Letters to Holly

Friday, June 26

New Technology

Your Sister bought herself a laptop. She browsed models yesterday and found one that had all she wanted, including a touch screen with stylus. Her late school version had the same feature. It's an Hewlett-Packard, and it was on sale. The Macs were too expensive and alien for her. We saw an HP PC last year and were bedazzled by its Mac-like structure (the tower is in the monitor), but it was priced as much as a comparable Mac desktop.

She also offered to buy my next digital camera, an upgrade I need for the work convention next month. In just a short amount of time, cameras have become incredibly small, and the memory cards can swallow piles of pictures. I love the camera she bought me seven years ago. It was just what I needed. But it's on the threshold of picture resolution for magazine printing. I need a new one, and the prices are almost half what my current camera cost. She's offering to buy the camera as an early birthday present. I'll also need to buy a suit for the convention's posh dinner of honors. I knew I needed a new one, but I didn't want to buy a new one until I slimmed down. Here I am, a svelte 173 pounds. Your Sis is a bit amazed.

The rehearsal last night was just one runthrough with the new actress following her movement notes. She did OK. The veteran actors from the first performance are playing with delivery in a relaxed manner, and it's bringing out the comedy. I encourage it as we're so early in rehearsals. I noted their efforts and reminded them of our one rehearsal next week. They said they'd come in for that meeting with many lines memorized. I won't make them play with props then; we'll save that for the following week. Even though we don't have much time before we take the stage, we're already in a good place. I have the rare opportunity to direct a show with actors familiar with the material and a new actor walking in and energizing the veterans.

In The News
The national media dropped everything to cover Michal Jackson's death. ABC replaced Grey's Anatomy with reruns of Jackson interviews and live coverage from the UCLA Medical Center. MTV went with live news coverage and Jackson videos. The cable news networks stopped their programming to cover the reaction to his death and recap his later scandals.

His last musical hurrah was this 1995 duet with sister Janet. It has all the hallmarks of his big hits: the staccato drums, the background harmonies, Michael impersonating James Brown on the verses. The video proves that while Janet was a game dancer, Michael had total physical control. The man was an entertainment machine.

I'm not moved by his death because he stopped being musically relevant a decade ago. Also, he at the very least was wildly inappropriate with children. He devolved into secluded psychosis, and he lost his golden musical touch. Efforts to work with current, hot producers failed to hook the young audiences. He was of course incredibly popular overseas as the total sell-out of his questionable 50-date London tour proved. He was coasting on past success.

But what success to milk. An NPR interview today suggested he was the synapse between black and mainstream music. I certainly don't remember a young black performer having his prominence even before Thriller. It was said more than a year ago that Jackson's acceptance by white audiences paved the way for the marketing success and cultural adoration of Michael Jordan and then Tiger Woods and Will Smith and then Obama.

I remember our Baptist summer camp going crazy for Thriller, and the cassettes were passed around hourly. I hated camp, but that cassette got me through. I was hypnotized by Wanna Be Starting Something and played it over and over in the dead, hot air of the log cabins. This music from a future alternate dimension transported me and seems to have done the same for people the world over. Billie Jean remains a fascinating composition, a no-bull masterpiece of pop music.

His death is compared now to that of Elvis and Lennon, and I can't swallow that. Just doesn't have that heft for me, and I feel somewhat plugged in to pop culture. I do remember seeing high-school kids perform Billie Jean as a 1600s folk dance tune during our Shakespeare honeymoon in Virginia. They even had a dancer with the hat and glove.

Buncha Pictures of the Day

The Big Picture covers soccer in South Africa. The American victory over Spain was of mild interest to some here. Not much of a ripple. It's covered like the opening rounds of Wimbledon.

The bigger sports story was the NBA draft and the trade sending Shaq to play with LeBron in Cleveland. Shaq relied on the Phoenix Suns' medical staff to keep him mobile. Without their help, he may not be as productive. But those are two powerful guys sharing the ball. Highlights will abound.

Hansbrough went to the Indiana Pacers, and that's a nice franchise for him. He can learn the NBA pace in a good division facing quality opponents and gradually improve. He won't have to carry the burden of immediate title expectations. A really good team for him. Also, if he does really well, he and Peyton Manning become tandem state icons.

Thursday, June 25

Keep It Moving

Last night's rehearsal centered on giving the new actress her movement. Instead of walking through the entire script, allowing actors to deliver their lines as normal, I gave them their cues to move. She would take her notes, we'd flip to the next page, find the next cue line, and make her movement notes. That took the hour we scheduled. The mom actress said the play felt differently -- better -- then she initially thought. It's still a sitcom plot, and the awkward weaknesses remain. But she feels more confident of the tone of the play and her obligations to it.

Another actress asked if she could tackle a scene more broadly, play it bigger. I was initially against it, but the character has so little to do that I feel bad for the actress. She wants to join the fun, and I should at least see what she has in mind. It's rehearsal. We're supposed to play around. During the swift rehearsal, I started to change actor placement before we realized we had it right the first time. Much erasing ensued.

I get the feeling that the play could be longer. Not three acts necessarily, but definitely two. The script we have -- submitted for the play competition -- may be a stripped-down story. I easily imagine the playwright scrambling to salvage the pieces of a potential full script, condensing it down to one act, and hoping for the best.

Your Sis rode the new bike to Asheville and back, but this was her first night ride. It gets cold, even in the summer. Her skin was even more cadaverous when she got home. But the grin. The grin could not be contained by her helmet. She saw what she considers the best Shakespeare production the Montford Park Players have slapped together.

I had returned home before she did, and I played with the new online access. Oh. Oh, it's glorious. I was voice-chatting with online friends, and I even tried a World of Warcraft demo. It didn't win me over, but I can see the appeal bolstered with voice chat. I also set my iTunes to download my favorite podcasts -- Coverville, Savage Love, etc. -- something I've always used my work PC for.

When I dragged myself away from the PC, I watch the coverage of Mark Sanford. I lived for a few years under Sanford. He was a Congressman before he ran for governor, and he didn't leave much of an impression. He was a soft candidate as McCain's VP until he blew a TV news interview by blanking on any distinction between the McCain and Bush budgets. He recently made headlines by refusing federal stimulus money and then fighting the legislature when they overrode his veto.

Now this scandal has seemingly scuttled his governorship. The missus gave him the boot a few weeks back, and I can't see him recovering credibility. It's just so outlandish an affair. He didn't woo an aide or an aide's spouse like normal people. He pursued an online romance with a divorced mom on another continent. Points for novelty.

I ran a 5k course this morning. My time was off, as expected, but I'm content to just have run the whole thing on a half-glass of water and a teaspoon of peanut butter.

The garden is busting out all over with tiny tomatoes and pepperitos. I'd like to plant more items this weekend.

Picture of the Day
Always keep your bat clean. This is not a euphemism.

Wednesday, June 24

Starting with a Readthrough

These guys are good. They're so good, in fact, that I'm going to cut back on our rehearsal days. Their readthrough last night showed me we're in good shape, and the new Mom came to play. She's bringing the funny.

She was worried, as they all were at first, that the mom would be wizened and senile. She isn't. She's spoiled. She works her daughters to her benefit and realizes in the play that she's losing that. That's why she pouts and cajoles and feigns a heart attack. She's not stupid. Or goofy. She's desperate.

I worry that the stage dimensions will make our movements look pinched, but I don't want to sweep across the stage just for the sake of using every inch. I do want to let the blocking breathe more. The performance space we had originally was tight and made for stylized movement. Now we can spread out. I'll have to get the actors to walk and talk. If they move, stop, and then talk, the humor will be dead.

We'll meet twice more this week to give the new actress her movements (they help cement line memorization), and we won't touch a prop until next week. She needs time to learn the lines, but I don't want the cast burned out. I prefer to plan for lots of rehearsals and eliminate days if we're on a good groove. I also think that rewards the cast for doing heavy lifting early on.

+ + +

The piano tuner is fixing up my Granny's piano as I type this, and Your Sister's school laptop has died. She is going to buy herself one and is considering a Mac. I suggested she ask you for tips. She'll need the magic double-OS program to run school-based Windows programs.

I set up a voice-chat program on my computer last night and configured my home iTunes to download podcasts. No more schlepping them from work to put on my iPod. I feel myself adhering to the new high-speed online access.

Picture of the Day
Another photo of the memorial lanterns set alight after the Indonesian tsunami. The heat of the candles lift them to the air.

Tuesday, June 23

Speedy Delivery

We have the quick net now. Your Sister carried her school laptop about the house to check signal strength. She was so hypnotized by the quick, rapid speed of it all that she made a Facebook account. This shocks me more than the motorcycle.

I didn't get much chance to play with the new router before we left for a dinner at a teacher house. Ping-pong and discussions of Harry Potter ensued. A great grilled meal was followed by a board game called Sequence, which combines bingo and poker. They want to see Shakespeare in the Park on Wednesday, and I'll be in rehearsal. That starts tonight, and my new silly hope is that my cast is so strong that we don't have to rehearse every weeknight.

I did not run this morning. I instead sprayed pesticide on the garden. It's called Liquid Seven, and the directions/warnings make it sound like Supernova Lava Acid. Long sleeves, eye protection, latex gloves -- the bottle demands I wear this stuff. Our cucumber leaves are feeding various bugs, and I want to deflect the caterpillars that ate my tomatoes last year. I think I'll get a hazmat suit for the next spraying.

We magically sprouted tomato berries since Sunday. On the stalks, I mean. All this rain has ensorcelled the garden, and I wish I had planted much more now. There may still be time. I do want to try more corn this weekend, and perhaps we can do underground foods like carrots. Maybe the wireless signal is mutating my crops.

Yous Sister is feeling yesterday's run, and I warned her I would skip running today so I could spew death juice on the garden. She decided to tackle the front-yard beds as I drove to work.

I'm still a little paranoid about my exposure to the pesticide. Every little itch strikes a dramatic musical sting in my head. (Hey, my head itches. Dundun-DUN! My arm is kinda tingly. Dundun-DUN!)

Picture of the Day
The grocery store is carrying much more exotic produce these days.

Maybe the store has been invaded by alien pod monsters. Dundun-DUN!

Monday, June 22

Geek Show

Friday night saw us wolf down pizzas at the new local Italian place. Your Sis drove to Your Parents' house and back to show off the bike. They trust her on it, and that was the biggest worry we had. We watched another Netflix film (the third Bourne movie), and I packed it in early. I had a big Saturday to prepare for.

Because it was HEROESCON, the Charlotte nerd prom. I woke up extra early to get a haircut, clean up, grab croissants, and hit the road by 9. I've been close to ten times now, I'd say, and it's become more fun as it's national prominence has grown. It's known as the friendliest show for creators to mix with the commonfolk; we're well behaved and patient. The organizers have the set-up down by now, and they have enough contacts to get big-name creators to appear.

The con floor.

A heavy-looking Iron Man costume.

Panels are available to hear the latest on comic/movie plans and attendees can ask direct questions about specific characters.

Big-time comics writer Brian Michael Bendis does not take criticism well.

Illustrator Adam Hughes is a top draw at every show. He and many others do free sketches.

My haul.

1. The con program. I carried it all day and cracked it open maybe twice.

2. My MapQuest directions based on the address on the Heroescon website. They led me instead right to their store.

3. The directions they wrote for me to get to the con.

4. My list of items I found at booths to return and buy later. It's a gamble. The items might not be there. So I wrote down the other booths where those same items are. There's two reasons for this: a) I might find it cheaper at another booth; and b) If I buy the item later, that's less time I'm carrying it around. And that leads me to my epiphany. Why don't cons offer airport lockers? Let's make our own, I say -- a do-it-yourself coat-check for con items so they aren't clobbered by the heavy foot traffic. And we'll call them Con-Tainers. We'll be gabillionaires.

5. Creative Loafing Charlotte had the con as its cover story.

6. I bought a bundle of three minicomics from the Center for Comic Studies booth. I was directed there by my publisher J. Chris Campbell of Wide Awake Press. The CCS booth was often obscured by the lines to see creator Jeff Smith. He never had a small line.

7. A set of Japanese monster postcards for a guy whose work appeared with mine in in the Athens Fluke con anthology.

8. A card for Tariq Hassan one of the Revolver Studios artists. His acrylic stuff looks like watercolors, and I don't know how he manages that.

9. My scrawled-while-driving directions for getting home. It's hard to find 85 South and 74 West without road signs.

10. CCS brochures for their cartoon programs.

11. The animated Bizarro figure I've wanted for two years.

12. Viking No. 1 sold to me by a creator sales pitch.

13. Bossk and IG-88 bounty hunter figures. The first booth has Bossk for $12. The second had him for $5. It pays to window shop.

14. A promo card for Capes and Babes, a webcomic. It was handed to me by the creator while I waited to talk to John Anderson who co-colored ...

15. this issue of E-Man. I know John from an online forum.

16. A promo card and lottery ticket for a free trade drawing by Ultimate Comics. The promo girl caught a group of us standing near the Adhouse Books booth, and we all signed up. None of us won. I knew exactly where the booth was because I had jotted down their location on my shopping list. I told the girl they were right under the Aisle 300 sign, and she gasped. She finally had an easy way to direct people there.

17. I bought David Mack's kids book, and he explained how it began as a book inside his Kabuki comic. I confessed I didn't know the comic, and he signed and handed me a stack of Kabuki issues. Free. The man knows how to win over fans.

18. The Wonder Girl and Starfire min-statues I wanted for a while. This was a good con for getting long-sought knickknacks.

19. A copy of Fell volume 1 and the two Justice trades. These were bought at one of the many booths offering books for either 50% off or buy one, get one free. This was the show for trades.

20. "I Will Feast on Your Whore Heart," a string-bound mini that caught my eye.

21. Two minis by Josh Latta, another Wide Awake artist.

22. Two little toys made by another Wide Awake guy.

23. The card handed out by the Imaginism people.

24. The card for Girls with Slingshots, a webcomic by Danielle Corsetto whose portfolio was really good. We also chatted in the Starbucks line, and I sold her on their shaken iced tea lemonade. I think we were sparking a little, and then I remembered that I couldn't convince Your Sis to come along.

The convention center also hosted a car show next door, and the bouncing vibrations from the car stereos pounded us all day. The artists inking sketches complained that the tables were vibrating.

I had dinner with people I know from online and drove back home, returning at 11:30. I was dead tired, my feet hurt, and my voice was shot, but it was as fun as I hoped.

The next day, Your Sis tackled her closets, and I weeded the garden. I was officially asked to join the theatre board of directors by email, and by email I declined. I cited my full dance card and offered to help with publicity in any way I feasibly can. If I was asked a few weeks back, I might have jumped at it. I was told the board had moved their meeting times to evening so I could join them, but they scheduled it the same night as a rehearsal. I couldn't go anyway.

Oh, I also invented a new drink at the soda shop: Sweet iced tea with dashes of Tabasco. I call it a Hothouse Flower. You can feel the spice in your throat, but the taste is hidden.

I debated running this morning and crawled out of bed only because Your Sis woke up early. I ran. It hurt. I was on my last quarter-mile, right as I turn to go up the rassem-frassem hill when I spied a runner in white turning the corner downhill. It was Your Sister. As soon as she saw me, she threw up her hand to playfully hide.

I thought something was wrong. Your Sister doesn't run. I thought the house/school/cats were exploding/collapsing/stepped on by Godzookie. I stopped and turned to follow her, and she said she wanted to give running a try. Did I mind? DID I MIND?! I turned off my stopwatch and iPod and jogged alongside her. We slowed to a walk a few times and did about a half mile. I'm thrilled by this. I never thought she would run with me. Even if this doesn't happen again, we had this morning. I'm proud of her.