Saturday, September 24, 2005

Preparing for NaNoWriMo

Well, it's almost that time again. National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo for short) is held every November. It is a grand challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days, organized through the official National Novel Writing Month Web site. The site has forums and tools that writers can use for moral support and writing help. It is actually an International competition and historically there are more participants and winners each year. The winners don't actually get any kind of official "prize" but they do get the satisfaction of knowing they have written a novel, something that a lot of people dream of doing but never get around to doing it. NaNoWriMo forces those people who have always wanted to write a novel to just sit down and do it, without worrying about editing while writing. It's all about actually getting the words on paper and editing it later. Some participants have actually sold their novels from NaNoWriMo and are now published writers! I'm hoping that will be me after this year.

The exciting news is, I'm going to be taking a more active role in our local NaNoWriMo group by being a Municipal Liason. This means that I will be organizing meetings and write-ins for the Baldwin County participants, and will be sharing duties for the Mobile Bay Area with another Municipal Liason, who will be doing local events for Mobile. We are going to do some combined events too, so it should be a lot of fun!

So if anyone from Baldwin or Mobile Counties reads this blog, email me and let me know if you want to participate in NaNoWriMo! Or check out the site and register, but when you do, please let me know that you did, so I can let you know when the parties are going to be. We are planning to have a lot of fun!

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Serenity: Anything But Serene

Remember the first time you rode a roller coaster? You can usually predict that first big drop, because of the build-up and that moment you sit, suspended in midair, looking down at the track stretching below you, but after that... you are at the mercy of the coaster.

I am of the opinion that a good movie is like a roller coaster. There may be a predictable first drop, but the rest should be unexpected and thrilling, like a great Six Flags ride. Of course, it's even better when you can't even predict that first drop. And that's what Serenity delivers. Over and over until the very end.

Set 500 years into the future, Serenity follows the story of Captain Malcolm (Mal) Reynolds, a veteran of the galactic civil war that happened between two factions of humans: The Alliance and The Independents. Capt. Reynolds was a member of the Browncoats, Independent Faction soldiers who were opposed to the Alliance in the Unification War. Capt. Reynolds, played beautifully by Nathan Fillion, owns a ship called Serenity, named after the location of the Independent's final defeat. For Reynolds, Serenity is freedom. The ship allows him to take jobs (both legal and illegal) and stay as far from the strong arm of the Alliance as he possibly can. His crew is made up of similar (and not so similar) minded peole who have their own reasons for being on Serenity. These crew members include Zoe (Gina Torres), who fought with Reynolds in the war, and who also happens to be married to the pilot, Wash. Wash, played by Alan Tudyk (28 Days, A Knight's Tale, Dodgeball, Into the West, and Spamalot on Broadway) is the perfect everyman character who is always ready with a well-timed quip. He also plays with plastic dinosaurs in his free time. Kaylee (Jewel Staite) is a young, spunky mechanic who wants to see the universe. She is everyone's friend and brings out a very brotherly protection instinct in Reynolds. Jayne is an assassain, played hilariously by Adam Baldwin (Independence Day, The Patriot, The Inside). Other crew members include a companion named Inara (Morena Baccarin) and a preacher named Book (Ron Glass). Together, this crew makes up a kind of family for Reynolds, and he is fiercely protective of this family.

When Reynolds and his crew take on two passengers, everything changes. Simon (Sean Maher) and River (Summer Glau) are siblings with a secret that some would kill to keep and others would die to spread. Simon, a young and accomplished doctor, took River out of an Alliance facility, and they will stop at nothing to get her back.

The crew of Serenity faces an immense challenge in keeping River and Simon safe from The Alliance, but they face other threats as well. In their travels, they come across the real-life incarnation of camp fire villains called Reavers, canabalistic savages who are said to have gone crazy at the edge of space. Caught between the murderous Reavers and the unrelenting Alliance, Reynolds is not having his best day ever.

If the characters and premise sound a little familiar, you are probably one of the few who saw "Firefly," the television show that ran on the FOX network in 2002. Created by award-winning writer/director Joss Whedon and hailed by critics, the show was cancelled after the network aired the second episode first and the first episode last, pre-empting episodes in between for sports coverage and other events, and keeping it in a traditionally difficult time slot on Friday nights. Fans of the show were unwilling to give up on it, though, and they rallied together on the Internet and made their voices heard. A DVD set of the series, including three unaired episodes, was released and spent months in the #1 position on online retailers such as The active fan base decided the DVD wasn't enough, however, and began rallying for a movie to be made. Universal Pictures stepped up to the plate and greenlit the movie, and Whedon was able to get the entire original cast to return for the feature film. Whedon and the cast have even talked about making the film into a trilogy in the future, depending on how well the first film does. One important thing to note is that you do not have to know anything about the series before seeing the movie. An absolutely stunning opening sequence serves to refresh old viewers and to bring new viewers up to speed in a very elegant and interesting way. However, after seeing Serenity, you may want to purchase or rent the DVD set because you will want to know more about these characters.

Serenity is a blend of all genres: action, sci-fi, adventure, western, comedy, romance, and foreign (the characters speak a little Chinese as part of the blend of Chinese and English-speaking cultures in this version of the future). Though the sci-fi and adventure elements are prominent, the most promient feature is the humor. Whedon is a master of witty dialogue and the intelligent quips that go back and forth between characters is delightful. Character is a focus in this film, and that, in addition to the big explosions and cool space battles, is what makes the film work as well as it does.

Fillion owns the screen as Reynolds in a performance that rivals Harrison Ford's Han Solo. In fact, Serenity has been described as the story Star Wars would have been if it had been about Han instead of Luke. With better writing. And a more believable story. Summer Glau's River is psychotic and scared, vulnerable but extremely powerful. The origin of her abilities and the story behind the secret she carries will not disappoint even the most cynical moviegoer, and the outcome of the film cannot be predicted even by the most perceptive viewer.

In the grand tradition of great Sci-Fi, Serenity has fantastic special effects, spectacular space battles, beautiful scenery and complex, satisfying plots. It will engage every emotion and keep you guessing until the last second, just like a good roller coaster does.

Serenity is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense violence and action, and some sexual references. It is 119 minutes long and is coming to a theater near you on September 30.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Just Like Heaven is heavenly!

Guys, feel free to breeze right through this one, okay? This review is like the movie, for the ladies! And what an awesome movie it is! Okay, so maybe guys will like it too. After all, it does have Reese Witherspoon in it, and I'm told that guys like her. I have to be honest, though. Mark Ruffalo is my newest obsession. He is absolutely precious! Seriously, that's the kind of guy I want to meet one day.

But back to the movie... It's the classic story of boy meets girl, but with a little twist. This time, the girl can walk through walls. She also spends a lot of time at the beginning of the movie ordering the boy out of her apartment. Only it's his apartment. But not really.

See, I told you there was a twist.

Just Like Heaven is funny and heartfelt, with enough angst, love, joy, laughter, and romance to satisfy the fans of even the cheesiest romantic comedies, but without being cheesy with a side of cheese itself. It's actually not very cheesy at all, considering. It is simply a delightful piece of escapism on film that will cause you to walk out of the theater with a giant smile on your face and faith in the future and the possibilities of love.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Political Identity

So I've been debating with people about political issues a lot lately, mostly online. And I thought about something I had never really thought about very seriously. I have no political identity. I don't really agree with any particular party or movement because there are parts of each one that I don't agree with and parts with each that I do agree with. So how does one find a political identity?

It's probably not the most scientific of answers, but I found one I'm reasonably satisfied with. I found this site: The Smallest Political Quiz

And I found in this quiz that I'm defined as a Centrist. I guess you could say that means I'm wishy-washy, but I choose to believe it means I take the best parts of each party and sort of mix them into my own little ideology. And maybe that won't help me save the world or anything, but at least I know where I stand. Below is the information I found on the Web about Centrists.

Centrists are ideologically flexible. Centrists recognize the complexity of public policy choices and look to many kinds of solutions. Which solution depends on the circumstances, the problem, and the public interest. Ideologues repeat their slogans with little regard to the specific policy problem at hand. Conservatives shout "private good, public bad." Liberals shout "public good, private bad." By contrast, the centrist movement can show politicians how to use both the private and public sectors (often in combination) to creatively solve problems that we would otherwise just shout about.

True Christians

I just have to say, I have more faith in my fellow Christians than ever before. With all the stupid groups out there calling themselves "Christians" and then bombing abortion clinics or picketing Disney World because of Gay Day, I know a lot of people out there think that Christians are just a bunch of narrow-minded, bigoted, intolerant idiots. But we're not. I promise!

And I've seen things in the past three weeks that refute that claim better than anything else. Yes, there are people out there claiming to be Christians that are really not living the way they are supposed to, but there are also Christians out there who are really doing what Jesus would have them do. They are serving their community and beyond. They are coming to the food bank where I work and picking up food to take to hurricane victims all across the coast. It really is a beautiful thing to see, when churches get together and do what they are supposed to do, which is minister, help, and love others.

I've been taking a lot of heat online lately about being a Christian. So many of my online friends are not believers and, because I am one, they often feel the need to tell me why my beliefs are wrong and why Christians are horrible people. Well, I'm just a little irritated by that in light of the way I live my life and in light of the hundreds of churches that have stepped up in this time of disaster. Christians are not the bad guys. I wish there was a way for me to convince people of that. But I can only live the way I know I'm supposed to live and hope that helps. I really hope that helps.

To my visitors...

Hi! I've noticed that I've gotten a few visitors lately and I'm so excited! I would love to know what you think of my blog or who you are, or anything you want to tell me! And if you have a blog, I'll be happy to visit and comment on yours! So feel free to leave a comment on this post if you want me to visit your blog. And thanks for coming to mine. I hope you enjoy your time here!

Friday, September 16, 2005

There are no words...

I just don't know what to say about this. I took this picture on the Saturday after the storm. If you look carefully you will see that there was a house there once. The stairs lead to a foundation and nothing else. And the house in the background, while it fared better, is probably ruined as well. This was in Biloxi, MS, just beyond the casinos. It's just unreal what nature can do. I've been avoiding posting this picture, mostly because it disturbed me so much. But now I feel it is a story that can be told. Imagine being in this house when it was destroyed. That's why it's important to evacuate. Note the fire hydrant and sattelite dish still standing. Unbelievable.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

So tired...

I am exhausted. It appears that working long hours and not having weekends off is finally catching up with me. I'm just glad I get this weekend off. I need to recharge. I think I might sleep all day Saturday. What a loser, right?

Something funny happened at work today, though. It was nice to laugh. My intern was helping me take photos of the food bank employees who are helping us out during the disaster, and one of them was driving a fork lift around the parking lot, loading up a truck that was going to distribute some hurricane relief supplies. She said, "So I need to talk to the guy on the go-cart?" The warehouse guys and I laughed for ten minutes after that. I dunno, I guess you had to be there.

In other news, I'm making my final car payment tonight, which is great. Rhea and I are still talking about getting a house, perhaps in November. I don't think we're going to find a house that soon, due to evacuees finding jobs and places to live in Mobile, but we'll see. I'd rather not take a house that an evacuee needed anyway, but hopefully that will even out by November and there will be some places to live available. I am sooooo ready to move. I don't want to drive anymore.

Okay, my tiredness is really catching up with me, and I need to check the Weather Underground site to see if the tropical disturbances out in the water will pose a threat to us. I hope not. We can't deal with another one right now.

Incidentally, tomorrow is the one year anniversary of Hurricane Ivan. Seems like a mild thunderstorm compared to Katrina, but there are places in Pensacola that have still not fully recovered. No more hurricanes, please!!! :)

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Bayou La Batre

This boat is supposed to be in the water, but it's not, due to the floods from Hurricane Katrina. It's in Bayou La Batre, Alabama... the town made famous by Forrest Gump when he and Lt Dan were able to shrimp after a hurricane when no one else could. Bayou La Batre is primarily a fishing and shrimping town. This boat, The Integrity, seems to have fared the storm better than many of the boats in Bayou La Batre, except for the fact that it is now on land. Hurricanes in areas like this are terrible for the local economy and many people are now without jobs and homes due to the flood waters. See, it's not just New Orleans and Biloxi/Gulfport that suffered. Here in Alabama, we are also struggling to put our lives back together. Do keep those in Bayou La Batre in your thoughts and prayers as you are thinking of the other hurricane victims. And give donations to the Bay Area Food Bank because the people of Bayou La Batre, and the people in Mississippi will need the food bank's help for many months.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Wedding Crashers a funny, naughty film

Very naughty, I must say. I heard someone describe this film as a "chick flick for guys" and I have to agree. It's a romantic comedy unlike any other, mixing truly funny moments with moments where you (and I'm talking to girls here) will think to yourself "I can't believe I'm watching this." But perhaps it is that combination that makes it so entertaining.

Basically, the movie is about two guys who make crashing weddings a competative sport. And the prize is getting to sleep with lots of women. Well, naturally, it finally catches up with them and the results are quite funny.

So my advice is, if you embarass easily, you probably should choose your movie companion carefully. If you don't mind them seeing you turn red, they are a good person to go with. Probably not a good first date movie, unless you don't embarass easily. But it is a fun night at the movies, especially if you don't want to watch something heavy, or a children's movie, which is what seems to be out right now.

I hate Katrina

Ugh. The aftermath of this storm is something we won't forget anytime soon. I am sickened by everything that has happened since Katrina hit. I feel blessed that we were not in the direct path of the storm and that life is pretty much back to normal here in Mobile, Alabama. While there are some parts of Mobile that are still deeply affected by the flood waters, a good portion of Mobile is back to "business as usual." Rhea and I went to a movie last night, my first in over 2 weeks. It was actually my first chance to do anything recreational at all.

I also feel blessed that I am able, through my job, to be a part of the relief effort. Though working very long hours and not getting weekends off can be exhausting at times, everyone at our food bank feels the same way: we are working to help people survive, people who do not have homes anymore, who cannot just drive to the grocery store and get food, who cannot just drive to Ruby Tuesday's and have dinner. This is the thing that drives us and helps us keep going even when we are ready to collapse.

So here's an account of my experiences in hurricane relief. On Sunday, September 4, we arranged for about 20 volunteers (including my mother and my best friend) to go to Biloxi for a food distribution. My boss and I had gone the day before and had located a good site for the distribution, the parking lot of a ruined grocery store owned by one of our board members. He had told us we could use the parking lot. There were some amazing National Guard guys there passing out water and ice, but they didn't have food to give out, so we brought three truck loads of food boxes, bleach, and diapers and spent the day passing them out. It was a blazing hot day in Biloxi, and people lined up in their cars to get the supplies we were passing out. I heard so many stories that day, of people who were helping their neighbors and getting supplies for people in nursing homes and apartment complexes. I am amazed by the people in Mississippi, who are obviously determined to show everyone that not all victims of Hurricane Katrina will resort to rape and murder to get what they want. It was enough to restore my faith in humanity.

Another thing that helped restore that faith was the number of people that just drove up to our site with donations. They came from everywhere with cars, trucks, and vans packed with things they had collected for hurricane survivors. Several people from Florida came over with packed cars. They unloaded all their supplies and we gave them out. Two ladies drove up in a pickup truck, the bed loaded with bananas. And this was a really cool thing, because no more than five minutes after we unloaded the bananas a man drove up and said he was suffering from a serious lack of potassium and was experiencing swelling and cramping in his legs. We gave him a case of bananas and he was so happy to see them. It was such a great feeling to be able to help him and all the other Biloxi residents.

We went back a few days later and distributed more food, and drove around trying to find a church that serves as one of our agencies. We were unable to find the church, but we saw devastation the likes of which I have never seen before... and I've lived on the Gulf Coast for 28 years. It was just unbelievable. There were houses in the middle of the road, buildings completely leveled, and cars destroyed by trees and water.

I don't really want to go back unless it is to give out food again, because I just don't want to see it. But if I'm going to give out food, there will be a good reason to go back and I will do that. But I could live the rest of my live and never smell that smell again. I don't know how the people who live there can stand it. In Biloxi, there is an intense smell of rotting seafood and poultry, moldy and mildewed buildings, and death. It is almost unbearable.