So I Was Watching Sarah Palin ...
And I pulled a wig out of the box and set up my video camera ...
One of the tools we use in ye olde world of English teaching is called delayed error correction. It's a simple concept ... you let the students talk, focusing on fluency vs accuracy (because there's a theory that you can only be one or the other when you're learning a language). The teacher makes notes and then gives the students back a list of things they said and asks, "how could you have said this better?" or "can you correct these sentences?"
Here's one that came up this afternoon.
It's gotta be a comprehensive long-term solution found, found for this problem that Americans facing today.
Oh, but wait. That wasn't a student. That was Sarah Palin during last night's interview with Katie Couric.
One of my students, a 21-year old Turkish girl who has recently graduated from law school in Ankara, said, "but she's not saying anything, is she?"
I know, I know ... being articulate is elitist.
Isn't She Lovely?
We did some character sketches last night and then got our first writing assignment, which I'll start scribbling after work tonight.
Here's the randomly selected photograph that I was given to play with. Fantastic, no?
"I've been bulimic for 60 years and I won't have a word said against it."
So Far, So Good
Thanks for all the emails over the past couple days wondering how things are going. To quickly summarize:
Yes, I played nice with everyone one.
Yes, I had freshly sharpened pencils and a new lunch pail (I ended up going with Josie and the Pussycats over Scooby Do).
No, I did not set out milk and cookies for an afterschool snack, nor am I in bed by 9pm on school nights (class doesn't end till 9pm, so that makes it difficult).
The new director of the program is very opinionated, but very funny and I think will be great to work with. We've already disagreed on the merits of Netherland, but I'm really looking forward to what he has to say and teach.
"The first thing we do is throw out the reading list you got over the summer (he meant the long "recommended" reading as opposed to the seven I've been investing in." His reasoning behind that seems sound, and all go into it later.
Had drinks with several of my classmates (and the tutor) tonight and after only two nights (and two pints) most everyone (at least the drinkers) seems bright, enthusiastic and fun.
And that's where we are now. Stay tuned.
September 22, 2008
So. This Should Be Fun.
Up until about a month ago I was taking sightseeing trips to the edge of the dark place. I hadn't been there for a while and, as recent history (the past few years) has proven, if I go there I tend not to be there for very long.
I remember talking to my Rx-adverse (not against, just adverse) therapist back in NY (I had two at different times over a decade, one who wanted me to do the "work" and one who was happy to write all kinds of prescriptions to make me feel better) and we'd been making good progress (doing the "work" while keeping up on a prescription or two).
"Pretty soon I'll be cured of all my neuroses," I said, more than half-way believing myself.
He just smiled and told me that wasn't the way it worked. "You never really get rid of them, you just get to know them better and not let them control you as much."
Part of me thought he was just being an asshole, trying to perpetuate the head-shrinking myth that you're never really done. Never. Never ever. And part of me reckoned that he made a lot of sense, after all, some of them are pretty much hard-wired in.
So anyway, back before our week in Spain (which really did do me a world of good), I was kind of in a "what's the point" mood and sort of wanted to just run away (but we don't run away anymore, we plan escapes) and do something really different. I was journaling something to that effect and answered myself (I have a lot of dialogues with myself in my journal ... they're fascinating in a pre-schizophrenic sort of way) something along the lines of "Helloooo, you're starting a Master's program in about six weeks, don't you think that is doing something really different?"
And I answered back sure I guess so but that's so far away and it just doesn't really seem real and I want something different now.
Because you know, immediate gratification takes waaaaay too long.
So here it is, more than six weeks later and I'm starting something that could be really big tomorrow. Doing something completely different.
I have no idea what to expect (which does wonders for that Virgo control thing), except that in the course of the next two years (if we are able to stay in London) I'll have written a novel, been exposed to all kinds of new writing, stretched my current limits of creative and critical thinking, and have come out the other end with new perspectives, new ideas, maybe some new friends, and
an agent slash book contract jesus-allah-godesss-Fred knows what else.
And I reckon all those neuroses that I used to talk about to the shrinks (you know the ones: self-doubt, procrastination, unexplained euphoria, self-imposed blocks, overwhelm, underwhelm, self sabotage, and baby epiphanies that come from nowhere) will rear their muzzled heads. And who knows, maybe I'll meet some new ones!
But that's part of the fun, eh?
And so, tomorrow, we dive on in. I can't really tell, but I think the water will be fine. And, interestingly, I see no dark clouds on the horizon.
What's the biggest cliff you've jumped off lately?
September 21, 2008
Location, Location, Location
“One of the characters in my novel lives in a boat like this,” I said.
“The one you’re writing?”
“No. The Night Watch. The one I just read.” Which, by the way, means six of seven down.
One of the pleasures of reading is that it can take you places you’ve never been. On the flip side, I get a kick out of the sense of recognition found in stories set in places I know. The inhabitants of The Night Watch were often walking around the streets of Central London during World War II. It’s cool to imagine them wandering through previous incarnations of places I’m familiar with. Sometimes very familiar with … there’s a house on Bryanston Square that plays a part in the book and that’s the B2 where we used to live.
The same thing happened in Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland, which I finished last night and very much enjoyed. The demonic robots in It's a Small World (yeah, you'll be humming that for the rest of the day, you're welcome) were right, as it seems Mr O'Neill, and his character Hans, were my neighbors.
It’s set in post-9/11 (which isn't as depressingly daunting as it always sounds) New York with a couple stops in London, and the narrator (and author as well) lives in The Chelsea Hotel, just two cross-town blocks east of our old place on 23rd Street. We lived there during the same time that the story takes place, and the protagonist comes back to London just about the same time that we moved over here, so I had a certain resonance (of residence?) with the book. The writing is beautiful (although some sentences are arguably long-winded and his wife’s rant against US involvement in Iraq seemed a bit cookie-cutter) and I felt a strong connection with the sense of almost fitting into a city full of misfits. Feeling like you belong, but not quite. It’s also a great study in how to weave flashback and memory into a story; how a sight or smell will pull a trigger that sends you back in time.
In providing a his feel for the cities, O'Neill simply gets it right. I loved his description of Manhattan during August 2003’s black out. I flew back into La Guardia that afternoon and got stuck in the resulting street party (it took me longer to get from LGA to Chelsea than it did to get from Atlanta to New York), but it was an amazing night.
There’s nothing more jarring than when a story doesn’t messes up a sense of place. It happens in movies all the time, and makes for a fun game … “Wait, how’d he get from A to B?” Someone walks out of a subway station in Soho and then all of a sudden is in Times Square. In the opening scenes of Runaway Jury, John Cusack’s character walks down the steps of the Wildlife and Fisheries Building (across the street from my old apartment), and apparently breaks the time/space continuum by ending up on the other side of the French Quarter. I suppose in the grand scheme of things, it worked for the story and fiction is, after all, fiction.
But what about when the author is trying to “say something” about recent historical events? In The Emperor’s Children two of the characters take a would-be cathartic helicopter ride over a crystal-clear lower Manhattan on the evening of September 10th. I seem to recall a fantastic storm that night, ducking under awnings to escape the pissing rain. It made 8am the next morning feel ironically fresh and clean, like the city had gotten a good power-wash. I felt like the author there was recreating history to prove her point, which (to me) seems like cheating.
O’Neill, on the other hand, always rings true. His last fond recollection of the Twin Towers comes at the end of the book. While riding the London Eye, he remembers a trip on the Staten Island ferry with his mother during an impeccably described sunset … which invoked my own memories of a week or so before 9/11, when I took my mom on a sunset Circle Line cruise around the lower half of Manhattan. Like the last page of the novel, it was sort of breathtaking.
Anyway, I’ve digressed. Bottom line: Netherland is short, sweet (well, bittersweet) and satisfying. It's not just about the cities, but about relationships and family and friendship and trying to belong. It's about trying to make things work when things get taken away.
And that can happen no matter where we live.
September 19, 2008
I was riding the Central Line this afternoon, coming back from the formal registration process (which went 95% well) for school — which starts on Tuesday and I'm totally fine about. Really. Not nervous in the least. Nope. Not one bit.
Anyway, I'm on the Tube and across from me is the cutest little girl, about 18-24 months old I reckon, all cornrows and barrettes and what's not braided down is teased out into puffs of mini-Afro Mickey Mouse ears. She was sitting on her daddy's lap. He was a really large (Chicago Bears linebacker size) guy, and very handsome. I don't see so many dads and baby daughters on the train with no moms around. It was a nice sight, him holding his little girl and kissing on her.
Feel the love.
A couple stops later, I looked up from my book and there he is again, still kissing on her. Smack on her mouth, and for a minute I thought they were sharing a piece of candy. But no. The little girl had her tongue stuck out and dad was, well, sucking on it, just as casual as can be. It wasn't like they were French kissing ... but they were, weren't they?
Naturally, I averted my eyes. Some things even I don't want to watch. Clearly, the little girl didn't know any better and it was just a freak occurrence, and the dad was being cool and not drawing attention to his daughter which might later cause her shame and several months on a therapist's couch.
Nope, it continued.
She'd reach up to kiss him. He'd kiss her back. She'd stick her little pink tongue out, and he'd not just kiss it, but let it go right into her mouth. Like he was very gently eating his daughter's face. Oh well, at least she was quiet.
And I ask you ... is this a normal thing?
Not just normal on a subway train, but anywhere? Somewhere there's gotta be a boundary, and if we were in London's Zone 1, I'd say that boundary was somewhere in, oh I don't know, Phoenix.
Or maybe I'm just getting conservative in my old age.
:: :: ::
As for the registration, when I got my letter back in June or whenever, it said I had a conditional acceptance based upon receipt of two letters of recommendation (which I had already submitted). In a painless email correspondence, it was confirmed that everything had been received, was in good order, and I was good to go.
When I sat down with yonder Registrar today, computer said "conditional." We got everything sorted but when I got to the final (of three) computer stations, the one to get my student ID and finalize the registration, that computer said "records not found."
Apologies ensued. "This happens sometimes when you register in person instead of by mail" (although I never received a mail packet because they still had me in the computer as conditional). So I have to pop back in next week to get my ID. No biggie, and I've got a jump-to-the-head-of-the-queue-pass. Besides, I have to go back there anyway for classes, so whatever. But knowing me, I'll make a special trip out there on Monday, just to make sure. Because I don't want to be the guy on the first day of class to whom the tutor says, "Sorry dude, you're not registered, you can't be here."
Oh, and there's good news ... which could be summed up as "Bob's not really that bright."
For some reason I thought the tuition fees were twice as much as they actually are. I had a number in my head, and that number was per year. But in reality, that number was for the entire 2-year course, so I only had to pay half of what I expected today. Nice.
So, like many investors on the Street this week, at the close of day Friday, I ended up with more money than I anticipated.
And that's why I'm studying story telling, not accounting.
September 18, 2008
Something We Never Said in Porkopolis
A couple of the characters were sharing an orange (which was an extravagant birthday gift during the rough times of
this week's market crash WWII).
So Helen broke the skin, and peeled the orange, and divided it into pigs.
Anybody every split their orange into pigs? Did your mom? Did your grandma? Anybody know the etymology or what US or UK region it might have come from?
I did a bit of Internet research and didn't come up with anything.
September 17, 2008
The Art of Banking
Larry just got home from another pleasant day in Ye Ol' Worlde of Finance and it would be an understatement to say he looks beat.
To commemorate the primary business activity of the week, I've created this beautiful graphic representation of what his team is having to make and what their clients' don't ever want to happen.
Shocking that I got out of the asset management business, innit? And you totally want to play Pictionary with me now, don't you>
September 16, 2008
Tuesday 200 — #90
She flips on the kitchen light and stifles a scream.
How long has it been there? That moth above her kitchen sink. Its wings flattened out against the wall, looking more applique than insect.
Mottephobia. Ridiculous. Especially since it hadn’t crawled out of its cocoon until a dozen years ago, during a midnight viewing of Silence of the Lambs. Her college roommate Janene (who bore an uncanny resemblance to Jodi Foster) had double-dog dared her into a tab of midterm windowpane.
Slipping off her shoe to shoo it away, she notices its wings. Mossy green with meticulous markings. She wishes her paintings were half as intricate and wonders if she’s afraid of beauty.
“Please don’t hurt me,” a small voice squeaks.
She spins around. An empty doorway leads into the darkened dining room.
“I made a wrong turn. I’m sorry.” A delicate flutter of wings sends her flying into the dining room, her scream not stifled.
Pre-teen laughter rings out from beneath the dining room table. Her ten-year-old appears, giggles “Gotcha” and hands her the birthday email his godmother sent him last week.
“Auntie Janene wants to know if the lambs are still screaming.”
:: :: ::
September 15, 2008
Here's What Happened
For those of you lucky enough to have not been in the industry, here's a primer.
I haven't worked in the finance sector for a while now, but several people rather close to me do. In fact, there's someone who has a Work Permit upon which my Limited Leave to Remain visa is registered as dependent.
You might say I'm sector adjacent.
With that in mind, I've been a little anxious about last night's/today's news of buyouts and takeovers and whatnot. I even stayed up late watching Bloomberg. Imagine. Of course, the stoic Canadian is taking it all in stride ... like a house of cards during a windstorm protected by a sturdily-built brick façade of compartmentalized emotions.
Actually, he seemed more nervous over the past week or so, before this was announced. He pretty much sussed that Lehman was toast, and has been saying for weeks that the fire he jumped out of the Citi-fryer into was next in line.
And as it pains me to say it, he was right.
But never fear, another soon-to-be bohemother behemoth has galloped up upon its white horse. The bull is not dead yet.
Anyway, there were a couple of good meetings today and it seems the division my matador runs should be pretty safe. At least that's what he's saying they're saying. He doesn't like me to worry ... because that of course makes him worry more.
So I'm all Alfred E. Neuman, keeping the circle of concern inside the circle of control. And it looks like I'll get at least one term of the MA done before we get booted out of the country. Nah, we're not going anywhere. This week.
Everything works out in the end.
Tell that to the Lehman kids, who walked in today and were told, "pack up your desks, thanks for playing, we're all done now." No severance. No retirement. No collecting of deferred compensation. Maybe no paychecks on Friday. My heart goes out to them. Gosh, I hope they followed their own advice and diversified.
The last thing they need to hear is that it all works out for the best, but hopefully they'll figure that out later. Probably a good deal later.
September 14, 2008
Art is Everywhere. Really.
Looking at the Unbearable houseguest's blog this morning ... no, wait ... that's gonna get me in trouble. He's not unbearable (far from it, he and his Mrs. Wife rate very highly on the "favorites" guest list here at the B&L B&B — in fact, he's one of a two-toed sloth's pawful who have seen all three incarnations of the London branch), it's just that "The Unbearable Banishment" is my pal's nom du blog and he chooses to remain anonymous, so we'll just call him Unbearable. Either that or Francine. I think he'll prefer the former.
This is hanging at the Courtauld.
I know for a fact that I've recently seen this painting somewhere else (although I haven't a clue where). The Tate? The Royal Academy? I remember listening to an audio guide and thinking how sad she looked, and commenting how horrible it would have had to be to get all dressed up like that just to tend bar. I have never been inside the Courtauld (although apparently it's a must see).
Well crap, I can't find an image. I'm thinking about a Rembrandt I saw during our tour of Buckingham Palace on Friday afternoon. There's an old man sitting at a desk.A rather masculine looking woman has entered his office and is handing him a note. The painting caught my eye because I KNOW I've seen it before (and, surprise as this may be to some of you, I'd not been inside Buckingham Palace before). For some reason, I'm pretty sure I saw it (and heard about it on an audio guide — I do love me an audio guide in a gallery) in Amsterdam last spring when CB and I were there.
These are only two of many examples of an increasing trend: when I go to a gallery (which isn't all that often), I'm overcome with a sense of deja view.
I propose that there are multiple copies of these treasures hanging on carefully lit walls across the globe, in an attempt to give the masses a sense of "wow, I've seen a masterpiece." Because really, would the average punter in the world know the difference between an original and a well-made replica? And surely there are replicas everywhere, for a myriad of reasons (ie, copying the masters to improve one's skill, hiding originals from thieves, the joy of having a beautiful painting before the lithograph was invented).
Surely I'm not lucky enough just to be in the right place at the right time when all these priceless masterpieces are packed up and flown off to various galleries/museums around the world for "special exhibitions"?
I. Think. Not.
Because really, how green would that be? Why isn't anyone talking about Manet's or Rembrandt's carbon footprint?
It's a conspiracy, I tell you. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to pitch a new screenplay to Oliver Stone.
:: :: ::
Speaking of art ...
Before I go, I just have to tell you that Sophie Thompson (who I did not know was Emma's little sister until I looked up that Wikipedia link; talent can be genetic it seems) gave one the of the most brilliantly hysterical performances I've ever seen in The Female of the Species. At a matinee with a less-than-packed house. Well into the run of the show. She was outstanding. It's only on for a few more weeks. Tickets are easy to get and are at the discount booths. Go. Go. Go.
This is the third time I've had the pleasure of seeing Dame Eileen Atkins on stage, first in Indiscretions in New York and then last year in There Came a Gypsy Riding at the Almeida. She is simply a pleasure to watch, has never embodied the same character twice (a none-too-subtle difference between being an actress and a movie star) and (if it weren't for Ms Thompson).
When I finally sit down and write that play about the two are-they-crazy bag ladies, Dorothy and Alice, sitting on a Central Park bench and reminiscing in Beckett-Pinter dialogue about their childhood experiences, I would love to her be Dorothy. Maggie Smith and Judi Dench can fight it out for Alice.
I guess I'd better get on that.
Now then, where did I put Mr Stone's number?
September 13, 2008
There's a story (which may be a myth) I heard once that I was a thalidomide baby, and that there'd been an x-ray that showed I didn't have any arms. Very worrisome to a set of young parents, I'm sure. But then, 16,802 days ago today, I popped out, fully formed, and I reckon I haven't caused said parents any worry since.
And the surprises have just kept on coming.
Eleven cities (two of which have been hurricaned this month), seven states, two countries and dozens of mailing addresses later (and those are just places I've lived, not visited), all I can say is witness relocation has been very good to this here birthday boy.
So go on and have yourself a drink with me as I embark on a new year where I add grad student to a list of labels that include waiter, graphic artist, editor, freelance PR hack, bartender, marketing communications manager, security guard, life coach, brand manager, actor, teacher and writer.
Here's to life along the scenic route.
September 11, 2008
Bets Off for a Royal Flush
So we (we being me, him and his lovely bride — whose wedding I had the pleasure of being a part of nine years ago today, Happy Anniversary to them) were wandering through HRH Liz's central London digs this afternoon. I was left with a few ponderings ...
Where are all the bathrooms? The beginning of the tour says there are something like 93 bathrooms in the Palace, yet none were pointed out to us. They've got it set up for a state dinner and tell us about the dishwashing but not where the royal guests go for a slash.
What's behind all those hidden doors? And where do Wills and Harry sneak off to for a quick bump? 'Cause you know they do.
As we walked down the Minister's Staircase, the audio guide reminded us that HRH is Queen not only of Great Britain, but of 50 some-odd other countries, and "she's visited virtually all of those countries." How'd you like to live in one of the few countries that your Queen couldn't be arsed to make it to in the last half century?
Just before that, the audio guide told us we'd see a carved polar bear, a gift from native Canadians. I was expecting to see a giant sculpture, but it was just a table ornament. A lovely table ornament, nonetheless, but nothing overwhelming. "The Queen is then obliged to give a gift in return, just one of her many Queenly duties." So what does one give to a foreign subject in exchange for a local artisan's craft? And does the Queen have a roomful (behind a hidden door?) of "oh thank you so much for the lovely [insert object d'art here], here's a little something I have for you."
At the end of the day, it was a lovely tour (although the bum's rush out the back garden couldn't put you in a more inconvenient location). Thanks Your Majesty, we had a blast.
September 9, 2008
Well I've been working on a Tuesday 200 for the last few hours and it's now about 600 words long and I think it's only about half-way finished. So I guess the good news is it's turning into a wee story and the bad news is ... well, I'm wicked tired and I've not been waking up too easily of late. So I'm gonna turn of the writing machine and try to get a good night's sleep. One does want to be fresh for one's students.
Maybe I'll finish this half-baked tale of a comic misadventure of wrong turns another day. And maybe I'll write a different 200 for next week.
Or maybe not.
Welcome to my birthweek ... where we love to keep you guessing.
Oh, five down, two to go on the reading list and I'm now inching my way into Sarah Water's The Night Watch. I really enjoyed Fingersmith, so we'll see how we fare with this one.
The MA starts two weeks from tonight. I'm excited and little petrified. Got an email the other day saying there is going to be a new director of the program, so I'll be spending the next two years writing a novel under the guidance of someone I've not yet met.
And that makes the adventure all the more, um, adventurous.
September 7, 2008
A Sunday Morning Laugh
This is from a television sketch comedy show called Blowout, and the guy in it is Will Andrews. He's one half of Will & Greg, who I saw up in Edinburgh last month. Allegedly, there's an extended clip available for a few more days here, but it doesn't play on a Mac (stupid Channel 4, all Mac-hating and PC-centric) — so I don't know what's on it. The show show I saw was hysterical. Fast, funny, and never beating a dead horse like so many other sketches you might have come across.
September 6, 2008
Fragmented Thoughts on Fragments
I'm a big fan of Beckett. Some say he's too depressing, but I think those people just don't look hard enough for the humor (dark as it may be) that underlies his work. As a good friend of mine once said, "you have to find the laughs, otherwise you just want to cut out your stomach with jagged glass.
Gee, it's not unlike the US elections at all.
Anyway, the production is stellar, and it definitely digs below the Beckett's bleakness to unearth his sense of humor. It always amazes me how captivating simplicity can be, especially when it's acted as well as well as it is in Fragments.
Watching Kathryn Hunter sit on chair and deliver the eight-minute monologue that is Rockaby was spellbinding. The original text calls for most of her thoughts to be recorded and played over while the actress sits and reflects, but Brook's staging is a wonderful deviation. And to watch Ms Hunter at work, her expressive face conveying all the weariness and repetitiveness of an old woman's life with some kind of hopeful spark of longing (even for the release of death) in spite of it all ... well, she's just heartbreaking.
During that piece, I was reminded of the best theatre I've seen in ages, which you might remember was Mark O’Rowe's Terminus up in Edinburgh last month. Again, you've got these amazing words, which if you look at them on paper you might be tempted to say "erm, what the fuck?" and then you watch these performers bring them to life with such seeming simplicity. All the complexities of life with so many emotional (but never hysterical) layers. It's just beautiful.
The other pieces were also a delight. I'm no fan of slapstick (or clowns, scary or otherwise), but Act Without Words II has made me rethink the art form. Wonderfully performed by Marcello Magni (a co-founder of the estimable Complicite) and Khalifa Natour, it's a very funny study in how two people can be given the same situation and make either the best or the worst of it.
I guess that's one of Beckett's major themes: life can be shit, you either enjoy it or you don't. Make a choice.
But you do have a choice.
September 4, 2008
Evil League of Evil
Have you ever gotten really involved in a comic book series and then all of a sudden the writers introduce a new character who, while seeming like she might be a hero to many, is really the daughter of Satan?
That's kind of how I feel right now.
I think she's fascinating. In a manipulative, lying, condescending, hyprocritical (leave my kids out of this but HEY! look at my kids!), are-you-kidding-me kind of way.
Surely she must fall.
Surely Americans will not fall for this.
But my stars, what a good storyline.
What happens next?
:: :: ::