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12.05.2016

Life in the Marsh


This beautiful image of Jacksonville's Round Marsh was captured by the talented photographer Will Dickey. We have a number of his framed prints on our walls, and he clearly has a keen eye for capturing the natural beauty of Duval County. 
The Round Marsh is a special place for me, and every time I'm jammed up on a story or needing some quiet from the world or simply recreating in the world to give thanks for my blessings, it's a good bet that you'll find me here. Today, on an eighty-two-degree here in Jacksonville, I jogged the trails down there and was stunned to see so much activity in the water. Fish were jumping all over the place. Shrimp flipped easily across the surface in schools, bullied by bigger predators. Birds circled and swooped. I watched quietly as a small blue heron fished not ten feet from my perch, catching fry after fry and swallowing them whole in a matter of seconds.
As always, this place is filled with lessons. It's only a short distance from a major road, where cars filled with busy people scream by on their way toward the next appointment. But the woods and the water insulate these creatures, and their world is much more simple. It's dangerous and harsh, to be sure, but I admire those challenges so much more than the daily grind that leads to so many of the news stories that we chew up every morning like our daily bowl of cereal. I think, if more people got out of the cars and found a natural sanctuary like this one, the complexion of those morning news stories would change for the better...
Going to try to get back out there in the next few days, when the weather cools!

11.23.2016

So Very Much to be Thankful For...

It has been a tumultuous and amazing year around these parts. In the last few months, we've been tested as a family in ways that are hard to explain in words. We've been pushed to the very edge of doubt and despair, and we've persevered to the point where we feel comfortable and eternally grateful. This is a big part of that feeling:


Our son is such an amazing blessing. In 2016, we've overcome many obstacles. We just had our first brand-new roof as a result of hurricane damage. We've had our home repaired numerous times, and we've had to deal with some very real health problems for the ones that we love so far this year.

But the joy and the glee in that picture above is so real. This is our family, and Lyla is such a great big sister. I can only say that I am thankful.

I spent 2016 writing a non-fiction study. 2017 will be more fiction. I promise...

9.01.2016

Welcome Home, College Football!

Hey there, College Football. Have a seat and grab a cold one. Great to see you! We've missed you around these parts for a few months, but your formal arrival in my living room means a lot, and I'm damned glad you're here.

You see, we love baseball. We love the October Classic. We love the Orioles, and everything about going to the ballpark and watching the pageantry of BP and the wonderful game-within-a-game of the pitcher versus the hitter. All of that is riveting, and we'll always love the boys of summer. Seriously can't wait for the playoffs...

But there's just something special about your arrival on the scene. The weather cools. The leaves turn. There are thoughts of Halloween and turkey and pine trees in the living room on the horizon. There's all of that amazing renewal that accompanies the start of the new fall term. There's the hope of the chase for a conference championship and the debates around the water cooler and the love--nay, the pure joy--in knowing that the Men of Oregon will once again take to the gridiron.

It all starts tonight! It starts with those plucky (pun intended) little rodents from Corvallis, invading Minnesota for a match-up with the Golden Gophers (rodents in their own right). For this night, at least, Go Beavers.

Thanks, College Football. Glad to have you back, and here's hoping for a memorable year...

8.31.2016

ZZZZZZ...

While it's true that the title of this post certainly applies to my activity on this blog, the fact is that I'm posting this little update on the fleeting nature of sleep. The last eighteen months have been a whirlwind. It has been one of the most productive, satisfying, frustrating, wonderful, and bewildering periods of my life, and I'm looking at the healthy, happy reason for all of that as I type this, the first remnants of a tropical depression just whipping the branches of the old live oak out in front of my home office.

Luke David Powell is something of a miracle. 

Jeanne and I had a rough time in 2015, with everything culminating in some bad news last summer that I don't need to get into. We went from soaring heights to devastating lows in a period of about ten days. Life is like that sometimes, of course, and when the dust cleared we clung to each other and our daughter and counted our blessings. Something changed in our home, and it was a healthy change. I thought we were moving forward, just the three of us.

But I still had some hope. I still wanted to try for another little one, and I kept the faith and, pretty soon, we found out that we were pregnant. We were elated, but we were also guarded. It's hard to invest yourself so fully when a large part of you is also scared to death.

The baby did well, though. He hung in there and, ten minutes before boarding our flight home to Portland, Oregon, for Christmas, we got the news that everything was perfect with his health and we could fully freak out in joy.

And freak out we did. I'll never forget the way the three of us hit the floor with happiness. He was healthy, and he would be with us soon!

Luke grew and grew and grew in there. By the time we were in range to deliver, we had to go with a c-section because he was so danged big.

He joined us a few weeks ago, and we've had a fantastic summer with him. He's a happy baby. He has the most beautiful mischievous grin, and he dreams like a champ. I don't know what the little guy could be thinking about, but he often laughs in his sleep. He is bright, aware, and just a joy to be with.

I'm teaching nights this term and staying home with him during the day. Three days into that schedule and we already have our routines. No fussing, no mess, no sadness. Just love in the simple act of being together. He eats like a champ, and we hit the YMCA together, sing together, walk together, clean together, play together, and write together.

It's just like it was with Lyla, and those were some of the happiest months of my life. It's such a blessing to have another chance at that time, and we're making the best of it.

Oh, and it's true that I'm a little sleep-deprived at the moment. I could really use six uninterrupted hours... But it's better--infinitely so--than the alternative, and it's hard to say just how thankful I am for that.

5.10.2016

Movie Review: Annabelle (2014)

2014's Annabelle, a prequel to the excellent chiller The Conjuring (2013), was a much better film than I expected going in. I hadn't necessarily avoided taking a look at it, but I also didn't seek it out after I had read so many poor critical reviews of the film. Just as an aside, I do think that film-review aggregation has had a net negative effect on my film viewing habits. I'm at a place now where I don't really do any advance critical research on a film if it's one that I really want to see. This is just another effect of the Internet. When we used to get a review or two in The Oregonian (by the wonderful Shawn Levy, still my favorite film critic) entertainment section, I enjoyed gleaning a few thoughts on a film prior to heading to the theaters. But seeing triple digits of reviews all grouped together and then viewing that damn meta-critical score is ultimately counter-productive to my viewing habits. 

I give this film a B+ mark, and I liked it for a variety of reasons. The casting was strong. Annabelle Wallis and Ward Horton have great chemistry together, and their turns as young parents in 1964 California were believable and compelling. Wallis shows a lot of strength and vulnerability in her performance, and I liked that Horton put so much faith in her reports of what was happening in both of their homes. His trust is believable here. I'd like to think, skeptic that I am, that I could implicitly trust Jeanne if she were being haunted by a demon from Hell! 

Speaking of that, the occult aspects of the storyline deftly fit the doll's origin story. There was (and still is, truth be told) some weird stuff going on with cults back in that era, and the film's first act is both terrifying and convincing exposition for this particular story. 

The set design was awesome. Suburban California, complete with unlocked front doors, wide, inviting porches, and all of those Cadillac cruisers, was nicely rendered. The special effects were strong, and there are a few of genuinely scary sequences in the film. Mia's troubles in the sub-basement are hard to watch without squirming, and that scene in which the child runs at the door is absolutely chilling. 

The film, like The Conjuring before it, has a real sense of its place in the pantheon of this type of horror story. It's got so much of Rosemary's Baby in it that I can't think the name "Mia" is anything other than allusion. Wallis's believable descent into paranoia mirrors Farrow's in that film, and in both stories it's a heart-breaking thing to watch. 

I liked this movie a lot. It's a simple story of demonic possession that does a great job of filling in some gaps in what has become the best horror franchise going. Definitely worth the time to look at, and a truly scary movie in a sea of marginal films...

5.02.2016

Unbelievable Draft Success!



Extremely pleased with the draft that Dave Caldwell and his staff put together this past weekend. The Jaguars upgraded the defense in a major way, adding quality talent in particular at linebacker (Myles Jack) and in the secondary. That guy above, Jalen Ramsey, is a serious athlete. He tested off the charts in the vertical, the 40-yard dash, and with his lifting. He's an explosive player with a lot of versatility.

With the Jags adding Jackson, Gipson, and Amukamura in free agency, that side of the ball should be much improved. Add back in a healthy Marks and this team can make quantum leaps forward. Heck, if they improve on third down alone they'll win three more games. 

I'm excited about the future. Time to get those season tickets...

4.27.2016

The Same Deep Waters as You, by Brian Hodge

I've been reading Lovecraft's Monsters (expertly edited by Ellen Datlow) and really enjoying the diversity of the stories and the strength of the writing. It's a diverse collection, with a lot of unique voices. Most of the stories stray from the verbose prose style that plagues so much Lovecraftian fiction (particularly the entries by Laird Barron and Kim Newman), and I found Brian Hodge's "The Same Deep Waters as You" particularly unsettling.

“What you see there is what you get,” he said. “Have you ever heard of a town in Massachusetts called Innsmouth?”
Kerry shook her head. “I don’t think so.”
“No reason you should’ve. It’s a little pisshole seaport whose best days were already behind it by the time of the Civil War. In the winter of 1927–28, there was a series of raids there, jointly conducted by the FBI and U.S. Army, with naval support. Officially—remember, this was during Prohibition—it was to shut down bootlegging operations bringing whiskey down the coast from Canada. The truth…” He took back the iPad from her nerveless fingers. “Nothing explains the truth better than seeing it with your own eyes.”
“You can’t talk to them. That’s what this is about, isn’t it?” she said. “You can’t communicate with them, and you think I can.”
Escovedo smiled, and until now, she didn’t think he had it in him. “It must be true about you, then. You’re psychic after all.”
It's a very creepy tale, unfolding at first very quickly and then stretching out over weeks and months. Kerry is a fully formed protagonist given an impossible task, and its her human ties--her fear of the water and love for her daughter--that makes it so easy to relate to her. 

I wasn't expecting the ending of this one, and it was delightful to be surprised like that. It took me a day to process it, as I had to decide whether I liked the story or not. 

I do. 

It's a horrible, terrible, unsettling final act, so it succeeds as top-shelf horror. Kudos to Brian Hodge on this one...