12 January, 2017

Today is my 41st birthday, and I swear the sun here in Whangamata is trying to make sure it’ll be my last. I still don’t fully understand why the New Zealand sun is so much more “intense” than in other places – why half an hour outside here will burn you more than a day in other countries where summer temperatures are regularly 10 degrees higher. And I definitely don’t understand what it is about this East coast town that’s amplifying the effect even further – all I know is that I step outside and the sunlight feels like knives.

No, I know what it feels like: There’s a period of Egyptian art that includes depictions of the sun-worshiping Pharaoh Ahkenaten and his family having life bestowed upon them by the disc of the sun – this is depicted as rays of light extending down towards the royal family, each ray terminating in a hand holding an ankh.

akhenaten2c_nefertiti_and_their_children
Imagine that picture, only with me instead of the Pharaoh, and instead of ankhs, each hand is holding a syringe full of skin cancer. That’s what it feels like.

I have a theory that the reason why sun block works is nothing to do with filtering out ultraviolet radiation; the act of applying it is just a ritual designed to debase ourselves until the hateful Sun is sufficiently entertained to let us go about our business unsinged.

“Yes, smear it on. All over yourself, you little piggie. You love it, don’t you piggie? And soon you’ll start sweating and it’s all going to run into your eyes and sting and you’ll love that too, won’t you? SAY YOU LOVE IT, PIGGIE!”

I’m just saying, do we have proof that sun block isn’t just bottles of the Sun’s jizz?

Still, it’s my birthday today, which means I can refuse to leave the shade of the house and no-one can tell me different. I’ve received presents – stuff I needed, stuff I wanted, stuff I don’t know I wanted until I got it – so that’s nice. And with little else to occupy me, I’ve been doing a lot of reading, of whatever crappy crime novels have been left lying around down here and also the book of Neil Gaiman essays I was just given.

Writers always say that in order to write you have to read a lot, which is something I’ve always rolled my eyes at a bit. That would imply that, having made my way through more books in a few days than I normally read in a year, I’d then feel the need to put up a blog post on a site that I haven’t touched in almost as long. Piffle.

I see the Lazy Town post is getting more traffic than ever, and it seems like at least some of it hasn’t come from Google searches for underage pornography. So that’s nice.

I May be Overthinking

Last night I realised that I have no idea how to stab someone to death. That seems like a skill that person in this day and age should have. Doesn’t it? I was prompted to this realisation by a dream:

I was somewhere up high watching the end of the world from a window. First the ground buckled up and down, pushed from below by thousands of hands and when it settled, I could see below me ranks of naked men with knives. A figure walked up and down between the ranks and at some point gave some sort of signal, and the men broke up and started heading for the nearby houses. It turned out that each man was accompanied by a small child, also armed with a knife. At each house, the child would gain entry by wriggling through a small-child-sized gap – an open window or a vent or something – let the man in and they would, presumably, get to work on the sleeping inhabitants with their knives.

I knew it’d be the turn of the house I was watching from, and soon enough heard the sound of what I assumed to be a small knife-wielding child running through the bottom floor of the house. I don’t know if there were people on the lower floor, but presumably they were getting their allotted stabbings. Moments later, her accompanying naked man ran up the stairs to the floor I was on and suddenly I was fighting for my life. I had a knife as well – a big, thin carving knife – and after I managed to disarm the man and knock him down, I then found myself in a position to stab him to death and it occurred to me I had no idea how. Isn’t that the sort of thing a father should be expected to know?

It seems easy in the movies – one quick thrust anywhere and the person goes down (unless they’re the hero, in which case they’ll have forgotten the wound existed 15 minutes later). But when I actually think about it, where do you actually stab someone to kill them on the spot? Sure, puncture a lung and they’ll probably cop it if they don’t get it looked at, but assuming you don’t have the time to wait for them to bleed to death, it has to be the heart, right? But then there’d have to be all sorts of complications with ribs and breastbones and shoulder blades getting in the way.

I don’t know, it’s starting to seem like I should leave fatal stabbings to the professionals.

Aspect Ratios

It’s short film competition time at work again. This year, in an attempt to prove how social-media-savvy and cloud-friendly we are, the decision was made to have the entire competition on Instagram, which meant a 15-second limit across the board. This was fine by me, although I’d never used Instagram before. I made a few films, downloaded the app onto my tablet, then immediately began cursing the name of Instagram and anyone who had anything to do with it.

In a holdover from its hipsteriffic origins, Instagram seems to think it’s too good for the rest of the Internet – it wants you to do everything via its mobile app, which makes editing and uploading anything other than a few seconds of shaky crap shot on your cellphone a chore. And it’s square. Fucking SQUARE. Who the fuck shoots square movies? After making a few, I copied them to my tablet and went to upload them, only to realise that I was going to have to go back and reformat them all.

You can see the original entries here, but I’ve put them all up on YouTube in HD widescreen format as God intended. Below are the “real” versions of each film, with a bit of director’s commentary.

How to Tie a Tie

Not a lot to say about this one – just a couple of sight gags finishing on a sweet, sweet 80s reference.

The music at the start is the delightfully-named “Moondots and Polkabeams” by Podington Bear.

Bobble Cats

The bobble cats were a gift brought back from Japan by a friend. They are fairly maddening to watch and I’d had the idea to do a short just alternating between zooming in on them and zooming in on my reaction for a while. Then I was browsing through the Free Music Archive and came across “Caliente! Caliente!” by Mam Patxanga and knew I need to find an excuse to use it for something. It seemed a good fit here. (I used Audacity for the distortion at the end.)

This was the only one I couldn’t crop to a square for Instagram, so it had to get letterboxed, with the exception of the final shot of the diabolical cats. I’m not sure if it works better or worse like that.

Sad Phone

Every year, the competition results state that you can’t use anything that would violate copyright, and I try to be a good boy and comply. (Yes, the How to Tie a Tie one uses “Oh Yeah” by Yello, but fuck it, it’s only three seconds.) The submitted version of this one used another track from the Free Music Archive (“There’s Probably No Time” by Chris Zabriskie), but we all know that when it comes to a shot of someone staring wistfully at rain on a window, Sarah McLachlan is the only real choice.

The “rain” was actually me spraying a hose on the window, or, for the shot taken inside the house looking out, my five-year-old son spraying a hose on the window. He had fun. The rain sound effect was added later – do you like how I used different sounds for the outside and inside shots? And made it quieter for the sad face close up? Little details amuse me.

(More than one person mentioned that they didn’t realise the image on the phone in the last shot is a sad face with a tear – guess I didn’t make it distinct enough.)

Bananas

Sticking with tradition here – every year has featured a film that involved me writing at my dining table, so I figured I should do it again for this one. The banana puppetry was supplied by me and my wife (for the shots where you can see me as well as them). Every one who sees this lot seems to have a different favourite. I think I like Bobble Cats the best, myself – I think this one is the weakest.

Segue: Internal Dialogue to Book Review

“I honestly can’t tell if you’re sick or just really, really, really tired. As your doctor, I prescribe a day in bed reading, playing videogames and eating chocolate biscuits.”

“You’re not my doctor.”

“I’m A doctor.”

“You’re not a doctor.”

“Look, do you want the handjob or not?”

I don’t know why I keep talking to that guy. Yes, I’m off sick today, but not so sick that I can’t operate a keyboard, so here we are.

In other news, Apathy and Other Small Victories by Paul Neilan is the novel I would write if I had the discipline, perseverance and talent to write a novel. And since he’s already written it, there’s no need for me to, which I guess means I win at apathy. Your move, Neilan.

More Internal Dialogue

BRAIN: “OK, here’s a fairly well-formulated thought – you can say it out loud now!”

MOUTH: *starts to say something*

BRAIN: “No wait, this thing makes more sense – say this thing!”

MOUTH: *stops saying the original thing halfway through, stutters for a second, then starts saying the new thing*

BRAIN: “Actually, that thing’s not 100% accurate – it’d be better to say this thing instead.”

MOUTH: *stops saying the new thing halfway through, uncomfortable pause as eyes glaze over then refocus, then starts saying the even newer thing*

BRAIN: “Um, actually, that’s getting a bit far from my original point, better bend that thing back towards the first thing – not the thing you were just saying, the thing before that. Remember that?”

MOUTH: *gibbers unintelligibly for several seconds to cover up the sound of gears grinding, then says a messy Frankensteinian combination of all three things*

BRAIN: “… good? OK, Matthew’s talking now. Ears, listen to what he’s saying – not so closely that you distract me while I’m thinking of what to say next, but closely enough that I can tailor what I’m thinking so that it vaguely relates to what he’s saying. Ooh, and if he makes a joke, just ignore that completely so that I end up totally standing on his punchline and sounding like a dick.”

EARS: “Oh, fuck you.”

And that’s what it’s like recording a podcast.

I’m just going to leave this here

I first expressed this thought in February of 2009, but since it comes up every year, I’ll put it here where it’ll be easy to link to next summer:

Two-fisted Tales of Toileting

BRAIN: Welp, time to urinate.

BLADDER: Use a cubicle! Use a cubicle! Urinals make me nervous.

Fine, there’s one free – in we go…

Wow, it’s really quiet.

Yes.

Like, weirdly quiet. The guy in the next stall is making no noise at all.

I guess not.

That means he’ll be able to hear every noise we make.

That is how sound works, yes.

Eeeevery noise. Every… little… tinkle.

Can we just do this?

I DON’T WANT HIM TO HEAR MY TINKLE!!

Fucksake, you don’t even know who’s in there. Who cares?

I care! I care more than anything I’ve ever cared about before.

OK, fine. We’ll come back later – maybe no-one will be around then.

NOOOO!!! If we go out now, he’ll have heard us walk into a toilet cubicle, do nothing for a minute then walk out again – what’s he going to think?!

Gnggh. OK, so go already.

Yeah… Yeah, I’ll just – NOOOO!!!

What now?!

Well, he’s already heard us standing here doing nothing – if I do it now it’ll sound like we were having trouble going!

Seems like we are having trouble going.

Yeah, but this is just… deliberation. He’ll think there’s something wrong with us – like, medically. Like our bits don’t work or something.

So what do you propose?

I think it’s obvious what we have to do: we stand here IN PERFECT SILENCE until he’s done, then we can go.

Right, that’s beyond crazy – I’m pulling rank here. You go now or I will punch us in the kidneys.

Uh… uh… OK. Yeah, OK. I just get a bit worked up sometimes. OK.

There, all done. And the other guy’s still in his cubicle. We can go now and no-one will ever know a thing.

Right. Right – oh shit, I can hear him fiddling with the toilet paper – he must be nearly done!

No biggie – we’ll wash our hands and be out of here in a second.

But what if we’re too slow? What if we’re still in here when he comes out of his cubicle? We’ll know who he is and he’ll know who we are! WHAT IF WE MAKE EYE CONTACT!!!

– – – – – – – – –

It was never clear just why Josh threw a live hand grenade into the men’s toilets, screamed “I’ll see you all in HELL!” and dived headfirst down the stairwell and into legend. No body was ever found.

Happy Birthday, Blog

Simple fact: if you’re a middle class white person and you have a baby, you will be given a golliwog for it by one of your older relatives who believes that “traditional” is the same as “not racist”. You won’t want to offend them, so you’ll just throw it onto the kid’s pile of soft toys and make sure it stays hidden in the back of his bedroom. Until the child is sick and vomits onto his pile of soft toys, and you have to wash them all so they don’t smell like puke. And then you have to dry them.

self-indulgent wank

I’ve always been annoyed by the First World Problems meme – I find it mean-spirited and patronising – but I have to admit that “not wanting to hang a golliwog on your washing line for all the neighbours to see” almost certainly qualifies as one. Dirty laundry? That’s fucking cultural dirty laundry*.

Only slightly lower down the scale of trivial problems is “thinking you really should write something on your blog even though you don’t really feel like it”. I see this is post number 54, so I was able to average one a week this year – not too bad, considering child-induced lack of sleep put me out of commission for September, October and most of August. (This week we started not feeding the youngest back to sleep at night, to try to get him sleeping through – we’re seeing progress, but my thoughts currently feel like they’re being translated by the Nelson Mandela’s Funeral Sign Language Guy.)

I started this site one year ago today after Caitlin Moran told me to (sort of). To get myself started, and to forestall the sort of excuse-making that usually ends these endeavours, I filled space with a few posts on reasons why I don’t write and reasons why I should, and then tried my hand at stuff that wasn’t self-indulgent wank. And then went back to self-indulgent wank because, let’s be honest, the Internet isn’t good for much else. I tried a bit of opinionating, but it turns out I only have, like, two opinions, so that didn’t last. Reviews were a good source of inspiration/filler – coming out of the Christmas/my birthday season I should have material for a few more of those, I guess.

So I suppose I’m optimistic about 2014. 2013 was the Tough Year for a new child – one income, so money’s always a worry; poor sleeping; eternal vigilance and so on. Work, on the other hand, has been quite interesting, to the point that it was one of the reasons I stopped writing for a bit. This year looks to be even more interesting, hopefully not to the point of “that’s enough now no really stop stop fucking stop it for a second.” With any luck, the plusses and minuses will cancel out and I’ll just amble along putting out one or two pieces a week here.

Is that another resolution, or just a statement of intent? Whatever – that’s 500 words; I’m going to lie down for a while.

* In a previous life as a web cartoonist, I’d occasionally post some of the more glaring examples of old-timey racism as a semi-regular “Mock the Past” series. This one attracted the attention of some well-meaning (yet anonymous) soul who patiently explained how Golly wasn’t racist at all and was just a well-loved children’s character who was erased from history by guilt-ridden liberals with “issues”. A character who happened to look exactly like a grotesque caricature of an African person speaking in broken English – I’m sure that was just a coincidence.

The Opposite of Nostalgia. Yestalgia?

I was recently involved in a brief Twitter conversation on the topic of things that you used to like, but now you can’t believe how shit they are. My contribution was Empire Records* – a film that’s not without its merits, but I was surprised at how much I hated all the main characters when I re-watched it recently – Liv Tyler’s an idiot, Renee Zellweger and Robin Tunney are annoying and Ethan Embry’s character who, at the time, was probably meant to embody the sort of slacker/stoner stereotype of the day, now seems to be genuinely mentally damaged – watch him gurn and struggle to remember his own name in this clip:

Christ, this is close to embarrassing

I’ve found similar things happen with music, usually when a more recent album makes you go back and re-evaluate the earlier ones you fell in love with. As a child (well, teenager) of the 90s I remember thinking “wow, this new Counting Crows album is really whiny – not like August and Everything After. Think I’ll listen to it now. Oh.” Turns out that, next to the backdrop of the inherent whinyness of my late-teens/early-twenties, that album just blended in – the added perspective of an extra decade doesn’t do it any favours. Similarly, because I was alive in the 90s and owned ears, “Stay” by Lisa Loeb was a big favourite. It still is, but again, I can remember listening to her later work and thinking “Christ, this is close to embarrassing – these lyrics sound like something a fourteen-year-old girl would write in her diary, dotting the i’s with little hearts and smiley faces. Think I’ll listen to all of Tails. Oh.”

And, tying in with the “shit I watch because my kids watch it” theme of previous posts, the boy has developed a taste for the original 80s Transformers cartoon movie, which I first watched on VCR at the age of ten. I don’t know if I ever thought it was that great, and I wouldn’t say that I actually hate it now, but it sure does look different through an adult’s pair of eyes. Quite aside from the cynical observation that it is easily the most blatant bit of toy marketing in a franchise that is entirely about toy marketing – beloved characters are slaughtered in the first act so that a new line of toys can be front and centre – I was surprised to find how dated it appears. This movie is the 1980s, crystallised into a tangible artifact – the visuals, the bombast, the hair-metal-heavy soundtrack (which also features Weird Al Yankovic because of reasons). And it was also Orson Welles’ last performance – I don’t even know where to go with that.

I guess all this is the flipside of the kind of nostalgia that I talked about here – that was about liking stuff that is otherwise objectively shit because of the fond memories they engender; this is having fond memories of stuff because I used to like it (stuff that turns out to be objectively shit). There’s bound to be some sort of ratio of actual quality vs. fondness of memories that determines whether a thing transcends its inherent shitness to become something you love in spite of itself, or ends up as a source of internal cringing and self-repudiation. These concepts are probably too nebulous to come up with any sort of exact measures, but I do feel compelled to start experimenting on the boys now to see if I can artificially mould their future nostalgia – make them watch and listen to stuff I know to be crap, but let them do all their favourite things afterwards, in the hope of building lasting positive memories to associate with them:

“OK, let’s watch the The Phantom Menace and eat all your favourite lollies! After that, we’ll listen to this entire Creed album then go to the water park!”

Childhood’s loss will be Science’s gain – I’ll let you know how it turns out in twenty years or so.

*The works of Kevin Smith came up as well. If I’m honest with myself, I haven’t really enjoyed one of his films since Mallrats.