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five songs for friday

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Friday, March 30, 2007

Some of the songs that have been keeping me company this week:

Fell In Love With A Girl -- The White Stripes: I did hear this today, but I'm listing it mostly to have an excuse to watch the lego video again! (see above.) "I said I must be fine because my heart's still beating." I love this song, and it's been long enough that it doesn't feel overplayed to me anymore. "I said it once before but it bears repeating."

Let's Take a Walk Around The Block -- Ella Fitzgerald: "I'll sit on your lap/ all over the map" Ha! From the Harold Arlen Song Book, with delightfully clever lyrics by E.Y. Harburg and Ira Gershwin. It's basically big vacation plans for more financially flush times: "the future looks pleasant/ but at present, let's take a walk around the block." It's charming, cheeky and full of Let's Make the Most of Right Now fun. (although did people really used to throw old plates into the Grand Canyon??? I am horrified!)

You Know I'm No Good -- Amy Winehouse: Due to VH1/MTV scheduling, I saw this video about 4 times in the space of an hour, and I watched it every time. When I got back to my computer I saw that I had already downloaded it as a free single from iTunes. Woo! My god, her voice! (I know it sounds crazy, but I swear I hear a little Shirley Bassey around the "I"'s.) She sounds like a world-weary, slightly detached train conductor who knows that all her tracks run right off the cliff, but she goes full steam ahead anyway. (her train is powered by gin.) Passengers have been warned: "I cheated myself, like I knew I would/ I told you I was trouble, you know that I'm no good." I don't know if this counts as schadenfreude or what, but I find comfort here because my own problems suddenly feel less problematic; I am conducting a marzipan train off the side of a cupcake in comparison. (p.s. I love, love, love the horns!)

Chrissie Kiss The Corpse -- Of Montreal: So jaunty, so disturbed. I love the alliteration in the title, the general air of jolly mayhem and the narrative thread-- it's a little short story in less than three minutes. "Nobody in her family knows/ the vile hobby that she chose" ... except "chose" is actually "cho-hose" which makes me love it more, more, more! "Chrissie's such a pretty thing/ gentle as a scorpion's sting/ no one ever would suspect/ that her mind's gone really wrecked." Oh, Chrissie.

My Moon, My Man -- Feist: I got this from Fluxblog a few (six!) weeks ago, and I have listened to it aprox. one million times. I like it a lot. It has actually brokered the end of my grudge match with the full moon. (Shut up. Let those without irrational grudges against inanimate objects throw the first stone.) "Take it slow, take it easy on me/ shed some light, shed some light on me please" Pitchfork has a little video dealie (there are sparklers!) and a streaming version of the song.

pleasantly surprised

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Earlier this week I watched It's A Wonderful Life for the first time. I know!! Crazy, right? It has only been on television 20,000 times every December of my life, but I'd never managed to see more than a couple of minutes. Zuzu's petals might as well have been the capital city of Mars for all the sense it made to me, and that's the way I liked it.

However... it's one of those things so pervasive in American culture that I felt like I had seen it in some ways, and to judge it based on SNL sketches and a vague sense that when a bell rings an angel gets its wings hardly seemed fair. (See also: The Graduate (are you trying to seduce me?) and Citizen Kane (Rosebud!), both of which I've watched for the first time in recent years.) Plus, the DVD was sitting right there on the shelf at the library AND I had recently watched Arsenic and Old Lace, so I felt like I had a Frank Capra obligation/opportunity.

I was so pleasantly surprised! I know movies usually become classics for a reason, but there's always the sneaking snobby lowest common denominator suspicion that if everybody loves it so much can it really be very good? I think the answer for this film is yes, but with the caveat that it is HUGELY sentimental and has some interesting ideas about accepting one's lot in life that I don't necessarily agree with. (let's just say that in my version, George and Mary dump the kids off with his brother in Rochester for a few weeks and go on a freaking vacation.)

I was surprised that suicide was so openly discussed in the film. I know it must have been a huge problem after the war (not that George Bailey was in the war), but I still found it startling. Why? I don't know. Maybe because it's advertised as this great holiday feel-good classic but it's basically hours of "see how decent George Bailey is? let's screw with him some more!" like some kind of Christmas Carol/ Trials of Job hybrid. What saved it for me is that George wasn't a saint. He was crabby (then despondant) and KNEW he was getting the shaft but he kept on doing the decent thing. (the exception being Mary -- apart from the scene where his mother basically boots him out the door and says "don't come back until you're married" it seemed to me that being with her was not some forced economy or second choice on his part, which made me glad.)

Things that made me laugh:

+Pottersville (in the vision of Bedford Falls where Old Man Potter has had his way because George Bailey had never been born): it was all neon and gambling, dance halls, bars and more neon and god knows what else. Sinful! You can tell because of the NEON. (which appears quaint and benign when considered with 2007 eyeballs; "dime a dance" doesn't seem so lurid, but maybe any dance lacking the words pole or cage sounds harmless to me.)

+ Potter's fancy carriage that he rode around town in had a big HP on it, which made me think Harry Potter and I kept hoping he'd come out in a puff of smoke or wear some wizarding robes or say "take me to Hogwarts immediately" or SOMETHING.

+Bert and Ernie! The cop and the cabdriver!! Is this where the muppets got their names?

+The Fate Worse Than Death for Mary in the Georgeless version of the world was that she had become a.... spinster! (cue George wailing and rending his garments in horror upon hearing the news.) Spinster was reinforced by the visuals of a) working at a library, b) wearing glasses, and c) having giant catepiller eyebrows, because apparently you weren't allowed tweezers unless you had a MAN. (my eyes are rolling FOREVER AND EVER.)

And, like a sucker, I totally cried at the end! Normally I am flinty hearted and resist (and RESENT) blatant tugging at my heartstrings (despite being a total sap -- I overcompensate), but they pulled the Jen Cry Card and I had no power over my tear ducts. I have discovered that so far the only consistent cry-point for me is when help arrives from an unexpected quarter. (this is why the only time I cried at all in the whole L-O-N-G Lord of the Rings trilogy was when those crabby elves showed up to help at Helm's Deep. Then I cried again a half an hour later when the banished Rohirrim showed up with Gandalf.)

Anyway, It's a Wonderful Life was such a nice surprise. I always forget how much I like Jimmy Stewart. He was so great in The Philadelphia Story, The Shop Around the Corner, Rear Window and many others, I'm sure -- those are just the ones that popped into my head right now. It's another case of an actor or a movie being so ubiquitous and beloved that I take them for granted, which is something I'm trying to do less frequently.

For bonus fun and a 30 second IAWL recap, go watch animated bunny version at Angry Alien. It's 30 seconds of fabulous, is what it is.

itchy foot itch!

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Sunday, March 25, 2007
1. I was expecting an email from a friend, and found this from esteemed (by me, now) spammer Jacopo Henning instead. It is a thing of pure random beauty and I'm happy (this one time) that my spam filter missed it. An excerpt: "He is named Indefatigable and is the Area Commander. That is Floyd boom boomed out the Transport of Delight shuddered. Then began to roll Save the discussion. Explanations will be useful after we make sure Itchy foot, itchy foot, itchy foot itch!" Maybe he can find some relief for that itchy foot in the cornucopia of medication offered in the rest of his message, although if it changed his writing style I wouldn't risk it. I didn't even quote the part with the tuba and the pentagon! maybe he takes all those pills at once.

2. The hippies across the street have tied a pirate flag to the top of a sapling in their parking strip. They are not even remotely piratical. Nary a cutlass to be found between their teeth while they play hackeysack! I can only assume one of their numerous visitors did it. (I should note that the hippies keep to themselves, and for all I know it could be yo ho yo ho 24/7 inside or in the back yard.)

3. I am making a dress out of old curtains! I feel very Scarlet O'Hara, minus... well, everything except being female and making a dress out of curtains. I keep constructing things out of old window coverings, I know, but I've had some really great curtains. I am finally doing one of the Duro dresses of Dressaday fame.

Time for me to scamper off to the library to pull holds for the good people of Multnomah County. The days seem to be oddly themed -- one day it's all vampire erotica (well, not ALL, but a lot) and other days it's how to build a deck, negotiate landlord issues, unhappy fiction, or biographies... The work only requires a portion of my attention, so I'm free to string together these requests into little stories to amuse myself. (some days are more amusing than others!) It's fun, but it has been hell on my hold list. I am in an ongoing struggle to keep what I have checked out from the library under fifty items. More than that and they're impossible to keep up with.


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Thursday, March 22, 2007
Have you ever found yourself wanting to clarify something because you realize (belatedly, sitting straight up in bed in the middle of the night) that you sounded exactly like the kind of pretentious jackass you were decrying, but can't think of a way to do it that doesn't just compound the problem? So, you sit down and try to think of a way to fix it (after ambulating about with it rolling around your head like a dried bean in a box), but everything you come up with is completely cack-handed, flat-footed, and wrong-headed? This is where I find myself in regard to my Light Reading Rant. I still agree with my basic point, but why do I give a damn?

The answer is not flattering. All I can say for myself is that my ire was raised when I overheard a librarian saying (in reference to romance novels for a display) "I'm proud to say I've never read one... well, I've read Jane Eyre of course." The blanket prideful refutation with acknowledgment of one "legitimate" exception is a classic snob maneuver; but my own knee-jerk anti-snob reaction is no less ridiculous. The only (feeble) defense I can offer is that this was the same woman who, when I replied "very well" to her offhand "how are you" question, said "well aren't you the luckiest girl on earth to be so (voice drops) very well," which made me want to launch into a flying tackle and punch her in the head for an hour, just like in that lost chapter from Jane Eyre.

Which brings me to Meg Cabot! I like Meg. She's a funny and unabashed feminist who loves pop culture. She's also extremely prolific. I don't have any idea how many series she has going now, but there are MANY. Her books are usually funny and romantic to some degree because that's how she does things, but she's written YA, kid's books, historical romance, contemporary romance, mysteries, etc. She writes constantly, but still finds time to post regularly to her blog about her on again off again boycott of Gilmore Girls, the one-eyed cat that will only drink hot water out of bottle caps, her opinion of The Secret, book tours (she's in Europe right now), how tough it was to give up TAB, Britney Spears and much more. She's fun and I like reading her books in the tub. (this is a compliment where I'm from!)

Finding the right thing to read when I'm in a low mood can be tough -- it can't be too heavy because I'm not really able to give it my full attention, but it can't be so stupid it makes me angry, or so predictable that I go through the motions of reading but am actually just obsessing about My Problems while moving my eyes back and forth and occasionally turning pages. Cabot manages to strike a good balance for me -- she's fun without being mindless and rewarding without being work. I know the books that fill this particular niche will be different for every reader, and it may even change for me over time; but this winter I read (and was thankful for) a lot of Meg Cabot. Here are a few of them:

The Boy Next Door: This story is is told entirely in emails , except, of course, on those few occasions when the plot requires that we be in the HERE AND NOW. Gimmicky, but tolerable. Cabot has a lot of fun with the gulf between what the main characters say to each other, and what they say to their friends. ha ha. (no, really!) This book reminded me quite a bit of the Givenchy Code , which I read in August, except it (thankfully) didn't seem to take itself as seriously. Like the GC, it's also about a young modern professional woman named Mel (what's up with that?) who lives in New York. In GC Mel was a cryptographer working as dog-walker to afford designer gimcracks and geegaws (okay, SHOES, but how much more fun are gimcracks and geegaws? Infinitely more fun!) and in this book Mel writes a gossip/entertainment column for a New York Newspaper. Her attitude toward shoes seems less urgent. Boy Next Door has a lot of the things that are typical in romance novels: the misunderstanding that two minutes of direct communication would clear up, mistaken identity, cross-dressing serial killers (briefly), a chubby best friend planning a wedding, clueless out of town parents (in both this an the GC), wardrobe dilemmas, 50lb bags of dog food and an obsession with weather disasters... but all delivered with breezy Cabot charm. That said, of the three books in this post, this is probably my least favorite.

Size 14 is Not Fat Either: This is the second book in the Heather Wells trilogy. I read the first one a year ago, and do believe I enjoyed this one more. It probably helps that the world that Heather Wells operates in is more established -- she remains a former pop princess who is now older, wiser, and wearing bigger jeans. She still has her job at a New York College residence hall, she's still living platonically with (but pining for) her ex Justin Timberlake's, I mean Jordan Cartwright's older, hotter, private-eye brother Cooper, and she's still solving crimes. This book introduces us to her father who is fresh out of Club Fed, her friendly neighborhood drug dealer and her new boss. I'm sorry to hear that this is going to be only a trilogy. I think Heather Wells could have some staying power and it will be a shame to see all the things that are just blossoming now (Cooper!, her revived singing career, going back to school, reconnecting with her father, her strained relationship with JC) tied up in a bow with the concluding novel. BUT, that's neither here nor there, I suppose. I enjoyed this, but as is the case with most mysteries and me lately, it's not for the actual puzzle or the crime, it's for the whole world that the characters inhabit.

The thing that still makes me batshit about this series is the title. It has no tie to the reality of the novel! Heather Wells used to be a skinny juvenile Britneyite and now she's a grown woman with a big butt -- in the world of this novel that's a "vanity size 8" which is, as admitted in the book, a size 10! Now, I don't care if Heather Wells is a size 6 or 10 or 18, I just think it's kind of shitty to have a "Size 14" title, and have it hang on NOTHING except for maybe some marketing theme. I applaud the sentiment, I just wish it meant something. For all my bitching, this was my favorite of the three Cabot books in this post.

Missing You: This is the fifth and final book in the 1-800-WHERE-R-YOU series. Jess Mastriani (Our Heroine), aka lightning girl, is back after a tour of duty working for the government in Iraq and Afghanistan. This book picks up a couple of years after the last one, and Jess has PTSS and lost the ability to find missing people. (which she acquired after getting struck by lightning in the first book.) She's attending Juilliard (she plays the flute) but hating it and living with her best friend from home in NYC. Then (ta-dah) her hunky but mysterious old boyfriend from the wrong side of the tracks (Indiana!) comes and asks for her help.

things I like about Jess: she's a hothead but she's compassionate, she knows she's wrong a lot of the time and struggles with it.

things I like about this series: action, hotheaded heroine who is often wrong but struggles with it, and it freely mocks the TERRIBLE Lifetime series that was made from the books (seriously, it was B-A-D). Cabot is also great sketching out distinct characters without a lot of detail. I feel like I've got a good sense of Jess's family and friends, without a ton of exposition. (although I suppose some of this could just be cumulative -- this is the fifth book, after all.)

Anyway, this is another one of the series (like the late lamented Mediator) that Cabot seems to be tying up so she can move on to other things. I think as a series I liked Mediator better, but that might be because it was so clearly inspired by Buffy. But I digress! This is a fun quick read, but if you're interested I would recommend starting at the beginning of the series (When Lightning Strikes).

(this image came up INEXPLICABLY while I was looking for book covers. Liberace and Sam the Eagle seemed too good to leave off, so here they are.)

spring at last

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007
double hellebore

Happy Birthday to Martina (just under the wire), and Happy Vernal Equinox!

I am so happy that spring has arrived, because honestly, this winter has been awful. Between the unexpected uninsured hospital stay and various other factors, I have spent a great deal of the last few months feeling completely out of control, out of sorts, and not at all like myself. I know! Drama, much? Usually I'm so practical! I've been miserable and then guilty for feeling miserable -- a recipe for happy fun times it is not! HOWEVER... I think things may be turning around. I'm aware that this isn't the first time I've said "I think things are turning around!" but I've decided that maybe it's just a glacially slow process. Or to mix my ice metaphors, it's like the Unfreezing Process in Austin Powers: all this weird shit happens that seems contrary to progress of any sort, but it's actually necessary in order to become a thawed out human being again. (If this is a lie, please don't tell me yet.)

Anyway, hope springs eternal, and spring springs right now!

(top photo: double hellebore taken at Al's Garden Center, bottom photo: spring sky on the way to Al's -- I'm only sorry there were no lambs gamboling about in the field.)
spring sky 5

I love trees

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Sunday, March 18, 2007
fabulous tree

I love this tree, but I have Tree Love that some find weird. (Part of the reason I liked Gwenyth's Emma movie so much was for the spectacular oak tree that was prominently featured. Also for Jeremy Northam... but seriously, that tree was fantastic!) The tree in this picture is one at my regular park; it harbors many of my squirrel nemeses. You again!

(well, I assume they are my nemeses because of the glaring, the chattering, the general arms akimbo air of scolding. Maybe they're trying to impart some Squirrel Wisdom, but I have my doubts.)

I have been lucky that the two places I've lived the longest (Florida and Oregon) have both been rich in great trees. In Florida there were banyans, mangroves, some kind of swampy cedar, live oaks, citrus (orange blossom season!), mango, palm trees, and many many more. (I was not a fan of the southern scrub pine, except the needles were excellent for braiding and poking people and the pine cones were gigantic.) [edit: I can't believe I forgot the cypress of Cypress Gardens fame! I think CG is some godawful "adventure theme park" now, but it used to be mostly botanical gardens with, I Shit You Not, girls paid to sit decoratively on the lawn in southern belle outfits -- I wonder if that's where the Weeki Wachee mermaids went when they had to give up their fins? CG also feautured stunt water skiing -- think the Go-go's Vacation video. I remember going there with my grandparents a lot.]

In Oregon we have the all deciduous trees that were lacking in Florida: maple, chestnut, japanese maple, some fantastic (but of delicate constitution) dutch elm, blooming cherry and plum (going gangbusters right now), ginkgo, dogwood, hazelnut, stone fruit trees, etc. etc. And of course the evergreens: fir trees, redwoods down south, giant cedar, spruce, ETC. It's a good place for trees. There are some places in the old forests that are breathtaking; beautiful and creepy all at once. (Any creepy forest scene in the X-Files gives a pretty good idea -- they filmed in British Columbia, but it's very similar.)

I was on a tour at some interpretive center or another, and overheard a woman talking about her grandfather who used to be a logger way back when. She said what people forget is how different it was before chain saws; he and his fellows worked logging because they really loved to be in the forest. It hardly seems possible that that's still the case, but I digress. My point is -- trees! I'm a fan. If anyone knows of a particularly fine specimen, let me know.

A sign like this will pretty much guarantee that I will pull over if I'm driving. (although part of that is the sheer enthusiasm of the sign -- Big Tree -- nature's own roadside attraction, like arboreal version of the World's Largest Frying Pan, which I just realized I saw on the same road trip!).

all this and cheap sod

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Thursday, March 15, 2007
what a bargain

+++ I watched and enjoyed The Riches Monday night. It has Eddie Izzard and Minnie Driver, both of whom I find interesting, and I love that even though it's a crime show (I have crime show fatigue), they seem to be taking a fresh approach. It doesn't hurt that I adore Eddie Izzard, the Irish Traveller angle, and the idea of a suburban long con. (I love a good con story, which is why I also like Hustle.) Anyway... so far (one episode), so good.

+++ note to the woodpecker outside my window: it wasn't wood yesterday, and it's not wood today. Your optimism is alternately cheering and pathetic.

+++ I got a summons for jury duty! For some special panel circuit court thingy. I've never been on a jury, so that could be interesting. I'm really in the mood to DISPENSE SOME JUSTICE... which shouldn't be a problem as long as I remember not to say that out loud while punching my fist into my palm during jury selection. (so much to remember!)

+++ This article on retrocausality alternately thrills and horrifies me. (I am full of contradictory feelings lately.) I may never sleep again worrying about it. THANKS, SCIENCE!

+++ When thoughts of retrocausality are stressing me out, I should just remember the sheer lunatic brilliance of Charlie Murphy's True Hollywood Stories from the Chappelle Show season 2. I haven't laughed that hard in a long time. Big thanks to BBD who loaned the DVD to me, and to Leslie for recommending it a long time ago! (I watched Chappelle's Show sporadically, and somehow missed these when they aired.) The idea of Prince playing basketball in full Purple Rain regalia is one I will treasure ALWAYS.

+++ I am intrigued by Jonathan Lethem's Promiscuous Materials page. I love that he is putting his money where his mouth is after that fascinating Harper's essay, The Ecstasy of Influence. (In case you are too time pressed or insuffuciently interested to click the link, the gist is he's offering various of his short stories to filmmakers and dramatists for ONE DOLLAR with a few restrictions. Pretty damn cool.)

+++I have been thinking about reading lately. I was working on writing up some Meg Cabot books, and it made me think about how my taste in books has changed over the course of my life so far (developed is probably a more accurate word than changed because I see it as more of a natural progression than some sort of river jumping course correction), which reminded me how much I hate the phrase "light reading," even though I know it is a sometimes necessary distinction. It's a cheap way to distance the reader from the material, which I don't like. (not that I think a person has to love every single thing they read, but this "light reading" phrase -- if there are air quotes I hate it more -- is reminding me of "guilty pleasure," which I don't like either. Own it, bitches! Come on... can't we all put a lampshade on the head of our inner puritan/snob? Life's too short. ) Anyway... I didn't really reach any conclusions, which is fine because I get 100% guilt-free pleasure from just considering it. Fair warning: I'll probably be blathering on more about this when I get to the Meg Cabot thing, which should be soon.

one, two, three, four/ can I have a little more?

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Saturday, March 10, 2007
To celebrate the triumphant return of my ipod shuffle (there you are, you little bastard!), I took it out for a spin around town yesterday. It's currently loaded only with Beatle songs, which was big fun for me since I needed a break from the usual; a break from the familiar by listening to the familiar! But it worked -- like fighting fire with fire, or the hair of the dog that bit you (or something). Here are some of the songs that stood out for me-- they're what are often considered to be secondary (or tertiary) Beatle songs, but a second-rate Beatle song is still pretty DAMN FANTASTIC. Maybe they stood out because I've heard them less often? I don't know. They are also really short -- the longest one (Baby You're a Rich Man) is just over 3 minutes, but most of them are around the 2.5 minute mark. Anyway, these songs all made me happy for various reasons. (song titles link to song reviews on the All Music Guide)

All Together Now: This is a counting song AND a list song -- already it's aces by me. Add to that the loosey-goosey singalong quality, the handclaps, the nonsense nursery rhyme parts, how it gets faster and faster as it goes along -- the innate silliness of it all --and you have a recipe for giddiness. It's a two minute party that I'm always happy to attend. All together now!

Baby You're A Rich Man: How does it feel to be one of the beautiful people? Now that you know who you are/ what do you want to be? This song always surprises me. I think because it's all trippy stoner philosophizing and then zags sideways with the rocking yet charmingly nonsensical baby you're a rich man, baby you're a rich man too/ you keep all your money in a big brown bag/ inside the zoo, what a thing to do! chorus. Maybe because I'm mostly used to hearing "baby" along with "girl" or if it's in reference to a guy... well, let's just say I don't hear baby and man together very often in pop music, so this almost seems progressive.

Girl: Yes, it's true, there is a thread of "women are cruel and heartless yet I can't live without them" going on here, but I don't take it as an indictment against all women -- it's a pretty pop song and I'm not going to quibble. Girl is very melancholy with a great troubadour-like beginning: "is there anybody going to listen to my story/ all about the girl who came to stay? The AMG review of this song noted that it has a strong greek flavor, which now that they mention it, yes of course, but I probably wouldn't have put my finger on it without the pointer. ..hangs head in shame.. The big dramatic sigh (well, it's kind of a cross between a sigh and whatever that noise is when you suck in your breath) is kind of ridiculous -- Oooh, Giiiiirrrulll, (sssssigh) -- but it makes me smile, as does the singalong tit-tit-tit-tit part. Cheeky Beatles!

Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me and My Monkey: I don't know how many times I have heard this song; hundreds of times, at least. But when I listened to it yesterday it was like hearing it for the first time. I got that crazy eye-welling, leg-tingling oh my god happy feeling, which was not unwelcome. There is just huge ENERGY here. I love John's lead vocal, the cracking guitar, and the woooo's! My god, the woooo!'s it's like Paul (I think it's Paul) cannot suppress his internal woooooo!-- that it is only by intense concentration that he is not woooo! ing nonstop -- it's just that kind of song. I adore the c'mon c'mon c'mon parts and I am absolutely in love with the little blast of bass 20 seconds from the end. THE BELL-- how could I forget the bell?!? If the Salvation Army played their bells like this, they would raise a lot more money. The song is only two and a half minutes long and I'm left bereft but exhilarated when it ends. (then I push repeat and do it again!)

Honey Pie: Of all the songs on this short list, I expect this is the one that most people would find inexplicable. It's another one of Paul's nostalgic "granny music" english dance-hall songs, but I DO NOT CARE. I mean, I have a lot of affection for that style of music so it's not really surprising that I like this song, but I've seen a lot of vitriol aimed at Honey Pie in print so I'm kind of defensive. Listening to it is like watching an old hollywood movie musical (black and white set on a transatlantic cruise ship with lots of dancing flappers, champagne, tuxedos, feather fans and hilarious misunderstandings). It contains the lyric "I'm in love, but I'm lazy" which makes me laugh because of the I love you, but I really... won't you just come home? It would be easier for me implications. There's a lot of clarinet and an underlying sense that Paul was having a really good time. Not simply because of the intrinsic satisfaction he got from writing/performing it, but also maybe because he knew that it was somewhat perverse in the middle of a rock album. (that's just my sense of it. What fun is this stuff if you can't project your own meanings and significance?)


catch-up books

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Thursday, March 08, 2007
I am so behind with book things! These three are all from 2006. (edit: I should say I READ them all in 2006. They were published in 2003, 2005, and 2005 respectively.)

The Little Black Book of Stories by A.S. Byatt: I am a big fan of Byatt's short work. Some of my favorites are her fairy tales (particularly "Cold" from her Elementals collection; it's the one about the (literal) ice princess who marries a fire prince. It ends as happily as ever happens in an A.S. Byatt story, but not without difficulty. It's great -- read it if you haven't already.) I had the realization reading this collection that I generally prefer her stories which have some sort of mysterious or fable-like quality. The reason isn't just because she writes so well in that milieu, but because she writes so well and so convincingly about what absolute bastards human beings can be to each other in the so-called real world; it's uncomfortably raw without that fantastical buffer. Not that readers shouldn't be made uncomfortable, but... man. She's really good at it.

In this collection, I loved the first story The Thing in the Forest. Two little girls who have been evacuated to the country from Blitz-era London witness something nasty in the woodshed. Er, woods. Byatt is so adept with descriptive language -- this first example is from before the girls run across the Thing in the Forest: "They sniffed the air, which was full of a warm mushroom smell, and a damp moss smell, and a sap smell, and a distant hint of dead ashes." And here's a later, Thing-related description which seems very Alice in Wonderland to me: "A crunching, a crackling, a crushing, a heavy thumping, combined with threshing and thrashing, and added to that a gulphing, heaving, boiling, bursting steaming sound, full of bubbles and farts, piffs and explosions, swallowings and wallowings." She creates a palpable sense of dread, which turns out to be well-founded. I read this story in the fall, and it is perfectly suited to pre-halloween. (or any time you fancy some keen writing!)

The Stone Woman was creepy but moving; a story of unasked for but spectacular metamorphosis. Raw Material is about a writing class. It was funny to start, (which surprised me as it's not something I expect from Byatt),but it is, of course, so much more. A solid collection -- the other two stories were also good, but honestly they depressed the hell out of me.

The Believer Book of Writers Talking to Writers -- Vendela Vida, editor: So good -- even when I was completely at sea as to who these writers were (often), or what they wrote (even more often), the interviews are presented in such a way that it did not matter! I know it may sound like the longest drag in dragsville, but reading such a variety of writers talking about how they do what they do, or what they themselves like to read, or what inspires or obsesses them set off little cherry bombs in my brain. It's not only entertaining, but satisfying and edifying. It left me with a long list of things I want to read, and a short list of authors I was already looking at squinty-eyed and now feel free to avoid. This is a very easy book to just sort of dive into and read a little or a lot.

The Disappointment Artist by Jonathan Lethem

This is only the third book by Jonathan Lethem I've read. I know, I know -- not many, but at least they're varied and not all hunkered down at one end of his catalog:

Gun, With Occasional Music: Kangaroo Detective Noir
Motherless Brooklyn: Freaking Brilliant (autistic detective, but with a lot more heart than you get in a Kangaroo Noir novel)
ooh -- I also saw him read at Powell's from Fortress of Solitude, but have yet to read that novel.. (he's taller than I thought, and also more attractive than pictures would indicate. Or maybe he's just the kind of charismatic yet self-deprecating nerd who emits pheromones at my frequency.)

Now I can add The Disappointment Artist to the list. It's a book of personal essays, some of which are more personal than others. What I like about this collection is that he is completely unafraid to report qualities in himself that are unattractive. You know how it is... someone will write that they were picked on by bullies because they liked to read and were misunderstood. Lethem will write similar, but he also includes that he was a neurotic pain in the ass. There's a sort of aggressive honesty in a lot of these essays that I really responded to -- it's not that he's daring the reader to dislike him, he just seems to be interested in rendering the most accurate picture of the time, place, or situation and is willing to do what it takes to get there. Here's a little sample from the essay titled 13, 1977, 21
1. In the summer of 1977 I saw Star Wars--the original, which is all I want to discuss here--twenty-one times. Better to blurt this out at the start so I'm less tempted to retreat from what still seems to me a sort of raw, howling confession, one I've long hidden in shame. Again, to pin myself like a Nabokovian butterfly (no high-lit reference is going to bail me out here, I know) to my page in geek history: I watched Star Wars twenty-one times in the space of four months. I was that kid alone in the ticket line, slipping past the ushers who'd begun to recognize me, muttering in impatience at a urinal before finding my favorite seat. That was me, occult as a porn customer, yes, though I've sometimes denied it. Now, a quarter century later, I'm ready for my close up. Sort of.

It is funny and heartbreaking both, and not the only essay in the collection to be so.

under the wire

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007
crocus in the driveway

Today was lovely -- I took the crocus picture this morning by the driveway.

I finished the quilt! I wanted to have it done by today because I found a receipt for the batting dated 3/6/06. It seems like so long but also no time at all. I tried to get pictures, but I was foiled by cats at every turn. So, this cat-filled not-smooth picture will have to do for now. I realized when I was sewing the binding on that this is the first quilt I've finished for myself. I've finished others (and started even MORE), but all for other people.


In other news, a 3 year old pirate tried to murder me three times at the park today (he was brandishing a twig with an adorably shy attempt at piratical menace), and a gaggle of 4 year olds was overcome by the Spirit of Spring; they ran away from their minders as a group and whipped off their shirts while cackling maniacally (or in some cases just pulling it over their heads and leaving it there, because honestly they weren't very coordinated). That's what sunlight will do to you when you are deprived for too long! (I believe they were all eventually retrieved and re-clothed.)

by governmental decree

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Friday, March 02, 2007
By decree of the Jennifer Government (by which I mean ME and nothing to do with the book of the same name which I have never read -- I just like the idea of having authority to make decrees), this is going to be an Old Business Weekend at Chez Jen. I am going to finish some of this stuff that has been hanging around tormenting me with its undoneness -- flopping out of drawers, falling out of bookshelves, tripping me, burying me, generally taunting me and guilting me in that special way that unfinished projects have. I've got a good jump on it already -- I finished the top to a quilt I've been working on (VERY sporadically) since last February. Now to put the back and binding on! (I kind of hope it keeps raining like it is right now, because that will make it easier...) Stuff to goodwill + stuff put away + projects finished = FANTASTIC. I expect it will be hideous at times (which is why it's still not done) but it will be so great to have some things finished. I have a stack of movies from the library for the sewing stuff, and I have liters and liters of diet coke for the other.

I also have a stack of books sitting right here by my computer that I am going to write tiny short reviews for (or else!) -- if I wait until I'm ready to do full-length ones, I will NEVER do them, and it's already been months and months on some of these. Here's to clearing out the old to move on with the new!


Updates to this post as I proceed.

update #1: 7 AM Saturday: You may thank David Bowie and the swimming, biting babies for the early hour of this update.
Project news: the quilt top is completely done and pressed (and 82" square, which was really weird because I did it mostly by eyeball rather than measuring), I have figured out how I'm piecing the back (I'm making this from stuff I already have, so there is a lot of piecing that I might not normally do), and have started making those backing pieces. Photo of the front in the next update! I have one mini-review 3/4 written, and of course it's not as mini as it should be.

bonus! (hilarious! on what planet is someone telling you their weird dream a bonus? but I'm telling you anyway...) So, it is my recommendation that if you run into Dream David Bowie DO NOT ask him if he's afraid of being typecast by playing Tesla again. It makes him crabby and he will use way too much packing tape on the chair he's making out of couch cushions and packing tape. I experienced this crabbiness first hand as we stood in a dry field by a busy freeway. He was wearing a suit and a top hat while he taped away and we discussed some trouble he'd been having with his email. (I think I was some sort of assistant, Ugly Betty style. Way to dream big, subconscious!) Crabby Dream Bowie and I made it across the freeway to a Kwikie Mart type place (he wanted a blue drink, and yes, I had to carry his stupid cushion and tape chair) and then we were in some huge area that I assumed they were using for his movie. I noticed a Tesla movie poster that had lots of very cool old-school movie typography on a table, which meant extra flourish to the words Featuring Katharine Al(something) and her Aqualatti. Synchronized Swimmers! I woke up suddenly when I saw for myself that the Aqualatti were a team of synchronized swimming babies with really sharp teeth and creepy synchronized cliche devil-baby voices. Once I heard them ask in unison "will there be blood?" I exited dream world tout suite. Who needs that kind of stress? Dream Bowie will have to deal with his own tape chair, email, and the swimming biting babies, because I'm not going back there if I can help it.

update #2, 4ish Saturday: Here's the promised picture of the front... this project was a sort of remix of an old quilt that I had started in a moment of insanity and abandoned once my retinas recovered. I like it so much better this way. The back is all cut out and almost put together. After that, comes layering the back, the batting and the top, then tying it. Actual quilting is not my thing, so I'll tie it with white pearl cotton and if I'm ever going to quilt it, it will happen MUCH LATER and probably be done by a trained professional. Next exciting adventure: will I have enough of the fabric I like for the binding?? Never a dull moment, I tell you...

update #3, 6ish Saturday: all right, I haven't done any more work on projects, but I think the sunset I'm looking at out my window is worthy of note, as was the walk from which I just returned. I thought the crocus were blooming in the park before, but they were not! They were blooming today. The sun was out casting shadows and making everything look better than it probably should. I'm talking the full golden light on almost blooming trees while Here Comes the Sun plays on the ipod deal -- it was an almost religious experience, I'm telling you! (this is the secret of life in the pnw: the winter weather is so miserable so often that when it's even a little bit nice, everything seems wonderful, or at least significantly less miserable than before.) PLUS, there was a St. Bernard puppy which was so cute I almost had to leave the park or risk making an absolute fool of myself. (I managed to avoid complete disgrace.. but OMG, SO CUTE!) I am a little bummed that the lunar eclipse is not visible west of the rockies, but... this sunset is pretty nice, and it's still light after 6pm, AND the neon that I can see from my window just came on and it looks very lovely against the streaky blue/orange of the sky. Now back to work.

update #4 2pm Sunday: back from library. Must eat, and then I will get that quilt tied! I gave up last night because it's big and there was no easy way to get it spread out without moving a lot of furniture. I got it pinned, but there were PROBLEMS. So I'm going on the theory that this kind of work is better tackled when there is ample light and the clock's not inching to midnight.

trees, forest. forest, trees.

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Thursday, March 01, 2007
the wet day

Spring is coming!! I know this because the snowdrops are blooming, the violets are blooming, the crocus are blooming, and the daffodils are getting close. Last night I had a dream with daffodils as tall as sunflowers, which was weird but cool. Oh, let us not forget the rain, of course, with its attendant slugs and earthworms which the cat brings in on his fur. Delightful.

Tuesday was raining and snowy, but I really wanted to get outside because I was going to lose my freaking mind if I didn't. (this mind-losing seems to be a recurrent theme. perhaps I need a safety deposit box and then I won't have to worry with it any longer.) I was irritated by the relentless rain, but decided to take my camera because the camera sometimes helps. It totally worked! By the time I got back (soaked but somewhat exhilarated -- probably hypothermia) I was cracking myself up (again, probably hypothermia) with the thought that there was none more wet than me at that moment. (Spinal Tap was on my mind because I had been listening to the White Stripes, and the song Expecting always makes me think of Spinal Tap's Big Bottom (sorry, Jack White) -- there's just a certain ponderous quality that I can't quite put my finger on -- they don't really sound that much alike, but there is some connection in my head. It always makes me laugh so I guess I'm not really very sorry after all.)

The trees are getting that red haze that they get before they start blooming. Some of the early cherries and plums have already begun to bloom, but most trees (that are not evergreen) are just starting to get that LOOK. One day they were the same old dead sticks I've been looking at all winter, and then suddenly the world turns upside down (or on its axis, if you want to be all pedantic about it) and they're glowing red like they've been in the fire. It's all so beautiful in simultaneously subtle and obvious ways. The world is waking up again, which is a good reminder for me (I need lots of freaking reminders, okay?!) to take pleasure in the small things and to try to appreciate the beauty of RIGHT NOW instead of remembering or fantasizing about the beauty of some past or future moment. (The camellias are starting to bloom which makes it easier.)

I had this obvious but necessary "a-ha!" moment even before I read my Free Will Astrology horoscope (he writes the best ones) for this week, which said, in part: "On the one hand, they [cancerians] idealize the past, imagining it to be better or happier than the present time. On the other hand, they ache for an idealized future that will be better or happier than today. Does that describe you? If so, this your wake-up call. Right here and right now is where all the interesting stuff is happening. " Right Here and Right Now often seems boring and stressful, but I'm intrigued by the notion that I'm just approaching it from the wrong angle. If it IS where all the interesting stuff is happening, I don't want to miss out!

(I promise less weather-related navel-gazing and more other stuff SOON.)