29 May, 2013

How to win at reading Agatha Christie.

Now, before we begin here, I ought to let you know why I am qualified to write this list.  I am an Agatha Christie devotee - and have guessed the endings of a good many of her books, which is no mean mental feat, I must say.  I have only been truly surprised by the twist ending of one book in my entire life, and it wasn't one of hers.*  I have read all but one of Madame Christie's stories.  (It's one about Poirot going to the dentist, and finding it is the quest of my life.) I've seen the movies, the TV show, and read commentaries on her.  I subscribed to both the UK and US Agatha Christie newsletters, which has proven rather pointless as they're exactly the same. I own the Agatha Christie Who's Who.  I once even went to a meeting of the local Murder on the Orient Express book club.

(These are some of my Agatha Christie Books. The hardbacks are not shown.)

So, obviously, I know what I'm talking about here.

My mom once asked my Grandpa, who was a surgeon and knew every answer on Jeopardy (and so was, clearly, a genius), if people really could guess the ends.  "You can guess," he said, "but you'll guess wrong."

Now, with all due respect to Grandpa, you can guess right.  The likelihood that you'll get every detail right is slim, but you can guess who did the foul murder.  I'm not a surgeon and I only know Jeopardy questions that relate to the Beatles and Johannes Gutenberg, so if I can do it you can too.

Basically, Pay attention. Use zee little gray cells!

This, really, is the only thing you have to do. People claim that she doesn't give you all the clues to the mysteries - but Agatha Christie herself declared that was not true.  You just can't read an Agatha Christie novel lazily or with your brain turned totally off.  If you're serious about guessing, you must pay attention. This manifests itself in a number of ways.

1. Nothing is arbitrary. 
This is something all the best mystery people do.  You have to assume that everything - every passing remark, or thing noticed or action taken is significant.  Everything is connected.  These books are like... baclava. Or spider webs. They seem delicate and fluffy, but they're labor intensive and carefully organized.  Recognizing that will help you immensely.  To use an example from a Dorothy Sayers book, Have His Carcass, putting together what it means that Paul Alexis's joints hurt after activity, and that he refused to shave - seemingly tiny things that are mentioned off-hand - have to do with each other solves the whole mystery.

2. Don't assume you won't be able to guess because there will be historical things you won't get.
I sometimes complain about this with Sherlock Holmes - occasionally the stories seem dependent on facts that, had I lived back in those good old days, I might have known.  However, only once - once, mind - in all my readings of Agatha Christie (in Murder on the Orient Express) did I think that there was something I couldn't have gotten because it was a historical fact. And if I was British I wouldn't have missed it.  I'm not a history buff, so you can't claim to be fooled by this.

3. NEVER write anyone off. 
Poirot himself is forever explaining to Hastings that he suspects everyone until the very last minute.  And you ought to do the same!  Don't fall into the habit so many Agatha Christie characters do themselves - pinning their money on one character being the murderer, and making all the facts bend to fit the theory. It just doesn't work that way.  You have to take every piece of evidence against each person and add it to their list.  Then, at the end, you see whose evidence is the most convicting and ba da bing! You have your murderer.

4. Think dirty.
To half-spoil Hercule Poirot's Christmas, when the murdered man boasts of having sons born on "the wrong side of the blanket," (after taking careful note of it, per number 1) think about it.  He's got illegitimate sons, eh?  Are any of them around? This woman has died and there's a chap there whose half her age.  Could he be her son? Use a weird mix of logic and creativity when you think about people's social stations or ages.  Never believe people when they say who they are.

5. Enjoy yourself!
If you were a mystery writer, you would totally mess with people's heads, wouldn't you?  Agatha Christie did exactly that in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, and it made her famous.  It drove people NUTS. And it's fantastic. Think of the wackiest explanations you can.  You never know - it might be right.

19 May, 2013

Beam me up, PLEASE.

Okay, so my family went and saw the new Star Trek movie the other day. And it was great in the way all J.J. Abrams movies are - I walked out going, "I didn't actually notice if that movie had any substance because it was a MOVIE!"  You know what I mean?  Super 8 was the same way.  I get overwhelmed by the movie-ness of it all.  

But! Because my dad is, apparently, a big nerd, we immediately went home and watched The Wrath of Kahn. (Which incidentally was like watching paint dry after the BANG EXPLOSION BIG SHIP WOW! of Star Trek: Into Darkness.) And then after that we had to watch the first Star Trek episode where Khan was introduced.  And it was...

Well, you know, cheesy as heck - but also AMAZING and MAGICAL.  LOOK AT THAT COLOR!!!!  Every color palette I do for a good while is going to be based on this.  I'm dead serious. I hope I can figure out a way to replicate that Technicolor gloriousness. Thank you thank you thank you dad.

I do have some questions though.
Why do the shields of the ship never seem to do much? And why do they always fail? Someone's always yelling, "Shields at 14 percent, captain!"  WHY on ships that big do things like the engine room or the bridge seem so ludicrously vulnerable??  The first hit from enemy guns always takes out like half of the incidental people in the bridge.  And guys who work in the engine room must have a life expectancy of like 25 years. And WHY are things like life support for the bridge so easy for the bad guys to hit with their guns? What is taking up all this extra space in these ships? Mini golf ranges for when they get bored? Or, like, tons of red shirted engine workers all in suspended animation to be awoken when they need to be replenished?  I don't understand.

But, in closing - a story.
Once my uncle Craig was chatting with a mexican compadre about Star Trek, and he said to the guy, "Have you noticed something about Star Trek, man?  There are no Mexicans.  YOUR RACE IS DOOMED!!!"

17 May, 2013


I'm imagining some kind of exercise video of people in 80's suits waving business cards around while the leader shouts, "Network! Network!"

Sorry for all the SUPER SERIOUS ULTRA DEEP posts here, my handful of readers.  I've had a lot on my mind.

I'm trying to figure life things out.  Success has been moderate. I have a hard time ever coming to solid conclusions about anything.  However, there is one thing I know for certain:

Self-promotion is kind of awful.  As a person who wants to have an "arts" career, it's an unfortunate necessity.  You have to be known to a certain degree to get work.  But there's an interesting balance between doing self-promotion for work and doing it for pleasure and doing it just to be self-centered.  And since I'm beginning to truly understand the value of my time, it seemed like a thing worth considering.

I have always written this blog (and all my other dead blogs) purely for my own pleasure.  I never expected followers or anything to come of it.  Granted, for a while I lost some of the pleasure of blogging and it has become less natural for me lately. But my intentions have always been, I think, about as pure as intentions can really be.

Self promotion for work is another thing.  It's necessary, yes - but it also seems somewhat insincere.  I don't think people are fooled by 100% commercially motivated "sharing."  I don't want to do it anyways.  It sounds boring.

Totally self-centered social media stuff makes me tired.  There's a girl I'm friends with on Facebook who posts an ENDLESS stream of selfies.  I'm trying not to give into the temptation to un-friend her, but I admit I am hard pressed.

However, I think I know how I can self-promote - heck, how I can do work in general! - that isn't pointless drivel.

Things for a cause.  There are so many things that I care about, so many people I want to help - yet I am perpetually stumped as to how to do so. But about five minutes ago I thought, "DUH! Use the skills you're learning in school! Instead of just drawing pictures for practice, draw pictures of people you want the world to know more about!  Make posters for great causes! Send drawings to people who you think are doing great things for the world, to let them know you're thankful!"

13 May, 2013


I've changed so much this year.  I look through old blog posts, and some of them seem like they were written by a stranger who was very, VERY concerned with her inability to decide what to study in college.

If I could have given a graduation speech to my 18-year-old self, this is what I would have said:

You will never feel ready.

You never get to this place where all of a sudden it dawns on you that you're ready to be married or choose a career.  No lightbulb goes off.  You don't suddenly think, "Ah! I have reached a place of maturity that signifies that I am ready to date!" and go out and find someone ASAP.  There does not come a day when you officially feel like an adult. It won't happen.

What will happen, however, is that when you hit a wall and have to truly decide - not in theory, but in reality - you will realize very quickly whether you're ready or not.  When Craig came into my life, I though I was still not ready to be dating, but it turned out I was ready to date Craig.  You can't make generalized decisions about things before their time.  Because when you get right down to it, there will always be things you didn't foresee.  Life truly has to be taken one day at a time. You have to trust le bon Dieu to take care of you, and not give you choices you can't make.

The only way to find out if you like something is to try.

(I still have trouble following this.)  If you think you really want to do something, you can't just sit around waiting for opportunities to fall into your lap.  Break down the goal into steps.  What can you do now to take a step towards your goal?  Do it.  And if you find you don't like it, make a new goal.

Don't defer happiness.

If you are not enjoying your life, you need to re-evaluate.  If the journey you are on is one that isn't at least a little bit fun, then what is the point?  Deferring happiness, slogging through acres of unpleasantness while telling yourself someday it will all pay off and everything will be perfect, is also known as wasting your life.  Because it won't be perfect.  Nothing ever is.  So you ought to snatch the happiness you can have now.  Enjoy your work! Cherish your relationships! Don't waste time in self-loathing or depression. Seize the day! Make your life extraordinary.

There's punch and cookies in the lobby for everyone.  Thanks for listening.