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On Plot Lines, Needlework, and the Unfortunate Deterioration of Eyesight April 3, 2014

I am currently in the process of re-watching the entire “Downton Abbey” series for the fifth or sixth time. As the drama plays out, I sit silently upon the couch with a tiny needle gripped between my teeth. I gaze at the diagram, searching for the row where I last left off and consider how much easier this was before I needed bifocals. Now, the tiny thread-color symbols seem to blur into a single, indistinguishable mass vaguely recognizable as “things I’ve stitched” and “things I haven’t stitched”.

Because I am hand making a large number of my Christmas gifts this year, such trials must be gracefully borne. When I was younger, such endeavors were the result of a restricted budget. (After all, how much could a kid do with $2 a week?) While I make significantly more now, the principle remains the same. Health insurance and fuel for my truck take precedence over fancy presents – even for those whom I love most dearly. So here I am, carefully stitching the first of what promises to be at least four meaningful gifts destined for the walls of my closest friends.

Of course, unlike when I was a child, these gifts are not simply glue-gunned bits of scraps. While everyone will be receiving some form of needlework, not every item is identical. Nor is each item simply a variation upon a theme. These are not mass-produced trinkets designed to save me the bother of shopping or the investment of money which might otherwise be spent on play things. These are carefully selected items designed to convey message and meaning to those who receive them.

That the creation of such gifts takes time is evident, so I had the wisdom to begin my work in January. And, since stitching is a relaxing, but not particularly stimulating task, it was incumbent upon me to find something else to captivate my mind for the many hours of labor ahead. Movies like “Indiana Jones” and “Star Wars” quickly made their way onto my list as did “The Mummy” and a few “James Bond” films. I contemplated watching the entire series of “Stargate SG1” again as well as assorted seasons of “Star Trek”, “Dr. Who”, and “M*A*S*H*”.

Doubtless my TV watching hours will seem quite extravagant by the year’s end, but I anticipate that each moment will have been well-spent. I should be able to recite all of the Dowager Countesses lines for four seasons and may even be able to hum the “Imperial March” backwards. The best part, however, will not be the knowledge that I can provide hours of entertainment at any party or even that those I love will receive genuinely meaningful gifts – it will be the delight I feel when I walk into the optometrist and explain that it’s entirely my friends’ fault that I need stronger bifocals. Then again, it may be the look on my friends’ faces when they discover that they took the blame!


“Star Trek” in the Real World November 14, 2013

I hadn’t meant to purchase an iPad.  At least, not at first.  I had a perfectly functional iPod Touch and, as far as I was concerned, that was sufficient to meet all of my needs.  Then, life changed.  A writer’s conference and the start of a school year drew my attention to the fact that my 15” laptop (hitherto used exclusively as a PC) was too unwieldy to haul back and forth to classes and seminars.  Its lengthy boot time (far less than that of the 386 on which I began my computing career) and limited battery life also detracted from its actual usefulness in these settings.  Something had to be done… and quickly.

Noticing my dilemma, my mother expertly drew my attention to the “nifty” Apple product.  She had purchased one for herself earlier in the year and with a flourish that would have made any Mac salesman proud, began demonstrating each of its features.

The urgency of my situation demanded immediate action and I’ve always been a bit of a gadget junkie, so I’ll admit that it wasn’t a hard sell.  Marching into our local Mac Store, I informed the sales clerk that I wanted a 64 GB, 4th Gen iPad, in black, with a keyboard and screen protector.  It was an order that he was more than willing to meet and, a few minutes later, I hopped into my pickup truck, nestling my new gadget securely in the passenger seat.

I spent the evening charging the device and downloading useful apps (many of which came at the recommendation of my fiancé who was born with a glowing, data-streaming Apple binkie in his mouth).  I set up Evernote (the access anywhere notebook that’s perfect for organizing everything from lecture recordings to notes and photographs), moved all of my Audubon guides over, and installed a few useful library apps.  As almost an afterthought, I decided to install Netflix as well… and that was my downfall.

While watching TV on my device had not been a part of the plan, I had recently begun listening to Ken Ray and John Champion’s “Mission Log” podcast.  A weekly look at the “messages, morals, and meanings” of “Star Trek”, I had made it a habit to watch along and I had yet to watch this week’s episode.

I quickly determined that this would be an excellent way to test my iPad’s video streaming capabilities.  Setting the device on the table, I propped it up on its kickstand and hit play.  In the blink of an eye, the screen was filled with images of Kirk, Spock, and the starship Enterprise… all digitally remastered for my viewing pleasure.

It nearly brought tears to my eyes.  I had spent much of my youth dreaming of technology like this and here it was… in my own home and capable of far more than any of us had ever imagined.  As I watched McCoy deliver a hypospray to an overly-excited crewmen, I couldn’t help feeling that this was the way “Star Trek” was meant to be viewed.  And that Gene Roddenberry would be impressed.


Goodreads, Comic Books, and a Bit of Snobbery August 22, 2013

Filed under: Apps,Comic Books,Literature,Reading — acgheen @ 12:00 am
Tags: , ,

I finally caved.  After receiving repeated invitations from my literate friends, I decided to join the social media platform known as Goodreads.  I’ll admit that my reasons were purely selfish: I needed an efficient way to track both the books that I’m currently reading as well as those that I would like to read… someday… if I get the time.

It took a couple of hours, but I finally finished uploading each title.  I don’t know whether my friends will care about this disparate list of tomes.  Does it matter that I’m reading “Les Misérablesand The Pond Owner’s Problem Solver”?  Do they care that I’m enjoying slowly making my way through “Auto Repair For Dummiesand Introduction to Manuscript Studies”?  Will they gaze in wonder at the number of reference manuals I’m reading from cover-to-cover?  Or will they simply be overwhelmed by the fact that my reading list, at present, comes to 51 separate books? Yes, I’m out of control.

I’ve had this problem since High School. I’m fascinated by nearly everything; science, history, philosophy, art, language – if you can write about it, you run the risk of my wanting to read it.  And, since I’m in the mood for different genres at different times, my “active” reading list has rarely dipped below 35 books.  (For those who would ask, yes, I do remember where I am and what I’ve learned from each.)  This fits well with my marginally snobbish nature.

I’ve always valued the slippery and somewhat illusive title of “well-read”.  Unfortunately, the pursuit of this title led to some serious introspection as I sat, scanning one book at a time into my new-found social friend.  My gaze flitted towards the top of one of my many book shelves where a stack of comic books had been neatly curated.  Would it damage my image if I included those?

For most of my life, I’ve looked down upon comic books as the “reading” material of the illiterate and unimaginative.  Not that I’d have actually phrased it this way.  I had a few friends who enjoyed occasional issues of Marvel or DC and, while I didn’t actually read the comics, I did watch a few of the TV series’ based upon them.  (I used to have dreams of being the female version of “Batman” – only without the side-kick.)

Instead, my fall came much later in life… just after the premier of “Star Trek: Into Darkness”.  In the course of rediscovering my love of Trek, I came across a fascinating detail: the original series (TOS) was being reworked for the new timeline in the form of comic books.

I wrestled with myself for several days, then quietly stole away to a local comic book store where I picked up a used copy of “Star Trek: Countdown” and “Star Trek Volume 1” and sat down to read.  What I encountered astonished me.  These were not what I’d envisioned.  While the plots weren’t deep (a feature shared with TOS), they were entertaining.  And the artwork was beautiful!

I was astounded by the level of detail and captivated by the rich colors which filled each page.  It wasn’t long before I was able to identify the difference between the works of various artists and found myself looking for my “favorites”.  Comic books, it turns out, are not simply “a kids thing”, but a medium for self-expression with which (quite sadly) I had been hitherto unacquainted. My eyes had been opened.

But now I faced the delicate question: was it time to share my new vision with others?  Was it appropriate to include the soon-to-be released “Volume V” alongside titles like “The Exploration of the Colorado River and Its Canyons” or “The Arabian Nights”?  Would it damage my snobbish image to post it with a collection of language learning materials representing tongues which, if I ever speak at all, I will speak only poorly?

I pondered the question for some time before finally settling upon the belief that it was.  After all, what is literature if not a form of art: the personal, verbal expression of those worlds fictional or otherwise, which we as individuals have come to love?  Comic books express that love differently, but they express it nonetheless and it seemed that this entitled them to a place amongst the other tomes which made up my list.

This philosophical quandary laid to rest, I went about my day… never once admitting the truth that the comic books don’t belong on my list because they’re “art”, but because I simply enjoy reading them.  The snobbish side of me could never admit to that!


Not a Trekkie July 25, 2013

Ask me if I’m a Trekkie and I’ll deny it.  Yes, I own copies of the Star Trek The Next Generation: Technical Manual, the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Technical Manual and The Klingon Dictionary, but these are only rational items for a wannabe sci-fi writer.  They sit neatly alongside a copy of “The Space Colonist’s Handbook” and a couple dozen volumes on actual space adventures.  My Mr. Spock bobble-head and the two seasons of the Original Series that sit on my shelf are, however, a bit more difficult to explain.

I can clarify my possession of the first by explaining that a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away… (oops, wrong movie), Mr. Spock was my first crush.  I’m not sure whether it was the pointy ears or the cool logic that attracted me (or the fact that science officers wore blue uniforms and blue is my favorite color), but I quickly fell in love.  He would be my fictional character of choice until Han Solo appeared on the scene.

As to why I own two seasons of the Original Series, all I can say is that I was just on the verge of purchasing the third when someone decided to “re-master” everything and update the special effects.  Yes, the phaser beams were hokey and the transporter looked a lot like sugar stirred into a glass of water, bit I really didn’t care.  Classic Trek should not be altered.  Unless…

I’ll admit that I was nervous when Paramount announced its intention to bring Classic Trek back to the big screen.  So much of the series is dated: from the sexist mini-skirts to the quirky sounds made by the Enterprise.  Our culture has advanced since the sixties and I had every right to fear that a newer, modern version of Trek would lose many of the unique features which made it so ground-breaking at the time.  This didn’t, however, keep me away from the theatre.

With great delight, I exited the cinema, my head in the clouds.  The new movie was, in my opinion, perfect.  The actors hadn’t sought to “make the characters their own,” but had mimicked the performance of the original cast.  From Spock’s enigmatic look to McCoy’s hand gestures, everything had been just as it was in the Original Series.  (Despite, of course, that little bit about the altered time-line.)  The mini-skirts had been given an acceptably modern flair and the Enterprise still beeped and hummed.  It had me longing for more.

Needless to say, my fiancé and I were some of the first in line when “Into Darkness” was released.  I was totally revved up and ready for another installment of what some said was the prequel to a revival of the series.  There was some serious discussion about whether it was appropriate to rewrite “The Wrath of Khan,” but as my sister pointed out, the occurrence of the crew’s encounter so early in their mission combined with the absence of the Genesis Project does leave things open to some creative twists in the future.  How can I argue with logic like that?

Perhaps the oddest part of my adventure, however, wasn’t the movie, but my fiance’s reaction to it. Upon exiting the theatre he immediately announced that 1) He did not feel threatened by Mr. Spock and 2) He was interested in seeing more Trek. We spent the remainder of the afternoon watching old episodes of The Next Generation (I tried to show him some other series, but to no avail) and I found myself slowly reliving all of the wonder that I felt when I first discovered Trek.

The humor, the adventure, the scientific wonder are all still there.  And, while I wouldn’t class myself with those who attend the big conventions (I am, after all, only thinking about purchasing a Starfleet uniform), I still feel a deep affinity for the show and for the creativity which it inspires.  Perhaps I am just a bit of a Trekkie after all!


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