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.