of course, and viewership apparently tanked for Season 3, so I’m not holding my breath. (For example, a second season of The Peripheral was confirmed, and now it’s been canceled, and that’s happened to other shows, too.)

The difference, for me, compared to Wheel of Time is that with The Witcher I’m (very) attached to the main characters. I still tear up a little when Yennefer, who has wanted a child for many, many decades, bids farewell (possibly forever) to Ciri and kisses her (on her eyelid, apparently) and whispers, “I love you, my daughter.”


The point being that there a different ways to enjoy things, and, as I’ve talked about before, finding “relatable” characters to root for doesn’t work for everything. It’s not going to get you very far with Macbeth or King Lear or The Shining (or any Kubrick film, really) or Chinatown or Apocalypse Now.

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vacation reading

Just got back from vacation. Yay.

Sometimes people ask what I did on vacation (and, sometimes, did I take pictures of it).

The answer is usually, mostly, “no.” This year, however, I did Do Something (although I didn’t take pictures of it): I read Bleeding Edge, one of the two Thomas Pynchon novels that I had never read. Began it on the bus to Cape Cod, and finished it on the bus coming back.

I had started it before, at least once, but it usually takes me a few tries to get a good momentum going with Pynchon. First I get bogged down with all the characters and names and stuff, and then, finally, I decide to power through and I resign myself to the fact that I probably won’t have any idea what’s going on. To quote Publisher’s Weekly: “[R]eading Pynchon for plot is like reading Austen for sex.”

(What’s interesting is that, in Inherent Vice at least, the plot is very tightly constructed. It’s easy (and fine) to ignore that, but the structure is there if you look, and it’s solid.)

And, of course, as always, Bleeding Edge reads like Pynchon, which is always a pleasure. It has so many wonderful, wonderful sentences. I’ve said it before, but, still, despite my best efforts, every sentence Pynchon has ever written is better than any sentence I’ve ever written. To quote Publisher’s Weekly again: “Luckily, Pynchon and Austen have ample recourse to the oldest, hardest-to-invoke rule in the book — when in doubt, be a genius. It’s cheating, but it works. No one, but no one, rivals Pynchon’s range of language, his elasticity of syntax, his signature mix of dirty jokes, dread and shining decency.”

To quote the New York Times:

Thomas Pynchon is 76, and his refusal to develop a late style is practically infuriating. The man’s wildly consistent: the only reason Bleeding Edge couldn’t have been published in 1973 is that the Internet, the Giuliani/Disney version of Times Square and the war on terror hadn’t come along yet.

As my mother used to say about certain very old jazz musicians and painters, “He’s still doing his thing.”

And, obviously, one of the many things you can learn from Inherent Vice is that the Internet was already in motion several years before 1973. It didn’t look anything like the Internet of today, but that’s part of what this novel is about. Bleeding Edge, which takes place in 2001, is steeped in the end of the Internet (not that the Internet is done, obviously, but the early, optimistic days were long ago overtaken by massive engines of profit and surveillance).

And, yes, this is a September 11 novel, though it takes its time to get to the events of that morning, and what came after.

This is not a review, obviously. I’ve only read it once, which with Pynchon is barely a beginning.

One more quote from the Times:

In summary: Despite the lack of personal information supplied about the author, it’s plain, from the sweep and chortle of his sentences, from the irascible outbreaks of horniness, from the pinpoint rage at popular hypocrisy and cant, that young Pynchon is a writer of boundless promise, sure to give us a long shelf of entrancing and charismatic novels. I believe he has a masterpiece or three in him. I look forward to seeing what he’ll do next.

Later update: You want to know what it’s like to read a novel by Thomas Pynchon? At least for me? (Although I am definitely not the only one.)

In the Douglas Adams novel The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the ultimate answer to life, the universe, and everything is revealed to be the number 42. This novel, which does not propose any ultimate answers to anything, has 41 chapters. Is this intended to tell us…

Anyway, you can see how it goes.

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yo thinking about pronouns (again)

1) I saw a sign in the subway a few days ago.

It said that “a fare increase will be going into affect.”


It was a fancy electronic sign, probably one of many through the system, the sort which I’m sure are all run from a central location. So, as soon as somebody figures out the problem, all of the signs in the system can be fixed simultaneously.

So, it’s better than the new medical facility near me, where “All insurance is accetped.” That’s on a huge printed sign — more difficult and costly to change, I’m sure.

2) I did not expect The New Yorker to write about Harley Quinn. Not the quasi-trilogy of movies starring Margot Robbie as the former Dr. Harleen Frances Quinzel — this article is talking about the very violent, very obscene HBO Max cartoon series which stars Kaley Cuoco as Harley and Lake Bell as Poison Ivy, Harley’s friend/lover/partner-in-crime: “The Violent Delights of ‘Harley Quinn’

The one thing I want to emphasize a bit more than the article does is that Harley and Ivy seem like a real couple — they work through problems as they come up, in healthy and realistic ways, despite the fact that they are both incredibly, and very differently, misanthropic. Ivy prizes plant life and loathes human beings — other than Harley — and Harley is both a violent, unpredictable sociopath and a trained psychiatrist (and those do not overlap, which would be a cliche at this point). When Dr. Quinzel takes over, she is completely focused and empathetic. And Harley’s scenes counseling Bruce Wayne (both as a grown man and as a traumatized boy who has just watched his parents get murdered) are wonderful. (She even attempts to collect a copay at one point, but little Bruce informs her that “rich people insurance doesn’t have copays.”)

One thing I disagree with, of course, is this: “The intricate plotting extends to the playfully dirty but heartfelt romance between Harley and Ivy. Like all love stories, it inevitably dipped in excitement once the characters finally committed to each other.”

Since it was pretty obvious from the first episode that they were getting together eventually (and that it couldn’t be rushed, since Harley was getting out of a very toxic relationship and that wouldn’t be healthy), it was pleasant and fun to watch but not compelling. Staying together is the really interesting part (see the article, and my comments above).

Here’s the Season 4 trailer. Definitely not safe for work.

3) This was interesting: “Is ‘Yo’ the Gender-Neutral Pronoun You’ve Been Looking For?

I remember a friend, years ago (decades, actually) who proposed that “Black English” had advantages over regular English, in that it was more adaptable to changing demands and circumstances. Regular English has various rules and rule books and so on (French and Spanish have this also, and I’m sure other languages do as well).

Here are some quotes from the article linked to above:

This “yo” is a straightforward, gender-neutral third-person pronoun — basically “heesh,” but not as ridiculous sounding. “Yo was tuckin’ in his shirt!” is an example Stotko and Troyer documented. This “yo” did not mean “you,” because the reference was certainly not to someone tucking in someone else’s shirt. A female teacher was handing out papers, and someone remarked — not to the teacher herself — “Yo handin’ out papers.” Someone else used “Yo is a clown” to describe a third party.

Wrap your head around it, and you can see this pronoun is pretty awesome. The interjection “Yo!” has been retooled, so that what started as a way of calling someone has become a way of calling out — i.e., pointing out — someone. The new “yo” means, in its way, “the one whom one ‘yo’s.” And it applies to no gender in particular. Baltimore Black English achieved what mainstream English never has: a gender-neutral pronoun that doesn’t force some other pronoun to moonlight in a new role.

Standard language unites us. But with nonstandard language, nothing — no dictionaries, no tut-tutting by experts — pulls it back from doing what it wants to do. It tends to be built out compared to standard language, “buff” as it were. It should be common knowledge that such variations are of interest not merely because of the cultures they represent but also because of their sheer grammatical intricacy.

The appeal (an appeal) of “yo” is that it feels, and apparently is, organic. Rules and rule books can sometimes work in languages when they are, or are claiming to be, maintaining “proper” or “correct” usage. However, it’s very difficult to change language by setting up new rules, because (as a friend of mine observed once) habit is the most powerful force in the universe, and because it makes people question why they should listen to your rules anyway (and because there’s usually no general agreement, among all the people who feel that a change is needed, about specifically what that change should be).

Philip B. Corbett of the New York Times used to have a wonderful blog called “After Deadline” where he reported on the language used in the Times (rules followed, rules broken, the reasons for the rules, the reasons for changing the rules, etc.) and he used to say that he never set up absolute yes/no rules about things, since that would have made it embarrassingly obvious that people weren’t following his rules anyway.

4) I’m terrible with anniversaries and birthdays and occasions & milestones like that (well, I’m not terrible with them — I’m just oblivious to them), so I completely missed the fact that this blog now has over a thousand posts. This one here, when published, will be 1,003. So, let’s have a belated… whatever might be appropriate. Yay.

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some important lessons

I learned some important things from my father (and also some things which are not important, or even true, but that’s for another time).

For example: “When you sign something, always make sure you get a copy.”

Good advice.

And, of course, as I’ve quoted before: “There is only one rule in writing. Write well.”

But recently I’ve realized that I learned something else important — and this one I learned from his example, not from anything he said.

I thought of it when I read this article from WIRED magazine, and then saw a little of the online aftermath: “Brandon Sanderson Is Your God

The article is basically about the fact that Brandon Sanderson is 1) an enormously successful fantasy author, 2) whose writing nobody ever writes about, 3) who is, for some reason, nowhere near as well known to the general public as J. R. R. Tolkien, J. K. Rowling, or George R. R. Martin (all also fantasy writers), 4) a Mormon. (Actually, the article specifically classifies him with the writers who are “weirdo Mormons,” as opposed to the writers who are regular Mormons, and there’s no indication of why, or even why the distinction is being made. For me, that’s the most annoying part of the article.)

Anyway, the general Sanderson-loving public took this article (not totally without reason) as an attack on Sanderson, and on them, so of course everybody immediately made YouTube videos about it, and I’m sure they posted various things on social media and so on.

This made me think of two things.

(But first, a disclaimer: I’ve never read anything by Brandon Sanderson. I don’t have a dog in this race, or whatever the cliche is.)

1) I like various things. I’ve never particularly cared what anybody else thinks of the things I enjoy. I think I learned that from my father’s example. Amazon is always trying to get me to join Goodreads to find out what my friends are reading, and so they can see what I’m reading. Why would I care?

There are no guilty pleasures (well, unless your hobby is clubbing baby seals or something like that). Sometimes people are offended if I say that I prefer the Resident Evil movies to Star Wars or Marvel or Star Trek, but that’s fine.

(Increasingly, of course, a major point of attraction is that the Resident Evil series was six movies and then it ENDED.)

2) Also, another thing about the WIRED article is that the writer seems puzzled by the fact that Sanderson’s sentences and words are very ordinary (which even Sanderson admits), but people read his work anyway.


My father had a friend who was in the theater world, and he said that theater people all knew that Franchot Tone was a better actor than Cary Grant (I don’t know what led up to this discussion). My father’s response, as he reported it to me, was that your audience is the public (“civilians,” as a former bass player of mine always referred to them), not people in the industry.

Now, for myself, I do care about words and sentences (and commas, and parentheses, and dashes, and commas). But I write, so it makes sense for me to care. And the writer of the WIRED piece is also, by definition, a writer. But why does it take until the end of the piece for him to realize all this doesn’t apply in the same way to civilians?

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attention span for what?

I had May 5 marked on my calendar (yes, I still use paper calendars, in addition to electronic calendars). That’s when Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 came out.

I also had May 19 marked. That’s when Fast X opened.

I saw, and enjoyed, the first two Guardians of the Galaxy movies (and also the Guardians Holiday Special). I’ve also seen and enjoyed some of the Fast & Furious movies. Without thinking about it very deeply, I had assumed I would probably see the latest installments of both franchises, but when the premiere dates approached my enthusiasm was almost completely lacking.

There are a few factors, but the one which struck me as interesting was that Fast X is 141 minutes long, and the Guardians movie is 150 minutes long.

(I should mention that Martin Scorsese and James Cameron have produced very long movies recently, and they have both complained about the various complaints about that. I have not seen those movies, but that’s mostly because at this point I’m not interested in either director. I don’t believe run time was a factor.)

However, recently I have been watching and studying and enjoying David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (146 minutes), Quentin Tarantino’s Hateful Eight (168 minutes), and Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 (163 minutes).

Is this apparent inconsistency because I’m sick of superheroes and related subjects? No, I’m still looking forward to the final episodes of the show Doom Patrol, and the upcoming third season of The Witcher, and I’m hoping for another season of the wonderful Harley Quinn cartoon show.

Thinking about this, I realized one difference between the various long movies mentioned above: The Guardians movie and Fast X are, I’m sure, full of non-stop stuff — explosions and quips and rushing around and family and cliffhangers, plus endless callbacks and references to earlier movies (and TV shows), and foreshadowing about the next movie or TV show.

Even thinking about this feels exhausting. What do Mulholland Drive, Hateful Eight, and Blade Runner 2049 have in common (in addition to being, in different ways, amazing to look at)?

They take their time.

They’re not based on the assumption that I have no attention span.

As Major Marquis Warren says around the middle of The Hateful Eight (which was not going at a fast clip to begin with), “Let’s slow this way down.”

Now, I’m not advocating that modern movies get even longer than they are — many movies are much too long for my taste as it is, but what’s most tiring to me is the quantity of stuff, not the number of minutes.

Also, the movies I do enjoy watching, as listed above, all stand alone. You don’t have to prepare by doing homework to understand what’s going on.

By the way, I often wish for a version of Blade Runner 2049 where the music is at full volume but the (mostly forgettable) dialogue is somewhat muted. Now that I know the plot, just allow me to focus on the amazing music and gorgeous visuals.

Speaking of amazing visuals, I still remember seeing The Avengers and Prometheus on the same weekend, and noting that every frame of Prometheus was better to look at than any frame of The Avengers. That doesn’t make Prometheus a “better movie” — it has massive flaws in areas where The Avengers has, at minimum, competence — but sometimes it’s enjoyable to see a movie which takes advantage of what a film can be and do.

I also think of this when I see YouTube reaction channels, accustomed to modern movies, go back and watch The Shining or Apocalypse Now or 2001 or The Godfather or Dr. Strangelove, or Rio Bravo (there’s a movie which really takes its time).

Or maybe it’s just the difference between movies made to be seen in theaters and movies which will mostly be seen on smaller screens in surroundings with many possible interruptions. Going back and watching old TV shows now, even when the commercials aren’t there, the rhythm is still the same, where right before each commercial break there had to be something to try to hook you into not switching the channel.

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that’s where all the maps stop

I’ve been writing about James Joyce recently. Like many Joyce fans, I have my favorites between Dubliners, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and Ulysses, but I’ve never made a serious attempt to read Finnegan’s Wake. There are some people who admire it tremendously, and who perhaps even enjoy it, but most readers seem to find it impossible to get into.

Joyce apparently promised that, after Finnegan’s Wake, his next novel would be a simple novel.

David Lynch has not made a feature film since Inland Empire (2006). I hadn’t seen Inland Empire until recently, maybe because it was generally reported to be very difficult to follow, even by the standards of earlier Lynch films, or maybe because it’s three hours long, or both, but now that I have seen it I still prefer Mulholland Drive, which seems to be (this is not an original idea with me) a somewhat more traditional approach to the same general themes (specifically around Hollywood and its relationship to actresses).

William S. Burroughs started off with fairly conventional novels (Junkie, Queer), hit it (relatively) big when he went more “out there” in his style and techniques (Naked Lunch), proceeded to go way more “out there” (in The Nova Trilogy, for example), and then pulled back and integrated all of these into a final style (Cities of the Red Night).

I haven’t read Burroughs in a while, but Cities of the Red Night was always my favorite. It has the general structure and affect of a hard-boiled noir detective novel, and Burroughs builds on those conventional elements while going increasingly bonkers, much the same way David Lynch did in Twin Peaks and elsewhere.

The consistent thread here is not these artists, specifically, but my understanding of my own preferences, which are apparently very consistent.

This also makes me think of John Coltrane. I read an interview once with a jazz critic/enthusiast/musician (I don’t remember who, obviously) who said that it would have been interesting to see, if Coltrane had lived decades longer (he died at 40), if he would have continued to take his music further and further “outside” the traditional forms and modes, which was the trajectory he was on, or if he would have at some point moved back to more conventional forms, as Burroughs (who lived to be 83) did, and as Joyce (who lived to be 58) was apparently planning to.

The idea was that if you break things down beyond a certain point you just get complete chaos, and where could you go beyond that, in any art form? For a writer, would you start inventing your own alphabet?

All of this, of course, applies to me (this is my blog, after all 🙂 ).

I started out quite a bit more “outside” than I’ve ended up. (“Lee” in my name is for Burroughs, by the way.)

At one point, in writing the first version of Utown, I had one chapter (called “Eyes Wide Open,” if I remember correctly) which was quite “out there.” It was considered enjoyable (by some) and baffling & annoying (by others), and I realized that this was a dead end for me.

I do still have some of the “cut-ups” still available, and they make me laugh out loud (the highest praise possible, in my opinion).

Also, since I’ve been re-reading Across the River and into the Trees, it amused me to remember that I’d written this: Papa.

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