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Friday, December 29, 2006
by Dustin Long #34

Oh, Icelander! (I think I am going to start every blog post with "oh!"... okay, maybe not.) Some things about this book:

1) for reasons I do not fully understand, I have always wanted to stay in an ice hotel. And ICELAND, by dint of having ICE as part of its name, always comes to mind. I think this means I was subconsciously primed to be receptive to a book by this title, or possibly it means nothing at all beyond "I want to stay in an ice hotel."

2) I read a review of it in the Believer that made me say "I must read this book!" It is a McSweeney's Rectangular (and it is indeed rectangular!). Except now I can't find that review, so maybe I read it somewhere else. At any rate, this mysterious review that I read somewhere obviously did not spring fully formed into my head or the one I am writing right now would be much more coherent (one would assume), but it did make an impression.

3) once acquired from the library, the back flap further informed me that it was an "intricate giddy romp steeped equally in Nordic lore and pulpy intrigue." I found this Most Appealing. There are steam tunnels and skaldic karaoke and the main character is called Our Heroine, which also piqued my curiosity. Promises were made that "adventure ensues." And it does! (If anything should ensue, it should be hijinks or adventure. Misery, calamity and the like should never ensue (they can befall, if they must) -- okay, maybe calamity can ensue, but I draw the line at misery.)

4) The book is a physical pleasure to read and hold. It's a hard cloth(ish) cover with the picture embossed, and is a great size for carrying around. It also has THE NICEST paper and binding it has been my pleasure to read all year. (don't get me started on how the price of books has gone up, up, up, yet they often put crappy mass market paperback paper inside a hardcover. Uncool, publishing industry, uncool!) The paper is bright white and smooth, the book has a nice spine that I can hold open with one hand, unlike some books that seem more like bear traps.

5) I started out thinking that this story was too clever by half and it was reminding me of Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series (of which I read the first one and half of the second). But as I got further along and acclimated to the world of the book, I enjoyed it more and more; any Fforde comparisons became "wow! I like this so much better." (The Fforde books are ones that I want to love but can't. I've been thinking about it, and for me it seems that he's so busy amusing himself with how clever he is, he forgets about his responsibilities to the story and to the reader. I know that lots of people love him, but that sense of self-indulgence (and how good they COULD be) is what I get hung up on.) I imagine there were many more tangents and side roads Dustin Long could have taken, but didn't because he was being more considerate of the story. I for one appreciate it!

6) I am not going to attempt to sum up the plot -- there is just TOO MUCH. It's a PoMo mystery. There are stories within stories, footnotes from an increasingly suspect source, trouble in academia, the nameless girl detective with a famous dead mother, a wolf, a witch, a festival, an actor, a Two-Story House... I ended up really enjoying it, even as I was sure I was missing about half of what was going on. I think it would not only hold up on re-read but have even more to offer, which is one of the things I like most about books.

I can change bandages faster than you

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Wednesday, December 27, 2006
Injury update: So, the swelling has gone down significantly. Now the first thing you notice is the bandage instead of my mutant lumpy jaw. This is good! the nurse at the wound clinic told me that everything was healing really well. I thought this meant I was almost done having to go down there, and she said "oh, no. you'll still have to come down for at least another week to ten days. it's really deep." And since the swelling's gone down, I can tell just how deep it is because I can feel the stuff they pack in there from the outside. The hole in my face (I believe that is the correct medical term) is right above my jaw line-- there is packing material right up to the corner of my mouth (!!!).
I was hoping when that the swelling subsided that The Hole would be right below my jaw, but it seems unlikely. But who knows? It's still somewhat swollen, so there's hope. Or even better, it'll be a cool-shaped scar -- then I can come up with some good scar stories that involve maybe... parachuting, fencing, cat burglary, time travel, piracy, cat fight, bar fight, or the time I was touring the chocolate factory and slipped on some fudge and fell backwards into a table and whew what a relief it was that nothing else happened and just then a giant knife (that I had sent into the air, unawares, when I knocked the cutting board with my elbow) fell from the sky and jabbed me in the face, or something...

In other news, lest this become all about The Hole in my face, all the time, I watched Annie Get Your Gun again Christmas night. Betty Hutton! Howard Keel! (I think Hugh Jackman would be great in the Frank Butler role, but I can't think of an actress today that could be Annie... I'm probably not thinking hard enough because my brain stops at Hugh Jackman.) There are things I love about this movie (more on that in a minute) and things I do not love at all, even one little bit, even if I listen to the insidious voice that says "hey jen, it was 1950 for god's sake! you can't hold them to the politically correct standards of today." To expect any kind of non-cartoon like treatment of indians in this movie is a futile pursuit, but because I like so many other things about it, that this thing is wrong pains me more. True, Chief Sitting Bull is the only character who is consistently not an idiot, but that distinction rides pretty close to the Magical Negro/ Noble Savage trope. ANYWAY, if you are in search of a sensitive/sensible portrayal of indians in Buffalo Bill's Wild West show, this is not the movie for you! If you want to see every indian cliche in dazzling MGM color... you are in luck! Fortunately in the age of DVD you can easily skip around. Which I would recommend, so you don't miss...

My favorite scene in the whole movie is the Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better number. Why? Because, that's why! Seriously, though, I like it because it's the closest this movie gets to the kind of screwball antagonism that cheers me so. It's completely irrational and lovely. When it was just Annie mooning around after Frank it was cute for a while and then it was sad. And Frank -- who knows what he's thinking, other than feeling a little professional competition and having his (already giant) ego inflated because she's mooning around after him? But in this scene they have reached the stage of Mutual Irritation and the gloves come off. When you are arguing about who can sing softer, talk faster, buy cheaper, or knit sweaters, reason has left the building! It was here that I knew Frank cared about her since he was Just As Irritated as she was. (lesson: the people you love WILL drive you crazy, either occasionally or often; to pretend otherwise is to stick your head in the sand.)

(I couldn't find the picture I wanted on the internet, so I had to take a screen capture myself. This program makes it so easy! it's cross platform and FREE!)

'twas the week before christmas

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Sunday, December 24, 2006
hospital entertainment

Leslie brought me some appropriate reading material

Week before christmas: great time for shopping, baking, holiday cheer, or for a surprise stay in the hospital to treat a facial abscess! Okay, it was not really a great time to be in the hospital, but we don't always get to choose. I should say right now that I am well on my way to recovery and that every single human I interacted with at Good Samaritan Hospital was unfailingly kind to me -- the one person who was kind of abrupt (the surgeon) has so far gone on to behave like the stereotypical crank with a heart of gold. (Thought I should have stayed longer, yet was the one to spring me out, grouch grouch, grouch/ nice, nice, nice.)

here's a brief timeline of what I've been up to this week. Believe me, I would have rather been standing in line at the post office!

Sunday the 17th (evening): I can't believe I am getting a huge stupid zit between my mouth and jaw.

Monday the 18th: in retrospect, making comparisons between yourself and the elephant man, quasimodo, phantom of the opera, the beast (of beauty and the) is probably a sign that medical attention is required.

Tuesday the 19th: The day of optimistic whimpering. Errands were run with scarf in dramatic bank robber style. Pain increasing to the point where sleep was only available with the aid of old Tylenol with codeine tablets left over from wisdom tooth extraction.

Wednesday the 20th: spent entire day in pajamas whimpering (less optimistically) and taking Tylenol 3 every 4 hours until Mom came and made me get dressed to go to the emergency room.

.... hospital time....

emergency room: jabby jabby needles (which barely registered because my face hurt so much), blood drawn, the doctor telling me things that sounded insane like "you'll need to see a plastic surgeon, if this gets into your airway it could be deadly, you'll have to be admitted, these infections develop very quickly, etc." What seemed like one million years and one CT scan later, I was finally admitted upstairs to a room with a view of the christmas lights on NW 23rd and the west hills. Not exactly how I had planned to spend the day, but the pain was considerably less (god bless narcotics).

Thursday the 21st: Feeling somewhat better because the abscess started to drain on its own. Moved to a private room (view of the fremont bridge!) and got lots of phone calls and visitors which was nice because the hospital is boring if you're conscious. Still really tired from the infection and loopy from the medicine, so I couldn't really do stuff or read anything too complicated. The plastic surgeon came by at around 2, poked at my face (he said "let me get a q-tip" and then proceeded to poke at me with the pointed wooden end), said he would do the surgery, which should be easy and quick at 7pm. No more food or liquid for me! Managed to catch a repeat of the Colbert Report's "Guitarmageddon" episode, which I took as a good sign (and also found hilarious).

surgery: they wheeled me down in the bed I was in! It was the end of the day, so they let my mom and sister come down with me, although I sent them home so they could see "Guitarmageddon" for themselves -- also because my mom was getting fretful and worried. I wasn't too worried -- I think because they weren't going in and poking around my innards, just doing something on the outside. Anyway, if the hospital is boring for a patient who is still loopy enough to fall asleep every 20 minutes, it is Double Plus Boring for the long term visitor.

When they finally wheeled me into the operating room I knew everything was going to be fine because The Cure was playing on the stereo! (Just Like Heaven, which is about a dead girl, but I love the song, so whatever.) I got about 20000 sticky monitor things stuck to various parts of my body. Once I realized that the beeping I was hearing (over The Cure) was my heartbeat, I thought "I'll see if I can make it go slower" (it sounded fast and very unmusical to me), but that only made it go faster so I gave up. I later found out that my heart rate was elevated because that's what happens with a big infection. Anyway, the anesthesiologist (who was so nice, even though I heard him making rude puns as I was coming out of it in the recovery room), told me that he was going to give me some oxygen and he was sorry it smelled like plastic and then that he would see me in a little while and then I was OUT. I have absolutely no recollection of anything that happened in the OR beyond that point, and it's just as well. I hear there was "a lot of pus," which is all I needed to know. My face was still swollen because they packed the abscess with medicated gauze, but not nearly as painful. I'm sure the morphine helped with that, too.

speaking of morphine, I am fairly certain that's what made me think it was a great idea less than an hour after surgery to take pictures of the fremont bridge from my window. Of course in order to do this, I had to crawl over my bed because the IV wouldn't reach otherwise.... can you see where this is headed? It ended with me in the dark frantically trying to put the drippy now detached IV thing in the sink while I failed to notice that I was bleeding profusely through the IV site. Then I tried to clean up the blood, and ended up getting it all over before I gave up and fell back onto the bed until the nurse finally came. Good times! (I did get my picture after she put me back together, though.)

Friday the 22nd: Feeling so much better, and therefore 10000x more bored. I tell every single person I see (not that many, actually) that I feel SO MUCH BETTER, and that I should probably go home so that some sick person could have my room. The doctor doing rounds tells me that she "thinks about knitting 24 hours a day," and that she was going to wait until she heard from the surgeon before making any decisions about me. So, I sat around and waited for the surgeon. Drank thick milk and thick apple juice (this is what they serve in hell), because someone charted that I needed a pureed diet. The whole day was largely waiting for the surgeon, the surgeon whom I think actually forgot about me because the nurse (who was no doubt sick of my piteous, beseeching looks), finally called him and he came in in his street clothes. ... there was some negotiating -- he thought I should stay at least one more day and I disagreed. In the end he relented. It all turned out okay because the culture came back on the infection and it is the kind that is treatable with oral antibiotics. (which was a relief since everyone kept telling me that they usually only give 3-4 courses of this particular IV antibiotic because it is so hard on the veins and I had already had FIVE.) I get to go to the Wound Clinic once a day for a few days until it has healed up enough for me to dress the wound myself.

ANYWAY, the point of all of this is I have never even been in the hospital before, let alone had surgery and all that jazz. I'm glad I got it out of the way in 2006 so 2007 can be spent in more pleasurable pursuits.

Merry Christmas to those who celebrate! (and take it from me, if there is stuff you wanted to get done but didn't and are stressing out about it -- it's probably no big deal and the people who love you will love you still.)

d.i.y. jolly

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Monday, December 18, 2006
jolly mosaic

This weekend I found myself in yet another crappy mood. Friday I was feelin' fine, but saturday morning rolled around and I was just itchy and agitated for no good reason. None of my circumstances had changed, but I was pissy and irritable nonetheless. A disturbance in the force? Maybe. Bored? As much as I HATE to admit it (because I think there are very few good reasons for being bored) this was probably closer to the truth.

I decided to take matters in hand and find a way to jolly myself out of it. It had to be some new way, because the old ways just weren't cutting it! I started by wearing a sweater that makes me laugh. Then I decided that I would take pictures of things I found particularly cheering. This worked out pretty well: 1) paying attention to things that please me rather than those that do not is surprisingly satisfying. 2) I felt like I'd kind of hit the wall with picture taking --the fun was gone! But with this project I gave myself permission to do whatever, and the fun returned.

row 1, in which I dress for cheer and errands l-r: 1)jaunty crazy sweater 2) red (but sheer) lip stuff 3) had to take this back to the library, which was sad, but lego white stripes, so hooray! 4) these gloves are a little dr. seuss, but they make me happy 5) library 6) Death in Kashmir! I have several of the M.M. Kaye mysteries, but with the old 70's covers

row 2, around town l-r: 1) more library 2) cheerful red mini cooper with CD Baby vanity plates 3) if the packet of hot sauce says I'll be happy, who am I to argue? 4) what the neon commands, we must do. 5) Powell's (11th Couch street entrance) through the dirty windshield 6) my red sneakers

row 3, at home post-errands l-r:1) 8-ball queries must be carefully posed in order to get the response you desire. 2) excedrin and sudafed 3) that raccoon that broke in and climbed the stairs to my bedroom to rifle through my bookcases last spring has written a tell-all book based on his life of crime. 4) dial "M" for something 5-6) christmas lights

row 4, miscellany rules! l-r: 1. low light blurry 2. epiphyllum bloom from a cutting 3) collage I made a month ago and hated, but now I like it. 4) detail from same 5-6) blotter on my desk (upside down)

row 5, l-r: 1) same question asking rules apply to online 8-balls 2) in honor of one of my favorite cheerfully sleazy christmas songs, "Santa Claus is Back In Town." 3 -4) card supplies 5) just as the sun was rising Sunday morning and the crescent moon was still visible. 6) there was supposed to be a squirrel in this picture, but it chose not to be photographed.

row 6, in pursuit of hipster crafts l-r: went to the doug fir lounge for the monthly Crafty Wonderland event. I didn't find anything to buy (hipster crafts = very crowded, lots of wallets for sale), but I did see 1) this amazing Galaxie 500 in beautiful turquoise 2) wheel detail from same 3) chalkboard doors at the jupiter hotel 4) blue door 5) my black manicure (so impractical since I use my hands so much, but I can't keep away from it) 6) This poem print out is from home. I find it very cheering. yes, yes, yes.

rain, rain, go away

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Thursday, December 14, 2006
I love this lamp

It is raining. A lot. Not the gentle, almost ignorable rain that makes up much of the Oregon winter, but windy, driving, relentlessly spirit-crushing water falling out of the sky. I've been so crabby lately that if I give into it and start bitching, I fear I will never stop, so further consideration of the weather and a list of christmas songs/commercials (Ross! Kay Jewelers!) that trigger my robot rage are Right Out. (for today -- next sunny day those tennis bracelet peddlers get a piece of my mind!)

here are some of my recent bad weather/bad mood busters:

Fountain Pen: I have ink all over my fingers from addressing holiday cards. I have to say, I kind of dig it! I should start writing with a pen more often -- I hardly ever do, despite having a deep and abiding affection for office/school supplies. Maybe I can bring my handwriting back from the illegibility brink. (I said maybe!) I went to the PSU bookstore for the first time in forever and was reminded of what truly excellent and odd-ball supplies they have. (there was graph paper for... polar ice caps!! I almost fainted.)

Lunatic Quiz: Which historical lunatic are you? I am (apparently) Charles the Mad of France! Highlights include the following: Passing briefly into erratic genius, you believed yourself to be made of glass and demanded iron rods in your attire to prevent you breaking. It seems like a reasonable demand to me, if you truly believe yourself to be made of glass. History can be so unkind...

Christmas music: okay, this is sort of a trick category, because so many christmas songs have been the opposite of joyful spirit-lifting for me this season. For example, Heidi Klum singing a snippet of Santa Baby while dressed in some marabou santa thing for Victoria's Secret is one of the most joyless, dispiriting moments I've seen in a while -- despite having no inherent dislike for the song, marabou, sexy santa or Heidi Klum. I'm not going to make a huge long list all at once, but here are a couple of non-secular Christmas songs I like. These particular songs are ones that I had to sing in choir when I was a kid. I'm not a singer myself (choir was compulsory), but I love being in a room with lots of people singing.
O Holy Night -- I prefer softer, gentler versions of this song rather than the "see how long I can hold this note" versions. (sufjan vs. whitney) But what I like best is this line " a thrill of hope, the weary world (soul) rejoices." Hope is a delicate, ephemeral yet resilient mystery of the human psyche, but the pleasure I get here is from thinking of "a thrill" as a unit of measure. "I'll take a gallon of milk, a thrill of hope -- no, make that two thrills of hope and a pack of gum, please."
It Came Upon a Midnight Clear -- I know this is really old fashioned, but it has always been one of my favorites. I like the image of angels bending near the earth to touch their harps of gold (are they really stretchy or hovering or what?), but I particularly like the sentiment of "peace on the earth, good will toward men, all heaven and nature sing." It seems incredibly naive especially in the current global environment, but in these matters I'd rather be incredibly naive than the alternative. (I am clutching on to my thrill of hope with both hands.)

favorite Italian artist's name to say (today): Amadeo Modigliani. Come on! It's practically perfect in every way.

The Lost Room-- This mini-series ended last night, but Sci-Fi will be running a marathon of it this weekend. I liked it so much! It was not heavy on the mysterious atmospherics that I usually respond to in this kind of story (Twin Peaks, Carnivale Season 1, Lost (sometimes), Millennium), but its very premise is plenty mysterious and it has a refreshing zinginess. They established the world they were operating in pretty quickly, but still left room for surprises. Even more refreshingly, they did not assume everyone watching was an idiot. It was more puzzle oriented than I generally care about, but they made it work for me. I wouldn't be at all surprised if this ends up being a regular series.

A Dress A Day -- right now is a good time to be reading Dress a Day. (I think any time is a good time, but now is an especially good time.) Erin has been doing drabbles (100 word pieces) in the spirit of her Secret Lives of Dresses series. These are so fun! The reason she's doing it is fun too -- her readers have surpassed a charitable fundraising goal for Heifer International by more than 150%! But this post really made me smile today. Roller skating, digital camo, and the encouragement to do something that scares you a little bit, as it is often a "soul-enlarging activity."

I feel better already.

(but it is still raining.)

Sailing Alone Around the Room

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Monday, December 11, 2006
by Billy Collins #33

Oh, Billy Collins! Some authors are so potent I can't read more than one of their books in a short period of time -- I get burned out or bummed out. Everything I liked about the one book may be repeated in the second, retroactively sucking the joy out of the first one. So I wait a while, and it usually works out. I read my first Billy Collins collection not that long ago, but I thought maybe poetry would work differently than prose in my Not Too Close rule. I was right. If anything, I like him more now than I did then.

Why? He's conversational and witty without being obnoxious. He shares a lot of himself, but there's a lot held back, too, which makes me think he'd be really interesting conversational partner -- like he could surprise me with some crazy idea that I would then enjoy thinking about for days afterward. I like him. (I do not feel this way about every poet or author I admire.)

I've been trying to remember where I read my first Billy Collins poem, and I think the first may have been one someone linked to, in response to another poem on this blog. I know I was impressed enough with this dress poem, which showed up on Dressaday that I saved it into my journal. (it turns out he writes really well about clothes.)

Anyway, here is an excerpt that I had to include for it's Cherry Ames reference, since I read a lot of Cherry Ames (and even some Vicky Barr), back in the day. This bit is from the poem titled Canada

O Canada, as the anthem goes,
scene of my boyhood summers,
you are the pack of Sweet Caporals on the table,
you are the dove-soft train whistle in the night,
you are the empty chair at the end of an empty dock.
You are the shelves of books in a lakeside cottage:
Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh,
A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson,
Ann of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery,
So You're Going to Paris! by Clara E. Laughlin
and Peril over the Airport, one
of the Vicky Barr Flight Stewardess series
by Helen Wills whom some will remember
as the author of the Cherry Ames Nurse stories.

What has become of the langorous girls
who would pass the long limp summer evenings reading
Cherry Ames, Student Nurse, Cherry Ames, Senior Nurse,
Cherry Ames, Chief Nurse,
and Cherry Ames, Flight Nurse?
Where are they now, the ones who shared her adventures
as a veterans' nurse, private duty nurse, visiting nurse,
cruise nurse, night supervisor, mountaineer nurse,
dude ranch nurse (there is little she has not done),
rest home nurse, department store nurse,
boarding school nurse, and country doctor's nurse?
(end excerpt)

And then there is this poem, which is the last one in the collection. One of the things I like about Collins is his ability to be kind of meta about poetry or the act of reading or writing without being annoying. (I also think there is a little resonance here with blogging.)

The Flight of the Reader

You'd think we would have had enough
of one another
after all the rain streaming down these windows,
the walks out to the garden when it clears,
the same yellow and white flowers,
all the sleepless nights ---
the toy car going in circles on the bed table.

But still, you stay perched on my shoulder,
cricket or bluebird,
wild parrot digging your claws into my loud shirt.

Is it because I do not pester you
with the invisible gnats of meaning,
never release the whippets of anxiety from their crates,
or hold up my monstrous mirror,
a thing the size of a playing field?

Whatever makes you stay,
I hate to think of that morning
when I will wake up and find you gone,
heading toward the open sea,
dragging the cables that bound us together,
leaving me with nothing more to say.

But don't get me wrong.
It's not that I can't live without you,
cannot sit under an ordinary green tree
with no desire to reach for the pen in my pocket,
or lie contented on the couch all day,
one hand over my mouth.

It's not like I have a crush on you
and instead of writing my five-paragraph essay
I am sailing paper airplanes across the room at you---
it's not that I can't wait for the lunch bell
to see your face again.

It's not like that. Not exactly.

(Billy Collins)

friday never hesitates

| On
Friday, December 08, 2006
still mean it
(television aside: Am I crazy, or was The O.C. actually funny last night? I have hopes for it in a way I haven't for about a season and a half! Although the Very Special Dickens O.C. next week looks like it could be painful... What if Ryan never came to Newport?)

I go walking just about every day in the park near my house. One of the side effects is that I see a lot of the same people daily. There are two Very Odd men who are there most days -- one of them I like and say good morning to, and one of them gives me the creepy wiggins at 100 yards. Likable Weirdo is probably in his 60's, with a style I would best describe as "bedroom floor." His hair is mostly white and mostly standing on end except for where it's flat in the back. He walks three little teacup dogs on long, long expandable leashes and they are always twined around his legs or blocking the path. He often has 12oz cans of soda stuffed in the pockets of his sweatpants. I suspect he sleeps in a recliner with the television on.

The other guy, Creepy Weirdo, is always pressed and polished with creased trousers, a hat, and in this weather a trench coat. He wears overlarge glasses and has a Groucho mustache. It looks like he's wearing a disguise. For all I know he's the expatriate Swiss chief of a brain trust, but he gives me the heebie jeebies. He never speaks to me (hallelujah!) and will often cut across in a weird jagged pattern if anyone is walking toward him. Today, though he was walking in the same direction as me (usually he's going the opposite way) and just stopped in his tracks and let me walk past. So creepy! Not that people can't walk whatever way they want to, but... it was just weird. I know that he probably has some sort of social anxiety or something, but he just radiates off-ness to me. I'm sure he's perfectly fine, and mr. soda in his pockets probably has a shower curtain made from the pinkie fingers of his victims, but still...

and now, here are some songs from my ipod today:

Friday I'm in Love -- The Cure: some days I skip this when it comes up because I love the song and don't want to overplay, but I figure if you get a day of the week song on the right day of the week, you should listen.

Do You Want To -- Franz Ferdinand: I discovered this past week that I have an actual physical reaction to certain of franz ferdinand's songs. I stand up straigher, walk faster (if I am indeed walking), and narrow my eyes, but not in a mean way. There's something about it that makes me feel more confident and a little more aggressive. It's weird, but I'm sure explained by some science of sound. (I also realized that I look at my hands when I'm embarrassed or remember something that embarrasses me. I could understand it if I were trying to break eye contact, but why do I do it when I'm alone??)

Take Off Your Clothes -- Morningwood: okay, this song is RIDICULOUSLY raunchy and completely infectious. (but not in ways that require ointment or medication of any kind.) I think it's the handclaps that do me in.

Spring Released -- Grant Lee Philips: I have been skipping this song lately. I put it on so many mix cds a few years ago I think I got burned out on it. But today (because I was wearing gloves and it is a pain in the ass to take off my glove to skip a song -- my ipod rejects gloved commands!), I listened to it. I still like it very much, but think I may have to take it off this playlist for a while so when I do hear it again I am 100% hooray about it. Actually, I should probably take about 40 songs off of this playlist and freshen it up.

Sinking Game -- Marit Larsen: I'm still liking this song! Spoons and singing saw and banjo and all.

spoon full of sugar

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Thursday, December 07, 2006
Here are some lovely things that I've found here and there.

quote: (the quotes are in here, I promise.) I had to return the Mark Romanek Director's Series DVD to the library yesterday. I didn't get through the whole DVD (I watched Devil's Haircut and Perfect Drug more than once, I'll admit), but I had a quick read through the booklet before I took it back. The book is comprised of photos by Romanek and an interview between him and Spike Jonze. (note to self: see if the library has the Jonze video collection.) ANYWAY, there were a couple of quotes that really stood out for me. This first quote is not a new concept, but it's a good reminder: "Perfect is not always the set thing. Perfect isn't always good."

But what really jumped out at me -- I mean jumped out of the bushes and knocked me over -- was this: "And that phrase, 'More daring and more sincere,' hit me like a ton of bricks. It really struck me as the best definition of what makes something good that I'd ever heard."

Me too, Mark Romanek! (The context of this quote was his response to a Stanley Kubrick interview where Kubrick gave suggestions on how to improve the film industry. Kubrick's quote was "And I feel like these are some of the ways that filmmakers can make films that are both more daring and more sincere." )

Daring and Sincere! Sincere doesn't have to mean mawkish. Daring doesn't have to mean shocking. These words make me think more in terms of dangerously or fearlessly truthful. That's something I always respond to in any kind of art, even if it is about a subject that would seem to be of no relevance to me. If it is truly daring and sincere, it strikes that skin-tingling chord of recognition, no matter what the topic.

goodwill finds: Last week I was browsing the book department of the main Portland Goodwill, and found that someone had recently donated a several books on Hollywood musicals! For less than 10 dollars I got one HUGE hard-bound photo book on musicals and one soft-bound book of the same. They each had a few pictures cut out (from the small one, pictures from A Hard Day's Night, from the large one pictures from Hair), but even so there are SO MANY amazing photographs it was certainly worth it. Plus, since they are already a little beat up, I will feel less guilty abusing them for scanning purposes. (photos are of Busby the musical director and Busby the cat. One of them lives at my house.) You can finish making the bed when I finish what I'm doing

early xmas gift: Keri Smith has some fun pdf's to print out and make your very own Artist's Survival Kit. Make one for yourself, and one for a friend!

blog posts on writing: This one is a list (!!!) of "10 Things I Know About Writing" from Powell's blog guest blogger Janice Cooke Newman. (The Powell's blog in general is great fun if you like books at all, I promise.) This Writing Time post resonates with the "more daring and more sincere" philosophy. (the Writing Time blog in general is encouraging and compassionate without being boring or condescending. I know this sounds like what every writing blog should be like, but trust me, they're not!) Here's an Atlantic article from this summer on writing, featuring Francine Prose "and others," that is also worth checking out.

best name in my spam folder today: epic him. It makes me laugh.

movie trailer remix: Okay, I know this has been a lot of places, but I had to put it here since I was just talking about musicals. It's a Mary Poppins trailer remixed as a horror film. It made me laugh AND gave me the genuine creeps.

joy, or else

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006
the joy machine

This is the week on the internet when people post about what a bummer the holidays are, right? I don't want to miss out!! I am not feeling particularly joyous, but I figure I will reach some sort of peace with the season sooner or later. Television commercials make it difficult, but I suppose I could solve this by watching less tv. This joy machine picture DOES make me smile, so that's a start. In better news, the design for my christmas cards is finally coming together. Hooray!! Of course it was a rocky start...

I was working on cards Sunday with Leslie and Bec, and I began having Major Creative Issues. Usually, I work out what I want to do pretty quickly. I start with a simple idea, and then find ways to needlessly complicate* before I settle back down to something workable. This time, it was All Complications, All the Time. Actually, it wasn't complications, I just wasn't happy with anything, even if it was exactly what I had in mind. No matter what I did, it Was Not Right.

My sister started chanting (in her best Goldmember voice) that "there is just no pleasing you." which made me laugh in that "ha ha ha, oh god, what if she's right? What if I am never satisfied? Is this what it sounds like when doves cry?" way. (I should mention that we were listening to Prince, since it was too soon for christmas music.) Fortunately, Leslie stepped in with a color suggestion that turned everything around and I could abandon the rapidly growing fantasty of me living the rest of my life in a state of perpetual dissatisfaction. Phew!

In other news, I have moved some things around on the sidebar and added some new and excellent links. Martina tipped me off to, which I think will be a very handy way for me to keep track of when I finish reading things since it often takes me months to get them written up.

*(in fact my sister coined a new term for this state: to jennify. Which means "to complicate needlessly." example: "I have totally jennified this process by adding 15 unnecessarily tedious and/or difficult steps.")

And Now You Can Go

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Monday, December 04, 2006
by Vendela Vida #32

This book is one of those that has so much to offer it could be 100 things to 100 people. A book about surviving a violent crime? Okay. A book about the pleasures and dangers of living in New York, San Francisco, or (briefly) the Philippines? Uh huh. A book about families, friends, lovers and how they can love you and want to help, but still not get it and make things worse? Yeah, alright. A reminder that some things you have to do yourself? Indeed. A mystery? Yes. A delight to read, despite dealing with violent crime and missionary work? Definitely.

What spoke the most to me was how gracefully Vida handles the complex nature of forgiveness -- that it is at once a selfish and generous act. (whenever the topic of forgiveness comes up, it makes me think of the excellent Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode I Only Have Eyes For You, where Buffy is feeling understandably betrayed by Evil Angel and taking it out on the MoTW ghost by saying he doesn't deserve the forgiveness he seeks. Giles tells her "To forgive is an act of compassion, Buffy. It's not done because people deserve it. It's done because they need it," which always struck me as being one of those lessons that once learned makes life so much better.)

Anyway... Vendela Vida was the one participant of the Sassy Stories panel I saw at Wordstock who did not trip my irritation mechanism, so I was most pleased to see that it was no fluke. My mechanism is calibrated correctly! The book is really good, but if that weren't reason enough, how about because her name is so delightful to say? Vendela Vida, Vendela Vida... try it a few times and you'll see what I mean! (is that creepy? I don't mean to be creepy. Maybe you should just get the book and say the name quietly to yourself...)

baby, it's cold outside

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006
weather: Okay, I know that it's not officially winter for another month, but man is it COLD. And our first bout of freezing rain is on the way. I guess it's good to get it over with, but I have to say I am not a fan. Snow is great, I don't even mind hail, plain old rain is to be expected, but freezing rain is a bastard!

TV: Gilmore Girls -- ARGH! it's like a grotesque reflection of its former self. Even Emily and Richard didn't help. Paris and Doyle didn't help. Marty??? Luke? Mandate?? What the hell?

Veronica Mars: Oh, Veronica. I like this show a lot, but I found the mystery this time around to be very unsatisfying and the "frats" and "feminists" were really getting up my nose with their stereotypical assholery and stridency. Veronica as a character remains complicated and fantastic, however. I wish Mac had been on more.

quote: "you're acting like your own Wicked Stepmother." Said to me yesterday by the career counselor I saw in October, who is now helping me get my shit together for grad school. It was one of those things that I knew vaguely in the back of my head, but hadn't articulated. (this came up in the context of "are you making sure that you're still doing creative things? because that's really important for you to do." to which I replied "yeah, except sometimes I don't let myself because I know I should be doing all this other stuff.")

the golden feather of truth

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Monday, November 27, 2006
Last wednesday I went to see the Quest for Immortality Egyptian exhibit at the Portland Art Museum with Blondie. I wasn't going to go because I thought the whole thing was a blockbuster art-show shakedown. If I'm a member, I shouldn't have to pay again, etc. etc. But... she had an extra ticket and I do love me some ancient egyptians, so as you might imagine my principled stand evaporated almost instantly. The exhibit was quite nice, if crowded. I'm not sure that it is worth the non-member price of twenty bucks, though. But maybe I'm demanding a lot of twenty dollars.

One of the highlights for me was learning more about the goddess Ma'at, who rules over truth, justice and balance. I wasn't very familiar with her, but they had several very fine representations (including the one pictured here) and I became enchanted with her golden feather of truth. Ma'at administered the test you desperately needed to pass if you intended to get anywhere in the Egyptian afterlife. All internal organs were removed except for the heart, which was left in the body to be weighed against the feather of truth. If your heart was heavy (with evil deeds, for example) you were SOL.

Speaking of organ removal, I learned how they fit the big old liver into one of those smallish canopic jars -- think beef jerky/fruit roll-up -- they let it dry out a bit and then rolled it up and shoved it in! I also found it interesting that while the heart was left in the body (for feather measuring), the brain was yanked out through the nose and thrown away. Some days when my brain is giving me trouble, this seems like the only sensible approach.

Another highlight was the Tomb Room. (I think it had a different name, but I don't remember what it was. The Tomb Room would make a great theme bar!) They have recreated the tomb of Thutmose III, which was very cool and dark with paintings on all the walls floor to ceiling. I particularly liked the gold outlined stars on the ceiling. As we moved from room to room throughout the exhibit, there was a little boy and his dad right in front of me. That little boy wanted no part of the tomb room. It was much darker than the previous exhibit space, and he took about 3 steps in, then stopped dead in his tracks and demanded of his father "is this an elevator?" and refused to go any further. I'm not sure how he got through it, since I became distracted when Jeremy Irons started talking in my ear (no, I was not having auditory hallucinations, he was the narrator of the audio guide). The room was decorated entirely with illustrations about Ra's journey through the underworld each night from the Egyptian Book of the Dead. (Speaking of the EBotD, this was a book that gave me nightmares from grades 2-4. When I was that age we lived in a really small house. So small, that my dad kept a lot of his books on ancient egypt in the closet of the bedroom I shared with my sister, including the sinister sounding Book of the Dead. Much like Joey having to put Little Women in the freezer on Friends, I had to put a blanket over it so the Ancient Dead Egyptian Magic wouldn't do god knows what to me while I slept. Which reminds me of a similar story about Dad overestimating a 5 year old's readiness to watch Bela Lugosi's Dracula, and how I saw vampires in the wood grain of my bedroom door for a week of sleepless nights afterward. But I digress...)

The exhibit was great, and this is the only west-coast stop. I wouldn't say it is the finest egyptian exhibit I've been to, but the Tomb Room was unlike anything I'd seen before and gave a really great three dimensional sense of what things would look like, instead of just seeing them flat under some glass. They had some really fine representations of Osiris, too. I wish it weren't so expensive -- I can't help but think this is the sort of thing people should be able to see as easily as possible and not just if you have twenties falling out of your pocket or are fortunate enough to have a friend with an extra ticket. I know the cost of mounting these exhibitions is prohibitive, but... well, I don't know. There should be a better way.

they're terrific!

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Saturday, November 25, 2006
they're terrific

Leftovers have ruined me!! I swear, I had this great idea for a blog post this morning when I was out walking, but once I got home and had a piece of pie (pecan) and some caffeine (diet coke), I became a jittery mess and all of my brilliant ideas departed. Yeah, I'm quite sure that's what happened... it was good pie, though.

Since that great idea is lost to me now (seriously, it was fantastic!), I will instead share with you some links that have brought me joy in the past few days:

I quite enjoy Meg Cabot's blog -- it's funny, she's generous with encouragement for young writers AND she totally loves her work and her fans. Particularly hilarious (at least to me) was this recent recreation of Tom and Katie's wedding with captioned photos and scientology vows. If you have made some crazy commitment to not laughing, do not follow that link. However, if you don't mind seeing Posh Spice's name taken in vain, do click!

This is THE BEST recap of everything that has gone horribly, hideously wrong with the Gilmore Girls this season. Also with captioned photos -- I guess I'm in a captioned photos place today. (via fluxblog, which I enjoy reading daily.)

Poking around on Pitchfork I found the previously unknown to me GUEST LIST feature. I love lists! I particularly love this list by Colin Meloy of the Decemberists, and not just because he gives a shout out to Snood and to the Blur record I probably listen to most.

I love reading Jane Espenson's blog. That she was one of my favorite Buffy writers is what got me to her blog in the first place. What keeps me coming back, though, is that she's funny, generous, encouraging and SO KIND to her audience without ever being condescending. The emphasis is on writing spec scripts for television, but a lot of her advice is applicable to any kind of writing. A recent link from her blog led me to this post over at Bootstrap Productions. It is also kind, funny, encouraging and well worth reading.

In short, I love the internet!

unrelated side note on the perfidy of Macy's department store: Macy's is trying to kill me. Or, allowing that perhaps they do not have their entire advertising department devoted to constructing ads based solely on that which I despise, I am just unlucky. A shitty Beatles cover selling department store jewelry? TORTURE. [my thoughts on Beatles songs in advertising and the objectionable quality and philosophy of mall jewelry may appear at a future date.]

ask me another

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Tuesday, November 21, 2006
I was organizing a bookshelf and found a fun book my mother gave me as a gift a few years ago. It's called Ask Me Another: The Question Book and is made up entirely of general knowledge quizzes. The best part is that it was published in 1927! It's like old school Jeopardy and trivial pursuit, but without buzzers, dice or questions about Melrose Place. What was common knowledge then may not be of any relevance today, but it's still interesting to see what WAS general knowledge 80 years ago.

Here's a bit from the author's forward (why aren't forwards this fun anymore?): "The sole purpose of this book is to provide entertainment by giving an opportunity to test one's knowledge in competition with others. Most of us take our mental equipment rather for granted. Usually our friends have somewhat the same range of interests as ourselves, and, in the ordinary course of events, no chance occurs to find out how broad our knowledge really is. Here, one can match up against worthy competition and experience the thrill which comes of improving one's score by finally dragging forth a reluctant and protesting bit of information from some deep recess of the mind where it has lain hidden until a frantic search at last reveals its hiding-place."

... and so on. There are over fifty general quizzes (each consisting of 50 questions), plus some specialty subject quizzes and a "super quiz" in the back. Scores of various famous personages are put at the top of each quiz so you can see how you measure up, I suppose. In General Quiz Number Three, Dorothy Parker beat the socks off of Davis Cup winner William T. Tilden II!

For fun and possibly making yourself the scourge of the Thanksgiving table, here are some questions (chosen at random by me) from General Quizzes Number One and Two.

1. What style of writing did the early Babylonians use?
2. What is a centaur?
3. What product is advertised by the slogan: "Four out of five get it before they are forty"?
4. Who is the best known Indiana poet?
5. Who wrote The Legend of Sleepy Hollow?
6. What was the "Tweed Ring"?
7. What British music-hall comedian has since become most prominent in American moving pictures?
8. Who wrote Lorna Doone?
9. What is a paynim?
10. Who is generally credited with having introduced tobacco into Europe?
11. Name three well-known German composers whose last names begin with the letter "B."
12. Name the most commonly used make of tractor.
13. What is the longest river in Europe?
14. Who was Solon?
15. For whom was the month of August named?
16. What phantom ship may be seen off the Cape of Good Hope in stormy weather?
17. What is a bittern?
18. For what words to the initials "e.g." stand for?
19. What is the Latin derivation of the word Fascism?
20. What promontory near Spain belongs to England?

by the time you read this, I will have black fingernails

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Thursday, November 16, 2006
This Regina Spektor video is not only charming, but stylish. I heard the song for the first time this morning and I was immediately taken by it. She demonstrates here a sweet and light touch with for excavating and examining her own (or at least the protaganist of the song's) romantic impulses. Big emotions can be so consuming; fewer people than you'd think have got the talent to convert all of that into something not only approachable but still recognizable. It's no small gift. And it LOOKS really good, too!

The messages/questions I'm taking away from the video (because I guess I just can't watch it and be done with it) are:

your own head will drive you crazy. -- I knew this already, but I always like to have it confirmed from outside sources.

black nail polish on short nails looks cool! do it even though it will come off in a day. -- well, it turns out I didn't have black, so I'm sporting a really really dark wine color (Hollywood and Wine from OPI). I need to get some black and do it right.

I wonder if the whole album is good? -- I am still wondering this! I bet it is.

Is that guy a reformed mime, or is that the only black/white shirt they could find? -- this remains unanswered at this time.

I can't believe I forgot...

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006
This was meant for my TV post below, but I forgot! It is one in my continuing series (starting now) of Brilliant But Misunderstood Ideas.

Okay, here it is -- let's take two of the most irritating capital R Romantic couples in literature, and make them live in a house together for a yet to be determined amount of time. First, we have that fun-loving well-balanced pair, Cathy and Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights. Excellent already, right? I mean, nobody will have to prompt them to chew the scenery. THEN, because you know they'd all get along like a house on fire (and maybe actually SET the house on fire), we add those wacky star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet from, well, Romeo and Juliet.

There would be some awkwardness at first, of course, as they meet and settle into their Ikea decorated MTV-style house. The usual tussles over who gets which room, on-screen arguments with the producers over how often Romeo's posse can come over and the problems with the hounds that Heathcliff brought. They can't just chew the furniture like that, you know? What do you mean, you don't know what housebroken means? Drama, drama!

Within the first 72 hours, perhaps over a disagreement about the coffee maker or who loves the most ardently, Heathcliff accidentally smothers Romeo with the brace of dead puppies that he brought from home, ("I only meant to silence the boy..." brood, brood, brood; yeah, yeah, yeah.) Cathy clutches the bodice of her white lawn nightgown before running wild-eyed around the property in proper gothic-lady-in-distress mode. Some lightning would be good. Maybe the house should be in the middle of a lightning farm. Yeah! Juliet drags Romeo outside to mourn his loss where the light is better and gets struck by lightning. She is instantly killed, but Romeo is revived. Heathcliff comes outside to brood or walk the dog or something, Romeo sees him and falls down dead again. Heathcliff shrugs and searches for Cathy. Maybe some wordless crying out to signal his Inner Pain. He finally finds her standing on the edge of a dramatic cliff (the edge of a volcano is just too much, isn't it? what about a dramatic cliff hundreds of yards above a murky lagoon filled with binding weeds and ravenous underwater creatures?), and they are both killed by pianos dropping out of the sky. Really heavy pianos.

the end.

filling in a ticket in her little white book

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Tuesday, November 14, 2006
1. the gingko leaves are impossibly beautiful, yellow, and all over the ground right now.
2. My hair is long enough to pull into a ponytail again, and it's making me insane. I guess I should be glad it's not growing inward, like the Tick's evil mustache. Arthur, my mustache is touching my brain!
3. I am no longer sick, but wellness brought my insomnia back. Or maybe it's just no nyquil that brought my insomnia back. This is something I must ponder further.
4. it's possible I ponder too much.
5. If someone were to try to determine the kinds of jobs Americans hold by watching TV, they would determine that we are a nation of crime scene investigators, cops, lawyers, and doctors. Nobody does anything else! Well, there are two (network) shows I can think of that feature writers, but in one of them the writing is secondary to finding a hairdresser in Alaska. I realize the reason for this -- those other professions provide easy episodic adventures... I mean, there's always someone doin' crimes that provide the bodies that need to be crime scene investigated, and if they're not dead they get to go see a doctor, and then they can sue...
All of which brings me to...

Some Things I've Been Watching, Lately

Carnivale season 2: got this from the library. I liked season one for its dust-bowl atmospherics and magical ambiguity. The lack of a strong narrative thread didn't really bother me; I liked being introduced to the different people that made up the Carnivale, I liked the sort of Twin-Peaksian weirdo meandering mysteriousness of it all. However, as much as I want Clancy Brown to be my personal Read To Me slave (his voice!), I found his storyline somewhat tedious. I get it, he's EVIL, but wears priestly garb. No, really, stop beating that hooker and giving lascivious looks to your sister... I GET IT. No more visions of blood, I beg you! You really are evil!

The show was slow-paced, but that was okay. Season two... well, the whole first episode was spent explaining who was good (Ben Hawkins) and who was Evil (not you, Brother Justin! I never would have guessed) -- because apparently watching Ben Hawkins heal a little girl so she could walk and watching Brother Justin mind control a pedophile weren't clues enough! They took away all the ambiguity, there's nothing going on, and four episodes in I find myself really hard pressed to care. This may go back to the library before Brother Justin finishes getting his EVIL TATTOO (because he's just not evil enough without it, I guess). Deadwood's got it all over this show -- it has the atmosphere (no implied magic, though) AND a freaking STORY! (and a lot of grey areas, which are always interesting.)

Bringing Up Baby: I've seen this many times but it's getting to be winter and I was lacking Vitamin Cary Grant, which this has in abundance. (If you like screwball comedies and haven't seen this, you should correct that RIGHT NOW. Seriously, this very instant.) I love this movie. My sister and I still do the "I was born on the side of a hill" lopsided my-heel-is-broken walk any time we're standing anywhere even slightly uneven. I thought my heart was full of maximum love for Bringing Up Baby, that there was simply no room to love it more, but I was wrong! The day after I re-watched it, I listened to the DVD commentary with Peter Bogdanovich while I was working on a project. Not unlike the grinch, my heart grew three sizes with extra affection. He pointed out a lot of technical "that's all one shot!" type stuff, but it wasn't just that... maybe it was for the tidbit that when Cary Grant says "I don't like leopards." he really means it.
(disturbing side note: when googling for images, I came across a review that not only gave this movie a mere two stars, but also mentioned Freddie Prinze, Jr. The world has gone mad.)

Grey's Anatomy: What do you know? It's a hospital soap! My problem with this show is that I find the title character to be whiny with an over-large sense of entitlement and virtually no humanizing factors. "She makes bad decisions" is supposed to be the thing we all relate to, but I find wanting to shove her giant lollipop head through the drywall to be a barrier to caring at all about what happens to her. Of the core group of doctors we met in the first season (many of whom I initially responded to), right now I only like George, the insecure nerd doctor. (Other original doctors included: ambitious do-anything (but secretly soft) doctor, the pretty baking (but secretly smart) doctor, the asshole doctor (with occasional secret stabs of humanity, and I'm sure a big ol' pile of Secret Pain), the crusty attending with the heart of gold, and brilliant (but jazz playing) surgeon.) Of the current group, I like Dr. Addison Shepherd (the estranged wife of Meredith's Dr. McDreamy). Addison also makes bad choices, but I feel for her. Also making the cut is Dr. Torres (who is in love with the insecure nerd doctor and has a host of other issues and problems. I think I like her because she looks like she might carry out my fondest Meredith-through-a-plate-glass-window wishes.) I enjoy the show, but wouldn't fret if something happened and I couldn't watch.

Bones: Angel's on TV!! That's pretty much my summary of this show. Their attempts to sex up the workplace have been annoying, but not painfully so. For example, Hodges and Angela?? He was uptight super paranoid bug nerd scientist last year, and this year he's suddenly Mr. Smoove Lover Man? Other examples include new boss Cam, who is an ex-lover of Boothe's (Angel). Not only is she an ex-lover, she's an autopsy person so they can take now juicily take apart new dead bodies in addition to the old ones. Because there are just not enough dead bodies on television.

Gilmore Girls: I am so torn on this one! The rational part of my brain says that not every show was meant to go on for unlimited seasons and maybe they should have stopped after year five or so. On the other hand, I do still get pleasure from watching it, but I'm pretty sure that I'm letting my early fondness color what's currently going on. For just ONE of many examples, Lorelei is back with Christopher. I like this new Christopher, and am not opposed to them getting together out of some Luke loyalty or anything... but, well, he was a complete irresponsible asshole (with a heart of gold) before, and now he's perfect. (That Funny Face date would be hard to beat, for example.) Maybe it's not intentional, or maybe I'm reading it wrong, but the way things seem to be shaking out is that he is worthy of Lorelei only now that he has "people crushing money." This show never dealt with class issues in a really heavy handed way, but I appreciated how they would sort of angle toward them. (Class is one of the last big unspoken issues in America today, IMO.) That Lorelei left an elite background and made her own life was a big deal. Now it seems like she can't escape her upbringing. To the manor born, to the manor you shall return! (don't get me started on formerly interesting characters like Lane getting the shaft!)

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip: This show is problematic. I want to like it more than I do -- I like talky television and movies. A lot. Aaron Sorkin's Sports Night was one of the best half-hour series on television, and I don't remotely care for televised sports. The concept of this show is inherently interesting to me. How a live television broadcast goes together (I was a SNL fiend at one point in my life) should not be boring! And yet I feel about this show the same way I felt about the short-lived Love Monkey (which was set in the music business) -- it has so much potential, but spectacularly fails to live up to it. Is there no future for non-cop/lawyer/hospital shows?

The good parts: I love Matthew Perry in this role. He is not Chandler-y at all, and I think his romance with Harry is interesting, as is his friendship with Danny. I like that they have attempted to create a conservative Christian character who is not a complete nut job. I like the built-in tension and layers of Matt and Danny coming back to a show that they were forced out of years before. I like that they are not back entirely of their own free will. I like that we see the trickle-down pressure effect and the realities of having to serve 100 masters to just get the show on the air.

The main drawback is the endless speechifying. There are great huge monologues about the history of comedy, the folly of war, the arrogance of hollywood, the reverse-arrogance-that-is-just-as-arrogant of the rest of the country, Christians aren't really so bad, irrresponsible media, why can't we all just get along, etc... which are mostly well written and worth hearing, but they're dropped in like huge crates marked soap-box arriving by parachute -- you can see them coming from miles away and when they've landed there's a mess to clean up. Another thing: none of the sketches are funny. Don't show us the show, just show us how you get to the show! That being said, I will continue to watch until they cancel it, which seems somehow inevitable. They can release it on DVD with Love Monkey and do a special educational "What Went Wrong" audio track.

(this is in no way a complete list of my television habit)

Burlesque {and the New Bump-n-Grind}

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Sunday, November 12, 2006
by Michelle Baldwin #31

Here's another title from the backlog. I found this browsing in the library waaaay back in July. I wasn't looking for the burlesque section specifically (that's the 792's, stage productions for you dewey decimal fans) but was in the general 700's art section because occasionally some wonderful thing will leap out of the stacks at me.

What does the word Burlesque bring to mind? Feathers and spangles? Yeah. Tassel twirling? Certainly. The Simpsons episode Bart After Dark, where Bart breaks a window and ends up working the door in the Springfield Burlesque house? Yes! Gypsy Rose Lee? Of course! (a friend worked for Gypsy way back when, so I always look for Gypsy.) This book had no mention of the Simpsons, but the other areas are amply represented.

Baldwin gives a great overview of Burlesque and its place in entertainment -- both historical and modern -- from early British dance hall to the "Golden Age of Burlesque" during the 20s-30's to the modern revival. How can you not enjoy reading chapters that feature Sophie Tucker, Mae West, and the words "hoochy-kootchy"? Christina Aguilera could learn a thing or two about saucy but not too complicated double entendres from these early chapters.

One of the things that appeals to me about the idea of burlesque is the cheekiness factor. There is a sense of sexy fun which seems to be missing from most modern half-naked entertainment. Let's take music videos for example: there are often half-naked people, but they usually look dead-eyed and vacant as they grind their way through choreography designed to highlight enormously out of proportion fake breasts. On the other hand, tassel-twirling makes me laugh. It's so absurd, but strangely celebratory.

Speaking of big fake boobs, many modern burlesque troupes, while certainly more tattooed than their predecessors, take pride in having members who have not been surgically enhanced; i.e. no boob jobs! I think there's a whole generation of people growing up now who have no idea what natural breasts look like (or natural teeth, or non giant lips, or bumpy noses...). I just don't understand how something that looks like half a coconut forced under the skin is considered attractive, but I digress...

Many performers make their own costumes, design their own routines, make their own posters... so while yes, they are shaking what their mama gave them on stage, it is done with deliberation and specific intent by the artist herself. I guess this is why burlessque dancing doesn't seem demeaning to me, whereas music video hoochie dancing does. (I readily acknowledge that whether or not something seems demeaning to me really doesn't matter outside of my own head, since I am not the arbiter of these things.)

The early days of burlesque were all about comedy and sexiness combined. Comedians would come on between acts, not unlike a variety show (think the Muppet Show!) except with more spangles and exposed flesh. The natural outgrowth of this model brought the stars of the striptease like Gypsy Rose Lee, Lili St. Cyr, and Ann Corio. (I love this quote of Corio's opinion on what she saw as an unfortunate reliance on gimmicky props by other practitioners, "Corio felt that a good teaser had no need for gaudy props. 'A woman's greatest asset is a man's imagination.'" Which goes to show that it's the same as it ever was as far as how much is too much, I suppose.)

Lest you think the whole book is an historical overview, it's not. Baldwin spends a lot of time looking at the range and depth of the new burlesque -- from the old variety show model to acrobatics to the elegant "peelers" to song and dance cabaret to performance art, and so on. There is also time spent on exploring the difference between modern stripping and burlesque. (There are heated feelings and opinions about this, as you might imagine.) I particularly enjoyed reading the trade-specific vocabulary: peelers, teasers, baggy pants comics, tassel-twirlers. Also it's hard to beat the the names of the "classic burlesque stripteases such as the fan dance, champagne bath, birdcage and spider web." Like most language specific to a subculture that one is unfamiliar with, it all seems so exotic and evocative. If you have any interest at all in the subject, I think this is a very good book to start with.

These bottom two pictures don't have much to do with THIS book, but in the course of looking for photos to illustrate this post, I found these, which had to be included. Gypsy Rose Lee wrote a murder mystery called The G-String Murders (old paperback photo below). The picture I really love, though, is the one of her writing it. I know it's a publicity picture, but I adore the piles of paper all around her!

5 good things

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Thursday, November 09, 2006
My creation

I was going to make two lists, one good and one bad, but I'm still in a pretty good mood post-election, so I will accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative, at least for this post.

the Huzzahs:

1) The Senate, the House and no more Rumsfeld. This is several orders of magnitude better than anything else on the list, and that's the truth.

2) I finally added some things to my brand new etsy shop! I had these crazy stamped/colored domino magnets hanging around and wanted to make more, (because they are FUN), but didn't really feel like I could with two boxes full of mostly finished ones taking up space. Anyway. I'll be putting a link on the sidebar and adding more things soon.

3) it did not rain most of the day.

4) I remembered that I have Nyquil and will be taking it right after I eat. Sweet fake minty medicated oblivion! (but only after food. Feed a cold, right?)

5) the library levy passed! Hooray! Multnomah county has the busiest library system in the country, yet they still have time to be wonderful.

election day!

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Tuesday, November 07, 2006
Except I voted yesterday. I realize that there are lots of good and convenient reasons for Vote by Mail (or in my case, Vote by Dropping off Ballot at Library), but I miss voting in a polling place. I felt like I was participating instead of doing paperwork. Oh, well. At least we don't have those infernal Diebold machines!

So, in the spirit of democracy (or something), here's another video! This one is for the Decemberists' song 16 Military Wives, which amuses me for many reasons, including the following: Colin Meloy is practically MADE OF HAM, he's so hammy in this (I especially like the evil hand-rubbing and the palpable aura of arrogant assholery), the captions, it looks like the Model UN debate scene from Rushmore (not an accident, I'm certain), academy students in their 30's, "let's put on a show!", and that it was filmed right here in sunny old Portland -- the outdoor scenes are an accurate representation of what it looks like from about dec. 15 through march. (maybe the secret to enjoying the rainy season is to dress like you're in a Wes Anderson movie.)

This video was made early last year or late the year before. (around the time of "freedom fries" and people honestly believing they would find WMDs in Iraq -- I never believed it, most people who will read this never believed it... and YET.) Anyway, I do believe this video has continued relevance to our situation, since we still seem to be the asshole bullies of the world. There is hope! We can leave GWB alone in the hallway buried to his neck in election returns! (granted, it would be easier if more states had paper ballots...) I know these are only midterm elections, but it's what we've got to work with.

(I promise, no more videos this week. This one is best if you hit play, then pause and let it load all the way before starting it.)

god knows (you gotta give to get)

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Sunday, November 05, 2006

This video is charming, as is the whole El Perro del Mar album!

Bonus: since it is animated, the normal issues with jumpy youtube syncing do not apply.

In less charming news, I think I have a sore throat. I mean, I know I have a sore throat, but after a day of hoping it was just some flukey sinus thing that would go away, I have pretty much resigned myself to drinking lots of fluids, taking lots of sore throat drugs, and going to bed early and REALLY HOPING it will go away.

beep beep, beep beep, yeah!

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Friday, November 03, 2006
one of my favorite trees
about trees:
This tree is one of my favorites at the park. (other people have favorite trees, right?) This photo was taken about 2 days after the leaves were in Peak Marvelous Color because.. (vain confession) I don't take my camera unless I'm wearing a jacket since it looks really stupid and lumpy shoved in the pocket of my pants. Anyway, what my little camera did not capture was how lovely it looked with the leaves floating softly to the ground.

a note on the weather:
thanks to the time change, it now gets dark here around 5. Since it is also now The Time of Rain, it seems dark even sooner. This is so depressing but I must find ways to overcome it, or it's going to be a loooong winter.

something I'm gonna do:
set up an etsy shop. I've got all this stuff I've made sitting around getting dusty and keeping me from making more, so maybe I will unload it on the unsuspecting public! (this is something I've been considering for months. It would seem that I have a long idea incubation period, except on those rare giddy occasions when I don't.)

something for me to remember:
The GRE is not a black-hearted entity bent on the very destruction of my soul. It is merely a standardized test. (or IS it????)

scientific survey:
According to a scientific survey conducted today (with a witness -- that's what makes it science, baby), 2 out of 3 Magic 8 Balls say that I do NOT rely on the advice of the Magic 8 Ball too often. I guess one could say, "well, they would say that, wouldn't they?" but that a little paranoid, even for me. The holdout was the Lemony Snicket 8 Ball, which as you can imagine, is not too optimistic. Outlook Gloomy is typical, Depressingly True is good news.

this morning I was loading some songs I'd downloaded into iTunes, and found I had another Planningtorock song. Hooray! I recently went bananas for one of their songs (used it in my Spooky mix), so finding that I had another was a delicious surprise. I decided to go read up on the band and see what was what ... and lo and behold, the band is actually ONE WOMAN. I totally thought it was a dude! I'm usually good at figuring these things out, but to me it sounded like a guy singing up high in typical glam style -- but no! Anyway, it adds another layer of weirdly wonderful on top of what was already pretty weird and wonderful. According to the AMG, the moods for this band include: literate, playful, irreverent, freewheeling, theatrical, quirky, witty, sophisticated, dramatic, ironic, stylish and campy. If any of those sound good to you, you should check it out!

currently reading:
The Lives of the Muses by Francine Prose. Such an interesting angle on the complicated ways we humans go about things. Throw art and desire into the mix and all those complications go into an entangling machine and get even more complex. I still have 5.5 muses to go, so maybe everything gets tied up in a neat bow by the end. (I have my doubts, however...)

the OC:
Ryan is cage fighting! CAGE FIGHTING!! I know I am supposed to be sad about all his guilt and dead Marissa baggage, but the idea of Seth (SETH!) trying to talk him out of the cage and back to the pool house just makes me laugh and laugh.

halloween hodgepodge

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Tuesday, October 31, 2006
I had vague but ambitious plans for my halloween post. Last year it was The Raven, but that was last year and I don't quite feel up to the tintinabulation of The Bells. (despite the gush of euphony that so voluminously wells, which is normally something I find irresistible.)

Then I thought I could do an Edward Gorey post, but that sort of fell apart when I couldn't get the scanner to do what I wanted it to do, nor could I find the specific images I wanted. (I did find this image online, which isn't particularly creepy or scary but I do think it captures the essence of his oddness. I looked up the word Armoracia, because it seems like it might somehow be related to amour which makes sense since the young lady seems discombobulated in a manner not unfitting to that condition, but it turns out that armoracia is HORSERADISH, which just makes me love this picture even more.) At any rate, even though this does not feature Basil being eaten by bears or similar, it has the moody sky and straight-faced sturdy weirdness that I appreciate so much about his work.

I'll be keeping the Gorey post in mind for the future, but it's not going to happen today. (although in my brief research, I did find links here and here for free Gorey fonts.)

After Gorey didn't pan out, I remembered this really cute picture I have of myself at age 4 in a witch costume, which would be an acceptable holiday post. However I can't find it, so we're all spared that little trip down memory lane (for now -- when I find it, look out).

But these few random bits aren't enough to qualify for a true hodgepodge, so let's consider Karen Elizabeth Gordon. She is the author of the most fun/halloween appropriate grammar book ever written. It is called The Deluxe Transitive Vampire: A Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager and the Doomed. It is entertaining in addition to helpful. Who can resist a reference book that states the following in its introduction? "This is a dangerous game I'm playing, smuggling the injunctions of grammar into your cognizance through a melange of revolving lunatics kidnapped into this book. Their stories are digressions toward understanding, a pantomime of raucous intentions in the linguistic labyrinth. By following them through this rough and twisting terrain you will be beguiled into compliance with the rules, however confounding those rules may appear to be. Learning is less a curse than a distraction."

Revolving lunatics!? I'm there!

She has also written Torn Wings and Faux Pas: A Flashbook of Style, a Beastly Guide Through the Writer's Labyrinth and The Disheveled Dictionary: A Curious Caper Through Our Sumptuous Lexicon among other helpful guides. I'm not going to lie -- if you want straight- ahead-devoid-of-whimsy advice, Strunk & White's The Elements of Style is probably the way to go. If you feel that your usage needs are better met by lovelorn robot or gargoyle examples, do please consider Karen Elizabeth Gordon. Or better yet, have both.

What kitchen sink halloween post would be complete without a picture of Jack Skellington?

The Givenchy Code

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Sunday, October 29, 2006
by Julie Kenner #30

This is a fun book, but I feel like I need to qualify the fun. This makes me wonder if the reader feels the need to qualify, is it really fun? The answer in this instance is yes. After all, there are many kinds of fun, and one of them is that dizzy feeling caused by frequent eye-rolling and rapid page turning.

Let's start with the cover -- for a chick lit book (and oh, how I loathe that term, but it is what it is) this is fantastic. No cartoons! No shopping bags! A cool torn-paper effect with just some made-up eyes to indicate the chapters spent on grooming within. Best of all is the acid green color with binary code superimposed over everything. It calls out to my childhood girl-spy fantasies, I suppose. Anyway, somebody in the marketing department did a really great job.

On the cover there is also the promise that "Cryptography is the new black." IF ONLY, is what I say. Here's where the eye-rolling begins. This story is a mess, but maybe "mess" is too strong. Hideously compressed is probably more fair. The gist, and I don't think I'm giving anything away here, is that our heroine, Mel Prescott, gets sucked into a real life version of an online game called PSW (for Play. Survive. Win.) in which (through some vague hand-waving) there is an assassin out to kill her, a dude sent to protect her, and a bunch of clues that she must solve in a timely manner... or DIE. (Do you suppose the guy sent to protect her is a tortured but handsome noble ex-marine of few words, but much sexy action? You suppose correctly.)

Anyway, Mel is a smarty pants with an interest in cryptography (which is cool -- I actually wish they'd spent more time on code stuff) who is also a brand-snob shopping addict who works a million jobs to support her 5th Avenue habit. This second aspect became tiresome. Not because I'm anti-shopping, or anti-girlie stuff at all, but because... well, because it seemed cribbed from the fall-fashion issue of Vogue and Sex and the City then stapled with the edges crooked to her smarts in order to approximate depth. It was "blah blah Brand Name, blah blah I LOVE SHOES, blah blah, enigma machine."

Speaking of the city... this novel takes place in New York and features the most superficial rendering of the city I've read in a while. There is no real sense of place, except for things that could be copied out of a not particularly inspired guide book. (Look, it's the Statue of Liberty, it's Grand Central Station, it's the Plaza Hotel, it's St. Patrick's Cathedral, it's... Madison Avenue.) Actually, this reminds me in some ways of a movie novelization! I think the story wouldn't seem so thin if there was more time spent on grounding the ridiculous plot in a real setting, which I think could be done visually. Anyway, this reads like an awful lot of bitching for something I did enjoy. It is just about the perfect bathtub book, and I mean that as a sincere compliment. (it's not too heavy, it stays open, the paper is the kind that dries really fast if your fingers are wet, the chapters are really short if you decide to take a nap, etc.)

obligatory nanowrimo post

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Friday, October 27, 2006
To nano or not to nano... After giving it some serious thought, I think this year is a not to nano year for me. One reason is that I really REALLY need to be working on my applications for school and studying for the GRE. (Although I have half-convinced myself that library school is a foolish pursuit as well. Maybe I just need to embrace my foolish pursuits instead of fighting them all the time.) Another reason is more directly related to writing. The first year I participated in nano I didn't know if 50,000 words in 30 days was something I could do. I'd never written 50,000 words on a single project before in my LIFE, but I wanted to try. And I did it! It was a complete shock and rush to me that I did it, but I did.

I never finished the story (I did sketch out the ending), but I met the word requirement and the deadline. There are great chunks of it that I cringe to remember, but there are parts that aren't so bad. The important thing to me was that I finished that year and also for the next two years. Now I have three of these mutant creatures sitting on my hard drive, which is fine... but I haven't given them a lot of thought or started anything else either. Where is my drive? Where is my ambition? In my (feeble) defense, I have been blogging consistently (I did say it was feeble!) and I also write in a journal almost every day, but that doesn't really count. (To me, for me -- I'm making no statements or judgments about anyone else's writing habits or motivations.)

The whole idea of writing is fraught for me. (I'm such a delicate flower...) I've been writing in one form or another my whole life, but always as a lark or with the caveat that I'm just fooling around, because if I really tried, it may become apparent that I suck. I know this is a familiar song to a lot of people: if I don't try very hard, I can conveniently avoid discovering whether or not I could be any good if I did. Of course this notion that trying is all it takes to find out one way or another doesn't hold up against something ELSE I truly believe, which is natural ability or affinity will only get you so far -- what gets you the rest of the way is a lot of hard work and dedication to improving your skills. This is but one of many contradictory thought processes constantly running here in the Brain of Jen.

One of the things that keeps echoing in my skull is Neil Gaiman's writing advice. He gets asked a lot about what to do if one wants to be a writer, and his advice is the most simple and of course the most difficult to follow that I've ever read: "You write. You finish what you write." It doesn't really get more direct than that, does it? So, I have these three nano creations which I have varying amounts of pride and fondness for, but I wouldn't say that any of them are finished, except in the sense that they are at least 50K words long and were written in 30 days. And that's yet another reason why I won't be participating this year. I've proven to myself that it is physically and mentally possible for me to churn out the required number of words in the required number of days, but I haven't proven to myself that I have the tenacity to stick with something and freaking FINISH IT to the point where I could let someone read it without getting the vapors and needing a fainting couch. Nano can't help me with that. Maybe nothing can and I should just start shopping for the couch...

I do love the feeling of manic camaraderie that Nano engenders. Being involved in this insane venture with thousands of other people at the same time is a lot of fun and I may return to it next year, but this year I think I'm going to sit it out. In the meantime, though, here (for the first time ever in public) is some information about my three languishing efforts:

With all three, I took the advice of nano founder Chris Baty and chose a genre which I not only enjoyed reading, but had read widely. My three projects all fall into the category I would call "romantic adventure." Early stand-alone Elizabeth Peters novels are old favorites of mine, and I thought that it would be a style suited to my interests and temperament. (I barely have the patience to READ a detailed police procedural, for example, let alone perpetrate one. On the other hand, hunting for some crazy treasure while being chased by some crazy people in the company of a mysteriously attractive yet also crazy person? That's more like it!)

2003: I had such fun with this, but also made so many classic beginner mistakes! It's first person, which isn't a mistake (it's common for the genre) but I was twisting myself into pretzel-like contortions to make it clear that the heroine was not me! I see now, of course, that you can give as many contrary descriptors as you like, but it doesn't matter. They're all me -- even the whackaloons. (first person to say "what do you mean, "even" the whackaloons?" will be the recipient of some jen-delivered physical violence.) I also gave my two main characters names that sound too similar. So confusing!

I think this story has my favorite characters by far, and I still find the adventure I devised for them to be very fun and full of promise -- but I could NOT work out what made the two main characters click with each other -- without that the rest doesn't really matter. This is the story I have spent the most time on, to date. I went through at least one major revision, but it seemed like every time I tried to take on the main problem I just made it worse. Maybe enough time has passed that I'd be able to take a fresh look at it, but it's also possible that I'll never be able to work it out.

2004: When I finished this, I was convinced it was THE WORST piece of writing I had ever done in my life. I thought it was lost when I replaced my hard drive (since it was so terrible, I had made no permanent backup or even a print out), and I wasn't even that fussed about it. I was able to recover it and made myself read it through my fingers -- I now think it is actually the BEST of the three nano stories I've done. I'm not sure why I think that, since I don't like the characters as much and the story itself has major problems... but there's something there that draws me back to it. I think part of it is the locale (I set it in portland's old town/china town section which sits on top of a series of underground passages) and... well, even with all of the problems (there are MANY), I think it could be a lot of fun. This would probably be the easiest one for me to go back and work on since I was much less emotionally invested than in the first one. (this was the nano year that I started this blog!)

2005: I really like the IDEA of this story, but ultimately I don't think it maps as well onto the stand-alone romantic adventure template. This poor girl would need a series! I introduced a really complicated element (why? WHY???), and 30 days wasn't long enough for me to work out the kinks. I think this one also has potential to be fixed and interesting, but I'm least invested in this story. (Of course, I also haven't looked at it once since I finished it, so maybe it's not as bad as I remember.)

Anyway, there you have it. My nano career in vague, non-disclosing terms. Just writing this up has helped to clarify some of my ambivalence, which is something, I suppose.

edit: I have edited this post so many times (to clarify and de-stupidify as much as possible) that I could probably spend all of November just tweaking this! Post in haste, repent in leisure!