Unknown Ohio raptor

I’m having a serendipitous week for birding! Six days ago, a trio of buzzards converged around my house; today, a medium-sized hawk perched on the roof of my garage. Once again, I was within reach of my camera, and snapped 14 pictures, the best five of which are posted below. (There’s #nofilter on the last two images; they appear blurry because they were shot through a window screen, before I was able to step outside and take the rest of the photos.)
I looked through some guides to Ohio birds; I couldn’t definitively identify it, but I think it might be a red-shouldered hawk. If any of my readers can confirm or correct me on this, I’d greatly appreciate it.

Update: Two readers have told me that this is a red-shouldered hawk. One suggested it is probably a juvenile.

Raptor_5 Raptor_6 Raptor_8 Raptor_9 Raptor_10


Turkey vultures in the suburbs

Today, a little after 6 p.m. at my parents’ house in Rocky River, OH, a trio of turkey vultures converged on a squirrel killed in the street. I grabbed my camera and watched the raptors putter around the carcass, eating or waiting their turn, and taking to the air after cars scattered them. I observed them for  ten or fifteen minutes, and took maybe seventy pictures. Below are the best photos I was able to snap (click to enlarge): DSCN0447 DSCN0444 DSCN0505 DSCN0463 DSCN0477

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Happily Ever; or, How to Have an Existential Crisis at the Movies

“Happily Ever” by Liz Maugans, via CAN Journal Winter 2014 edition.

In 2014, I was honored by the artist Liz Maugans through an invitation to participate in her exhibition “Screen Plays” at 1point618 Gallery. For the project, 19 other Northeast Ohio writers and I were shown one of 20 screen print collages, each of which contained a different short phrase. The most legible words in my collage were “HAPPILY EVER.”  We were then instructed to compose a single-page fiction or nonfiction narrative based on the text, to be displayed alongside the print which inspired it. I elected to write fiction.

Producing such a short piece on deadline was a less difficult task than most people I’ve told about it assume. Nuns fret not their convent’s narrow room, and my own writing thrives when I am given boundaries. My earlier efforts at short stories are closer to novellas in length, and every paragraph and page was subject to endless tweaking and rewriting. I can tinker with a single page of text for a long time, but given the narrowness of that project’s scope, it’s easier to exhaust the possible edits and arrive at a satisfactory end-point.

Below is the most recent version of the story I wrote for Liz; it is only a few revisions removed from the version which hung at 1poing618 Gallery.On the surface, it reads like a little domestic drama, but I consider it a horror story. The central idea—Parfit’s reductionist account of selfhood—I do not consider horrific in-itself; but then again nothing is frightening in-itself, but only relative to our fears and hopes. Some people feel liberated in finding metaphysical reasons to disassociate from their past and future selves; other people are gripped by the fear of dying day-by-day, minute-by-minute. My protagonist Matthew happens to be a person of the latter sort. He responds to his (re)discovery of anattā with inauthenticity; by the end of the narrative, he is trying to deny the fleetingness of his character, and live as if he were not insubstantial.

Happily Ever

Matthew Dillard stood over the running sink, wondering how he could clean his mouth without a toothbrush or toothpaste. When he realized he couldn’t, he turned the tap off, thought about what Sheila had said about The Princess Bride.

“It’s my favorite,” she had said over rice noodles and red sauce at her apartment. Matthew had brought over a bottle of Yellowtail and three cardboard boxes stuffed with his toiletries. The latter he’d left with Sheila an hour ago, which was why he could not brush his teeth now.

“Have you not seen it?”

“When I was like nine, I think.”

“And do you like it? You have to have. Otherwise some commitments may need…reconsidering,” she said, then pursed her lips to suppress a smile, as she did whenever she tried to deadpan.

“I can’t say.”

“Do you not remember it?”

“I do. But I was nine,” Matthew had said.

That had seemed like the only sensible answer. Matthew couldn’t understand how he was beholden to the cinematic tastes of nine-year-old Matt. He could not think of anything he had in common with the boy, who had gotten answers for multiplication quizzes from Brad Sajak, and who would have eaten Jif and white bread for every meal if he had been allowed to. The man Matthew Dillard had his associate degree in accounting, and had been mostly weaned off of gluten by Sheila.

The hard lump hit Matthew in the stomach before he finished articulating his thought: If at some time he had stopped being Matt, could Matthew one day be replaced by someone elder and other? That new, old man might share as few preferences with his predecessor as Matthew and Matt had. What of him would remain then? Could his interests count any more than those of the child he had dismissed earlier that night?

Matthew leaned over the sink and tried very hard to remember the boy’s opinion of The Princess Bride, so that he could hold it as his own.

Out here, (almost) everything hurts

Mad Max[colon]Fury Road_Furiosa and Max fight

(The following post presupposes knowledge of the plot of George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road  (2015)and therefore may spoil some plot points and worldbuilding details.)

In a rare inversion, critics have been super-excited about a big action blockbuster—Mad Max: Fury Road—but audience reactions (according to my totally unscientific observations) have been mixed. (I don’t consider Rotten Tomatoes’ audience score to be scientific either, because of self-selection biases.) The people who like this movie really, really like it, but many are just lukewarm about it, or disappointed.

I am in the underwhelmed camp; in fact, I considered walking out of the film several times. (This might have had more to do with my generalized anxiety than it did with the actual film. But for reasons discussed below, I think even under ideal conditions, I wouldn’t have been fully engaged with it.) I went in with expectations lifted by critics’ exuberance. I haven’t seen the original Mad Max films (yet), so I wasn’t comparing the film to its predecessors. I can enjoy crazy, over-the-top, and even cartoonish action (e.g. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Dredd, the Evil Dead trilogy, and the MCU). But for some reason, I never really clicked with this film. I think it might have had to do with the radical shifts between over-the-topness and realism.

On the realism ledger, I very much liked how Max’s trauma was portrayed. Unlike many portrayals of PTSD, Max’s trauma wasn’t just an inert character trait that manifests itself only in brooding. Instead, it was a tangible impairment that asserted itself an inopportune times. Moments of danger, distress, and even loneliness trigger Max’s flashbacks and hallucinations, violently tearing him out of moments which demand his full attention. In just a few seconds of screen time, it is established Max has real anguish; we don’t know how he can possibly carry on being wounded as he is, and neither does he.

There was also an internal logic to Immortan Joe’s slave society, and his death cult was enlivened by fascinating details. (As a friend of mine pointed out, when the War Boys spray silver paint over their mouths and noses, they’re not just alluding to the “shining and chrome” bodies they expect to wear in the afterlife—they’re also huffing paint fumes, getting themselves high and driving themselves into a berserker frenzy. The significance of this ritual—conveyed in images, not words—and dozens of other details made the world of the film feel deep and intriguing.)

Mad Max[colon]Fury Road_Max muzzledHowever, the central chase scenes themselves had an atmosphere of unreality about them. This is ironic, given how much they they involved real stunts, and how little they involved CGI. The practicality of the special effects, much-trumpeted by critics, was one of the film’s chief attractions for me going in. However, knowing the logistical difficulties of making the chase scenes happen didn’t enhance my enjoyment of them when they were onscreen. The stunt choreographers did their jobs too well, and everything looks too effortless. I think it was after Furiosa climbed to the underside of her war rig to make repairs while it was still moving at top speed that I realized that the chases were taking place in a cartoon universe, and the main characters would never be in danger when they were scrambling and fighting on the outsides of racing vehicles.

Additionally, just beyond the margins of the screen, there are lots of questions unresolved by the film.

Even fans have expressed confusion about how the timeline of the film’s universe is supposed to work. A quick audio montage of fake news broadcasts establishes that the movie takes place after some political and ecological catastrophe that reduced the world to an anarchic desert wasteland. Max, played by an actor in his mid-thirties at the time of the film’s production, remembers being a police officer before the collapse of civilization. This implies the collapse happened within his adult lifetime. However, Nux, a twentysomething, doesn’t know what a tree is, and only the most elderly characters still have an interest in preserving seeds. This suggests generations have passed since the world was green. So…when did the apocalypse happen? Within Max’s lifetime, or decades ago?

Even those who aren’t continuity nitpickers may have been disappointed that many of the most interesting character moments happened off-screen. We don’t know how the wives came to rebel against the man who enslaved them. We don’t know why Furiosa decided to abandon her life as Immortan’s lieutenant to seek redemption. We’re told about these defining choices, but not shown them.
Hopefully, Mad Max: Fury Road will receive some technical awards, for all the real peril its stunt people put themselves through to make many genuinely impressive shots. I also don’t deny that it has a solider moral center than most action movies, or that its’s able to give depth and arcs to central characters with comparatively little dialogue. It just wasn’t much fun for me.