To all those people worried that Bush's SOTU speech is a sign we're going back into the folly of Carteresque "alternative-energy" policies, one question: how's that whole return-to-the-moon thing going these days?

Written earlier today:

There’s nothing like a hopeful, upbeat conversation with your agent to pitch you into the deepest pit of despair. The problem isn’t that I’m a bad writer; it’s that I’m not bad enough. If only I could bang out intricately plotted slam-bang stories in which cardboard people run around the world, never stopping to pee or eat, unlocking an Ancient Secret whose mystical protectors have sworn to protect. (The formula for Coke, maybe. Mix the ingredients in reverse, and you have Ekoc, an ancient Greek compound that grants immortal life. The secret must never be told! We killed the Cult of Ispep, and we can deal with you, Robert McMannory, dashing archeologist!) Or perhaps a dry, sorrowful tale of a dedicated police officer who solves a murder everyone else thinks was an accident. Or maybe a combination of the two: a wry, emotionally damaged ex-police officer discovers that the Illuminati control everything, and together with his beautiful raven-haired assistant, he exposes something or other. Probably some lie that invalidates Christianity; that would sell. He couldn’t invalidate Scientology; no one would touch that one.

I have tried to write something that would land in the airport book store, but I can’t get beyond sketching out the plot without feeling an immense wave of self-revulsion. And if I rejigger the idea to make it palatable, the revulsion is replaced with weary hopelessness: yeah, sure, that’ll sell in the high dozens. My books sell well enough, but not airport bookstore well. Not like business how-to books, for example. Not like Stephen King, of course; who does?

Speaking of which – I sped through “Cell” in two sittings. Meh. I wanted more explanations, more why, and while I understand the appeal of not letting us know more than the characters knew, sometimes you just want that multi-viewpoint approach that sets the stage. As it happens, the “The Pulse” that bolts through cell phone and turns everyone into zombies is just another in a long-line of inadequately explained zombification devices. I could accept that, and did, after a while. The characters’ actions seemed right, but their speech did not – when the world is ending, I don’t think people joke around like 12 year boys, and it’s a tic of King’s that derails the tension and robs the story of the gravity the horror has given it.

The horror genre is a good one for a certain kind of writer; you don’t have to know how things work, only how they fall apart. I’ve read a few others, but they’ve never grabbed me the way a good King book can grab me. Even when the book’s not working all the way for me, it still has an elemental energy few other writers can muster. They sit down, compose, adjust, calculate. I think King’s stuff comes from love and compulsion, and that’s why you get dragged along for 260 pages in a single afternoon.

Watched “Casino” the other night. Or two nights, rather; it’s three hours long. Was underwhelmed when it first came out, thinking it was just another Goodfellas – except uglier and draggier. With my expectations lowered, however, I found I enjoyed it more. (Secret to life, that.) Your tolerance for profanity may determine how much you like it, since most of Joe Pesci’s monofarginlogues consist of the F word served up in its various permutations. When the movie ended, I googled the guy on whom the movie was based, just to see what became of him.

Well, I shouldn’t be surprised by these things anymore, should I.

Treated myself to “Ghosts of the Abyss,” a documentary in which James Cameron shames Bill Paxton into riding a tiny sub down to the wreck of the Titanic. Always liked Paxton, and here we see a man who is having an entirely sensible reaction to being stuffed in a casket with a Russian and dropped into the Atlantic. We also see him lose his fear when the exploration of the wreck truly commences. Cameron lit the set, if you will, with gigantic overhead lamps tethered to the surface vessel. The result, if you’re a Titanic buff, is heaven. We’re not talking murky shots of a shoe or a plate, but explorations of the First Class dining room that reveal the windows intact, the woodwork intact, the grillwork on the doors intact. It’s remarkable. As this, a shot of the Grand Staircase:

He used two robots in the shoot, which is how he gets shots like this. When a shot can be matched against a known location, Cameron – or rather a band of digital wizards, acting at his bequest – superimpose people and details; hence the “ghosts” of the title, I suppose.


A fated conversation, overheard by a survivor, beween the Captain and Bruce Ismay, took place in this very spot, apparently. She heard Ismay expressing his desire that the Titanic arrive in New York early:

Then a computer reconstruction of the site.

They do the same with the boiler room, the wireless room, the davits for the last boat, the wheelhouse – all the key locales that have filled the imagination of anyone who read the book as a kid. (The movie is dedicated to Walter Lord, and for good reason.)

Cameron himself is a strange duck; obviously a man of great artistic talent and cinematic vision, and obviously devoted to the subject of the great dead ship. On the other hand, nearly everything that comes out of his mouth is banal or incongruously irreverent. Not that I expect him to sound like he’s stepping into Tut’s tomb for the first time, when he’s probably made more trips to the Titanic than Captain Smith ever did, but he just doesn’t sound connected to the experience at all. Even though you’re pretty sure he is. Hard to explain, and perhaps it’s me. But he gives off this intense gearhead-nerd weirdo vibe I’ve noticed before, usually from guys I could work with for one week or ten years and never really know.

In any case, the movie feels like a goodbye not just to Cameron’s fascination with the ship, but the ship itself. It’s dissolving. Its gigantic bulk is being eaten alive by microscopic creatures. (O the irony.) Unless they invent tetherless robots that can shoot HD 3D in the next five years, there may be no more such trips. Whatever they find, it may not match the moment in which Cameron points one of the subs at the newly discovered dining room window, so the sub on the other side can see light streaming through the glass for the first time since the night she sank. I'd give you a preview, but you ought to see if for yourself. In fact, this probably violates fair use, for all I know, so the archived version won't have these pictures. All the more reason to see it the way God and Jim Cameron - assuming the distinction - intended.

Side note: the burly guy with the ponytail could be a stand-in double for my old radio producer, the Dark Chef, aka Kodiak. Although the Chef is better looking, and has the added advantage of a cooler tattoo.

Today's Bleat image makes a bit more sense now, doesn't it?

In the office coffeeshop now, listening to something from the lounge playlist. (Not retro lounge, but the chill-out lounge stuff; at its best, it’s soothing; at its worst, it sounds like a soundtrack for some arty Euro-porno where women wear papermache horse heads and swat each other with riding crops.) Running low on battery; just as well. It was a nice hour not writing anything that will end up in airport book stores. May they all be so pleasant. God knows there will be enough of them to come. Boo-hoo, hear the midlister whine. Okay, I'm done. Note: new ACME! Enjoy.


Man, did I get a novel idea. Started writing it, too. So all is well. Stay tuned for more gross mood swings, but I think I'm on to something here. It's the first idea I've had since "Summer's Wheel" that didn't feel false or forced, "Joe Ohio" not included. (That's not a novel, and yes, I will finish that one too.) Confidence is high, repeat, confidence is high.

Dang - forget the Diner MP3 link. Forgot to convert it and upload it, for that matter. and it's after midnight. Well, the night is young; hold on. But: the MP3 versions will only be up for a week, for bandwidth reasons, so act now. Here you go, and see you tomorrow.


c. 2005 j. lileks. Email, if you wish, may be sent to "first name at last name dot com."