Alex Fleck
  • It Could Have Been Awesome: Godzilla

    So I think we can all agree that Gareth Edwards’ 2014 Godzilla film was a piece of shit.

    I mean, it was a really well-made piece of shit. Like the bowel-movement of someone with a super-healthy diet.
    But still, a piece of shit.

    What sucks the most is this: the script COULD have been an excellent second instalment to the (inevitable) franchise. Imagine it this way…
    First movie: “Oh Shit! Some huge, multinational cover-up involving cool eco-horror scenarios is actually Godzilla! COSMIC TERRORRR! How do we use science to make him return to the watery depths and stop destroying our cities? TECHNOLOGICAL THRILL-SEQUENCE!”
    Second movie: “Oh Shit! MUTOs! Only Godzilla can fight these things! Let’s explore the WEIGHTY ETHICAL ISSUUUES of finding a sciencey way to summon him! MONSTER-FIGHT!”
    Finale: “Oh Shit! Now Godzilla’s even worse than before! We need to actually kill him! With Science! And MORAL AMBIGUITYYY! And Bryan Cranston! Whom we didn’t kill off for some reason in the first movie! ALL-OUT HUMAN-MONSTER WARFARE!”

    But they didn’t do that.
    Because they’d rather spend tens of millions on CGI than pay 50 grand to have someone that, y’know, READS THINGS tell them obvious stuff like “Your eponymous monster should probably be in the movie for more than 8 minutes.”
    They could have done that AND had all that fantastic action-schlock.
    Then this movie would have been double-awesome.

    But it wasn’t.

  • There’s a Storm Coming…

    Before we get started, you should know that I love The Terminator. Everybody should.
    But I think we can all agree that its closing scene, with that groan-worthy “there’s a storm coming” line, is the worst. It’s just about the most eyeroll-inducing piece of Hollywood foreboding a writer can include.

    That doesn’t keep it from being overused.

    "There’s a storm coming" is lazy and facile; whatever else you want to say about artistic expression, those two things are never good.
    Fortunately, there are good writers out there who can redeem even this tired motif. I’m just finishing Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy, and he never disappoints…

    The final book’s third act is about to reach its bloody conclusion.
    (it will definitely have a bloody conclusion because Cormac Mcarthy’s full name is Cormac Bloody Conclusion McCarthy)
    After learning that his fiancée, a Mexican prostitute, has been murdered by her pimp, the young protagonist rides out to ponder his next move, pausing to look out over the landscape:
    "To the south the thin green line of the river lay like a child’s crayon mark across that mauve and bistre waste. Beyond that the mountains of Mexico in paling blues and grays washing out in the distance. The grass along the mesa underfoot twisted in the wind. A dark head of weather was making up to the north."

    It’s subtle. McCarthy noticeably avoids the word “storm.” There’s such a tasteful restraint in that.

    That night, our hero makes his way back to the home he had prepared for his ill-fated fiancée. He sets out to enact revenge for her murder across the border:
    "When he rode out again it was dark and windy and starless and cold and the sacaton grass along the creek thrashed in the wind and the small bare trees he passed hummed like wires. The horse quivered and stepped and raised the flues of its nose to the wind. As if to sort what there might be in the coming storm that was not storm alone."

    Good. Lord.
    It’s not until the last sentence that McCarthy even uses the word storm. Everything before that is a naturalistic image or sound or description of action. And when he finally decides to name it a storm explicitly, he respects his audience enough to deconstruct the metaphor right in front us.
    That action, “to sort what there might be in the coming storm that was not storm alone,” is precisely what we as an audience do when we encounter a textual metaphor. We identify its explicit identity in the narrative and then consider its emblematic significance.
    He never has anyone murmur to themselves or their companion those four words, “there’s a storm coming.” Instead, he has an unspeaking animal parse the dramatic situation, “raisi[ing] the flues of its nose to the wind.” Rather than using something as clumsy and explicit as dialogue to bludgeon the metaphor to death, he situates its interpretation in the animalistic instinct rather than the rational. Even though McCarthy is using a highly literary technique, he doesn’t want you to register the tension in your mind.
    He wants you to feel it in your gut.
    I know I did.

    And THAT is how you do “there’s a storm coming.”

  • Dementia

    I was listening to a CBC broadcast today.
    This CBC broadcast.

    The most interesting part was a segment on personal narratives, our perceptions of ourselves and our identities as a story that we construct and tell to others. That has specifically weighty implications for the person suffering from dementia.
    That condition runs in my family, so I find it especially terrifying.
    Imagine your knowledge of your own story slowly disappearing, and with it the construct of your identity.
    Like I said. Terrifying.

    In any case, that’s a problem for Future-Alex. In the meantime, I wrote a poem about it. Here’s “Dementia.”
    I hope you enjoy it!
    (the poem, not dementia)

    so much has been lost

    my story
    is being untold
    drifting away
    like so much ash
    book’s paper burning
    darkening crumbling aloft
    page after page

    so much has been lost

    That’s definitely a bit of a downer. So for a partial pick-me-up, have a bunch of bored-looking hipsters singing a really pretty song that treats some of the same themes!

  • Seascape, Significance

    Every so often when I’m reading scholarship, something meaningful comes my way. Peter F. Fisher’s articulation of the maritimer’s relationship to the sea is outstanding.

    "To the imagination of a seafaring people, the power of the sea would be connected with a power not under human control, yet interwoven completely with the pattern of their lives."

    It’s not just that I recently returned from the East coast of Newfoundland and I’m still hung up on that magnificent seabound landscape.
    I like what this passage says about our relationship with the larger patterns at work in the world, these concepts we minimally understand and dimly perceive. But understanding and perception aren’t prerequisites to our existence.
    They’re just attempts to engage with it.

    Landscape, love, city, society, cosmos, creation.
    We can’t escape them. We can’t control them. All we can do is feel their modulations, give them respect, and appreciate their beauty.
    I think that’s lovely.

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  • I’ve Always Had this Weird Thing, and It Turns Out It’s Actually Kind of a Thing, and It’s Called ASMR, and That Blows my Mind.

    I have a funny story for you.
    I’ve been responsible for a lot of tedious internet duties lately and craving some stimulation while I work, so I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts. I happened on an episode of This American Life that totally blew my mind. You should give it a listen when you can.

    The speaker discusses an experience she’s had ever since she was a child. It’s the feeling of entering a trancelike state, phasing out, and what she describes as “scalp-tingles” whenever she hears someone speaking softly.
    The boring librarian at her school, Bob Ross encouraging amateur painters on PBS, the ladies lovingly fondling tacky jewelry on the Shopping Network; she would zone in and enter a state of sublime relaxation whenever she heard them speak.
    As I was listening, my jaw dropped open. I’ve had the same experience my whole life!

    Now I had always just written it off as something that everyone has and is so commonplace that nobody talks about it. Either that, or I just had a strange fetish for soft voices and that was that. So I was mostly just thrilled that someone shared my experience.
    But here’s where things really got interesting.
    The speaker goes on to recount her experiences seeking out soft-spoken videos on YouTube so she could trance out to them, and she discovers that this phenomenon has attained a pop-psychological diagnosis. It’s called ASMR, or Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response.
    What’s more significant for me is that there’s a huge subculture of internet videos, some of which have quite a following.

    These videos are admittedly kind of ridiculous. Mostly it’s soft-spoken girls who take you through creative napkin-folding or tell you how to spruce up your bathroom for guests. Sometimes they just talk about their grandmothers’ jewelry.
    Real Martha Stewart stuff. Not my thing. I’d really rather hear about hiking up a mountain.
    But I took a few of the suggestions from the podcast and found some channels. In no time, I was sitting in a coffee shop, listening in rapt attention to gift-basket advice with my jaw relaxed and my eyes slightly unfocused. In fact, as I write this I’m listening to equineqt describe her favourite beauty products.
    Amazing. Ludicrous, but amazing.

    So there are a couple of reasons I wanted to write about this.
    (aside from the fact that it’s kind of hilarious)
    Obviously this kind of thing is a neat testament to the connectivity that’s possible these days, and everyone loves to learn that their experience is shared by a number of different people.
    But there’s also a significant personal upshot to this discovery. Anyone who knows me would be flabbergasted to learn that I function this way. I’m one loud, goofy guy, energetic almost to the point of being frenetic.
    I also avoid silence like the plague. I’m always listening to music; I sleep with old TV shows and films on repeat on my computer. Otherwise my brain scatters off in a million directions. That’s part of the reason meditation has always been troublesome for me. I try to centre myself but I can’t coerce my inquiries, anxieties, and distractions into silence. Even hiking, my most blissful activity, is about being highly engaged, just happily so.
    That lack is a significant personal liability. People I know who do Yoga or meditate seem to have a rich experience and I don’t like missing out on that. As strange as it is, these oddball videos of girls discussing housewares are the only things I’ve ever come across that let me lose my thoughts and just rest.
    I’ve been missing out on that.
    So if ASMR videos can help me quiet my mind and meditate, I’m definitely going to pursue them. I want to be able to attain that serene state and profit from centred silence. I look forward to the benefits of a relaxed mind.

    It will also mean my dinner-guests will be able to expect some pretty badass napkin-folds, so that’s cool too.

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  • I’ve waited and waited for a fitting tribute to Edward Gorey’s macabradorabrilliant Gashlycrumb TiniesHere it is at last, helvetically sleek and with a clever bubble-pop soundtrack.
    I laughed all the way from “use your private parts as piranha-bait” to “sell both your kidneys on the internet,” then right up to and straight on through “I wonder, what’s this red button do?”

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  • Poem: “All or Nothing”

    I was reading about medieval heresies tonight and came across Bogomilism and its more famous cousin Catharism.
    There’s some pretty interesting stuff there. 

    I’m no expert on mysticism and theology, but from what I can tell these heresies seem to be related to Gnosticism, a much older belief system. Gnosticism was dependent on ideas about the purity of spiritual beings and an evil consciousness that entombed those spirits in prisons of flesh.
    So all of life is a struggle against the fleshier aspects of our nature like eating meat and having sex and all those lovely embellishments of earthly existence.

    It’s troublesome to make too simplistic a narrative out of complicated historical events, but it’s interesting that these medieval heresies seem to have flourished in periods when the church was exacting greater and greater control over the lives of European Christians. It’s almost as though these systems of thought were a kind of theological allegory expressing anxiety about the constraint of an increasingly influential church and then locating that struggle in the spiritual realm. The tragedy, then, is that free spirits trapped in bodies become fleshly people moving about in another layer of constraint, an oppressive society.
    So if these beliefs were true, we’d be at the mercy both of social constraint and its allegory, the spirit’s prison, the flesh.
    That’s kind of a sad thought.

    In any case, all of that is just the process that led to this little poem called “All or Nothing.”
    I hope you like it!

    Spirits into bodies,
         bodies, spirits structured,
              bound, disjoined from nothing,
                   All and nothing.

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  • Twitter Makes Language Better

    My favourite thing about Twitter is the way it makes us play with language, manipulate it, and craft it.

    When I write a poem, I start with an idea or an image, express it as fully as possible in my mind, assign words to my thoughts, then pare it down to a convenient packet of meaning. Twitter is an exercise in that same process.
    I generally write a tweet that starts on the long side. Then I choose words more carefully to fit the simple restrictions of the medium. It’s just like the times I feel a certain metrical pattern might suggest an idea more fully, and I need to select words that run with that metre.

    Aside from the process of brevity and reduction, Twitter also forces us to examine patterns of language. For example, if I’m riding the bus, I can tweet “I’m riding the bus,” or “riding the bus,” or even more simply, “on the bus…”
    Does the first tweet seem more straightforward, maybe a little more chipper? Does the last suggest some kind of fatigue or annoyance, perhaps a little frustrated ennui? I get to choose one, and that free play with connotation can be a productive challenge.
    It also tells us something about language. The latter two tweets aren’t even complete sentences, but they’re clear enough. That says something about how we communicate, what words we absolutely need or can leave aside. It might also give us hints about where language is headed in the future.
    That’s exciting!

    Lately I’ve been telling my students they should start tweeting if they don’t already. The ultimate value is that it makes people think about language and clarity.
    (Not to mention the fact that it cuts down those giant, paragraph-long sentences I hate to read)

    It’s poesis and cognition, expression and play.
    Social media isn’t undermining language; it’s a fascinating part of its progression.

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  • Poem “Tantalus”

    Here’s a poem that occurred to me the other night. I’ve been paring it down since then.
    It’s more an image than a complete thought, but I quite like the premise: indifference to suffering endlessly prolonged. That’s the most captivating thing about notions of eternal punishment as expressed through legends like Tantalus’. What do they do with boredom and acclimatization? Is getting used to eternal punishment a form of torture in itself?
    In any case, I hope you like it!


    A listless hand
    bobs up toward the fruit
    and down toward the pool.

    A flick of the fingers,
    resigns him
    to waiting another forever
    until he tries again.

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  • Today I made a mental list of every relationship or serious romantic prospect I’ve ever had and why it failed.

    Upon close inspection, nine tenths of the reason most of them foundered was my own immaturity and its outgrowths.

    My question: to have a real, functioning, permanent relationship, do I have to become more mature or does the strength of connection overcome that consideration?

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