Tuesday, September 30, 2003

The Amazing Adventures of Kavelier and Clay

What a wonderful and readable book. It's rare to see a novel of such epic scope handled so deftly - the characters are beautifully drawn, the details are perfect, and the various themes, recurring images and metaphors are woven expertly into the story. I finished the novel last night, but I'm still half living in that world and wondering what happened next. We'll be discussing Kavalier and Clay on Monday at my reading group, and I can hardly wait. I also plan to find everything else Chabon's written and read it all, asap.

Congratulations to Austinmama.com!

Voted "Best Local Webzine" by the Austin Chronicle Reader's Poll.

Sunday, September 28, 2003

Cut Scene from Pirates of the Caribbean

This is an interesting comment from one of the writers about a cut scene from PotC. The scene was designed to make Norrington's character more sympathetic and was cut due to post-production issues. I'm sorry the scene got cut - I agree that it would have added a lot to the movie.

Saturday, September 27, 2003

Welcome Nanette!

Nanette has a new blog - Hello? Hello? Is there anybody there? She'll be joining us for the Friday Five, starting with this week's topic.

Friday, September 26, 2003

Taking Control of My Life (Again)

About this time last year, I made a decision to take control of my life and made some grand plans to organize the house, start exercising, get serious about my writing, etc. As a reward for my hubris, I got pregnant and all plans fell by the wayside. I did eventually get this blog started, and I'm writing more consistently than I ever have, so it wasn't a complete loss. Now that Alec is here, I'm ready to try again. So without further ado, here's the plan:

1. Organize the house (in small increments) and then get into a maintenance routine. The overarching principle will be "Do we absolutely have to have this in our house?" if the answer is no, it's gone. I'm slowly coming to realize that I'm holding onto a lot of crap because it makes me feel safe or secure to have an answer for every possible contingency or out of some vague sense of obligation. In fact, there's so much stuff crammed into every corner of our house, that we can never find the things we need, and frequently have to go buy duplicates. All the "we might need this some day" stuff gets in the way of the "we use this every day" stuff, and everything gets lost or messed up. I'm tired of the clutter and the mess.

2. Get healthy. I'm not a big fan of diets, but I think I need to eat healthier food. And I definitely need to get more exercise. Merideth and I are going to start walking on Thursday mornings (before our No. 1 Ladies Writing Circle meetings), and I'm going to try to walk at least 3 other times every week.

3. Apply to graduate school. I'm not sure I want to go back, but I want to at least have that option.

4. Get into a daily routine with my writing. Send out some query letters for article ideas I've had. Finish my short story and write the 3 others I have ideas for. Stop letting the fear that my work isn't any good keep me from working.

Friday Five

Everything starts somewhere

Five things that are such an integral part of your life, you can't believe someone else introduced them to you.
Topic suggested by Merideth

1. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and by extension the work of Joss Whedon. I had seen the movie and thought it was funny, but had no interest in a weekly tv show, especially not on the WB network, notorious for it's teenybopper comedies. Gina spent an entire summer convincing me that I had to watch it, and it only took a few episodes (enough to figure out who everyone was and grasp a little of the backstory) to hook me.
2. Comic books. Adam and I wooed one another through books. We spent the first year of our relationship foisting our favorite books on one another, in a kind of intellectual strip tease - "this is who I am, what I'm like, where my mental furniture comes from" - and lounging around his dorm room reading. One of our first dates (I'm using the term in the loosest sense) was a trip to the comic shop to buy back issues of Tim Truman's Scout. I hadn't read comics since I was 7 years old, and still associated them with Archie and Richie Rich. Adam insisted I read Watchmen and American Flagg. He taught me how to read comics years before I read Understanding Comics, and through the years has provided personal annotations, recommendations, and a sounding board with whom to discuss my impressions.
3. The Sandman and the work of Neil Gaiman. Although Adam introduced me to comics, we both stopped reading them for several years and consequently missed The Sandman. A few years ago, Adam brought home a copy of Preludes and Nocturnes and I was blown away by the art and the storytelling. Subsequently, we borrowed the entire run from Christopher and I devoured them in one sitting. And before we knew it we were regularly spending exorbitant sums at the comic shop again. . . .
4. Baking. I'm not a particularly domestic person (or maybe you noticed?), but I dearly love to bake. Cooking is an art, which I enjoy but don't always have the creative flair for; baking is science. If you don't understand what the baking powder does in the recipe and you eliminate it, you're going to be sorely disappointed with the results. My mother taught me to bake - one of my earliest memories is leaning over the kitchen counter watching her mix up cakes and cookies and begging for a beater to lick. By the time I was 9 or 10 years old, she allowed me to make "messes" in the kitchen (a la the March girls in Little Women) and before long I was mastering pie crusts and meringue. There's something particularly satisfying about mixing everything together and creating something entirely new - maybe it's not science, but a kind of alchemy.
5. Books, reading and writing.. My life has been spent immersed in books, starting with my earliest childhood. Before I could read, my parents bought me books and read to me ceaselessly. My mother must have read Green Eggs and Ham and The Cat and the Hat to me a thousand times. She sang the alphabet song to me and taught the magic of letters - that they create words and the words create stories. They bought me the My Bookhouse books (a series of age / reading level based anthologies of the great myths and stories) and told me Greek myths and fairytales - I was the only kid in my kindergarten class who knew who Persephone was and what she had to do with pomegranates. They provided an example by reading themselves. Once I was reading they drove me to the library religiously and cast a blind eye to even the strangest reading matter and obsessions. They encouraged me to believe that I could be a writer when I grew up. In every way they fostered my addiction to narrative and are entirely to blame for my current reading habit, not to mention my frequent attempts to make sense out of my life through writing it all down.

Also playing: Adam, Will, Chris (I guess - he seems to be out of pocket), Gina, Colleen, Dave, Craig, Gord, and Adrienne.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Adrienne's Been Holding Out On Us

Some of you may remember that several months ago, Adrienne mentioned in the comments to some post or other that her house was going to be on a Do It Yourself show. Well, it was and she went a wrote an article about it and then didn't tell us. It's almost like she doesn't realize that Adam and I are stalking her. . . .

Seriously, this article is a hoot - go read it.

Spiritual Leader or Evil Wizard?

Separated at birth? Link courtesy of Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish.

More on Marriage

The Top 10 Reasons Men Avoid Marriage according to a new report from the National Marriage Project of Rutgers University.

How come nobody ever asks women why they don't want to get married?

martinimade

Notorious Austinmama.com columnist and well-known commentatory on this and many other fine blogs, Adrienne Martini, now has a blog. Rumor has it she'll also be participating in the infamous Friday Five.

This Thing Called Love

In response to recent posts about love, Gina posts eloquently and sincerely about her soul mate, leading me to feel like the most cynical of old married ladies.

Do the realities of day to day life chip away at our grand passions? Or do they pull us closer together? I suppose for most couples, both answers are true. In the 15 years Adam and I have been together, our emotions have ebbed and flowed - sometimes we're so close it feels like we're living in each other's skin and other times we walk that very fine line that separates love and hatred. I can honestly say that I've never wanted to divorce him - kill him maybe - but never walk out on our partnership.

Our culture fetishizes new relationships and courtship to such a degree that many people have become serial monogomists, constantly seeking to recreate the thrill of new love with a new partner. Is it possible to sustain the intensity of new love over the long haul? I think it is, but only intermittently. Adam and I have developed a finely tuned banter - something like Nick and Nora Charles with the gloves off - in which to conduct our day to day lives. This snarky tone serves as a bandaid for the more intense side of our relationship. Living with all that emotion hanging out would be, for me, like walking around naked. And I'm not sure I could function in the real world for long in my all-consuming crush mode - it's a lovely, manic place, but after a while you have to get out of bed and go to work, and pay the bills instead of buying champagne. Luckily, the passion is still there, and ever so often something entirely unexpected will happen and I'll find myself having an intense fling with my own husband. I'm not sure if it's a "great love story" but it works for us. . . .

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Serendipity in c

Dave is having a rather romantic day at work. . . .

And it appears that Dave's blog also has a permalink problem - must be something with blogger. Anyway, take the time to scroll down to Dave's entry entitled Ho Hum - it's hysterical.

In Just Seven Days, I Can Get You a Man

According to this yahoo article, single professional women are rushing to buy this new bestselling book - Find a Husband After 35 Using What I Learned at Harvard Business School - which offers 15 steps guaranteed to help women find a mate, all based on the author's experience in marketing.

Maybe I'm the wrong person to comment on this, since I'm married and have been since dinosaurs roamed the earth, but doesn't this smack a bit of "get me a man, any man"? I like to think that, if I were single / divorced / widowed, I would be looking for someone to fall in love with, not just a warm body that I could convince to marry me with clever marketing. I'm certainly not a proponent of the soul mate theory - that everyone has a perfect match somewhere in the world who will make him or her blissfully happy. I think that most of us could be compatible with many other people, and that at least 50% of a happy marriage is the work you put into it, not the overwhelming passion you share. But still, even to a jaded old pragmatist like me, this idea of marketing yourself into a marriage seems cynical and sad.

Agency and Influence

Great post from Merideth today regarding memory lapses and the contradictory impulses to be independent in our own lives and yet exert great influence on others. (For some reason I'm having a hard time linking directly to the post - Merideth is there something wrong with your permalinks?)

I fear for our future

Craig's list of things he's "learned" during his students speeches scares me - how old are these kids?

Of course, when I taught Acting for Nonmajors at the University of Texas, I had some equally clueless students, and they were in college. I had an entire class who not only didn't know, but refused to believe me when I told them, that the father's contribution of an X or Y chromosome determines the fetus' sex. In this same class I got the following answers on the bonus question, "Name one of Henry VIII's 6 wives?" - Joan of Arc, Katharine the Great, Marie Antoinette, and Elizabeth I.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Lessons Learned from my Study of Literature

This McSweeney's list is hysterical. . . .

Fall

I'm probably going to jinx us all to another month of hot weather by saying this, but it's beginning to feel like fall. We've had the windows open for several days and the mornings have been cool enough that I've wished I wasn't wearing shorts. By this point in the year, I'm always ready for cooler weather, but I'm more than ready this year. I spent all of last winter, spring and summer pregnant, so I feel like I've been overheated for a year now. And my body is still returning to it's normal non-pregnant condition, so looser and more concealing winter clothes would be useful right now.

Monday, September 22, 2003

Shaken and Stirred

Adrienne's new column is up at Austinmama.com. While you're there read this week's feature article - Where the Hell's My Village? - about the author's recent move to Austin and the isolation she feels trying to meet other cool moms. I'm tempted to email her and see if she wants to get together, but, based on her description of the moms she's "stalking," I'm afraid I'm not hip enough for her. . . .

One more Friday Five Response

Gord has joined us for last Friday's topic (and I hope he'll continue to do so - you don't need an engraved invitation, Gord!).

Cliches and Stereotypes and Magical Black Men, Oh My!

Craig recently wrote an interesting post about "Magical Black Men" movies. He seems to feel that they're a well-intentioned if slightly boneheaded attempt on Hollywood's part to make up for our racist past.

Adam replied with a reminder that Hollywood is focused on profits rather than social commentary and that he thinks the genre is so ill-defined as to be of questionable usefulness. His theory is that writers use black characters in this way as a kind of shorthand for "embrace otherness."

I don't think there's any question that the magical black man (or woman) cliche exists in popular culture (and not just in movies, Stephen King used this exact sort of figure in the Shining and The Green Mile). However, I'm not inclined to view this stereotype as benevolently as Craig and Adam. It reminds me of the Victorian "Angel in the home" view of women, in that it reduces African Americans into one dimensional good-hearted figures rather than acknowledging their complexity and varied motivations. The stereotype may appear to be positive, but it's still limiting and insulting. These characters have no conflict, no ambition, no desires beyond selflessly assisting the white characters (which is vaguely remniscent of the arguments many whites used to defend slavery - "My slaves love me. They're like part of our family! They wouldn't know what to do with themselves if they were free.").

It's also boring. You're never going to see a mbm as the central character in movie, tv show or novel, because the leading roles are those with conflict, tension and sex appeal. Craig accurately points out that mbm roles are among the most common African American roles in Hollywood and that almost all African American actors have portrayed this sort of character at one time or another. I'm sure these actors are glad to be working and getting a paycheck, but wouldn't they rather be playing real, complicated characters instead of benign helpers or object lessons?

In this month's Bitch magazine, there's an interesting interview with African American TV producer Mara Brock Akil in which she talks extensively about the ways in which African Americans are stereotyped in the media. This quote seems relevant to this discussion, "Even we, as African-American people - that's a part of the psyche of it that we have to shake - we're even buying into the oppression of [limited images] in that we aren't used to seeing ourselves in a certain light. . . .When the sex scenes come up. . .you notice the laughter and the discomfort from the black people in the audience. It's like we're not used to seeing ourselves make love onscreen." (This month's issue also has a thought provoking article about Bringing Down the House which touches on some of these points as well.)

I wouldn't avoid a movie because it had a mbm character in it, but it's not something I'd go out of my way to see. To me, it's such a tired, worn-out cliche that I can guess exactly how the movie will play out without bothering to see it (a fact supported by Craig's brilliant parody / summary of the genre).

p.s. Craig, would you please add a perma-link feature to your blog? It would make it easier for other bloggers to link to specific posts. . . .

Joss Whedon Info

The fine folks at Whedonesque (a group blog devoted to the work of Joss Whedon) have put together a WhedonWiki. It's chock full of useful information about Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, and the Fray comic book.

Sunday, September 21, 2003

More Poetry

Will's response to Merideth's poem.

Speaking of Heinlein. . . .

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
You belong in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. You
value freedom above all else. You would fight
and die for your family and your home.


Which Heinlein Book Should You Have Been A Character In?
brought to you by Quizilla

Saturday, September 20, 2003

Stories

"A word after a word
after a word is power."
-Margaret Atwood

I've been thinking about the ways the stories we tell ourselves create and change the meaning of our lives. Humans are by nature narrative creatures - it's nigh unto impossible for any of us to simply say "this happened." We have to add why we think it happened and what happened before and after, and, as likely as not, a pat moral to tie it into a neat little knot. All of this serves to create the illusion that certain events are inevitable, fated, meant to be. But the meanings we construct out of our lives aren't immutable and the ways we choose to interpret events shape our lives in powerful and very real ways.

It seems like it must be some kind of complex feedback loop - we experience life, and attempt to create meaning through narrative. Certain events become embedded with cultural meanings that seem almost inescapable, as do the outcomes of those events. But if we consciously choose to change our interpretation of those events, can we change the outcomes? The example that comes to mind is the familiar therapy technique of referring to yourself as a "survivor" rather than a "victim" - does this actually help you feel more empowered?

I'm wondering about this not only in the context of self-improvement or therapy, but also in terms of parenting. In almost every family there is a tendency to assign labels to children - "the smart one," the pretty one," the musical one," etc. These labels come complete with a backstory that affects the whole family. The daughter who's valued for being beautiful and feminine doesn't bother with academics, her "smart" sister is an honor student but backs away from social situations. The "good" daughter who takes care of her elderly parents enables her siblings to avoid this responsibility without guilt - after all, she's fulfilling her role in the family.

In almost every interaction with our children we're creating stories for them about the world and themselves. Common narratives include "the world is a dangerous place," "your body is shameful," "you must be independent" and "money and status are important." We may not even buy into these stories, but they're entwined in so many of the parenting practices of our culture that we often pass them along without even realizing it.

Anyway, this is on my mind, and it may end up being the topic of a future column. I'd love to hear what other people think about this stuff - use the comments feature, or email me, or write about it in your blog (but if you do, please post a link in the comments so that I can read your thoughts).

Renovations

Adam took the big kids to the YMCA so he could workout, and Alec is snoozing, so I'm taking a few moments to add some features and links to my blog. Here's what's new:

You can now rate this blog with bloghop. The green smiley face on the left is "love it," the red sad face on the right is "hate it," and the stuff in between is gradations between the two. Please take a moment to let me know what you think.

I've also added a feature from All Consuming that lets you know what I'm currently reading.

And I added new links to "Explore the Blogosphere" and "Books and Comics."

Friday, September 19, 2003

Recent Searches That Led to This Blog

your words (Yahoo) - #10
words pirates use (Google) - #5
use of words 'in' and 'on " (Google) - #1
theatre OR theater "blog" playwright (Google) - #10
+episcopal +reason +rationalization +feeling (Google) - #7
baby sandmans sleep secret (CNN Websearch )

Friday Five

(In honor of Talk Like a Pirate Day): What be yer favorite ports o' call? Where would ye want to hoist a mug'o'rum, were ye given a large pile 'o' booty to finance yer stay?
Topic commandeered from Cap'n Black Sam Flint.

1. London - As Samuel Johnson said,"Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford."
2. Paris- A beautiful city with wonderful food. Not to mention the Louvre.
3. New Orleans - Arguably the most European of all American cities. Despite attempts to Disney-fy New Orleans and make it more family friendly, it's still tawdry and disreputable. And the Cafe du Monde is the best place to eat breakfast (or a midnight snack) in the world.
4. Perdido Key, FL - It's like living in a Jimmy Buffet song - white sandy beaches for day and the Florabama for night. What more do you need out of life?
5. The Cotswolds - The storybook countryside part of England. It really is every bit as beautiful as the pictures. By English standards it's a bit touristy, but nothing compared to American tourist destinations.

Other scurvy dogs who've gone on the account: Captain William Bonney, Dirty Davy Kidd, Iron Charity Bonney, Colleen, Chris, Craig, and Dirty Anne Flint.

My apologies to my excellent first mate for refusin' to do the entire list in pirate lingo, but the wild monkeys've kept me runnin' this mornin', savvy?

- Captain Bess Read ("Even though there's no legal rank on a pirate ship, everyone recognizes you're the one in charge. Even through many pirates have a reputation for not being the brightest souls on earth, you defy the stereotypes. You've got taste and education. Arr!")

Get yer own pirate moniker

Thursday, September 18, 2003

Poetical Notions

Merideth wrote a poem for Adrien Brody. Check it out.

And talking with Merideth about poetry today, I was reminded of this poem, which particularly resonates with me as I learn to navigate being a mother and being a writer:

Spelling
by Margaret Atwood

My daughter plays on the floor
with plastic letters,
red, blue & hard yellow,
learning how to spell,
spelling,
how to make spells.

*

I wonder how many women
denied themselves daughters,
closed themselves in rooms,
drew the curtains
so they could mainline words.

*

A child is not a poem,
a poem is not a child.
There is no either / or.
However.

*

I return to the story
of the woman caught in the war
& in labour, her thighs tied
together by the enemy
so she could not give birth.

Ancestress: the burning witch,
her mouth covered by leather
to strangle words.

A word after a word
after a word is power.


*

At the point where language falls away
from the hot bones, at the point
where the rock breaks open and darkness
flows out of it like blood, at
the melting point of granite
when the bones know
they are hollow & the word
splits & doubles & speaks
the truth & the body
itself becomes a mouth.

This is a metaphor.


*

How do you learn to spell?
Blood, sky & the sun,
your own name first,
your first naming, your first name,
your first word.

Joe Shmoe Show

I have become addicted to this new reality show on the Spike network. The premise of the show is that one contestant (Matt) thinks he's on a reality show (The Lap of Luxury) in which he lives in a mansion with nine other players and competes with them for $100,000, with the usual goofy games and eliminations by voting that we've come to expect from this sort of show. The catch is that all the other "contestants" are actors who are playing stereotypical reality show contestants (e.g. the rich bitch, the gay guy, the crusty old veteran, etc.). So the show is operating on several different levels, and the places where different levels intersect make for some interesting TV. It has all the plotting, alliance building, humiliating games and ridiculous ceremonies that you might see on any reality show. But we also get to see the actors talking to the director and writers about how things are going and how to redirect the action so that the planned stories happen, as well as the fun of watching the actors improv their interactions with Matt and attempt to manipulate him to suit the writers' plans (some of the most enjoyable moments happen when the actors screw up their stories and panic that Matt will realize what's going on). Of course, just as Matt is "playing" the role of himself in The Lap of Luxury, the actors are also playing themselves in The Joe Shmoe Show (in addition to the characters they portray in The Lap of Luxury). It's the inevitable postmodern response to the reality show phenomenon - the meta reality show!

The idea is brilliant and the execution is hysterical. The show Matt thinks he's on is a low rent commentary on American ideas about class - the "luxury" life that Matt and the actors are living is less old money and more Wal-mart clerk who won the lottery (for example, each contestant is represented at the elimination ceremony by a Franklin mint style "collector plate," which is broken when he or she leaves the show). The humiliations the contestants endure are so ridiculous as to seem like parodies, and yet still seem plausible given the over the top nature of reality TV.

The most fascinating thing about the show is the way that Matt immediately leaps into the drama, unconsciously playing his role with as much dedication as the actors are consciously playing theirs. On the third day, the crusty veteran is voted off, and Matt sobs hysterically after the elimination ceremony. He's known the guy three days! And even if they truly shared a deep and abiding connection, the old man's still alive - Matt can look him up after the show is over, if he just has to see him again. Paralleling Matt's over involvement is the actors' inability to hold themselves aloof from the proceedings. Even knowing that this is all a set up, they still find themselves connecting emotionally with Matt and with each other, and taking everything more seriously than you'd think they would. It's all incredibly funny and also painfully embarrassing.

Check it out - they're rerunning the first 3 episodes fairly regularly on the Spike network, so you should be able to get caught up quickly.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

It Stinks

Literally. Our house, that is. We've got one child in diapers and one still learning to use the potty. One dog who wets herself if she doesn't get her medicine and one cat who pees on anything that's left on the floor. One breastfeeding mother who leaks milk everywhere and one nursing infant who spits up milk on a regular basis. Not to mention (but of course I will) the rats who regularly die in our walls and the food the older kids spill or pour out. No matter how hard we try to keep things clean (and with a new baby in the house, I confess we haven't been very successful in that department), it seems like there's always a vague miasma of bodily fluid related odors lingering around our house. As an added bonus, everything stays sticky. The next house we live in is going to be designed like a bathroom - all tile and chrome with no soft surfaces anywhere and a giant drain in the floor of every room.

Sunday, September 14, 2003

New Friday Fiver

Craig joins us with his new blog, Tedious and Brief.

Skills vs. Knowledge

Thinking about this week's Friday Five, and reading everyone's lists, I've come to a realization. I'm not a particularly skilled person. I have quite a bit of knowledge - I know lots of stuff (most of it fairly useless), but I can't do very many things. Knowledge is actually fairly easy, especially if you know where to find information and have access to a computer, but skills take time, training and practice. Not only am I not acquiring very many new skills, but I've lost some of the ones I used to have, through lack of practice. I can still decipher written Spanish or French, but my speaking ability is pretty much lost. I can no longer play a guitar, stage fight (hand to hand or with a blade), waltz, run a 10 k race, or recite the St. Crispin's Day speech from memory (ok, that last one might be more knowledge than skill, but whatever it is, I've lost it). I'm depressed now. . . .

Friday, September 12, 2003

My Heinlein Index
Ripped off from Will

Change a diaper - Are there really people who can't do this?(+1)
Plan an invasion - Hmm, I suspect not (+0)
Butcher a hog - Nope, although, in my defense, I won't eat anything I wouldn't kill and butcher myself, meaning I don't eat mammals (+0)
Design a building - Yeah, but only something really simple, like a one room cabin (+.5)
Conn a ship - Sadly, I don't sail (learning to sail is another one of my secret life goals) (0)
Write a sonnet - Mind, you Heinlein doesn't say it has to be good(+1)
Balance accounts - and I figure my own taxes too (+1)
Build a wall - (+1)
Set a bone - (+0)
Comfort the dying - (+1)
Take orders - (+1)
Give orders - (+1)
Cooperate - (+1)
Act alone - (+1)
Solve an equation - (+1)
Analyze a new problem - (+1)
Pitch manure - Again, there are people who can't do this?(+1)
Program a computer - (+0)
Cook a tasty meal - (+1)
Fight efficiently - Only if you use Adam's definition which includes words as a weapon (0)
Die gallantly - Like Will, I don't plan on going gently into that good night (+0)

Heinlein Index = 64%

Friday Five

"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, design a building, conn a ship, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve an equation, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."
- Robert A. Heinlein

What are the top 5 things that every adult should be able to do?

1. Cook - at the very least, everyone should have one specialty meal that he or she does well
2. Simple carpentry - enough to do basic maintainance on a house
3. Flirt
4. Tell a joke
5. Swim

Other participants: Adam, Will, Dave, Merideth, Colleen, Chris, and Gina.

Monday, September 08, 2003

What I've Been Reading

One of the benefits to having so much help after Alec was born was that I was able to do lots of lounging around reading (in between my bi-hourly impressions of a dairy cow). Here's the rundown:

A gigantic reread of Diana Gabaldon's time travel / romance series: Outlander, Dragonfly in Amber, Voyager, Drums of Autumn, and The Fiery Cross. This series is surprisingly good, given that it's usually shelved in the Romance section (ok, that was an unfair dig - I hate it when people dismiss entire genres like that). It's also increasingly *not* a traditional romance, given that both the major romantic relationships are firmly established and no longer the primary focus of the books. I'd categorize the recent books as historical fiction with some spicy (but tasteful) love scenes.

More historical fiction: Phillipa Gregory's The Other Boleyn Girl - intrigue and romance in the court of Henry VIII, as seen through the eyes of Anne Boleyn's younger sister, Mary. Highly recommended. Very readable, and evocative of the period. Also, Sharyn McCrumb's latest, Ghost Riders. Like all of McCrumb's "ballad" books (a series of suspense novels set in Appalachia), this one has parallel plot lines, one set in the past and one in the present. The historical storyline is much more compelling and fleshed out in this book, though - the contemporary story feels like an add on. McCrumb should have stuck to her fictionalized account of the effects of the Civil War on Appalachia, and the fascinating true story of a young mountain woman who disguised herself as a boy to join her husband in the Confederate Army.

Not one, but two books which are adaptations or expansions of personal web sites: Mil Millington's Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About and Pamela Ribon's Why Girls Are Weird. Both stories start from premises close to the authors' lives and previously documented on their web sites, and then surround them with fictional events. Millington's attempt falls flat, both because the fictitious events are so outrageous and also because he doesn't end the book. It just. . .stops, with very little plot resolution. The main character's bizarre arguments with his girlfriend are the best stuff in this book, and you can read those (or very similar ones) at Millington's web site. Ribon's novel is more succesful, in part because the fictitious parts of the plot are more plausible and mesh well with the material she imported from her web site. (Full disclosure - I knew Ribon when we both attended the University of Texas at Austin, and she performed in a play I directed. I've lost touch with her, but remember her as a talented actress, beautiful woman and all around great person. I'm glad she's having success with her novel - it couldn't have happened to a nicer gal.) Despite the fact that I enjoyed both these books, I'm wondering if books based on the authors' web sites is the hot new trend in publishing (like "chick lit," e.g. Bridget Jones' Diary, was a few years ago). Is anybody else as afraid of this possibility as I am?

A little fantasy - John M. Ford's The Last Hot Time, a coming of age story set in a world where the land of elves and magic have begun to bleed into our world, creating "borderlands" - cities where elves co-exist with humans, some kinds of magic work, and technology is unpredictible. Highly recommended for those who enjoy urban (i.e. nontraditional) fantasy. The world building is fantastic and the characters are original and interesting. Also, a reread of Susan Cooper's classic young adult fantasy, The Dark is Rising , for my book discussion group. The Dark is Rising is one of my favorite traditional fantasy novels, for adults or children, and I reread it regularly. Cooper uses many of the worn out cliches of fantasy - Celtic myth, seasonal imagery, light vs. dark tropes - in surprising and interesting ways, and her central character is believable and sympathetic. Her style is more sparse than more recent young adult fantasist like Philip Pullman and J. K. Rowling, but the story is satisfying and complete.

A few comics: the second volume of Fables and Neil Gaiman's amazing 1602. Fables continues to delight me with it's own version of urban fantasy and 1602 is essential reading for any comic fan. Gaiman has created an alternate universe in which Marvel superheroes (the X-men prominent among them) exist at the twilight of the Elizabethan age. The first issue introduces the world and the characters and sets up several mysteries, chief among them, who are the modern equivalents of these historical superheroes (in some cases, obvious, others are sparking loads of speculation on the web). There are already several good annotations of this issue on the web (useful if you aren't as familiar with the Marvel universe) - best for historical information, best for comic information, and also good.

Currently I'm reading a book about Victorian Murderesses, and getting geared up to (finally) read Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay. And once I have the money to pay off my library fines so that I can start borrowing again, I'm going to be reading lots of books about pirates. Who me, obsessed? Why do you say that?

Domestic Disturbance

My September column is up at austinmama.com. I'd appreciate any and all feedback.

Friday, September 05, 2003

Friday Five

What are your top 5 El Guapo's?
"I suppose you could say that everyone has an El Guapo. For some, shyness may be an El Guapo. For others, lack of education may be an El Guapo. But for us, El Guapo is a large ugly man who wants to kill us!"
- Lucky Day from the Three Amigos
Topic suggested by Dave

1. Perfectionism - I have a deep and abiding need to do everything perfectly, which of course, is rarely possible. In order to give myself an out, I sabotage myself by procrastinating so that I can say, "well, of course, it wasn't my best work, I threw it together at the last minute." I've recently been augmenting this solution with the novel approach of over-committing myself, so that I can say, "I'm doing my best, but I've just got too much going on." Yes, I realize that if I can recognize these "solutions" as sub-par coping strategies, I ought to be able to avoid them. Who says my psyche has to make sense?

2. Cute - I'm 4'11" tall, I'm relatively youthful looking, and I have a southern accent. Believe me when I say that people don't take cute girls seriously. Luckily, this is a problem that's solving itself now that my hair is turning grey and I'm starting to look my age. I'm honestly glad to look a little older - I can use a little gravitas.

3. Sleep - Sleeping is all well and good, but think of all the stuff I could get done if I didn't need to sleep so much. I'm one of those people who seriously needs eight hours a night. Sleep deprivation makes me cranky, depressed, and unable to think straight. After a few rough nights I'm hallucinating that railroad crossings are nuns and experiencing mid-level aphasia. Unfortunately, I'm also one of those people who can't sleep unless all the proper conditions are met. The room has to be cool, dark, and quiet. I have to be wearing my sleep mask. I have to have the right number and kinds of pillows. I'd like to be one of those people (like my dad) who can get by on four or five hours of sleep and can sleep anywhere at any time. Better yet, I'd like to have the genetic modification from Nancy Kress' novel Beggars in Spain and need no sleep at all.

4. Structure - It may come as a surprise to those of you who've seen my house, but I actually need lots of structure and order in my life. Unfortunately, I'm not very good at maintaining order. Also, I have three children. My life is all about embracing the chaos.

5. Money - I've followed my bliss into several money-losing careers, but many of the things I enjoy doing are quite expensive. I have no desire to be a corporate wage slave, but I want to travel, buy books and cd's, and wear quietly expensive clothes. I'd like to be independantly wealthy, please.

Also playing: Adam, Will, Merideth, Colleen, Chris, and Gina. Dave and Chris are at the beach this weekend, so their lists will be late. Blogger is not letting Merideth update her blog for some unknown reason. I don't know what Colleen's excuse is. . . .

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

Minor Victories

Adam went back to work yesterday, so my "maternity leave" (such as it is, when you work from home) is pretty much over (although my part time church job won't start back until October). Today I drove Drew to school, drove Franny to school, picked Franny up, picked Drew up, and took them both to swim lessons. I made all drop offs and pick ups in a timely manner, and managed to keep Alec fed and relatively satisfied. Huzzah! Of course, I got absolutely nothing else done, and I'm exhausted, but it's a start.

Despite being worn out, it feels good to be back in my normal routine again. As the old saying goes, a change is as good as a rest, and after a summer of sitting around the house pregnant or recovering from delivery, any change is welcome. I think Drew and Franny are glad to be back on a more structured schedule as well - they both were more cooperative today than they've been in weeks. Alec did surprisingly well, despite spending the majority of the day in either the car seat or the sling, and eating several meals in new and interesting settings (one in the car, and one at the YMCA while the big kids were swimming).

And don't tell anyone, but this morning, it was almost cool. Not even the beginning of Fall, but maybe the promise that there's an end to the Summer heat.