THE NIGHT BEFORE DEFENSE (or A Visit From Citrate)

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Twas the night before Defense, when all through the lab

Not a gel box was shaking, with stain or with MAb;

The columns were hung in the cold room with care,

In hopes that my protein, I soon could prepare;

 

The post-docs were nestled all smug in their beds,

While extracts of barlied hops muddled their heads;

With the tech in the suburbs and PI the same,

I had just settled down to another video game.

 

When out of the fridge there arose such a clatter

I sprang from the terminal to see what was the matter.

Away to the cold box, I flew like a flash

But the stench was o’erpowering and I threw up beef hash.

 

The mould on the dampest of walls which were cold

Had the softness of kittens only seven weeks old;

When what to my view, a thing I despise

But a half-eaten sandwich and four tiny mice;

 

With a little old scientist, so lively and galling,

I knew at a glance, it was Linus Pauling.

More vapid than undergrads, his charges they came,

And he whistled, and shouted, and called them rude names.

 

“Now, Watson! Now Francis! You strange little modellers!

On Luria! On Bertani! You stupid old broth’lers!

To the top of the bench, to the top of the wall!

Purify! Purify! Purify all!”

 

As dry heaves before the committee meeting, bend

A young student’s body and his colon distend,

So up to their earlobes, acytes they grew,

With a sack full of antibodies, their skin turning blue.

 

And then, for a second, I heard from the ‘fuge,

An unbalanced rotor spinning something too huge.

Where I put down my hand, to better hear the sound,

Came the snapping of sparks from a wire sans ground.

 

Pauling’s hair was all wavy, and I thought I must be sick

`Cause the curl in his hair looked just like a helix.

On an arm load of oranges, he started to snack

Recalling his fetish with ascorbate, the quack.

 

His eyes were all wrinkled, but the cheeks were yet red;

Not too shabby for a man who was several years dead;

The leer of his smile was just a tad scary

And the snow on his rooftop made his head yet quite hairy;

 

The end of a pipette, he held in his teeth

And a pile of kimwipes lay around his big feet.

He held a small vial of something quite gel-ly,

A mercaptan no doubt, for it make him quite smelly.

 

He changed `round the columns, adding to the confusion

And I laughed to spite my own paranoid delusion.

A wink of his eye and a rotation of his head,

Told me whatever I drank would soon leave me dead.

 

He spoke not a word, just buggered up my work,

And dried all my resins, that silly old jerk.

And separating his middle finger from first, fourth and third,

That crazy, old bugger, just flipped me the bird.

 

He grabbed up his cohorts and ran down the hall,

And away they all flew, letting me take the fall.

That is why, dear Committee, I am sorry to say,

I need a five year extension, starting today.

My (other) family

Dog Pound

The rowdy rabble that are Duke’s Dog Pound

This is my family.

Not in the genetic sense, you understand, or even in the social sense. We did not grow up in the same house.

But a couple of times a week for the better part of eight months of the year, we gather at our local house of passion—the Ricoh Coliseum—and join in frenzied excitement over our beloved hockey club.

This is my Marlies family.

We are an odd collection of people of all ages, temperaments and backgrounds. We come from all regions around the city (and abroad) and have quite unique life experiences. And yet we are family.

And like all families, we can irritate the hell out of each other. Sometimes the passions can overwhelm those sitting in nearby seats. We do not deal equally well with challenging times, whether for our team or our family. And disagreement over the smallest thing can take fire, forming a wedge however temporary between family members and forcing others to take sides.

But the second there is a threat from outside the family, we quickly band together in support, in concern and in love. And ultimately, we are drawn yet again by our shared love of our boys in blue and white.

I would do almost anything for these people, help them in whatever way they might need. And I know both from my gut and from experience that they would help me if I needed it.

When viewed from outside, we are complete strangers to each other. Except for small pockets, we do not spend time together much beyond the arena. I don’t hear the minutiae of your life, nor you mine.

And yet, when the hockey season ends each Spring, I am saddened, not just because our boys didn’t advance further in the playoffs, but also because it will now be months before I once again see most of these people.

But when those gates open in October, and we wander down the familiar hallways to our familiar seats around the pristine sheet of ice, it is a moment of pure joy.

I am home with my family.

This is my family, and I adore them to pieces.

Lives of love and beauty – Asmara

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Only thing more colourful than her hair is her personality

Asmara Bhattacharya: writer, musician, ball of energy

I don’t know how I met Asmara. I know it was while visiting Austin for the screenwriters conference and film festival, but beyond that, it just feels like this spitfire of a lady simply arrived in my life as an eternal friend. An orchestral musician, I know Asmara mostly as a prolific and amazing writer, who churns out new and stunning ideas and screenplays the way I process bacon, if in the opposite direction.

The lady is a creative and playful whirlwind of enthusiasm and polychromatic hair. One does not join Asmara in an activity or social outing, so much as get swept along in an amusing riptide of good wishes and excitement. Everyone and everything are fascinating to her, and while she is ceaselessly surrounded by friends and acquaintances, you never feel like you’re being neglected when in her company. I still haven’t figured out how she does it. She is a human social media hub, connecting people from every corner of the universe.

Thanks, Asmara, for keeping my world lively and for constantly challenging me to be a better writer, and maybe to stay up past 10pm in Austin.

See also:

Dickflicks.net (her blog)

2016 Austin Film Fest bio

Lives of love and beauty – Melanie

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Melanie Layer: daughter, sister, coach, joie de vive incarnate

I think I have been in the same room with Melanie maybe twice in the few years that I have known her, and yet, despite knowing almost nothing about her (e.g., her history), I feel like I have known her my entire life. She is light, love, laughter, enthusiasm, passion, spirit, joy and every other positive experience rolled into an individual, and it seems like her greatest happiness in life comes from helping others find that in themselves.

Melanie has this knack for seeing the amazing in people she meets, whether she’s known them for years or mere seconds, and without ever coming across as intrusive, cuts past the bullshit in which we bury ourselves to praise and cultivate the beauty that lies within us all. No matter how you feel walking into an interaction with Melanie, even if a completely passive interaction, you walk out 12 feet taller and in the firm belief that you can accomplish anything.

Thanks, Melanie, for embracing my dreams and passions as your own, and for filling my life (and social media streams) with light and laughter.

 

See also: MLI Coaching

Painting the night

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Missing the slush (not my photo)

Stepping up from the drizzling darkness that changed snow to slush at my feet, I climbed onto the bus, swallowed by the jaundiced warmth to join my fellow riders, isolated from the world in their cocoons of rayon, wool and leather.

Taking a seat as the bus pulled away from the curb, I too slowly descended into mental torpor, an oblivious partner on a journey across the east end of town, the warm companionship of time spent with a friend leaching from my body like the heat of a dying ember.

But before I entered my traveler’s coma, a brief flash forced its way onto slumbering retinas, drawing my attention to the window beside me. And yet, I saw little other than the salined grime of the city that blocked my view of the houses that I knew rolled past in the darkening night.

grimy-window

A veil of sodden salt and grime blinded me

And then another flash. Or perhaps it was a splash.

Ready now, I waited and watched, and was soon rewarded with flares of green and orange and red and white. An aurora transportis dazzled my eyes, unheard musical notes traversing my optic nerve to tickle my brain.

And as quickly as those colours had passed, white puddles of light twinkled at shoulder height, blebbing through the mire; abstract art painted from the other side of a translucent canvas for my pleasure.

Reds, blues, whites mingled with greens, mauves and yellows. Or blinked out of existence altogether, only to reappear elsewhere before my eyes. Multi-hued ballerinas and dervishes spinning without purpose; colour without design; existence the only goal.

splash

Image doesn’t really capture the diffractive dance

As my conscious brain finally arose from its slumber, awaken by the visceral tarantella that stomped the grey matter, I began to understand what I was seeing.

The salted matting that covered the bus windows could not hold back the shine of the many porch lights, Christmas lights, headlights and street lights that I passed on my journey, instead providing myriad prisms through which the photons waved their many lengths.

The very mire that weighted and closed my world was the vector through which the display existed to dazzle.

Unfortunately, consciousness came at a price as my understanding of what I was seeing meant that I now saw what I understood. And although the display continued until I reached my destination, it was slightly dimmed as mental clarity broke through grimed windows.

But even as I mourn the loss, I am warmed by the memory, and even if I never experience it again, I have been changed by my journey through a tunnel of light and colour.

Rogue One clearly satisfies (no spoilers)

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The latest in the Star Wars galaxy of offerings launched last night to rousing applause, and I was there, in the audience, wearing my 3D goggles.

What did I think of the movie? I’m not really sure that it matters.

Like so many movie franchises out there, if you have bought into the Star Wars series, you are going to see this movie and there is damned little that any number of reviewers could say to dissuade you from that. Personally, I have been invested in this cultural icon since it first launched almost 40 years ago.

So, what is the point of reviewing the movie? None, other than an effort to satisfy my own self-importance.

This was a good movie that opens slowly, offers little in the way of character development, fulfills all of the expected (demanded?) tropes of battles and mentors and silly robots, and essentially adds nothing to the canon of Hollywood history or the art of filmmaking. I don’t know that the movie ever had the opportunity to be great, but if it did, it certainly walked the other way.

That said, the audience applauded or cheered several times throughout the movie, and I think it is fair to say that pretty much everyone left the theatre satisfied with their experience.

And there is my problem with the series, as much as the movie: satisfied.

[Hereafter, I will talk more about specifics within the movie, so you may wish to stop reading now. I will avoid spoilers, speaking more in generalities out of respect for movie-goers.]

star-wars-universe

Ep IV and V changed movies forever. Everything else was merely adequate.

Movies have evolved extensively since the launch of A New Hope in 1977, especially in the area of special effects. With franchises like Alien and Star Trek getting complete reboots, comic book universes unfolding in myriad interwoven ways, and standalones like Interstellar and Inception dazzling the eye, it is becoming increasingly difficult for individual movies to stand out from the crowd, to chart new ground.

If for no other reason, this is why I raved about the recently released Arrival (my review), which stands apart not through its special effects, but rather the execution of its central theme. There is great intelligence behind a beautiful film.

When A New Hope arrived on the scene, it changed the game of movie-making by bringing the scale of a biblical epic to hokey old Westerns and WWI dog fight movies. If Jaws initiated the summer blockbuster craze, A New Hope solidified the idea. And if that’s where it stopped, this crazed then-teenager would have been quite satisfied.

But then came The Empire Strikes Back, which somehow managed to make A New Hope look hokey and dated, although I still contend that the first movie had a better, more complete story. For a young movie goer, The Empire Strikes Back was like riding in a bullet train only to have someone throw on after-burners; it was a whole new level of acceleration that pinned me to my seat.

That feeling has never been duplicated by a Star Wars movie since.

[In fairness, there is one interesting technical achievement in Rogue One, but to describe it would be to spoil a couple of moments in this film.]

Hollywood, instead, has caught up and moved past the franchise. And perhaps even more broadly, entertainment has surpassed even Hollywood in the form of immersive video games, which I do not play.

For its part, the Star Wars universe struggles to achieve the bar, if it really even tries. And each successive movie feels like it was designed with a check list of tropes George Lucas did not invent, but that he executed perfectly in the early films.

Thus, for a Star Wars film, Rogue One is completely adequate.

rebel-crew

Adequate to their task, offering little more

Character development has largely been dispensed with. As the movie opens, we are presented with a seminal moment in the life of Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), the central character of this movie, and then we catapult ahead 10+ years to find her in imprisoned, where our adventure begins. And with the exception of the odd note dropped into the dialogue, we have no idea what happened in those lost years.

The same is true for almost all of the other characters. Each offers the briefest allusions to why they have arrived in this place at this time, but there is little to hold onto as the story careens forward. Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) has done some bad things in the name of the Rebellion. Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen) clings to his belief in the Force like a child clutching a blanket, while his partner Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen) scoffs good-naturedly, mourning his lost faith.

And I have to say that I have no idea why rebel renegade Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) is even in this movie. If his subplot had been written around, the story would not have suffered one iota. Like so many other movie franchises these days, I will put this choice down to something in the cartoon, novel or comic book series.

Perhaps this reveals something about me, but much as I did with Prometheus, I found the robot character to be the most evolved. In Rogue One, K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) stole the show, having the best lines of dialogue and routinely offering broader perspective on the chaotic stumblings of the inferior humans around him.

And as with the original movies, the villains proved the most exciting element of the story.

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Mendelson’s Krennic brings life and depth to this movie

Somehow, the writers and director managed to make Darth Vader even more imposing than he was in any of the other movies. This was something between the uncontrolled fury of Anakin Skywalker in Revenge of the Sith and Lord Vader’s iron control in The Empire Strikes Back. Here, Vader was a cold-hearted menace who toyed with his food as time allowed, but was also happy to get his light saber dirty.

And then we have Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelson), the man charged with the construction of the Death Star and who, but for an inability to tap into the Force, might have made a delicious challenger to Darth Vader. If they do more parallel timeline movies in the future, I would love to see the evolution of this character.

Aside from these few characters, however, the movie was merely passable as a Star Wars film. The plot was straightforward, if a little padded in places, with well-choreographed battles and requisite deaths (no spoilers).

And there must be at least 837 easter eggs in this movie, tiny moments that tie in to the other movies in the series, and as my friend Danny tells me, into the cartoons, as well. While a younger me might have been enthralled by these inserts, the present day me found them distracting, particularly as they almost always served no purpose to the plot and jerked me out of the story as I realized, “Hey, those are the guys from…” (no spoilers).

But as I said at the beginning, none of this likely matters to you if you are a Star Wars fan. You will see this movie, enjoying some parts and complaining about others. It is just what Star Wars has become…and I find that a little sad.

Lives of love and beauty – Kevin

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Kevin is the one on the left

Kevin Bruce Scott: son, actor, puppeteer, integrity trainer

The man I affectionately dubbed Sweetums on our first meeting in honour of his impressive size, hirsuteness and rolling voice has wondrously become a constant in my life, even despite his gregarious activities that see him crisscrossing the North American continent. I first met Kevin when he auditioned as a puppeteer and actor for a sketch comedy show I was helping another friend develop (Nicholas Lemon’s SomeTV!), and it was bromance at first blush.

To know Kevin even for a few moments is to experience an earthquake of enthusiasm and playfulness that has been rivalled by very few in my advancing lifetime. Quick of wit, clever of brain and charming of eyebrow (you have to see it), Kevin routinely explodes with volcanic laughter and excitedly joins any creative moment with love and insane bonhomie. To merely stand in Kevin’s presence is to experience unbridled love…but dive in for the amazing hug, if you get the chance.

I say without hyperbole that should Kevin reach out with any idea, I am an eager participant because I know that even if the idea amounts to nothing tangible, I will have had the best time working on it.

Thanks you, Sweetums, for going on that audition and making my face hurt with smiles.

 

See also:

12 Days of Gratitude – Kevin

Effortless Alpha (Kevin’s blog & mission)