Archive for the ‘General’ Category

My last trip home to Chicago, I asked my parents about their genealogy research. On my dad’s side, the story I always heard was that theBartlettsmarried into the Carrolls; my grandfather and father were then given the name Bartlett Carroll. I ended up as Bart Carroll on my birth certificate, and later changed it to Bartlett Carroll, as it was always supposed to be (it was written, incorrectly, as Bart Carroll III).

Looking back through the Bartlettside of the family, I came across a reference to the Bartletots—a wonderfully old-school version of the family name, I thought—along with some connection to the court of Charlemagne.

One quick internet search later, and I came to the following:

The Bartlett family owes its beginning to King Pepin and Queen Bertha of France. The parents of King Charles I (aka Charlemagne) and his sister Bertha. Now Bertha married Milo, Duke of Aigiant and they are the parents of theBartlettline. Their son, christened by the name of Berthaelot (a diminutive of Bertha) became the favorite of his uncle (Charlemagne) who watched over him.

On one occasion, during the Festivale of Pentecost, at the Great Court and Tournament, an important event relating to the Bartlett Coat-of-Arms occurred.

It seems that a son of the Duke of Aymon, named Raynard, ventured into the chambers of the King demanding a payment in gold for the death of his uncle Bevis. Charlemagne, enraged by the insolence, removed the glove from his left hand and threw it into Raynard’s face, thus creating a challenge to which Raynard chose to withdraw. Berthelot retrieved the glove from the floor returning it to Charlemagne.

Among other things, Berthelot was a master of chess. History says that, Sir Gordon, known as the mischief-maker, coursed Barthelot to challenge Raynard in a game of chess. After playing six games, tempers rose and the meet erupted with words and blows upon which Raynard picked up the heavy gold chess board and brought it down on the head of Berthelot sending him to the floor. Where upon Raynard drew his sword and brought it down splitting Berthelot’s head leaving him dead on the ground. Charlemagne hearing of the death of his nephew decreed that the Berthelot family would be recognized by three left-handed gloves with gold tassels to be emblazoned upon its Coat-of-Arms.

So there you have it. A Bartlett in Charlemagne’s court. Killed after a blow by a golden chessboard.

My only knowledge of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’s original script came from a piece of trivia in its IMDB listing (I love picking through IMDB’s trivia section). It mentioned Joel and Clementine originally written to have erased each other multiple times, into their old age, pointing to the doomed nature of their relationship.

This past week, I read through the script. It made an outstanding companion to the film—to see what Charlie Kaufman originally envisioned. As written, Joel was not the most sympathetic character. In the movie, he mentions already having a live-in girlfriend (Naomi) when he meets Clementine. In the script, Naomi has a much larger role—she’s there when Joel returns from the beach house, and although he’s bored in their relationship (which is why he’s drawn to Clementine’s excitement), she’s not a bad person. But he quickly dumps her to be with Clementine. Then after he’s erased Clementine, he immediately reconnect with Naomi and sleeps with her, only to push her away again the next day (after meeting Clementine again for the first time).

I can see why they edited her out. Naomi seems to work as a counterpart to Patrick, for the people Joel and Clementine turn to. But Joel’s conflicted enough. And she makes him much less sympathetic. The movie’s about his break-up with Clementine, not with Naomi as well.

There’s also more to Mary and her doomed relationship with Walter, the doctor in charge of Lacuna Industries. In the film, we know she had an affair with Walter, a memory she learns she had erased. In the script, not only did she have an affair but also an abortion as a result—the pain of not remembering drives her to mail back all of the patients’ files. It explains her actions in the film (in the script, she argues—as much as the audience no doubt does—that memories, however painful, still need to be remembered). Kaufman still challenges us on this point though, asking in the script, what about memories of the horrors of war? What about memories of rape?

And, there are two lovely bits of poetry that the movie choose not to include (or could not for legal reasons, who knows). The beach house has special significance to Joel and Clementine, in part because they find it while discovering they both love the same poem:

CLEMENTINE
Do you know her poem that starts “Seaside gusts of wind,/And a house in which we don’t live…

JOEL
Yeah, yeah. It goes “Perhaps there is someone in this world to whom I could send all these lines”?

The beach house becomes their house in which they don’t live. The poem (named “Erased” appropriately enough, goes on: Well then!/Let the lips smile bitterlyAnd a tremor touch the heart again.)

The second lovely bit comes in a scene when they are intimate in bed. In the movie, Clementine is talking about an ugly doll she had as a kid, that she yelled at to be pretty—she thought if she could change the doll, then she could be pretty, too. It makes her vulnerable, and Joel loves the bonding between them, especially when she’s so aggressive around him the rest of the time.

In the script, her speech instead references the Velveteen Rabbit:

CLEMENTINE
It’s my favorite book. Since I was a kid. It’s about these toys.  There’s  this part where the skin Horse tells the rabbit what it means to be real.

(crying) I can’t believe I’m crying already. He says, “It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally by  the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

It’s a much more important speech. It’s not just about her, but about their relationship, about how people truly in love look past all flaws and faults in one another; they don’t, in fact, even see them.

For Joel and Clementine, that’s the crux of the movie. They do see each other’s flaws, to the point where they break-up catastrophically—and Joel, looking back, finally realizes that he didn’t understand. It’s the point in the script where he decides he doesn’t want to forget Clementine after all—he changes his mind, he yells out that he wants to stop. But by then of course it’s all too late.

I forgot how much I love Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, however sad it makes me feel. It’s one of my favorite movies, weirdly personal concerning past relationships—and having watched it again this past weekend, I enjoyed again how well crafted, well written, well acted it is. All of its scenes fit together so beautifully…

Even more importantly is how much the movie resonates with me emotionally (and a great many other people, I imagine, who’ve ever suffered through either side of a break-up). It is, after all, far more a story about the agonies of a failed relationship than it is about that relationship being resurrected at the end. Forget the mildly science-fiction element of memory-erasing. The movie chronicles the very real psychologies of Joel and Clementine as they take the terrifyingly step of ending things permanently.

They cannot do so without looking back at the start of their relationship (the focus of the movie), which makes the finality of it all the more agonizing. Their break-up means the end of everything—no more fights, no more frustrations and disappointments with one another, but also everything else that led up to that point, good or bad. Through the conceit of memory-erasing, if Joel and Clementine break-up, they’ll not only be out of each other’s lives forever, but will have never existed to one another—and the knowledge of that shakes them completely.

And ultimately, they can’t go through with it.

At the end (or rather, the beginning) of the movie, Joel and Clementine reunite. Although their memories of one another have been erased, they are nevertheless drawn back together. And despite knowing what they’ll eventually think of each other, all the faults they’ll find, they nevertheless decide to give their relationship another chance.

It’s still a heartbreaking ending. Although they ultimately return to their relationship, it remains doomed. They haven’t worked through any of their problems, they’ve only temporarily “reset” things to the beginning. The original script had Clementine unknowingly having her memory erased again and again—meaning, although they keep reconciling, their relationship ultimate fails, again and again, unavoidably.

This last time I watched the movie, however, I found another ending I almost preferred—at least, for how I connected with the movie.

Near the end, Joel remembers meeting Clementine for the very first time, at a party on the beach. Later that night, they run off into an empty house where Clementine almost convinces Joel to spend the night with her. It’s the last memory he has of her. And before it’s erased, she asks him to spend the night again—to stay this time, and make a new memory. But he can’t. That’s not how it works; he didn’t stay the first time, he ran off, embarrassed, and confused, and smitten—but he ran off. So he can’t remember staying with her this time.

She at least asks him to say goodbye, and that he can do. In a way, it’s the break-up that they should have given one another and moved on. They say their goodbyes as the beach house, and their memory of it, falls down around them.

How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot!

The world forgetting, by the world forgot.

Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!

Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d…

Sledgehammer

Posted: April 13, 2012 in General
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The other day, I mentioned hunting dictionaries for words. I tend to do the same with wikipedia, for factoids. I imagine a good many people do as well; I wonder who many wikipedia searches are specifically directed, and how many are just from wandering curiosity.

Today I was poking around wikipedia, looking up “mattock” and “maul.” The old Dungeon Master’s Guide had these two magic items in it, the maul and mattock of the titans, I believe. I was curious where the names of these tools derived.

From there, I stumbled on sledgehammer (the modern version of a maul, really). “Sledge,” I learned, came from the Anglo-Saxon “slaegan,” meaning to strike violently, and from where we also get the word “slay”. Thus an old passage in The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (which came up with a Google search of the word) about a group of French soldiers that “slew some monks to death,” is not oddly redundant.

A few nights ago, I was out to dinner with my wife and friends, and the discussion of character names in The Hunger Games came up. Some people hated “Peeta” as a name, as a weird corruption of Peter (or, as someone pointed out, a play on “pita,” as the character happened to be a baker. I didn’t mind it; The Hunger Games has a light sci-fi, near future setting, and names adjusted one click to the right of our modern names felt appropriate to me as a reader.

Character names in sci-fi and fantasy names is tricky business. But I will say that “Slaegan” would make for a heck of a good fantasy warrior name.

The Joy of Words

Posted: April 11, 2012 in Gaming, General

I used to love flipping through the dictionary to find new words. Not all of them were useable—at least not in everyday conversation—but still interesting to come across.

For example, I remember finding “snickersnee” and thinking it about the greatest word ever—the sound of it, the definition (the art of fighting with knives), the etymology (from the Dutch “steken of snijden,” meaning: “stick or snee,” to cut and thrust in fighting with a knife). How cool is that? If Dickens had a prize knife-fighter for a character, he assuredly would’ve been named Mr. Snickersnee.

Today, an article revision came in from a writer (one I’m thrilled to be able to publish on the D&D website; I’ve been a fan of his blog for several years) that contained another fine word, one I’d never heard of before:

Sesquipedalian.

Ironically, it’s a word that itself means tending to use long words, or polysyllabic. Just as good, the etymology from Latin means “a foot-and-a-half” (that’s the “ped” component, as in “pedestrian,” or one who walks by foot). A “foot-and-a-half” word. I love that. The ancient equivalent of a “fifty cent” word, I suppose.

The context for it came from the language appearing in the 1st Edition Dungeons & Dragons rulebooks—where, as the writer noted in his article, a good many of us readers picked up a new word or two:

For me, portcullis, stalagmite, and stalactite come instantly to my mind.

Hugo: Rewritten

Posted: January 30, 2012 in General, Stories
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It’s Oscar season—and since most Oscar-bait is released as far into the year as possible, that means we’ve been trying to catch up on our movie watching around here.

This weekend, it was Hugo.

Very briefly, the movie involves the titular Hugo, orphaned son of a clockmaker who haunts a Parisian train station. While evading the station inspector, Hugo tries to both fix an automaton that he believes contains a message from his father, and resolve the mystery of a tragic toymaker.

There’s quite a fair amount I did like about Hugo. Although not a fan of child actors, the roles of Hugo and Isabelle were played likeably enough; add to that Ben Kingsley as Georges Méliès, and Sacha Baron Cohen as the station inspector. And although not a fan of 3D movies (which seem novelty money-grabs more than anything else), Hugo actually does make good use of the medium. The visuals of 1930’sParis are beautiful. And the bouquets thrown to movies and moviemaking in general are heartfelt.

That’s to start with positives. There were multiple scenes that, taken individually, entertained. My problem was the unfolding of the story itself. As a whole, it really faltered.

Hugo is based on “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” a book I have not read, and so I don’t know if the story was constructed differently in print. However, here’s what I would have suggested with it:

As told…
Hugo’s father is a clockmaker. When he dies tragically, Hugo is taken in by a sodden uncle who manages the clocks of a train station. When the uncle disappears, and later ends up dead, Hugo is left to fend for himself and keep the station’s clocks running.

In a suggested revision…
There’s no reason to have both father and uncle. The father should have been the clockmaker who also managed the train station. When he died, Hugo is left on his own.

As told…
Hugo’s notebook is taken from him by Georges Méliès, a toy seller. Méliès threatens to burn it, but relents if Hugo works for him and shows promise. Hugo needs the notebook to fix the automaton—yet however important this device, the notebook is later ignored. Hugo fixes the automaton regardless. For whatever reason, Hugo even stops working for Méliès due to some falling out.

These elements are really a mess.

In a suggested revision…
Hugo ends up working for Méliès, but only further along (so as not to remove the earlier danger of the station inspector and being sent to an orphanage) after learning Méliès was once a filmmaker. He earns back the notebook, and uses it to fix the automaton.

As told…
An academic who has devoted his entire life to studying Méliès’s career as a filmmaker, isn’t aware that Méliès is even still alive. This made absolutely no sense; Méliès was never trying to hide his identity, and an academic writing about his life would have fairly easily tracked him down.

In a suggested revision…
Méliès is not mistaken for dead. After his films were no longer in vogue, he simply went into a J.D. Salinger-like exile. No one knows where he is. Eventually Hugo discovers that the humble toy seller is actually Méliès, the innovative filmmaker, and tension arises when Méliès demands to be left in obscurity because nobody cares for his movies anymore.

As told…
Hugo fixes the automation, which draws him a picture of a movie his father told him about (A Trip to the Moon), and so he thinks it’s a message from his father. This is the emotional climax of the entire goddamn movie, and it comes about halfway in! Afterwards, Hugo then tries to revive the spirits of Méliès, and brings him the automaton to show that his life wasn’t pointless. Oh, did I mention that Méliès also invented the automaton? (This felt about as forced as learning Anakin Skywalker constructed C-3P0.) He was a magician, then filmmaker, then ended up in obscure retirement as a train station toymaker—and yes, this is all based on the actual, incredible life of Georges Méliès—but the added element of this automaton was just too much.

In a suggested revision…
Méliès never invented the automaton. We never learn who did; it’s a mystery. The automaton is an ancient wonder. At the end of the movie, Hugo finally fixes it; but instead of the climatic sequences of rescuing the automaton from the train tracks, it should be a miraculous discovery of the missing key that finally brings the completed automaton to life.

As it’s brought to life, the automaton draws its wondrous picture of the rocket to the moon as the final scene; it is Méliès’s movie, which brings him a measure of validation, and a seeming message from Hugo’s father, which brings him a measure of peace.

2011: Blog in Review

Posted: January 2, 2012 in General

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,100 times in 2011. If it were a cable car, it would take about 35 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

2011 in Review

Posted: January 2, 2012 in General
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At the start of a new year, I wanted to look back at 2011 (Year of the Wabbit) and what it meant to me personally. Quite a great deal happened, a great deal to be thankful about. This is clearly my most patently self-centered posts—but hey, that’s some of the reason for keeping a blog in the first place, right?

First and foremost, I was married on September 10th (9/10/11—an easy enough date to remember, thankfully), to my best friend and co-conspirator… not to mention car pool buddy, workout partner, writing partner, travel partner, dog walking partner, and consummate drinking buddy. There’s not a lot of formal ceremonies we have in our society nowadays with friends and family coming together (outside of funerals, I suppose), so it feels hugely thrilling to have had such a happy, important occasion. Plus, people gave us membership to beer-of-the-month club as a wedding present—how cool is that?

I started grad school, taking my first 2 classes at the University of Washington’s MCDM program. Lots of work, but it feels great to be back in the classroom environment and the classes have been very applicable to my personal and professional interests. The next class will even be looking at gaming communities.

I spent another year with my lovingly decrepit pit bull.

I transitioned from editor-in-chief to producer of the Dungeons & Dragons website, working for Wizards of the Coast, an extremely enjoyable company to work for that’s stacked to the gills with people devoted to their jobs.

I completed my first marathon. I also completed the Seafair triathlon, St. Patrick’s Day 5k Dash, Beat the Bridge 8k run, and my first Warrior Dash obstacle course. I work behind a desk all day (and harbor a great love for beer (see above), cupcakes, and Top Pot doughnuts), so it’s been helpful to have activities to train towards, and rewarding to complete them. I don’t think I’ll keep at marathons, but this was my third triathlon, and had a great time doing it. I just need to learn to swim (I breaststroke the entire swim portion, sadly).

I participated in two fantasy football leagues, and managed to win a few games.

I traveled to India, for a week on my own (my first visit there). I went to Oktoberfest, to start off my honeymoon, and went from there to Strasbourg, Reims, Paris, London, and Cardiff (also my first time in Wales). I traveled to New Orleans, for my bachelor party (my first visit there). Chicago, to see my family and celebrate my birthday with good friends. Portland, to see the first baby of more good friends. Indianapolis, for another fun time at Gen Con. Binghamton, to visit the in-laws for the holidays. New York City. As much as I love being a homebody, I tend to few however much travel I complete in a given year as a kind of measure of success, especially to new places.

I went to the top of the Empire State Building.

I turned 37.

I kept at writing the speculative fiction novel I’ve been tinkering with in one form or another for several years (too many years, sadly—I feel a little like Brian from Family Guy, always working on Faster Than the Speed of Love). I didn’t finish the 2nd draft as I hoped (who knew a new position, marriage, and grad school would keep me busy), but I’m satisfied with how it’s shaping up, and hope to use this blog to showcase pieces of it as well as discuss writing in general.

Oh, and I finally started a blog.

All things considered, it was a good year—and one I was appreciative to share with my wife, family, and friends. I’ve always held to the old saying: all this too will change, so with that in mind, I wanted to at least put down my thanks to the universe here for all the good things that took place in 2011…

… and hope that the run of bad sports luck (2011 started with Wisconsin’s loss in the Rose Bowl, and ended with the Chicago Bears losing 5 in a row and getting dumped from the playoffs) will take a turn for the better.

Chicago just won today, although Seattle lost—so 1-1 isn’t too terrible way to start things off!

In any case, wishing everyone a memorable 2012. A leap year! Summer Olympics! Year of the Dragon! And thrilling wrap-up of the Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy!

(Continuing yesterday’s discussion of football heroes. Also, here’s a tremendous article on the warfare of sports.)

The Heisman Trophy: celebrating champions or heroes?

The difference between “champion” and “hero,” I think, has a lot to do with qualities we’d hope to see in our heroes that don’t necessarily need to be in our champions.

Namely, we want our heroes to be virtuous. People want them to be, among other things, brave, forthright, compassionate, self-sacrificing…

Champions don’t need to have any of these qualities. They need to be victorious, not necessarily virtuous. They need to win, at any cost. The modern corporation can function in this way; they need to be the champions of their shareholders (but we prefer it when corporations, through charitable giving, green efforts, and the like, are also virtuous).

For the most part, we tend to like out champions who are also heroes, no matter the field. Bobby Fischer is a chess champion, but he’s fallen from hero-status because of his repugnant personal views and behavior. Conversely, Albert Einstein, a champion of physics in his time, is also a hero to many for his virtuous personal philosophies.

Sports figures are much the same. We want sports champions, we root for champions, but we also want these champions to be heroes as well. When they’re both, they become like legends. But there is a very clear distinction between these two labels. A champion who is not a hero, or falls from grace, becomes less popular to us (just think rigbht now of Joe Paterno) Alternatively, when they are heroes but not champions, they are in a sense underdogs to us, and we root for them as well.

To put this to the test, I asked members of my Fantasy Football Leagues (yes, plural — I love football) to rank the following players. They are champions in their own right, exemplars of their role in the game (offense, defense, and the like). But how heroic are they as players? How would you rank them, in from greatest to least football “hero”?

  • Brett Favre
  • Joe Montana
  • Reggie White
  • Deion Sanders
  • Walter Payton

Catching up on my other TV shows. All from FX, apparently.

And oddly enough, this week had both It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and The League poking fun of social networks—which was fantastic, as I’m in class now studying social networks.

And in American Horror Story, their Halloween 2-parter concluded with, as my wife called it, all the ghosts returning to the house with the morning sun. Which leads me to some questions:

First, I know the house is large and all (no good haunted house movies are set in 1 bedroom condos), but at one point there were 3 separate ghost attacks happening at the same time. And no one could hear any of the others. How does that work?

And second, have we reached a point where there are now officially more ghosts than human characters?