Thursday, December 30, 2010

Life in a Northern Town

I recently became obsessed enthralled with the BBC production North & South. I read the book before watching it, and I think they did a splendid job bringing it to the screen. The book, interesting as it is, could get a bit, well, Victorian at times. You know, when the author starts going on about religious feeling or the fine points of the heroine's emotional state, or someone is dying from a mysterious disease and you never know what, but they are long-suffering and so on. Actually, Gaskell isn't treacly the way Dickens can be, but sometimes you wish there were a little less circumlocution. Screenwriters have to cut to the chase and keep the plot moving.

The plot, in a nutshell, is that Margaret Hale and her family move from southern to northern England and experience culture shock. The North is dark, dirty, industrial, ruled by factory owners who seem more interested in profit than their workers. Workers are growing agitated. Margaret's father is tutoring one of the mill owners, Mr. Thornton. At first Margaret and Mr. Thornton are at odds with each other, but of course that changes. And it being a Victorian novel written by a woman, events unfold in a way that lands the heroine with all the money and power, able to act as an independent agent, while the hero has lost everything. Ah, romance. I love the Victorian era. The Industrial Revolution changes the landscape entirely - from the actual physical topography to the social, economic, and class structure. It's the boom before the bust, though of course it was always a bust for the children working in factories and those dying from breathing in cotton dust.

Besides finding the leads very pretty to look at (and oh my are they), I think the cinematography is general is beautiful, and the soundtrack is gorgeous. I love the way the main melody changes over the course of the series. Also, they did something to the heroine's makeup that is completely un-Victorian, but it makes her glow.

There's a scene at the end of the first episode that made a particular impression on me. Margaret is expressing her despair at living in this harsh Northern mill town, "I believe I've seen hell. It's white. It's snow white." Then we are inside a Victorian cotton mill, cotton fluff floating through the air like snow. And the music, oh it's just perfect.

Isn't that beautiful?

Monday, December 13, 2010

reverb10: Action

Prompt: Action. When it comes to aspirations, it’s not about ideas. It's about making ideas happen. What's your next step? (Author: Scott Belsky)

Just for that I plan to go back to bed.

You know, I looked up this Scott Belsky, and low and behold he’s one of these corporate consultants who have some system for encouraging “creative professionals.” It’s all very Fast Company. I’m sure he has an impressive portfolio. I’m sure he has found ways to strengthen ties with clients and spur creative collaboration at all the fast companies he’s dealt with. No doubt there are seminars, workbooks, audio books, think tanks and for all I know desk calendars. He’s really leveraged his talent. He’s made an investment. The lingo of corporate America hearing the ka-ching of profits to be made from its creative geniuses is so icky I want to take a bath.

Prompts like this make it seem that everyone is training to climb Mt. Everest, or dreaming about someday opening that bed and breakfast, or coming up with that new prototype. I don’t know – what do you all dream about? I don’t have a Big Dream. I don’t even have little dreams. I have doctor’s appointments I need to make to take care of my health. I have everyday things that must get done to keep matters moving forward. I have work. I have family life. I have leisure time in which I like to read or write or watch TV. My time is given over to these basic, daily things. I don’t want to publish a book. I don’t want to make my blog lucrative. I don’t want to have a Martha Stewart house. I have no plans to run a marathon. I don’t even want to take up a new hobby.

That is what I need to do: stop scrabbling because the world tells me to scrabble, to achieve, to do, to make something of myself. I just want to wait and see. To let myself be empty sometimes.

Friday, December 10, 2010

reverb10: Wisdom

Prompt: Wisdom. What was the wisest decision you made this year, and how did it play out? via reverb10

I have a bad habit. I tend to let decisions get made rather than make decisions. I hesitate between alternatives. I do research. I falter. Time makes the decision by default, and it seems so much more clear-cut that way.

This haphazard approach means that I often don’t remember decisions, because they evaporate. Of course I make all sorts of decisions on a daily basis. Usually I decide to read rather than do the laundry – that sort of thing. Sometimes the decision to wake up feels monumental. All these little daily decisions nibble at my brain, and I’m quite exhausted.

So I can’t point to any particularly wise decision I made this year. These prompts are beginning to make me feel inadequate.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

#reverb10: Party

Prompt: Party. What social gathering rocked your socks off in 2010? Describe the people, music, food, drink, clothes, shenanigans.

You have to be joking. I’m beginning to wonder if I will ever connect with these prompts. I am so not a party person. I usually feel out of place, shy, strained and overwhelmed. There is nothing less likely to “rock my socks off” than a party. I much prefer one-on-one conversations, so at social events I tend to glom onto the few people I know well, spiraling into panic if they make any move to leave. Trying to hold conversations with strangers drains me like nothing else. The only times I haven’t felt completely overwhelmed at a party I’ve been either high or drunk, and that was way back in my college days. The two most memorable parties I’ve ever attended date back to then as well. RuPaul showed up at one of them, way back before anyone who knew who he was. He was completely lit and collapsed on a sofa, clutching my friend’s hand and chanting, “My name means Indian soil.” The other was a New Years Eve party in Edinburgh, Scotland, memorable namely because it was so awful I had a temper tantrum. That party was the basis for this bit f writing I posted long ago.

What rocks my socks off? Solitude and a good book. A long conversation with a friend. Sleeping in.


Wednesday, December 08, 2010

#reverb10 - Beautifully Different

Prompt: Beautifully different. Think about what makes you different and what you do that lights people up. Reflect on all the things that make you different - you'll find they're what make you beautiful.

I used to dwell on what made me different. When I was in my teens it was a torment, then it became a point of pride, and then I realized it was mostly an illusion.

Different from whom or what? Is there a standard I should reference? I guarantee that whatever traits, talents, neuroses, or idiosyncrasies I were to list, there will be someone out there with the same ones.

I think we insist too much on the importance of our amazing and incredible specialness, our precious uniqueness.

Monday, December 06, 2010

#reverb10: Wonder, Let Go, Make


Prompt: Wonder. How did you cultivate a sense of wonder in your life this year?

Did you know that a sense of wonder doesn’t relieve depression? I used to think that I didn’t have my attitude of gratitude, or enough curiosity or a cultivated sense of wonder, and that whole idea is crap. My girls are a constant source of wonder. Watching their personalities develop, enjoying their funny and profound comments, just reflecting on their origins as a few cells in my womb, all that is amazing. If I have any illusions that it will make me feel any better, I’m doomed.

Let Go

Prompt: Let Go. What (or whom) did you let go of this year? Why?

And that is one thing I have to keep letting go, the idea that good things will make me feel better, that trying to be more mindful, for example, will lift depression. It won’t. Struggling too hard is part of my problem. Do you remember the Devil’s Snare in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets? The more you struggle the tighter it holds.

I also had to let go my father, and with him what feels like my final ties to childhood. My memories seem more tenuous, tethered to nothing. Only a small, small portion of his life remains as stories, some that he recorded and some that my brothers and I tell each other. I’ve now let him and my mother go, and as much as possible, my regrets that my children will never know them as more than shadowy memories, theirs and my own.


Prompt: Make. What was the last thing you made? What materials did you use? Is there something you want to make, but you need to clear some time for it?

The last thing I made was a pan of fudge for work. I looked for the easiest recipe I could find, one that wouldn’t require a candy thermometer or dropping bits of goo into cold water to read the signs. I used butter, milk chocolate chips, and sweetened condensed milk. I don’t know if it’s good – it sounds rather bland and mind-bogglingly sweet. But I had to make something for work to go round a lot of people. I did it with bad grace.

What do I need to make in the next year? There is an ongoing need to clear time for writing. Writing for fun. Dear Husband gets aggravated that I don’t find a way to write for money, and that always grates on me, as if writing is only valuable if it earns its way, if it manifests itself as a book with and advance and royalties and, dare I say, an audience. I’m happy with a very small audience. For years I made do with the audience of myself. Writing for me is a pleasure, but not a frivolous one. Also, I finally need to put 10 years of photos into albums and print out 5 years of photos that exist only in the ether right now. That is something I can give to my children, a map of memories.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Festival of the Light-headed

I have to say a few words about our Chanukah party last night, because it was a treat for me. I never found time to do yesterday's #reverb10 prompt because we were so busy cleaning and decorating, and I never did finish my cup of coffee. I'll pause and say a big thank you to Trader Joe's, who supplied the latkes. I made latkes by hand once. That's why I opted to buy them this time.

Our neighbors came over, and the family of one of DramaQueen's friends, my friend The Baking Queen, and my old high school friend JPq, who I've decided is an honorary uncle because he makes the girls giggle so much, which is a particularly uncle-ish thing to do. 

Dear Husband, who can't help being a teacher, provided instruction in the history of Chanukah, how to light the menorah, and the tradition behind the dreidel. I was eying my hot-out-of-the oven latkes. But all went well. We have two menorahs, one for the kids, so DramaQueen lit that one while I did the grown-up one. My latkes were still nice and warm. The Chanukah miracle this year was that Firecracker liked the latkes. I think she ate two. Dear Husband played dreidel with the kids, and I heard lots of squealing.

But what particular captured my imagination was JPq's description of themed trees. He has one for each room (I would love to see this), and he has a group of friends who have an informal contest for the best themed tree. I heard about a sea-themed tree made from real coral, and a Poseidon Adventure tree (suspended upside down from the ceiling). But best of all, he told me that one of his friends had created a Brideshead Revisited tree! Doesn't that sound awesome? He hung model vintage cars and frames with photos of the characters (from the original miniseries, mind you). I want a Brideshead Revisited Tree. Besides those ornaments, there would be teddy bears, champaigne bottles, a gondola, a wheelchair, a hunting horn, a horse (if possible with someone riding to hounds), something Oxonion, a fountain, a ship and an eternal flame.

What JPq suggested for me is a Sherlock Holmes Tree. Oh, I think that would be splendid! I would have to include both the traditional and modern Sherlock. A magnifying glass (of course), a violin, a pipe, a Persian slipper, a cell phone (pink, if possible), a Ferris wheel (from the current London skyline, which features in the Sherlock opening credits), a microscope, a gun, framed photos of the absolutely adorable contemporary Sherlock and Watson, and what else? Could I find a deer-stalker ornament? Or perhaps a real one as a tree-topper? A syringe, for the famous 7% solution of cocaine the traditional Holmes indulged in? I would have to create a 221B door. A gas street lamp. A cab and a bottle of pills (both from a Study in Pink). What else do you think?

Needless to say, the rest of the family were decidedly unenthusiastic about a Brideshead or Sherlock Christmas tree. In fact, I think there were audible groans. DramaQueen liked one of JPq's other ideas, though, to build a fireplace mantle around a plasma TV tuned to the Yule channel. I think I saw Dear Husband giving JPq the beady eye by that point in the evening.

Friday, December 03, 2010


Prompt: Moment. Pick one moment during which you felt most alive this year. Describe it in vivid detail (texture, smells, voices, noises, colors).

On my second day of doing this, I discover that what writing prompts prompt in me is surly irritation. What do you mean, a moment in which I felt most alive? That’s the sort of question that just bugs the crap out of me. This year was flat, flat like a slashed tire. The moments I remember I remember not because I felt most alive, whatever the hell that means, but because I was nettled by creeping anxiety and dread. Creeping anxiety feels like mud dripping down your back– there’s no sense of aliveness in that.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

One Word

December 1 – One Word. Encapsulate the year 2010 in one word. Explain why you’re choosing that word. Now, imagine it’s one year from today, what would you like the word to be that captures 2011 for you? (Author: Gwen Bell)
I've decided to try participating in #reverb10, an annual event to reflect on the past year and consider what happens next. Each day a writing prompt like the one above is posted.

The first word that springs to mind to describe 2010 is "loss." I lost my father this year. Now both my parents are dead and I feel unmoored and unsafe. I had to once again undergo biopsies. That is becoming a regular event, an annual reminder that I can always lose the left breast as well. And of course I think about mortality. I've lost enthusiasm, spirit, joy, energy.

The word I would like to see emblazoned across 2011 is "inspiration." I need some.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Thanksgiving and Loss

I was really into the holidays last year. I don’t know why, but my mood was high. Right now I feel as dreary as the grubby grey sky outside my window.

We spent Thanksgiving in Phoenix with Dear Husband’s family. I was really looking forward to seeing Phoenix again. As it turned out, I felt rather ill much of the time. My head ached and my energy dragged. The girls had a great time, as there were kids their age to play with and uncles and grandparents to dote on them. One evening I heard the girls calling “grandpa” and a terrible sense of loss crushed me. “Grandpa” is Dear Husband’s father. Their other grandpa is dead, only vaguely remembered really. He won’t see DramaQueen and Firecracker come of age. My mother died before Firecracker was thought of, and DramaQueen doesn’t remember her at all.

I asked one of my brothers, the one who lived closest to my father, to stay with us at Christmas so that he wouldn’t be alone. My family is so odd. My brothers are tight. They are close in age and far older than me, off on their own by the time I was born. My mom was the one who kept everyone connected. She remembered the birthdays. She told me what was up with my brothers and told them what was up with me. Because, simply, they don’t think about me. At least, not very often. You could argue that I haven’t made much effort to stay in touch (true enough), but you can also say that they haven’t made much effort, either. One of my brothers lives not much more than 30 minutes from me and I never see him. The last time I did (at our dad’s funeral) he told me amusing stories about his friend’s two year old. I thought, “You have nieces, actual nieces. We’ve been living here for 6 years and they’ve been bloody adorable and amusing the whole time.”

And so it was, that I found myself surrounded by my husband’s family, and felt the loss of my own.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Now that's some damn good water

Well bust my buttons, but I ran across an ad campaign today that was very, ah, intriguing. It's for Perrier. I can imagine after a while it becomes difficult to effectively promote bottled water. It's a bit of a luxury item (at least Perrier thinks it is) but, heh, water - how basic can you get? Enter the advertising firm Ogilvy.

I'm not well-versed in burlesque, so I had to Google Dita Von Teese. Never stop learning - that's my motto.

If you are inclined, you can visit the Perrier Mansion and have a look around. Several times.

The very definition of a come-hither look.
Is this sexist? Do I care? Will I be more likely to buy Perrier? Doubtful, but I am tempted to get a veil.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

“Is that a British Army Browning L9A1 in your pocket, or are you just pleased to see me?”

"I'm not a psychopath, Anderson. I'm a high functioning sociopath. Do your research." - Sherlock
I. Want. That. Coat.
I recently saw the last episode of the BBC Sherlock series, and I am so full of delight that it naturally spills over into boring everyone to death with my enthusiasm.  Sometimes you encounter a work of art (I guess some folks would not call a TV show a work of art, but I will) and it makes you all giddy and happy and astounded at the immense creativity of everyone involved. It reminds me that when I was younger I would sometimes literally tremble while reading a particularly wonderful book or watching a movie that had entranced me. Tremble. I don’t do that so much anymore, and perhaps it’s a shame. But I still get a rush from such encounters, and boy did I get a rush watching Sherlock.

If you haven’t been lucky enough to catch the series, you can still view it on PBS Masterpiece - just go here. Sherlock has been re-imagined into the 21st century. He was already making use of forensics in the Victorian era, and now he has at his disposal more sophisticated forensic analysis and access to the latest technology. John Watson is back from the war in Afghanistan, assigned by his shrink to blog about his traumatic experience, but his real problem is sheer boredom. They meet and immediately begin to weave that wonderful symbiotic bond that is so quintessentially Holmes and Watson.

The actors playing Sherlock and Watson OWNED those roles. Cumberbatch’s Sherlock is brilliant, abrasive, manipulative, socially oblivious one moment and calculating the next, sometimes predatory and a bit scary. (As an aside, the moment he walked on screen, Dear Husband exclaimed, “He’s cute!” That’s the first time he’s ever beaten me to the punch in that regard. He is very cute, with his floppy, curly dark hair. Cumberbatch is not what I would call conventionally handsome, but he looks smashing). Freeman’s Watson is just adorable. And by adorable I mean hot. Really hot. You might not think so at first, but, um, give it time. He has such an expressive face, such wonderful comedic presence. He makes it believable that an average self-respecting man would put up with a sociopath like Sherlock. He’s never overshadowed. Best. Watson. Ever. And Moriarty – well, I think I watched him with my jaw hanging open. Not everyone liked the actor’s take on him, but I thought it was original and definitely frightening. What some found over the top, I found eerie and creepy.  It seemed clear that Moriarty’s performance was deliberately pitched to freak out everyone. Usually he takes pains to blend in, but in revealing himself to Sherlock he unleashes all his mockery and venom. 

Everyone thinks the other guy's the hot one.

Why do you think Sherlock Holmes remains such a favorite character? I know I’m not the first to ask that question. I’ve never read much on the subject, and I’m sure there’s lots of speculation. Perhaps he was just one of the first detectives, and the detective genre has never fallen out of favor, lucky for Doyle. Among the Victorians, detectives must have stood as an example of the scientific method – science seemed to alternately enthrall and horrify them. The worship of reason remains strongly embedded in Western culture, so Holmes remains fresh and contemporary, and therefore so amenable to being transferred to the 21st century, as the writers have done in Sherlock.

And Sherlock, why is he so appealing? He’s not very nice. He’s cold and aloof. He’s often condescending and unappreciative. Cases are puzzles; he’s oblivious to the human element. He uses everyone around him. What exactly keeps him from jumping the wall and becoming a Moriarty isn’t really clear. A good English upbringing? A whim? The Sherlock series highlights the similarities between the two – Moriarty is Sherlock’s doppelganger. Both are brilliant, cold, calculating, and manipulative and both harbor an abhorrence of boredom and a craving for distraction, mental challenges, and a worthy opponent. A police officer warns Watson that she wouldn’t be surprised if Sherlock one day showed up as the criminal rather than the detective. There but for the grace of Watson goes Sherlock. Sherlock is the mind and Watson is the heart and moral center.  Pure, cold science is made fit (or at least tolerable) for civilization, harnessed for good rather than evil.

There has been some speculation around the Sherlock series that Watson and Sherlock are gay, because everyone seems to speculate about such matters these days. Have we ever lived in a time more focused on gayness? Who is, who isn’t, how can you tell, is it good, is it bad, what do they do in bed and can we watch? Maybe it’s the final frontier. The writers and actors have stated that Watson and Holmes aren’t a couple, although in a contemporary setting the characters surrounding them would be bound to speculate or assume, so that is written in. Cumberbatch has called the relationship a bromance, which is as good a description as any, I suppose. As you watch, though, you’ll find the writers are pretty damn playful. When a restaurant owner mistakes Watson for Holmes’s date, Watson tries to correct him and Sherlock … does nothing. Maybe he doesn’t care enough to correct the mistake. Maybe it amuses him. Maybe he rather likes it. Maybe he didn’t even notice. Moriarty, in contrast, is deliberately campy – “Is that a British Army Browning L9A1 in your pocket, or are you just pleased to see me?” His snaky flirtation is a goad, as if he were saying: Admit it, Sherlock, you find my villainy irresistibly attractive. Resistance is futile; I will seduce you to the dark side. Mwaahaahaa.

For my part, looking back to the original stories, I’ve always thought that Holmes was in love with Watson, within his limited understanding of love. Watson seemed to regard Holmes with something like hero worship and feel a responsibility to take care of him. Whatever. It doesn’t matter, because the Internet is littered with fanfic shipping Sherlock and Watson. The people have spoken and taken matters into their own hands. I can’t read fan fiction; it makes me feel squirmy. Some things really don’t need to be spelled out. Subtext, folks, learn to appreciate it.

And really, friendship is a big enough challenge for Sherlock. It’s lovely to see that develop in the series. At one point, in response to Watson’s criticism, Sherlock says, “You’re disappointed in me…Don’t make people into heroes, John. Heroes don’t exist, and if they did I wouldn’t be one of them.” The ending of the last episode is particularly sweet, when Sherlock struggles to express his admiration for Watson’s heroic actions. I think Sherlock is so used to thinking of himself as a sociopath that he is rather surprised to find himself caring about anyone. And alarmed. After all, it will be used against him, as Moriarty insinuates.

Jim Moriarty: "I will burn the heart out of you."
Sherlock: "I have been reliably informed that I don't have one."
Jim Moriarty: "Oh, but we both know that's not quite true."

Sherlock, your gun is so big!

We’ve been left on a cliff-hanger. Well, of course Sherlock and Watson have to survive, but still. Is this the Reichenbach Falls? So soon? In fact, the final scene was so excellent– the resolution withheld in a moment of supreme tension – you almost want to preserve it forever. Almost. I wish I could link to just that final scene, but I can’t. It might spoil your fun, anyway. If you insist, you can go here to play the Great Game episode and select the last scene in the scrolling menu below the main screen to experience the full awesomeness. 

ooooo, I found out how to embed this portion of the video. Thank you PBS:

Watch the full episode. See more Masterpiece.

A final comment:  that coat Sherlock is wearing – I want one.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Zombies and Faeries and Not Enough Candy (for me)

Our neighborhood sucks at Halloween. We never stay at home handing out candy. Not many people come by, and I always worry that the ones who do could be planning a home invasion. The street by our house is spooky, but not playfully seasonally spooky. I would not be surprised to come home one day to find the entire street closed off by police cars. On the surface our area looks fine. I’ve just never felt like scratching the surface.

So we go to other neighborhoods to trick or treat. A mere few blocks away is a neighborhood where people actually know each other. They even have their own Facebook page. DramaQueen’s best friend ArtistChild lives there, so we weaseled our way into the community trick or treat caravan. ArtistChild’s family have lived in the neighborhood for 11 years and seem to know everyone. We’ve lived in our neighborhood for 3 years and know the neighbors to the right and left. The others seem to live in an alternate reality and have figured out how to teleport in and out of their houses, because we never see them. We got election fliers addressed to at least 5 different people who have lived at our address – we are a neighborhood of transients and hermits.

There's nothing like a home-cooked meal
DramaQueen was a zombie housewife this year. We put her hair in curlers and tied a “bloody” bandage around here hair. She wore an apron splattered with more fake blood and carried a skillet with a bloody brain. That brain was a piece of inspired work, I can tell you. At first I planned to use a cauliflower, but I discovered that cauliflower is friggin heavy. So I found some white playdoh and crafted a very nice brain. I cherish these few moments of ingenuity and accomplishment. We covered her face and arms in sickly grey and black makeup and added more blood. She was fabulous. 

FireCracker, on the other hand, will have nothing to do with scary costumes. She was even nervous around her zombie sister. FireCracker was a faery (not a fairy, which is the boring US version). We made use of DramaQueen’s old drama costumes and added some sparkly wings. The wings ended up being larger than Firecracker and were something of a hazard all night, particularly on stairs, where they tended to wonk other kids who were trying to leave.

Not many faeries wear such sporty shoes
ArtistChild went as a Goth, wearing a costume that looked like something I wore back in college. It’s sad when you can find part of your past for sale at Party City.

In the past we’ve usually gone to these planned neighborhoods with all the houses close together and little handkerchief front lawns. You could cover a lot of candy territory very quickly. This year I hadn’t counted on walking a half acre just to get to the door. It seemed annoyingly inefficient.

As the night wore on the teenagers came out. I know some people are really annoyed by trick or treating teenagers. I don’t see why, as long as they are actually in costume and aren’t being jerks. Some of them girls were a little, ah, robust for their costumes, but they seemed to be having fun.

This year the girls made us swear oaths not to touch their candy without them being present. They think we’re sneaky thieves, which we are. Now we’re grumpy reformed thieves. And this year DramaQueen traded her peanut candies, which I usually can count on getting, with ArtistChild. I had to make do with Almond Joys, which I guess no one wants.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Diorama Dramarama

There’s a law that every school child must create a diorama at some point. It’s as necessary a rite of passage as the volcano belching baking soda and vinegar lava. Somehow I never did either of those. I spent a lot of time diagramming sentences instead. You see where that got me.

DramaQueen’s language arts teacher likes creative book reports. Last year we had to create a cereal box with a prize inside, a diorama and a puppet show. We will no doubt have the same lineup again this year. I say “we” because we all know that these sorts of projects are never lone ventures. In fact, the end result can tell you a lot about the child’s mother.

For example, DramaQueen has a friend whose mother is an artist. ArtistChild’s puppet theater actually looked like a puppet theater, with real fabric curtains. ArtistChild is also busy converting her old dollhouse into a fairy dwelling, complete with moss on the roof and little ladders made from twigs, in case the fairies need to climb instead of fly. I didn’t look, but I suspect there may be a tea set made from acorns. I’m not sure which would surprise me more, the second coming of Christ or DramaQueen creating a fairy cottage.

You see, DramaQueen is a lot like me in some ways. I am not a crafty or artistic person. The scrapbooking section of Michaels awakens in me feelings of insecurity and despair. When I was a child a scrapbook was a hodgepodge of stuff you liked stuck on with Elmer’s, in a ratty book with non-archival Manila paper. Now you can select hundreds of types of paper, ribbons, notions, decorative hole punches, stickers, and special pens. You can buy something called a Cricut that costs several hundred dollars just so you can, well, do something fancy that I don’t understand. It’s all acid free and archival quality, so after the nuclear fallout, the visiting aliens will find a thriving colony of cockroaches scuttling over a fine collection of scrapbooks.

So I feel a certain amount of dread when one of these projects looms on the horizon. This most recent one was for the book Things Unseen. DramaQueen decided to do a bathroom scene, when the protagonist first discovers he’s invisible.

Did you get that? – Invisible. Hold that thought.

In the good old days, you made stuff for a diorama. My first stop was the Internet, to see how one might go about making a set of bathroom furnishings. I discovered one site where a person (I assume a person, but I wouldn’t be surprised by an alien) had constructed a toilet from an empty soap box, the neck of a drinkable yoghurt bottle, and some doodad they found at Lowe’s. I was immediately struck by three things: (1) we don’t use bar soap; (2) we don’t drink yoghurt; (3) that person made a special trip to Lowe’s to look for just the right doodad to make a toilet lid.

Riiiiiiight, I thought, and off we went to Toys R Us to price toy bathrooms. Thirteen dollars saved my sanity, and Firecracker will inherit the bathroom so that her stuffed monkey can use the facilities.

Some might think that’s cheating. Well, bite me. We were going to need all our latent creative skill to build an invisible person.

Just so we didn’t completely neglect the handmade touch, I printed out dollhouse wall paper and tiles. God, I love the Internet. Wait, I suppose that’s not really very hand-made, either. Bite me. Oh, I said that already.

Inspiration hit me when we took the bathroom furniture out of the box, the box with the clear plastic viewing window. Ha – take that crafty people! We traced a vaguely boyish shape onto the plastic and – voila – we had an invisible boy. By “we” I mean “me”; DramaQueen was busy writing a summary, a character study and a book review – you know, the part of the project that actually demonstrates your knowledge and understanding of the book.

As I said, these projects tell you a lot about the student’s mom. I’m lazy. I believe saving time and frustration is money well-spent. I think shortcuts are essential for focusing on the central issue, and the central issue here is learning about a book and not how to papier mache a toilet. Finally, at some point I usually luck into a creative solution to a problem. Someone else’s problem, that is.

This morning DramaQueen carefully packed up her diorama and took it to school. I hope we get an “A.”

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


The other night Dear Husband and I were watching a show and conversing when he said, “Oh, will I be seeing a picture of him on your blog soon?” And, you know, that annoyed me just the teensiest bit, and so I’ve decided it’s about time for another edition of Extraordinarily Hot Men. Or man, in the case. After all, Dear Husband has been known to reflect on the attractions of Ms. Meagan Fox. I. feel justified. And Megan Fox – seriously? I was kind of hoping for more originality from him. Men can be very predicable. On the other hand, he thinks Zachary Quinto would be worth switching teams for, so I give him points for that.

Onward. We were watching MI5 (Spooks in the UK), the sort of show I would normally enjoy, but for some reason I had not been able to keep up with the twisty plotlines. And then one day I perked up. “That’s Guy of Guisbane,” I said. “Huh?” said Dear Husband. “He was in Robin Hood.” Dear Husband feels none of the simple pleasure I experience when I make connections. I am as delighted as the toddler who finds two shapes that both fit through the same slot on the sorting box.

So, this is Richard Armitage, who can hit a lot of notes on the scale of Dark and Brooding. I’m a big fan of Dark and Brooding when it’s done well. When it’s done badly you end up with Edward Cullen in the Twilight movies, petulant and powder-faced. In Robin Hood Armitage played the bad guy. You could tell right away that he was the bad guy because he wore a lot of leather, and hence he creaked ominously whenever he moved.

I love a man in a high starched collar
He also appeared in North and South, which I have not yet found time to watch. The novel is on my ereader, and I’m really trying to get through it. Elizabeth Gaskell is not, in my opinion, the most congenial writer. Sometimes I’ll run across some bit of infelicitous verbiage and go “Ack!” She was very popular in her lifetime, I think. Maybe she was the Nora Roberts of her day. That’s not the best analogy, but Nora Roberts is one of the few popular women novelists I’ve actually read. But novels with infelicitous turns of phrase can still make excellent film and TV, because the script writers can chop out everything but the dialogue and everyone gets to wear period clothing and carry on romances in that very restrained and sexy way so common to period dramas, culminating with the all important screen kiss, which looks fairly anachronistic to me. Seriously, I sometimes wonder if anyone ever actually french kissed back then, before they married. Maybe even after they married. Did they even get to kiss at all? From what I’ve read courting couples were so closely monitored that they spent most of their time in drawing rooms while great aunt Gertrude darned socks, with possibly a peck under the kissing ball at Christmas. Unless you were lower class. Then I think you got to hump in alleyways after a few swigs of gin.

In any case, from what I’ve seen of stills and such from North and South, Richard Armitage can totally rock a high collar and sideburns. There aren’t many men you can say that about. He looks spectacularly elegant, as if he were born in a waistcoat. Those were the days when men thought grooming and attire went beyond a pair of flip flops and an old T-shirt.

In MI5 Armitage plays a good guy, at least on the episodes I’ve seen. When you least expect it, someone else turns out to be a double agent or a mole, which gives the writers free reign to tart up a character when they get bored, I guess. From the constant stream of assassinations, bombs and chemical weapons, I get the impression that the only thing keeping Britain from complete annihilation is MI5. Never a slow day. There isn’t a lot of eye candy on MI5. Everyone looks a bit clipped and pinched or faded and paunchy. And then there’s Armitage in all his brooding glory.

I thought of including a fanvid from the great shopping mall of fanvids, YouTube (How do people find the time to concoct these things?). Then I thought, that’s so giddy teenage fangirl - have some dignity. Then I thought, feck, who am I kidding?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Happy Belated Coming Out Day

So I was sitting at work feeling down and eating popcorn when I thought, “Monday was National Coming Out Day. I should have at least acknowledged it on my blog.” Not that I’ve acknowledged it any year previously. I don’t imagine anyone who reads my blog has the slightest issue with homosexuality, so it wasn’t as if I’m offering a public service announcement. But there have been all those recent suicides as a result of bullying and those videos about how it gets better (which I think is a good all-purpose message for high schoolers in general).

I think, on the one hand, of how much more open society is about homosexuality than when I was a teen, and on the other hand how much more pervasive and violent bullying is among kids. As the openness has increased, the nasty vitriol of the opposition has increased. I witnessed plenty of name calling and taunting in high school, but if anyone was getting beat up or lived in terror of physical harm, I didn’t know about it. Not that a constant barrage of verbal abuse doesn't work its own damage. Of course I knew gay kids. Or, rather, I knew and didn’t know, because I had my own shit to deal with first and foremost, and what other people were up to definitely took a back seat to my own drama.

My parents partook of the general cultural homophobia. So my mom was gently homophobic (“What a shame!” would be her response) and my dad more vehemently so (“They recruit kids. They do disgusting things.”). From some comments my mom made (not always the most reliable source, my mom) I gather that my dad had been pretty concerned about one of my eldest brother’s friendships. That would have been back in the 50s, so I can imagine that didn’t go well. For whatever reason, their opinions did not rub off on me. I simply did not understand why anyone would be uptight about it. It seemed such an odd point of contention. I never at any point bought the religious arguments against it. This is one of those areas where I simply cannot see the opposition’s point of view, for that point of view has wreaked such devastation. If God himself came down and told me homosexuality was wrong, I would say, “What is WRONG with YOU?” Not that I was any sort of outspoken activist as a teen – I pretty much avoided speaking about anything, much less anything controversial.

I wonder what the gay kids at my school really went through. Maybe I didn’t know the half of it. Maybe the name calling was just the littlest part of what really happened. What would I have done if I’d fallen in love with a girl then? I don’t know. Such a possibility never even occurred to me, although I wasn’t exactly okay with heterosexual relations, either. I know I definitely would not have been out and proud. It would have been one more secret, like my depression and cutting.

I work for an organization that believes homosexuality is wrong. I’ve made a sort of pact with the devil, I guess, to keep employment, telling myself that it’s just one tiny aspect of the overall picture, not their main focus. I’m used to hiding what I think, about more than just this issue. I have my own closet, I guess. There’s a confession. I’m complicit.

For anyone who doesn’t know about the Trevor Project, here is a link. It’s a suicide hotline for LGBTQ (Q for questioning) teens.

Chris Colfer for The Trevor Project - It Gets Better from The Trevor Project on Vimeo.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

I Can't Stop Feeling This Feeling I've Got

Hi everyone, time for musical association. This is being done imperfectly because although these videos say they allow sharing on Blogger, the moment you try to put them into a post, you get an "embedding disabled" message. That sucks, folks. Are you listening Parlaphone and Mercury? It sucks a big one. So, you may see an image, but you'll have to go over to YouTube to actually watch it. Because, you know, that makes such a big fucking difference somehow. *shakes fist at idiotic music labels*


It began with this tune by Razorlight tapping itself out in my head. Sounds like England to me. England has a bright, happy melody. I first heard this song in a British soap opera, and it stuck like a burr, perhaps because the storyline is about making a decision of the heart. Even though it isn’t that old, the song makes me think of the England of Summer 1989, when I lived there for a few months. Gainsborough clouds, pints of lager, lots of cigarettes. Love. First love. Exuberant, ebullient, gossamer.

When I was in England that summer, I bought a print of Waterhouse’s Lady of Shallot. I love the Pre-Raphaelites, that strange nostalgic, opiate tinged Victorian extravaganza, and this video looks like a Pre-Raphaelite painting come to life. Also, you might have noticed that I love Alice in Wonderland.

Thinking about Florence reminded me of another artist I had heard of and meant to investigate: Bat for Lashes. Why that name, I wonder? Florence and Bat both have a flair for the dramatic that I appreciate. And they’re pretty. I would totally stutter and blush if either said anything to me. I’m such a school girl.

So that's it, folks. Go buy their music, attend their concerts, fantasize about them naked. Maybe not that. It's up to you.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Elementary, my very very very dear Watson

I haven’t been nearly sociable enough lately. That’s pretty much the way I am in person, too, always the wall flower. I’m more sociable online than off. I don’t tend to talk at length in person, as I do here. Here I can ramble on without any interruptions. One-sided conversations really suit me. Aren’t you lucky?

So, let me begin. I saw Sherlock Holmes the other night, the one with Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law. Thank you, Redbox, for cheap entertainment. When I first saw the trailer for this I was horrified. Honestly, Robert Downey Jr? Puhlease. And what was all this jumping and fighting and general Indiana Jonesish folderal? Who was this wise-cracking, tattered creature and where was the severe, cold detective? Oh, desecration!

But you know what? It was awesome.

What I had at first dismissed as a cheap attempt to transform Holmes into an action hero I finally decided was an astute interpretation that aligned very well with the fictional character. Sherlock Holmes was a boxer with an interest in the martial arts. Boxing is brutal, and you have to be very strong, muscular and aggressive. Portrayals of SH have usually focused on his mental prowess, but he would have to be a very physically fit and powerful man. I was used to thinking of him as purely cerebral, and in those old illustrations he seemed so gentlemanly. I imagined him as rather calm. That’s really off base if you consider that he liked to shoot bullets into his wall when he was bored, and he was shooting up cocaine (I didn’t notice any direct mention of cocaine in the movie, but he was definitely high a couple of times). As a young reader, I didn’t really know about the effects of cocaine. I found out later -- SH would have most likely talked non-stop and been climbing up with walls with energy. So I was willing to accept Downey’s more exuberant SH, particularly as the writers left him with his brain intact. Of course I had to reconcile myself to Downey’s overwhelming American-ness. His accent bothered Dear Husband. I didn’t really notice. Either his accent was very good or it wasn’t there at all and I simple accepted the default American one, or I was too busy admiring how rather fine he looked both in and out of clothes. He wasn’t very arrogant though.. He was almost cuddly. SH was not cuddly. In my memories of the story, Watson came across as something of a hero-worshiping amateur and sometimes bumbler. In the movie he is far more astute and skilled at forensics and detection, and he's a top-notch fighter. Even Lestrade shows some unexpected skill, which seems out of character. I was a little disappointed in Irene Adler. Who wants a softer, gentler Irene, anyway? She needs to contact her inner bitch.

The plot was rather silly, but heavens, why not Scooby Doo goes Victorian? It was perfect - like one of the penny dreadfuls. Victorians loved that paranormal stuff. Doyle became a great enthusiast of séances and spiritualism, and a number of stories were about seemingly supernatural events that concluded with rational explanations. The explanation was nearly as loopy as the fiction, but, well, you got to see some really good explosions and top-notch fights, concluding with a fantastic scrap on top of a bridge, and the bad guy is punished and justice prevails, hurrah. I half expected the villain to say, “And I would have gotten away with it except for those pesky kids!” Great choice of villain, too. I didn’t know Victorian clothes could make someone look so much like a snake.

The directors and writers seemed to enjoy queering the relationship. I gather Downey mentioned something to that effect in an interview and caused all sorts of squeeing. I thought his Holmes was most definitely in love with Watson, and Watson seemed rather domesticated. (Sure Holmes is fond of Irene and Watson has a fiancé, but there seemed to be a time when British men bonked each other until it became inconvenient. Then they got married and ran for Parliament, producing more heirs to fill Eton and carry on the bonking.) Holmes and Watson bicker like a married couple, and Holmes is testy and irritable because Watson is getting married and moving out of their shared digs, and he does what he can to sabotage the relationship.

Ah, Victorian bromance.

Everyone knows from the trailer the scene with Downey handcuffed naked to a bed with a pillow over his privates, telling the chambermaid where to find the key. Funny, yes, in a broad way. Very broad. The film was peppered with slyer innuendos and low-key sexual banter aimed at Watson. When, for instance they are all about to be sliced open by a band saw, and Holmes unbuckles Watson’s belt, chiding him to not get excited. It goes by so quickly (I mean, hey, band saw approaching) it likely barely registered with the audience. Or when Watson and his fiance find Holmes hanging from the rafters, demonstrating how the villain survived his execution. “Please, Watson, my tongue is going, soon I will be of no use to you at all.”

I remember when reading the stories how happy I was when Holmes finally revealed an emotional attachment to Watson. Watson was pretty much floored himself. I didn’t like the idea that SH might just like having someone stupid around to make him look even more brilliant. I know Doyle wrote Holmes as an asexual Babbage machine, but an asexual hero is rather dull, so as a young girl I reimagined him as having untold passionate depths. Why not have him in love with his best friend? Oh, and by the way, both Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law look mm mm good. Who knew Jude Law could rock a stache?

Soon another Sherlock is coming to PBS, a retelling of the stories in a contemporary setting. From the preview Holmes seems appropriately acerbic and arrogant, sort of like Gregory House (who was himself based on Sherlock) but with even fewer social skills. I’ve heard good things about it, and I find it difficult not to like an actor with a name like Benedict Cumberbatch. I had to look that up, by the way, because I can never remember his name. Camberbatch, Bandercatch, Bandercrutch - and I can guarantee that tomorrow I will once again have misplaced all the syllables. I keep thinking of cummerbunds.

Ah, yet another post with no nutritional value. Just candy.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Flippant Friday: theology, pretty boys and, yes, more vampires

What would happen if I tried to write something on here every day? Would there be a point? I don’t know, but I feel an edgy twisty sort of urge to write something today, and you, dear readers, benefit.

This morning while I was working on a really dull updating project, I listened to Peter Rollins being interviewed by Rob Bell. I love Peter Rollins. He’s my favorite theologian, primarily because he’s the only theologian I’ve almost read. Actually, I’ve also almost read McLaren, but you see Rollins has an Irish accent. Everyone should talk about God with an Irish accent. I love English accents, but theology just sounds softer and more approachable with a brogue.

Alexander SkarsgardIn general I avoid reading theology and philosophy because my brain is already fully occupied pondering such things as what’s going to happen to Sookie Stackhouse and her vampire friends next. This would be a good point at which to insert a completely unnecessary picture of Alexander Skarsgard, because that’s how my brain works, skittering across the superficial.

What Peter says about doubt resonates deeply with me, and it’s also really irritating, because resonating carries a frisson of being on the verge of an answer, but of course there aren’t answers. It’s the same tickly feeling you get from reading a koan. I also think that any time I ever want to experience true conviction of sin, I only need to listen to him talk about how we reveal our true selves in our material existence. My inner world has never felt more phony. Hell, here’s a photo of Pete, too.

I’ve also been “reading” (note those quotes – reading nonfiction involves a lot of skimming and skipping back and forth between chapters) The Upside of Irrationality. So far I’ve learned that people mate roughly within their own range of attractiveness – 10s with 10s (for example, Alexander Skarsgard and Kate Bosworth, Peter Rollins and God), 4s with 4s and so on. Since everyone prefers 10s, those of us in the lower ranges have to reprioritize the traits we look for in a mate, you know, like booting “sense of humor” up over “six-pack abs.” I found this mildly depressing.

In other news, I’m eagerly awaiting the release of the film Let Me In. The book is awesome and creepy. I saw the Swedish version of the film (Let the Right One In), which was probably great, but we somehow got hold of a dubbed version, so we had to listen to bad American voice talent, which really distracted me from the brutality, blood and anatomical anomalies. Here’s the trailer for the new American version.

And there you have today's edition. Now I need to locate some fair-trade coffee and a community.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

You're Such a Sisyphus

Some days everything comes to a screeching halt and I wonder, “What am I doing? This is so not what I need.” I have no idea what I need. Well, “no idea” is perhaps too strong. I know that I need some sort of change. I need some sort of change yet I don’t have the energy to make one. I don’t know what change to make, exactly. There is a disconnect between my heart and my work that I put up with for various reasons, good reasons. I’m more real here than in the real world, where I play dress-up.

Dear Husband sometimes hints that I should find a way to make a living writing. Only thing is, I don’t enjoy the sorts of careers that writers have. I don’t want to be a journalist or a novel writer or write marketing copy or greeting cards. I don’t want to start showing up at open mikes or writers groups. I suppose if I had lived in a previous century, I would have been an epistolary writer, one of those correspondents who wrote amusing and interesting letters to entertain friends. Ephemeral, or by some trick of fate bound and preserved for dusty researches. Blogging seems to be an open letter to whomever happens by. You know, Emily Dickenson would have made an excellent blogger. She could have stayed holed up in her Amherst home and written oddly punctuated posts.

I can’t help but think that somehow I missed the point, that I failed in dedication to the craft, that I lacked nerve, though I have thought that my nerve would not have failed had I known in what direction to point myself. We all need a foundation of meaning to support our actions. I’ve always been amazed at and envious of people who had goals and plans and were able to embrace them as if they mattered. I say “as if” because my perception is always undergirded with a profound sense of futility. I am aware of it even in moments of happiness. I live “as if” – as if there were some reason we are born and die, some purpose to raising a family, some purpose to all the many pleasures we pursue. Some people turn to God for meaning. Our purpose is to glorify God. That just baffles me. Why would there be a God whose be-all and end-all was to be glorified? That sounds so profoundly anemic I can’t wrap my head around it. Why on earth would that be a satisfying endeavor?

I am not alone, of course. On the other hand, I know many people who have never experienced this. They’ve known deep despair and grief, sure, but not this . . . blankness.

I feel a great kinship with the writer of Ecclesiastes, up until he starts prattling on about serving God, which sounds as half-hearted and joyless as his lines of existential despair. There you are, then; we either keep muddling along or we kill ourselves. I’ve known people who chose the latter. But I like this world, I like all the beauty of the earth and other people, and it would take a huge blow to make me consider leaving early.

I have the existentialist belief that we create meaning in the face of chaos. I’m not very good at it. It’s just so exhausting. Camus was so spot on. Everyday – actually, moment by moment – I’m rolling a rock up a hill. Then it rolls back down and I start over. The existentialists thought that was sort of heroic, maybe because they were all crazy Frenchmen. They get drunk on ideas, even the depressing ones.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Blood and Apples

We went apple picking this weekend. At least that was our intention. We ended up at an orchard / playground / store hybrid with a bouncing pillow for the kids, a pig race, a petting zoo, cow milking, clogging demonstrations, a really bad singer and lots of fried food.

The petting zoo was the perfect setting for highlighting our girls’ urban tastes. Other kids were letting goats eat out of their hands. The baby goats freaked out Firecracker, who didn’t want them jumping on her. DramaQueen got some feed and then dumped it on the ground (“I don’t want goat saliva on my hands!). They spent most of their time cuddling some new kittens.

We went through a moonshine “museum” – basically a random collection of items that remain a mystery, but which are somehow involved in producing moonshine. This was a “bring your own information” museum. The displays gradually transitioned to various tableaux from the old-timey days. Many items I remembered seeing in my grandparents’ house – old flat irons, a foot pedaled Singer sewing machine, a butter churn. The girls evinced zero curiosity about any of it, as they were eager to find the “giant slide” which turned out to be not so particularly giant after all, and not very slide-y either. When the bungee jump turned out to be $7, and we refused to pay up, DramaQueen gave into general disillusionment.

I was going to suggest ears of corn to eat, until I saw the flies happily dancing over them. I saw some people walking around with turkey legs, and I wondered about the possibility of food poisoning. We finally settled on eating some deep-fried spiral potatoes (which went some way to cheering up DramaQueen) while watching a clogging demonstration. Why do cloggers wear such ridiculous looking outfits? 70 year old women in super-short crinoline skirts and big hair bows – it’s just too easy to ridicule. I gather lots of professional clogging troupes wear more graceful skirts, so maybe it’s peculiar to the backwoods or something. Seriously, these skirts were so short and so stiff with crinoline underskirts it was if the dancers were wearing calico UFOs around their waists. And then one of the younger groups did a routine to a Kate Perry song. Watching cloggers do their thing to the lyrics “you PMS like a girl, I should know” dressed in frilly hillbilly skirts added a surreal touch to the day.

The whole time I had a headache that would not go away. We wandered in the orchard looking for Cameo apples (just behind the weather station, a sign directed, although what exactly a weather station was supposed to look like, I don’t know, and we never found them). We did find apples we had never heard of before - “Arkansas Black” - and inquired at a booth about its flavor – “I don’t know. I don’t eat apples.” Huh.

We came home with apples we mostly found in the orchard store. And, small victory, we got out of there without having to use the port-a-potties.

Happily, my headache was gone in time for (sudden change of topic ahead) the season finale of True Blood, which was strangely bloodless. Literally and figuratively. The supporting characters were as annoying as gnats buzzing around but not getting anywhere. Terry is crying because he’s so durn happy (and I’m watching in disbelief as minute after minute ticks by while Sam and Terry actually pursue a conversation about this). Crystal’s a white-trash panther and an idiot. Jason is left charge of a trashy, inbred bit of wereland. Lafayette is freaking out. Jesus is a brujo (well, duh). Sam is poised to shoot his idiot thieving brother. Hoyt’s mom buys a gun. Tara bobs her hair and heads out of town. Whatev. On the main stage, the King of Mississippi looks like a sack of cinders. He's kind of…ruffly. I could really have done without the extra crispy makeup, but the camera lingers over every charred flake. On a positive note, we are now rid of the urn of gooey vampire remains of the King’s former lover. Sookie pours Talbot down the garbage disposal, flipping the switch with a little psycho giggle. That seemed out of character, but perhaps she was just as tired of looking at it as I was. I mean, really, a clear urn for vampire guts is just tacky.

Eric is all vengeful yet noble, then noble and forgiving, then vengeful again, and then buried in wet cement, and then not buried but really mad, then dusty grey but still looking hot on Sookie’s front porch where he finally tells her what he could just as well have told her many episodes back and for unknown reasons didn’t, that Bill is a bad bad boy. So bad you almost forget that Eric staked the King’s lover while having sex with him (and I would really think twice about staking a vampire in that situation, because the mess is TREMENDOUS). Even badder than in the books. So far in the books Bill has not tried to bury Eric in the foundations of a building or kill the Queen of Louisiana because he has “nothing left to lose”. In the books he’s busy creating a database of vampires. Yes, a database. In response to Sookie’s rejection he begins dating a real estate agent. Yeah, I guess I can see why the script writers decided to go a different direction with his character.

The finale ended with Sookie disappearing into faeryland, at which point all the air went out of the tires. Woaa, she’s in a perfectly safe place surrounded by creatures who intend only good for her. I’m biting my nails, I tell you. I would be rather cranky if it weren’t for all 6 ft 4 inches of Eric Northman, who is, as was heralded with all the subtlety of a bullhorn, being set up to learn forgiveness in Season 4, no doubt while being naked quite a bit.


Wednesday, September 08, 2010

The better, the good, and the somewhat less than optimal

First off, my biopsy came back just fine. For this news I should be doing a dance and feeling all sorts of happy, but instead I’m kinda like, “meh.” I’m that wore out.

The surgery itself went fine, except that it took four determined sticks to get an IV into me. I’m very grateful for the numbing medicine the inject beforehand, but really there’s not much that can take away the sensation of an inanimate object rubbing against the small bones in your hand. My hand is now an ugly mottled yellow/blue. But whatever they gave me to take away my anxiety also took away my consciousness. Usually they try to keep you alert enough to help them out in the surgery by scooching onto the operating table, but I don’t remember anything. I did dream something fairly peculiar, of lying under those big surgery lamps, watching nurses tote around crocheted afghans and doilies. Then I felt myself wash up on the shores of consciousness with an oxygen canula poking my nose and a muddled Winnie-the-Pooh feeling about me. Although I had to be perky enough to get into our car, I don’t really recall anything else about the day, despite the fact that I was out of surgery and on my way by noon. They aren’t kidding when they say that anaesthesiologists put some sort of amnesiac in your tank. But by the next day I was alert enough to go with Dear Husband to JCP and buy a new comforter set, which was very…comforting.

Speaking of Dear Husband, we recently celebrated our wedding anniversary. Dear Husband has a knack for thinking up thoughtful, creative gifts. Did anyone see that Modern Family episode in which Clair racks her brain to come up with a completely lame present after her husband presents her with a sweet and original series of gifts? Well, that’s me all over. I haven’t yet brought home the guitarist from Spandau Ballet, but it’s the sort of desperate leap I might take.

Dear Husband vanished after a number of mysterious trips, letting me know that a taxi would arrive to take me to my secret destination. The taxi ride was something of an event unto itself, as I found myself with the Chattiest Taxi Drive in History. He told me (and he told me quite a lot in the mere 15 minutes he transported me) that he spent part of every month driving in New York City. I was rather surprised that a New Yorker had not yet murdered him just to get him to shut up. New Yorkers aren’t all that chatty. He also managed to get me to tell him about our two girls (“Maybe you could try for a boy tonight.” – I kid you not, he actually said that) and my 4 brothers and their marital status. Of the unmarried one he said, “Are you sure he isn’t gay?” “I see the place!” I chirped, as we nearly passed by a house I recognized. Dear Husband had arranged for a romantic meal at our friend’s house (she happens to be a caterer). She made the side dishes and dessert, Dear Husband made the main dish – lamb chops in balsamic glaze. The dining room was set with the good china (not our good china, since we don’t have any, but my friend’s good china) and candles. There was a vase of pink roses and pink and lavender balloons. Dear Husband also had his laptop set up, as he had created a special slideshow for us. My friend and her husband vanished to a movie and we had the place to ourselves. The best part of the evening, better even than the lamp chop and pencil-thin asparagus, was the fact that Dear Husband and I got each other the exact same greeting card. It doesn’t sound so funny put like that, but we couldn’t stop laughing. Dear Husband had also devised a game for us. On the table was a treasure chest with a giant ruby-red gemstone nestled among smaller gems (DramaQueen helped with this) and chocolate coins, and little slips of paper. We took turns drawing the slips and answering the questions printed on them. I ate a lot of chocolate coins.

What did I get Dear Husband? Some gluten-free licorice. Which he had asked for. See? – lame. I added an iTunes card to show that I am capable of some independent thought. Then I ate some more chocolate coins.

This Labor Day weekend (while recovering from that operation), we had a cookout with some neighbors and friends. This involved a lot of cleaning. Many items are now missing, because they were put away, and they are not accustomed to being put away. I would like to know why there is always at least one basket of stuff that refuses to yield to any organizational scheme whatsoever. This is where various cords and mysterious hardware items end up, along with papers that seem to need something but we aren’t sure what, and anyway we don’t have a filing system because we still haven’t cleared out that old one stuffed with items from 2002. On the plus side, somehow or other I located both the missing wheels off the bottom dishwasher rack. Until then I would locate one and think, “Okay, now I know where that one is when the other one shows up.” And so it went for months for at least 2 years. I cannot tell you the sense of vindication and triumph I felt reattaching those two wheels. “Look!” I crowed, demonstrating the ability to close the dishwasher door without having to kick the bottom rack into place. Dear Husband, I think, is still not sure what I was talking about or how our life has changed for the better.

Besides finding lost things and losing things we haven’t yet noticed are now lost, I discovered that my keepsake box is missing. That’s where I keep old letters from my mom and hand-made cards from the girls. It used to be under the bed. At least that’s where it was 3 years ago when we lived in an apartment. It is now either still in an unpacked box in the garage (unlikely) or was put in the wrong place when we unpacked. The only right place in under our bed, because the strain of remembering it in any other place is an unnecessary burden.

Back to Labor Day weekend. I have this observation: If you plunk down 100+ dollars on an inflatable bouncy party house, and the kids spend all morning nagging you about when it will arrive, when it is finally set up all the children will mysteriously rediscover a board game they haven’t played in months. I crawled into the bouncy house at one point, until it occurred to me that I shouldn’t be bouncing a mere 3 days after surgery. So I lay down. Then the girls had the idea to have a sleepover at someone else’s house, which meant Dear Husband and I could go out for mojitos (for me) and dirty martinis (for him). I really wanted to go to Toys R Us, which struck me as a really great destination after a couple of mojitos, but dear Husband was not convinced. He did share his olives, though.

I’m sure it won’t surprise anyone that I’m not particularly excited to be back at work. I’m feeling sludgy. I also feel as if every month contains at least 4 doctor appointments (in addition to the doctor appointments I have to put off or reschedule to make room for the newer, more pressing doctor appointments) plus at least one school event I can’t ignore (a school skate night on a Thursday? Really?). My dad’s things are still to be dealt with sometime in the future. A thread of sadness winds its way through most days. There are two school fundraisers and two picture days (prepaid – the jerks), then Halloween costumes, and we haven’t even started saving for Christmas. I have an intense craving to stay at home and putter about, like, permanently.

See how far afield I’ve wandered? I’m tired and melancholy and uncomfortable.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Silver Cord

Then man goes to his eternal home
and mourners go about the streets.
Remember him—before the silver cord is severed,
or the golden bowl is broken;
before the pitcher is shattered at the spring,
or the wheel broken at the well,
and the dust returns to the ground it came from,
and the spirit returns to God who gave it.
 - Ecclesiastes 12: 5-7

A long time ago Dad had emailed me a lot of stories from his childhood. Dear Husband bound them in a booklet and we put out copies for folks to take. Turned out to be very popular. Even the funeral director read it. Of course, he’s probably somehow related to us. It’s one of those sorts of places. You can’t fling a cat without hitting some kinfolk. I was never too into my kin, so I was pretty much clueless about family members and how they are related to each other. I always look a bit vague at family events.

Why at a funeral do people feel the need to comment favorably on the visage of a dead embalmed person? The man in the coffin bore only the faintest resemblance to my dad. He looked a bit like my grandfather, actually, if my grandfather had been worked up for Madame Toussaud’s. At least no one said anything about him looking peaceful. There were two pastors, one from the church he went to with his current wife and one he attended with my mom. You can’t always depend on pastors to forgo an altar call, even at a funeral, so I thought they restrained themselves nicely.

As an aside, my brother told me that just before my dad went on the respirator, he took off his mask (keep in mind that he was struggling to breathe, so he thought what he was about to say was of some importance) and said, “Larry, don’t ever get mixed up in the Church of Christ. They’re a bunch of nuts, and they’re all bipolar.” That was so completely my Dad. I can hear his voice saying it. He had very little tolerance for churches that white-knuckle their doctrines. The Church of Christ doesn’t allow instruments to be played in church. My dad thought that was the stupidest thing ever. I’m not sure what else he objected to. I’m not that familiar with the denomination, but this particular church seemed to focus on rules and doctrine rather than Grace, and that probably affronted my Baptist leaning dad. So Dad wasn’t particularly fond of his second wife’s choice of church, which is why we called in his former pastor to share the funeral service.

Dad had a military send off. There was a military funeral. Dad was in the Navy, the Army, the Navy and Army reserves and the National Guard reserves. Turns out he was the youngest Chief Petty Officer in the Navy during WWII. Didn’t know that. He was retired by the time I was born, so I didn’t know much about his military career. After hearing relatives talk about it last week, I wouldn’t have been surprised to find out he was a Storm Trooper. There was a 21 gun salute – or something like – and two vets to fold the flag and one whippersnapper to play Taps. This being the rural South, the officers looked ramshackle and unwell, as if they might spend their spare time cooking meth, and one was shaking so much I was seriously worried that the flag would slip from his hands. His partner appeared equally concerned and seemed to telegraph instruction through some secret eye communication. But the shaky man was very careful and meticulous, and we all sat their mentally encouraging him, “You can do it! Just a bit more.” The whole time – a very quiet, reverent stretch of time I might add - Firecracker kept asking in a loud whisper, “Mom, why is he shaking?”

There were a lot of people at the funeral because dad loved to socialize. He didn’t get to do that so much with my social-phobic mom, so I think he particularly enjoyed getting out and meeting people in his later years. And although he didn’t much care for the church, he made friends there. He was that sort of guy – affable and good-humored. Almost every day he and his wife went out to eat at a particular diner, and everyone knew them, and everyone knew they could find him there if they wanted a chat.

This being a Southern funeral, the church ladies laid out enough food to send us all into a diabetic coma. And, this being a Southern funeral, they wrapped up the copious leftovers and sent them home with our family, where they were stuffed into no less than two refrigerators. Grief never seems to prevent anyone from eating in the South, and you haven’t properly showed someone you care without a casserole or pie in hand.

One thing brought home to me during this sad event was the utter disparity in my and my brother’s upbringings. They were close in age and ran about as a pack. The youngest is 16 years older than me, so I grew up pretty much as an only child, my brothers having all gone off to college and their adult lives. The stories they told abut their childhood adventures made me wonder how they survived. They also had a completely different experience living with my father. He and I had a troubled relationship that grew out of the frequent and often virulent fighting between my parents. I saw behavior that I loathed in both of them, but ultimately I found my mother more sympathetic than my father. It wasn’t until my mom’s last few years that I began to appreciate his good qualities, such as loyalty, integrity, and a sly sense of humor. My brothers never experienced that anger toward my dad, or my mom for that matter, despite the fact that she had to be institutionalized twice and they witnessed her more extreme expressions of mental illness. Maybe it’s because my brothers had each other. Maybe that’s why they roamed around where they were unsupervised and pulled pranks and got up to mischief. It’s not that they emerged undamaged – the legacy of dysfunction is quite evident – but they never seemed to hold it against my parents. And, after all, they grew up in the 40s and 50s when there were different expectations for parent-child relationships. My parents were strict with them but also hands off because they were boys, whereas they were beyond lenient with me but were also more protective.

Now I have lost both my parents. It makes me feel unanchored. That little corner of Alabama on Miracle Dr is now just a building full of stuff, its contents to be distributed among us, the center gone. As Dear Husband said, people live on through the stories you tell. I often think that may be the only afterlife there is.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Rest in Peace, Dad

My father, Charles K. Akins, died yesterday at 6:45 pm. My brother who was with him said he went peacefully within minutes after the doctors pulled the respirator. He died after a long battle with pneumonia, complicated by acute interstitial lung disease (probably as a result of exposure to asbestos). He was 89 years old.

This is one of the last photos of him, from his 89th birthday party in April.

 I am traveling to Alabama today, and Dear Husband and the girls will join me this weekend for the funeral.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

And we're off

School began this week. Every year it comes earlier – some districts have year-round school, and we may be headed that way. I love the start of school. Not because it gets the kids off my back, though. After all, they’ve been in a day camp all summer, so there isn’t much difference, except that I don’t have to monitor homework. No, I love the start of school for a number of reasons:

  • The end of the disgusting hot, muggy, inhumane summer is just around the corner.
  • Fall – fall is nearly here! Red and orange leaves! Nippy air! Halloween! Fall festivals!
  • The stores are full of school supplies, and I love school supplies. I like to see the wide variety of notebooks and pens. I like the smell of paper and pencils. These are the tools of learning, fresh and unused, full of potential. I want to breathe deeply among the binders and pencil-top erasers.
  • I can dress the girls in cute new clothes. I love shopping with them – so much easier than shopping for myself. The clothes in my section are dull and shapeless, boring and frumpy. Their clothes are bright, cheerful and playful. I dread the day the girls enter their teens and start fussing over clothes.
  • I love the structure of school. Now when I get home there is a regular order to the evening – school work, dinner, chores, bed-time. Well, it’s supposed to work like that.
  • The change in routine fills my head with impossible goals. I’ll get more organized – all I need is a hole punch, a binder, and $200 dollars worth of storage boxes. I’ll start that exercise program. I’ll cook more. I’ll finally put all our photos in albums. We’ll paint the house! We’ll take daytrips every weekend and spend more time at art galleries and theaters. I’ll reduce our grocery bill by clipping coupons! None of this will happen, but the ideas are bright and shiny and exhilarating.

Recently I was flipping through the latest Woman’s Day. Yeah, I get Woman’s Day. I’m a bit sheepish about it because it seems somehow – I don’t know – déclassé. If Real Simple is Talbots, then Woman’s Day is Wal-Mart. But this is what I do with our few skymiles – get magazines I would never pay for. Anyway, I ran across an article by Jennifer Weiner that expressed my feelings about fall so perfectly. You can read it here: It’s very short. Everything in Woman’s Day is short. Do any magazines let articles go on for pages anymore? Maybe the New Yorker. I could never finish anything in there. Yeah, if I had to choose between the New Yorker and Woman’s Day, I would definitely choose the latter. The New Yorker doesn’t have recipes that I can clip and ignore.

I plan to recap our LA vacation in the next post, because it was so much fun. Now, if I could only start that vacation scrapbook…