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 sĂ©ances 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.