Sunday, November 27, 2005
"...the Swede, tentatively flexing an elbow while half running and half limping off the field, spotted me among the other kids, and called over, 'Basketball was never like this, Skip.'
The god (himself all of sixteen) had carried me up into athletes' heaven. The adored had acknowledged the adoring. Of course, with athletes as with movie idols, each worshiper imagines that he or she has a secret, personal link, but this was one forged openly by the most unostentatious of stars and before a hushed congregation of competitive kids--an amazing experience, and I was thrilled. I blushed, I was thrilled, I probably thought of nothing else for the rest of the week. The mock jock self-pity, the manly generosity, the princely graciousness, the athlete's self-pleasure so abundant that a portion can be freely given to the crowd--this munificence not only overwhelmed me and wafted through me because it had come wrapped in my nickname but became fixed in my mind as an embodiment of something grander even thatn his talent for sports: the talent for 'being himself,' the capacity to be this strange engulfing force and yet to have a voice and a smile unsullied by even a flicker of superiority--the natural modesty of someone for whom there were no obstacles, who appeared never to have to struggle to clear a space for himself."
"Perhaps by definition a neighborhood is the place to which a child spontaneously gives undivided attention; that's the unfiltered way meaning comes to children, just flowing off the surface of things. Nonetheless, fifty years later, I ask you: has the immersion ever again been so complete as it was in those streets, where every block, every backyard, every house, every floor of every house--the walls , ceilings, doors, and windows of every last friend's family apartment--came to be so absolutely individualized? Were we ever again to be such keen recording instruments of the microscopic surface of things close at hand, of the minutest gradations of social position conveyed by linoleum and oilcloth, by yahrzeit candles and cooking smells, by Ronson table lighters and venetian blinds?"
Friday, November 25, 2005
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
The Miami Book Fair is big. Thousands of people, millions of dollars worth of books, dozens of fabulously talented authors. Located in the heart of downtown Miami, a beautiful location on an urban college campus. I only went for one day, the Saturday street fair, but the event went on for more than a week. It was a ruly crowd, but civility notwithstanding, book fair attendees are a passionate group, easily whipped into a barely contained frenzy by a well-articulated metaphor, awarding standing ovations to professorial scribes and avant-garde performance artists alike.
My primary objective in attending the fair was to obtain signed copies of Wicked and Son of a Witch by Gregory Maguire, on behalf of my out-of-town daughter. That objective was achieved, but unexpected bonuses were around every corner. A highlight of the day was being touched by Mitchell Kaplan--he was managing the book-signing line and because one of the authors was free, he herded me up to the front with an encouraging hand on the shoulder. Kaplan is the godfather of the book fair, the owner of Books and Books, and a literary legend in south Florida. I didn't have the presence of mind to say anything to him, but I wish I had told him thank you for all he has done for the literary arts in our region.
Maguire was scheduled at 11:00 a.m., on a panel with Eric Bogosian and James Shapiro. I knew that would be a popular event, so I took my seat in time to see the 10:00 feature: Zane. I knew nothing about Zane, but the audience was 95% black, and predominantly young--the group near me was obviously high school students with their English teacher. As it was soon revealed, Zane, writes "erotica"--essentially ethnic romance novels, apparently dominating a niche where there isn't much competition. She owns a book store in Baltimore, is in negotiations for a tv talk show and a tv dating show, is launching a clothing line and a personal products line, writes between three and eight books a year, and has her own publishing house. Her books are best-sellers. She read from her latest book and it was full of stereotypes and cliches. If it had been written by a white person, I'd say it was racist. Since I believe that a work of art stands on its own merits, apart from either the intentions or the ethics of the author, I'm bound to say that, in fact, it is racist. The character she described for comic relief is named "Precious"--she is a former stripper with 5 kids from 4 different men, collecting government checks and child support. The narrator ridicules the woman's hairstyle, fingernails, makeup, clothes, lack of education, and uncouth behavior, in contrast to our heroine, who is poise and good taste personified. As I said, stereotypes and cliches. The phrase "open a can of whup-ass" was featured. At one point Zane said, in response to a question about why she doesn't use her real name, that more than half of the authors she publishes use pseudonyms. I didn't think about it at the time, but later that really struck me. I wish I had stood up and said to her, maybe more than half of your authors use pseudonyms, but what percentage of the authors at the Miami Book Fair use them? I'm sure there is a inverse correlation between the quality of the prose and the likelihood of a nom de plume. She is making a lot of money, and I don't object to that. She got those black high school students to attend the book fair, and that is great. But if I were their English teacher, I would be sure they attended some other events as well, and I would hope that they didn't settle for just reading books when they can read literature.
Maguire, Bogosian and Shapiro read from their books and they were all fascinating and amusing in their own way. If Zane shows us that the way to make a lot of money from writing is to find your niche (or to write about sex)--Shapiro shows us that if you want to spend fifteen years writing a detailed book about one year in the life of William Shakespeare (1599) you need to be a college professor. Deadline? What's a deadline?
Bogosian was engaging and intense. He spoke reverently about Philip Roth and Norman Mailer, and said he feels old fashioned because young readers today don't want to learn anything from books, plays and movies. They look for a more "realistic" narrative; that is, one that goes on and on, with unexpected twists and no defined ending.
Maguire talked about Abu Graib and about his new-found fan base (pre-teen girls) and mentioned that he has adopted three children since the publication of Wicked. He brought those elements together and explained how they led to the sequel, Son of a Witch. Maguire, like Shapiro, is a college professor.
I didn't stay long enough to see Dave Barry with his band, the Rock Bottom Remainders. I did see Gloria Estevan, but she was signing books, not singing. And I saw most of the presentation by the author of The Vagina Monologues, Eve Ensler. She is quite the icon.
The book fair is a safe place to be a liberal. I picked up a copy of the UN Univeral Declaration of Human Rights. [Article 9 - No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.] The speakers spoke emphatically and freely about their dismay at current trends in American domestic and foreign policies.
I had a great day in Miami, milling about with all the other bibliophiles. I came home tired but happy, and I'll be back again next year.
Thursday, November 17, 2005
"Maybe the human animal has contributed nothing to the universe but kissing and comedy--but, by God, that's plenty." --Tom Robbins
The following is interesting to an exceedingly small number of humans on this earth. Coincidentally, that also describes the number of people who read my blog. What are the odds that anyone who reads this will be interested in my statistical analysis of the 11/13/05 Achenblog?
Well, first of all, if you do not know Achenblog, you should go there now and forget Read-Think-Live. You should only come here after you've read whatever Joel has to say, because he is smarter and funnier and a better writer than I am.
Below is a simple analysis of the kaboodlers on the "Fabulator 5000 and Fast Food Farming" kit from November 13. There was no kit on November 14, so the comments went on for two days--a total of 306, which is more than normal for one day, but about average for two days. The number of different names commenting (counting "no name given" as one) was 67. Three of those (Achenfan, Tom Fan and Dreamer) definitely belong to a single individual. CowTown and MadCow are presumably the same person, but omnigood and omnigasm claim to be two different people. If out of 7 completely anonymous posts there are three people responsible (just a guess), that brings us back to 67, so that's a good number. Number of commenters with 2 or more comments: 38, number of commenters with 10 or more comments: 13. Average number of comments: 4.6. Average number of words per comment: 337. Achenbach: 6 comments, 237 words. (The original Achenpost was 839 words.)
|l OO mis||1||9|
|D. Lama BeWanna||1||24|
|an american in siam...||2||328|
Wednesday, November 16, 2005
I left work at 12:30 today and spent most of the afternoon at a Hadassah meeting at a nearby retirement community. Hadassah is a Jewish women's educational and charitable organization. I was there as part of a panel discussion. The topic was "peace." I was on the panel with three other women from the interfaith group I work with (JAM & All): one Jewish, one Buddhist, and one Muslim. I had the job of explaining peace from a Christian perspective.
There's no question in my mind that the historical Jesus was a pacifist and that the risen savior wants nothing more than for us to love one another and live together in peace. My research indicates that the early Christian church was both communal and pacifist. Early Christians didn't own property and they didn't serve in the military. Once Constantine's conversion led to the creation of the Holy Roman Empire, and Christianity was changed from cult status to a state religion, everything changed. But, here's the thing: Jesus didn't change. So as a Christian, with a personal relationship with Jesus, I am only interested on a secondary level in theology and church teachings. My primary interest is in Jesus as revealed through the Bible and through prayer and meditation.
Jesus's message was "turn the other cheek," "love your neighbor," and "blessed are the peacemakers." There is no way to justify war or violence from his words alone. Paul's letter to the Ephesians tells them to "put on the whole armor of God"--it's a metaphor that makes the point that our struggle is spiritual, not physical.
When asked what the most important commandment was, Jesus said, "Love God." and then he said "...and the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself." So whenever a "Christian" comes up with a position, I test it like this: "Where's the love?"
You oppose gay marriage? Where's the love in that? You vote Republican? Show me how love motivated you there. You support the death penalty? Because you love...whom? You expect non-Christians to go to hell on judgment day? I'm sorry, I'm just not feeling the love there. This is how my walk with Jesus goes. The Bible says, God is love. And over and over the Bible says in so many words, if it doesn't come from love, it isn't of God. I'm not making this up.
I didn't give the "love" speech today; I stuck to "peace," and I kept it under four minutes.
It was interesting speaking to the Hadassah group--about 40 Jewish women, average age 75 or so. I had trouble picturing the audience in advance, and if anything I failed to connect with them because I didn't tailor the talk to them directly. But I think more than what any of us said, the power in our presentation was just the sight of the four of us, friends from four different faiths, sitting together, and celebrating our agreement on the issue of peace.
Monday, November 14, 2005
The Qur'an is the gift of this merciful God, a rulebook that makes it possible to follow God's will without having to discern it for ourselves. A guide to the good life.
Here is Surah 107: The Neighborly Needs:
In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
1. Do you see one who denies the Judgment (to come)?
2. Then such is the (man) who repulses the orphan (with harshness),
3. And does not encourage the feeding of the indigent.
4. So woe to the worshippers
5. Who are neglectful of their Prayers,
6. Those who (want but) to be seen (of men),
7. But refuse (to supply) (even) neighborly needs.
On a related note, the union des organisations islamiques de france (UOIF) issued a fatwa last week saying:
"It is formally forbidden to any Muslim seeking divine grace and satisfaction to participate in any action that blindly hits private or public property or could constitute an attack on someone's life."
He who has ears to hear, let him hear. Matthew 11:15
Sunday, November 13, 2005
5:00 a.m. For a long time, I woke up at 5:00 (or even 4:30) and went jogging for a half hour. But now since I ride my bike to work, I don't do that very often.
6:00 a.m. Time to be getting my stuff together so I can be on the road by 6:15.
7:00 a.m. Arrive at work, head to the bathroom to change into the corporate uniform: pantyhose, high heels, skirt, blouse, name badge.
8:00 a.m. The early reports should be run by now, and it's about time to answer the overnight emails.
9:00 a.m. Settle in for the workday, fielding inquiries, responding to (perceived) crises, holding up my end of the operation.
10:00 a.m. Time I leave for church on Sunday.
11:00 a.m. Time I eat lunch at my desk, while still working--that's because the coworker I share my office with goes to the cafeteria at 11--this way I can eat my crunchy cereal without bothering her. I read that "noisy eating" is the number 3 pet peeve at the office. (Number 1 is people yelling between cubicles)
12:00 noon Time I take my "lunch break" which usually means taking a walk--to the beach or just around town; I have a regular route that is 2.5 miles and goes over three drawbridges. That's a lot of scenery.
1:00 p.m. Time to be back from my lunch break--if I feel sweaty, I might spritz my mandarin orange-mango body spray. Body odor is probably somewhere on that office pet peeves list too--although nobody has complained and a few times when I have come in from walking at noon people have said, "you smell like fresh air!"
2:00 p.m. The afternoon tasks have to be lined up at this point--any requests I get from here on out will likely be resolved TOMORROW.
3:00 p.m. Time for school to be over for the day. This mattered to me for 12 years when I was in school and for another 12 when my daughter was in school. Now, it's pretty much irrelevant.
4:00 p.m. My workday officially ends. Change into my shorts and sneakers and jump on the bike for the "no-stress commute."
5:00 p.m. Arrive home. Assess the situation. My husband works at home (art studio), so I might find anything from a total disaster mess and mental confusion to a clean house and dinner on the table. I have to be flexible and take whatever comes.
6:00 p.m. Housework, as much as I can force myself to do before collapsing (I can do about 45 minutes to an hour. My house is not very clean.)
7:00 p.m. Reading, most nights, or a dvd/video.
8:00 p.m. Sometimes, craft projects--jewelry, crocheting, sewing--and Tocci goes back to the studio for a while.
9:00 p.m. We're winding down by this point, looking forward to sleeptime.
10:00 p.m. Weeknights, bedtime. Weekends, I'll probably be on the computer.
11:00 p.m. Remember the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson--it started at 10:30 where I was (Central Standard Time). When my brother was in high school (he's three years older) he had a job at Kentucky Fried Chicken. I would start watching the Tonight Show and at 11:00 he would come home from work and he would bring chicken! And we would sit and watch tv and eat the chicken, just the two of us. Those were the days when George Carlin and Steve Martin and David Steinberg used to be on and we would laugh until we almost literally fell out of our chairs--Steve Martin with the arrow through his head, I loved it.
12:00 midnight On New Year's Eve, when we were kids, our parents usually went out. We were allowed to stay up and Mom usually bought Seven-Up and Fritos and M&Ms. Big party. We would watch tv until the New Year and then go to bed. Nowadays, I go to bed early, knowing the neighbors will wake us up at midnight with fireworks and yelling. I greet the new year and turn over and go back to sleep.
1:00 a.m. After the Tonight Show, sponsored at our house by KFC, there was a local show with Gailard Sartain, who went by the stage name of Mazeppa (when he used his real name, he always pronounced it "Gailard S. Artain"). The show was called the Uncanny Film Festival; he showed old movies and during the breaks he did little skits, for example, parodies of local commercials. He was funny. Later, he developed more material and they dropped the movie and the show was called the Unfilmy Can Festival. Really. He's quite the big-shot character actor now. I was especially impressed by his role in The Spitfire Grill--he did a spot-on Maine accent, that's real skill for a Tulsa boy.
2:00 a.m. I can't remember the last time I stayed up that late--my 2 a.m. memories would be about the baby waking up or else my disco days.
3:00 a.m. Sometimes a train goes by--I live less than 1/2 mile from the tracks, and that is a cool sound in the darkness, the whistle and the train going by.
4:00 a.m. I love to wake up at 4:00 a.m. when I don't have to get up until 5:30. That last hour and a half is so special: bonus sleep.
Friday, November 11, 2005
Thursday, November 10, 2005
Many years ago I attended the MBF with my husband and baby daughter--she was about a month old. We went to see Dave Barry. I remember he talked a lot about Robert Bork, who had been nominated for the Supreme Court, and Dave being who he is, there were a lot of jokes about the nominee's name. Dave was funny and the audience was laughing a lot, I was laughing, Tocci was laughing. Later that day, after we returned home, I was changing the baby's diaper and she laughed for the first time in her life. I have always given Dave some credit for that first laugh.
Last year I went by myself and was somewhat overwhelmed by the excitement of it all. But I did see Gene Weingarten and Gina Barreca, along with Andy Borowitz. It was well worth the trip, just for that one program.
Wednesday, November 09, 2005
Tuesday, November 08, 2005
Two or three times when she was five years old, Danielle spent the day at the Swap Shop with her dad. She liked to stand on a box behind the counter, chatting up the customers, making the sale. A few months after Tocci had last been there, I was at the flea market, just strolling and shopping. I passed by the location where the ring stand had sometimes been located. It was something completely different now, maybe handbags. As I was walking by, I heard one shopper say to another, "Right there--that's where that little girl was selling the rings."
This passage from Out of Africa, by Isak Dinesen, always makes me cry:
"If I know a song of Africa...of the Giraffe, and the African new moon lying on her back, of the ploughs in the fields, and the sweaty faces of the coffee-pickers, does Africa know a song of me? Would the air over the plain quiver with a colour that I had had on, or the children invent a game in which my name was, or the full moon throw a shadow over the gravel of the drive that was like me, or would the eagles of Ngong look out for me?" ( p. 79)
Does a person's presence create a lasting physical change in the environment, a change that can be detected if we are open and sensitive to it? Is it only memory, and does it only exist when there's a person there to remember? Or do we shed DNA wherever we go, and leave our indelible footprints behind?
I'll be seeing you in all the old, familiar places
That this heart of mine embraces all day through
In that small cafe, the park across the way
The children's carousel, the chestnut tree, the wishing well
...I'll be looking at the moon, but I'll be seeing you...
--Irving Kahal and Sammy Fain
Monday, November 07, 2005
Nevertheless, it is a charming novel. Enchanting, even. All the Austen stories and characters inhabit the book in remembered cameos and slices like specimens for a laboratory slide. Fowler cites deprecatory quotes by Mark Twain and R.W. Emerson. They didn't "get" Austen. I guess she was just too subtle for them! In my literary notebook, Jane rates well below George Eliot, but I have always appreciated her humor and her plot twists. She's above, for example, the Brontë sisters.
Sunday, November 06, 2005
I need to calm down, find the equilibrium. It's all about being happy with what we do have: we do have running water, clothespins, nice books to read, flashlights and candles, a sturdy roof and walls. I feel something like anger towards the people who stubbornly refuse to admit that it is possible to live without cable tv or air conditioning or a dishwasher--so many people I know are planning to buy whole-house generators. The newspaper says they cost up to $50,000 but these people are like Marie Antoinette--no cost is too extravagant for their comfort. I'm sure the anger comes from a fear that I am like them and that I won't be able to find the balance, the serenity in the situation. Everything is going fine. I rode my bike every day last week, even though the back wheel needed repair. Now the wheel is fixed so there should be no anxiety about that for this week. I have an iron at work, so if I get there and my blouse looks wrinkled I can go in the bathroom and iron it. I got a haircut and new styling gel so I sould look reasonably professional, hairstyle-wise. I had a good weekend, and next weekend I have a choice between Key West and the Miami Book Fair, either of which would be great, I'm sure.
The continuing possibility that our electricity could return any time is a spirit-lifter. Things can only get better, and it is reasonable to expect them to.
I finished the Hornby book--it was entertaining and thought-provoking. The plot involves four people who have nothing in common except that they are all planning for various reasons to jump off the same building on the same day. They meet on the top of the building, and one thing leads to another. Hornby has a deft touch with humor in serious situations.
We went to the movies today: Shopgirl, by and with Steve Martin. I go way back with Steve Martin, to the 70's when he was on the Tonight Show and on Saturday Night Live. I have always thought he was great--often fantastically funny, but always fantastic. Intelligent and sensitive, but not at all sentimental. Very self-aware, very meta. Like the card he reportedly printed to hand to autograph-seekers:"This certifies that I had a personal encounter with Steve Martin and found him to be witty, kind, and humble." or something like that. One of my all-time favorites.
Saturday, November 05, 2005
The houses across the street from us have power now. It can't be much longer for us, right?!
I took my bike in to the shop this morning--it needs bearing in the back wheel--and then walked to Supercuts and to the library and home--I guess it's about four miles. I saw a lot of hurricane damage and took some pictures. My profound thought ws that Hurricane Wilma is something like a death in the family for all of us. The storm is over, the sky is blue, you wake up in the morning expecting to have your old life back, but there are reminders everywhere, obstacles, setbacks; there is so much work involved in the recovery, and the damage affects every aspect of life. I find myself wondering why I feel tired or depressed or cranky, and then, I remember.
But eventually, I'll be able to give up this hunter-gatherer existence ("Fire! Must make fire!") and return to the Life of the Mind. Looking forward to it.
Meanwhile, at the library I got two nice, easy books: A Long Way Down, by Nick Hornby, and The Jane Austen Book Club, by Karen Joy Fowler. I'm more than halfway through the Hornby book--I may finish it before I go to sleep. No "Fresh Air" tonight, and I think I missed "This American Life." but I did hear an NPR gem today: someone has written a musical based on Strunk & White's Elements of Style--and they perfomed it in the reading room of the New York Public Library. I don't have a single real-life friend who would be delighted by that--but several in the Achenblog SAO-15 would smile. I remember when we first discovered the grammar-nerd slant to the kaboodle--it's heartily encouraged by Joel, himself quite the language maven. ("distaff," "meatspace," "infelicitous," "quiescent"..."jeepers")
Friday, November 04, 2005
I got home around 5 and took the car to the supermarket. I bought matches and ice and yogurt and canned food. I didn't get home until almost six, and it was getting dark, and it's scary to be driving without street lights or traffic signals after dark. I heated soup with candles and then I heated water to wash my hair and bathe. I'm nice and clean now. It's 7:30 so I have time to read before "Fresh Air" comes on at 8.
Thursday, November 03, 2005
The best thing about the weekend now is Usable Daylight. The sun will be out and I'll be free to walk around in it.
Today I figured out how to heat food and water with candles. It's a lot easier and quicker than the solar cooker. I heated about a gallon of water tonight for my bath. One gallon of hot water is better than all the cold water in the world, when it comes to washing.
I did laundry this evening, in the bathroom sink, and hung the clothes to dry outside on the line. One eye on the sky, analyzing the clouds--what are the chances I'll be out there in the middle of the night, in the rain, bringing in the laundry. We'll see.
I felt really slow and stupid today, reading Achenblog. My excuses: the triumph of the mundane in my home life and a serious amount of work to do for my job, so I just don't have a lot of mental energy to devote to trying to think up plots for tv shows and so on. But still, I don't like the feeling.
Joel had a funny comment in the kaboodle:
I don't want to try to write stuff just for the sake of getting lots of comments or having lots of "readers." I don't want to have a blog that is "popular" or has a lot of "page views" or whatever, because that's a slippery slope. Next thing you know, you've got fat book contracts, people want you to write screenplays, you're always at parties, laughing and having a good time instead of remaining slumped over a keyboard like a true artist. Nothing good can come of it. I prefer to keep this blog as a boutique operation, kind of a storefront, with "Gone Fishin'" over the door most of the time. I like the sense of being not just unread, but completely obscure, and fully in control of a career that steadily dwindles into total insignificance. This is all part of a plan. Just watch. Posted by: Achenbach Nov 2, 2005 4:57:00 PM
Wednesday, November 02, 2005
Tonight, about 15 minutes ago, I reached a point where inertia overtook momentum, and I thought, I really don't have anything to say and I'm going to give up on writing anything at all until we get our power back.
But I guess I got a second wind, and here I am.
The theme of Read - Think - Live is that my life is largely literary/intellectual. But without electric lights or refrigeration or a washing machine or a stove or oven or hot water, life becomes a little more bound to the physical. I have to spend more time tending to necessary tasks, keeping clean and finding food. The prevailing darkness encourages us to go to sleep early. That has meant more complex dreams, but less reading time. All our routines are disturbed, and at the same time I have changes and stress at work. I'm tired, but I'm getting stronger.
"Fresh Air" with Teri Gross is on NPR at 8 p.m. My new routine is to climb in bed around 8 and listen with my headphones until I fall asleep.