The Master – the movie

Ever read Russian short stories? The way they involve all sorts of histrionics, people yammering? But in the end, you can't really say much happened?



Well, the missus and I both thought of The Master that way. It kept treading the same emotional ground, and at the end of the day you can't say anything much significant happened. What's the deal here? We Yanks don't make movies like that (oh, right – we do, don't we?). Anyway, Missus ate mucho popcorn and I almost fell asleep several times as we tried to stave off story-line boredom.

That's the bad news – now the good.

The acting was superb. Philip Seymour Hoffman as the Master and Joaquin Phoenix as his goofy protege couldn't have played their parts better, and that includes Amy Adams as Hoffman's steely wife, and Laura Dern in a bit part. Hoffman was his usual, commanding, bombastic presence, and Phoenix added yet another creepy part to his resume. The movie takes place in the early 1950s, following WWII, and the set and costumes fit the age perfectly.

I've probably been too harsh above on the story line, but it was a slow burn that flickered and went out with hardly a warming touch. Or maybe, despite the acting, the script put too much distance between movie and viewer. As we talked about it on the way home, the only overarching point I could come up with was that as The Master's bunch sought meaning following that epic war through Dianetic-like processing and imagining past lives, Phoenix was a humanoid that insisted on being free to pander to his senses. 

I know, that's a pretty lame assessment, but it's the best I can come up with. It was a movie you really want to like, but I couldn't. Just couldn't.


My rating 12 of 20 stars


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The Ice of Winter

Winter Journal, by Paul Auster

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You pick up memoir such as this one expecting…what? A life laid out chronologically? The failures of parenting – yours and that of your parents? Confessions and dirty linen? The titillation of romantic escapades? Saucy comments about other writers, editors, or reviewers? The summation of a life lived well or poorly?

Auster gives you some of that, but what stands out to you is the writing: the fluid, run-on style in which sentences can last half a page, paragraphs that go on interminably, but without boring, without allowing your mind to wander, making use of the first person tool of "you" instead of the usual "I,"which has that distancing feeling that a memoir deserves. A style with an affinity for lists (places he's lived, sweets he's eaten), a running rivulet of emotions regarding family, lovers, places he's been, people – good and bad – he's been related to or otherwise known. 

Somehow you expect such a memoir to rise slowly as the author encounters life's crises and victories, you expect it to end as fiction does, with crisis point and denouement, but that's not at all what Auster gives you. In places he does just that, though, but in the broader perspective he gives you things as he encounters them in memory, following their sixty-plus years.


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Does he give you any reason to doubt this work's veracity, to say to yourself, "Bullshit, he's gilding the lily there?" Only over one subject do you cock an eyebrow in such a manner: his constantly interspersed romantic conquests. Yet even here he doesn't dwell on them, he depicts them on the run, all part of the stream of life coughing its way over its now smooth-worn rocks, until, finally, the ice begins to gather, the ice of – as he tells you on the last page, "the winter of your life," in which you see, with him, the sense of an American life's hubbub. 

As memoirs go, it's one you're glad you've read.


My rating: 18 of 20 stars

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Bucky Fuller’s Vision and Why I Continue To Write

Last night the missus and I went to see a play, "R. Buckminster Fuller – The History (and Mystery) of the Universe." I'm not sixteeen years old, so I hesitate to use the word "awesome," but the play was, well, awesome. For several reasons:

  • Playwright D.S. Jacobs synthesized thousands of pages of R. Buckminster Fuller's writing into a two-hour show.
  • Actor David Novak was the only person on stage, and his talent nailed Fuller's mannerisms, even his coastal Massachusetts way of talking. 
  • As serendipity would have it, the set for this local production was designed by good friend Sylvia Pierce, which incorporated tekkie bits, such as film, animation, and geodesic modeling – one of the best sets I've seen in years.

But can I synthesize further? Let's see…


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Fuller was born near-blind. Consequently he had to use his tactile sense to relate to early school projects. While we were all using building blocks (Leggos, maybe) to construct in a fledgling way what turns out to be a most inefficient and irrational "square" reality, Fuller's hands were creating things from triangles that were far more sound and efficient than our "square" cartesian world. 

He flunked out of Harvard twice, largely because he was already headed toward a reality that educating minds of his age weren't ready to accept. So he continued to go his own way. He joined the Navy. Shipboard life made him much more aware of the necessity of ultra-efficiency in sailing across "Spaceship Earth," as he came to call it.

After leaving the Navy, he quickly came to realize from his examination of the way nature works that the Darwinian, Malthusian model of scarce resources (that could only belong to the strong – and to hell with the weak and less capable) was wrong and would eventually lead us toward oblivion, extinction. His strategy, then, was to create a new mindset that would be so capable of doing so much more with less and less, hence eminently attractive, that the old divide-and-conquer model, enforced militarily, would be abandoned. 

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But he didn't deal just in high-minded abstractions: he devised and designed – the geodesic sphere, the dymaxion cars and homes. Still, fear of scarcity and an infatuation with inefficient  thinking, building, and wealth, caused his creations to be all but ignored. But this play, and the continuing interest in Fuller's inventions and ideas testify to their endurance. 

But none of this explains why I continue to write:

Fuller left the old mindset – and his Navy days – and so did I. While he reached much higher, I chose a career built on constructing instead of destroying – devising and building road systems within the U.S. Parallel with that, and following those years, I began to write fiction and nonfiction. Still, why?

While Fuller persisted with the continuing ephemeralization (doing more with less) of technology, I chose the human angle. Humanity is all about story, and the stories of us humans are replete with both our foibles and our strengths. I learned early on, of course, not to editorialize or to rant – simply to tell human stories as best I could.

In this way, I can only hope my readers will be provoked to think for themselves. If they do, says Fuller, they will increasingly leave behind a mindset – one that worked for ages, but which humanity has now outgrown. And I believe that's so. Story is a manner of mirroring our ways, of providing essential human questions that must be asked, in hopes that we'll have that "Aha!" moment and – one by one – change our lives and the world for the better.


Visit Bob's Web Site here, and his FB Fan Page here.

Cereal and Serials

I wasn't aware this sort of publishing opportunity was avalable, but it certainly bears looking into.

With Kindle Serials, Amazon hopes to reinvent a format that already exists. Jeff Bezosdragged out the obligatory Dickens reference at the LA press conference, but serial fiction had a presence online before Amazon (and a presence offline after Dickens: Armistead Maupin’s “Tales of the City” and Candace Bushnell’s “Sex and the City,” for instance). The website Tuesday Serial compiles links to many online serials and offers advice about writing them. Authors likeClaudia Christian and Lyn Thorne-Alder have written online serials for years. And longform journalism site and e-singles publisher Byliner launched Byliner Serials last month.




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What’s a Writer To Do, Other Than Hope For a Print Book Contract?

I do have a print book soon to be out (honest), with an indie publisher. I really like the publisher – we e-mail back and forth regularly, and I really like our contract terms. Still, I've been exploring other publishing avenues than the traditional, even the increasingly popular, such as Lulu, Amazon's CreateSpace, and others.

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One site that's growing in popularity is Smashwords, and their site has a presentation on the growing emergence of e-books. Some of its pertinent points, some of which you may want to take exception to, particularly if you have a distinct love for the print book:

  • Traditional publishing practices have ossified (no kidding! If you're a writer, just thumb through your rejection letters and try to find a succinct reason for the rejections)
  • While e-books cost significantly less than print books, the author's  percentage on e-books is as little as 30% of the book retail price, as much as 80%. (You'd be lucky to get 15% in a trad contract for a print book.)
  • Authors (even well-established trad ones) are in large numbers flocking to self-publishing in order to get books out there quickly. (Time to gain an agent and have him/her begin marketing: 1-3 years. Time to have a book out once it's accepted by a publisher: 1-2 years. So you're looking at 2 to 5 years to see the book in print, once you've completed the manuscript.)
  • Between 2009 and 2010, e-books jumped from 3% to 8% of the total books published yearly. (This speaks to the emergence of e-book readers as well as to the growing popularity of e-books – driven, I think, by the lower e-book prices as much as anything else.)
  • e-book publishers such as Amazon's  DTP (Digital Text Platform) and Smashwords have the ability to help get your books on numerous book sale sites. 
  • Backlists, i.e., older books you've published become more important with e-books (they draw attention to your ability to be more than a one-hit-wonder)

You have to compete for readers' attention in ever-new ways with e-books, but you'd have to do that with a trad pub contract. E-books do seem the wave of the future – the only challenge is marketing them, but that's a whole other subject.

Bucky Fuller Lives!

I have to mention this.

Really. I have to.

When I was in school, studying the engineering subjects that led to my future career in civil engineering, and a few required cross-disciplinary subjects,  I spent a great deal of time trying to connect the dots between them. So much time, in fact, that I didn't deal sufficiently with the details of each of these "smokestack" disciplines.

I had the idea that there was an underlying common ground between electrical theory and fluid flow, for example. Between the geometry of surverying courses and the then-fledgling computer language algorithms. Okay, I'm being too technical, but I imagine you get the idea. If I could find that common ground, I'd have the inside track on understanding them all. But the language and math of each of these disciplines was just different enough to leave me twisting in the wind. 


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Years later, I discovered the Synergetics books of R. Buckminster Fuller (inventor of the geodesic dome and the dymaxion car). btw,I don't suggest reading them unless you have a lot of Excedrin for the ensuing headaches. Just suffice it to say that Fuller's work did lay out the basis (still accepted by almost no one in the technical disciplines) I'd been looking for. 

Still more years passed. I tried to develop Fuller's ideas into a new concept of geometry, and for a while I taught it, mostly to puzzled expressions and misunderstanding minds. Still, I thought, it was there, and I put it into a book that occasionally sells a copy or two.

Then recently I saw an ad in the local newspaper for a play being put on in the town where I live about Bucky Fuller – –  R. Buckminster Fuller: The History (and Mystery)  of the Universe – and as Fate would have it – the set was designed by dear friend Sylvia Pierce.

I haven't seen the play yet, but here's a review of this local production. But finally I can say this: Fuller, who resisted separations between the various technologies – and technology and art – is about to have his work gain a very deserved rebirth.


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Body’s Creativity

Gee…wow! I did it again! Six ten to twelve hour days of modernizing the house's interior a bit by putting up some crown molding and replacing the dippy little base molding with something that looks so much better. It's cost my aching body some lost sleep, a lot of physical discomfort otherwise, and not a few bucks.



So why do it keep doing it? I could live with things as is. Or I could always hire a trim crew, pour a brewski, sit back, roll my eyes at the noise and dust – and then simply write a check.

It's creative, that's why. 

I expend a lot of my creativity in writing and playing music – a lot of things that may never see the light of day in the conventional sense. And they're mostly mental exercises of one sort or another.

But my mind needs my body. I can be creative in some fey world all I want, but sometimes the body craves it's own sort of reality. And so I can now look around at my garden, my pond, my berry vines, my house's increasingly pleasing interior, and I see that physical creativity already rewarded, a perhaps perfectly egoistic mirror of who and what I am. It's at times like this that I begin to understand why Tolstoy used to work in the fields with the serfs.



Ahem. Tomorrow I'll rub on some liniment and get back to writing. Maybe there'll also be an hour in which I can get reacquainted with one of my guitars. But when I go back upstairs for a second cuppa, I'll pause for a moment to note with great satisfaction what wood, tools, nails, paint – and a few drops of blood – have wrought.


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