Archive for January, 2013

Star Wars, Zombies and Simon Pegg

| January 30, 2013

Nerd-Do-Well-Simon-Pegg-adjustedThere is no fate but what we make.

Simon Pegg didn’t come up with that line, but he referenced it on page 252 of his memoir, Nerd Do Well. I know because I finished reading the book last night. Sadly, what will follow won’t be an intelligent discourse on the literary devices Pegg used to tell his story, nor will it posit how Nerd Do Well stands up against others in its genre or in its niche (i.e. the actor’s memoir).

What you’re walking into is a fan’s account of a book about that guy who wrote and starred in Shaun of the Dead. I graduated with a BS in Biology and only minors in literature, after all.

The book is a mash-up of personal narrative, fiction, film theory and conversation. It opens with part one of an 11-part adventure story starring an action hero called Simon Pegg and his trusty robot sidekick, Canterbury. In the chapter that follows, Pegg the author speaks directly to the reader and opens up about his hesitation to write about himself, both because “[t]here’s something presumptuous in writing an autobiography, as if people’s interest in your life is a given” and because it could mean robbing his private life of privacy. What he wanted to do was write a fictional story about a “suave, handsome superhero and his robotic butler,” but his editor persuaded him otherwise. It isn’t until the third chapter that we get into the narrative and find out about the first time Pegg remembers entertaining someone with a joke; he was 8.

And then there’s his film theory–the brilliant breaks between his personal history of nerdism that reveal the workings of his nerd mind. The chapter, “That’s No Moon, It’s an Understatement,” is my favorite example. In it, he offers his analysis of the first Star Wars movie (A New Hope not A Phantom Menace) and how it’s a reflection of events that preoccupied the US at the time of its release, giving a glimpse of the mindset behind a thesis on Star Wars he wrote during his time at Bristol University. He lapses into this frame of mind throughout the book, particularly when discussing zombies (he loathes the advent of the fast-moving zombie, by the way). I both loved these moments and was intimidated by them. I loved them because I felt smarter for having read them. Intimidated because they show that if you and Pegg watched a movie together, and you leave the theater saying you liked it, he might ask why and you’d know in the back of your head that nothing you say would be as intelligent or comprehensive as his analysis. Of course, you could always deflect by asking him to explain first.

If you’re interested in reading the stories Pegg tells, don’t worry: The first three chapters don’t establish a pattern for the rest of the book. Each chapter of the superhero story, which is tagged by a number and displayed in Courier font, is inserted after 3-4 chapters of narrative, which are tagged with chapter headings and displayed in Times New Roman. At first, I considered skipping the fiction all together because my interest in the book was to hear about Pegg the person. But it grew on me the way watching Days of Our Lives did when I was 12 and my cousin, who was visiting for a month, insisted on tuning in every weekday at noon. Besides, the fiction reinforced the imagination and creativity I know of Pegg via the films he wrote and Spaced, the Channel 4 TV series he co-wrote and starred in in 1999 that’s thankfully available via Netflix streaming.

I say “stories Pegg tells” and not “Pegg’s story” for a reason. This memoir focuses on what he’s comfortable discussing. And his story isn’t over, obviously. But he has told enough to make this point: Where he is today (which includes managing the warp core of the most famous Galaxy-class starship in the Trek universe) is the result of the experiences he had and the decisions he made as a kid. By extension, where any of us are today is because of our decisions and how we reacted to experiences growing up. There is no such thing as dumb luck or chance. If you think hard enough, you’ll discover the choices you made that explain why you have the friends you have, why you’re close to some family members and not to others, why you’re doing the work you do today. You might not have been calculated all of the time, but you were deliberate.

Terminator-2-no-fateWhich brings us back to Sarah Conner’s mantra. I think it sums up Nerd Do Well nicely, but not in the doomsday way this still from Terminator 2 does. It alludes to the recurring point Pegg makes about circularity. It also comes from a genre of storytelling Pegg feels himself most at home in. I suppose I could have quoted Pegg himself. But summarizing with a line from a sci-fi movie from a sci-fi franchise feels much more nerd.

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Educated from Good Stock

| January 08, 2013

Seven days from now, I’ll officially be four years further from 30. It’s an age of little significance in social terms. There aren’t any precious metals associated to it. For many, it’s an in-between year, a hash mark on the way to 40. For me, it’s the first year that I find myself looking back.

Twenty years ago today, I was on the other side of my 8th grade year at Our Lady of Lourdes, a Catholic school in Tujunga, California. Mr. Morin was my teacher, a former flower child with piercing blue eyes and a penchant for Pepsi. He was lanky, had a head of ruddy hair that was well-groomed but mushroomed slightly, and a full-yet-trimmed beard. I often thought of him as an auburn-haired Abraham Lincoln. But he wasn’t a brooder the way ol’ Lincoln was.

Mr. Morin had the courage to be silly.

It was a quality that never undermined his pragmatism and authority as an educator. Rather, the silly enhanced it. One time, Mr. Morin set us all on a group assignment–to solve a riddle he had written out on the chalkboard. Then, he excused himself. After five minutes, he returned wearing black Ray-Bans and a black fedora. Many of us giggled anxiously as he approached the dual-cassette boombox he had quietly set on his desk while we were all huddled in teams trying to figure out the answer to the riddle. When we quieted down, he pressed play and the twangy riff of an electric guitar escalated into the brassy theme of “Soul Man.” Before we knew it, Mr. Morin transformed into a Blues Brother.

Blues-Brothers

He was neither Elwood (pictured left) nor Jake (pictured right), but a gangly other brother who jumped and jived just the same. After performing the requisite jig at the start of the song, he ran around our classroom lip-syncing the lyrics, giving high fives as he shuffled past our desks. The act lasted the entirety of the song and after he bowed to our hoots and hollers, he settled us down, drew our focus back to the riddle and asked us for our ideas.

We adored The Blues Brothers routine because it was so rarely bestowed. Eighth graders from previous years had told us that the dance existed but that Mr. Morin didn’t perform it for every class. So, when the “Soul Man” chorus reverberated off our classroom walls, we knew it was because we had done something (or a series of somethings) that made us stand out to him, that proved we deserved a momentary lapse in the daily curriculum to celebrate. We had the privilege of grooving with The Blues Brother only one other time, during one of the last weeks before graduation. In this way, Mr. Morin taught me that it’s okay to step back and revel in personal accomplishments. When we make it to a place of personal significance, the next step isn’t to sweep past it by diverting our attention to another goal. The next step is to do a soulful jig.

So, guess what, 34? You and I have got a date on the dance floor.

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