Winter break is coming. Will I ever blog again?

I have this blog set as my homepage in Camino and looking at it has become sad and a little stressful, thought not to the same degree as looking at my prior blogs was to me when I would hit an unproductive moment. But the fact is I haven’t posted anything of substance since August, and, since September, I have even neglected to post links to my work elsewhere.

For what it’s worth my LibraryThing catalog is in even sorrier shape. I have months of comics to catalog, so many, in fact, that I am thinking of writing the rest of this year off, except for trades, and starting new in 2012. Fortunately, I had already decided to skip the usual “year end” ritual in my column for PopMatters, making the lack of a good record of what I read less important than it already is.

There’s no mystery to why I have not been writing here: over the summer we sold our house in Monmouth and moved to Corvallis, which was, and in some ways still is, a time-consuming and exhausting process. Many things got put aside and before I knew it, it was time to report back to campus.

I’m not going to call it a “new year’s resolution” because I want to jump start my writing here before the end of December, but with the Winter Break coming, I am hoping to get back in the habit of blogging. It might be foolish to think that around Christmas is when I will find time to write here again, but I think that getting through Fall is what I need to do more than anything to get restarted.

In the meantime, I have a few upcoming pieces in PopMatters and one place to start will be posting those pointers again. Also, feel free to checkout my Pinterest page which I created during my hiatus, and the projects I have backed at Kickstarter.

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New Blu-ray review

I have a review of the Once Upon a Time in the West (1969) Blu-ray at PopMatters:

In digital high definition, the picture reveals details, particularly in the weathered, ruddy, often grimy faces of the actors, that have likely not been seen with this kind of clarity before. This in no way detracts from the viewing of the film, if anything it highlights the care and craft that went into the production, but Once Upon a Time in the West is, literally and figuratively, a movie about the dirt under the fingernails of its characters, and how everyone has some of that dirt, no matter how they might appear on the outside or to those in society at large. Somehow that deliberate moral ambiguity, that greyness and imperfection, seems more at home in an analog context than in a digital one.

Read the review. (As an additional point of interest, I adapt Nicholas Rombes’ 10/40/70 experiment for the review. Details in the full article).

Recommended daily reading – 17 September (day late edition)

A few items from yesterday:

On MTV’s Spash Page is a story about Anthony Bourdain writing a graphic novel for DC (presumably on Vertigo) that is “sort of like ‘Fistful of Dollars’ meets ‘Eat Drink Man Woman.'”

In the article, Bourdain’s references are all cinematic, which is not entirely confidence inspiring, and while I think that Douglas Wolk is generally right about avoiding comics with celebrity names slapped on them, Bourdain is a talented writer, with both fiction and non-fiction works to his credit, and he strikes me as someone who probably understands genre and form well enough to adapt his talents to comics. In any case, he seems smart enough to do a good job, and this notice has me curious.

Ben Gilbert at Panels on Pages writes a defense of Ang Lee’s Hulk (2003). I also think that this film is disproportionately maligned, and that it will likely have a very different position in the history of Marvel adaptions than its initial reception would indicate. Gilbert focuses on Lee’s ambition and A-list cast. One point about the former that I think merits more attention is Lee’s creative use of comic-like panels to show the action from different perspectives, sometimes simultaneously. Most adaptations of superhero comics are made as conventional action films, and as Gilbert notes, Lee’s Hulk, if nothing else, stands out for not being that.

Finally, on Torontoist is a story about Stiffed, a festival for those films rejectected by TIFF – the Toronto International Film Festival. Having had a few frustrating experiences with peer review, with both print and film, I admire the ambition of the new festival’s founders and wish them the best.

Attending to deadlines

Opening a new space for writing always comes with the desire to populate it with content, and I’ve made a point of being prolific here early on, but I have two PopMatters assignments that I need to get done this week and that will likely moderate my contributions to A Weird Fish.

For the record, I need to write a review for the DVD of Rem Koolhaas: A Kind Of Architect (2007), and I have a “Worlds in Panels” column due at the end of the month. Faculty report back to campus next week at Western, and then classes start, so I decided to use my time this week in the way I wish my students would: by thinking ahead and planning accordingly. Not really sure what I’m going to do with my column this month, but it may involve Matt Kindt‘s Black Widow story in Strange Tales.

Coming to terms with Not Writing

One of the immediate reasons I decided to start blogging again is an issue raised on Dr. Crazy’s Reassigned Time 2.0, which is the practice of Not Writing (see “Reading and Thinking (and NOT writing …)” and “Not Writing”).

It may seem strange to think of not doing something as doing something, but for most academics, and writers and artists, and anyone who does intellectual and creative work, Not Writing, or its equivalent, is an important activity.

But as Crazy points out in the first linked post, it is hard not to feel guilty about Not Writing. Indeed, this summer, almost a decade and a half after I finished my Ph.D., marks the first time I can honestly say that I have been able to accept Not Writing as productive.

The main problem with Not Writing is that there is no tangible product attached to it; there’s literally nothing to show for your labors. The fact that no one, in particular and in the moment, maybe demanding to see anything does not really matter. I think many people raised in America are conditioned to think of work as being attached to things, not thoughts. So, when you spend a day or two or three, etc. working something over, you may know that you’ve done good work, but the fact that anyone else will only have your word for that is what allows the feelings of guilt to creep in.

I think that my writing for PopMatters has slowly helped me to realize that I need time to let ideas cook or stew in my head before writing. The fact that I am usually working on a deadline of some kind and that the pieces themselves tend to require only a day or two of thinking has been useful in that regard in that the tangible product comes pretty quickly after the Not Writing.

What has also been true this summer is that I have, finally, been able to start editing my documentary, and the fruitlessness of sitting in front of the computer monitor without a notion of what to do is so obvious that I have been much more willing to give myself permission to Not Write than I have in the past with more traditional projects like journal articles or conference papers. If you feel like you need to, you can always just start writing prose to ‘get something done’, and that’s mostly harmless. However, as much as digital has turned film editing into a reversible and experimental process, there are still more elements in play than there are in wordprocessing, and messing with footage just because you feel like you need to do something can create more work in the long run, and the work involved in piecing together a segment or scene is such that it isn’t worth doing unless you have some intent to actually use what you’re working on. As a result, I know much more clearly with the film work that I need to leave things alone for stretches at a time than I did in the past with papers, book chapters, etc.

As Crazy notes in the second linked entry, one problem with Not Writing is that it is, despite outward appearances, an activity, one that requires your attention. Just because you’re Not Writing does not mean that you can effectively do something else. It interferes with leisure activities, I disengage from others or from things like books and TV, and I find almost impossible to start writing one one thing while I’m actively Not Writing on another.

When I’m Not Writing I usually need to walk or run, without poor Coco if I’m really deep into working something through. I’ll walk around the house or the yard. Sometimes I can casually throw the ball for Dinah and hang out with the dogs outside. Rebecca Solnit writes in Wanderlust (Penguin, 2001) about how walking can be a way of seeming or feeling productive to others when you’re ‘just’ thinking, but, as she also notes, movement can help some people’s brains get working. That seems to be true for me.

Of course, blogging again maybe a way of Not Writing that involves writing, insofar as Not Writing can involve short, fragmentary forms of actual writing like taking notes, but I think that writing a blog requires enough attention of its own that I’m not sure I use it to Not Write in the same way that I use walking or running, at least not unless I am actually writing about something that I’m Not Writing about.

In any case, the start of Fall term is coming and there won’t be much time for writing or Not Writing.

New blog, new home

Welcome, readers. This is my inaugural entry on A Weird Fish (see the About page for an explanation of the title).

My previous blogs have been hosted on TypePad, a service I still use for my classes at Western Oregon and other professional pursuits (see below). After a year off from blogging, I decided to start again on WordPress, largely because I want to keep my own blogging separate from what I do with my classes. I also have reason related to design options, but those were secondary considerations.

A major reason I stopped blogging is that Anne-Marie, my wife, and I became parents to an eleven, now twelve, year old daughter. I needed to cut something from my queue, and blogging was the obvious thing to go. I have been feeling lately that I wanted to get this writing space back, in no small measure because I am reaching a point in a major project where I think there is value in sharing with others.

I also like the community aspect of blogging, especially they way it allows me to find and connect with colleagues at other colleges and universities. My university is relatively small and focused on undergraduate education, and, as a result, I have found blogs and other social media to be useful in expanding the circle of people from whom I can learn and with whom I can share professional experiences and development.

Not much of a mission here, I know, but there it is nonetheless.