Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Wonderin' Wanderin' Wednesday - MFA Packet#2 and Flogging Molly

On Thursday I stayed home sick from work. Uncool. Napped for much of the morning. Chika and I watched an Edward Burns movie, Nice Guy Johnny. I love Burns’ films because he paints true stories of true characters. I have no idea why he isn’t simple adored by critics when there’s so much crap out there and he’s producing movies that are honest and true.

Also on Thursday I had an extra fun visit with the dentist, but it turned out that the crack in my tooth? It’s better to just let it ride. And then in 6 months or 6 years, it will crack right open, but until then? Don’t stress apparently.

Friday at school one of the other staff members brought in baby bears (she owns a zoo). After I came home, we went to Cazbah, swung by Ken’s and played a game of hearts, but just to 30 points because I had writing to get down for my MFA.

Chika & Trav @ Cazbah
Baby Bear From Hollywild

I was in the kitchen Saturday morning and I heard the wind blowing, or more specifically whistling through the house. It didn’t seem that windy outside so I craned my neck to see if I could see the leaves and branches moving outside. Yeah, a bit. Then I guess that it must be the forced air heat that I’d just turned on, but it didn’t sound quite right. As I walked a bit deeper into the house, I found that the sound was Chika. Sometimes she can’t talk in the morning, and she was making this low moaning sound from bed. ‘Twas very funny.
Only in SC Can You Find a Car
Held Together with Duct Tape

Writing all morning and early afternoon for MFA Packet #2 and then in the evening we met our friends John, Jim and Ken at Firehouse Subs (where I saw the car at left) for a birthday celebration, Jim 49th, John’s 51st.  Afterwards we played a round of the MonopolyCard Game and most of a game of Citadels. Back by 9:00pm for more writing!

Sunday I wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote some more.

We went to see the amateur open mic night at Coffee Underground. It was entertaining, with a few laugh out loud chuckles.

Tuesday I went to a concert at The Orange Peel in Asheville. Fantastic show with Devil Makes Three opening, followed by Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears, and the headliner. Flogging Molly. Look for reviews of those shows in some upcoming Live Tunes Tuesday blog entries.

Wednesday is going to be a night in, gaming in the Kingmaker campaign. Fire mage Zo Casaveres is cleaning up the badlands.

Overall I’m really happy how my novel, A Map to the Heart of London, is coming along. It all started here.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Live Tunes Tuesday - Rain Check

...or more specifically, a concert ticket. There will be no Live Tunes Tuesday today because I'm experiencing live tunes on a Tuesday.

Movie Review Monday - Nice Guy Johnny

Edward Burns' Nice Guy Johnny

Though I do review a movie in this post, today’s blog is more or less an ode to Edward Burns, who I feel is an unsung hero of the movie industry. Criminally underrated, in my opinion. Now this isn’t some sycophantic rant about how wondrous and godlike Burns is, it’s an honest assessment of someone I feel is a gifted filmmaker who’s taking chances with the genre and looking at the age old issues of fidelity, faith and human relations.

So Chika and I watched an Edward Burns’ movie, Nice Guy Johnny Saturday evening. I love Burns’ films because he paints true stories of true characters. I have no idea why he isn’t simple adored by critics when there’s so much crap out there and he’s producing movies that are honest and true.

And he doesn’t cheap out when it comes to plot. When it would be easier and more cliché to have a character do something that is out of character, the character doesn’t do it. It’s because he writes characters that stay true to themselves and feel like real people.

The first movie I ever saw of Edward Burns was The Brother’s McMullen, which as it turns out was also his first movie. Below is an abbreviated table of the movies that he’s written and directed, which overall I consider his true gems. He’s starred in some movies that were atrocious, and he’s not bullet proof even when he’s the writer/director (as apparently Ash Wednesday isn’t all that great according to Rotten Tomatoes, but I haven’t seen it).

His movies that I’ve seen and I’m willing to give the Travo-Stamp o’ Approval:

The Brothers McMullen
She’s the One
Sidewalks of New York
Looking for Kitty
Nice Guy Johnny

And if you have Netflix? There’s no excuse to not watch Nice Guy Johnny, streaming (and The Groomsmen, but I can’t for the life of me remember if I’ve seen this). You’ll have to check out the others on DVD.

4.0 / 5.0

Official Movie Trailer – Nice Guy Johnny

Abbreviated Edward Burns’ Filmography – Movies He’s Written & Directed
Table Courtesy of Wikipedia
Barry/Finbar McMullen
Mickey Fitzpatrick
Tommy Reilly
Francis Sullivan

Jack Stanton
Michael Murphy
Uncle Terry

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Feline Friday - Dance a' Holic!

I dance like no one is watching.

And I got me some sweet moves!

Justin Timberlake ain't got nothin' on me.

To contact me for dance lessons, contact Travis, the guy who thinks he owns me. Payment accepted in salmon.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Theo Thursday Pt. 6 - Unwilling Guests

 :: Zoeday Evening, the 93rd of Jhyel's Slumber ::
Caught be surprise, Theo depended on his reflexes and was able to draw his weapon. He knew that he wouldn’t be able to saw through the coarse rope with his rapier, so he thrashed as best he could from beneath the net, slashing and thrusting at his unseen opponents. Saw did little but squirm and try to free himself.

Suddenly the two scurries were surrounded by swarms of green luminescent eyes.

Oh no, Theo though, realizing the identity of his attackers. Grovels.

Theo had heard the stories. Grovels were once radiant and beautiful, the God-chosen, the Adjani.  They were mighty and powerful, the messengers and the servants of the gods, but that wasn’t enough for them and they rose up in rebellion. The gods despaired when the Adjani, in their vanity and pride, sought to surpass the gods in their power and there was war upon Zéaon.  But the gods were triumphant and cast down the Adjani, forever humbling their intellects, spirits and bodies by placing them in the bodies of sniveling, little goblin like creatures, grovels. 

But they didn’t seem so snivelly right now, and they clearly had the upper hand. Dark skinned with long sharp noses and oily black hair, the grovels surrounding them were dressed in rags, and crudely armed with rusty swords, wooden spears and notched but long wicked daggers.

He’d heard other stories about grovels as well. Were he and Saw destined to be dinner?

Theo continued to slice the air, but his opponents weren’t foolish, and let the net do its work until finally the butt end of a spear knocked his rapier from his hands. Truth be told, Theo was a bit embarrassed to be disarmed by such crude opponents, even if he was beneath a net.

The two scurries were stripped, and force marched at spear point, surrounded on all side by growls, coarse laughter and guttural grunts. There were no attempts at questions. Theo supposed they’d have time for that later.  Perhaps they were to be honored guests? he thought, allowing himself a grim chuckle as they walked.

He tried to whisper something to Saw once, but the blunt end of a spear against the back of his head cured him of any more notions of speaking.

It wasn’t a long hike to the grovel’s nasty little village. Small greasy children ran around, but paused to throw mud or sticks or rocks at the scurries. They were about what Theo deemed to be a quarter of the way into the village, when suddenly, Saw yelled Theo’s name. 

Theo craned his neck to look behind him. Saw was being taken into a small dirty hut built from sticks and mud.

“Saw!” Theo yelled again. But because he was concentrating on Saw and not where he was heading, he wasn’t able to avoid the shove that sent him toppling into space. The edges of a crudely dug pit flashed past him as he plummeted.

Despite his bruised and battered state, Theo was still able to twist and land on all four paws when he was unceremoniously dumped into a hole in the ground.

Theo shouted Saw’s name, stopping only when a wooden trapdoor slammed into place, causing dirt to filter down. A few wan slivers of light slashed down, providing barely enough room to see. He was sure they wouldn’t kill Saw, otherwise they’d be dead already. Hopefully the grovels weren’t too rough in their questioning Theo worried.

With nothing left to do, he took some moments to survey his surroundings, which could barely be seen in the dim light.

In a shadowy corner, Theo saw a bit of bright fabric. Cory?

Theo scrambled over to investigate.

Peering closer, Theo could see that Cory was in a terrible state.  His clothes, torn and ragged, scarcely clung to his limp form, while his fur was missing in spots and matted with blood.  His chest rose and fell irregularly and fitfully, in time with his quiet, wheezing, breath.

"You've seen better days, Cory” said Theo, recoiling a bit in horror at the sight of his good friend in such a battered state.

Apparently, Cory had been dumped into this cell as casually as Theo had.

"They're not much for manners here...” grunted Theo, while gently as he could, pulled Cory to the relative comfort of the straw pile.

"... and I've certainly stayed in better accommodations” he continued, collapsing next to his unconscious friend, while wincing with the pain of sore muscles and throbbing wounds.

While reclining in the somewhat comfortable pile of hay, Theo mused thoughtfully to himself and examined his less than hospitable surroundings. 

"I don't particularly relish the thought of digging my way out of here.” muttered Theo quietly to himself, pushing himself up onto one elbow and pulling an insignificant clod of dirt from the rooty and rocky cell wall.

Theo began whistling an old romantic song quietly to himself, attempting to take his mind off the fact that Saw was not in the cell (and *he* was).

"My Maiden Fair—that was always a favorite of mine” issued from the shadows, a voice rumbling and heavy, as if the sounds of a blacksmith's forge were turned into words.

Theo spun around, searching for a speaker, but he saw nothing but deep shadows…

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Wonderin' Wanderin' Wednesday - Asheville & House, House, House

Bullet Blog!

Yeah. I just had Writer’s Group tonight, and it’s already 10pm and I’m fighting off a cold, so it’s going to be a turbo journal blog tonight:

At the Cork & Tap
  • Thursday we planned on going to a comedy show at Coffee Underground, but we got caught up in talking about buying a house in Spartanburg, and completely spaced the evening. 
  • Friday = Uneventful. 
  • Saturday we planned on going to Asheville, but again the day was consumed by house stuff. We made an offer on the house, but there was some finagling that frustrated me to no end. It was already afternoon when all was said and down, so we decided to change the Asheville day to Monday. We went to a new place in town, a little pub called the Cork and Tap. Cool place. 
  • Sunday we went to see Studio Ghibli’s latest, The Secret World of Arrietty, and most of the rest of the day was spent writing, Chika translating. 

My Delicious Taco Latino de Chorizo
Chika's Salmon Spanish Crepe
    Amazing Saving's Haul!
  • Monday we drove up to Asheville. We dropped a ton of cash at Amazing Savings, but got loads of marked down goodies. We ate lunch at Chorizo and I had an amazing Taco Latino, smoky flavoring with vegetables and tofu. Chika had a salmon something-or-other that was very good as well. We spent quite of bit of time at a VERY cool bookstore, Battery Park Book Exchange, which is a cross between a used book store and a trendy champagne bar. I got some writing done, but continue to be sssssssssssssslow.  Sigh. Chika also noticed that my cap on my right front tooth was cracked. I already had some issues with this same tooth, so I was really unhappy. Ugh. 
  • Tuesday = Uneventful. Or at least I can’t remember what happened. 
  • As mentioned, Writer’s Group is tonight. This morning I started listening/reading A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. In all honesty, it’s a tough book to read on the tail of reading The Fault in Our Stars. There’s lot of people struggling with cancer, and it just makes me miss my dad a lot. I had a Harry Potter Day, where I wore my glasses the whole day, as I had an eyeball headache and didn’t feel like putting in my contacts. I'm also trying to get a Bunsen Burner Organ working, but have had miserable luck with that. :(
A Non-Functioning Bunsen Burner "Organ"

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Live Tunes Tuesday - Night Driving in Small Towns

I stumbled across Night Driving in Small Towns online and with a name like that they proved unforgettable. I found a song online, “I’m Not Coming Home”, which was no less than haunting. The combination of beautiful voice, raw emotion and wondrous tune, alchemically wove song into gold.

Being a small local band, NDIST, don’t get outside of the Atlanta sphere all that often, so when I saw that they were playing up in Asheville, NC (The Boiler Room, May 13th 2010), a mere hour and fifteen minutes away, I was psyched.

I even contacted them and asked them to play my favorite song. See below!

Am I a lone voice singing their praise alone?  Hardly. In 2008 Rolling Stone listed NDIST one of the “Top 25 Bands on Myspace”.

You really, really need to buy their album. Not only is it filled with great songs, but it’s something of an insurance policy that they’ll be able to make more albums.

You can check out their website and play some of their tunes (click on the player at the top of the web page). You’ll find tour information here as well, but they don’t play live all that often, and they play few shows outside of the Atlanta area, so if you’re lucky enough to be near a show when it comes up, jump on it!

Give ‘em some love and buy their newest album, Serial Killer! You will not regret the purchase!
Me in the middle of Night Driving in Small Town
Below is a video of my favorite song of theirs, which I requested … and they played! The video, grainy and not the best sound quality, doesn’t do the band justice, but you can still get a taste of the band’s sound and Andrea Rogers’ voice (wow!). They're a bit rusty because they hadn't played this song in a bunch of years, so it was great of them to play my request.

PS: If you act fast, you can get a free copy of one of thelead singer’s new song here.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Movie Review Monday - The Secret of Arrietty

The Secret World of Arrietty
Let me start off by saying that I’m a huge Studio Ghibli fan, specifically Hayao Miyazaki, with my favorite films probably being Porco Rosso, My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service and Howl’s Moving Castle.

The Secret World of Arrietty has much of the trademark beauty that you would expect from Studio Ghibli: stunning imagery, beautiful colors, and a deep sense that you’ve visited somewhere else. The attention to detail is phenomenal: there’s a box of cherries from Yamagata in the family kitchen – Yamagata is where I lived in Japan. Going to see a Miyazaki movie is like walking through the Louvre with a soundtrack and a storyline.

That having been said, I wasn’t as wowed as expected by this movie.

One of the things that I have come to expect from a Studio Ghibli movie is the fantastical. Characters that may be influenced by folktales, or even deeply borrow from them, but all viewed through the Miyazaki filter. Seemingly at every turn, one is treated to a bizarre character or new magical being.

But I didn’t get that from this movie. A few little people are magical, but, in my opinion, not up to snuff for Studio Ghibli.

Though, I feel, that’s not the biggest disappointment in this movie. The movie is really about the two main characters, Arrietty and Sho (Shawn in the English version), and the relationship they form in the face of distrust between the wee people and the human beings. The problem is that I don’t feel they spend enough time on the screen together to form the bond they’re supposed to have. There are also a number of missed opportunities to make the film not quite so slow to evolve, but those opportunities are passed by.

So definitely go see this movie, on the big screen even, for maximum beauty. You can also expect a slow sumptuous feast for the eyes, and a heartwarming, but semi-sluggish storyline.

««« ½
3.5 / 5.0

Official Movie Trailer:

Friday, February 17, 2012

Feline Friday - The Nipopo Origin Story!

Nipo Ball!
How Nipo found us...

We were living on Central Avenue in Greenville, SC and there was a neighborhood cat named Mr. Nibbles (henceforth Mister). By all accounts, Mister was a badass.  He always had claw marks and scabs and scars. One time I saw that he’d netted a squirrel.  A squirrel?!  Squirrels seem like they’d be a tough take down for a house cat. Aren’t they "big", wily and smart?  Apparently not tough enough to avoid Mister. The flip side of this is that he was super friendly. He was the sweetest cat…towards people.

Around this time, late October 2009, a stray cat started coming around our house. She was really skittish. We coaxed her into the apartment one time, but she quickly bolted. Many nights she slept in a box with a blanket that we’d put outside our door. It was starting to get cold, and as it turned out, Mister and this stray cat got along like oil-and-water, or, well, like … cat-and-dog…but they’re both cats. Anyway, Mister made this stray cat's life sheer hell. Chased her, beat up on her, etc. And this poor little stray was spending nearly 24/7 just curled up in a ball in this cardboard box, afraid to do much of anything.

So we named this stray Nya-chan, because of the way she meowed, which sounded a lot like Neeeeeeeeyaaaa. Chan is the term you use for Japanese girls, or children.

But the surprises weren’t over, because it turned out that Nya-chan wasn’t a stray at all, but belonged to our neighbors.  Nya-chan had had some kittens, she lived with one of the kittens, but being the kind of kitty that Nya-chan was, she didn’t like her daughter. So she refused to live inside with her daughter. Nya-chan is very smart, but she’s nothing if she isn’t awfully stubborn. We worked it out with the neighbor--with a little bit of drama--but now Nipo is ours (or we’re hers, depending on your stance). And, one last bitty bit of info is that once she had a home base, she chased Mister away. She just needed a bit of backing from us for her to become the badass. As a sidenote, Mister is an awesome cat, just not nice to other cats.

So you’ve probably figured out that this stray cat is our little Nipo. Curious about the evolution of her name?
Japanese Nipopo Figurine
  • First her name was Nya-chan
  • But Nya-chan was tough to say.
  • She also makes this cute little ‘prrr-po, prrr-po” sound, which is like the sound that pigeons make in Japanese “po-po”
  • So her name became Nya-popo
  • But that was a difficult sound for Americans, too.
  • So she became Nipopo (nickname, Nipo), which also happens to be the name of a type of carved Japanese figurine.

One of the first Nipo pictures, at our 108D Central Avenue Apartment
 She’s a cute one, our Nipo.

Do you have a cute kitty origin story, or a cute kitty story?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Theo Thursday Pt. 5.00001 - We'll Return to Our Regularly Schedule Squirrel...

We will return to our regularly schedule squirrel and his adventures on Thursday, February 23rd.
We apologize for any inconvenience.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Wonderin' Wanderin' Wednesday - Houses & More Houses

Thursday? For some reason I can’t remember what we did. Chika thinks we did something special, because we didn’t go to salsa, but I think we were just beat and turned in early.

On Friday I got a ride to work from Will (Strait), who I often commute to work with from Greenville, and Chika met me in Spartanburg after work so we could look at a house. We checked out the house and I could see that it had potential, but this was the first house we looked at.  It had cranberry colored, wall-to-wall carpeting and was packed to the ceiling with crap. After seeing some other houses nearby and in the same price range, I can only conclude that the people selling this house smoke crack. No, really. They’re shooting about $30,000 too high, in my opinion. Afterwards we were beat, so we had dinner at Swad.

Saturday was a lot of hanging out in cafés and reading, a bit of writing, and I finished The Fault in Our Stars and The Girl in the Flammable Skirt. The Fault in Our Stars was fantastic, whereas The Girl in the Flammable Skirt left me … enh. Though there were some enjoyable stories, overall I was underwhelmed.

I sat down Sunday morning and, by 3:00pm, finished both critical response papers for both books, putting me way ahead of where I was last three week period. Yay!  We met my friend Ken (Keith) and caught the 4:50pm showing of Safe House at Cherrydale. I also started reading A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius for my next set of critical response papers due. I have to admit it's going to be a bit tough that, completely by chance, I'm reading two cancer books back-to-back. Just missing Dad.

Monday we just chilled at home. I read a bit and wanted to crash early, but story ideas kept popping into my head, so I was up until midnight-ish.
The Valentine's Day Card I Made for Chika

Yesterday, Tuesday, was a wondrous Valentine’s Day with my wonderful wife. I made her a card like I usually do, and thought we weren’t buying presents for each other. This is how amazing my Chika is:

White Chocolate Lavender Brownies!

  • She baked white chocolate-lavender brownies
  • She made French style macaroons that were A-MA-ZING!
  • And she put together a scrap book of all the tickets and such that I kept on wanting to organize, but kept not having time to get to. 
French Style Chocolate Macaroons!

Super sweet, my wife!  I’m a lucky, lucky man.

The Scrapbook Chika Gave Me
Then, having made some 7pm reservations, we had some fantastic sushi at Miyabi on Congaree Road. We had a rainbow roll, veggie tempura appetizer, 5 pieces of shaki-shaki salmon (my favorite!), and some others. The ceiling of Miyabi is gorgeous, an arched ceiling with a mural of a night sky.

The Inside of the Scrapbook
This afternoon, we may have found a house that we’re interested in buying. It’s walking distance to both work (Spartanburg Day School) and downtown Spartanburg. It’s in the posh section of town, Converse Heights, across from where I’m getting my MFA, Converse College. It’s also priced right, is yellow which might have to change, and built in the ‘20’s. After getting home, Chika made a fantastic Cajun-style dish of beans, rice and eggs. Yum!

Finally, I helped out an old student, Phylicia, with a lab report, and I have faith that she will succeed in her pre-med ambitions.

Chika & Trav @ Miyabi - Arching Night Sky Mural
Still rockin’ my beard, the longest I think I’ve ever stuck with one. Next stop, Grizzly Adams!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Live Tune Tuesday - Three Top Three Lists

Ben Folds & Chika After the Concert

Here’s a bunch of lists to get us until next Tuesday - Tune Related Lists for Tuesday. This is a bit of a stopgap blog, so I reserve the right to change any and all of these choices at the drop of a hat:

Top Bands I’m Looking Forward to Seeing Live Soon:

  1. Devil Makes Three @ The Handlebar – March 15th
  2. Flogging Molly @ The Orange Peel – February 28th
  3. Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears @ The Orange Peel – Feb. 28th

Best Shows that I’ve Seen (fuzzy memory taken into consideration):

  1. Elvis Costello @ Bates College – the Spike Tour – 1989?
  2. Ben Folds @ the State Theater – 2006?
  3. Michael Franti & Spearhead @ the State Theater – 2004?

Top Performers that I’d like to See, but Will Never Be Able To See:

  1. Johnny Cash Playing San Quention – 1969
  2. Elvis Presley – Live at Madison Square Garden - 1972
  3. Michael Jackson -  Korakuen Stadium, Tokyo - 1987   

How about you? What are the best shows that you’ve seen? That you wish you’ve seen?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Movie Review Monday - Safe House

Safe House, starring Denzel Washington, playing Tobin Frost, and Ryan Reynolds, playing Matt Weston, is an action-filled thriller. Is it a movie that’s going to expand the boundaries of the action agent genre?
Safe House


Are you going to get what you pay for?


Safe House is a solid entry into the action movie canon, with plenty of car chases, melee combat and fire fights. Are there any big surprises? Not really…well, maybe one.

The acting is great. I mean, who doesn’t like to watch Denzel and Ryan prance across the screen. They got that movie star charm firing on all eight cylinders, and you empathize with Weston (Reynolds), and even the morally ambiguous Frost (Washington). One thing that is unique, and that I thoroughly enjoyed, is that Tobin Frost plays (well, for most of the movie), a very intelligent bad guy. He doesn’t make the bone-headed mistakes that many a movie villain makes. That’s refreshing. Just because you’re evil or bad, doesn’t make you stupid.

In the end, Safe House is cut from the same mold as many a movie of its ilk, packing the two hours with so much action that we won’t notice that the movie doesn’t have all that much plot.

So, in summary, if you go to see Safe House with high expectations, don’t say I didn’t warn you, but if you go if with the intent to be entertained and not think all that much for two hours, you won’t be disappointed.

3.0 / 5.0

Friday, February 10, 2012

Feline Friday - I ♥ Reading!

I've always been a reader. I mean, this is just me and the coupon book. War & Peace is in the other room. My favorite book is The Wind in the Willows.  All those tasty treats talking? What a riot! 
Back to the coupon book.  

Hmmmm. I'm not so sure. Moe's? I'm just not a big fan of fast food.

To be completely honest all of this decision making can tire a kitty out.

Maybe instead of dinner I'll just ta ------- zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz...