What I’m Reading and Watching Lately

cat with books

I’m reading this fantastic pop science book on physics, Spooky Action at a Distance, which discusses the very weird phenomenon known as Non-Locality, which is a thing Einstein hated because it looks like magic.

I’m listening to the audio book of The Fifth Season, the Hugo-nominated first installation in M. K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth series.  The audio performance is really good, and the story very much has my attention.  I find myself looking for the sorts of mindless tasks I can handle while listening to a book, which means the apartment is pretty clean right now.

I have, in the last month or so, finally indulged in watching Twin Peaks on Netflix.  I’d never seen it before, but people have been recommending it to me for years.  They were all correct, of course.  I love that oddball magical realism that was so popular in the 1990’s.

There’s this local “wrestling league” that is an extraordinary piece of performance art, called Party World Rasslin’.  They perform four times a year, and it’s pretty amazing.  A soap opera, political commentary, worship of a sleeping Elder God, it’s everything I could ask for.  They build out a huge set, turning this big warehouse space into a different setting for each show.  The most recent rendition was Winter WonderSlam III, set in an ice cave hundreds of miles below the surface of the Earth, with a major plot twist and the rise of corporate fascism in the world of the PWR Multiverse.  I love it.

I’m also caught up on The Walking Dead, but that mid-season finale needs to get its own post.  Wow.

Stories and Weddings and Other Projects

haunted house - cheeseandglory

I got up early to put in some hours on a new side project, which I’m referring to as Infinite Haunted House. It’s an exercise to develop my short story skills. The idea is to think of an enormous haunted house (with infinite rooms), and every room in the house gets a one word theme. I’m taking those themes from the WordPress Daily Prompt, which I’ve been trying to utilize lately with varying results. It’s basically a twist on the storytelling games I like to play with my RPG group when we’re doing a campaign.

Writing dialogue is hard. And this first story has turned into something very dialogue-heavy right away. My brain feels like my legs do when I suddenly start going for runs again after sitting on my ass for months. I’m taking it as a sign that I’m heading in the right direction.

The freelancing thing is starting to pick up, which is simultaneously heartening and terrifying. My first project with a design team recently went live, which was pretty cool. Now I need to leverage that to get more work, a rhythm I haven’t quite gotten the hang of yet. Developing enough confidence to sell my skill set is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

In wedding news, I’m debating pitching some wedding blogs on articles for how to get this bullshit done on the cheap. It would likely be a list with statements like, “Screw having a catered dinner, pizza and cheese plates are fine.” I took steps last night to thwart my mother, who has threatened to take me wedding dress shopping while we are visiting for Christmas. I spent way too much time looking through Pinterest and ModCloth to get an idea of what I do want (which, granted, I hadn’t done yet), and then confirming that the stores she wants to go to don’t carry anything remotely close to that.

I built out the infrastructure for our RSVP website, and that should get sent out to friends and family soon. I also made our invitations, which need to get printed and mailed ASAP.

Lots of balls to juggle right now.

Daily Ritual Omelette

omelette with salsa - cheeseandglory

This omelette I just made is delicious. Fresh mushrooms, red bell peppers, fresh spinach, Colby Jack cheese, topped with my favorite salsa.  I’ve been fantasizing lately about starting a food-themed podcast; last night while I was driving home from Book People I caught myself composing a business plan around a pizza-specific theme.  It will likely remain an unfulfilled threat for the foreseeable future, but who knows what will happen once I get this wedding thing out of the way.

Making omelettes in the morning has become something of a zen ritual for me.  I try to dice all the vegetables I’ll use in a week in one setting on Sunday afternoons,  as soon as we get home from the grocery store excursion.  This makes whipping up a veggie omelette pretty fast, as I already have tubs full of diced bell pepper, zucchini, and squash.  I slice the mushrooms fresh every day, which takes less than a minute.  A handful of fresh spinach leaves, and maaaaybe a 1/4 cup of diced vegetables, depending on how stuff an omelette you want.

I sauté all the vegetables in butter with a clove or two of garlic.  Sometimes I add salt and pepper, and if I’m feeling adventurous, either smoked paprika or cayenne pepper.  I whip up one egg if just feeding myself, two on the weekends when we’re both home (I make one omelette and we just cut it in half).  Melt some more butter (I use a 12 inch non-stick pan to do this) and coat the whole pan with the butter before quickly tossing the egg in.  Then I have to pick up the pan and swirl the egg around until there’s a fairly even circle all over the flat bottom.  Then it’s time to scoop the vegetables back in, covering half of the egg.  I throw in a handful or slice of whatever cheese we’e got on hand, fold it the egg over the filling and flip every few minutes until both sides are browned.

Every morning I do this.

Omelette kind of morning. #cooking #breakfast

A photo posted by Jennifer Barnes (@cheeseandglory) on

Mystical Experiences and Where to Find Them

I’ve had a particularly stubborn pot of petunias living out back on my apartment balcony for a couple of years now. It’s a bit odd that the plant is still alive. Most people would let the undergrowth choke the plant by now and buy a new one every spring; they’re only $3.99 or so. 
 The petunias were purchased from a neighborhood grocery store, the healthiest looking of a sickly zoo of herbs and perennials, as a bit of a joke for my partner’s 42nd birthday.  I stuck a sign on the pot that said, “Oh no, not again.”  Almost no one got the joke.

After the party, the flower pot was thrown out into the chill spring air, with every expectation that the plant wouldn’t make it past the first summer heat wave.  I was very wrong about that.

I watered the petunias every few days, but took no further actions for several weeks.  One day, while watching the activity of the funeral home that my apartment overlooks, I noticed just how much of the plant was dead.  A thick underbrush of brown leaves, and half-rotten liquidating stems, took up much of the space in the plastic pot.  The remaining greenery seem to be choking in its own rot, one or two weak purple flowers half unfurled.  My gaze shifted back and forth between the dying plant and the black bag delivery going on across the parking lot.

Finally, I turned away and went hunting for my garden snips.

It took most of an afternoon to excavate the living bits of petunia plant, cautiously cutting through layer upon layer of dead matter and trying not to kill anything still alive and relatively healthy.  Gradually, a much smaller organism appeared, a single petunia plant erupting from the soil where before there had been nearly a dozen plants stuffed into the plastic container and its 12 inch diameter.  All condemned to a short, seasonal life.

I gave the soil a few days to dry out, and let the little survivor breathe.  It was late spring, and the drought still gripped Texas, promising heat waves and a handful of flash storms that would do more harm than good.  The last bits of slime turned to dirt in the sun.

When I finally went to water it again, the little petunia plant seemed to sing out.  Within days the pot was full of bright purple flowers, and new tendrils had shot out from the plant’s base to explore the tiny world it had all to itself.

There was a funeral going on below, the parking lot packed full, teenage boys awkward in black suits clustered behind a large red pickup.  Several middle aged women seemed to be passing out hugs and earnest conversations.  The sun was bright and hot.  Bits of conversation drifted up, mostly about the drought, and the expected arrival of 100-plus degree weather.

I realized I would have to move the little survivor inside to a windowsill soon, and figure out how it signaled that it needed more water.  The petunias survived the last year of the drought and headed into winter robust and bursting with flowers every few weeks.  It turned a bit yellow whenI forgot to bring it in the night of the first freeze that winter, but stopped being mad at me eventually,brightening up the apartment with defiant winter blooms.

It’s been a trying friendship, this petunia plant and me.  I have forgotten to water it for long stretches of time, left it out in both extreme heat and cold, and never had faith in that first year that it would survive the seasonal extremities.  But it continues to forgive me and keeps making those lovely purple flowers.

I don’t really talk to the petunia plant, but it gets all kinds of emotions projected towards it.  Annoyance when the dead growth needed to be trimmed again, fear when something mysterious and hidden started eating the leaves at night. The petunia plant looks at the moon with me, watches traffic on the major road nearby, and observes goings on at the back of the funeral home.  It reminds me to keep an eye on the weather, and what day of the week it is.

The tendency of mammals to bond with things is an old habit that goes back a hundred million years to the time when we weren’t quite mammals yet but had decided to stop being reptiles.  We make friends with anything that will have us.  

I consider this as I watch tiny black ants exploring the petunia plant’s leaves.  They show up every few months and seems to be harmless, maybe even beneficial.  These ants also have a relationship with the petunia plant, but it’s much more utilitarian.

Down below, an older woman walks across the parking lot with a heavy vase of cut flowers; lillies and other traditional mourning symbols.  The petunia plant says nothing about the carnage or wasteful sentimentality, but its leaves droop slightly, reminding me that I haven’t watered it in days.

 For The Daily Prompt – Mystical 

New trailer for War for the Planet of the Apes!

bipedal apes riding horses through the snow - war for the planet of hte apes

The new trailer for War for the Planet of the Apes dropped this morning!  It looks like we’re getting a damn good movie.  I love this series, I love everything they’ve done.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes had me crying my eyes out, and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes took post-apocalyptic tropes and turned into in a fantastic work of storytelling.  I am very much looking forward to this entry in the series.

Your Horrific Holiday Soundtrack

christopher lee heavy metal christmas

The holiday season is upon us.  I failed utterly in my plan to watch a bunch of Christmas-themed horror movies, thanks to the miasma of despair that took hold of pretty much every artist in the U.S. after the election.  I am really sorry about that, blog readers, so to make it up you, let’s see what Youtube has to offer us to get everyone into the season.

Did you know that a) Christopher Lee, vampire-wizard legend of genre film, was in a heavy metal band right up until his death?  He was in his 90’s and rocking out.  They put out two Christmas albums, and they’re fantastic.  Seriously, listen to how incredibly bad ass Christopher Lee was:

If that doesn’t get you in the mood to drink ale until you’re dancing naked in the cold and celebrating the prophesied birth of the new Sun God and maybe eat a goat slaughtered ritualistically then roasted in a pit in the ground with some rocks, I don’t know what will.

Let’s try some Iron Maiden instead:

Are you feeling it yet?  Are you feeling the Holiday Spirit coming down to Earth to ride you like a demon seeking blood and vengeance and maybe wants to get laid with a consenting adult?  It’s cold outside, y’all.  It is going to freeze in Central Texas this weekend, so I know the rest of the Northern Hemisphere is not doing okay.

I just found out about the ridiculous 2007 compilation album Monster Ballads Xmas, which is still available on iTunes!  Here’s the whole thing on Youtube, but you know, buy it if you can.  It’s so silly.

Okay, I think we’ve set the mood now.  So let’s talk about the real reason for the season, overwhelming fear of the dark frozen vacuum of space from which the dread lord Cthulhu came.  And hoping someone saves us.

I am a huge fan of the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society and all the weird shit they put out there.  But what I will always, always love most is their incredibly disturbing Christmas albums.  They have rewritten a few dozen classic carols as interpretations of the Cthulhu Mythos.  Admittedly, some of them are just kind of funny and weird, but there are a few that send chills up my spine every year when I listen to them.  They’re very well done, with great production value and a full choir.

Here are my favorites:


And of course:


And now a message about the holidays and getting through winters literal and figurative:

The world is a genuinely scary place right now.  We probably are all going to die, if we curl in balls of despair and stay there, lying on the floor.  Learn your neighbors’ names.  Put some time and energy into finding something in common with them.  If you aren’t good at initiating things, but you see someone trying to get organizing started in your community, ask that person what you can do to help.  You don’t have to the first, but if you’re willing to be one of the dominoes in the chain, things can change.

Give your old coats and canned goods to homeless people.  Or people who are cold and hungry because all their money is going to rent.  And if you’re someone who needs help, ask for it.  I promise you, 30 minutes on Google can find you something.  I have been homeless, I have been hungry, I have been cold.  There is someone who can help you.

Happy holidays.

Other Worlds Austin 2016 Recap

other worlds austin 2016 poster

other worlds austin 2016 posterOther Worlds Austin is a dedicated science fiction film festival based in Austin, TX.  A team of passionate scifi film makers, writers, and fans, they put together a curated collection of independent and classic science fiction movies, with a little horror thrown in.  This was my first year to attend, and I am definitely part of the cult now.

I liked almost everything I saw this year, which is not a common experience at most festivals.  The curation was films was very well done.  They brought in some cool people, like Brian Narelle, who played Lt. Doolittle in Dark Star (1974) and has some of the weirdest stories about film making and fandom.  There was a fascinating script writing class by Matt Lohr on Dan O’Bannon’s screen writing style, that dissected the original Alien to examine why it’s such a damn good movie.

Other Worlds is a great little festival, and I can’t wait to see what they put together next year.

I saw nine feature-length movies, and several short films.  I’ll be writing proper reviews of my favorites over the next week, so here is a quick recap, in the order that I saw them:

  • OMG, I’m a Robot! – a quirky Israeli comedy with robots and ridiculous giant guns.  Lots of fun, probably hard to find.  U.S. premier at the festival.
  • The Axe Murders of Villisca – creepy, very creepy.  The Villisca murders were a real historical event, and the house is supposedly haunted.  The film makers explore what happens when bored teenagers break into the house one night.
  • Blood Hunters – A cool concept, but my least favorite thing at the festival.
  • Dark Star (1974) – The classic film school project by John Carpenter and Dan O’Bannon that launched their careers.
  • We Go On – One of my favorites, this unique ghost story puts plenty of ghost movie tropes in a blender and creates an interesting story that tackles some heavy philosophical questions.
  • Bed of the Dead – As ridiculous as the title suggests.  This weird little horror film came about in an effort to save money and film a movie almost entirely in one room. The constraint pays off, the movie is suspenseful, a good balance of gore to jump scares, with a few mysteries that keep the audience interested.
  • Stille Reserven – Gorgeous, disturbing German about a dystopian future where our corporate masters have figured out how to stop people from escaping their debts even in death.  Also a favorite.
  • Island of Lost Souls (1932) – One of the best horror films of the 1930’s, but Paramount didn’t spend the money on a musical score, or even basic sound effects.  Composer Jay Woelfel decided to fix that, composing, recording and editing an entire soundtrack that fills that gap in the emotional effects of the film.  Good stuff.
  • The Unseen – A cool, weird twist on the idea of the Invisible Man.  This is a film worth seeing.



Other Worlds Austin Film Festival Starts Tonight!

owa-logo-529x270We’re about to make the drive up to Round Rock for a weekend of scifi and horror films at Flix Brewhouse, courtesy of the Other Worlds Austin film festival, home of the Mary Shelley award.

Tonight we’re going to see the opening film, OMG, I’m a Robot!, and hopefully get into The Axe Murders of Villisca, written by Austin local Owen Egerton.

The email announcements have been making big promises of a party tonight that features excessive amounts of chips and queso and chicken tenders.  Ah, Round Rock, whirling vortex of Central Texas culture.