The Spyder

Spyder Spyder, in the night
Dressed up for a spooky fright;
What potion gave you eight long legs,
And eight awful, googly eyes?

Cotton candy cobweb trails,
Like sticky, gossamer pink tails,
Unwind behind you down the street
As you go out for trick-or-treat.

How do you run on just two legs?
Who knocks on doors for sweets and begs?
And when your eight eyes start to blink
Who’s the one whose heart will sink?

With your pincer chelicerae
Candy now becomes your prey.
What chocolate, candy corn, or gum
Will you, this dread night, overcome?

What I Learned About the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Earth Edition

This year I’m adventuring with Douglas Adams’ science fiction series, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I just started the fifth book in the “increasingly misnamed trilogy.” I now appreciate just how handy a towel can be, and I share in the relief that “DON’T PANIC,” is written in reassuring letters on the cover of the encyclopedic tome that gives the series its name, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

During one of our recent reading sessions, my husband noted that The Hitchhiker’s Guide is a precursor to a modern technology so ubiquitous it has become a household word: Wikipedia is essentially a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Criticism of collaborative knowledge repositories abounds, but no matter the pros and cons of Wikipedia, there’s no doubt its presence has changed our reality.

As I researched the parallels between Wikipedia and the science fictional Hitchhiker’s Guide, I learned that author of the series, Douglas Adams, actually founded an online collaborative encyclopedia based on the Guide. Here is his vision statement of what he hoped to create with the Earth Edition of the Hitchhiker’s Guide:

“A collaborative guide, one that was written and kept up to date by the people who use it, in real time.”

He also wanted to h2g2.com to be:

“A place to share knowledge and celebrate the things you love by writing about them.”

Adams’ vision became a reality in 1999, two years before the launch of Wikipedia.

It’s so cool to look back and see what science fictional technologies have now become part of our everyday lives. But it’s a rare thing, indeed, to see an author reach beyond his fictional creation and bring his ideas into the practical world.

htg2.com has had its ups and downs, and its inspirational founder is no longer alive. But The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Earth Edition is still up and running. Recent entries include The Beatles Blue Album and The Potato Dumpling War of 1967. htg2.com looks like a wonderful source to learn all kinds of things I never even knew I didn’t know.

V-Day But No Me Day

Candy hearts, cardboard hearts, cartoon hearts on TV: thudump, thudump. The fourteenth isn’t just V-Day, it’s my birthday. Only a few more hours to go. Will Mom remember her promise?

I’ve left hints. Doodled paw prints on my homework, dived into dog videos on YouTube, perused puppy training tomes.

I dig out Candy’s old leash from the kitchen junk drawer. Nothing left of Candy but this leash and her photo in a silver paw print frame. Now she’s gone, I walk around like a vampire. Stake in my heart. The stake never comes out. I never go poof, I’m walking dust.

The only thing that could save me from being the undead is a puppy.

Mom promised a new dog for my birthday. That was way back in April. Does she remember? Is my birthday even happening this year?

No party plans, no presents beneath Mom’s bed. It’s like my birthday’s papered over in pink and red. I’m forgotten amid chocolate, roses, cheesy valentines. V-Day’s happening, sure, but no me day.

It’s all a ruse. Must be. Part of the big surprise. I’ll wake to a wriggly fur ball squirming on the quilt. Hot, wet tongue. My vampire days done.

Counting down to birthday morning in achey, stakey undead heartbeats: thudump, thudump.

Candy Corn Soup

“Can we go, now?” Alexa asks.
“After dinner,” Mom says, straightening Alexa’s witch hat.
Shadows lengthen, almost trick-or-treat time. Dad’s still at the office. Mom, at her laptop, hasn’t even started dinner.
So Alexa cooks.

Candy Corn Soup:

1 Jack-o’-lantern cauldron
2 cups cider
1/2 can pumpkin puree
1 bag chocolate chips
1 bag candy corn
gummy worms to taste

Surround cauldron with thirteen flickering LCD candles. Stir with long wooden spoon. Serve in upside down skulls.

Bang! Frankenstein’s monster slams through the door, holding a pizza box. It’s Dad!
“Trick-or-treat,” he says.

Two Star Treks and Some Trolleyology

Would you throw the fat guy off the bridge?

This fall there’s a new Star Trek streaming in my living room. I had great fun watching the original Star Trek and one or two of its reboots, so of course I was excited to check out Star Trek Discovery. We also tried The Orville, a new Star Trek-inspired series billed as a comedy, which surprised us by having real conflict in its episode plot structure.

Whether the take is epic drama or smart comedy, both these current Star Trek-inspired shows share a recurring theme: how people of different ethnic backgrounds can live in a united society without losing their cultural identity.

The original Star Trek explored the possibility of different cultures, represented by alien species, moving from isolation and misunderstanding to coexisting in peace. In 2017 multiculturalism is hardly a science fictional concept. Storytellers today are concerned with the conflict between defending traditional cultures and forming a universal (global) society with shared ethics and values.

Star Trek Discovery approaches this sticky conundrum via the Klingons. The Klingons detest the Federation, most specifically they loathe their motto: “we come in peace.” To the Klingons, the Federation is an organization that wipes out proud ethnic cultures by assimilating them into their juggernaut monoculture. The Klingons will fight to the death to maintain isolation from the Federation and maintain their traditional way of life.

A recent Orville episode took on cultural integrity from a different angle. An Orville crew member from an all-male species asked to perform a sex change on his “mutant” daughter. Human leadership on the Orville recoiled with outrage. Parents of the mutant female child called cultural hegemony. They insisted their cultural heritage deserved to be honored.

The Orville episode got down and dirty with how, exactly, our values originate. It immediately brought to mind The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt, which I read earlier this year.

Then during a discussion between the Captain and his First Officer, Captain Ed dug deeper, asking whether our innate sense of right and wrong can be trusted.

“Trolleyology!” I shouted to the characters on screen.

One way philosophers prod the borders of morality is with a conundrum called the Trolley Problem. Trolleyologists explore a variety of imaginary moral dilemmas to show that, no matter how hard we reason and justify, there comes a point where all we can say is that something “feels right” or “feels wrong” in our gut.

But what happens when those “gut instincts” contradict each other, even within  the same person? Yikes!

The Trolley Problem by Thomas Cathcart is a great deep dive on these very real contradictions. Would you throw the fat man off the bridge to save fifty innocent people?

Your answer isn’t important, but how you get there, is. I would say the same of the Star Trek Discovery and Orville episodes. Ultimately who wins the conflict isn’t all that interesting. But the questions raised in the process definitely piqued my interest.

Why Moana Didn’t Make Me Cry

I cry at movies. On our first movie date, I startled my future husband with a teary breakdown in the theater that has gone on to become family legend.

We were watching Toy Story 2.

In my defense, movies entertain by causing us to experience a whole range of alternating emotions: joyful, fearful, happy, sad.

It’s summer vacation, time to catch up on the laughs and tears we’ve missed over the past year. We started our summer movie binge with last summer’s Disney hit, Moana. The movie was visually stunning: amazing graphics, mythic symbolic imagery. Reminiscent of Aladdin, Disney used the demigod, Maui (instead of the Genie), to poke fun at its in-house conventions.

But Moana didn’t make me cry. Not one single tear, not a sniffle from the lady who had to hide her tears from the six-year-old sitting beside her during Frozen. My emotional engagement with Moana was the minimal possible to hold my interest in the story. And, after several listens to the Moana soundtrack, only one song sticks with me:


This song embodies the classic Disney trope, the protagonist who has a dream, and the movie portrayed Moana’s dream well. She was a reverse Little Mermaid: girl on land longs to explore the ocean, instead of girl in the ocean longs to explore the land.

But a character’s dream is not the whole story. In the course of following that dream, the protagonist  forms a deep, personal connection with someone he or she truly loves.

Moana had the dream. But she never made the personal connection.

In the Little Mermaid, Ariel has a passion for life on land, but doesn’t sell out kin and kingdom for legs until she falls in love with a human prince. Street rat, Aladdin, wants to be somebody, but only impersonates a Prince to rescue Princess Jasmine. Though Frozen seemed to eschew Disney formula romance, it’s actually the most touching love story of the three: the love between two sisters. The possibility that Elsa would fail to save Anna ripped my heart in two.

Threatening the personal connection between the protagonist and the character they love is what brings an audience to the edge of its seats. It’s what makes me cry. It’s what Moana was missing.

Moana did an awesome job using imagery to depict the mythic tale of a heroine adventuring at sea. But the character fell flat. We were given mere sketches of how Moana felt about her place in the community she left behind. Only the most tenuous student-mentor connection was formed on her journey. There was never any question where her ultimate loyalty would lie.

It’s the perfect movie to watch if you ever run out of tissues.

 

Days of Future Passed

Not only is 2017 the 50th anniversary of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, it’s the 50th anniversary of Days of Future Passed by the Moody Blues. The Moody Blues is on tour to celebrate the anniversary, and I was so excited when my husband got us great last minute seats to see them perform!

Coming from a classical music background, I hear Days of Future Passed as a luscious orchestral tone poem. I wasn’t sure what kind of experience I’d have with the band playing live to a recorded orchestra.

The combination of hearing the band play live, and watching the graphics they chose to display on the big screen behind them, gave me a whole new understanding of several songs on the album. When “Evening” played, I saw images of commuters on a busy street. As the commuters navigated the crowds, the two percussionists on stage drummed out a military march. I suddenly had a whole new perspective on the track, I could hear all the good people of the world marching from the daily grind at the office toward home. Next, “Twilight Time (Evening)” struck me as far more psychedelic than it ever had before. I also loved that the band included a live flute player, who drew together the themes from the different parts of the day. And I experienced how fully the vocal drives the beauty and longing of “Nights in White Satin.”

2017 has been the year I really delve into learning more about 60’s pop and rock, and the more I learn about music of that time, the more I love it. Turns out I couldn’t have picked a better year to be enthused about the great albums from this era!

Orange Marmalade v. Buffy the Vampire Slayer

What does Buffy the Vampire Slayer, an American series that ran from 1997-2003 have in common with Orange Marmalade, a Korean drama that ran a total of 12 episodes 2015? Quite a lot, actually.

Both are shows about vampires. They feature a female protagonist supported by strong ensemble cast. Both are about high school students, and get into the angst and trauma of contemporary school life. Yet important parts of the story unfold centuries in the past. Music sets the tone of each show, and neither would be the same without its focus on live performance.

But here’s the big difference: in Orange Marmalade, the protagonist doesn’t kill vampires, she is a vampire.

Pretty KPop star, Kim Seol Hyun, makes a very sympathetic vampire. Like Angel from BtVS, she doesn’t want to hurt humans. In fact, she’s falling in love with one. Unlike Angel, Seol Hyun’s character is not alone. In Orange Marmalade vampires are an oppressed minority who hide their identities to avoid persecution by anxious humans. People are nervous coexisting with vampires, who are stronger, faster, and healthier, who drink blood, and can be kick ass fighters when they choose.

Although Orange Marmalade and BtVS were created a world away from each other, over a decade apart, and the audience comes to sympathize with different sides of the conflict, the two shows hold common ground when it comes to theme. Vampire, human, Korean, American- the characters in both these dramas struggle to break out of isolation and form close attachments. Facing up to life’s problems, whether evil vampire attacks or school bullying, is possible only so long as a close band of friends can form and stick together.