Thursday, August 22, 2013

Nearly Drowning in Outer Space

 Check out this harrowing account from astronaut Luca Parmitano about an unusual and nearly deadly accident - water filling up his space helmet while outside the International Space Station.
Read the entire account here, which details the event and reveals his steady and calm resolve to reach safety. An excerpt:

"The water has also almost completely covered the front of my visor, sticking to it and obscuring my vision. I realise that to get over one of the antennae on my route I will have to move my body into a vertical position, also in order for my safety cable to rewind normally. At that moment, as I turn ‘upside-down’, two things happen: the Sun sets, and my ability to see – already compromised by the water – completely vanishes, making my eyes useless; but worse than that, the water covers my nose – a really awful sensation that I make worse by my vain attempts to move the water by shaking my head. By now, the upper part of the helmet is full of water and I can’t even be sure that the next time I breathe I will fill my lungs with air and not liquid."

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

James Franco Takes on Cormac, Faulkner, and Art Itself

Cormac McCarthy's novels have found new life in movies, and his early novel "Child of God" is about to hit the festival circuit in the movie version written and directed by James Franco.

The book was my introduction to McCarthy, a spare and grim tale of Lester Ballard, a Sevier County man who slips away from civilization and into a cave, from outcast to killer. It's a powerful book, and truthfully for many years I've thought it would make a stunning movie.

And Franco's version emerges alongside his movie of Faulkner's "As I Lay Dying", an equally challenging Southern story of a family's attempt to transport the body of their mother to a distant cemetery.

Neither film is likely to hit box office gold. So what is Franco after?

In the past few days, Franco has used the Internet to promote a new TV series called "James Franco Presents", launching photos of himself as Mona Lisa and Van Gogh.

He writes of the series "... it's about Art. Duh".

He's also in production of a movie about the gnarly life of poet Charles Bukowski.

So, entertainment for English majors and Art majors? Perhaps. With fantasy, comic books and 3D franchises all the rage in Hollywood, he's carving out a unique path of literary oddities.

I say thank goodness someone is.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

I Read Books

I read books. 

I mean the printed-on-paper kind, the original hand held technology. If you read them too, consider how you react when you see a person out in public with a book - do you try and see what it is? Do you assess who or what they might be based on the title, feel a kinship if it is a book you know and like? What if the person was reading from a wee plasticized screen?

Despite the worries and prophecies of some who claim print media is no more and that reading a book is akin to wheeling about town in a cabriolet or phaeton while perusing Sumerian cuneiform figures on a clay tablet, I read books.

(As a corollary, it seems worth noting that writing on a clay tablet preserves information for thousands of years while digitized discs and drives last perhaps 10 years.)

"The beloved shelf (or wall) of books is less well-thumbed and less respected than it was. We’re less likely to judge someone on their ownership and knowledge of books than at any time in the last five hundred years. And that shelf created juxtapositions and possibilities and prompted you when you needed prompting. Ten generations ago, only the rich and the learned owned books. Today, they're free at the local recycling table."

Countless times in years past I visited homes with rooms whose walls were lined with books, with chairs and lamps and the tsunami of comfort I felt was inescapable. The room was a way station in Time itself, where clocks did not matter, where histories were stored, where I could stay and learn as long as I wished. (Often such rooms were called a "study".)

A friend who teaches high school recently told of the frustration and confusion her students experienced as she required them to use a library's card catalog to seek information. (I should note too that another friend, a voracious reader of printed and digital books, who pointed me to Seth's comments, received a hard bound book from me of a novel which he is free to keep or share with others.)

I know that if, at the age of 12, I was given a marvel of technology like a hand held mobile Internet device, I would have glommed onto it with a fervor beyond description. Yet I also know that I experienced, concurrent with my infinite curiosity for information, a very physical searching was required to discover books and essays and information, a time-consuming task which contained lessons unwritten, valuable lessons.

I am certain that the ease of discovery and access to information is likely greater today than ever, which I find most encouraging. Still, as with most every experience, the more arduous the task, the more I glean from the experience.

That is a truth which cannot be imitated.