Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Monday, December 26, 2011

Eight Nights of Chanukah Music: As Chanukah Passes Me By

No matter the holiday, sometimes you just want to sing the blues.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Eight Nights of Chanukah Music: Candlelight

For reasons which remain a mystery to me, the song Dynamite by Taio Cruz is a huge favorite among seven year olds. At first, I thought it was some odd anomaly exclusive to Julian's class, or perhaps, his school. Then we were hanging out with a friend who home schools and she also sang the song with very little prompting.

For this reason, I kindof like this Chanukah song by The Maccabeats.

Thank God It's Christmas!

Can you think of any better way to wish everyone Happy Christmas than with an over the top power ballad sung by perhaps the most famous Zoroastrian the world has ever known?

December 25 is not only the universally agreed upon birthday of Jesus, it is also the anniversary of Sir Isaac Newton's birth. So we can blame the mess in our living rooms on the second law of thermodynamics. How do you like them apples?

Have a great day!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Eight Nights of Chanukah Music: Miracle

If this video is any indication, Matisyahu throws the best Chanukah ice skating parties!

Twelve Days of Christmas Music: Fairytale of New York

This is many people's favorite Christmas song and, as songs go, I think it truly captures the spirit of the season.

I was talking to someone yesterday about how she hates the holidays and I suggested that she may feel differently if she has children. I explained that, for me, seeing Julian get excited about Christmas has done a lot to melt the bitterness I used to feel. I also mentioned that most religions and cultures have some sort of winter holiday involving lots of lights because, obviously, humans need something to make it through these long dark nights. My friend agreed about the light, but said she is resigned to hating this time of year for the rest of her life. I can see her point. As adults, we no longer believe in Santa, we feel overwhelmed with duties and responsibilities, and the nostalgia of the season often serves to remind us of all our childhood dreams which never came true.

This songs is all the more poignant when one considers that in the two decades since this song was released, Shane MacGowan has struggled with addiction and Kirsty MacColl died tragically. But in video, as in memory, they are young forever. Like the narrator at the top of the song, we look to the new year with hope in our hearts, seeing a better time where our dreams come true, and the bells ringing out for Christmas day.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Eight Nights of Chanukah Music: Hanukkah Blessings

Let me start this off by saying that I know it would be wrong of me to celebrate a religious holiday that is not mine either by birth, culture, or choice. I also want to say that my impressions of Chanukah are as an outsider looking in and, for this reason, my ideas about it are likely confused. All that being said, I have always felt a sense of affinity for Chanukah, non-Jewish agnostic that I am. Part of this is because my 3-6 teacher was Jewish and she made the stories of her holidays stood out to me, perhaps because they were in such contrast to the Christmas and Easter stories which were all around me. However, I think a bigger reason is that, as a person who has always had questions which often placed her in awkward positions with regards to faith, I feel like Chanukah, a holiday celebrating the triumph over tyranny and the freedom to worship as one chooses, is a religious holiday I can wholeheartedly get behind. Because I may not know what I believe, but I like knowing I can believe what I want to believe even if it runs counter to the belief system espoused by the dominant culture. How could I not want to appropriate holiday celebrating that?

Twelve Days of Christmas Music: I Believe In Father Christmas

It will come as no surprise that I love this cover of Greg Lake's I Believe in Father Christmas. It captures not just the sadness of a child waiting all night for a Santa who never comes, it also captures the sadness of adults who grew up believing we could abolish poverty, injustice, war, suffering. In short, it isn't simply Santa's existence that the song questions. And the song is hopeful, reminding us that, in part, the act of believing in Father Christmas and peace on earth are part of what gets us the Christmas we deserve.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Eight Nights of Chanukah Music: Feast of Lights

As holiday songs go, They Might Be Giants hits the bulls-eye with this song. Because we all are having fun, but underneath it all, we have a whiny voice reminding us of how we are not measuring up to our social obligations. So while, yes, this is technically a song about Chanukah, it really captures some emotions which are so prevalent among people of all religions this time of year, guilt and weariness.

That sounds so sad and bitter on my part and I really don't intend it to sound that way. I just feel like there are a lot of emotions floating around and not all of them are happy ones, so it is nice to hear a song which captures the pessimism as well. Because if we weren't inclined to be pessimists during these dark days of winter, we wouldn't need holidays to brighten our days and nights up, now would we?

Twelve Days of Christmas Music: Home For Christmas

Last night on All Things Considered there was a segment on Callin' Oates: The Emergency Hall & Oates hotline.

I find this awesome on so many levels, not the least of which is because now, every time I hear Hall & Oates, I think of Carrie.

This led me to wonder if Hall & Oates (either together or individually) had any Christmas music and, sure enough, they have a whole album full of Christmas music.

So, of course, I had to share this with all of you as soon as possible.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Eight Nights of Chanukah Music: Punk Rock Chanukah Song

So I can't really present Chanukah music without acknowledging the elephant in the room that is The Chanukah Song. The guys from Yidcore do a pretty awesome job of covering it and include shout outs to all the Jewish punk rockers (as an aside, it is hard not to love a band that has changed "Hey ho, let's go" to "Oy Vey, let's eat").

If you want a more traditional rendition of the song, you can listen to Neil Diamond's version of it (alas, it is fairly true to the original with nary a TODAY thrown in for flavor).

Julian's Winter Sculpture

Julian made this sculpture in ceramics class.

Yes, I am a proud mom.

Twelve Days Of Christmas Music: 2000 Miles

Even though I cry every time I hear it, this is one of my favorite Christmas songs. Part of the holiday season is to remember all those one has loved who are no longer here to celebrate. Sometimes they appear to us in dreams, we pretend they will come back, and we tell ourselves that it is just snow and distance which keeps us from them. It gets colder day by day, we think of them, and sing through our tears.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Eight Nights of Chanukah Music: How Do You Spell Channukkahh?

I figured we could also celebrate (C)Ha(n)nu(k)ka(h)h because there is so much awesome music out there and, really, the dominant winter holiday already gets so much attention, shouldn't we shine a light on all fabulous songs celebrating the Festival of Lights?

I love this song. Who among us has not asked this question? I love the line, "A Spanish kid told me that it starts with a silent J. But Julio was wrong. Or maybe he was right." Lauren can confirm if (C)Ha(n)nu(k)ka(h)h is spelled with a J in Spain. Or maybe she can't. And, trust me, the song just keeps getting better. I mean, how could I not love a song which gives a shout out to the word antidisestablishmentarianism, the longest non coined and nontechnical word in English?

Chag Chanukah Sameach!

Twelve Days of Christmas Music: I Really Don't Hate Christmas

I present this as a counterpoint to yesterday's song. And, like yesterday's song, it also captures the spirit of the season--who among us has not, at some point, felt an intense, burning indifference towards Christmas?

Phineas and Ferb is one of those awesome things I don't think I would have known about if I didn't have Julian. If you are not already a fan, give yourself a gift and check it out.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Twelve Days of Christmas Music: I Hate Christmas

Even with all the peace, love, and joy, it is hard not to get grouchy this time of year. It is awesome that Sesame Street understood this. Also seeing Bob and Maria in the full bloom of youth fills me with holiday cheer. And did you know Mr. Hooper was Jewish?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Twelve Days of Christmas Music: Feliz Navidad

Who wouldn't want Charo coming by to sing, play guitar, and then hand over some fruitcake? Pee-wee had the best Christmas guests and misdirected packages ever!

Before seeing this, I had not realized Charo spoke Spanish with a Castillian lisp. This realization which led me to check out her Wikipedia page where I learned that Andres Segovia was one of her guitar teachers and no one is entirely clear on her actual age because she has been lying about it since she was a teenager. Also, in case you were wondering what Charo is doing now, she is performing portions of her Vegas show on cruise ships. All this new information fills me with happiness because it feels like everything my seven year old self ever suspected about the adult world while watching TV on a Saturday night has turned out to be true, even after all these decades have passed. Feliz Navidad indeed!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Twelve Days of Christmas Music: I'm Gonna Spend My Christmas With A Dalek

This is what happens when you enter "the Go-Go's Christmas" into the search box on Youtube. Of course I had to share it with you because, well, it's so goofy and it's about Daleks. While, I think we can all agree that it is no surprise this band recorded only this one record and the name the Go-Go's was available for Jane Weidlin, Belinda Carlisle, et al. to use a decade later, the song itself is not completely without charm. Sure, I would rather spend Christmas with the Doctor than with any of his enemies, but I don't begrudge any fan their desire to spend the holiday with a Dalek who asks politely for plum pudding and custard.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Twelve Days of Christmas Music: Sugar Rum Cherry

I loved The Nutcracker as a child in a deep and profound way. Not just the ballet and the story, but the music itself was something I could listen to over and over again. It kindof broke my heart when, as a teenager, I hung around with a couple classical composers and discovered that cool people consider The Nutcracker to be, at best, music that is best watched and, at worst, naff and pandering to the lowest common denominator. In terms of high art and snobbery, Tchaikovsky is not Stravinsky. Now, snobby high art wannabe that I was (and still am), I attempted to adopt this too evolved for the classical equivalent of top 40 music attitude, but, try as I might to be a cool kid, I can't shake my love for this flower petaled, sugar-dusted suite.

So, obviously, I am pleased as punch to listen to Duke Ellington's Three Suites record because only someone with a blood temperature approaching absolute zero would suggest they are too cool for something this awesome.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Twelve Days of Christmas Music: Frosty the Snowman

I realize I have already written about this song, but every so often something extremely strange and unexpected happens and I just have to talk about it.

Today I was in Ulta, examining the various anti-aging creams on offer, when this song began to play. Yes, you read that correctly, the Cocteau Twins' rendition of Frosty the Snowman was on their holiday music compilation, a few songs after Taylor Swift's egregious cover of Last Christmas (note, this is not a slam on Taylor Swift's abilities, it's just that some songs should not be covered because there is no way the original can be improved upon. See also: No Doubt's egregious cover of Talk Talk's It's My Life). The Cocteau Twins! Ulta!

Like haircare, the rules of holiday music are simple and finite. Obscurity and oddness are not tolerated in the stores or on the 24/7 holiday music station. Should I be worrying the time-space continuum been breached? Did I just manage to avoid falling through wormhole in the skin care aisle? Are the Cocteau Twins some parallel universe's Mariah Carey (and, if so, are the goth/alternative kids in that universe listening to All I Want For Christmas Is You)? Where is Brian Green when you need him?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Love, Santa Cards

I have been talking about making these cards for years. I am quite pleased with how they have turned out.

And on the inside,
Did you really expect milk and cookies?

Of course, the ideal way to send them is one a day without a return address or any signature whatsoever.

P.S. If you really love these cards, you may purchase them on Etsy.

Twelve Days of Christmas Music: Dear Santa (Bring Me A Man This Christmas)

If Santa knows what's good for him, he'll honor The Weathergirls' request and will bring them a man this Christmas. As this video demonstrates, they are not just women blessed with amazing vocal abilities, they also appear to be the leaders of a coven of skinny, big haired, spangle dress wearing white witches. Martha Wash and Izora Armstead not only can belt out this great jingle, when their voices are coupled with their minions' cloak twirling and dancing, they live up to their name and make it snow inside. Santa, do these ladies a solid and they'll make sure it isn't too foggy for Rudolph on Christmas Eve.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Twelve Days of Christmas Music: I Want A Casting Couch For Christmas

Julian pointed out that we have twelve days until Christmas*. So, I figured it was time to share some of the great Christmas music that the internet has to offer (and which you may or may not hear on your local radio station (though if your local radio station offers Sound Opinions, you will get to hear this year's picks from Andy Cirzan, a musical treasure trove and my former neighbor, which I guarantee will be even more obscure and awesome).

I Want A Casting Couch For Christmas by Kay Martin and Her Body Guards (from the album I Know What He Wants For Christmas...But I Don't Know How To Wrap It)

This song was brought to my attention by Steve Darnell, host of Those Were The Days and publisher of Nostalgia Digest.

I thought this would be a good way to get us all in the mood (double entendre not intended. It is a sad reality that once you start to think everything could be a double entendre, everything becomes a double entendre). I kindof can't get past how little coverage that tube top is giving her on the album cover. Clearly, the climate in Southern California offers one a completely different set of holiday wardrobe options than one is afforded in Chicago. But not unlike the skimpy clothing which still covers all the necessary bits, the song is not nearly as racy as one might expect. The same can be said for the title track which, for all its suggestive allusions, ends cute.

Kay Martin has a dreamy voice and I can imagine people trying to get that big red bow on the Lexus may well have this song going through their heads. As ear worms go, that would not be so bad, would it?

*I am aware that the twelve days of Christmas referenced are the ones between Christmas and the Epiphany, but that dates back to a time when the build up to the holiday didn't begin before Halloween. By the time Christmas rolls around, we will all be so sick of the music that none of us will have the energy to listen to even the funniest and most obscure of Christmas songs.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

For Good

Happy belated birthday, Tracy!

I know it isn't very punk rock of me, but every time I hear this song I start to cry and I think of you. Why the hell hasn't teleportation been invented yet?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Against The Grain

Hudson - Against The Grain from Dropbear on Vimeo.

This is an amazing piece of animation. It makes me so happy to see that interesting music videos are still being made.

The song is pretty alright as well. It sounds like one which I will either never hear again (but would always remember and wonder about) or one which will be played over and over again for the next few months. While I hope for the latter--not because I want to grow bored through overexposure to a song I like, but because in the sea of all the crap music out there, it is nice when good music gets recognized and makes money for the people making it--I am afraid it sounds a little too much like spring/summer for the middle of November.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Everyday Is Halloween

When we went to Disneyworld last May, we held pretty firm with regards to buying merchandise (this was no small feat as the mouse finds a way into your heart, no matter how impervious to such things you may believe yourself to be). The only thing we bought for Julian was a Jack Sparrow sword and sheath after going through the extremely awesome Pirates of the Caribbean ride.

So this Halloween, Julian wanted to go as Captain Jack Sparrow.

I should have taken before pictures of the costume pieces so you could fully appreciate what an awesome job we did (the jacket, vest, and puffy pirate shirt were originally three women's shirts purchased at the thrift store for $4.50). However, you will have to just take my word for it, in much the same way as you will have to imagine Julian brandishing the Jack Sparrow sword as he chose not to do so when we finally convinced him to let us take pictures yesterday.

Yes, yesterday.

If you had told me when I was fourteen that my child would drive me to reference a Ministry song, I am not sure I would have believed you. But the kid was a fake English accent and an ummbopbop away from sounding like the chorus, asking WHY he is unable to live his life the way he wants to, why his parents force him to conform (by dressing in a pirate costume).

Oh, how he fought us and, yes, threats were made on both sides with regards to getting dressed up yesterday in order to take photographs.

Julian: Mommy, if you make me dress up I will never dress up for Halloween ever again!

Me: If you don't let me get a picture of you in the pirate outfit I made, you won't be getting a costume for Halloween ever again.

Those aren't the boots he wore with the costume, but you pick your battles and I feel lucky we managed to get the pictures we did. Especially as we needed to return the wig.

Monday, October 31, 2011


The Zombie Apocalypse is a lot less scary if it means we all get to dance like this.

The other night, All Thing Considered featured a segment wherein John Landis reminisced on how the Thriller video came to pass. It was such an odd thing, to remember Michael Jackson and the cultural event that was the broadcast of this video (not to mention the cultural phenomenon that was the Thriller record). I think, as a preteen, I just assumed that it was normal; every so often, a record comes along and captures everyone's imaginations and breaks all the records which were set by the last record which captured the collective imagination. I didn't realize that I was living through a moment in history which someday would seem as quaint and antiquated as the reaction to Orson Welles' War of the Worlds broadcast or the Beatles appearing on Ed Sullivan did to me, that was in fact far more similar to those events than anything that happens today in this new world in which we live with the internet and cable television fracturing our entertainment into so many pieces. The idea that we might all tune in at one time is something I can no longer imagine happening except during a tragedy and, even then, we would all be watching various broadcasts and iterations through different outlets. So watching this video fills me with sadness. I mourn the world where we all could be connected briefly in our awe of Michael Jackson's talent and beauty (as well as mourning the loss of Michael Jackson's talent and beauty).

Happy Halloween!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Too Many Sad Days, Too Many Tuesday Mornings

"I thought of tomorrow and I wished it was Monday evening."-Spider Stacey

History is filled with moments when it seemed like events could have gone in an entirely different direction if only a crucial person had made a different choice, if only something hadn't happened the way it did. When it resulted in tragedy having been averted (the Germans halting their advance at Dunkirk, for example), we tend to consider these to be lucky breaks, and even though decades or centuries may separate us from the events in question, we breathe a sigh of relief. When the events result in great tragedy, however, we sit back with the gift of hindsight and distance of many decades or centuries and frame the events which followed as having been inevitable; yes, this may have been the spark, but all the necessary components for an explosion were in place, so if this particular thing hadn't set it off, something else would have.

This doesn't just happen in historical analysis, it happens in many fictional accounts of time travel and parallel universes as well. For example, in his absolutely brilliant novel Making History, Stephen Fry does a particularly splendid job of imagining a world made worse by the absence of Hitler, arguing that all the pieces that led to his rise and The Holocaust were in place and had he not done it, someone else would have, perhaps more effectively. The argument, it seems, is that history is set in stone, not just because it has already happened, but because even if one has the means to change the past, the past cannot be changed.

So all this being said, for a good chunk of my life I did not spend much time wishing for a Time Machine so I could tell John F. Kennedy to stay out of Dallas

Another great trope of much speculative fiction is that in those instances where one travels to a parallel universe (or encounters travelers from parallel universes) the other ones are worse than ours; of course, this is not always readily obvious to the denizens of our universe. Eventually, however, no matter how awesome the other universes may seem, we find that all those little things that made our universe our universe made it superior to us (if only because it is ours. For example, in His Dark Materials, Will and Lyra travel to many different worlds, each of them interesting and different, but learn that living in worlds not their own will rob them of health and years of life).

So while I may have spent some time wondering what might have been if only Catherine of Aragon's two year old son had not died, it is easy for me to suspect that something else would have happened to have made enough of the history I know come to pass (none of Henry's boy children were hale or hearty, so if he did not outlive Henry, he probably would have had the same panicky need for an male heir leading into a lady in waiting's arms after Catherine's womb ceased to bear fruit) and to appreciate the good things that probably resulted from the events (would we have Shakespeare if Henry VIII had remained married to his first wife and not broken with the Church of Rome?).

It is really easy to do this when the events in question are not ones one has witnessed in real time and the history isn't currently one's present.

It has been ten years and the thing I wish with all my heart is that we could go back to the world as it was on September 10, 2001.

I look at what has happened since that day, because of that day--the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the worldwide economic recession, the erosion of our rights and civil liberties in this country, the erosion of our morality with regards to how we detain and interrogate prisoners, the rise of islamophobia--and I am sickened. But aside from all that, I still just wish the attacks never happened. I wish we all didn't know that planes could be used as bombs and that skyscrapers could be brought down in a couple of hours. I wish that so many of us did not watch people jumping from windows because that was preferable to being burned alive. I wish that we collectively did not know what it was like to feel as if time had ceased to exist and then to realize it hadn't, that it would still march relentlessly forward whether we wanted it to or not.

The events of that day did change the course of history. And while it is impossible to know what the world would be like if that day had not happened, I believe if I were I to meet someone who walked between the worlds (much like the guy in the Sandman story The Golden Boy), they would look upon me with pity because I am from one of the worlds where September 11, 2001 was not just another beautiful Indian Summer day.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Jillian Michaels' 30 Day Shred

Up until the beginning of August, I only had a vague idea of Jillian Michaels. I never watched her show, and thought of her as just another celebrity trainer selling something I didn't really need. After all, I already exercise 5-7 hours a week at the gym and it isn't as if she is offering what I really want (yoga, ballet, pilates).

However, the exercise I tend to do is usually of the cardiovascular sort-running, elliptical machine, biking, with the occasional stairmaster thrown in for nostalgia purposes-and every single article you read about exercise emphasizes the need to include weight training. Which is what the ballet, pilates, and yoga is for, except I am not doing enough of those activities for them to really qualify. I have tried doing weights at home, I have tried doing weights at the gym, but the truth is, I can't motivate myself to do weights consistently. I have worked with personal trainers in the past, but they are expensive and if I am spending money, I would prefer to spend it on something I love (ballet, yoga, pilates). A few participants on a message board on which I participate were always mentioning doing levels of Jillian Michaels' 30 Day Shred, but others mentioned doing P90X and Insanity, and really, it didn't seem all that interesting to me. Sure, I liked the idea of committing to something for a period of time and coming out with a body to die for, but the process sounded boring to me and, frankly, the results always seemed to be either too good to be true or not significant enough to be worth the tedium.

So there I was, less than six months shy of my fortieth birthday, considering my need to maintain my muscle mass and, it being summer, worrying that I wasn't getting as much exercise in as I do during the school year. On a lark, I borrowed Jillian Michaels' 30 Day Shred DVD from the library. I figured, I would try it out once or twice and, like so many exercise DVDs I have borrowed from the library, I would be disappointed.

I was so wrong.

I was not expecting much from this DVD. I did not expect it to be hard. I did not expect Jillian to be as likable as I found her to be. I did not expect to rise to the challenge of the program. I did not expect I would be recommending it to other people. I certainly did not expect AN EXERCISE DVD to change my life (albeit in very subtle ways). But I am skipping ahead to the grand finale, first things first.

I tried Level 1 of the 30 Day Shred on a Wednesday afternoon while Julian did Legos a few feet away (I figured I could at least try to get a 20 minute workout in while he played). I used five pound dumbbells and the only modification I made was doing the second set of pushups on my knees. I finished the workout and was pleasantly surprised to find it compared favorably with using a personal trainer. I found the weight portion a bit challenging, but was not challenged by the cardio or abs portions. I figured I would maybe try it again in a few days.

I woke up the next morning with pain in my anterior deltoids, pectoral muscles, and quadriceps muscles. Not terrible "I can't walk" pain, but the pleasant muscle burn you get after a good workout. This made me happy. I biked with Julian to a park playdate and assumed that would be my exercise for the day. However, after we came home, Julian started watching tv and I did a little internet reading on this whole Shred business, which is how I found out I was supposed to do Level 1 for ten days, Level 2 for ten days, and Level 3 for ten days with no rest days. What about the pain? I was supposed to work through the pain, at least, this is what the people on the internet said. Well, I figured, I could try doing it again that day and if I needed to quit, I'd quit. But of course, I made it through that workout. And the next day's workout. And the next day's workout. I was forced to take a rest day on Day 7 because I had an acting job, but by Day 9, I was completely pain free and doing the workout with almost no modifications whatsoever. I had kicked Level 1's butt.

I had a hectic weekend which meant two rest days and moved on to Level 2.

On Day 1 of Level 2, I felt like I had to do modifications on every exercise and I still didn't manage to get through the whole thing. At one point, Jillian says she wants you to be "gargling your heart" and while that makes no sense when you hear it out of context, it is such an apt description for how one feels at that precise moment in the workout. The weights were hard and the cardio was hard. How could 2 minutes of cardio be hard when I run for 45 minutes regularly? Frankly, the first day of Level 2 was a bit disheartening for me. It was one of those "oh my gosh, I thought I was in shape, but this 20 minute workout really showed me what a weak lump of flesh I really am" moments. But then I thought about how I went from pain to no pain in Level 1 in only nine days and I was feeling stronger, like I could feel muscles gaining definition. So I told myself it was only nine more days. I woke up on Day 2 in no pain and I was able to complete the workout on Day 2, and by Day 5 I was able to do it with no modifications, though it still felt really hard. I had an audition on what would have been Day 8 of Level 2, so I decided to take it easy and do the last day of Level 1 which I had skipped. And it was SO EASY. I mean, not so easy that I thought I wasn't getting a good workout or anything, more like I found myself surprised by my own strength and started considering getting some 8-10 pound weights. So I completed Level 2.

A note about Level 2: Julian was in camp for those two weeks, so I was able to get cardio workouts in as well. I have wondered if part of the reason Level 2 was so difficult for me was because I was running for 45 minutes before doing the workout. On the days when I didn't run or did the Level 2 Shred workout before the run, it was a bit easier.

So having completed Level 2, I had to make a decision. The library wanted its DVD back. Was I committed enough to this 30 Day Shred to actually buy the DVD? I mean, yeah, I wanted to finish the challenge, but did I think I would do it after the challenge was over or would this be a huge waste of money? Eh, it was $12 and I decided I liked it enough that I would keep doing the workouts once the 30 days were done.

Having invested in the DVD, I began Level 3. I had previously attempted to walk through Level 3 after one of my Level 2 workouts in the hope that I would not find myself surprised by the workout as I had been with Level 2. The first day of Level 3, it actually seemed slightly easier than I expected because I wasn't doing it after my workout. Since there is much less delineation between weights, cardio, and abs in this one, it seemed both harder and easier than the previous levels. I managed to make it through with almost no modifications and there seemed to be less of a learning curve with this Level. Some days felt easier than others, but that had less to do with me progressing from cannot to can and more to do with external factors like what I ate for breakfast or how much sleep I got the night before.

Yesterday was Day 10 of Level 3. I completed Jillian Michaels' 30 Day Shred. In my case, given the rest days I took, it was more like the 37 Day Shred.

You can do an internet search to find other people's impressive before and after pictures, but I have none to show.

I am certainly stronger and more toned, but I did not lose weight nor did I lose inches. This may be because I was already in fairly alright shape when I started the routine. It also may be because the lessons I needed to learn were not about weight or inches lost, but about stamina and perseverance.

In exercise, as in life, I tend to do the things I like to do. I tell myself that if I don't like it, I won't stick to it. While I don't love doing the elliptical machine, I can usually read a magazine or something while doing it. While I don't love running, I love the endorphin rush I get afterwards and can just manage to stave off boredom with the right songs on my iPod. In exercise, as in life, I have a tendency to give up on things if they are too hard. I tell myself that if it doesn't naturally flow out of me, than I must not be meant to do it. I tell myself that people with true talent never struggle or feel doubt about their abilities. However, it isn't necessarily the best thing for one to only do the things that one likes or that are easy. It is a self-defeating thing to tell yourself that because it feels like work or because it hurts or because you get stuck, then that must mean you aren't meant to do it.

Yeah, I am not just talking about exercise anymore, am I?

So I did learn a lot about myself doing this exercise routine. I learned that what I would never do in an hour, I would do in 20 minutes, so breaking something down into small chunks makes it easier for me to get it done. I learned that I do need an external stimulus to encourage me and sometimes that stimulus can come from a surprising source (I really would not have thought I would like Jillian so much. She is both really hard and really encouraging, but not in a perky way). I learned that I really like deadlines. But most of all, what I learned doing Jillian Michaels' 30 Day Shred is that I can commit to something that doesn't feel natural, that doesn't feel easy, that doesn't hold my interest every single second, and that I can work through the pain.

Now to go and apply those lessons I learned to the rest of my life.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Oh Boy Peggy Sue

Buddy Holly would have been 75 today.

I think it is hard for those of us who were not alive when Buddy Holly was to understand what the world he was giving his music to was like. We hear the rockabilly guitar and we don't generally think of buttoned up tuxes.

Looking at this video clip of Buddy Holly on the Arthur Murray Party through the prism of over half a century, it is hard to reconcile the hints of wild abandon in the music with the girls in formal gowns. We hear Buddy Holly and we think of this

Monday, September 05, 2011

Insanity Laughs Under Pressure We're Cracking

"'Cause love's such an old fashioned word
And love dares you to care for
The people on the edge of the night
And loves dares you to change our way of
Caring about ourselves"--Queen and David Bowie

This seemed a fitting video to post for Labor Day and for what would have been Freddie Mercury's 65th birthday.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Remember What I Told You

"These are dangerous days. To say what you feel is to dig your own grave." Sinead O'Connor
Is it a surprise that children raised without hope should grow alienated from society? What is the point of following the rules when all it means is you are left without prospects? What happens to a dream deferred?
It's the same story over and over again, just like Groundhog Day, except we seem to have learned nothing from the past. We think we have made progress, we think we have evolved, but then something happens and we realize that we are where we always were. We are shocked by the realization that we are not insulated from the violence and destruction that occurs in so much of the world, but we are not really interested in addressing the problems which led to the events sparking our revelation. It is far easier to demonize the perpetrators and ignore the problem. Peace is restored and we are lulled into believing we have moved past the unpleasantness. Economies improve despite austerity measures and enough people seem to be lifted up that we feel justified in ignoring the injustices and inequalities around us. Until next time.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Restaurant Review: Bowpicker

The next time you find yourself in Astoria, Oregon, do yourself a favor and eat at the Bowpicker. It's an outdoor fish & chips place across from the Columbia River Maritime Museum (which is one of the reasons I would assume you would find yourself in Astoria, Oregon--I mean, it isn't always just to travel across the bridge). Big chunks of tuna and awesome french fries made right in front of you.

And when I said it was outdoor, did I mention that all it is is a kitchen inside of a boat?
There are picnic tables on the other side for your convenience. And while we were lucky enough to have sunshine (I know it looks gray in the picture, but trust me, that is a sunny day in Oregon) on the day we were there, this is food worth sitting in the rain to eat.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sure To Warm Your Heart This Holiday Season!

If you loved About a Boy and As Good As It Gets, you won't want to miss Shining!
My favorite part was when the twins taught Danny an important lesson about sharing.
P.S. The book was still better than the movie.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

And So It Begins Once Again: Project Runway

WARNING This blogpost has been overrun by a teal deer.
A couple of weeks ago, I saw the Glamour with Heidi Klum on the cover and it mentioned that Project Runway would be starting up again this summer. Then, a few nights ago, I thought I'd check the internet and find out when, exactly, it might be starting. Lo and behold, it started tonight.
I know, we are so over it, right? I mean, after last season (not to mention the whole Lifetime switch) I have seriously wondered if the producers of the show still cared and if they did, were they capable of demonstrating they had a clue. Could I maintain an interest in this beast to watch it all the way through?
Which led me to have the great idea of blogging this thing.
"Are we really back here again?" Heidi asks us.
It really doesn't bode well for a show when its host seems bored by it all before it has even started.
Sure, it started off interesting with the inclusion of the audition process. Heidi and Tim Gunn explained that they invited 20 designers to have their best work judged by Heidi, Michael Kors, Nina Garcia, and Tim (YAY for Tim being a judge, btw) and how they would choose the sixteen who would get to take part in the show. It certainly felt like we were getting to see a side of the judges we do not normally see (especially the moment when Heidi started singing. Girls got some pipes on her).
This first half hour served as a good reminder that the actual fashion presented is only part of what the judges are looking for, that they are also evaluating the designers' appearance and personality, as well as how much drama they would bring to the show (Let's remember, for a moment, how craptastic the editing has been since the show moved to Liftime, how all the drama has not only seemed painfully manufactured, but how they seemed to go out of their way to get the audience to hate the eventual winner. Clearly, this is a reality show that needs less pretend conflict and more of the real stuff). Some people were so obviously in it was almost painful to watch. Miss Trinidad and Tobago revealed she only just learned to sew a few weeks ago and when the other judges who were concerned she lacked the skills the competition required Heidi might as well have said, "But she is a former beauty queen and her inability to sew will make for great television!" The beautiful boy who was too short to be a model. The old guy who worked for Halston and Bill Blass in the seventies who dropped out of fashion and descended into alcoholism when friends and lovers started dying of AIDS, how could they resist that story? The fact that he is twice as old as everyone else will also serve to teach us all a very special lesson about age discrimination (the fact that we barely saw the clothes he showed the judges, which were deemed as too safe and dull, only served to remind us how beside the point the fashion was). Slightly punkish grunge guy who told us he was both a survivor of testicular cancer AND color blind (to clinch it, Heidi wanted to steal his scarf).
And then there were all the Project Runway types we have come to know and love: the edgy alternagirls who already feel they have to let us know how cool and edgy their designs are, the token blonde from the heartland, there to confirm every negative stereotype people in New York and LA hold about people from the flyover states, the man of color who was positive that he made sexy clothes because they were tighter, the guy who looked like Carl from Phineas and Ferb, the girl who looked like Carl from Phineas and Ferb, the people who sniffed that the judges are not avant garde enough to to get them. Really, at this point, can anyone be bothered to learn their names?
So people got auffed, people move in and the producers try to convince us that we are interested in who is bunking with whom, then we see them "go to sleep." Next thing we (and they) know, Tim is standing above them like the Ghost of Fabulous Mentor Present instructing them to bring a bed sheet and meet him in the lobby, and, no, you can't put on a bra. When confronted by such visitations, be they flesh or spirit, even the person who is not a contestant on a reality TV show would be a fool to ignore such a command. After what must have been a slightly awkward walk through the empty streets of New York in little more than skivvies, they all arrive at Parsons where Tim tells them, QUELLE SURPRISE, their challenge is to fashion something awesome from their night clothes and the sheet. I can't understand why they are so shocked by this, have any of these people ever watched this show? At least they are getting dyes and trimmings to help bridge the gap between sleepytime and runway ready.
In an effort to get us interested in the people, the producers have, as per usual, included way too much footage of the designers talking about how hard it all is, but precious little time actually showing us the clothes. The best part is when Tim comes by to critique the designs, but we (and from what we can tell he) doesn't get to see much. I am not sure if this was because they actually were all not very far along when he visited or if the producers are now deliberately withholding the fashion from us. I can almost see them all sitting in a meeting and saying, "But if the audience sees almost nothing, they will not be bored by the runway show." Which is absolutely true. Unfortunately, by showing me almost nothing, you have guaranteed that I was bored up until the runway show. And, let's remember, the runway show is rarely boring.
Finally, after all the product placements have been reiterated, it is runway time. Heidi introduces the judges (Michael and Nina who everyone knows, but she is contractually obligated to read their CV every episode, and guest judge Christina Ricci). You can go see the designs here. Like the designers, there were just too many of them to really make an impression on me, I would think I saw something I thought was interesting, but then it was washed away when the next wave crashed. Even the voiceovers from the designers, wherein invariably the poor little bunny proclaims a statement filled with hubris and delusion as to the quality of the design and effect it has on the judges, failed to leave much of an impression given the sheer number of designs. The top three were Miss Trinidad and Tobago, the old recovering alcoholic, and the colorblind cancer survivor (as if to prove to us that not only do they make for great television, they make for great fashion). The bottom three were fairly unmemorable, even in their badness (except for the "sexy clothes" guy who seemed to be trying to channel both Christian Siriano from Season 4 and Casanova from last season). Overall, I had no real impression of the judges except they seemed pretty blunt this time around. Christina Ricci was incredibly kind and found something nice and truthful to say to each of the designers in the bottom three. Other than that, it all seemed really flat, as if they too felt that they just want to get this pack down to a manageable number before whipping out the witty bon mots. The only spark was when MK suggested that an oddly placed pocket on one pair of pants might be an "I like myself pocket." Heidi made a point of saying she always knew there was more to Anya despite her only just having learned to sew (apparently she is a savant. However, given the amount of time given to thsi topic, I sense it will figure heavily in future episodes) and Nina made noises that she, too, had always wanted Miss T&T to be a part of the show (Nina apparently is unaware that video records your words and actions for posterity. Next Nina will be telling us she voted for Mondo to win last season). So when they bring the designers back out, it was no real surprise that the skills learned at Halston and Bill Blass meant victory for Bert and, alas, Mr. Sexypants was booted. Project Runway strikes a blow against age discrimination!
Scenes from future episodes were then shown to us in the hopes that we would be teased to return: Tim declaring that they are doing things they've never done before, arguing in the work room, judges being harsh, designers throwing one another under the bus. Yes, it looks pretty familiar, pretty much like every single teaser for Project Runway, ever. However, if we do come back next time, which PR will we get? We can only hope we will see flashes of the one we grew to love many years ago, where the confluence of some serious bitchery and poorly conceived contest rules made Wendy Pepper the villain who got to Bryant Park despite her own questionable design skills, but I fear we will just see another iteration of pretend villains and somewhat boring winners. I will admit, my interest is piqued just enough to keep watching.
I am not sure, however, that I am interested enough to do any more recaps. Like the judges, I can't muster the energy to come up with clever witticisms. At least I can't right now. Maybe as the season progresses, I will feel more invested in all the goings on and I will be excited enough to talk about it. I promise, you'll be the first to know.

Fun With Legos

When Jeff was in town, he took Julian to the Lego Store bought Julian the Lego Police Station, a set Julian has been coveting for some time. So Jeff is officially better than Santa Claus. At least for the few hours it took Julian to build the set.
Of course, once you start building police sets, you may find yourself inspired to build other police themed structures.
You can only imagine how excited I was when Julian came up to me and said, "Look, mom, a TARDIS." He wouldn't let me take a picture of the one he built by himself, so this is the second one that we made together after looking at pictures of the TARDIS online.
Needless to say, I am very proud.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

My Mistakes

Why keep time traveling if it doesn't get better on me the second time around?-Eleanor Friedberger

I used to take ballet at a studio where they had a big poster with random rules to live by. One of the rules was that there are no mistakes in life, only lessons, and you will keep getting the same lesson until you learn it, at which point, you will proceed to the next lesson (I know this is a variation on a Mark Twain quote as well as one of the key points made by many self-help motivational speakers). While I certainly agree with this assessment, I am never sure how successful we humans are at learning from mistakes. In my experience, it seems like we keep going back and doing the same thing over and over again with small variations in the hope that we will hit upon the magic combination of circumstances which will turn that mistake into a win. Or we keep going back to the past and reliving it, worrying over the details, wondering if we could have prevented the mistake from ever having occurred.

I love this video because it feels so familiar to me. I remember hitting a tennis ball against a wall as a kid and watching Eleanor Friedberger do it makes me want to run out to the alley with a racket right now. It also made me think of La Boum, that film I was forced to watch in French class a few years in a row (I think the teachers had the misguided idea that teen movies were an excellent way of luring us into the magic of the French language) though it really bears no resemblance to the film whatsoever. But what I love most of all is how it shows the passage of time, how we can keep the dresses of our youth, wondering if things could have turned out differently if only we had worn the dress with different shoes, only to realize we are pretty happy with the way things turned out after all.

Be warned, this song is seriously awesome. If you aren't careful, you will find yourself bouncing around and singing it.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

The Heartache Starts Early Around Here

Julian went to his first baseball game a few weeks ago. He had a great time at Wrigley Field even though the Cubs lost. And just like that, a new generation gets initiated in the age old tradition of waiting until next year.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Watching Forever

So I am all jazzed up tonight, drunk on nostalgia, listening to music of my youth. Which of course meant I eventually stumbled upon New Order's
Ceremony and came across the above version on YouTube and, for the first time, heard the words "Travel first and lean towards this time." As it happened, I had just read the following on IO9

and the following question went through my head: Oh my gosh, was Joy Division/New Order writing about Doctor Who? Except, well, this is more present day Doctor Who stuff, not quite the stuff Doctors Four and Five were experiencing back in the day when this song was written.

But maybe in the future, when Apple perfects their mountain of cash time machine, they will go back and impose New Who on Ian Curtis, which is why this is the last song he ever wrote, and then, because my mind folds coincidences into origami birds and determines it all adds up to almond custard, I think this must be the case because John Simm played Bernard Sumner in 24 Hour Party People and The Master on Doctor Who. Clearly this must all mean something, right?

I have always felt that this was far and away the best New Order song. For a band that often managed to capture the pain of youth, the lyrics, "I'll break them down, no mercy shown, heaven knows it's got to be this time" seems beyond apt when I recall high school, the tears of rage and fists beating against the insurmountable wall, the seemingly never ending stream of humiliation and failure. It goes without saying there were no triumphs (at least not in my recollections, pain being a far more memorable emotion than happiness). Except, in retrospect, maybe the triumph of adolescence is not dissimilar from the triumph of New Order the band--the phoenix from the flame, rising from the ashes of tragedy, making something of yourself despite the fact that everyone around you is telling you to pack it in and ignoring all those who will say you are a naff sellout. Because, let's face it, suicide is the easy way out, it's living life and getting old that is hard. Dying young, regret free, is glamorous, but the real work is in living a life and finding out that you wouldn't trade those regrets you racked up if it meant becoming someone else.

Chasing Youth

In terms of measuring up to the first time I saw U2 26+ years ago it is hard to know if anything is even capable of such a feat. I mean, as first concerts go, that blew anything I could have imagined away. And it is unlikely I will ever again be front row center for U2, so it goes without saying the Vertigo show I saw in the fall of 2005 may never be topped, but then, they probably could have read the phone book and I would have been beside myself with glee. However, all this being said, last night came pretty close.

Yeah, this isn't Roddy Frame in a church basement, but what would I do with Bono in a church basement anyway? Some rock stars are meant to be viewed from afar.

And when the rain came at the very end, I realized that even Mother Nature was conspiring to make the evening one which could never be replicated.

Friday, June 24, 2011

I Know What I Believe Don't Need To Wear It On My Sleeve

That's why I sometimes stand alone at parties, that's why I drink so I'll be who they think I am- Voice of the Beehive

For many years, I would have said this was my theme song.

I know, on the surface, this sounds like a clever, less well known take on the ground already covered by The Go-Gos with Our Lips Our Sealed. But where Our Lips Our Sealed was the complaint of the popular, the narcissists who actively sought attention complaining when they received it, the celebrities who won't leave the spotlight yet can't bear its constant glare, I Say Nothing by Voice of the Beehive always felt to me to be the thoughts of the outcast on the subject of gossip and suddenly having people pay attention to one, "I'm not what they believe and if they find out they will leave." And the bemusement that someone who had always been invisible feels when it is suggested that others may see them, "If we come and go alone why do they need to know?"

And you probably are thinking, "Alison, you talk all the time, on what planet would a song called I Say Nothing be considered your theme song?" The thing is, I talk as a defense mechanism. I used to say I practiced the hiding in plain sight principle of self-revelation in that I talked all the time, no one paid attention to anything I was saying, so if I slipped and gave out information about myself or others which was important, well, who would notice, wouldn't it just get lost in the shuffle? I may say a lot, but trust me, I say nothing.

So, to put it bluntly, this song makes me think of college (though it came out a couple years before I graduated high school). It makes me think of the awkwardness of transitioning from someone no one bothered with to someone who suddenly had to navigate the attention of people who didn't have a pre-existing notion of who I was. It makes me think of all the conversations with boys who told me they would leave me black and blue and rip my heart in two and how I said nothing. But most of all, it reminds me of the feeling of running around campus in crinolines and combat boots with my best friend.

A couple of weeks ago, we joined Tracy and her daughters in Portland to celebrate Reed's Centennial. We stayed in the dorms (ones which were there when we were students) and relived our youth, except that the food was way better than it was when we were there (probably because society's tastes have evolved in twenty years and not just because Commons has been rebuilt into something shiny and new) and the weather was nicer (it being June and not February). The presence of our respective entourages meant we could not ignore our real life responsibilities entirely which actually was a great thing. Tracy commented that it was good to have a reminder of what she values of being a grown up. I did not think anything so deep, I just thought we had way more fun with kids there and, really, the set up was able to offer them a freedom they wouldn't normally have. Julian, Kate, and Bridgett ran around unsupervised with other kids, reminding me a bit of the dogs which ran in packs from back in the day except far cuter, much better behaved, and less smelly. It was nice to be forced to go to sleep on time and wake up far too early because, let's face it, I have grown into the sort of person who needs to eat breakfast.

But for all my talk of adulthood, I was surprised how campus felt so familiar, how eighteen years could be stripped from me and it could feel like no time had passed since the last time I ran from the Cross Canyon bridge to the Sports Center because I was late for a dance class. I would have expected eighteen years to have left more of a mark on me. And there was a moment, that last night we were there, when I was walking around without Tracy or Fred or any of the kids (all of whom were sensibly asleep) and looked at the crowds of revelers and I felt that same outsiderness which I thought I left behind when I graduated. Maybe I should blame the trees. Maybe I should blame memory. It would seem that everything stays with you, that you never stop being the person you once were, that the past is never truly past but is forever lurking just behind the present, waiting to leap out and yell, "Surprise!" For awhile there, it felt like the only people I knew were people who still won't talk to me, even though you would think they got over whatever they hated about me all those years ago. But then I recovered. People appeared to shout that they had missed me all these years, I talked to some people I cared about while stealing sips of their wine because I liked the taste (and did not need the mind altering effects of getting a whole glass for myself), and then I walked back across the canyon and went to bed.

Believing myself to be one of the lonely few who's laughing at the joke.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Ornamental Turtle

Happy Father's Day!
Pop up the corn, roll the Disney video.

Friday, May 20, 2011


I find the fact they used a Sesame Street set for this Blondie video to be terribly disturbing. As in "the single greatest indicator that we are living in the end times" sort of disturbing. And I suspect that post-Rapture America will look not unlike the world depicted in this video-skinny white chick "rapping" to a black man in a white suit (with top hat) pretending to be "the Man from Mars" on a street that is too sanitized-I mean, if post-Rapture America is supposed to be an awkward, embarrassing place we wish we didn't have to live in, this fits the bill, does it not?

Got A Lion In My Pocket And Baby He's Ready 2 Roar

This song never gets old, even though its title is, by very definition, dated (and I know I have posted it before, but the context was entirely different, which I only proves how entirely awesome a song it is).

You must forgive me for being blase when it comes to end of the world predictions. I've heard it all before, but when all was said and done, Skynet did not gain self-awareness on August 29, 1997, alien invasion did not occur on July 5, 1998, and Y2K didn't even merit a blue screen of death. Not to mention I made it to adulthood without suffering through a nuclear apocalypse (something I never would have believed as an adolescent, back when the Cold War was still going strong and mutually assured destruction often seemed to be the only thing keeping world leaders from pushing the button). I just can't get worked up because someone says he has calculated that the Bible guarantees that the end is nigh, so send him all your money. However, on the off chance that the Rapture does happen tomorrow, I expect every one of you, be ye sinner or saint, to get your party on tonight. Just in case.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Reapers Are The Angels- Alden Bell

And you could say the world had gone to black damnation, and you could say the children of Cain are holding sway over the good and the righteous-but here's what Temple knows: She knows that whatever hell the world went to, and whatever evil she's perpetrated her own self, and whatever series of cursed misfortunes brought her down here to this island to be harbored away from the order of mankind, well, all those things are what put her there that night to stand amid the Daylight Moon and the Miracle of the Fish-which she wouldn't of got to see otherwise.

See, God is a slick god. he makes it so you don't miss out on nothing you're supposed to witness firsthand.

From the very first page of this book, you know you are in for something special.

The Reapers Are The Angels is not a book I would have picked up on my own. I really have no interest in the subject matter, finding it to be too goofy and gross, ridiculous and repulsive, foolish and foul. I saw some reviews on the internet, reviews so positive I had to check it out for myself and for this I am forever grateful because this is perhaps the most beautiful, poetic, emotionally ravaging book ever written about a post-Zombie apocalypse world.

When we first meet Temple, she is living in a lighthouse on a remote island, alone with her memories of an older man who gave her a home for awhile and a younger brother she loved, both of whom are long dead, both of whom she couldn't save. Forced to return to the mainland and human interactions, we follow her on a journey through the remains of a world she never knew (having been born after the slugs took over the world). One the way, she makes enemies who want her dead and friends who can only do so much to keep her alive. She is tortured by the mistakes she made which led to the deaths of those she loved and she is tortured by her guilt at the evil she feels she now wreaks upon the world. And she is able to relish the moments of beauty in the world made ugly beyond imagination

Temple watches. The god she knows is too big to need the supplication of the puny wanderers of the earth. God is a slick character, with magics beyond compare--like the lights that tempt you into the belly of the beast, or sometimes other lights, like the moon and the glowing fish, that lead you back out again.

I never wanted this book to end. I loved the ending and, yet, I wanted so much for it to be otherwise. Temple gets her happy ending, but it isn't one where she gets her brother back, and though the whole point of the book is that it is a bad thing when people come back from the dead, I found myself wishing it could be otherwise. Because Temple really deserved a life free from that pain. Yet if she had had it, she may never have been able to see all the miracles of her world.

She is thinking how he died once in her mind already, and how he came back to life to sit here talking with her here in this abandoned little town in Texas. And that leads her thinking about the nature of all things, about how dead things have trouble staying dead, and forgotten things have trouble staying forgotten, and about how history isn't something from an encyclopedia- it's everywhere you look.

You have to read this book. The beauty of the language will make you swoon, the ugliness of the world in which Temple lives will make you despair, and her pain will make you cry hard tears which burn your skin. And every page is filled with truths spin you around and then smack you right between the eyes.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Happy Mother's Day

"For finding your mother there's one simple test: you must look for the creature who loves you the best."--David Kirk

Julian and Fred are building a solar powered robot for me (at least, I have told them it must be for me since they are building it today).

Have a great day!

Monday, May 02, 2011

Further Thoughts

"We need apologize not a wit for the joy we feel. Not joy at vengeance; nor joy at death. Just joy at justice. Immense and profound joy." - Andrew Sullivan

‎"I've never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure." — Mark Twain

In almost every instance, I am opposed to the death penalty because I feel that death is too easy a punishment and it isn't ours to mete out.

I also do not approve of cheering the death of another as if it is akin to a sports team winning a championship. I reflexively shy away from "us vs. them" sorts of displays.

All that being said, I have found myself irritated by the comments from some of my Facebook friends in the wake of the news that Osama Bin Laden has been killed. I want to personally reach through the computer and gently, but firmly shake the people who are so cool that they could snark that they wanted to know if this would mean they wouldn't have to go through security when they flew. I feel annoyed at the smugness of people who criticize the people who filled the streets and cheered. I feel a visceral dislike for those who feel the appropriate response is to tut tut over how an eye for an eye never solves anything.

Under other circumstances, I probably would have agreed with these people. As I said, I am opposed to the death penalty and I hate mob rule (not to mention that annoying "USA USA" chant). And do I like snark? Heck yeah. And I used to be too punk rock to care and thought I was cooler than the rest of America.

But not now.

It is hard to articulate what I felt when I heard the news or what I feel today. If I am not crying, I feel I am on the verge of tears. I guess I would describe the feeling as relief, but it is unlike any relief I have ever known.

The first thing I did last night, after watching President Obama's press conference, was log on to the internet to commiserate with others. As I watched television last night, I felt that if I were young, I would have gone out and sought out others. Perhaps, I would have cheered. I would not have been cheering over the death of a man, I would have been cheering because one chapter of the story has finally ended. I would have been cheering because other people's happiness is contagious and it would have made the grief I still feel a bit easier to bear. I would have cheered because sometimes it feels good to give voice for all that is inarticulate inside of one's self.

My understanding is that many of those who were out in front of the White House last night were college students. It will be finals week at many colleges soon. I can only imagine what it must have been like to be 20 and to hear that this boogie man who has haunted half your life is dead, right as you are looking down the barrel of final exams. I may have run into the street cheering as well, simply because I would have so much steam I needed to let out. Yes, the chanting was boorish, but no one was hurt and they did not burn flags or any figures in effigy.

How one acts in the moment is not an indication for how one really feels upon reflection. For example, I wrote last night that I hoped Osama Bin Laden's body was fed to dogs. I knew this was, perhaps, on of the most disrespectful things which could be done to a Muslim. However, today, I am glad the US treated his body better than he treated the bodies of any of his victims.

Despite my opposition to the death penalty, I am relieved that it has ended this way. There are some crimes for which there is no suitable punishment available. I would have him really know each person who died and know what that loss meant, I would have him experience the last moments of each and every one of their lives and die each death, I would have him feel the pain of every person touched by the death of his victims. At times like this, I understand why people want to believe in a higher power, a hell, karma--not because we are afraid that this is all there is, but because we know there is evil and we know we are not all powerful when confronted with it.

The truth is, we were never going to take him alive. If a member of the UN force which went in hadn't shot him, it is guaranteed one of his men would have. He was always planning to die a martyr.

So I cannot criticize the killing and I cannot criticize those who went out and cheered last night. I cannot pretend I know what anyone else was feeling last night, I cannot even fully explain what I was feeling, but I cannot pretend that it was simplistic or easily describable. Maybe the only way to express it is with a scream. A scream of pain. A scream of triumph. A scream of relief.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Nine Years, Seven Months, Twenty Days

Remember that morning. It started with so much promise, the mild weather and shining sun was like an invitation to bask in the last gasp of summer. Who would ever have expected the world would end on such a gorgeous day?

A lot has happened since that morning in September.

I didn't think we would ever see Osama Bin Laden killed or captured, I totally expected him to die of natural causes, protected as he was by our enemies and allies alike. I guess I didn't expect it to matter to me so much if it did happen. I, like many, thought this would be little more than symbolic victory, too little and too late, because so many will just rush in to fill the void he would leave, and we have made so many enemies over the years.

But he is dead. Finally. He was killed by American forces and his body is ours to do with what we choose. I hope it is fed to dogs.

I am crying tears of grief for all those who died for us to get to this point. I am crying tears of joy because he deserved to die. I am crying tears of relief that a big chunk of this story is over. Most of all, I am crying for the world we lost nearly a decade ago and all the people who died that day.

This death won't bring all that we lost back. It probably won't make our wars in Iraq or Afghanistan end sooner. It certainly won't make people who hate us our friends. We will still have to take our shoes off and submit to TSA gropings at airports. It probably is just a symbolic victory. But that doesn't mean it isn't important. Because, when all is said and done, symbols matter.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Another Embarrassing True Confession Which I Offer Up For Your Amusement

One would think I have revealed all my secrets to you by now. However, I strive to only present my most charming, intelligent, savvy self to you, dear reader, while keeping the inept, incompetent, foolish parts of me hidden from view. Except, of course, for those times when I imagine that revealing all the awkwardness will make you laugh. Today is one of those times.

When I was a teenager, I read Ayn Rand. I not only read Ayn Rand's novels, I liked them and talked about them with other people. As most of these other people were also teenagers, we lacked insight and a great deal of information, but we felt our conversations extremely NECESSARY and IMPORTANT. We didn't have a clue what we were talking about and had very little real world experience, but we still believed no one had ever had the thoughts and feelings we did and those who scorned us just didn't understand. In this respect, we were not unlike the characters in an Ayn Rand novel.

This is not only not news, it isn't uncommon or embarrassing. Even if you didn't already know this about me, you probably could have guessed it given my background and love of reading. Right now, as we speak, another crop of sheltered, bookish, upper-middle class fifteen year olds are reading The Fountainhead for the first time and planning to become architects.

Something else I used to do was when enjoyed a book, I would imagine the film version that I would make of it. I would think about camera angles and how certain aspects of he plot might have to be changed to accommodate the different media. It goes without saying that I usually imagined myself in the lead role.

This also is unsurprising and not uncommon behavior. Many successful actors talk about how they did this as children and, more pointedly, it seems like half the movies that are made began life as a novel or short story.

Now, we are at the point in the tale where I must make like Salome and lift the last veil. While I am sure you have already figured out what lies underneath, it makes the next step no less hard.

I had grand plans to turn Ayn Rand novels into films. Not only that, I though I was the only person who ever dreamt of such things. They would be epic and brilliant and would win me a shelf full of awards.

We The Living would be a strict period piece, set in newly Soviet Russia. I would play Kira.

Anthem would be set in the future. It would appeal to sci-fi fans and I had no intention to star in it. I just wanted to direct it. I still do, actually. I mean, a man's search for individuality in a post-apocalyptic dystopia, what is not to love?

Atlas Shrugged would be set in, well, when the hell could it be set, really? By the time I was reading the books, I knew that railroads as great industrial artery had been superseded by highways and runways. So it couldn't be set in the present. But, really, it doesn't work if it is set in the past either. Or, I thought, the future. So I just ignored this technicality and thought about how certain scenes would be filmed and what parts would need to be adapted (for those who are unfamiliar with the novel, this is my oblique way of saying that I had no intention of abusing the audience with John Galt's seventy page speech wherein he says the same thing over and over again. COME ON, who the hell does this? That's like shining a blinding spotlight at your audience for a very long scene and then suggesting the reason people walked out is because Shylock was a black man. So, yeah, maybe Peter Sellars would keep the speech in his adaptation of Ayn Rand, but it would be disjointed and electronic.) The one scene which was very clear in my mind, which would be used in all the trailers, commercials, and Oscar clips, was one between Hank Rearden and Francisco D'Anconia

If you saw Atlas, the giant who holds the world on his shoulders, if you saw that he stood, blood running down his chest, his knees buckling, his arms trembling but still trying to hold the world aloft with the last of his strength, and the greater his effort the heavier the world bore down upon his shoulders-what would you tell him to do?

I . . . don't know. What . . . could he do? What would you tell him?

To shrug.

It would have been brilliant! Really. Oh, and yes, I would play Dagny (though I would wear five inch heels because I acknowledge I am too short otherwise).

I had no desire to turn The Fountainhead to film, perhaps because Ayn herself already tried and, well, much like the producers of Sex and the City, she seemed blind to what was awesome and to miss the entire point of her own work. Even at sixteen, I knew a failed rendition when I saw one.

Through the twists and turns of choice and fate, I arrived at a place where I did not make films. If I were, I would certainly not be making Atlas Shrugged (I mean, it embarrasses me to even suggest I once wanted to). However, this does not mean others with a similar vision did not manage to succeed and, perhaps, I am generous enough to be embarrassed for them as well.
The federal government shouldn't outlaw dreadful movies like Atlas Shrugged – rather, the feds should just regulate them. For example, we could have a federal mandate that all such movies must star Nicolas Cage or a comparable actor – someone who knows how to bring the right level of gravitas to dialogue like, "Which do I sacrifice: an excellent piece of smelting, or this Institute?"
I mean, I would be embarrassed for them if I didn't enjoy all the mockery that people are making at their expense so much. Besides, as followers of Rand, they have no need for my generosity, knowing that there is no such thing as altruism.

Is the film as bad as the reviews say it is? Let's watch the trailer.

See, they do not have the awesome scene explaining the title in it. What were they thinking?

Also, there seems to be a stunning lack of sex in the trailer. I am not only saying this is weird because the wooden dialogue and bad acting are reminiscent of a porn film, but also because sex was important in Ayn Rand's novels. Her female characters were strong women who were sexually free, unfettered by society's demands with regards to chasteness and morality. Sex is presented as an opportunity of like minded individuals to connect, not as means of procreation. Her characters have sex with each other a lot. Extramarital and non-marital sex happens more frequently and is often presented as more noble than the sex which occurs between married couples. The risk of pregnancy is never discussed and one would wonder if her characters are all infertile, or perhaps in Rand's parallel universe procreation happens through some non-sexual means. So while this film seems to be chock full of "OMG the government and socialists are ruining us", it seems to have ignored the bits of Rand's work which didn't correspond with their world view.

Which is a pity because while her work is cartoonish, it is a far more complex cartoon than either her critics or her champions would lead you to believe.

I grew up. I learned more. I learned that while I could gloss over the parts of Rand I disliked, I could not accurately call myself a fan of hers if I did. I began to understand that one does not need to embrace an entire philosophy, that one may pick and choose and create their own. I learned that my vision of the world was wholly my own. I learned that not all things loved in childhood translate well to adulthood. Most importantly, I realized that not every book needs to become a film.

While I have called this an embarrassing confession, I think what I really feel is discomfort with how naive I used to be, a lack of ease with the inherent arrogance that comes with inexperience. But also, with all the discombobulation comes a profound gratitude that I have evolved from that place.

And, yeah, someday I may end up making the film Anthem.