Thursday, December 31, 2009

Best of 2009

On the last day of the year, its time for my Best of 2009 list. The following represents my top choice in books, quotes, music, television, movies and acting. These selections were the ones that most moved me, made me laugh, inspired new thinking, or just hit me in the right way to say, "WOW!" Enjoy! Oh...and have a happy and safe New Year's! See you in 2010.

Best Book

Our Choice by Al Gore

A continuation of ideas presented in 2006's An Inconvenient Truth, with actual solutions to inspire a complete revolution in how we live our lives that lessens our impact on the environment.


Best Quote

"How about in honor of the troops, ya' stop makin' things up!" -- Sarah Palin

She said this in her resignation speech to reporters that she felt made up lies about her and played "gotcha!" games about the nonsensical stuff she says. She's like a character from a Dr. Seuss book. Only funnier. My second favourite quote is also from Sarah Palin: "Only dead fish go with the flow." Actually, Sarah, if you live your life right, its supposed to "flow." Living in the flow is not a dead fish.

Best Song

"Love Song" by Sara Bareilles

No other pop song captured my fancy all year than this highly addictive love song. Even Michelle Obama mentioned this song to reporters as an example of current music she listens to.


Best Album

This Is It by Michael Jackson

Though this is practically a re-recording of his classic hit songs, with only one new song, I was disappointed in the big release by U2 and Taylor Hicks' follow-up to his first post-American Idol album. The only other albums I listened to the most were all holdovers from last year or greatest hits CDs (by Jericho Road, Toto and ABBA). Since Michael Jackson passed away this year, I decided why not give him the honour of another Best Album?

Best Television Series

Mad Men

I'm slow to discover this show, but I'm hooked. No other show comes close to the intrigue, dialogue, style, acting, and storylines as this one. This one has "WOW" all over it!

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Zoe Saldana, Star Trek

Granted, its not much of a role, but she looked really good and left me wanting to see more. I hope her role gets expanded in the sequel. Let's see what she can do. After all, if Star Trek is set in the 23rd century, its reasonable to expect that a woman might be running the show. Why should Captain Kirk and Spock have all the fun?

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Alessandro Nivola, Coco Before Chanel

I've seen Alessandro act with a British accent and now he speaks French in a movie? With his very Italian name, he represents our multinational world. Besides that, he did a great job in the role of an Englishman whom Coco Chanel falls in love with.

Best Actress

Audrey Tautou, Coco Before Chanel

I'm a huge fan of Audrey Tautou, what can I say? She did a phenomenal job as Coco Chanel, the fashion pioneer who changed the clothing style women wear (emphasizing comfort instead of the restrictive but elaborate clothing that served to present women as mere decorations to men). The movie is kind of dull, but Audrey is spectacular and charming.

Best Actor

Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker

I never heard of this actor before, but when I saw The Hurt Locker, I was completely blown away. He plays a professional and competent soldier whose job is to defuse bombs in war-torn Baghdad. He is so dedicated to his job that he will risk death just to finish the job and thus spare lives rather than call it quits and allow the device to blow up, sending shrapnel in all directions for innocent people to be hit with. Watching him on screen, one does feel the tension his job carries, and how that accumulated stress affects him outside of work. Most heartbreaking of all is seeing him deal with the feelings regarding pesky Iraqi kids who befriend GIs and what may happen to them because of the friendship. Though I also enjoyed George Clooney's and Morgan Freeman's performances in Up in the Air and Invictus, respectively, there was no better acting performance this year than Jeremy Renner's. I hope he gets a Best Actor nomination at Oscar time.

Best Director

Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker

I have no idea who this director is, but she did an amazing job with one of the best films of the year. Her film about the Iraq War is certainly the best one made so far and joins ranks with some of the best war films of all time. Its truly an amazing accomplishment. I don't think even Oliver Stone could have made The Hurt Locker any better than it is.

Best Motion Picture

Up in the Air

I reviewed this movie earlier this month, so you can read the blog post for that in case you're wondering my thoughts on the film. Essentially, I thought it was tone perfect and very much the film of our current national experience. It says a lot about our country and where we might go in these difficult times. More than that though, its about a person who avoids personal relationships in favour of the job he loves, then finds himself allowing to fall in love and how that affects his life and job afterwards. Its a powerful film, with some humour, great acting, and interesting cinematography (we see huge swatches of America and its cities from the air).

A list of my Nine Favourite Films of 2009 appears on the sidebar, for those who are curious.

Here's to a great year in music, movies, television, and books for 2010. I'm already looking forward to the two films on the Beat Generation next year (one is about the obscenity trial surrounding Allen Ginsberg's Howl and the other about the murder of a gay stalker that Jack Kerouac was found complicit in for attempting to hide the murder weapon). Memo to Hollywood: more biopics! Also due next year, a movie about life in the Green Zone, based on the book that I had read this year, which made me excited to experience it for myself (we'll see in 2010 if I find a contractor position).

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Reviewing My Decade

In honour of my 38th birthday today, I'm going to present the highlights of my life from each year in this Decade of Disaster. There were some bright spots, but as far as achieving the three goals I had set for myself (career, published novel, and marriage), I was a complete failure. Thus, those three goals carry over into the new decade and I promise you, I will be successful in this new decade.

Each year features a photo of me taken in that year. Without further delay...here are some of what I've experienced in this now-ending decade. I'm so relieved that its over, so I can finally put it all behind me. I will take all the lessons learned and apply them to new situations over the course of the next year and decade.

2000

The year and decade began with so much progress: I was a White House Intern assigned to Vice President Gore's legislative affairs office in the U.S. Capitol building. I couldn't ask for a better set-up than that! Gore was the person I most wanted to work for and when I applied for internships, I struggled between wanting to experience both the White House and the Congress. This internship gave me all three experiences: working for Gore, working within the Executive Branch, and seeing the U.S. Senate up close and personal for four months. In terms of personal highpoints...this experience ranks right up there with my Navy Basic Training experience in 1991. Nothing else I experienced in the decade to follow comes close to the four months of bliss I experienced on my Washington Seminar.

Besides the internship, living with fellow BYU interns in the same apartment complex in Alexandria, Virginia and hanging out after work and on weekends really made for a "MTV's The Real World" experience...without the intrusive cameras. We had drama, debates, laughs, and friendships (as well as a few people I couldn't stand). I almost did not want to stay in the BYU leased apartments, but I'm glad that I did. I bonded with five fellow Seminarians through the course of that semester.

The greatest honour, though, has to be serving as Nathan's Best Man at his June wedding in Williamsport, PA. I was surprised and honoured when he had asked me, since he had three brothers, but I couldn't say no to that...even if I had doubts about his fiancee and his "rush" to marriage. The photo above shows me performing as one of the "Blues Brothers" during "Soul Man." Nathan's brother Joel was the other Blues Brother and he totally upstaged me with his wild man antics. I'm just grateful that I did not have to dress up in the chicken suit for the chicken dance. People did like my Best Man speech, though the mother-in-law kept giving me the evil eye because she wanted it to be less than a minute. I think I kept it under four minutes, but my goal was to make people laugh and then say "awww" about my thoughts on the couple. Succeeded on both counts.

Other events that year: left D.C. on July 24th after failing to find a job and running out of money (a church member gave me $50 to make it back to Atlanta with); taking my first lie detector test for a job at GBI (it was scary, but I passed!); the ten year high school reunion, where I had some good laughs with the guy who bullied me in Junior year and part of Senior year; and I spoke to students in my former history teacher's class about the military, college, and interning in the White House (most of the students' questions were about how the G.I. Bill worked and what Monica Lewinsky was like!).

Each year, I like to do something new or discover something new. In 2000, I discovered the music of Keb Mo by happenstance (the Discovery Channel store at D.C.'s Union Station happened to be playing "A Better Man" while I walked past and my ears couldn't resist the funky blues that emanated from that store). I also started writing my long planned novel based on my Navy experiences, partially as a way to not think about the stolen election.

I ended the year visiting my best friend Nicholas, who was stationed at an Air Force Base in central Georgia, which was about a two hour drive from Atlanta. We crashed some college's 80s New Year's party that was kind of boring. At least the music brought back fond memories of our junior high school days. It was also great that my best friend and I were living in the same state again.

2001

This year began the search for a better job after realizing that I did not want to share a cubicle with a fundamentalist woman (she was Assemblies of God, a religion I really do not like at all). I also pursued Internet dating and met an interesting lady, though it didn't work out. My new discovery this year were Numerology and Jack Kerouac. In fact, I had avoided reading Kerouac for years, despite the "voice" inside my head whispering "read Kerouac, read Kerouac!" each time I'm in a bookstore. I have no idea why, but as soon as I read the first biography (by Tom Clark), I was stunned by how much Kerouac and I had in common (way we see the world, our personalities, even some common experiences). Thus began my decade-long fascination with reading every book by and about Kerouac that I could get my hands on, and buying products featuring Kerouac on eBay (my favourite: a limited edition Kerouac bobblehead).

Also this year, I had the most amazing spiritual experience on August 22nd, which lasted in intensity for two weeks. Some might call it an "enlightenment experience" while others would call it euphoric bliss. I understood why people took drugs...they wanted to experience what I was able to do without use of any drugs. I don't know why or how I was able to have this blissful feeling, and I have been wanting to experience it again all decade long but never came close, so I consider it a gift from the spiritual realm. The timing was right for it to happen when it did.

Around the same time as that experience, I finally found a job that paid a living wage and offered benefits and more vacation days than my long-term temp assignment at GBI. With the increase in pay, I was able to afford my own apartment, which was a dream a long time in coming. In October, I finally moved into my own place in the center of Buckhead, the most happening neighbourhood in Atlanta. I loved living in Buckhead. The energy was very good.

At the end of the year, I turned 30. Nicholas came up from Middle Georgia to help me celebrate the day, where we saw The Fellowship of the Rings. His visit made it a great birthday.

2002

This was the year that my car died: a 1991 Saturn SL1 that I had bought in 1996. It served me well...going all the way to Vancouver BC and up to Williamsport PA. I looked into buying a 2002 Hyundai Accent, but the dealer said that I needed to make $5,000 a year more than what I was being paid in order to secure a loan. I could've looked at used cars, but with my income, I realized that having a car and the expense of it all (car payment, insurance, repairs, and gasoline) would mean no vacations for me. Since I'm the expert at traveling on the cheap, I'd much rather live without a car than live without a vacation. A coworker thought I was crazy to live without a car, but he didn't like to travel so he didn't understand the predicament of my choice. Sure, if I made enough money to afford both a car and to go on vacations every year, I'd have both...but I couldn't, so I had to choose one or the other. Travel won. Travel always wins.

At the end of summer, my office moved away from downtown into a new building in Cobb County. While I loved the new building and all that space, I was not happy about the commute from Buckhead to Cobb County. It required two separate bus systems and going out of the way, which resulted in anywhere from an hour to ninety minutes of waiting and commute time when the distance was less than five miles from my apartment to the office building.

The highlight of my year, though, was that I was planning a trip to Boston on Amtrak when I got the urge to call family friend Frank, who lived in South Carolina. It turned out that he had a cousin who lived near Boston who had just given birth to a 12-pound baby boy that Frank wanted to meet. Traveling together in his car made it much cheaper than it would have been had I gone up there alone. This also fulfilled a dream of mine: going on a roadtrip with a good friend of mine. Of course, my dream roadtrip involved Nathan, but Frank made a good substitute. He's extroverted and fun to hang out with. His personality is such that he could bring me out of my normally reticent shell.

What made this trip adventuresome was that his car was old and about to die at any moment. Frank was a retired mechanic in the USMC, so he knew all the quirks of his car's engine that he had no fear of anything bad happening. The biggest problem is that the car had an overheating problem, so we could never let the car's temperature get above a certain point on the thermostat. We were driving in the heat of early August. Thus, we couldn't run the A/C very often. Because Frank suffers from Gulf War Syndrome and has a pacemaker, the heat will make him pass out. So...we had to monitor all these things on that long trip up north on the always busy I-95 (its pretty much heavy traffic from Richmond VA to NYC). Since we were going on a budget, we wanted to avoid toll roads and bridges. We hit NYC during Friday evening rush hour traffic in the middle of a torrential downpour. That was pretty scary driving, so I insisted that Frank drive that portion.

The trip was awesome, as I got to see all that I had planned to see: Walden Woods, Concord, the Revolutionary War sites in Boston, the JFK library, Harvard, Boston Common, and Lowell (where Kerouac grew up). I also achieved a childhood dream with this vacation: I finally made it to states #49 and 50 (Connecticut and Rhode Island). I beat my dad in having set foot on all fifty states and I did it before turning 31. On the way back from Boston, we drove out to Amityville on Long Island to see if we could feel a "demonic presence" in the famous haunted house. Well, we had a hard time finding it until the mail lady pointed out the house. The owners got rid of the creepy looking windows, so that's why it was easy to miss. Then it was on to Manhattan for six hours, where we saw Ground Zero, Wall Street, and walked all the way to Times Square, which feels like the center of the universe. After the trip, Frank tried to see if he could fix my car, but even that was beyond his mechanical skills. The best thing this trip did, though, was make Frank a really close friend. I considered him a family friend before, but there's nothing like a road trip to bond you to people.

2003

This year began for me under a fireworks emblazoned sky in New Orleans. I had wanted to visit this unique American city for years and with my sister saying that it was in danger of being destroyed in a hurricane, I knew I had to make it a priority to see. After Katrina hit two and a half years later, I was so glad that I visited it when I did. Its a fun city with a cool vibe. I like the mix of cultures: French, Cajun, Caribbean, African, Catholicism, and of course...Voudou (Voodoo / Santeria). The food was excellent, the architecture very pleasing to the eye, and the music on street corners just amazingly sweet. I had spent my 31st birthday in New Orleans and New Year's Eve. I caught an early morning New Year's day bus back to Atlanta and upon returning to my home city, I just felt a big "ug!" Compared to New Orleans, Atlanta just seemed bland to me. I often had this feeling about Atlanta after the trips to Boston, NYC, New Orleans, and San Francisco.

Also this year, I attended a Spiritual Journaling retreat sponsored by my church in McDavid, Florida (near Pensacola), I was named the Employee of the Quarter, and I volunteered on the Georgia for Dean campaign. My fall vacation was to visit relatives in the Twin Cities and Nathan's family in Mason City, IA. A long-lost step-cousin had recently sent a letter to me via my grandparents, so I responded and made arrangements to visit her while I was in the Twin Cities. That turned out disasterous, as it was over Halloween and it was nonstop go-go-go from one activity to the next. I didn't get a chance to visit the family and have a good conversation. I felt that she was using me to show off to her in-laws and friends that she did have relatives she wasn't ashamed to introduce them to. She's not really a relative, though. Her mother married my uncle in the early 1980s, so we met as young teens. The last straw for me was when she helped her sister go through old junk in the house. Her older sister was insulting of my uncle and I had enough of it and called up my former D.C. roommate (who was attending the University of Minnesota with his wife and was the next group I was visiting during that vacation) to see about going to his place earlier than planned.

What I learned from this experience is that I don't like being trapped and I hate depending on people for rides. I did not feel comfortable around my step-cousin's older sister (who decided to live with her father when her mom married my uncle). I told her that my uncle wasn't the problem, that no one liked her mother (this is all well known and agreed upon by everyone, including my step-cousins), so my uncle is seen as a kind of "saint" in our family for putting up with her when no one else could stand being in the same room with Aunt Marie. I was glad to leave them early and spend time with my former roommate and his wife. The contrast in vibes and tension was pretty stark. The visit pretty much killed off my interest in maintaining contact with my former cousin. She and I used to be great penpals during our adolescence and young adulthood, but I guess time has revealed that we have little in common.

2004

This year, I achieved another long-sought experience: attending Sunday School at the Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia when former president Jimmy Carter was preaching. This happened on the same Sunday that Vermont Governor Howard Dean was a special visitor in the lead up to the Iowa Caucus. He had hoped to get Carter's endorsement a few days before the critical caucus, thinking it would influence Iowa voters. Well, we all know what happened after Iowa. Still, it was pretty cool to hear the former president give a lesson on the trials of Job, and to meet both Dean and the Carters after church.

The commute from Buckhead to work each day took a huge toll on me, so I decided to move into an apartment within walking distance to work. It had never been my dream to live in Cobb County (I'm a DeKalb and Fulton County boy at heart). I thought this was the thing that would improve my life, so I made the move. I did like that I got a two bedroom apartment for not much more than I had paid for a one bedroom in Buckhead. However, I missed the vibe of Buckhead. Smyrna felt like I had been banished to outer darkness. It was a typical suburb: car dependent. Though I had plenty of diverse restaurants, grocery stores, movie theaters, Borders, Barnes and Noble, Best Buy, and even a mall all within a forty minute walk from my apartment and work, I still missed the life I lived in Buckhead. I would've probably stayed at my last job if it had moved into an office building near Decatur, which was where I really wanted to live. Decatur matches my vibe and its the county seat of DeKalb.

Johnny Clegg toured the U.S. and Canada this year and I was able to get backstage passes again (as I did in on his last tour in 1996). When I presented him with one of my Utah license plates (which was personalized with "SAVUKA"), he immediately remembered me as the guy who gave him the personalized Virginia license plate at the 1996 concert. That was pretty amazing.

I attended a church service that used the former Gold Club (a gentleman's strip club that was put out of business). I loved this surreal experience...though the church was typical for non-denominational Christianity. For me, the selling point was that they used the building where men once came to see women dance around poles (the poles were still there). I love how people can reinvent new uses for old buildings (such as a church converted into loft condos).

For vacations, I visited my old friend from Basic Training in Davenport, IA over the Fourth of July holiday and met his girlfriend (whom he married in 2006); and over election day, I went to San Francisco with a week jaunt up to visit my brother in Portland. This trip reminded me how much I loved the west and put the seed into me that it was time to prepare to move out west in 2006. The biggest accomplishment for me was finishing my novel on December 22nd. It came to 209,013 words (698 pages). I was shocked by how much I wrote (my goal was 500 pages), but I was relieved that it was finally finished and that I could begin the editing process and queries to agents. I thought for certain that it would be published before the decade ended. Thus, a disappointment.

2005

This was the year that the scandal hit my office about the ongoing membership fraud. The local Fox affiliate did a special investigative report that was fair on the first day but an outright lie on the second day. They had claimed that people were promised free Braves baseball tickets just for signing up their children in the program. One lady interviewed had a son who was too young to join. I was the one handing out the free tickets and we had A LOT of free tickets, but the demand was greater than anticipated so we ran out. Fox made it sound like we failed to deliver on our promises. Also, the voucher that people had to turn in stated quite plainly that supplies were limited, to get the tickets while they lasted. Aside from that, the truth was that fraud was committed, to the tune of 30,000 fake youth (in an officially quoted membership tally of 80,000 youth). That's a huge percentage of membership that was fake. The head guy resigned and no one seemed too sad to see him go (I didn't like him, as I thought he was too much the smirking good ol' frat boy like our president). I was sad to see my supervisor decide to change careers, though I knew it was bound to happen. He was my bellwether: when he left, I would make plans to exit, too. He just did it a year earlier than I planned to leave.

Also this year was a family reunion centered around my cousin Michael's high school graduation. I hadn't been to Atchison, KS since 1996 so it was good to return. It was hard to see my grandmother, though, who could not remember me and did not talk much. Seeing her in this condition was very emotionally difficult for me. I always loved how she asked me questions about my life and wanted to know everything. She was someone I was very comfortable sharing details about the events and experiences of my life with. To see her body, but know that she wasn't fully present was sad. As difficult as it was, I was glad that I got to see her then, because she passed away in October. I was the only one of her descendants to speak at her funeral. None of her five sons nor her other grandchildren wanted to say anything because they didn't think they could without breaking down. I felt that this was the least I could do for my grandmother.

My vacation in the fall was to the Peace Colloquy sponsored by my church in Independence MO and then to visit my best friend Nicholas in the Saint Louis area. I got to meet his girlfriend, who was hinting quite obviously that she wanted an engagement ring (she put a big plastic "diamond" ring on top of his counter). Not that my opinion mattered much, but she won a ringing endorsement from me. I told Nicholas that she was definitely "a keeper." On this trip, I really enjoyed seeing the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. That is truly one unforgettable experience. No other presidential library and museum comes close (sorry JFK!).

2006

This year began with my cousin Michael's suicide, which happened around the time of my tenth anniversary of getting out of the Navy. It was heartbreaking, especially with the circumstances surrounding his decision to end his young life. Because of the timing of this suicide, I could not afford to make his funeral, as much as I wanted to go. As bad as it sounds, had the suicide occurred three or four months later, I would have been able to go. The strangest thing about this suicide, though, is that I had a strong urge to call him on a Wednesday night, but I couldn't find his cell phone number and didn't want to spend time looking for it. Based on info I learned from his parents, he had made desperate calls to priesthood members in church but couldn't find anyone to talk to (they either didn't pick up or they didn't have time). I sometimes wonder if my phonecall might have made the difference. I rarely get a strong urge to call someone, so why didn't I listen to that prompting?

I did quit my job in April to prepare for my move west. I spent the summer at my parents house, sorting through my things and finally taking the Biology course I had failed my last semester at BYU so I could finally get my degree. I really wanted my degree in 2000, and after that failed to come true, I kind of lost interest. People would joke that I was three credits shy of a degree.

In the summer, an old high school friend was gunned down in front of his home, which came as a shock to learn about on the evening news. Even more surprising, I learned that the news was slow in reporting it (a day or two after the tragedy) and he was already buried by the time I learned the news. I would have went to his funeral, had I known. He was a good guy.

At summer's end, I boarded Amtrak for my four day long journey to Portland (via D.C. and Chicago). I had always wanted to see America by rail and this move presented the perfect opportunity. Not only was it actually cheaper to go by rail, but I was also allowed to take more bags with me than an airlines. I was fully loaded with as much as I could stuff into five bags.

I attended my first Young Adult Retreat with the church at Samish Island and met a great group of young adults in the Pacific Northwest. I also saw Cindy Sheehan, Jim Wallis, and Al Gore at various lectures in Portland. I was already living my dream life in Portland in the first four months. I spent my 35th birthday at OMSI, for the special Star Wars exhibit. This was a perfect gift for me.

2007


In January, I began my job search (that has been ongoing for 35 months now). I also got to see Vancouver BC once again. This was the best year in terms of young adult activities with my church...both the members in the Seattle area and the Portland area. We had a retreat at a member's family cabin in the Snoqualmie forest, we had another retreat at a member's mother's house near Mount Saint Helens, and in the fall, we had several events in Portland. This was the year that I also met Christine and the year of the best Young Adult Retreat at Samish Island (when Portland had seven people go up for it).

For my vacations, I took an Amtrak journey to Chicago and attended Nicholas and Jennifer's wedding, which was great. In October, I returned to Utah for the first time since leaving in 1999. It was quite the emotional journey to return to BYU, where I felt the most lonely I've ever felt in my life. The college years were difficult, but I truly did learn a lot and saw how much I had changed in ten years when one lady actually "tested" me by her intolerant comments about my church at a Thai restaurant I used to work at.

I lost my Great Aunt Effie this year. She was like my second grandmother, since I never got to know my maternal grandmother. I also received a job offer to work in Alaska for three weeks of every month. I was so tempted to accept and sometimes regret that I didn't, but the biggest reason was because I had planned to volunteer on political campaigns in 2008 with the hope that it would lead to my career in government. I also wanted to stay involved in the Young Adult groups with my church and spending three weeks of every month on the North Slope of Alaska would not allow that.

The new things I did this year was attend my first anti-war rally (with a sign I had made) and to blog. I actually had no idea what I would blog about, only that I wanted my own blog. Amazing to see the shape its become over the past three years.

2008

This year was amazing in terms of the politics. I volunteered on the Sam Adams for Mayor campaign (instead of the Jeff Merkley for U.S. Senate campaign), met Bill and Chelsea Clinton during their separate visits to Portland to campaign for Hillary, attended the massive Obama rally on a hot Sunday afternoon just a few days before the primaries, attended election night parties (with Christine, who is not political), and volunteered on a campaign for City Council by a candidate who was the same age as me and most likely would've been in my circle of friends had we gone to the same high school together.

As for travel, I was in Spokane and Coeur d'Alene when the biggest snow storm in years hit, thus extending a weekend trip by a few days as we were stranded. I visited best friend Nathan and his wife in San Diego, then took Amtrak back to Portland. I went to Coeur d'Alene again in the summer for my own personal retreat. Then when I learned that my sister got engaged to a guy I haven't met, I decided to make a trip home to meet him long before the wedding as well as to get my things out of storage and reduced. Something new I did was join the Writer's Dojo to be a part of a community of writers, which gives me a place to go and just write in a very cool, zen atmosphere.

My parents came for their Washington and Oregon vacation in October, and we saw quite a bit of the northwestern quarter of the state (from Florence to Astoria, Astoria to Hood River, Mount Hood to Portland). It was a fun vacation. The only one missing was my sister.

The year ends with my Aunt Marie's death (the divorced woman with six children who married my uncle). She was the most unpopular person in our family, so while no one would be vocal about "celebrating" that she's gone, her passing was not difficult to accept. I don't think many in my family miss her at all. She was a strange lady.

2009

Finally, we get to this year. I didn't find a new job this year as I had hoped that I would. While it has not been a great year for me, its also not the worst year I've lived. All I can really say is that I somehow survived.

I was glad to see the end of the Bush nightmare and a new president come into office and slowly right the ship of state back on course. People expecting a miracle this early need to have patience. We'll see where were are in 2012. Don't write off President Obama this early!

In February, I participated with Young Adult groups in two church services in different Vancouvers: British Columbia on the first Sunday and Washington state the last Sunday. One service them was about listening, the other was about seeing. Interesting juxtaposition, I think.

The biggest event of the year was my sister's wedding and the family reunion. While happy for my sister, I also felt like a failure. I'm nine years older than my sister and had hoped to be married by this point in my life. The fact that my life has gone off course in 2000 only contributed to this feeling of frustration in me. For me, I only see marriage as a possibility once I land my career. When I'm working in a place where I see myself working for the rest of my adult life until retirement, then I'm ready to pursue some serious dating that leads to marriage. But, not to spoil my sister's big day, I kept my feelings to myself and participated in the joy the rest of our family shared.

Two weeks after the wedding, my grandfather died. I had lived from 1971 through 2005 without experiencing the death of a close family member (though grandfather's two sister's had died in the late 1990s and early part of this decade). Since 2005, the tally has been five. Thus, why I consider this decade to be the "decade of death." This summer seemed to emphasize that point, as many famous people died: Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, Patrick Swayze, Eunice Shriver, Ted Kennedy, Corazon Acquino, and others.

I also attended another wedding this year, that of two members of MAYAs. Heartbreakingly, it was also the year that Christine got engaged to her long-distance boyfriend, whom I had hoped she would end the relationship with this year after spending so many awesome moments with me. It grieves me to think that I was creating memories with someone else's wife. We had so much fun together and our conversations never got boring. In my sister's wedding, she and her husband had read each other their vows that they had written themselves. My sister said that from the first moment she met Dave, they fell into an easy conversation that she never wanted to end. That's exactly how I feel about Christine from the first moment I met her in May 2007. But like my experience in 2000, this decade ends the same way it began: me falling for a lady I connected with on so many levels, who ends up marrying a European man. This deja vu experience cannot be coincidence. I'm determined to find the meaning of it happening twice to me in the same decade. The reason it frustrates me is because it is hard for me to find a lady I feel a connection with on "all levels" (physical, spiritual, personal, emotional, and to a lesser degree: political).

The new thing I tried this year was being a counselor at a senior high retreat. It was an interesting experience, though I don't think I'm right for that role. My heart keeps calling me towards something international. That's where my true passion lies. I did enjoy Bend Institute this year and learned a lot. That was a great retreat and I was glad to have gone.

What I learned most this year is the power of energy. From my perspective right now, I'm amazed by the absence of two things in my workspace: two negative women. The office fired one in April, which I was relieved that they finally did. She was an emotional mess and truly negative energy. But the biggest negative energy was moved to a different part of the office in August and it made such a huge difference that many people noticed the different vibes they felt in the weeks after the change. In the battle of wills, I WON! I consider it to be the greatest victory of the year. I did something about it to enact the change. Though this year was beset with one financial setback after another, I walk away knowing that the energy we emit makes a huge difference to other people.

The "school marm's" negative energy was so strong that it did make me sick at times. It was overpowering stuff. In case you're wondering if she's changed...no, she hasn't. She's still her negative, toxic self. A week or two ago, she went off on a customer over a simple explanation. A customer had asked me a question and as I was attempting to answer, she interrupted with her belligerent tone and getting even more upset when the person didn't understand what she was saying. She was on the verge of tears and I just had to walk away. What the hell is this woman's problem? She should be grateful they didn't fire her, but if there's still a budget crisis at work next year, I hope they ax her next.

But who cares, right? Because I fully intend to manifest myself a new job in the new year. I want to get this decade of success started off on the right note. My experimentation for 2010 will be to play with the energy vibration and see where they lead.

As for my birthday...Safeway had a sale on lobster tails, so I bought one. I had this for my birthday in 2006, so I look forward to eating this luxury meal once again. Its a definite rare treat (once or twice a decade, it seems). My regular readers probably know what I'll be wishing for when I blow out the candles on my cake. Here's to a year of miracles in 2010.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Traits of a Capricorn

Last week, I came across an interesting link called "Capricorn Fun Facts." I'm not a believer in astrology, so I look at any attempt to classify people by types based on the zodiac to be amusing more than scientific or even reality. However, as I read the description, I was impressed by how much of it describes me. For instance:

"When it comes to professionalism and traditional values, Capricorn wins hands-down. This practical sign loves to tackle life in the most conventional of ways, leaving no stone unturned. Considered the most serious-minded of the signs, the Capricorn possesses an independence that allows for considerable progress both personally and on the job."

Okay...fair description.

Regarding family and friends, the article says:

"Combining a strong wit and a love of humour, the Capricorn makes terrific company for those they choose as friends. They will surround themselves with people who are honest, loyal, and like-minded when it comes to working values. They cherish loved ones and will go any distance to help a friend or family member. Traditional by nature, the Capricorn loves nothing more than holidays, such as Christmas, that bring people together with a variety of activities. Although a Capricorn isn't apt to have a large social circle, those included in this sign's life will find someone who is steadfast and true. Emotional displays are not common for a Capricorn. They would rather show how they feel through deeds than expression with words."

That's pretty true in terms of how I feel about my personality traits. I definitely don't have a large social circle and pride myself on keeping it small and manageable.

For love and relationships, the article states:

"The Capricorn is most often a serious lover, preferring to take things slow and steady. You won't see this sign jumping into anything head-first. Taking relationships one step at a time is the way of the Capricorn. Words can be few with this personality, yet actions speak volumes. The Capricorn values deeds and will go to great lengths to express their affections through them. They're great gift givers and don't bat an eye at the cost of spending a fantastic night nout. Genuine and sincere, you can take what few words a Capricorn does say to the bank."

Interesting. It certainly feels true...since I've always preferred the "slow and steady" approach to developing any relationship. I hate it sometimes, but I know that if I move too quickly, I will often lose interest in the lady who once captured my attention. Sometimes, I wish I did move faster. Certainly with Christine, I should have. I didn't count on some European to hold her in a long distance relationship, though. Maybe its because I don't see myself in a long distance relationship. I don't trust them. You can't get to really know a person unless you're there in the daily details of life. Its easy to create a fantasy about a faraway person being who you imagine them to be. What happens when the fantasy doesn't live up to the reality?

When I got to the part of the article that mentioned who Capricorns are most compatible with, I was shocked to read: Taurus and Virgo. Both Christine and my sister are Taurus and Nathan is a Virgo. No wonder why I get along so great with them. Though this article doesn't mention it, I believe I saw another one that said Sagitarius is also compatible with Capricorns, which Nicholas and Jenet both are. Is there something to this astrology thing, or is it a bunch of hooey? I have been wanting to get my astrological chart done, but they look complex and hard to understand. I like simple.

Despite this intriguing concept about zodiac signs, I'm still not the kind of person who would go up to a lady in a bar and ask what her sign is. I think that's rude. Oh, if they're not one of your compatible signs, do you dismiss them? Why not get to know a person and get a feel for them before one dismisses them based on an astrological sign?


Monday, December 28, 2009

Music Video Monday: Gwen Stefani



Continuing with my Best of the Decade list, for this week's Music Video Monday I have selected my favourite music video of this decade: Gwen Stefani's "4 in the Morning." This was a perfect mix of music and video images for me. I love Gwen Stefani!! I'd love to wake up with her...especially if she looks like that every morning at 4 a.m.! I like the emotions she's able to express with just her pouty face. How can any man "win" a fight with her looking and acting sexy that way?

Other music videos I liked this decade include: "Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out of" by U2, "Walk On" by U2, "Don't Tell Me" by Madonna, "Soak Up the Sun" by Sheryl Crow, "Give Me Your Eyes" by Brandon Heath, and quite a few from Britney Spears: "Oops...I Did It Again" (I love the Barbarella look!!!), "Lucky", "Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman", "Everytime", and "Toxic." But none of them come anywhere close to the brilliance of Gwen Stefani's "4 in the Morning."

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Frustrations With Brother

I woke up Christmas morning from a dream that only caused me pain. I had dreamed that I was helping Christine pack her belongings to move to another country. For some reason, I remember the country being Brazil, not the Netherlands. I certainly did not want to dream about Christine...especially on Christmas Eve. In fact, I did not even want to think about her this Christmas. Not that I'm mad or upset with her...just that she has moved on to a new life and sounds pretty happy in Europe. I support her choice to seek a happy life so while I may disagree with the idea that the Dutch guy is right for her, only Christine is the one who can make that choice for herself.

Anyhow...I'm trying to "get over" Christine...but it doesn't help when I dream about her and feel the same old feelings about her while in my dream state. Will I find another lady as unique and kind and beautiful as her?

To make matters worse, I had invited my brother over for dinner on Christmas. As soon as he walked in the apartment, he noticed a framed photo I have of Nathan and Lisa and said, "You have a picture of Christine and her fiance?" At first, I did not even know what photo he was looking at, but I don't have a photo of Christine in any frame and I don't have a photo of her fiance. To answer questions you may have...yes, I do have photos of my friends and their spouses (and children, for those who have them) in frames decorating my apartment. I figure that if I could have framed photos of famous people like Al Gore, Howard Dean, Barack Obama, Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi, Jack Kerouac, Thandie Newton, Audrey Tautou, Natalie Imbruglia and Julianne Moore hanging on my apartment walls, I can certainly have framed photos of my closest friends and their spouses decorating my apartment. I also have family photos and photos of just me in frames and hanging on walls. My brother doesn't have any framed pictures on the walls of his apartment. He actually seemed surprised that I decorate my apartment this way.

Anyhow, all my brother wanted to talk about was Christine. He kept asking questions about her and I was kind of evasive. Apparently, he discovered that a co-worker knows Christine and in fact gave my brother false information about her. I was mad that my brother insisted that his co-worker was telling the truth, because his "facts" don't match what Christine has told me and she has always been quite honest about her past. My brother has a history of being friends with liars and con-artists. The reason is because he is developmentally disabled, therefore too trusting of people and easy prey for con-artists, especially when it comes to money. Because of this, I've learned that he has always coveted my friends. Even more alarming to me is his fascination with Christine. He only talked with her briefly this summer at the Flicks on the Bricks, but he wanted her phone number and to call her up. I wasn't going to allow that. I've never been one to "share" friends with my brother. Besides, I know that Christine doesn't need him in her life. She and I have known each other for two and a half years. That's two and a half years of great memories of fun times together. What does my brother have with her? A few minutes of conversation. And he's always been the type to mistake a woman's kindness to him as a sign of a deeper attraction.

Even more bothersome, my brother kept prying to see if I was dating someone. Of course I'm not even seriously looking right now. I have more important goals to accomplish early in the new year that need my full attention. Besides, its doubtful that I'll find someone of Christine's calibre anytime soon. I know from past experience that if I mention having a date with a lady, my brother will insist on meeting her, even if its arrangements for a first date. He has no sense at all about stuff like that. There is no way I'd want to have my brother tag along with me on a date or even introduce him to the lady until I'm certain that I want the lady in my life. And if things don't work out, my brother wants the lady's phone number. That's pretty pathetic and of course we end up arguing when I refuse. I actually partially blame my parents for this because all our lives, they've treated my brother (who is 14 months older than me) and I like we were twins. We have little in common, and he has a developmental disability, so its not like people who are my friends automatically want to be friends with him. He can't understand this at all because he probably does see us as one person.

So, that was my annoying Christmas. We did watch a couple movies (Four Christmases, which was typical holiday movie crap with a few funny moments and an overly sentimental message; and my favourite Christmas film of all time: The Preacher's Wife). When he decided to leave after the second movie, he moved to make a hug, but I took a step back and he got insulted. I told him that I'm not a huggy person. He should know this. Our mom knows this. My brother then said that I needed Jesus because believing in Jesus would make me more interested in hugging. Then he had to bring up our family friend Frank, who is extroverted and pretty much hugs everyone (including a guy I suspected was gay in Times Square in New York City, which was confirmed when Frank told me that the guy he hugged only used the opportunity to cop a feel). Its funny that my brother thinks believing in Jesus makes one hug more...but I told him that introverted people like myself are not really touchy with people. I have my sense of space and tend to feel violated when people attempt to hug me. I am more comfortable hugging people I feel close to, but most people should settle for a handshake with me, even though I'm also not a big handshake person.

I was actually relieved when my brother left. Is that bad? I actually prefer my own company than my brother's. I had things I needed to get done. I did get my apartment organized and cleaned on Christmas Day, so that was an accomplishment. As I learn from being with my brother, I'm frustrated that I can't have a real meaningful conversation with him. Its the same conversation every time, going back decades. He asks way too many questions that don't serve as a springboard to an actual conversation. Its more like this: he'll look at my DVD collection and say, "Oh, so you have Minority Report on DVD?" Or, "Is that a George W. Bush bobblehead?" Or, "Is this a picture of our parents?" Its always questions that he knows the answer to already. Pointless! It only made me miss the meaningful, in depth conversations I had with Christine. I really miss that. And her, of course. Moving to Portland was definitely a huge mistake and I need to find a way to get myself out of here. I don't want to have to deal with my brother's neediness for the rest of my life. Yikes!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Writer of the Decade

For the distinction of the best writer who defined this decade, I could come up with no other name than Dave Eggers. Who the heck is Dave Eggers, you ask? Exactly! Where did this guy come from and how did he get so lucky in finding such literary success this decade? I don't think its just my opinion alone, but he truly is the best writer of our generation (by "our", I mean Generation X...those born between 1965 and 1980). If you have not read any of his works, what the hell are you waiting for? An engraved invitation?!? Stop reading this blog right now and go to the nearest bookstore pronto!!! I'll still be here when you get back.

Dave Eggers arrived on the literary scene in 2000 with a highly acclaimed memoir called A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. By highly acclaimed, I mean every damn literary critic seemed to love his book. You could not find a negative review anywhere. Who was this guy to get such a prestige publication on his first book...and a memoir at that? Of course I took notice. I'm always interested in what other writers are doing and how they find their way to literary success. Its inspiring to me because I do feel part of a big fraternity of writers. Writers are born, not made.

Besides a quite lengthy and unusual title, this memoir breaks other conventions. Its also quite funny. Its about how Dave was forced to grow up pretty quick when both of his parents had passed away, leaving him to parent his much younger brother. In their grief, they find their way without parents to guide them and his sense of humour remains intact. An interesting tidbit is that Dave had applied to be on a season of MTV's The Real World and made it to the audition phase. He didn't make it to the final casting, though. MTV's loss. Maybe he's better for it, since most of the Real World alumni haven't amounted to much while Eggers has gone on to be the most famous writer of our generation.

I read this book in 2001 and was blown away by his writing style. He's someone I can't read through quickly because I want to savour his word choices, the way he crafts his sentences, and analyze exactly how he manages to write some of the sharpest prose I've ever had the privilege of reading. He is quite genius in his writing ability. Not bad for a guy who founded his own literary magazine (the very creative quarterly known as McSweeney's) in the 1990s.
The success of Heartbreaking Work... made him financially well off, so what does he do for a follow-up?
He published his first novel, You Shall Know Our Velocity, under his own publishing company (McSweeney's) and only sells them at non-chain bookstores. Self-published works usually never get reviewed by the important literary critics. Eggers breaks the rules and wins again. Not only does his hardcover novel get pretty good reviews, the paperback rights also sell for a nice sum. What a way to create demand for his literary works. This novel is about two guys with some money who decide to travel around the world and give away their "wealth" to people in need. This actually proves much tougher to accomplish than the guys thought. Its a strange novel, but covers an interesting theme about our abundance and the poverty most people on the planet live in and how best to balance the extremes and do good for the world. If I was only a marginal fan before, I became a bigger one after reading this novel. Once again, the prose is some of the best I've ever read. Eggers has an enviable talent, that's for certain.

His next offering was a collection of short stories, called How We Are Hungry, which includes some stories that feature the characters in You Shall Know Our Velocity. Its an interesting morsel of diverse story ideas and characters. Again, it was another self-published book that got critically reviewed in the right papers.

In 2007, right on the cusp of when the Lost Boys of Sudan became the cause celebre of the day, Dave Eggers released his self-published novel, What is the What, based on the life of one particular Sudanese Lost Boy named Valentine. When I was living in Atlanta, I thought about getting involved with the Lost Boys, because the International Refugee Center was always looking for people willing to help refugees resettle to life in America. However, after my car died in 2002, it made life difficult for me to get around in Atlanta so I had to give up my own volunteering for this organization (I had been assigned a family from Bosnia). The Lost Boys got most of the attention, though, due to celebrities like Jane Fonda taking up the cause and films getting made. It would have been awesome to bump into Dave Eggers in Atlanta when he was researching this book. Eggers lives in San Francisco and owns a pirate store and operates a writing center on Valencia Street in the Mission District (which I visited in 2004).

I'm currently reading this book now, after having it for two years. Its been on my must-read list for too long and I'm glad to once again savor the words of Dave Eggers and learn more about these refugees from the ongoing conflict that afflicts Sudan.

This year, Dave Eggers proves once again his brilliance in writing the screenplay and novelization of the classic children's book Where The Wild Things Are. Though the film seems to have faded quick (its at the bargain theaters, in time for Christmas), its a good risk to bring the book most of us have probably enjoyed as children to the big screen. I look forward to seeing the film and reading the novelization soon. Dave's transition to Hollywood collaborative projects actually represents my goals as a novelist. I have about eight novel ideas to write (well, one is already written and looking for an agent) and I would love to colloborate on a film or a few. I'm particularly excited to learn that there will be not one but TWO films next year about the Beat Generation. Its about time! One of them will star Jon Hamm of Mad Men. That's a good sign, in my book.

If Hollywood considers Where the Wild Things Are to be a box office disappointment, I hope it does not hurt future projects Dave Eggers might be interested in. He has an interesting mind, trying to convey the ideas and experiences that many of our generation are talking or thinking about. When you read a Dave Eggers book, it really is hard to return to the fluff of a Nicholas Sparks, John Grisham, or James Patterson novel. Thus why he more than deserves the distinction of BEST WRITER OF THE ZEROES DECADE!

And if a screenplay of a classic children's book and novelization is not enough of a challenge, Eggers also released another book this fall season: Zeitoun, about an Arab American family caught up in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and our USA PATRIOT Act. No one who has read a copy of McSweeney's should be surprised that Eggers is a liberal. With a track record like this, its hard not to honour a guy like Dave Eggers. He is covering the most topical events of our lifetime and doing it in such a literary style that you can't help but acknowledge his genius. Out of all the writers out there, Dave Eggers represents exactly the kind of writer I aspire to be. Some critics have compared him to Jack Kerouac, but there is no comparison. Kerouac was a selfish lout who picked apart his life to create novels...many of little consequence or impact. Eggers has the world as his canvas and he chooses to write about the people that interest him and using his fame to highlight their stories for a broad audience. And he publishes in hardcover with his own publishing company (the paperback is published and released by a major literary house). Eggers never fails to inspire me. If you haven't read one of Eggers' works, please make a point to do so. You will read some of the most clever sentences by the best writer of our generation...and learn something in the process.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Flashback Friday: Christmas in Hawaii

Since Christmas falls on a Friday this year, I decided to highlight the Christmas that still remains as the best one I've experienced. It was Christmas 1997...the year I went to Hawaii for ten days (December 20th through 30th). When I joined the Navy in 1991, Hawaii was the duty station I wanted the most. However, it was not offered on the billet sheet that my YN "A" School class had to choose from. Instead, the Navy offered another island...Sardinia. I didn't even know that we had a military presence on that Mediterranean island. Of course I would select that duty station for my first assignment.

When I got out of the Navy, the Admin Officer tried to scare me with all kinds of horror stories about the civilian world and he said that I wouldn't be able to travel as much when I got out of the Navy. I consider it somewhat ironic or maybe poetic justice that while the Navy did not send me to Hawaii...as a "poor" college student, I paid my own way to Hawaii. One of my best friends, Nathan, had been stationed there for two years at that point and was lonely for family and friends to visit. He kept bugging me about when I'd visit him in Hawaii, so I decided that Christmas was a great time to go.

He wasn't the only one I knew in Hawaii. Family friend Fay was from Hawaii and I had met her mother at the 1996 World Conference in Independence MO. She "adopted" me as a grandson and said I had a standing invitation to stay at her house. Since Nathan lived in a small apartment with a roommate, and he wasn't sure he'd be able to meet me at the airport due to work, I was pleased that Sue met me at the airport with a floral lei. I've always wanted to receive a welcome like that. To my surprise, Nathan showed up at the airport as well, but I had already made arrangements to stay the night with Sue and her husband in Kaneohe (the east side of the island of Oahu). Nathan had a date that night, anyway so all he got was the journal-letter that we sent back and forth. I had probably written twenty pages on the plane so he could have something to read.

Sue's house was small, but I loved it. The picture above was taken from her backyard the next morning (my first full day in Hawaii). Despite the smallness of her house, it actually felt bigger on the inside. Its a simple ranch style, with a basement. It made me realize that I did not want a mansion someday...that I actually prefer the coziness of a smaller home. Maybe it was the pastel colours or the awesome scenery in her backyard that got to me. There was no mistaking that I wasn't in the continental United States. It felt like paradise.

That Christmas, it was fun to hang out with Nathan and have him play tour guide. We must have circled the island of Oahu at least twice. We ate shaved ice at the North Shore, went to the Polynesian Cultural Center located near BYU-Hawaii and took part in the luau and watched the spectacular hula show. He introduced me to a Mormon lady he was interested in, though she had a boyfriend on the mainland. Christmas Eve, we went Christmas caroling with church members at a government housing complex and had a great time. This was the first time I ever heard the Hawaiian Christmas carol: "Mele Kalikimaka." Then, we spent Christmas day at a church member's house out in the boonies. It was surreal. The whole time, it never felt like Christmas to me because I hadn't spent Christmas in the tropics since I was under 4 years old (when my dad was stationed in the Philippines).

Also on this trip, I went to the USS Arizona Memorial, which was a definite must see for me. Nathan refused to go because he hates doing the "tourist thing" (though several years later, his wife was able to get him to out to the Memorial, against his "principles"). We did hike up to the Punchbowl and saw the Cemetery of the Pacific. Other things we did was see a few movies. The first one was the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies. I remember going to the theater and seeing a huge long line and finding it incredible that so many people were waiting to see the James Bond film. I was wrong. Turns out it was the line for Titanic, which I really believed would be a major bomb. Boy was I wrong on that one! We also saw the Kevin Costner post-apocalyptic film The Postman. And we watched Jim Carrey's Liar, Liar on a VCR on his friend's boat. He and I both cracked up over the Carrey line: "I'm kicking my ass!"

All in all, it was a great and relaxing vacation with one of my best friends. He's always fun being around and we have great conversations. He pretty much "earned" a "best friend status" when we were hiking to a waterfall and I pointed out that some girls were checking him out. He responded: "You're wrong, Nick. They're checking YOU out!" We both knew that wasn't true, but it was still funny to hear him insist on that point. That's what a best friend does.

Since Nathan had to work during the day of my last day in Hawaii, which happened to be my 26th birthday, Sue's son John (who lives a few houses over from his parents) and his wife took me on another tour around the island. The pictures above and below were taken on my birthday on the North Shore of Oahu. The weather forecasted huge waves, which I wanted to see, but I didn't really see the large ones as promised. John and his beautiful wife Lori then took me to downtown Honolulu to go on a tour of the State Capitol building, which is the most unique capitol building of all fifty states. Its a square building with a hollow center. The building is supposed to be symbolic of a volcano. Sure beats the granite or marble building with a huge dome.

When I first met Lori, I was struck by how beautiful she was inside and out. She's a Hawaiian, with Japanese heritage, if I'm not mistaken. According to another family friend who knows them, Lori is not used to guys finding her beautiful, which surprised me when I heard that years later. Maybe its just me, because I see people's inner beauty and it does affect their physical appearance. I did tell John that he was a lucky man to have married a lady like her. After these past dozen years, I'm still looking for my Lori. I am a sucker for a multi-ethnic lady where you can't tell where their heritage comes from. I love that kind of look. Too bad I moved to lily white Portland, eh?

The worse part of my Christmas vacation in Hawaii was the return to wintry Utah and a tough second semester at BYU. I had bought a CD of the songs we sang at the Polynesian Cultural Center (songs like "Huki Lau", "Pearly Shells", and the classic "Aloha oe" that one has heard in countless shows like the Brady Bunch's Hawaiian vacation). All winter long, I was missing Hawaii and all the good times there. I met a lot of church folks at various congregations (my favourite congregation name is "Makiki") and even entertained the thought of selling my car and transferring to BYU-Hawaii. When I told Nathan of my plan, in true best friend fashion he told me not to be an idiot. "Where are you going to go, Nick? How many times do you want to drive around this damn island?" He was right about me. The desire to jump in my car and drive a thousand miles across country was something that would be hard for me to give up. Island living may be fun for awhile, but you really are confined in where you can go.

I never had a Christmas quite like it before or since. I loved my Christmases in Germany as a teenager and Italy as a young man. My dream is to visit Australia over the Christmas and New Year's holidays, just to see how weird it feels to be in the middle of summer for this winter holiday I've grown up with.

Wherever you are spending your Christmas, I hope you find new discoveries and things to cherish about what makes your locale special at Christmas time. Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas Eve!

The photos are of Portia, my sister's King Charles Spaniel. She is a really sweet dog. I thought for Christmas Eve, why not feature something cute and cuddly to make you feel a warm glow for the holiday. Let me tell you how sweet Portia is...

I first met her in July 2008, when I went home to Stone Mountain to move my things out of storage and get rid of most of the items I had intended to move out to Portland by U-Haul when I had enough money. I pretty much took over my parents family room, going through box after box, and sorting them into several piles (to mail, to ship via Amtrak, to donate to charity, and to trash). My sister brought the dogs over...Brody the poodle (that my dad calls "very needy"), Portia, and the obnoxious Roxy (my sister's then-fiance / now husband's dog that looks like a Greyhound but isn't). Roxy is hyperactive with a whip-like tail. As I was trying to go through the boxes, Roxy's tail kept whacking me in the face, which I hate. My parent's dog, Phoebe, is a half-Pomeranian / half-Chihuahua. She can be moody at times, even though she's cute and I like bugging her because of the growl she makes as a warning to leave her alone.

Anyhow, as I was sorting through my belongings, the dogs kept running into the room to check things out and annoy the crap out of me, then run out of the room to look for other stuff. It was constant back and forth. The only one who did not annoy me was Portia. She was so sweet. She just stares at you with the sweetest looking face. She seems like a compassionate soul, wanting to see if I'm alright after having my face whacked by Roxy's whipping tail. I didn't mind Portia keeping me company as I went through my things.

These photos were posted on my brother-in-law's Facebook page. If she and my sister aren't too careful...the next time I'm in Atlanta, I just might have to dognap Portia and bring her back to Portland with me. I used to think that I would only have a Golden Retriever someday, but I've taken a liking to King Charles Spaniels (I first saw them when I met best friend Nicholas' then-fiancee's parents during the wedding weekend in Illinois a couple years ago). Someday, when I'm in a place where I can have a dog in my life, a King Charles Spaniel might be my first choice.

Have a Merry Christmas Eve! And yes, there will be a post tomorrow as well.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Best Actor and Actress of the Zeroes Decade

The next category in my "Best of the Decade" feature is for the Best Actor and Best Actress of the decade. This is different than my end of year "Best of" list, when I select the actor and actress based on a single role from a film released in the given year. This category is for the body of work in the decade. Which actor and actress has made interesting choices in the roles they played this decade? For me, it was pretty easy to come up with both of them. First is Best Actress.

My choice goes to Meryl Streep. She is the most versatile actress in Hollywood and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences loves her, as she has the most nominations of any actress (I believe she's up to 15 nominations and two wins). After seeing her in different films, I'm struck with the question: "Is there anything she can't do?"

Her first notable film of the decade began with The Hours in 2002, co-starring Nicole Kidman as novelist Virginia Wolfe and Julianne Moore as a frustrated 1950s housewife. Although I did not like the film (too depressing), it was interesting to see how the lives of three woman parallel Virginia Wolfe's. Its a very literary film.

Up next was the remake The Manchurian Candidate, in which she played a Hillary Clinton-like politically ambitious lady with secrets up her sleeve. She was part of the cast for the children's film Lemony Snicket and in the ensemble for the folksy Midwestern A Prairie Home Companion. But it was her next role that really hit a homerun with audiences:

The Devil Wears Prada's Miranda Priestly (modelled after actual Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour). The role is probably one of the greatest villainesses ever seen on screen (surpassing even Sigourney Weaver's bitchy boss lady in Working Girl and Glenn Close's campy Cruella De Vil in the live action version of 101 Dalmations). She can just look at a person a certain way and make their blood run cold. She doesn't tolerate nonsense in her underlings and won't take no for an answer, even when it involves her assistant to acquire the not-yet published final Harry Potter book for her daughters. Despite her mean exterior, her assistant sees a vulnerable side and sympathizes, even though this is actually dangerous. The woman is a snake.

One of my favourite scenes is when she catches her unfashionable assistant snickering at her particular fashion tastes and takes a moment to explain that the fashions seen in the pages of the magazine ultimately gets trickled down to the bargain bins of the low retail stores that average people shop in. Her snobbery is on full display and you almost agree with her about the importance of style, until you shake your head and realize that you have more in common with her assistant. I also liked the ending, when you see just a trace of a smile on Priestley. She doesn't change in the movie, and shouldn't. Miranda Priestly is just one of those roles where I cannot imagine any other actress doing a better job than Meryl Streep. The film's box office success in the summer of 2006 attests to the power of having the right actor in the right role. I could've easily dismissed this film as a "chick flick" but Meryl Streep's performance is nothing short of phenomenal.

In 2007, she played in two films that attempted to address current events regarding the War on Terror: Rendition and Lions For Lambs. In Rendition, she plays a CIA employee who has the power to call the shots in what field agents do, including the authorization of torture. She justifies her actions because in her mind, torturing one person to get information to save thousands more is worth the cost, even if the person being tortured might actually be innocent. On the flip side, in Lions For Lambs, she plays a Diane Sawyer like journalist who interviews a rising young Republican Senator (played unconvincingly by Tom Cruise) about a new strategy in the war in Afghanistan. She has an interesting dialogue with the Senator about the meaning of the war and what it has done to our country.

Both films failed to find audiences, but her pair of performances on two opposite perspectives in the same year is a perfect example of her versatile film roles. When she's in a character, you easily forget that you're watching Meryl Streep. That's what I love about watching a Meryl Streep movie. I don't want someone's celebrity to get in the way of a good story.

Last year came an interesting pair of films: Mamma Mia! and Doubt. One is a friviolous musical featuring the addictive songs of ABBA. The other had her praying to Abba (as in God). She got her last Oscar nomination with that film: Doubt. It's a juicy role as Sister Aloysius Beauvier who is every bit the strict school marm that one envisions a nun to be. She has her suspicions about the priest in the school and goes about making allegations before she has all the facts. The film is powerful as it reveals how easy it is to look at certain events and think you know the whole story. No one comes out looking good, but its an important role that she plays. Especially when you get to the big reveal at the end. This one really blew me away.

The only thing I like about Mamma Mia! are the songs. The story is just unbelievably bad. However, because of Meryl Streep's track record, she can weather a bad movie or two occasionally. She's still going to get yet another Oscar nomination next year for her role as Julia Childs in this year's Julie and Julia. Up next for her is a romantic comedy that looks kind of boring: It's Complicated. Hopefully she has some good projects lined up for 2010. She's someone I can't wait to see what roles she'll play next.
Lions for Lambs (2007) .... Janine Roth
Rendition (2007) .... Corrine Whitman
Evening (2007) .... Lila Ross Dark Matter (2007/I) .... Joanna Silver
The Ant Bully (2006) (voice) .... Queen
The Devil Wears Prada (2006) .... Miranda Priestly
The Music of Regret (2006)
A Prairie Home Companion (2006) .... Yolanda Johnson
Prime (2005) .... Lisa Metzger
Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004) .... Aunt Josephine The Manchurian Candidate (2004) .... Eleanor Shaw
The Hours (2002) .... Clarissa Vaughan

Now, for the Best Actor of the Decade. Only one person came to mind when I thought about who deserves this recognition. This actor has not always hit it big at the box office this past decade, but he took interesting risks that showed his range as an actor. Not bad for a guy who once starred in a cheesy sequel to the notoriously bad Killer Tomatoes movies!

That's right...George Clooney! Who else could it be but George? No actor is cooler. He's Frank Sinatra cool. He's Kennedy cool. He's Barack Obama cool. Tom Cruise might have the better track record in terms of hit films, but Clooney doesn't have Cruise's looney "religion." Clooney always looks like he's loving life. He's known to be generous to friends and fans alike. He's politically active (campaigning for his Democratic father in the Kentucky U.S. Senate race in 2006, though it was a losing effort; raising awareness for the genocide in Darfur; and basically pissing off Bill O'Reilly, who is probably insanely jealous of Clooney's cool factor). He has excellent taste in women (I was quite impressed with the French lady he dated awhile back).

When you look at how long it took for Clooney to find success (starring in the television show E.R. in the 1990s was his ticket out of supporting roles in bad shows like Roseanne and cheesy movies like the Killer Tomatoes), its great to see him enjoy this success and not seem to get too caught up in the whole Hollywood scene. His purchase of a villa in Italy's Lake Como region really put the beauty of that locale on the map of must see places to visit.

The decade began with him coming off of a film about the first Gulf War: 1999's Three Kings. In 2000, he starred in The Perfect Storm, about New England fishermen who meet their fate in the form of a colossal wave. Also that year, he starred in an independent film that's become a cult classic: O Brother, Where Art Thou? The Coen brothers classic is a Southern retelling of the Greek epic "The Odyssey." The film is quirky with some great folk music (particularly "Down to the River to Pray" and "Man of Constant Sorrow"). My favourite scene in the film is the KKK rally, which reminded me of a scene from the Wizard of Oz. Somehow, the Coen brothers were able to make a scary scene downright hilarious and ridiculous. It was great to see a Klansman get his comeuppance by way of the Cross! This film proved Clooney's comedic talents. He's not just Mr. Debonair and Serious.

Spy Kids showed he could do children's films. Solaris was a risk that didn't pay off (the film was BORING!) but an interesting choice. Ocean's 11 and its sequels might not be much on the artistic side, but those movies were pretty fun. Only someone as cool as Clooney could pull off a successful remake of a Rat Pack classic for a new generation. Besides comedy, children's movies, and cerebral sci-fi, Clooney's a natural at the romantic comedy genre, such as Intolerable Cruelty. He hasn't made too many of them, though. His career choices seem to bounce between independent films and standard big budget star vehicles.

In 2005, he found new acclaim with his direction and production of Good Night...And Good Luck, about the Joseph McCarthyism era in American politics and the fear it cast over the nation. He continued exploring themes that were relevant in Bush's America with his supporting role in Syriana, about how the oil industry affects all of us. He won both a Golden Globe and an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor because of that role (a pudgy turn as a guy who gets tortured at the hands of terrorists). I still remember his acceptance speech at the Golden Globes. He made a joke at Jack Abramoff's expense (he simply asked what kind of parents with a last name like that would name their son "Jack"). I don't know what it is about Clooney that drives Bill O'Reilly batshit crazy, but according to O'Reilly and his loyal legion of followers, Clooney is "arrogant" and "smug." Gee...in my book, he's simply cool and smart. I'm glad he's a liberal. He's someone who should run for political office someday. Can you imagine a President Clooney in 2020?

The Good German was a knock-off imitator of Casablanca. Though it had an intriguing premise involving Nazi Germany, I didn't think the film worked very well. Still, it was an interesting choice for an actor like Clooney. He's someone who likes to try a variety of roles and doesn't seem to follow the model that Cruise follows (who seems to pick films that are poll-tested for what Americans want to see). Clooney received a Best Actor nomination for Michael Clayton. It's a great performance, though I did not like the film. I still haven't seen Leatherheads, but its supposedly a throwback to the "screwball comedies" of another era (the 1930s?).

Burn After Reading was another interesting choice. He played a paranoid guy who is cheating on his wife in this CIA caper from the Coen brothers. This fall season, I've seen his two offerings this year: The Men Who Stare at Goats and Up in the Air. I think he will receive another acting nomination for Up in the Air and its a recognition well earned. Because of this diverse range of films this decade, George Clooney is my choice for Best Actor of the Zeroes Decade.

In case you're wondering who I might have selected in the 1990s, I thought about that as well. I didn't have a blog back then, but I would have given Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts the honorable distinction for the Best Actor and Best Actress of the Nineties. Both of them had an impressive range of roles in that decade and no one else holds a candle to what they created.

The following is a list of the movies Clooney has made in this decade (with links to the Imdb site).

The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009) .... Lyn Cassady
Up in the Air (2009/I) .... Ryan Bingham
Burn After Reading (2008) .... Harry Pfarrer
Leatherheads (2008) .... Jimmy 'Dodge' Connelly
Michael Clayton (2007) .... Michael Clayton
Ocean's Thirteen (2007) .... Danny Ocean
The Good German (2006) .... Jake Geismer
Syriana (2005) .... Bob Barnes
Good Night, and Good Luck. (2005) .... Fred Friendly
Ocean's Twelve (2004) .... Danny Ocean
Intolerable Cruelty (2003) .... Miles
Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over (2003) .... Devlin
Solaris (2002) .... Chris Kelvin
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002) .... Jim Byrd
Welcome to Collinwood (2002) .... Jerzy
Ocean's Eleven (2001) .... Danny Ocean
Spy Kids (2001) .... Devlin
The Perfect Storm (2000) .... Captain Billy Tyne
O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) .... Everett