Strange Radiation

Andrew Willett, unreliable narrator.

The Book, the Grumpy Bear, and Me

19th-century woodcut of Bodhidharma meditating
Bodhidarma meditating, Yoshitoshi, 1887

So the other day I did something kind of momentous, but to explain I have to tell you about Daruma-san. You may have seen these roly-poly little Japanese dolls before. They represent Daruma, aka Bodhidharma, the monk who brought Chan/Zen Buddhism to East Asia in the fifth or sixth century. He was said to be stubborn, hairy, and determined: a symbol of perseverance. When someone gives you one, its eyes are blank. At the start of a project — I dunno, say, “I want to write a novel” — you paint one eye. Now he stares at you one-eyed, wishing you success and encouraging you along the way, until you finish, and paint the other eye. 

A million years ago, I decided to stop piling up endless notes and write that novel. A friend had given me a Daruma, and I figured he’d be great for this purpose. Away we went! And eventually, after a lot of writing and revising and lying on the floor questioning my life choices… I had a manuscript! Time to get it published! Unfortunately, the ms then spent a few years trapped in a publishing Phantom Zone, and by the time I could drag it out, I was told by people in the biz that although it was good, well written… the market had moved on. This book, they couldn’t sell, but thanks anyway. “I’d love to read the next one you write,” they said.

I felt like such a failure. And I let Daruma stare at me one-eyed from my dresser for years. But the other day I realized that I was being unfair to myself and Daruma — that I had moved the goalposts on us. I had wanted to write a book! And then I WROTE A BOOK. 110,000 words! And it was good, even! Maybe I’ll write another; maybe I won’t. (I do have an idea.) But that work happened, and it was time to celebrate that and move on.

So I did.

What’s the etiquette on flogging your shiny new publication on Twitter? How often is too often? Also, how subtle do you have to be when mentioning it in the presence of co-workers? Is the all-office email address over the line?

Asking for a friend.

2018: And So We Begin Again

So where were we? Jeez, the last time I said anything of substance in this forum I was still single. (Don and I made honest men of each other on Labor Day, and the wedding was, as the phrase goes, everything.) The new year started with an auspicious portent: a fiction sale! My short story “Mrs. Peak and the Dragon” is part of Abyss & Apex‘s Q1 2018 issue. It’s an old favorite of mine that was sitting around waiting on some indefinable Oh but it needs more tweaking, and so I’m very glad to have been nudged into just sending the damn thing out already.

And now it’s time to start building up those write-all-the-time muscles again, because I’m gearing up to write another novel. (More on that later.) And where better than in the pages of a blog that pretty much everyone has forgotten exists?

The New New

Well, it was lose the blog archive or migrate away from Movable Type and into something, you know, modern and functional. So that’s happening. Plus it might be fun to have a place to yammer at greater length than Twitter or Facebook allow. So, yeah. This is happening. Ere long this will actually start to look good, even. But for now, it works and my ISP isn’t rolling its eyes at me.


All kinds of shiny new stuff going on under the hood. What that means for the future of Strange Radiation, I’m not yet certain. I am curious to see how the antispam systems hold up.


Let’s begin with another music video: “In Your Arms,” by Kina Grannis. The song itself is… cute. A happy if not particularly world-shaking romantic pop tune. But the video:

I know, right? That’s a hell of a lot of work. Specifically, it’s 2,460 frames, created and shot entirely by hand over 1,357 hours using 288,000 jellybeans. Damn. The numbers are tabulated in this equally fascinating (to me) video — the one that actually moved me to write an entry in my poor neglected blog — right here:

On the face of it, two solid years of labor for a single music video sounds pretty crazy. Her record “Stairwells” came out in early 2010 — isn’t the buzz cycle for a disc supposed to have ended by this point? On the other hand, the final result is getting a lot of attention. And she comes off as pretty charming in the making-of, to the point that I’ll probably give a few of her other songs a listen as a result.

I don’t know what it says about me that I so often find the “how we did it” documentation at least as interesting as the end result. I have spent many happy hours, for example, listening to the screenwriters’ commentary tracks on the Lord of the Rings extended DVDs, as Jackson-Walsh-Boyens talk about the millions of tiny decisions they had to make on what to keep, what to move, what to cut. (The screenwriter’s commentary on “Sense and Sensibility” is pretty great as well, but hey, Emma Thompson, how can you go wrong.)

And finally, if you haven’t seen the animation work done for Oren Lavie’s “Her Morning Elegance,” well. Hie thee hither.

Hey, Look!

It’s the hockey players from last night! Current best theory is that they’re in town for the 2011 World Police and Fire Games.

Thanks to Croft for the link.

Hockey in the Moustache of the Storm

Greetings from the last couple of hours before Hurricane Irene hits NYC.

I just walked back to Don’s after finishing a shift at the Gray Lady. The weather right now is mostly OMG Rain as opposed to Aieeee Hurricanocalypse. Lots of rain but very little wind; not so much the teeth of the storm as the moustache of it. Passing through Times Square I discovered a bunch of Canadian guys playing a shirts-vs-skins hockey game in the pedestrian mall. Their laughter echoed through the square; they were almost the only people around, beyond a few random folks standing around watching them play and taking pictures.

Judging by the matching outfits I’d say they’re a team visiting from Vancouver (it said “Vancouver” on their jerseys, which were black with red flames) who are staying in one of the nearby hotels. Or possibly more than one team: a few women played on the shirts side, in jerseys of their own, equally official looking but different from the men’s. I stood and watched for a few minutes — hey, shirtless guys in the rain, how could I not — and as the runoff got deeper on the blue-painted surface of 7th Avenue the athletes fell down more often and the bright orange ball started to kick up an impressive fantail as it scudded along. Everyone seemed to be having a grand time.

Were I more used to thinking like a journalist I’d have figured out a way to use my phone as a recording device without shorting it out in the rain, and then I’d have interviewed them. Who were they? What brought them to New York? Had they been stranded by the closing of the airports this afternoon? How bad did the weather have to get before they’d pack it in and go somewhere dry?

But I wasn’t, and I didn’t, and so eventually I just got tired of how my boots were filling with rainwater. I walked on, the hockey players’ shouts and laughter ringing out through Times Square over the sound of the downpour. They kept calling each other seagulls, but I never found out why. That was okay.

Yup, still love it here.

(EDITED: Video footage in the follow-up post.)

Beaten to the Punch by a Buncha Swedes

Nertz. See, this is what happens when you have to do things like go to work and write a novel instead of investing your time and energy in projects of more immediate importance, like turning recent funkstraveganzas into a cappella free-for-alls — other people do it instead. It’s kinda Nordic, but hey, hats off to them anyway.

For those who don’t know the original, the oh-so-fabulous Janelle Monáe, well, hi, Dad — here’s your reference copy, which for some reason has been declared off limits for people who want to embed it in their blogs.

And now I’m going to bed.

High Wire Act

Let’s begin with an open letter.

Dear Julie Taymor:

I get it. I totally get what you’re doing with Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. Don’t let the haters get you down.

Yours, &c. —

I was skeptical when I showed up at the theater today, I’ll admit it. It’s hard to avoid the tales of mayhem and creative rudderlessness that follow this show. But here’s the thing: there’s a lot of really smart stuff happening in the new Spider-Man musical, and this idea propagated by the Lords of Broadway Reviews that this is the worst musical evar is total hogwash.

The show, particularly in its first act, tackles some a big idea of perpetual interest to Taymor — the nature of myth, and the role it plays in human culture — through a spandex-tinted lens. She quite rightly pegs the iconic, archetypal figures that parade through the comics world as descendants of the figures who have triumphed and suffered and struggled and been punished since we first started telling one another stories of heroes around the fire. Her framing device — a “geek chorus” quartet of kids working on their own homegrown Spider-Man comic — is brilliant, linking the old oral tradition to a fundamental act of modern comics fandom in which participants mix canonical themes with new characters as it pleases them.

There are some amazing moments of Taymor stagecraft in this show, mask work and puppetry and transformative costumery that have to be seen to be appreciated. I loved seeing the horrible Lizard make the Hyde-out-of-Jekyll leap from the body of Dr. Kurt Connors, and the golden weaving constructed as the story of Arachne is retold at the top of the show marries a crazy technical achievement to a moment of beauty and simplicity that I won’t spoil here. From beginning to end, the sets tilt and flip and generally repurpose themselves over and over to create moments of outsize, stylized invention that serve the graphic roots of the story well. And, of course, there’s the extensive wire work, which is dazzling. The catch there, though, is that by now we all know about the times the system has failed, injuring actors or stopping the show cold while some poor soul is left dangling forty feet above the eighteenth row. I wish I could have blotted out that foreknowledge, the little voice saying please don’t fall, please don’t fall, please don’t fall every time a man in the red-and-blue uniform swung through the house, and just enjoyed what I was seeing for what it was. I couldn’t, though.

Regardless, I suggest that you give it a go, if you’ve got the scratch. It’s true, the music and the pacing are uneven. It’s not a perfect show. But it’s for sure not a bad show, and there’s some juicy stuff to savor in there. (Comics fans will enjoy any number of little shout-outs through dialogue and allusive imagery. The names of the scientists who worked for Norman Osborn, for example. Good stuff.) And it’s being closed down for a month soon for “improvements.” I can’t imagine that they could remove Taymor’s analytical understructure from it even if they wanted to, but I’m very glad I’ve seen it before the revamp.

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