frogg files

"She could never be a saint, but she thought she could be a martyr if they killed her quick." --Flannery O' Connor

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

I Write Like

Today a poet friend forwarded an interesting website to me, called I Write Like. What you do is, you paste in some text you've written, click the "Analyze" button and the site tells you what famous author you write like.

I pasted in the opening from a short story I wrote a while back and got Dan Brown. Horrified, I chose a selection from a different story... and got Stephen King.

I should perhaps mention that neither of the stories were even remotely thriller-ish.

In desperation, I pasted in an entire story, one of the few I've written that I actually like and which is in a more experimental vein. There is nothing science fiction-y about it, so naturally, it turns out that I write like Isaac Asimov.

I'm a little depressed right now.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Staying Sober

Someone asked me the other day if I was "born again." I never know how to answer this question. The term "born again" denotes more of a(n extreme) conservative political stance these days, at least in the United States. You can say you are a Christian and still maintain a shred of respectability (very slight, and most definitely a shred), but say you are born again and you may as well walk around with a sign saying, "I am completely insane." I mean, OK, some "born agains" are insane, but frankly I think they would be one letter short of an alphabet no matter what creed they latched onto. It's just unfortunate that they picked Christianity as the philosophical and spiritual context in which to exercise their particular brand of crazy. But if anything, they are yet another exhibit for the defense of one of the foundational truths proclaimed by Christianity: Humans need some serious help.

The political and mental implications were one obvious reason I hesitated in answering "yes" to the question of my born againness. But as the conversation continued, someone else alluded to the other part of the "born again" concept that I have trouble with; namely, the idea that you "come to a point of decision" at which you "accept Christ into your heart" with the aid of a prescribed "sinner's prayer" that functions as a sort of magic spell with the result that after you say it, hey presto, you're saved! God has completed you! Ta da!

Well, that just reminds me of the scene in The Princess Bride where the man in black says to the princess he's come to save that "life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something." Same goes for Christianity. If you think all you have to do is pop a sort of prayer pill and everything will be fine and dandy, and you'll always have the answers to all the questions that haunt the human race, just wait a while. The pain is bound to come sooner or later, along with the doubts and the uncertainty. And then what do you do?

So I looked at the man who had started the whole discussion and my thoughts ran back over the course of the past couple years, all the doubts and all the (many) times I struggled (and still struggle) to believe in God, in Christ, in the whole Christian idea. I said that being born again wasn't so much about a single moment as a decision you make every day. Over and over and over again.

"Like staying sober," he said.

"Yeah," I said. "It's a bit like that."

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Shadows

I've been having some trouble with my shoulder, so today I went to see an orthopedic surgeon who prescribed an MRI to find out exactly what's wrong. When I called to make the appointment, the woman on the other end went through a series of "routine questions", which included stuff like, "do you have diabetes," "do you have any metal inside your body" (yikes), "have you had brain surgery" (!). I went into a sort of autopilot of "No's" but then she asked, "Have you ever been diagnosed with cancer?" And I was just a little weirded out to hear myself say, "Yes."

Yeah, I know. It's been more than a year. But still.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

The Long-Awaited, Probably Forgotten-About, Argentina Update

Now that absolutely no one cares anymore about my Argentina trip — which, after all, took place way back in June — I'm going to finally update this blog with another post about it.

You can see why I never made it as a reporter. Not that I ever tried. Bleah.

But I just can't leave everyone with the impression that all I did during the entire time I spent in "the Paris of the South" was eat. I mean, it felt kind of like I ate all the time, but I also went and saw stuff and did things. Here are some highlights, in no particular order:

1) The Recoleta Cemetery.

This place is a true city of the dead. I mean, it even has streets with street signs:



OK, so the street signs aren't in that picture, but they really are there.

The Recoleta Cemetery is one of, if not the, most popular tourist destinations in Buenos Aires. Someone in our group asked the question, "What does it say about a city that its most popular spot is its cemetery?" I leave it to you to ponder the no doubt many possible answers to that question; it is way too early in the morning right now for me to start being philosophical.

2) El Ateneo Bookstore.

Built in 1919, El Ateneo started out as a theatre house called Teatro Gran Splendid, or Grand Splendid Theatre. Today, it's a totally awesome-looking bookstore. Check it out:



As you can see, El Ateneo has retained the features of the old theatre: the box seats, where you can kick back with a book for a while; the stage, which is now a cafe; the domed, muraled ceiling, which you can't see in that picture because it's in this one (or at least part of it is):



By the way, I bought a book at El Ateneo, by an Argentine writer named Poldy Bird. An Argentine friend recommended her. Of course, the book is in Spanish, but in a fit of misguided belief in my self-motivational, not to mention linguistic, abilities, I thought, "Hey, I'll practice my Spanish by translating it!" Given how good my Spanish isn't, this was, to say the least, not my finest hour in the department of Great Ideas, but oh well.

3) Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay.

When I heard that Uruguay was only an hour away by ferry, I decided to pop over there for a day trip because a) it was an easy way to get another stamp in my passport, and b) by that time I'd been in Buenos Aires for over a week and the city was starting to jangle my suburban nerves a bit. I needed a change of scene, and that's exactly what I got as I wandered the cobblestoned streets of Colonia, the oldest town in Uruguay (founded in 1680 by the Portuguese; thanks, Wikipedia). A few pics:



Here's the spot where my friend and I had lunch:



As we were leaving, another customer came along:



And finally, here's a pic of me under a shop sign that reminded me there's no place like home:



4) The World Cup.

Yes, my trip coincided with the epic soccer series, and it was quite interesting to observe how seriously Argentines take the game. Let's just say that if you are going to have a life-threatening emergency during the World Cup, try not to have it when Argentina is playing, because whoever would have come to your aid is probably glued to a TV screen watching the match, like every other human being in the country.

I watched the Argentina-Mexico game in a cafe with a group of friends, and afterward we went down to the Obelisk to celebrate Argentina's win with everyone in Buenos Aires (not much of an exaggeration):





Good times, although I will say that the mosh pit got a little alarming. But I survived, as you can see. Also, I believe my group got on Argentine TV at some point. No doubt the crazy Americans singing "Vamos Argentina" into the camera provided a great deal of amusement to whoever saw the clip.

5) Milion.

I don't have a picture of this bar, but if you ever go to Buenos Aires, definitely check out it out, located on the second floor of what was once an old mansion. It's not well-marked from the street, so if you don't pay attention you could walk right past it. But if you find it, it's a really cool spot for reasonably priced drinks.

Speaking of drinks, I'll finish off this post with

6) The Pisco Sour.



A classic South American cocktail, it tastes even better when mixed by a hot South American man. I don't know why that should be, but hey, I didn't make the rules.

Hmm, now that I've come to the end of this post, I'm suddenly remembering all the other things I haven't mentioned — touring the colorful La Boca neighborhood; visiting the estate of Victoria Ocampo, an important figure in Argentina's cultural history; having lunch at Cafe Tortoni, the oldest cafe in Argentina; exploring the city's many art galleries on Gallery Night; taking tango lessons and then watching a stunning tango show while enjoying dinner at El Querandi. And there's even more... the list could go on and on. But, no doubt to your great relief, it won't. Because I'm done. Whew!

Thanks for tuning in. Back to our regularly scheduled program of unpredictable updates...