|Piers Anthony, Jan. 1, 2011. Photo by Jane McConnell.|
I read Dirty Minds, by Kayt Sukel. It is subtitled “How Our Minds Influence Love, Sex, and Relationships.” As a writer and as a person, I am interested. It's a good book. In the course of her researches the author actually masturbated to orgasm while enmeshed in an MRI scanner so they could record her brain responses during the act. The business was awkward, inside the claustrophobic machine, and though she reached her climax it wasn't a very good one, if still better than she'd had with some men. So they asked her to do it again. This time, more familiar with the process, she achieved a better one. “Wonderful!” they told her, pleased with their recording of her climactically lit-up brain. “It wasn't bad for me either,” she replied. I like this gal. There's a photo of the scan of her brain at the point of orgasm; how's that for a dirty picture? There is remarkable candor and humor throughout, but she does get into the technical aspects. She clarifies repeatedly that there's no one neuron or hormone or drug that does something; they act in complex harmony. There are genes and epigenetics interacting. I think of it as the gene being the piano key and the epigene being the piano player; if that particular key is not there, you can't play that note, and if it's there but you don't choose to play it, it's out of the picture anyway. So what about the chemistry of dating? Daters may say one thing, but in speed dating both men and women are dawn first to physical attractiveness, and then to personality. In a relationship it turns out to be true that women like snuggling and men like sex. It is also true that gazing at a pretty woman makes a man stupid. What about homosexuality? I had understood that it exists throughout the animal kingdom at about 5% of individuals, but it seems it is largely a human phenomenon. There really are different brains there, and it's not a choice; it is determined in the womb. In some ways the brain of a gay man resembles that of a hetero woman. The worst off are the transsexuals, with the body of one gender and the brain of the other; there's no simple fix there. And epileptics often show intense religious devotion, with similar parts of the brain active. But the upshot is that we have hardly begun to understand the human brain; more study is needed.
I watched The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. This is really four stories about four teen girlfriends, and I admire the unification device. They discover these blue jeans that perfectly each of them, though their body configurations are different. They make a pact to share them, each wearing them one week and telling the others what happens. They then have their separate adventures, all different, ranging from romantic to tragic, and remain closer than ever at the end. Characterization is sharp, scenes are feeling, and overall it's a nice experience.
I watched Chappie, the story of a police robot who gets severely damaged, his memory lost, then stolen and retrained to think for himself. A rogue group sets him up to learn as a child, but he gets damaged again, learning how brutal living folk can be. They teach him to fight and to steal cars. Childishly naive, he obeys. This is of course mischief. Until he manages to devise a helmet that can give consciousness to the other police robots. There is also The Moose, a robot destroying robot. There is mayhem, but in the end they manage to transfer the consciousnesses of the good guys to robot hosts, saving them. This is wild fun.
I watched Into the Woods, a musical compendium of several popular fairy tales melded into one. Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Jack and the Beanstalk, interacting. All comes to a happy conclusion—until the wife of the giant who was killed on the chopped beanstalk appears, demanding vengeance. They manage to deal with her, but things have changed. Everything gets mixed up, including some romances, such as the baker's wife kissing Cinderella's prince while Cinderella takes care of the baker's wife's baby, which complicates their relationships. Wishes come true, but not free, they conclude. Another fun movie, with some second thoughts here and there.
I watched The Pledge, a kind of murder mystery. A nine year old girl is brutally murdered, and they think the murderer killed himself. But did they have the right man? A retired cop thinks not. He slowly investigates, and the clues accumulate. The likely next target is an 8 year old girl whose mother moves in with him. He is determined to save the girl, but then things go wrong and her mother thinks he was putting the child at unnecessary risk, and it all falls apart. A lovely situation ruined. Will she ever believe him? Not the conclusion I expected.
I read Chaos at the Door, by Brian Clopper. A brother, sister, and two friends, fifth grade for the boys, 7th for the girl, get into serious science fiction adventure. Jason and Amy's father disappeared two years ago while on a business trip, literally: he just seemed to stop existing. Then comes a text message from Dad, warning of serious trouble ahead. There will be deliveries. And there are: five boxes mysteriously appear for the four of them, the fifth for Max. Who is Max? In the boxes are boxers, that is, shorts. When they put them on they become monsters with special powers, different for each one. Monsters in boxers from boxes. Amy's monster wears a skirt. They learn that they are up against a brutal time lord who means to invade Earth from the future. Father is helping them save Earth by sending the boxers, but there's only so much he can do, lest he be discovered and eliminated. Then it's on into wild adventure as they battle alien monsters. But mysteries remain, and the next novel will get into these. The author, a 5th grade teacher, is reading the novel to his classes, and they are relating to the characters. Unfortunately what real kids like is not necessarily what traditional publishers think they like; I've run afoul of that myself. Thank fate for self publishing! Your 5th graders should like this one too.
I read We Three Meet by D Spangler. Right from the table of contents you know this one is different. Chapter 1 is “He's Self-aware.” Chapter 2 is “She's Self-aware.” All the 70 brief chapters are that way, in sets. Sebastian becomes aware that he's a character in a novel, as does Brooke. He has the odd chapters and can see the title of his own chapter but knows nothing of hers except the blank spaces where they fit, and it is similar for her with the even chapters. Neither of them is really pleased to be manipulated in this manner. Do they have any free will? They try to exercise it, but without much success. Their friends are perplexed; what does this make them? Throwaway characters? Gradually the two come together, an obvious romantic lineup. He finds her interesting, but she is determined not to be used in this manner. And yet there is something about him. Who is the author, and why is he doing this? Will they finally accede to the script? I don't think I have seen a story quite like this before, though it puts me in mind of Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author. It also stimulated my own thoughts on a notion I have in my Ideas file, wherein a man and a woman are determined to go with the match-up the computerized listing says is least likely to succeed: themselves. So while We Three Meet is not really dramatic or compelling, for my taste, it is interesting and does provoke thought.
I read Decisive Magic, also by D Spangler. This is a loose sequel to We Three Meet, with some overlapping characters, but new leading ones, Lucas and Renee. They knew each other in childhood, but haven't had contact in close to 20 years. Now suddenly they get special cell phones delivered, that connect only to each other. They're not eager; they had been close friends, but he did something shameful that alienated her. The phones present questions with three proposed answers. Who sent the phones? There is obviously something like magic involved, and the “decisive” in the tile refers to the programmed decisions they must make. So it's a kind of mystery, and yes, a romance as we finally discover what he did that was so bad. Actually he hadn't done it, but was framed for the guilt of it; when that finally clarifies, they know they're for each other. Without this magical intercession it never would have happened. As with the prior novel, something is magically intervening to bring the right parties together despite their resistance. This one held my attention throughout, and I wish the author well with future novels. I'm not much of a romance genre reader, but I haven't seen stories like these before; they're not standard. Oh—I am in it, as Uncle Piers, a fit older man, in a passing scene. Not that I noticed.
I watched Shamus, where Burt Reynolds is a private detective hired by a wealthy eccentric diamond dealer to find heisted diamonds and a killer. It is replete with shady characters, pretty girls, violence, and signs that all is not what it seems to be. Not perfectly my kind of junk, but it will do. In the end he turns in the bad guy and maybe gets the girl.
I read Bad Girls Need Love Too by Gary Lovisi. This is a compendium of the covers of cheap sexy paperback books from 1949 to 1968, twenty years. It seems that the definition of a bad girl is that she likes sex, which makes me wonder about the values of our society. The art and cover blurbs are calculated to titillate (pun noted) the reader, to draw him in for illicit pleasure. There's Shame, from 1958, redhead in negligee. “Daughter of Evil!” Vagabond Virgin, 1960, with a nice glimpse of her full bare breast from behind. “No one had questioned her virtue...yet now her life depended upon it.” Las Vegas Madam, 1964, plunge neckline to her belly “Red Light for lust!” Swingers in Danger, 1968, white man and black girl in shower. “She wanted the apartment. He wanted her. Time for integration...” When I was surveying the market for erotic fiction, circa 1960, I bought one titled Passion One Flight Up and read it, only to find that there was hardly any sex in it, and it wasn't a very good novel. I knew I could do better myself, and I did. So the suggestiveness of these covers may or may not accurately reflect their content. Today, in contrast, you can get the hard stuff. But it's fun window shopping them.
I watched Physical Evidence, another with Burt Reynolds. A would-be suicide discovers a body, and Joe (Burt) is framed for it. He is appointed an attorney who happens to be a lovely young woman. (Only in the movies.) He was unconscious the night of the murder and can't remember what he did, which hardly helps his case. But the story is increasingly about the attorney, who is serious about defending him, but balked at every turn, including her boyfriend, whom she dumps, and Joe himself, who is trying to protect one of his girlfriends. There is even sinister police involvement. But in the end she and Joe set a counter-trap that plays on the paranoia of their enemies, and things blow up. They survive, barely, and evidently will become a couple. That's fine with me; she has lovely long hair.
I read Female Nude, published by Skira, part of their mini art book series. This as mainly classical art and sculpture showing nude women. The initial discussion points out how originally they had to find mythological motifs to justify such exposure, but finally got honest and recognized that people (males, anyway) like to look at nudes, no mythology required. So we have Venus on the half shell, and an 1851 painting by Francesco Hayez titled “Meditation on the History of Italy” showing a woman with one breast bared, and Pygmalion and Galatea by Jean-Leon Gerome wherein Venus is nude on her pedestal while a clothed Pygmalion is kissing her. She has come to life and is kissing him back. Also a number of others. Some of those nudes are realistically rendered so they aren't actually all that sexy. And if you get the idea that I have female bodies on my mind, was there ever any question?
I watched The Anderson Tapes, the third in a package of four. This is about a released prisoner they aren't sure is reformed, so they have hidden cameras constantly watching him. Sure enough, he plans and executes a huge heist, and naturally things go wrong. It seems to be part parody, and I can't say it really held my interest.
I watched Breakout, the last in the package. This one held my attention. An American man is framed for murder in Mexico and sent to prison. They're not going to give him a fair chance. It seems his rich grandfather is behind it. His pretty wife is determined to break him out, not knowing that her most trusted supporter is suspect. The guards feel her up when she comes for a conjugal visit. But the real story is the pilot she hires, who takes charge of the mission, aware that there's a leak somewhere. He hires a woman he knows to act as a key distraction, and she figures he just wants to get her alone, and is annoyed when that's not the case. She realizes that it's the wife he's interested in. He manages to pick the prisoner up in a helicopter he can control only haphazardly. It's one hairy mission, but finally successful. Because of that, he doesn't get the wife, but does get a big fee. Half a loaf.
I read The Social Animal by David Brooks. This is one potent book on sociology that reads like a novel. It is subtitled “The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement.” It is dense with detail, study after study, but it's the kind of detail that interests me and evidently others, as the book was a bestseller. I make checkmarks in the margins to note passages I may want to find again, and there may be a hundred in this book. Yes, it's one reason I buy and keep physical books: so I can mark them. It uses an admirable device to make the lecture material palatable to a general audience: it makes up two main characters, Harold and Erica, and follows them through their lives and the experiences that the studies describe. So they are really just stick figures, there to animate the graphs, to think the thoughts being studied, to wear the clothing this store is selling. No need to take them seriously. Except that it works. Harold and Erica became real to me, and I hurt when Harold dies at the end, of old age, with Erica with him and mourning him. I'm a pro in this respect; I have written hundreds of pieces with made up characters, so when someone else's characters get to me, it must be effective writing. I have studied mankind much of my life, exploring the factors that make us what we are, and much of what is in the book is familiar to me and perhaps to regular readers of this column, but I also learned things as well as confirming them. Such as this in chapter 1: that breasts on women exist to arouse men. Apes are flat chested, and larger breasts do not produce more milk than smaller ones. They are fleshed out by fat, and have no useful purpose except to serve as signaling devices to men. That's as far as this book takes it. In my GEODYSSEY series I show why: when mankind went from four feet to two feet, babies took years to become proficient walkers, and had to be carried by their mothers, who were thus handicapped for foraging or even escaping predators. They needed help, so they developed breasts to summon at least one man to constantly protect them. Converting breasts from milkers that repelled men because the women with them were not breedable, to truly potent attractants, well, that was one of the phenomenal shifts our species made to accommodate the new order. One of many. Here's a nice bit of characterization for Harold's parents when they met: “While Rob was mentally undressing her, she was mentally dressing him.” That is, assessing him as for more than a sex partner. Most adults have a vocabulary of about 60 thousand words, and must learn ten to twenty a day from age 18 months to 18 years to get there. But the most frequent one hundred words account for 60% of all conversations. I didn't know that. The most common 4,000 words account for 98% of conversations. Why the overkill on vocabulary? Maybe to impress potential mates. I remember in college when that backfired: a boy asked a pretty girl to set her pulchritude down next to him. “Set my what?” she demanded. (Public service note: the word means physical beauty.) What is the most important quality desired in a sexual partner by both men and women? Kindness. And this one I knew: the richer the man, the more beautiful the woman. That shows what they are really going for, doesn't it? Another I didn't know: women who give birth to boys have shorter life expectancies, because the boys' testosterone messes up their immune systems. It just goes on and on with fascinating details like these. There is serious food for thought here throughout the lives of the protagonists. Some incidentals are intriguing, too: “It was characteristic of this fellow that he would talk about his service to the Vatican in order to get between a married woman's legs.” I even learned a new word that is not in my competent collection of dictionaries: limerence, the desire for the moment when the inner and outer patterns mesh. And this: “75 percent of the anti-Western terrorists come from middle class homes.” What about science? Brain scans don't settle whether God exists, or solve the mystery of consciousness. In sum: this may be the most interesting and informative book I've read this year. I recommend it to anyone interested in the human condition.
Our big event in SapTimber was the lightning strike. On Saturday the 5th I was typing on my computer in my upstairs study when there was a boom of thunder that sounded about ten feet over my head. My mouse stopped working, and I lost my specialized keyboard, and the modem quit. I got the mouse back by unplugging and replugging it, and the keyboard by re-invoking it, but the modem was gone, preventing me from updating my electronic publishing survey this month. That was only the beginning. The upstairs air conditioning quit, so that we had to sleep downstairs in the living room for five days, as we have become soft and can no longer sleep in the 80s. Our phone was out; we had to get in touch with the phone company via cell phone, ironically, and until the phone was fixed we couldn't tackle things like the AC. Our alarm security system was out; that turned out to be expensive to fix. In fact the lightning strike cost us about $5,000 in assorted repairs. Our bedroom TV set quit; we replaced it with a new one. Then when I tried plugging it in elsewhere, it worked; it seemed that was another that simply needed to be replugged. My wife's hospital bed stopped working; I had her try unplugging and replugging it, which she tried, sure that it was useless—and it worked. We had a sort of dome that connected to the phone, giving the day and time, number calling, and other incidental information; that was out, and did not restart with replugging. Daughter Cheryl had given it to us; she brought us another one. When the man checked the alarm system, he showed me scorch marks and blown fuses or whatever, one had been literally blown apart. So that was where it struck, taking things out seemingly randomly. I guess we were lucky it wasn't worse. We are almost always glad to have rain, here on our little tree farm; drought is the real killer. But please, God, not quite so close.
I continue on the Soft Diet, as my extractions and new teeth implants slowly heal. I now have an upper denture, but it's temporary, not for chewing, just for appearance when I go out. It is painful to put in, and a struggle to get out again, but it does look great when it's in. How I long for the day I can chew again!
Now they have discovered a new human variant, maybe an ancestor, possibly two million years old. The thing about this one is that they found something like a dozen complete skeletons. Other finds have been a piece of skull, or a tooth, on toe-bone or whatever, mere fragments. This makes the new one, Homo naledi, suddenly the best known one. That's invaluable. It seems that even two million years ago early man was burying his dead, in this case putting them in a place where they could not be molested. That shows planning, execution, and concern. They weren't big brained yet, but were hardly as primitive as some folk like to think. The project had to use young women to get into the deep narrow cave, because men were too big; that was one huge break for women starting out in the profession. I will be interested to see what else develops.
Sexual assault remains a problem at major American universities, mostly of women. This concerns me because I had two daughters who graduated from college, and the idea of them getting molested enrages me. What are the chances? One third of female college seniors report being victims of non-consensual sexual contact at least once. Consensuality makes a difference; I believe that if a college age couple wants to have sex, that's their business. It's the forced sex that's bad. It seems that about two thirds of it is sexual touching or kissing, and one third penetration. That is, rape. Some is “while incapacitated” which I take to mean drunk or victim of the date rape drug, and some is by force, which I take to mean holding her down for it. My question is, why is this tolerated? If I ran the educational system, every person in it would have a panic button and maybe a personal camera to alert the authorities to any infraction, and they'd be on it in seconds. There would be monitors at parties where there was alcohol. The perpetrators would be tried and expelled, and the more egregious ones would face prison time and possibly castration. This problem could be significantly reduced immediately—if they really wanted to stop it. So I would encourage the authorities to want to stop it, by making them liable as accessories. You thought that I, as a liberal, would be soft headed? Well, how do you feel about your daughters getting molested or raped? So maybe it's only one chance in three; is that a gamble you care to make, knowing that the risk doesn't have to exist? Yes of course there would be complications, he said / she said, false accusations, matters of interpretation. That's why there needs to be immediate investigation of any incident by fair minded third parties familiar with the scene. If a given institution feels that's too much to do, send your child elsewhere. They'll get the message.
If there's one thing I fear, here on the tree farm, it's fire. It can be started by a mistake in the kitchen, or by lightning, or by a careless neighbor. What about a forest fire that sweeps in from elsewhere, taking everything out, as is happening in drought-stricken California? It has happened in Florida in the past. I was sorting out my old Nature folder and came across a clipping from 1998 about a Florida company making a fire-protective gel. It seems you soak the house with the gel, and the fire comes, and the house survives. I'd like to have a can of that ready, just in case. It seems the goo clings for six to eight hours, is nontoxic and biodegradable, and washes off. A homeowner kit covers 1,000 square feet and cost at that time $189. So it's for emergency use only, but surely a lot better than losing your house. But I haven't heard about it since. They had a web site www.coastnet.com/. Maybe I'll see whether it still exists, when I get my modem back.
Yogi Berra died, age 90. He was a notable baseball figure, back in my day, but perhaps his greatest fame was in his way with words. He said “The future ain't what it used to be.” “It's deja vu all over again.” “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” When a woman complimented him by telling him he looked cool, he said “Thanks. You don't look so hot yourself.” When fans ran naked across the field and he was asked what gender they were, he said “I don't know. They had bags over their heads.” “Always go to other people's funerals. Otherwise they won't come to yours.” And when his wife asked him where he wanted to be buried, he said “I don't know. Surprise me.” And of course a comic character was named after him: Yogi Bear, who had his own neat quote: “I ain't no ordinary bear.” And the original Yogi was no ordinary man.
Other notes: an upper income 50 year old man now has a life expectancy of 89, compared to a lower income man's 76. So if I hadn't happened to strike it rich as a writer, I'd be five years dead now. Women still live two to three years longer. One factor, maybe: America is by far the world's leader in mass shootings. Also in suicides; two thirds of fatal gunshot victims, about 20,000 a year, die by suicide. I don't much like the prevalence of guns, because often it's the shoot-happy nuts who want them, but I am not shocked by the suicides. I feel a person has a right to end his life in his own fashion, rather than have others force him to live beyond his ambition by hooking his hurting body up to tubes and machines. They make it a crime even to help a person die by his own hand. Well, guns to the rescue: the success rate of gun suicide is 85 percent. This is one of the few things where I align with the NRA. Censorship: the National Coalition Against Censorship sent a solicitation featuring the case of Maris Bock, a gifted 16 year old artist. In the name of “The safety of her own artistic ego,” her school banned her painting of a girl eating ice cream. What? Well, the cone looks like a standing phallic symbol, and she's licking off the head. It really galls me to say this, but I can see their point. Do we really want to encourage children to suck off phallic symbols? And there's that clerk in Kentucky who refuses to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples, because it's against her religion. Well, if she has a public job to do, she should do it, or go into some other line of work. As a vegetarian I would not take a job in a slaughterhouse. But what bugs me about her is that I understand her religion also forbids divorce, and she's been divorced three or four times. I don't know the details, but this smells from here of hypocrisy. And a cartoon in NEW SCIENTIST: a technician is saying “No wonder today's results have been so poor. This isn't growth serum; it's hand sanitizer!” Meanwhile a female technician is arriving, I presume from the lavatory, with monstrous hands. Who switched the samples?
And to finish out with a bit of naughty humor from an internet circulation: a collection of pictures of signs saying things like “Is there life after death? Trespass here and find out.” One that from a distance looks like NAKED WAITRESSES FLIRT WITH YOU. But up closer you can read the small print: “The NAKED truth about our WAITRESSES is they only FLIRT WITH YOU to get a better tip.” “We do not serve women; you have to bring your own.” Under the McDonald's banner: “Saying your kids are fat because of us is like saying it's Hooters fault your husband likes big tits.” “ATTENTION Please be patient with the bartender. Even a toilet can serve only one asshole at a time.” “Our beer is as cold as your ex's heart.”
And yes, between books and videos I'm still writing. There has been a logjam in publication, but soon we hope to have that unblocked. We are also waiting on the Xanth movie/TV option, hoping they'll decide to exercise it, that is, actually do it. Waiting on it is like the soft diet I'm on: survivable but hardly thrilling.
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