She Still Scares Me
And aren't they all Barack and Hillary now, what with their fancy color-coordinated ties and dresses/pantsuits? Is there a new "Code Cantaloupe" that I should have heard about?
June 29, 2008
Less is More
I believe that was Gertrude Stein's advice to young Ernie Hemmingway. I'm finding parts of A Farewell to Arms better than I expected (the calm, journalistic wince-inducing descriptions of wounds and surgery) approach to , but parts of it (especially the dialogue, and all the "do you love me, darling?" "I'll do anything for you if you're a good boy, I'm your good girl" blather that he has Cathy say ) just insipid.
But I come not to speak of literature. I come to ponder if Gertrude wasn't speaking of the physical (as opposed to literary) exercise that came out of the same WWI era as she and her beloved Alice B.
I've been to a couple of beginners' Pilates classes the past few days and left each of them feeling like I really hadn't done a workout. I dismissed it as yoga for thinkers, where imagining the movements is every bit important as physicalizing them. A reworking of Feldenkrais classes that I took back in the theeayter days.
I am nearly crippled today. Okay, I exaggerate. But in all seriousness, my shoulder blades, hamstrings, glutes and obliques are more than a little tender. I guess that's what they meant by engaging the powerhouse.
Powerouch is more like it.
I can't wait for the intermediate class.
And as we say farewell to Mr Hemmingway's Arms, perhaps the swimming and Pilates will help us say hello to some new definition in Uncle Bob's arms.
Two months till we hit the beach. Stay tuned.
June 26, 2008
I'm Out on a Limb Where the Fun Begins
Speaking of nostalgia (the kind that doesn't turn you into a puddle) ... here's one that at least two of my readers will fondly recall.
I looked for recording of this for a couple of years in the 90s but had no luck. But now, through the magic of YouTube, I take you back to Cincinnati in the early 80s. (play it loud)
Fear is never boring. It's more of a mantra than a song title.
Go on, play it again. You know you wanna. And pass the bong.
June 25, 2008
I'm Okay, I'm Alright
It's weird how a wee nostalgic meltdown can come out of nowhere on an otherwise perfectly pleasant and happy Wednesday afternoon.
I've had a hankering for ground beef and gravy (which I *never* make) all afternoon. So I cooked up a skillet full. The last time I had it was in Grandma's kitchen. Last December. She was still healthy. Now I'm enjoying a big dish of it over rice, drinking a highball out of a quasi-inherited bowling glass that lived in her cupboard for as long as I can remember, typing this up and, since I won't allow Perry Como into the house, listening to this...
She says I'm okay; I'm alright,
Though you have gone from my life
You said that it would,
Now everything should be all right
Instant catharsis. Once I stop crying.
June 24, 2008
Tuesday 200 — #85
I dream of being the exotic girl in the Cage. Safely ensconced in her gilded chandelier, perched above the heaving crowd.
"You’re not Cage material," the Bosses sneer.
"I’ll do anything.”
They escort me to the floor. Feasters from all over the world — every size, shape, and currency — lick at my limbs, sampling the Secondary course in tonight’s flesh banquet. I try not to taste whatever is tasting me. I lower my eyes, coveting the amber anklets which guarantee an exit once they’ve had their fill.
My ankles are permanently unadorned, unlike my wrists. Like all non-FirstBorns, I am tattooed with bracelets of interlocking “S”s. I am a Secondary, spawned to serve.
The Cageling has no tattoos. Her scarless, asymmetrical body is a delicacy the wealthiest can barely afford. An elite customer is introduced and lavender velvet cascades over the Cage. The privilege of disappearing.
I am ordinary. Two perfect legs, both arms in tact. A pair of eyes and well-formed ears. Ten fingers, ten toes. A Secondary, doubly cursed.
I beg for an amputation.
“Even if you were assigned to ChopShop, you wouldn’t get into the Cage.”
You have to be born that way.
:: :: ::
June 23, 2008
Two down, five to go. Have started numero tres and am finding Mr Hemmingway (What's a hemming weigh?) unsurprisingly flat, especially compared to the word paintings of Mr Nabokov and Ms Smith. Part of me keeps trying to imagine a young Rock Hudson as the narrator, and part of me just hears an alcoholic misogynist type type typing his way to (what I already know is) a very unhappy ending. So goes the war.
I've got a new student this week and she's an absolute delight. She's an assistant to a fairly big hitter in the Iraqi government, is here to improve her fluency, and spent a number of years in Montreal. It's a good lesson when you can compare the relative merits of Shi'ites, Tim Horton's, secularism, and poutine.
I'm up to 200 meters in the pool without stopping. A minute or so rest and then repeat till we pass the quarter-mile mark. Not bad for only being able to do 50m at a time a few weeks ago. Slow and steady may not win the race, but it keeps one from
drowninghuffing and puffing.
Speaking of Amy Winehouse ... no, let's not.
According to the government of governments (does such an organization really merit its existence?), we're not supposed to say "bottom-up" or refer to "best practices" anymore. Seems that "brainstorming" was almost verboten as well, since it might offend the epileptics, whose seizures are caused by cerebral electrical storms.
I about had a seizure reading the list.
Sad about him, sadder about her (hmmm, 93 and never married ... do you think that she and Judy Holiday ever tried the Callie/Erica thing? I'm not sayin, I'm just sayin'. What a fun (not to mention attractive) couple they would have made. Right?
I'm most pleased with the color-coded handout I made on conditionals for tomorrow's lesson. If you want to see it, I will send it to you. If you thought there will be lots of these, you would be mistaken. If you had asked me two years ago about 1st, 2nd, and 3rd conditionals, I would have looked at you like you had a giant beetle on your back.
Speaking of Donna Noble ... no, let's not. Okay, let's. She actually was pretty good in the first of the last three. Bring on the finale(s). And please, Russel T., can you explain Rose's new Sean Connery speech impediment? Did she get new teeth in the parallel universe?
Ah, the (end of?) humanity.
June 18, 2008
Apple Falling Not Far from Tree
Here's a recent email exchange between me and my niece. She's eleven.
Miss M ...
Are there cicadas in London England? And how are your cats doing and you of course?
No cicadas here, although there are annoying workmen and young boys outside my window making all kinds of noise. I reckon they'll go away faster than your chirping cicadas will.
The cats are fine ... they're lazy and only very friendly when they're hungry. Sort of like Uncle Larry.
Miss M ...
I'll trade you the work men for the cicadas.
I'm really not sure who she takes after more — her mother or her uncle. Either way, she's in awfully good company.
Normally, I'd just laugh this off, but having recently finished Lolita (1 down, 6 to go) ... naaaah, let's not go there. After all, she does have a valid non-nymphet point. Work men go home at the end of the day (if you kick them out), but cicadas just keep on making noise. Sort of like Fox News.
June 17, 2008
Tuesday 200 — #84
Sometimes she writes letters to clear her mind. Not “Dear Grandma, How is the weather in Poughkeepsie?” letters, but letters of the alphabet. A string of consonants or vowels, but only one of them, whichever of the twenty-six pops into her head. She’ll write it big and small, slanted and straight up and down, in cursive or in block printing. Over and over until it’s just a glyph, a symbol that doesn’t mean anything. Certainly not the initial of the boy who kissed her in the hot sun last Saturday afternoon, hiding behind the tree where their parents couldn’t see them.
He promised to call. Or at least send a text.
Let it go. Mustn’t start thinking about that again. If he calls or texts the phone will buzz. Grasping it in her hand and wishing won’t make it happen. Grasping it in her hand … she flushes at the memory.
They couldn’t see us, could they?
A watched pot never boils, a watched phone only roils.
She hides her mobile under her pillow and reaches for a different crayon. A brownish red one. The color of spleen.
g G G
Gee, she hates him. Gee, she loves him. G.
:: :: ::
June 15, 2008
A Day of Dads
Happy Father's Day to all the dads and grandpas out there, especially to mine ...
We've come a long way since Florida in 1963, eh?
June 13, 2008
How I'll Spend My Summer Vacation
The book list for fall term arrived this week. Actually, there are two of them, one that's required and one that's recommended. The first is a list of seven novels that will be discussed during the first 10-week term of literary criticism. The recommendation is that you have at least the three novels under your belt before the term begins. And those would be ...
Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov (boxed ticked, 17 June)
The Accidental, Ali Smith (boxed ticked, 22 June)
A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway (boxed ticked, 13 July)
Shame, Salman Rushdie (box ticked, 23 August)
The House of the Spirits, Isabel Allende (box ticked, 07 September)
The Night Watch, Sarah Waters (box ticked, 18, September)
Decline and Fall, Evelyn Waugh
I haven't read any of them, which I think's a bonus. Some of them have been on my meaning-to-read list, and I've either read or studied four of the authors already. So that's a plus too.
I slipped into Lolita ... no, wait, that sounds wrong ... this week (btw, I finished Alternatives to Sex in two days and absolutely loved it) and reckon I'm gonna have to read it a couple of times. Once just to get the feel of it, and then a second time to try and understand the complexities. There's an annotated version and the endnotes take up about as many pages as the text itself. I don't enjoy the stop-start that's entailed in trying to soak up all that extra information, so I'll just read it straight through and see how over my head I get.
I think I'll try to have all seven of them read a first time before the term starts and then maybe re-read as required. I remember the "read twice" rule from some of my lit classes -- once for pleasure, a second time for study. I say this now, during my initial period of pre-school excitement (and I sort of feel like a pre-schooler, all eager to have a new notebook and lunch box, maybe I'll even get to go to Sears or Penney's for new school clothes!). We'll see what happens once it all becomes a reality.
The second list is far more extensive, but not by any means required. It's divided into sections, and the recommendation is to have at least one book from each section. I'm already ahead of the game on this, I think.
List 2, recommended reading
This is not an exhaustive list of novels worth reading; it is, inevitably, idiosyncratic. Nor is it suggested, for a second, that you should read every title below. Nonetheless, they’ve been chosen because they chart how key novelists have used the form since its invention, and it would help you both with the programme and as a novelist to read at least one from each section (assuming you haven’t already).
strikethrough means I've already read it.
The earliest novels
Don Quixote (Books 1 & 2) by Miguel de Cervantes (1st published 1605)
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (1st published 1719)
18th-century novels and satires
Pamela by Samuel Richardson
Shamela (a satire on Pamela) by Henry Fielding
Tom Jones by Henry Fielding
Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne
Candide by Voltaire
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
Middlemarch by George Eliot (I really must finish that book one day)
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
Howards End by EM Forster
The Waves by Virginia Woolf
Ulysses by James Joyce
Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner
The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
The Tin Drum by Günter Grass
The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
A House for Mr Biswas by VS Naipaul
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie
Devil on the Cross by Ngugi wa Thiong’o
Late 20th/early 21st century novels
Beloved by Toni Morrison
The Human Stain by Philip Roth
Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood
Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler
In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje
Life & Times of Michael K by JM Coetzee
A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Money by Martin Amis
High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
White Teeth by Zadie Smith
Small Island by Andrea Levy
The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
Crime fiction and thrillers
The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
The Purloined Letter by Edgar Allan Poe
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Conan Doyle
Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy L Sayers
Farewell my Lovely by Raymond Chandler
The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie
Rum Punch by Elmore Leonard
Fleshmarket Close by Ian Rankin
The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan
The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad
Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household
Brighton Rock by Graham Greene
Casino Royale by Ian Fleming
A Perfect Spy by John le Carré
Science and “speculative” fiction
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
The Time Machine by HG Wells
The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham
I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
The Drowned World by JG Ballard
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
Books about the novel (and about fiction writing more generally)
Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande
Aspects of the Novel by EM Forster
Literary Occasions by VS Naipaul
The Art of the Novel by Milan Kundera
The Art of Fiction by David Lodge
How Novels Work by John Mullan
Searching for the Secret River by Kate Grenville
About crime fiction
Write Away by Elizabeth George (crime novelist)
Teach Yourself: Writing Crime & Suspense Fiction by Lesley Grant-Adamson
About children’s fiction
Boys and Girls Forever by Alison Lurie
So I'm gonna be having some bookylicious fun, aren't I? Any you would add or delete?
On the non-academic side (all work and no play, etc.) I got David Sedaris' new book in the mail the other day. I was really surprised to see how thick When You Are Engulfed in Flames ended up being, and that the UK had it out in paperback already. Then I realized that The Book Depository (which we love, love, love) sent me the "large type" edition.
Great, I'll be able to read it without my glasses.
At least that's what I thought. Even without my glasses, 18-point type is a blur. So I can either pay my tuition fees or get lasik surgery.
Which makes me wonder once again, am I too old to be going to grad school?
June 10, 2008
Tuesday 200 — #83
Blue skies had co-opted Soho’s sidewalk tables, forcing me indoors for a latte. A sunburned tourist was hunched over the first of three tables near the door. I plopped down two seats away, leaving an empty table between us, and noted the similarities between selecting cafe tables and urinals.
Several pages into my book, Passive Aggression for Dummies, a crimson-clad mannequin plonked two dirty cups and a half-eaten scone onto the unused middle table, then sashayed toward her freshly cleared al fresco accommodation.
The counter wasn’t four feet away, but she could only move things out *her* way. On behalf of busboys everywhere, I hated her.
I finished my chapter (“Grasping Letting Go!”), returned my mug to the counter, and walked outside, tongue clenched between my teeth.
A street kid approached me for change. I handed him some coins. “Wanna earn more?”
“I ain’t queer.”
“Clearly.” I outlined my plan, offering him a tenner. He requested twenty.
Fifteen minutes later, Scruffy McBeggarton tripped out of the coffee shop, spilling his tray of iced mochas and dousing the shrieking scarlet sundress in syrupy karma. Curses flew as he scuttled away, hopping along on his theatrically twisted ankle.
:: :: ::
June 9, 2008
Bringing up Baby
We saw Gone Baby Gone yesterday afternoon. Americans will think I'm late to the game on this one, but it just opened here. It was delayed by a year or so due to the McCann case.
I must be on some kind of Boston kick, eh? Missing Ptown, reading a novel and watching a film that's set there, then finding Sam Adams on the menu at last night's delicious dinner (hi Arek, *sigh*).
/ digression ...
Anyway, I pretty much loved the film. Young Ben should definitely stay on this side of the camera going forward. Amy Ryan was just genius ... finding the humor and humanity in a character that I'd normally have about *this* much tolerance for is quite an accomplishment. I spent several otherwise engaging scenes thinking bring back the horrible white trash mom.
Aside from the acting and fairly tight script, the best thing about the film for me was the moral dilemmas it raises. The "what would you do" discussions that you can't help but wonder about after the credits have rolled. It's not quite Sophie's Choice, but gosh, it does bring up a discussion point or two.
Have you seen it? If you haven't and want to, go do so and come back. If you have or don't care about seeing it, let's talk on the other side of the jump.
What do you think?
Is killing a bad person okay? Even a pedophiling (new word, that) murderer? That one's probably an easier one than the next.
More troublesome is what would you have done with
Madeline Amanda? Given her back to the mother who you think will change (but clearly doesn't), or go along with the law-breaking law keepers? Surely they'd give her the better life, the one that every kid deserves ... but then again, who are we to say what's best for a kid and her parent? At what point can we prove that someone's an unfit mother, and when are kids better off "in the system" than with their actual parents?
I decided that I'd have tried to make Capt Doyle negotiate w/ Helene and see if they couldn't work something out. Of course, that would have opened up a whole can of legal worms, because if she knew you had the kid she could scream bloody murder (or bloody kidnapping, I reckon) and sue the police department for all the cars in Harvard Yard, which no doubt she'd do (subsequently winning then spending it on fashions from Filene's Basement and blow).
And why the delay due to the McCain case? I was expecting that the parallels would line up next to the mother being involved, not the police. Do we really think the Portuguese police have Maddie? Or was it just that the picture of Amanda bore an arguable resemblance to her?
The situation itself seemed much closer to the Shannon Matthews ordeal, right?
In any case, it's excellent story telling ... put characters into impossible situations with extremely difficult choices, keep raising the stakes, and see what they do.
June 8, 2008
Next Novel, Please
I sat down last night and finished the last hundred pages of the fiction which made me fractious. Truth be told, I skimmed a lot towards the end just to see what happened, and while there are some interesting explorations of memory loss (blocking vs. Alzheimer's), he never explored nor explained why the protagonist had no recollection of the cottage where the majority of the book is set. It makes no sense to me. Surely there must have been some bigger trauma than realizing his mom was banging his uncle (by marriage, not blood) to make him totally block an entire summer's memory??
And we move on.
So I read the first chapter (story) of A View from Castle Rock. It's lovely and beautifully concise but not really a novel, so I'll dip in and out of that. And I read the first dozen pages of this year's Pulitzer winning The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which I'll definitely go back to at some point over the summer. It seems compelling, but perhaps a requires a bit more work than I want to put into a book after slogging through last week's upper middle-class melodrama.
Which leads us to the question of what's next on my impromptu reading list. How about Stephen McCauley's Alternatives to Sex? It's light, it's witty, it seems to be chock-full of entertaining neurotics, and it's set not far from Cape Cod -- arguably the American equivalent of Cornwall. A perfect counterpoint to the last book.
Most importantly, after breezing through thirty pages this morning, I'm looking forward to spending more time with these characters to see who says what and find out what happens next.
Maybe that's the simplest key to understanding if fiction works ... does the reader want to know what happens next?
June 7, 2008
About that Control Thing
I've spent the last hour or so rebooting computers and my modem, unplugging and reconnecting cables, and getting more and more irritated that my wi-fi network wasn't working or, if it was, was as slow as fresh molasses on a freezing cold morning.
The knot in my stomach tightened as I thought about having to call BT and report a fault.
And now everything seems to be working again reasonably well. I'm certain that all my fiddling, or anything else I might have (or might not have done) had nothing to do with the outcome.
So why didn't I just walk away and let it work itself out like I was pretty sure it would have? There were books to read. There were gyms to go to and pools to swim in. There were journals to write in and Scrivener files called "journal" or "working drafts" that could have been opened. The computers were working, it was just the broadband that was wonky.
But there I was, stuck in a loop of Must.Have.Internet.Access.
And somehow I think that might be just a little wrong.
Sometimes I wonder what's more annoying ... the fact that things that don't work the way they're supposed to or the fact that I can't just ignore them and come back them another time.
June 5, 2008
Lucas / Walliams Strike Deal with Endemol
June 4, 2008
"Hadron" Mean "Hades" on Nibiru
It's not all politics schmolitics here in Bobopolis. Oh no, it's not indeed. Sometimes I find myself drawn to science.
Here's one of my new favorite people. His argument is clearly-thought and he's fairly well-spoken — not like those ranting pant-suit loving midwesterners who'd rather cross party lines, stay in Iraq for another hundred years, and throw their granddaughters' reproductive rights under a bus than than vote for "an inadequate black man."
Nope, this guy's one of the sane ones. Now then, do bear in mind, the Large Hadron Collider is indeed real (brought to you by CERN, the good folks who helped Al Gore to invent the Internet), and will be fired up this month, with more significant test runs some time in August.
Also bear in mind that our narrator doesn't realize that a version of the LHC has already been used ... it's the tool that Ben used to make the island disappear.
It's less than ten minutes out of your life ... and at least you'll be prepared and informed.
June 2, 2008
Gimme Gimme Gimme
There are rumors that HRC is going to pack it in tomorrow night.
There are also emails in my inbox, dated today, from her saying there are two more primaries and she needs my money.
So, either a) she has no design to take the high road and walk away gracefully (if that's still possible) or b) she's going to try to continue to beg for money to cover her campaign debt for as long as she can.
I wonder, if on the odd chance she were to win the Presidency, if she'd end every televised address with "and don't forget to go to HillaryClinton.com."
As much as Sex and the City made me briefly miss living in New York, every time I see coverage of this election I'm glad I'm not there. If I'm seeing this much over here, heaven knows what it's like stateside.
Television ads are going to be butt ugly for the next few months over there, aren't they?
But hey, don't worry about us ... we've got Big Brother 9 starting on Thursday. Maybe Hillz'll be in the house.
June 1, 2008
One of my favorite New York nights, after being there close to a dozen years, was having a houseful of friends over to watch the last episode of Sex and the City.
We saw the film yesterday afternoon. I hadn't read any of the reviews and avoided the spoilers because I didn't want to know who dies, who loses a leg, who breaks a nail, and who does or doesn't get/stay married before I saw it (although I did have a dream the other night that Miranda killed herself by jumping in front of an F train ... which would have been tragic and dark and fabulous, even though she's always been my favorite).
So now I know how it all gets tied up. It's not the best film in the world, but you know what, I never expected it to be. And I think that the reviewer from the New York Times has a few issues she needs to work through. Bitter much?
It was predictable, it was charming, and it might even be a bit of fluff. It wasn't even all that well-written; where were all the snappy one-liners? But it was a beautiful postcard of New York, and made me awfully nostalgic about living there. Dirty Sexy Money (also a bit of fluff, but not nearly as predictable) does the same thing, so maybe I just miss the idea of the crisp, technicolor New York that can be found if you have loads and loads of money.
My most interesting takeaway was how much I liked one of the characters this time, she might even have been my favorite yesterday which is curious because during the run of the show she was by far my least favorite. And maybe I liked her better now because, while she was still the same character, she'd grown a bit. Three of them were pretty much the same four years later, one of them seemed to have grown up a little.
Three random snippets that won't give anything away before I babble on ...
1. I clapped when Joanna Gleason unexpectedly came on screen. People (including Larry) thought I was crazy.
2. I would have liked to have seen more cameos by New York actor-type people (see above), but wonder if that would have made it too gimmicky.
3. "Emotional cutter" could be one of my new favorite phrases and I was the only person in the theater who laughed when it was said.
Potential spoilers after the jump.
I tend to group people I know into two categories. The ones who are doing the same thing they've been doing for the past 5, 10, 20 (insert your own time frame here) years and the ones who seem to be on a journey, whose lives have some kind of an arc. Granted, most people I know are in the second category, but there are some people who have found their groove and, for whatever reasons (comfort, security, fear), have stayed there.
For the most part, three of the SATC girls were in the same place we'd left them, acting pretty much the same way they would have during the series. Okay, in the series Samantha would have been banging Dante the first time Smith turned up late, but she was still pretty much the same.
On the other hand, Charlotte rocked. She still had her good-girl moral superiority, but it didn't seem as annoying as it used to. And sure, she was still the most high strung, but she'd mellowed a bit and seemed more honest about her ridiculous chocolate pudding, fear-of-losing-everything, something-bad-is-going-to-happen neuroses.
And she gave Carrie one of the best lines of the film, You shit your pants this year, maybe you're done.
Gosh, one could even say Charlotte had grown up. For as much as she wanted Miranda to forgive Steve (awww, Steve ... we love Steve), she would NEVER have forgiven Harry or Trey for a similar indiscretion back in the day.
So good for Charlotte and her arc. And good for everybody at SATC. Despite what the critics say, I think audiences will flock to it and they'll get the fairy tale they're looking for.