Sitting in Panera, August 10, 2007

I’m in my Panera again. It seems very familiar to me now. It is odd to think that I’ll be going home in two weeks. I’m exited, but a little sad about it too. I bought another overpriced cookie, and once again, didn’t much regret it.

As I was getting water from the fountain machine, one of the workers looked at me, and said “Oh, you’re back!”

Because she was young, female and (honesty demands I mention) attractive, I assumed she wasn’t talking to me. But there was nobody else around, and she was waving at me in a friendly manner, and so I cautiously waved back. When she didn’t give me creepy-eyes, I was emboldened enough to say hello. And then, because this didn’t seem like sufficient conversation, I asked her how she was. She said she was doing very good, and I said I was glad to hear that.

Then I sat and ate my cookie, and she went about her work. I don’t know her name, and unless I have forgotten about a conversation that would, in my book, be significant, she doesn’t know mine. Even so, I am much happier for it.

In Houghton, everybody knows one another. Everybody smiles, everybody waves, everybody says hello. This summer, the thing that has dragged me down more than anything is the unspoken rule to avoid eye contact, to not speak to anyone you don’t know, and to avoid getting too close to strangers.

Earlier this summer, I couldn’t wrap my mind around why anyone would want to be so isolated. In the spirit of fellowship, I nodded hello to the first person I met on the street, and even waved a little. He was drunk, and asked me for money. I told him I didn’t have any, and went on walking. I didn’t talk to the next person I passed; I didn’t even look at him. I held my eyes stiff, and I walked past him without acknowledging his existence. It has become a habit for me: I don’t know who my neighbors are, I don’t know many other people in the office, really. Sitting in Panera, if my gaze lingers on one person too long, either in curiosity or just out of idleness, I turn away quickly when they look my way.

So, when someone says hello in a restaurant, or gives me a two fingered wave from around a steering wheel, I feel somehow refreshed. I wonder how far I—we—have fallen when it is a bit of friendliness that strikes us as odd, and we expect people to be mean or, at the very least, aloof. What are we, when we’re all terrified to say ‘hello.’

The words that have passed my lips the most for the past month have been “excuse me,” whenever I bump into people, and even then it seems like I’ve broken some sort of etiquette my saying so much.

In any case, within two weeks, I’ll know my neighbors again, and be able to smile at anyone I meet without fear. I’m looking forward to it very much.

Last night, I started the formal writing of Artifice.exe. The Blurb I posted just prior to this post was a good exercise, even though I’m already going to have to change just a bit of it. I actually ended up using a fair amount of the short story The Glory of God in the opening passage, because it was interesting and effective, and I think I have a good twist to use down the road using the same idea.

It has been almost six months since I last worked on a fiction of any length. Since February, I’ve been taking time off to write poetry and reflections (which have eventually turned into these Journal entries) and short fiction. I feel I’ve gotten the benefit that I’ve needed from the break, and now it’s time to start work again. Otherwise I’ll forget what it is to write something that isn’t self contained to a single blog page—a danger that I do fear actually.

I saw Stardust today, like I intended. It was far better than I was dreading, although not quite as good as I had dared to hope. They’ve made some obvious changes from the text of the book, but only one of them really annoyed me, and that’s a good record by anyone’s count. I’ve read what Neil Gaiman himself thought of the thing, and he didn’t seem displeased, so I don’t feel I have much of a right to be either.

In any case, I also happened to get the novel read before now, as well. It was fantastic. One of the things Neil does best is… Well, I was going to say is fairy-tale based things, but then I realized he’s also ‘best’ at doing just about everything else. Neil Gaiman is one of the best writers I’ve read in a while—every bit as good as Terry Pratchett, and for those who don’t know of my love affairs with the works of Mr. Pratchett, that is one of the highest compliments I give.

Stardust the movie is very good. Stardust the book is much, much better–if you have twenty bucks to spare, buy the book, and then go see the movie. If you have only ten, buy the book, and go see the movie when you are richer.

I’ll be signing off now, because Panera will be closing soon. I hope you all have a good night—say ‘hello’ to someone, sometime. It might be a drunk, true, but it also might be someone like me, who really appreciates it.

Summer Movie Review (Numero Uno)

Just a few general updates here: life is good, I had cinnamon rolls this morning, and not I’m in the library reading The Sandman.

Amidst the fun of the week, I’m mostly waiting for friday. Why Friday, you ask? Why, that’s when Stardust comes out. Stardust is based on a Neil Gaiman novel, and, from what the reviews said, is a wonderful fairy tale, and an all round excellent movie. From what I’ve read of Gaiman so far, I’d believe it. I just finished his novel, Neverwhere, which features a bizarre world that exists underneath London, and a man who accidentally falls between the cracks of London above into the dark universe of London Below. It was excellent—it had an oddly beautiful feel about it, but was at the same time dark and terrifying. Fantastic book.

One of the greatest praises I’ve heard for Stardust is that it forms a fantasy movie triptych with The Princess Bride, and Pan’s Labyrinth. Given that The Princess Bride, on of my favorite films, was nice and innocent, and Pan’s Labyrinth was frighteningly dark, I’m looking forward to see what happens here. I’m going to make an effort to have the book read before friday—it doesn’t look terribly long, so that shouldn’t be difficult.

Also coming out soon is Beowulf, screenplay also written by Neil Gaiman. Now, those of you who know me personally and have also seen the adds for this movie would wonder, David? Beowulf? Huh? This is likely because (speaking of fantasy triptychs) the adds feature a bare-chested, muscular, incredibly attractive Beowulf, a hulking monster which I assume to be Grendel, and—of course!—a woman. This woman is, for all intents and purposes naked, save an odd sort of slime which covers her, skin-tight, to the shoulders. She is, if there was any doubt in your mind, slender, dark of hair and eye, and standing in such a profile that seductively outlines one of her breasts. Those that know me would assume that I would be mortally irritated by such blatant advertising, and, I’ll be honest, when I first saw it, I was.

Then, I saw the name Neil down by the bottom edge, right near the crouching Grendel, and I began to have a little faith. So I studied the poster a bit more. (Studied, not ‘ogled.’ The only difference I can actively tell was that my jaw was clenched contemplatively, instead of hanging open.) I noticed a few things about the woman, though. Her hair, for instance, is in a long braid, and hangs down to her waist. But it changes as it goes, and by the end it has a distinctly smooth, almost scaly look. I noticed that her eyes were slitted. Her hands disappear into darkness, but if you manage to pull your eyes from the focal point of the picture, you can see, clearly, the outline of claws, not fingers.

I was suddenly very interested, because the picture that I originally assumed was blatantly for advertising purposes (and still is, of course) had caught my imagination. Ahh, I thought, maybe Grendel isn’t the hulking one in the middle.

And that is the story of how I got interested in the movie. I admit the possibility that it could turn out to be trash (Neil isn’t actually directing, after all, and screen play writers seldom have control beyond the point of, well, writing), but at least I know it has a good story behind it. That gives me faith. I’m very much looking forward to it.

As a last little note, I’ve also seen the Pixar-film-about-the-rat-that-I-never-can-spell, which was excellent, Harry Potter, which did a good job of doing what it was supposed to do, and Transformers, which was abysmal.

I was especially dissapointed with Transformers, since I was such a fan of the old series—it failed to give me any sense of nostalgia, and as a movie in it’s own right, it was terrible as well. I’d rather what Transformers the Movie. That’s right, the old animated one. At least it treats the transformers as more than bit players.

*grumble grumble*

In any case, go see Stardust. It looks good. You should see it. This friday. If you’re in Grand Rapids, you could even go see it with me!