Sunday, December 25, 2005

Christmas, Round Two

Here in Phoenix, it was 77 degrees today. On Christmas. We celebrated by getting out of bed at 6:15 a.m. (MST). Santa had indeed visited. We tracked his movements on Christmas Eve via NORAD. Big Fun. He brought The Cousins both guitars (what a musical family!) and for Son, some new Legos. For Son, the highlight was the Playmobil Castle with knights, horses and dragons from the parents and grandparents. For me, an iPod shuffle from MiddleBrow, proving that he is, in fact, the best husband in the universe.
MiddleBrow and Dr. Write spent more than an hour (combined time) assembling said Castle. While it is not technically required to have a PhD in order to assemble German toy products, it certainly doesn't hurt. We appreciated the little accessories, including faux wooden tables and beer steins. Gotta love those Germans.
After naps and showers, we enjoyed a casual dinner of beef, ham, potatoes of many kinds, jello, and assorted veggies. TV viewing was split between animals (bears?) playing football and the dog show. Then, of course, more alcoholic beverages, desserts, cookies, and games.
I beat my four-year-old niece and my sister at Trouble! (yes!) and then my mom defeated my sister and me at TriBond. My mom also won Marry, Date or Dump. She must be cheating.
I also received a Napoleon Dynamite talking pen (it says many things, including "Freaking idiots!") and the DVD. I wonder, will they eventually sell "Way of the Puck" paraphanelia at Target?
So far I have exercised one day at my sister and mom's resort-like health club. And gone for a walk. But each day I have taken some time to sit in the sun and drink beer. Did I mention my mother has somehow gotten me addicted to sudoku? More on that later. Many cookies to eat. Must be off.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Snowshoes, Snow, Grandpa: Must be Christmas

After opening his snowshoes Saturday night, Son, Grandfather and I went "snowshoing" on Sunday, just after the snowing began. We got in a good, brief walk. Enough to allow us to go home and drink hot chocolate, eat cookies, and put our pajamas on. That's what the season is all about.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Christmas, Round One

My father and his wife came down this weekend for Christmas. As soon as they arrived, Son decided it was time to open presents. He received snowshoes, penguins, and books. Hooray! I received some cotton pajamas, and a crossword puzzle game (electronic). It was instantly addictive, and reminded me of being a kid and receiving something you didn't even know you wanted until you got it. I have solved three or four puzzles so far. I'm looking forward to utilizing it on the long drive down to Phoenix for Christmas, round two.
For our dinner, I made Beef Tenderloin (marinated in wine, etc. per my sister's recipe!), roasted vegetables, (a la Barefoot Contessa) and Caesar Salad (thanks Surreal Gourmet!) with the Mionetto novello '05 (an alternative to the Bojelau Nouveau) (sorry , of course I can't spell). So you see I would be sunk without my friends at the Wine Store and those who write cook books.
Middlebrow returned home today after a brief foray to the rainy and cold Northwest.
I finally bought Son a Christmas Stocking. Mine, of course, was knit by my mother when I was a child. It's red and has my name on it. Son's is red and white striped and and was knit by displaced persons in Bosnia. But I think the money I paid contributes to upgrading their standard of living. Otherwise why would they have the tag with the woman's name?
I will post again from Christmas, Round Two, down south. The plan, so far, includes viewing "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe" with the cousins, girls night out (which will involve Cosmos, no doubt), making Chex Mix, the dip of my childhood (cottage cheese, garlic salt, cream cheese and red wine vinegar). All of a sudden I'm craving the caramel corn my mother used to make for every birthday sleep over, made with something called "burnt sugar" flavoring. Maybe I can talk my mom into it. Also, there will be much movie viewing on the new huge flat screen tv.
I'll let you know.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Birthday Outing Part Two & Motherhood Redemption

First things first: the dinner at Martine was a sublime experience, reminding me why people spend obscene amounts of money dining out. We began with two tapas: the roasted Chanterelle mushrooms and the Lobster ragout in saffron sauce with a polenta corn cake. I preferred the lobster. It must have been the pound of butter in the saffron sauce. We had the Sangria with this course. Then we had salad and Pinot Noir. I ordered the Beef Tenderloin with the Blue Mash and roasted vegetables. Middlebrow had the Lamb Tenderloin with some kind of pasta. Again, sublime. Then we shared the Chocolate Decadence and each had a glass of Porto. Sorry no pictures. We were caught up in the moment. Then we rented two discs of "Monk," picked up Son and went home.

I also managed to redeem myself from Bad Mother Purgatory by baking peanut butter/cornflake/chocolate bars on Saturday and Chocolate Chunk cookies on Sunday. The former I froze (most of) to take to Phoenix for Christmas. The latter are for general consumption, which Middlebrow is doing his part to expedite.

Right now, I am collecting final projects from my 1010 class. They seem in good spirits. They ask me for 2010 recommendations. Of course, I recommend High Touch Megastore, Middlebrow, and other faculty members.

Happy grading to all!

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Birthday Outing, Part One

Last night I went to Tsunami in Sugarhouse with the girls (and Burger, in town only to defend his dissertation, so we allowed him to be an honorary girl for the night, which only got weird when he wanted to girl watch at Fats Grill).
The evening actually started at Otterbutt's house, with red wine and baby adoration. Then we went to Tsunami where we stood for half-an-hour and drank Plum Fizzes (no one but me seemed to adore this drink). Then we had an expensive bottle of Zinfandel and got a table. During our wait, Dr. Burger showed up.
Tsunami has the best sushi in town. And the best miso soup! Our favorite rolls of the evening were Jenny (crab, avacado, salmon, with thin lemon slices), TNT (I think it was some kind of spicy tuna), DHT (I have no idea what that stands for, but the entire roll was tempura-ed. Yum!). My friend Andie ordered deep-fried Green Tea Ice Cream (also super Yum!). We had more wine in there somewhere, and were joined by two more friends. We closed the place.
Then Dr. Burger, Sylvia, and I went to Fats Grill where Sylvia flirted with boring men and Dr. Burger tried to enlist me in some girl watching, Dr. B demonstrating an obvious preference for the big busted. Then we played pool (we were all terrible, Dr. Burger being slightly less terrible than Sylvia and me). After midnight the bartender wished me happy birthday.
This morning Middlebrow and I opened our gifts. I got slippers, which I had been proclaiming loudly that I needed in our drafty, cold house. I got him a Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (that's the name of the band) CD. Son wanted to get him the Star Wars soundtrack, but as the mother, I got my way.
Looking forward to another blog-worthy meal at Martine this evening. We purchased a digital camera today, so we may have pictures tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Another Significant Failure in My Career as a Mother

Last night, as I was "making cookies" with Son, Middlebrow chastised me for my frequent cries of frustration. The sugar cookie dough (recipe from Sunset magazine) was dry and crumbly. What resulted was: Gingerbread Man de Milo, trunkless elephants, Christmas trees as thick as magazines. But Son enjoyed "frosting" them (dabbing frosting on various parts of the cookie, attempting to lick the frosting off of the cookie and his fingers at the same time, fingerfrosting the cookies, etc.) and eating them. At least I had the good sense to buy the frosting.
I will just chalk this up to the latest of my failures as a mother. Why didn't I just do what I did last year and buy the cookie dough AND the frosting? Why do I try? I should just give in and, like the heroine of I Don't Know How She Does It, learn how to fake my baked goods.
As Middlebrow acknowledged last night, it's going to take a lot of alcohol and coffee to make it through the end of the semester.
Viva el vino!

Friday, December 02, 2005

Indie Films: The Mediocre

I watched You, Me and Everyone We Know this week. It represented, to me, what is worst about indie films, though I do love them. It was arty in a very self-conscious way: gratuitous shots of leaves or the sun, the whole scene with the goldfish on top of the car. It had no arc, and I mean no arc. The pacing was slow, painful in some parts. And there were whole story lines (the teenage girls and the blowjob, for example) that I just did not understand in the context of the film as a whole.
That said, I did like aspects of it. The characters were great. I especially liked the little boy and his explanation of the chore wheel. "There's a metal thing and it helps. With the turning." The movie was a bit disturbing, as a whole, on the idea of children being unsupervised and doing wildly inappropriate things (meeting adult women in chat rooms for example).
I want to love indie film. And every so often there are some great ones (Roger, Dodger; Pieces of April; others I am blanking on right now), but why, in general, do indie films feel they are exempt from the basic ideas of storytelling?
Arc! I want arc dammit!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Over the River and Through the Woods

We're off, the Dr. Middle-Write-Brow contingent, to Inkom, Idaho for what promises to be another Thanksgiving packed with too much food and wine and too little exercise. I promised Son that we would go for a hike. Doesn't look like there will be any snow.
When I asked Son what he most liked to do at Grandpa's house he answered, "Trains, the tractor, that card game, or playing with toys." He has his priorities in order.
My Dad actually does have two old tractors that he tinkers with and occasionally drives around his big backyard. Son loves to take rides on it. I'm always afraid it's about to tip over, trapping Son and Grandpa beneath it. So far it hasn't happened.
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday: there's no gift shopping to do before, so you can really concentrate on what's important: food. I love turkey and stuffing and pie. Pie may be my favorite dessert. But then, I love cake too.
What am I thankful for: Son, Middlebrow, my job, the fact that I'm healthy and happy, all the cliches. Also: HBO (Six Feet Under, The Sopranos, Sex and the City), good movies (Capote, Motorcycle Diaries, any documentary), the fact that people keep writing and reading books, no matter how trashy.
Really, I'm thankful that Jennifer Aniston has hooked up with Vince Vaughn (I never was a Brad fan) and that the media have found something to talk about besides Tom Cruise (though when the alien baby is born, they'll be back on the front page) and Iraq.
Oh yeah: I'm grateful that the wheels of justice are grinding and just might crush Tom Delay. Hey, it wouldn't be Thanksgiving without a little graphic violence. I prefer good old fashioned politics to football anyday.
Unless I'm the one playing football, of course. I'm a good QB.
Happy Turkey Day all.
And be thankful. W hasn't shut down the blogisphere. Yet.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

My Son, the Rock Star

Monday evening, when MB was out at his basketball game, Son and I turned the living room into a performance space. I was the drummer, clanging two beaters (from the electric mixer) together while Son sang into another beater, while gesturing wildly and doing some dance moves I've not seen before.

A sampling of Son's lyrics:

The house and it's covered with black
The sky is full of black
The carrot that you eat
The bunny-rabbit that you are
Wallace and Grommit!!!!!
You lied!

Imagine these screamed out in a rock star way, and you've got it. Son had some great hand motions as well, a behind the back, over the head, grasping fist/hand gesture that I'm sure will be famous some day.

I think it's time to start guitar lessons.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

M/MLA Redux

Things accomplished in Milwaukee:

  1. Dirty Martini consumed at Blu, on the 23rd floor of the upscale Pfister Hotel. We had a view of The Lake, the gas building, and a ginormous bank. The mood: swanky hotel bar, complete with couches and comfy chairs. Bonus: I swiped the matches! I don't smoke!
  2. Had a beer. In the interest of authenticity, Fine Arts Friend and I visited Mader's, where we each had a huge beer (it lasted through the salad course, the entree, and into dessert) and we split a Bavarian Platter, which was basically just different kinds of meat: bratwurst (from Usinger's Sausage, right across the street), knockwurst, and pork loin? Also sauerkraut, of course, and some potato thing of indeterminate origin.
  3. Ate several things I probably shouldn't have, including: two different chocolate based desserts; appetizers whose second ingredients were cheese (but they were so good!); I think that's it? Maybe the potato thing (see above).
  4. Asserted myself with hotel staff. When I arrived, so late on Thursday evening, I was given a room with a bed designed for a little person (and I don't mean a kid). I don't consider myself tall, but when I laid in the bed, my feet hung off the end. The next morning I called the front desk. While I was at the conference on Friday, they moved my stuff to a bigger room with two beds. Hurray for assertiveness!
  5. Did not locate Laverne and/or Shirley nor any L/S paraphernalia. But FAF said she might be able to make me a sweater with a big L on it. Or sew a big L on a pre-existing sweater. Something. I think she has an expensive sewing machine, so if anyone can do it, she can.
  6. Networked with people who have no connection or power in any related field I may or may not be interested in. M/MLA wins, hands down, over the regular old MLA for friendliness. I met an Indian woman from Tennessee, and a comparative lit professor from Northern Milwaukee, both times when I was just sitting alone drinking coffee. Gotta love those friendly Midwesterners.
  7. Met a Super Cool woman (who was on the "Mothers, Maidens, Murderesses" panel with me) who has a PhD in Scandinavian Literature and Language. Her paper was on "Bad Mothers" in Norwegian novels. My favorite part was that her introduction was all about "Alias." Of course, she was from the Northwest (but now teaching in Indiana).
  8. Attended panels of extreme relevance to our current "Five-Year-Plan" discussion. More to follow on this.
  9. Caught up on meaningless television (That 70s Show, Malcolm in the Middle, Sex in the City).
  10. Read two novels that were okay, but not great: Shop Girl by Steve Martin (a summary or an outline of a novel, really. Okay, I know it's a novella. But if you are going to use the "several months pass this way" technique, couldn't it have been a novel?); and The Dog's Ransom by Patricia Highsmith (quite disappointing, not very suspenseful, not very well written, no incredibly creepy yet charming characters, kind of boring, but compared to staring out the window at cornfields, well, I guess the novel is better than some things).
  11. Went to Milwaukee Art Museum. Saw the sail/wing structure flexing at Noon when we arrived. Hurray for serendipity!
  12. Attended Live! Performance Art Showcase: a man, who looked naked, lifting up silver mixing bowls and spoons and "transforming" into a raven. My favorite part was when he put on a purple shirt while wearing a white shirt. It did look a little like feathers. But I was sort of giggling on the inside. After this piece I asked my FAF, "why is modern dance the only art form that has completely missed out on irony?" It was so earnest, I felt responsible somehow; some very good slam poetry from the Milwaukee Slam team (I won't comment here on the "my trauma is worse than your trauma" aspect of some of it; my favorite was a guy who was part stand-up comic, part love-poet, very sweet); and the star of the night: the middle-aged hula-hooper. She stood on stage in a polka-dotted dress and worked the hoop while doing some miming-type activity to Tracy Chapman's "Mountains of Things." In the second-half she came back again, this time with k.d. lang's "Constant Craving" while a video cuts of Wal-Mart and George W. played on a screen behind her. She was in really good shape! There was also a woman pouring water, doing some astrology thing that was only amusing once or twice. And a "Fash Attack!" sort of a new take on a fashion show. Mildly amusing. Certainly worth the $7 my FAF paid for the tickets (I got the wine at Polaris, the rotating restaurant atop the Hyatt, where we were staying. Many questions: why is it called Polaris? How fast was it turning? How bad is the food? The bar where we sat was not spinning, the result being that we couldn't look out the windows because we got motion sick trying to figure out why the people were moving, but the windows weren't. On the plus side, we felt drunk without actually drinking.)
  13. Promised FAF and beer-drinking beau that I would return with Middlebrow and Son at some point in the future for a Milwaukee pub crawl. I think Milwaukee is the antithesis of Salt Lake City. For example: when I got to the MMLA conference around 10 a.m. on Friday, there were many people in the Lobby Lounge drinking beer. Also: at the Performance Art show they were selling liquor in the lobby in plastic cups. Two words: free pour. AND you could get beer, in bottles, to take into the show. Also: two pubs on every corner. Also: the Pabst Theater, the Miller this or that. You get my point.
  14. Overall: Milwaukee a rousing success! Love Milwaukee! Had faith in basic corn-fed, dairy-laden goodness of Midwest restored. What's wrong with Kansas? It ain't Wisconsin, that's what's wrong with it!

Wednesday, November 09, 2005


So I'm off to the midwest! Wish me luck in procuring foodables that are not 90% dairy!

Actually, I don't leave until tomorrow, but since I will be spending my last 24 hours stateside doing such things as packing, consoling Son, and finishing my paper (this is how it's done, I've been assured; at least I won't be revising in the hotel lobby), I decided to say good-bye today. Here's a list of tasks I hope to accomplish in Milwaukee:
  1. Drink a filthy martini in the swanky bar, Blu, on the 23rd floor of the convention hotel.
  2. Find the brewery where Laverne and Shirley worked.
  3. Get a sweater with a big Laverne style "L" on the chest.
  4. Drink some beer.
  5. Go to the Art Museum with my Fine Art friend (FAF).
  6. Read a trashy novel on the way to and perhaps during and on the way back from the convention.
  7. Eat something I probably shouldn't be eating, like bleu cheese mashed potatoes. Or maybe some garlic fries?
  8. Visit a couple pubs. My FAF assures me she can get the password to an exclusive pub which she also assures me will be like all the other non-exclusive pubs: dark, serving beer, maybe a little creepy.
  9. Work out two days in a row (must investigate hotel work out facilities. Avoid Lis's tragedy with the treadmill).
  10. Sleep? Maybe.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

I'm Foxy!

I thought I'd take a break from boring academics to alert you all to a new development in my existence: I'm foxy! This according to a few drunk men at a party I went to Friday night. Before the party, two different women said I looked like I had lost "a lot of weight." One even asked if I was sick. Should I feel flattered?
Then at the party, a few people were staring at me in such a way to make me feel self-conscious. Like, do I have green salsa all over my chest?
I think that I may have looked thinner because I had my hair pulled back. Plus, I was sick for about two days right before the party, so I may have appeared thin/sick.
But it was just a weird experience for me. I mean, I trained for a half-marathon all summer and, as far as I could tell, I didn't lose a pound. Then I stopped running.
And suddenly I'm FOXY!
Go figure.
I think this means I can drink all the beer I want in Milwaukee.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Motherhood and Work in Three Stories by Lydia Davis

Here is the beginning of the presentation I will be giving this week at MMLA. Comments, questions, feedback PLEASE! I figure if I post a bit every day, it will help me hone (and finish it!) before I go.

The less one feels a thing, the more likely one is to express it as it really is.
-- Flaubert

The three stories I will be discussing, “The Old Dictionary,” “Marie Curie, So Honorable Woman” and “Mothers,” deal with the subject of motherhood in radically different ways. In “The Old Dictionary,” Davis contrasts the treatment of an old dictionary with that of a son. “Marie Curie” describes incidents in the life of the famous scientist, events that describe not only her work but also her status as a mother. The story “Mothers” treats the subject of mothers and motherhood from an objective, almost sarcastic point-of-view. In all three stories, Davis employs her signature distance, which imbues the subjects (whether “I,” “she” or “mothers”) with a sheen of otherness. This otherness allows the narrator to deal with the emotions and conflicts of motherhood without sentimentality. In fact, sentimentality seems impossible, for the separation of the speaker and the subject matter is so complete that, like Marie Curie, the speaker seems to be observing the characters through a mechanical apparatus. That apparatus is narrative itself. Focalization, that is Davis’s ability to distance the narrative “I” from the character “I” or “she,” allows the narrator to analyze rather than experience events. This narrative distance gives the stories a detached, almost hermetic feel. The effect of this distance is to render the events described in these stories both anonymous and universal, so that the mothers referred to in the stories are at once non-existent (no one) and universal (every woman). Davis’s fiction demonstrates that narrative can be structure of objectivity that returns the subject (both the content and the character) to the realm of emotion via distance.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The Joy of Cooking (with Son)

Last night Son and I had our first cooking-together experience. It was fantastic! I bought Rachel Rae's Cooking Rocks! book and we made Fried Chicken Toes. Son was especially proficient at crushing Corn Flakes for the breading. Once we put them in the oven, he said, "I'll put the plates on the table." We had bought some orange candles and he wanted to put them on the table. "We should put some flowers on too!" he said. Unfortunately, we had no flowers. But I was pleased to note that Son recognizes the importance of presentation. It's not only about the food, it's about all the pleasing things around the food. I was proud of him, and he was proud of himself. He likes cooking (mostly the dumping of ingredients into a bowl, cracking eggs, and stirring. He's not so fond of getting his hands dirty).
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and I'm especially looking forward to it this year. Maybe I'll let Son pick out the flowers.

Monday, October 31, 2005

The Roller Coaster of Creativity

Maybe it's just that I've been eating too much chocolate and not enough fresh vegetables, but I feel like I've been on a roller coaster this week. Up, Down, Upside Down.

Middlebrow often thinks my self-esteem slumps are an effect of my being a creative writer. You don't see American Studies professors acting like that, he says. It may be true. In graduate school, the creative writers were the ones on mood altering drugs (prescription!) and the American Studies folks seemed very even keeled. Maybe they just self-medicate with beer and Cosmopolitans.

But it begs the question, does the creativity required to be a writer or an artist also mean that we are more prone to bouts of low self-confidence and more days where we just want to stay in our jammies and watch "Ellen"?

I don't know. But maybe it is my lack of writing time, or the feeling that no one, ever, will publish my collection of short stories that is so eclectic as to be schizophrenic, and to contradict the word "collection."

See, this is why MB gets frustrated with me. I just won the Utah Collection Contest, I have an essay, beautifully designed and illustrated, forthcoming in Ninth Letter, what the hell is wrong with me?

Oh yeah, I'm a writer.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Emma and The Gender Bias

Today in my theory class I tried to confront the pretty much universal initial reaction my students to the novel Emma. Among the nine students (yes, I'm down to nine), not one of them claimed to really enjoy it. Perhaps my own love of Austen has blinded me to her faults, but c'mon, not one? In an effort to find something to convince them that the novel has literary merit, I did a search on J-Stor. What did I find? Some woman scholar criticizing the novel for being "light" and "of no consequence." As a reaction of my male students, I can (sort of) understand their inability to relate to Emma or Knightley and any of their decidely upper-class dilemmas. But a woman scholar? Why the Austen bashing?

Still looking for some comfort, I turned to my friends Gilbert and Gubar. There's a reason Madwoman in the Attic is still in print, still required reading for so many scholars. It's refreshingly clear and direct. What did I find there? A feminist defense of Austen, to be sure. And some humorous, and infuriating quotes from male (and female) writers about how Austen's novels are "perfect as far as they go-- that's certain. Only they don't go very far" (that's Elizabeth Barrett Browning).

Here are a few more:

Mark Twain, "I could read his [Poe's] prose on a salary, but not Jane's. Jane is entirely impossible. It seems a great pity that they allowed her to die a natural death."

Henry James, ". . .she sometimes, over her work basket, her tapestry flowers, in the spare, cool drawing-room of other days, fell amusing, lapsed too metaphorically, as one may say, into wool gathering, and her dropped stitches, of these pardonable, of these precious moments, were afterwards picked up as little touches of human truth, little glimpses of steady vision, little master-strokes of imagination" (qtd. in Gilbert & Gubar).

What's striking about these criticisms, aside from their belittling her art as mere "dropped stitches" is their overwhelming sexism. At the base of these criticisms, and at my students' inability to "relate" (as they said), is a dislike of female stories. I don't mean merely a dislike of stories by and about women (though I mean that too), but a dislike of a focus on the domestic, on the private, on intimacy, on conversation. This criticism is couched as a lack of plot. "Nothing happens," my students said. I then proceeded to list all the things that happened in the text. It's not that nothing happens, I countered, but that you don't like what does happen. Why? They say it's only about "relationships" and "marriage." Yes, I said, on some level it's a marriage plot. (I've always disliked this term: it reminds me of a plot of land, as in where the woman will be buried when she is married. Ha!) But it's also about class and status, about manners, about obligation and family, about language and textuality.

As a response to their initial reactions to the text, today in class I had my students list books they were required to read in English classes. Then on the other side of the board, we listed books they had read for fun. We talked about which required texts were part of the new canon (Morrison, Momaday, Cisneros) and which were part of the old canon (Shakespeare, Conrad, Homer, Dickens, etc.). And then we talked about how many were by women (very few) and how many had a female narrator or protagonist (even fewer). Only one that most people had read, To Kill A Mockingbird, was both written by a woman and featured a main character who was also female. But, I went on to say, it's not even wholly Scout's story; it's the community's story. Plus, one of my students added, Scout's kind of a tomboy.

Then I tried to get them to see how what they expect of a novel has been shaped by the novels they've read. What's more, their assessment of a text's literary worth has been influenced by the texts they were required to read. There's literature, and then there's the light books, the guilty pleasures, the indulgences. We know which are which.

As this is a theory course, I said, I'm just trying to get you to have some kind of critical awareness of why you like what you like and why most of you don't like Emma. They seemed to get it. The two women even seemed to have liked the book once they got into it.

Ultimately, I told them, I don't think it's just a book about marriage. I made my case for why the book is about Emma's inability to read other characters; in theory-speak, Emma is about the unstable signifiers of gesture and intention. As the text states, "She had taken up the idea, she supposed, and made every thing bend to it." Finally, then, the book is about pre-conceptions, and how we interpret the world through the lense of our firmly held beliefs about what things mean, how they signify. Even if they don't seem to mean what we want them to mean, we bend the signs to fit our ideas. We don't interpret, we project.

I'm not sure they bought it, but seeing as how most of them hadn't finished the book, I think they just took my word for it.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Son Asks the Tough Questions

Last night when we were sitting in the Breakfast Nook, Son asked me some questions. After I responded, he would make a little tally mark on his paper, rest his hand on his chin, look at me and nod. Then he would ask another question, nodding as I answered. I am only sorry I cannot replicate his hand gestures here for your amusement. Just imagine some of the hand gestures you've seen me make when I talk.

What is necessary about dogs?
What is necessary about cats?
Why do cats poop in the house?
Where do dogs go when they die?
What do you think, does money survive or not survive?
Tell me how you feel about money.
What is necessary about this point to relation of form? (Here he gestures, circling his hands in front of his body, away from each other and then bringing them back together.) I think he says something about "complexity." When I ask him what he means he smiles and then laughs.
What is necessary about cats and dogs? Together. Like 5 and 6 are together. (Here he writes a five next to a six and draws a line to connect them.)

When he asks me "Where do cats go when they die?" I answer that perhaps it's like a big living room, with a rug and a fire and lots of toys.
"And they can poop in the house?" he asks.
He knows what's really important.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

The Re-emergence of Fun!

I am rediscovering Fun! (that's fun with a capital "F" and an exclamation point) Not that I think Fun! and I have been enemies for the last, say, seven to ten years, but I think graduate school saps a little bit of the Fun! out of you. Or, should I say, graduate school hinders our ability to just have the Fun! without analyzing it, deconstructing it, commenting on it as it happens, etc.
I rediscovered Fun! this weekend during my first tennis class. I haven't taken tennis lessons since junior high. In high school, the coach let me practice with the team and I got pretty good. But I'd forgotten how much fun it is to be ordered around, to receive unambiguous instructions, and to just run around the court, without much thinking, for an hour and a half. As adults, I think we are under the mistaken impression that exercise has to be mundane or it's not good for us, but it's not true!
I really liked not being in charge. I liked when the coach, Debbie, told me exactly what to do. Stop! Plant your feet! Start swinging for that lob sooner! Toss the ball higher for your serve! Stretch those abs! Wrong foot! (Not to give you the wrong impression. Debbie didn't actually yell. She said everything calmly).
I especially liked this silly game we played in teams of two against other teams of two with one coach feeding us balls: an approach shot, a volley, an overhead. I was running and sweaty. Today I'm actually sore!
All I can say is that now I'm dedicated to playing tennis as much as possible, and to taking tennis classes where I get some concrete instruction. Language, in tennis class, is not an arbitrary signifier. I bloody well know what a volley is.
Let's hear it for Fun!

Friday, October 14, 2005

Baby Lust

My best friend from junior high, Adrienne, came to town yesterday. She brought her three month old daughter, Alex, who was incredibly adorable and ridiculously well-behaved. She didn't cry once (okay maybe once, but only for about three seconds) and she fell asleep pretty quickly just from being walked around and bounced for a little while.
Son enjoyed having the little visitor around, and he especially liked interpreting her coos and sighs, her kicks and swipes for us. When a blanket was placed on her and she started kicking, he said, "She doesn't want that." When she cooed for a few seconds, he said, "She's hungry." He really liked watching her nurse. I think it took him back to the good old days. When she needed her diaper changed, he grabbed a diaper and the wipes out of the bag.
I gained a little insight into what kind of big brother he would be. He was very anxious to help, and he loved talking to her and smiling at her, trying to get her to grip his hand. But he was also a little nuts, dancing a little too close to her tiny head, and jumping and being his normal crazy self.
But the baby was so cute and he was so attentive it made me, momentarily, rethink this whole "one kid" thing. I know it's more economical and more environmentally sound, but babies are cute! And Son seemed pretty into her. When I asked him, however, if he wanted a little sister, he said, "No." I always wanted an older brother (because I have three sisters, of course). Part of me wants Son to be an older brother. But I'm not sure that's a good enough reason to have another child. Is it?

Tuesday, October 04, 2005


For some reason I've been thinking about laughing lately. Perhaps it was brought on by watching Conan O'Brien bobbing for apples (after Martha Stewart tied his hands behind his back with a cloth napkin, of course). I laughed so hard I almost cried. And then I thought about how long it had been since that had happened. And then I remembered a man I knew in high school. I think he was a gay barber, but that's beside the point. (And how did I meet him? And why did I know him? Fascinating questions, but also beside the point.)
At a party one night, he told me about a friend of his who was so funny in high school. She was hilarious. But then she went to college and she got ironic and bitter. And then she wasn't funny anymore. She didn't laugh as much. She got dark. All this by way of telling me to "maintain my sense of humor."
And now, on the eve of my 20th high school reunion, I have to ask myself, have I? When I think about the friends I had in, say, junior high, I remember how we used to laugh at the slightest thing. We used to laugh hard. And then in high school, all I had to do was call up my friend Cyndi using my "Jewish mother" voice and we would laugh for hours. We'd do our "Jewish mother" voices at the carwash, at the dinner table, during grammar class. We laughed all the time. And with my sisters it was the same thing. My one sister would do Dana Carvey doing George Michael. We would all sing "Chopping Broc-olli." In college I would leave my friends long, convoluted messages that usually had a punch line.
In recent memory, there's the Conan O'Brien thing. Oh yeah, and tonight I laughed at Son's statement that what he wanted for dinner was "Beans and Buggers."
So what's happened? Has life gotten less funny or have I?

Monday, September 26, 2005

Almost Famous

Today I was in the Writing Center perusing magazines as I waited for my class to start. I picked up Spin and saw Death Cab For Cutie on the cover. Immediately I heard in my head the lyrics for "Cover of the Rolling Stone." You know, it goes: Rolling Stone, gonna get my picture on the cover. Stone, gonna buy five copies for my mother.
This was prompted by the fact that a guy I used to work with, Nick Harmer, is in DCFC. He was the Music Director and I was a lowly DJ at Western Washington University's college radio station, KUGS. My friend Alison, co-host with me of "The Broadcast," always said Nick would be a rock star. He just looked like a rock star. He was cute, with a little boy/boy next door face. He seemed sweet. We went to their first show at a bar in Bellingham, The 3B, and after the show he practically ran out. He wasn't 21 yet and he was still shy. Now he's 30, a little chubby, and he's an indie rock star. The last time I saw him he was sitting outside a famous Bellingham eatery with Ben, the lead singer of DCFC. He told me he had just quit his job, managing a Blockbuster or something, and that they were "doing the band thing." I pretty much knew he was going to be a rock star. I should have gotten his autograph.
Seeing him on the cover of Spin made me muse on the trajectory of fame, and how our paths intersect with those of others. It also reminded me that I see a good friend of mine for the dorms at University of Oregon, Marc, on TV occasionally. I first saw him in Fred Meyer. He was on a Nike poster hanging from the ceiling. Then he was in one of those Valentine Hallmark ads with the magnetic bears. And then he was in a MGD commercial, the one where the woman tells her boyfriend (he's the boyfriend!) that her roommate is coming home and when he goes to the fridge to get a beer he sees the picture of the roommate and she's a hottie. He smiles and grabs three beers (implied threesome). Funny thing, though: he's gay. One of my best friends in college (a man) was in love with him. He was also in a Honda commercial and currently he's in a Taco Bell commercial. When we lived in the dorms together, I used to borrow his Benneton rugby shirts (green and white stripes). I still have a note he left on my door in the dorms. It's a cartoon he drew of himself, with severe cheek bones and hair made entirely of ninety-degree angles. He looks like Grace Jones.
Ahh! Those were the 80s!

Thursday, September 22, 2005

"To generalize is to be an idiot"

We can thank William Blake for today's title. I came across this gem in the reading for my Theory course. It seemed to intersect nicely with my complaint about the movie "We Don't Live Here Anymore." In another essay, Bernard Paris, in response to Wayne Booth's comment that Robbe-Grillet's The Voyeur "does, indeed, lead us to experience intensely the sensations and emotions of a homicidal maniac. But is this really what we go to literature for?" answers "Yes." Paris's comment relates to a few of my complaints about the movie, and directly addresses Sleepy E's comment that characters do not need to be sympathetic in order to elicit our interest.
I agree both with Sleepy E and Bernard Paris. I do not need to like a character in order to be interested in his or her view of the world. In fact, sometimes I sympathize with a character more if he/she is NOT like me. I want to read a book that enlarges rather than diminishes my view of the world. I want my movies to do this too. "We Don't Live Here Anymore" did not enlarge my view of the world. Rather, it diminished it. To me the movie said "people are shitty. They do shitty things to each other. They pontificate on adultery and the nature of the conjugal contract." As Sleepy E points out, the Jason Patric character is not sympathetic. In fact, he is disgusting. But, he is morally and mentally complex. He's not simply "evil" or a placeholder for the "villian" function in the movie. Rather, he is evil, but in a complex way that is not easily grasped. He also, as we see in the end, seems to have some desirable quality that is also not easily named. He may be an asshole, but he's a decisive asshole, which seems preferable to the waffling banality of the other male characters.
My point is: the particular, the unique, the individual, the idiosyncratic makes great literature. The general is, as Blake so succintly notes, for idiots.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Why Should I Care?

Over the weekend, MB and I watched "We Don't Live Here Anymore," a film that was featured at Sundance last year. Or sometime. Anyway, it is based on two short stories by Andre Dubus. I bought his selected short stories awhile ago, but I have to admit that it has been slow going. Reading a bunch of his stories in a row is like walking over cut glass in bare feet. I might have to do it in order to get across the street, but do I want to do it? Would I choose to do it? Why would I do it?
The movie was a depressing assortment of characters without motivations or qualms or guilt. Only Terry (Laura Dern) was at all sympathetic, because she didn't want to have an affair, she just wanted to have sex. I love Mark Ruffalo and Peter Krause, but by the end of the movie I just wanted them both to shut up. If I were married to one of them, I'd stick his jeans in the washer with all his underwear, and then I'd leave him. These men were pathetic. Did I mention they were both college professors?
In any case, it made me think again about Dubus's short stories. They contain characters who are so depressed and down trodden and without hope. What's the point? I found myself wanting there to be a big train wreck so the movie would be over. Then I went back and started reading "Adultery" one of the stories the movie was based on. It was totally different of course, but it had the same thematic concerns.
My question is: Why should I care? It's probaby sacrilege to say, but Dubus seems to fetishize the dark aspects of his characters. Unlike Carver, who I think is sympathetic to his characters and more often than not gave them some kind of hope, even if it was only the alcoholic kind, Dubus seems to be making a negative statement about the human condition.
It reminded me of a workshop I took. We had to read "Long Days Journey into Night." At some point I said, "What's the problem? They're all addicts." The teacher made the case that it was more complex than that, that the play was about the intertwining needs of the characters.
Sometimes, I think, it really is simple. The characters are alcoholics. So what? Why should I care? I think it's the job of the movie director or the short story writer to make me care. And if I don't care by the time it's over, has the artist done his job?

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Spiderman Pecuter

On Saturday, Middlebrow and Son attended the Avenues Street Fair and Son entered a drawing for a Spiderman Computer. When they got home, he told me all about it and asked when the lady was going to call about the "pecuter." He was sure, certain!, that he was going to win. In his view, all he had to do was fill out the paper and the prize was his.
About 8 o'clock that night, the phone rang. It was the woman from the Avenues street fair. Son had won the computer! She asked to talk to him, and after he got off the phone, he said, "See Mom? I told you I was going to win!" I informed him that it is not usual to win the first and only drawing you had ever entered. I, myself, have only ever won one drawing, for a sweatsuit, in 7th grade after I had participated in a Walkathon.
The nice couple brought the computer over, and after I freed it from its packaging, Son played with it. He now calls it his "Spiderman Laptop." It has letters in alphabetical order and different games, such as identifying rhymes and finding the missing letter in words. It took awhile, but I finally got him to close the laptop and put it away.
When I tucked him into bed, he said, "It's a new life. It's my fourth life, because I'm four. And when I'm five, I'll have a fifth life. If I get something new."
So begins Son's new life. He's learned an important lesson: milestones in life are marked by the acquistion of new consumer goods. Long Live the Spiderman Laptop!

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Wherein I Jump on the Google Poetry Bandwagon

Donald Trump: Luddite Boy Scout

Dawns the new era when the Boy Scout
Motto "Be Prepared" is, for example,
a luddite described as having more than a color TV

Sad: An electrical accident at the Boy Scout
Jamboree in Virginia has killed four.
Call me old-fashioned, call me a Luddite, I don’t care.

Whether You are a technophile or neo-luddite or if you are (choose one):
1) Donald Trump
2) Richard Branson
3) Martha Stewart
4) Bill Gates
5) Oprah

It's a tough decision to make.
Or, if Trump was a boy scout
before he (never) went to Vietnam

Or if he was a cat or a hooker or a Girl Scout
Cookie. Donald Trump wants to fire you.
Donald Trump wants to. . .

Listen: Even Donald Trump is complaining. Is this Luddite
environmentalism? Is this positive thinking?
Or a gimmick? Like a new breakfast cereal or a press conference.

Donald Trump eats this way, chews this way,
Head in the sand, sad, a Luddite, oh—
He’s my boy, Scout, he’s a mogul.

Visit Google Poetry. Make your own poem!

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Running: A Consideration

Running is a solitary act. Even when running beside my friend, I am alone in my pain, alone with my aching knees and my tingling feet. I run first and foremost in my head, perhaps in my solitary consciousness, alone with my thoughts and my doubts. But when running alone, with my friend, I run, somehow, through the doubts and the pain to the end, wherever that is, wherever I have decided beforehand to stop. Though I am tired and thirsty, though I swear in my mind at the lack of water, and rethink everything I ate or drank the day before, I finish.
I don't even like running. Really. But somehow, despite that, or perhaps because of it, I ran 13 miles.
Once, not too long ago, when I was watching TV and there was a guy in running shoes and shorts and a T-shirt, I felt a rev in my body, a physical reaction that said, "Run!"
Today, while doing my "recovery" workout, I wanted to get off the damn bike and onto the treadmill. For once, I considered my knees and did not run.
But I can see now, I can understand in my fundamental human condition, why people run, and why I know for certain that I will run again. Maybe not 13 miles, but I will run.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

The Results of Guilt and Shame

Signifying Nothing has shamed me into posting. I admit, my last two posts were about running, and it had been awhile since I posted (more than a week). The half-marathon is Sunday, and then I will have no more to say about running.
I have been silent as a result of the beginning of school. Between figuring out a series of "play-dates" (which is really just a mom-friendly term for "Will you take care of my son while I work?") for Son and figuring out how both Middlebrow and I are going to get to and from school with one car, one bike, the bus and Trax, I have not had much time for contemplating the meaning of life or the status of my imaginative life. Perhaps my imaginative life has no status at present.
I fear I am beginning to exist in Theory World, where words have only contingent meaning. "When you say 'author'" I say to my students, "do you mean 'author' or do you mean 'critic'?" They stare at me blankly. "Are you talking about the 'author function'?" I gave them the whole "Third Bed" speech, and I was happy that I could draw a little stick bed on the board and share with them my prodigious artistic talent. But then I realized I had probably confused them with my picture of the bed, so today I had to revise my speech and draw a bed to represent the bed, and then a bed inside a picture frame to represent representation. You can see why I am overusing quotation marks in my post. "Do you mean 'representation' or Representation?" Soon I will be unable to talk. I will be silent, like the Urn, but I will know everything about Truth and Beauty.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

The Sylynnvia Half-Marathon

My friend Sylvia and I are going to plan and run our own half-marathon. We were going to run the Salt Lake Half-Marathon until we discovered that it is mostly down hill. So on Sunday, September 3, we will run our own 13 mile "race." I'm thinking of having t-shirts made, just to make it official. The upside is that it is also free. We are going to enlist our husbands and sons to be our support crew, providing water, gatorade and cheering at designated mile markers. (Let this serve as an invitation to all you runners who want to join us. . .let me know and I will tell you where/when).
Sylvia's running the Boise Marathon in November, so it will just be a little warm up for her. For me, it will be the culmination of my summer training. When it's over, I think I'm going to follow some kind of triathalon training program. I want to run less and maybe swim more. I'm not quite sure how I will fit in the biking.
After I ran eight-miles this morning, Middlebrow, Son and I went to the farm stand at 9th & 9th and bought peaches, blueberries and corn. I made a Peach-Blueberry cake, which is currently baking and filling the house with amazing smells. We just ate some of the corn for dinner. It was delicious. The past few days we haven't really had anything that would pass for "dinner." More like a few vegetables, some bread or rice, and maybe something else, some leftover beans?, put on a plate. I call it the Farmer's Market dinner. It's best when we get some amazing bread from Crumb Brothers and eat that with some sliced tomatoes. As far as I'm concerned, that's dinner. (Must be the Iowa farm girl in me. . .).

Sunday, August 14, 2005

The Ten-Mile Run

So Friday night I set my alarm for 7. Before I went to bed, I reset it for 7:30. When it went off in the morning, I turned it off. This did not bode well for my (planned) 10 mile run. So by the time I got up and got dressed, it was 9. I drank a lot of water and ate some Skittles. Why not? When I started running, I thought maybe I'll just run 6. Then I thought, well, maybe I'll do 8. So when I finally headed up City Creek, (about 3.5 miles into the run) I thought, I'll just go to the one-mile marker and see how I feel. But I didn't see the one-mile marker and when I got to the 1.5 mile marker, I thought, well, I'm almost to 2. Then I just kept going and I even passed the 3-mile marker, because I didn't see it. As I was running down the hill, I thought, boy, am I going to be sore tomorrow.
I am a bit sore. But I ran the 10 miles (don't ask my time. I had read in a magazine "you can't run the long runs too slow." So I followed that advice) and then I went to a birthday party and ate the world's best Chile Verde and I had a piece of chocolate cake and two margaritas (not in that order). I feel pretty proud of myself. I'm not sure I want to run a half-marathon, but now it certainly seems possible that I could, in fact, finish one. It might take me two and a half hours, but I could finish.
Now, I guess, I'm ready to start preparations to go back to school. As soon as we finish watching the third season of "Six Feet Under."

Sunday, August 07, 2005

The (Inevitable) End of Summer or Camping to Avoid Reality

Yes, it's true. Summer is winding to a close. I can hear the theme music rising in the background. I must prepare myself for the credits and the inevitable exit into the glaring sunlight of reality. But first I must go camping with Middlebrow and Son. I, of course, am the instigator of said adventure. Middlebrow likes to go, but he would never suggest it. I don't think he likes sleeping on a thin pad on the ground. I like to go. Mostly I love an excuse to eat hot dogs and smores. I also love hiking and then coming back to camp and wading in the stream to cool off my feet. I like it when my clothes smell like wood smoke. I don't love sleeping on the ground on a thin pad, but maybe we just need better equipment.
Once when MB and I were in grad school we went on a backpacking trip with a few grad school friends. Two of them were a married couple (still married! with child!) who had the best camping gear I've ever seen. We all set up separate tents (them in one, MB and I in another, the three single folks in another). When they got their tent set up and we looked in, well, it was like looking into the Four Seasons from the Motel 6. One of my friends, Gary, hiked up with a can of Cheez Whiz in his backpack and nothing to drink but a bag of wine (he removed the box before cramming the foil wine pouch into his backpack). Another friend, Susan, looked like a toothpick carrying a turtle on her back. At one point she did fall over and couldn't get up. I think the backpack, empty, may have weighed more than her. Yes, this was the famous trip when, in the middle of the night, after listening to me complain that his side of the tent was somehow superior to my side, Middlebrow yelled "You wouldn't last ten seconds on this side of the tent!" In the morning we discovered that MB had been sleeping on the bag of tent stakes all night. It was under the tent. So maybe it's not all about the gear, but is about being smarter, somehow, than the gear.
So tomorrow we head out, not too far, for a few brief days of camping. I'm ashamed to say it is our first and only camping trip this summer. I'm not sure where the summer's gone. . . (don't we say that every year?) but it has been a good one. Camping will provide me with the opportunity to make coffee with a stovetop espresso maker (thank you Tony Caputo's!) and to avoid preparing for the start of school for at least a few more days.
When we return, we will attend a Stinger's game (all praise Thirsty Thursday!), also the first/only of the season. Again, where has the summer gone?
One last note: I cannot claim to have been "successful" at NaNoWriMo (or whatever) but I did write 20,000 words (so far!). I'm not giving up. But I have to scale back my expectations. Maybe I'll try to write 20,000 words next month too. Or something.
In other news, I am going to run a half-marathon in September. I figure if I can run 10 miles this Saturday I can do it. Even if I walk some of it. Hey, it's better than sitting on the couch. And when I finish, I can have a big piece of chocolate cake! (Not right after, but maybe after lunch or something. . . )

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Blog Drought and a Dearth of Intriguing Novels

I apologize for my notable absence. I wish I could say that all my writing prowess is being spent on my amazing (shitty) first draft of my novel. But, alas. I have learned that I am a good every other day writer. I can write 2,000 to 3,000 words, every other day. So my average is good. I want to blame my lack of writing on my amazing fitness schedule. I have been very good on that score. I have been running or swimming every day, with the requiste two days off. And my clothes fit better, though I am sticking with my goal to never step on a scale (except for those yearly visits to the dr). I am tan and fit looking. But I can't seem to give up french fries (for this I blame Middlebrow) or chocolate (no one to blame for this but myself). So I realize I will never look like those women who look like they do nothing all day but lift weights, run and eat protein. But then again, I get to eat chocolate, so screw those health club women. (I feel better now).
In other news, I keep picking up books, wanting desperately to get sucked into a book I can't put down. Then I don't get sucked in and I set the book down, disappointed again. Recently I have started The Corrections (what's up with that first chapter? If I had to read anymore descriptions of the stacks of magazines in various locations around the house, I was going to scream!), The Ten Thousand Things (our book club selection. yawn. I admit it, I am shallow. I don't like books that start with ten page descriptions of the setting. I just don't.), The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (this I liked, but I was at B&N and I didn't want to buy it. But I saw the trailer for the movie and now I want to read it because I want to see the movie), and Summer in the Land of Skin.
Ahem. Just a word about this last one: I am sucked in. Against my will. This book was written by a woman I went to school with at WWU. Middlebrow claims she was "weird" and she did have this weird eye thing. But to me she was just overly sexual. When I first met her we were both teaching intro to writing and we were writing ice breaker lists for our students (you know, find someone who grew up in Idaho, etc.) and the one she wrote is "Find someone who knows what Keigel exercises are." I mean, is this appropriate for Freshman Composition? Then she went on to write a paper about "Sexual Tension in the Classroom." I think sexual tension exists in the classroom, but you don't have to wear see-through white billowy shirts and make it worse. Enough said.
Anyway, the book is actually pretty good. I'm not sure someone who never lived in Bellingham (where it is set) would like it as much. Also: it is "based on" real events. I know that the main character "Arlan" is actually this guy named Arlan. I was friends with him and Middlebrow used to go on benders with him once in awhile. The way he is described in the book: exactly how he looks. And the book is dedicated "To Kathryn" Arlan's girlfriend. Except in the book she's named Lucy and she's kind of a psycho bitch. Anyway, there's lots of sexual tension in the book and I'm only about sixty pages in, and there's already been a masturbation scene. So, I guess I'll read on. Plus, it's like reading someone's diary. Someone you know, who dishes about who slept with whom, and why, all while describing drinks and parts of Bellingham that I miss. Also, I respect her for actually sitting down and writing a book. I mean, she finished it. Who the hell am I to criticize?
The book has made me a bit nostalgic for my time in Bellingham, when I thought I was sexier than I probably was (much like the narrator, Anna), and I spent a little too much time in dark bars (when a bartender, Richard Buckner actually, offered me a free Guiness before noon, I knew I had to stop going there), and when I was a little too self assured about the longevity of said sexiness and my ability to surf that into infinity, and when I drank a little too much (but I also lifted weights and rode my bike everywhere, so it was probably okay), and I lived in a studio apartment and drank coffee from a stovetop espresso maker. Oh, hipness, Where hast thou gone?

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Word Count and Pocatello goes Newsweek!

Today's word count: 11,229 (which means I wrote 3,000 words today, but am still behind)

In the Newsweek that arrived today, there was an entire article devoted to people who are buying investment property in my hometown of Pocatello, Idaho. The article said that prices are going up there, and that the University provides a steady pool of renters. Most of the investors had not even visited Pocatello, but had bought their properties through local agents. A few of the real estate agents cautioned that people should actually visit the town before buying there. Granted, housing prices there have languished until recently. When I was in high school, my mom bought a house for $60,000. I think she made a small profit when she sold it, but I drove by it last year and it looked like crap. Whoever bought it had painted the trim green. Anyway, I'm sure it would still sell for much more that $60,000. Pocatello might have below average housing costs, but it lacks one thing that makes sure that houses increase in value: jobs. Since I lived there, it seems like jobs have been leaving the area in a steady stream. Another thing: there are maybe two decent restaurants in the whole town. Sometimes good restaurants open, but just as quickly they close.
On the bright side, Poky does have a good, independent bookstore: The Walrus and Carpenter, downtown. But the downtown is so pitiful and has been for so long, that I'm not sure it can be saved. My best friend's mom once owned a funky toy shop downtown, but it closed. She also owned one of those good restaurants, with amazing soup, but it also closed. The one consistent good source of food: Buddy's. Salad and pizza. I am also pleased to note that on our last pass through Pocatello, I stopped (for nostalgic reasons) for a Space Burger at the Tastee Freeze. It wasn't as good as I remembered, but it was about the same, so maybe I've changed. (At least I hope so. The 80's hair is gone, at least).

Monday, July 18, 2005

Live from the Salt Lake City Library!

I am having one of those "urban moments." I came here to our lovely downtown library to work on my (somewhat failing) novel month adventure. I did okay, writing the requisite 2,000 words to make up for my three slacker days. So now I'm up to 8,591 words. And my character, Kate, actually left the house and had a conversation with another person. So that's good.

Middlebrow and I (okay, most Middlebrow) have been cleaning in anticipation of City Clean Up. We put our old swamp cooler out on the curb yesterday. In what must be some kind of Clean Up record, it was promptly picked up by a man with two children in a Suzuki SUV of some kind. I think the elapsed time between setting it out and him taking it was maybe 20 seconds. Maybe.

That's my update from Novel/Library headquarters. I must run now, so I do not receive a ticket on the car.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Park City Writers' Retreat

I have just returned from my 24 hour writers' retreat with two friends from Writers at Work. The retreat was at a board member's house. We sat on her deck and wrote; went to a coffee shop for lunch and "writing" (I talked to Sylvia and browsed for books); went back to the house for writing & reading; went for a 2 hour hike; drank wine at another writer/friends house; went back to Retreat Central; took showers while our hostess made Pork Loin stuffed with feta, apricots and spinach!; ate "dinner" around 9:30 on the patio while we drank wine. I read a chapter of Angle of Repose before going to sleep. Got up around 7:30 this morning for a bit of yoga, coffee, fruit salad, and toast on the patio while we watched a few hot air balloons pass overhead. All in all, it was like going on vacation, even though I was only half-an-hour away. It was nice. I did miss Son and Middle-brow. I wished, for a few minutes, that we had our own cabin/retreat, but one that was far, far away from other people. It could be my writing cabin/summer home. Sounds good, doesn't it?
I think I am behind now on my word count. I didn't write at all on Thursday (I was trying to give Middlebrow the whole day since I left on Friday). Yesterday I wrote by hand, so I probably only wrote a thousand words. So I have to catch up today and tomorrow.
Middlebrow is urging me to finish. He wants to go furniture shopping. We really want to put the old couch out on the curb for City Clean Up.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Writing the Novel AND Why I Hate The Historian

I started my attempt at National Novel Writing Month (known as NaNoWriMo). On the first day the word count goal is 1,667 words (or something). I wrote 2, 450. I think it's the only day I will be ahead, so I'm bragging. Don't ask me next week when I'm behind by 5,000 or so words. Shall I share one line from my new version of the novel I've been working on? Okay, I just looked at what I wrote and I can't bear to reveal any of it here. Which must mean I am taking NaNoWriMo to heart and have kenneled my Inner Editor. So you'll just have to wait until August 12 (the day after I finish my novel!) to see if I can bear to reveal any of it here, to you, my faithful readers.

In other news, I am incredibly irritated by the release and instant Best Seller status of The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. First, Random House paid two million dollars for the book, so of course they are going to promote the hell out of it (articles in Time and Newsweek; full page ads in The New York Times and New Yorker, etc, etc, etc.). Second, it's getting press for no other reason than. . . Random House paid two million for it. "It's the next DaVinci Code!" As if we all needed another reason NOT to read it. But at least the New York Times didn't fall in line and praise it. Henry Alford (the reviewer) didn't hate it, but he hated the tricks it employed and the many references in the book to "writing" or "scrivenings." He said it makes him feel "ready to skin a small animal." Ha!
But the most irritating thing, to me, is that BookSense (the consortium of small book sellers) has chosen The Historian as it's top pick for this month. Why? Does this book need any more support? To me, the point of small bookstores is to tell me about the books I wouldn't normally hear about, the small, quiet book that might never make the Best Seller list, but should; the book that will quietly continue to sell decades after the DaVinci Codes and Historians are taking up space in used book stores. Every time I look at the Fiction Best Seller list I want to weep. There is no book on the hardback Fiction list that I even want to read! On paperback, I am happy that The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is there. It redeems the otherwise lowbrow selection. On the paperback NonFiction, I'm happy to see David Sedaris maintaining his reign. Actually, the nonfiction list is suprisingly good: Malcom Gladwell's book is there, as is The Devil in the White City, and Guns, Germs, and Steel, and Under the Banner of Heaven. So the nonfiction list gives us reason for hope. I should switch to nonfiction?
Well. Please join with me in not reading The Historian (or at least check it out of the library rather than buying it). Instead, visit your local small bookstore and ask them to recommend a book you've never heard of by a writer you've never heard of but will love. Middlebrow has promised to argue with people who insist that The Historian is a good book, even though he refuses to read it. Can you get more Middlebrow than that?

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Mosquito Bites, Cowboy Boots, Alcohol

Here's my postcard from Island Park: we were beset by mosquitos, due to the incredibly wet spring, everyone got way too many bites. The highlight of the trip, for me, was the purchase of Son's new cowboy boots in West Yellowstone. We had looked at boots in Park City, where the cost was beyond prohibitive ($50). But we found a pair on sale in West Yellowstone. Son put them on immediately, with his shorts, and walked around town with his hands in his pockets, a decided swagger in his step. We had seen Old Faithful earlier, waded into the Madison, seen an eagle, a moose and some elk, but the trip was all about the boots. Son was disappointed that he didn't get to see a Real Cowboy, but I promised him that some live around Salt Lake and that we would go on an expedition to find one. I also told him we might see a cowboy or two at the Fair, when it comes to town (last year the highlight for him was the Butter Cow).
Aside from the mosquito bites, the trip was really marked by excessive consumption of beer, and the best margaritas I've had for awhile (it was the fresh limes and the company, I'm guessing).
Oh, did I mention that someone forgot to put my bag in the car? That's okay. I purchased a Supergirl T-shirt (selected by Middlebrow) at the K-Mart in Rexburg along with a pair of shorts. So I had two outfits for the trip.
The mosquito bites hardly even itch anymore. Did I mention how much I love showers? I love showers. Just when I think I am reviving my brief stint as a Nature Girl, I run smack into the brick wall of my own love of Modern Conveniences, such as showers and indoor plumbing and the refrigeration that gives us ice to be the rocks in our margaritas. Sigh. I should just let Middlebrow convince me of the sanity of car camping. It's true that ice does not do well with the whole backpacking ethos.
Ahh, it's good to be back home!

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Not Drowning, But Waving

No, I have not abandoned the bloggerhood. I have been consumed with family visits and some other things, only I can't remember what they are. My mother and her husband visited from Phoenix. They got a condo in Park City and we all went up and stayed there. It was much cooler and this visit was the best yet to PC, I think because I went for a run each day on the Rail Trail. Despite how great PC is, it is also terribly depressing. Evidence: art galleries. There are too many on Main Street and what they sell can only loosely be called "art." I'd call it western kitch or it-will-match-your-color-scheme. We did find one cool gallery, Coda, with amazing paintings and some cool handmade furniture and interesting metal work. In my opinion, it was the only art there.
The other depressing thing about PC is the incredible development. We drove up to Guardsman Pass (?), and there is so much building going on up there, it made me sick. Tons of houses. PC is going to become just like Estes Park or Aspen or Sun Valley. It will be killed by too much development and then the reason it was so interesting in the first place will cease to exist and what will be left? Lots of fancy hotels and resorts and condos for people who don't really like the outdoors (because they've destroyed it with their Hummers and "cabins"), but who like to look at "nature" from their million dollar decks. But soon they will just be looking at other million dollar decks. sigh.
So that's my rant for the day.
We're off to Island Park for a few days to stay with my dad and his wife. My sister will be in from Michigan with her two kids. Son is very excited about playing catch with lone boy cousin. Much bonding will happen, I'm sure, especially over Smores.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Of Bill Murray, the New TV, & the End of W@W

First things first: Last night Middlebrow and I watched "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou." Despite the fact that it included, in addition to Bill Murray, my other favorites Owen Wilson and Willem DaFoe, the movie was not good. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't good either. It was incoherent. I didn't care about any of the characters, despite being predisposed to love Bill Murray in just about anything. It was visually stunning at times, but about halfway through it underwent a bizarre genre shift to action/adventure. The highlight, I have to say, was the Portugese versions of David Bowie songs.
Second things: Middlebrow gave in to my hysterical whining and purchased a new TV this morning so that I could watch Wimbeldon coverage. Our old TV (which we bought just months after moving to SLC, once we got bored of drinking margaritas and playing Spite and Malice, because we were the only people we knew in SLC. I can't remember the first movie we watched on it, but that was seven years ago) mysteriously "broke" this morning after we let Son do some unsupervised TV viewing, because he woke up at 5 a.m. Why, you ask, did he wake up at 5 a.m.? It seems that, unbeknownst to MB and DW, who were watching the movie, last night Son got out of bed and changed out of his pull-up and back into his underwear. Around 5 a.m. his bladder gave out, prompting him to undress in the middle of the kitchen and then run into our bedroom proclaiming, "I pooped in my pants!" I didn't know about the furtive wardrobe change, but found the pull-up wedged between his closet and his small dresser. Ah, children! The joys, etc!
Let me just say that the new TV is so worth it. I got to watch a fantastic match between Roddick and Grosjean (whose first name is Sebastian, btw). And now I can watch the matches between Venus and Sharapova (go Venus! I have to root for Venus. It's her comeback!), and between Davenport and Mauresmo (I will most likely root for Lindsay, because she's American, but I really don't care who wins. It will be a fantastic match, I predict.)
And in Writers at Work wrap-up: The final reading was quite good, with Michael Downing my absolute favorite. His reading from Breakfast with Scot was funny and touching. Pam Houston's reading was fine, but a little fast. I'd already read the book, so I knew what was coming. I had to leave the reading early so I could help arrange the fabulous food: bruschetta from Martine, salmon from Wild Oats, salads from Noodles & Co, wine from a box. What could be better? Oh, and desserts from The Paris (I especially love the pecan/chocolate pie thing). See how the readings get one line and the food gets three? I have my priorities straight. Kevin McIlvoy is overall my favorite person. Ever. Without reading any of my novel, he gave me many ideas to get me restarted. So I'm indebted to him. And my favorite reading was the Young Writers. Some amazing, amazing stuff. Very impressive. Richard Frost was a close second, mostly because he was so surprising. He seemed like a very mild mannered sweetheart (which he is) but his poems were funny and shocking and great. See his "For My Brother" if you need some proof.
Next year (so far) we have lined up Suzanne Paola (for nonfiction) and Bruce Beasley (for poetry). We also hope to bring FC2 (publisher/editor) and someone from a poetry press, like Graywolf. We are also bringing Susan Strayed for the Young Writers.
I'm enjoying the perfect weather and the fact that I have no obligations for the next week or so. My mother and her husband arrive Friday and we will be spending some time with them in Park City over the next week. Then we head up to Island Park next week to see my dad, and my sister and her kids who are flying in from Michigan. Family mania!

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Another Day, Another Dinner

Last night was Brenda Miller's reading. She read some great stuff, two pieces from her first collection (one of which appears on brevity, it's called "Split"). I felt very inspired to write more after her reading which, for me, is a sign of great work. It's inspirational. She and I also had some great discussion (earlier, when we were shopping instead of hiking) about making the classroom a more contemplative/reflective space. I think all the teaching of argument I've done in the past seven years has worn me down. Brenda is attending a workshop at Smith about meditation and education, so I look forward to hearing more about it from her. After our discussions I decided in the next creative writing class I teach I'm going to bring "objects" and require students to write about them: a loaf of bread, a flower, a photograph, an orange. The best essays, in my mind, are those that range broadly and freely, and usually begin from stopping and looking deeply at something, even for just a moment. So my time with Brenda has really helped me to start thinking about teaching in a different way, and ways teachers can set up or influence the space/feeling of the classroom.
After Brenda's reading, the board and faculty went to an amazing house in Federal Heights for a dinner. It was great. The view was fantastic, the company/conversation was fun, the woman who hosted us was gracious. Her husband is retired and has taken up photography so there were amazing huge photographs of flowers all over the house. Truly wonderful. And the dessert! Let's just say I love chocolate and I love layer cake, so there you have it.
I stayed up too late, but managed to make my consultation this morning. Carol was a generous reader and gave me many good suggestions for improving my story. Actually, after the consultation I felt a little down. Not because of her comments, but because I don't really want to work on the story. I'm not sure if it's because I'm lazy or if I've just moved beyond that story. She did like the characters and encouraged me to revise it. I think I'm just exhausted. Maybe next week I'll feel like working on it.
Tonight is the booksigning at The King's English, followed by readings by John Vernon and Richard Frost. Then my friend and I are going out to dinner with the agent. More tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Dispatch from the Writing Conference

No great crises to report. All the writers are lovely. I'm especially taken with Michael Downing, Crystal Williams, and Kevin McIlvoy. All are generous, funny, delightful to be around.
Kevin McIlvoy gave a fantastic reading last night, reading two stories, "Ice" and "Smoke," from his collection The Complete History of New Mexico. He's a great reader and the stories have great voices, distinct and individual. I think "Ice" is as close to a perfect story as I've heard. It has everything I like: voice, idea, some plot, and, most important to me recently, heart. Mac is a writer that exemplifies the principle of heart. He is giving as a writer and as person.
Last night we all went to The Pub for a few pints and some chit chat. We talked about writing, of course, but also the state of the world, gay mormons, the documentary "The Smiths," life in Salt Lake City, the lack of affordable day care for working mothers. You know, the basics.
Tonight is Brenda Miller's reading. I'm introducing her, so I'd better get to writing that darn thing. I bought a sexy new shirt/sweater combo that I'm debuting tonight at a fancy soiree that was supposed to be a "out-by-the-pool" party. It may be an indoor party now. Oh well. I'm just hoping for one perfect martini that's so dirty, it's pornographic.
I'll report tomorrow on my consultation with Carol Houck Smith, an editor from Norton. I gave her one of my stories entitled "When I Say Idaho." I already know she doesn't love it (she hinted), but I'm hoping she'll have some good suggestions for how I can improve it.
Oh: David Hamilton from the Iowa Review is also very sweet and nice. So all you poets, send him your work!

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Writers at "Work"

I took this week off from productivity because of the preparations we were making for the up-coming writers' conference Writers at Work (shamless promotion: writersatwork). Last week we (some others and me, sometimes others and not me) were dropping off and proofing and worrying about the program (done now!), making dinner reservations (very important!), compiling and sending off manuscripts for consultations, making bookmarks (better late than never!), and troubleshooting. Also making sure that all the Famous Writers have someone to pick them up at the airport. Very important. And making sure that we have enough wine and snacks for all the much-anticipated hob-nobbing.
So, I feel pretty good about having taken the week off. Middlebrow took the week off too, in sympathy for me, no doubt. But he did run a few times (at least he said he ran, and he came home dripping sweat, so I guess I have to believe him). In an attempt to make him more hip, I bought him a funky shirt for Father's Day. I'm encouraging him to wear it to the up-coming Summer Celebration. Please complement him on the shirt if you see him. It's part of his bold new strategy of "breaking out" of the boring wardrobe. I'm trying to encourage him.
So: I probably won't be posting next week, but if I get a break from the conference, I will. On deck for the week are: a potluck with board and faculty; the usual wine and snacks after each reading; a mid-week hike with faculty; introducing some writers; a swanky cocktail party; a booksigning party at The King's English (at 5 p.m. on Thursday the 23rd, 1511 East 15th South); dinner with an agent (not as exciting as it sounds, it's not like he's paying!); then the big final party (Saturday the 25th after the reading; lots of good food! and dancing!).
Here are the readings. I hope to see the locals there. It will be fun. And I promise some quality hob-nobbing! The readings begin at 7 pm and are in the Courage Theater in Jewett Center at Westminster College (13th East and 17th South).

  • Tuesday the 21st: Carol Frost (poet) & Kevin McIlvoy (fiction writer)
  • Wednesday the 22nd: Brenda Miller (U grad, non-fiction writer)
  • Thursday the 23rd: John Vernon (fiction) & Richard Frost (poet)
  • Friday the 24th: Crystal Williams (poet) & David Hamilton (essayist?)
  • Saturday the 25th: Pam Houston (novelist) & Michael Downing (fiction and non)

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

spy NOVEL vs. SPY novel

Okay, some of you know what I'm talking about. There are novels which involve spies and intrigue, and then there are spy plots that hucksters somehow turn into novels that spend months on the best seller lists, confounding even the most cynical writer among us.
I just finished reading Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, which, in my book, is a spy NOVEL. That is, the writing and character development are not sacrificed to the plot. It has a great plot, and it also has a lot of moody rumination and some scenes where not a lot happens. My favorite thing is that most of the "action" takes place in the past, so it only happens in a monologue, where one spy is relating the story to another. It's a brilliant technique.
Middlebrow suggested T,T,S,S (that sounds kind of dirty!) because in my so-called-novel the protagonist is looking into something that happened in the past and my big "structural" difficulty is how to move smoothly between the narrative present and the past.Structure seems to be my big problem, or at least my excuse for writer's block. I was talking to a friend back east (he recorded some of my stuff for a "radio literary journal" he's doing for a college radio station; more on that later) and he asked me to talk about structure because of the two prose pieces I had written using poetic forms (the crown of sonnets essay and the sestina story). And I said that using poetic forms as the structure freed up my mind to just invent. Which made me think that maybe what I need to do is find some kind of arbitrary (or not so arbitrary) form for the novel and just use it. But it can't be crazy, like terza rima, and it has to be large enough to encapsulate an entire novel. Help! What can my received novel form be? I need one! I think it would help me to at least get my (shitty) first draft done.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Gluttony vs. Self-Control

First, let me admit that as a faster I am somewhat of a failure.
Day One I had some soup (most of the ingredients in the soup were on the list of approved vegetables, but still. I also had some decidely unhealthy crackers).
Day Two Middlebrow, after doing some back-breaking work in the garden, proclaimed, "Let's go to the Pub!" followed quickly by "Am I a bad person?" So I ate some soup, then we went to the pub where I consumed 1 pint of UPA and a roasted veggie salad (sans cheese).
Day Three my fellow fasting friend called me (from the Pub) and said, "Come on down!" There I was treated to a few glasses of UPA by two retired (or semi-retired?) mathematicians. I ate some chips and salsa and watched The Race. We had a good discussion about whether the TV series "Numbers" realistically portrayed math in a way that did not mis-represent math theory etc. The math dudes said the show was good. Hooray! Math can be sexy!
Day Four (today) I kept up my juice breakfast and veggie lunch (today, chard! delish!) and then indulged in veggies, bread, humus, brownies! and wine! during book club. We even actually discussed the books, which got mostly positive reviews: Eyeshot by Heather McHugh and Loving Che by Ana Menendez.
Last night I chided Middlebrow for what I took to be a gluttonous response to my Puritanical fast. In order to prove to me that he is not, in fact, "Fat" (his word) he took off his shirt. At the time, I believe we were between episodes of "The Sopranos." Now, of course Middlebrow is not fat. But does that give him the right to eat enough for two during my fast? Anyway, I agreed that he is not, in fact, "fat" and in order to prove his fitness, he began to jump up and down, promptly hitting his head on our basement ceiling and falling to the floor in a fit of laughter.
The upshot is, however, that today Middlebrow went out and bought some running shoes and, upon returning home, went out for a quick run. Then he went to Fiddler's Elbow for four hours, so I'm not quite sure that Self-Control won this round. Let's call it a draw.

Friday, June 10, 2005

The (late) Spring Fast

I know it is a good idea to fast. I usually try to do it once a year. But I always get a splitting headache on the first day. But now, well into Day 2, I feel good. Not great, but good. I realized last night that the reason I get a splitting headache is all the sugar in the fruit juice, without any other food to mitigate its terrible consequences. So today I'm going with the veggie only/lemon juice and water fast. I think I'll be okay.
I also always forget how exhausted I get, how all I want to do is lay in bed, so I slept nine hours (or so) last night. We all did. After Son got up and had a bowl of cereal he came into our bed and slept for another two hours.
So the fast is an attempt for greater health, and I have caught up on my sleep. Also, when I don't have to eat or make dinner, I have more time to go for walks. I'm hoping to go on at least two one-hour walks today.
I've heard (I forget where) that one should: fast for twelve hours a day everyday (from 8 pm until 8 am for example), fast for one day of every week, and fast for one week once a year (I think some people do it twice a year: in the fall you can do a fast that includes rice and miso soup; in the spring a juice and vegetable only fast).
For me, the fast is a good time to reset my thinking about eating (for example, why do I snack so much at night?) and to give my stomach a rest. I get stomach aches more than the average person, so it's a good thing.
It also reminds me of the "news fast" that Dr. Weil recommends, to clear your mind from clutter. I do a "news fast" sometimes. I used to do them once a week: one day without news isn't going to kill me. And it clears your mind from worry about things you can't (immediately) do anything about.
Dr. Weil also recommends bringing cut flowers into your house. Which I have done, roses from the rose bush out front. Very bright and beautiful.
I'm going to drink some Carrot, Orange, Apple Juice now (but just a bit! not too much!). Then I'm going to go for a walk.
Happy Fasting (or eating)!

Monday, June 06, 2005

Little Children

I just finished a fairly light and entertaining read, Little Children by Tom Perrotta. It started out very funny, with highly insightful and biting stereotypes of the women at the playground (we know who we are!). It's mostly about an affair between a stay-at-home mom and a stay-at-home dad, but it hits on other big issues, like the nature of success. I started out wishing I had written it, then realized that it seemed like it could have been written by a friend of mine from graduate school (WWU). It wasn't as funny (overall) as the first chapter promised, but it was good. Pretty light, but a good, quick read. Perfect for those days beside the pool with the kids. Actually, many of the scenes in the book take place at "Town Pool" complete with red bikinis, tanning lotion, and flippers.
I feel like I don't have the right to criticize novels anymore, at least not until I have finished one. It's a miracle anyone ever does, as far as I can tell. But my mind has been cleared. Maybe now I can read some hefty piece of "real" fiction. Maybe I'll alternate (one light, one hefty) for the remainder of the summer.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Tanning Soundtrack vs. Teenage Angst

Don't get me wrong. I'm 100% in favor of Tears for Fears AND Duran Duran (though "View to a Kill" is not their best). The difference is: you listen to metal while you are lying out, thinking of nothing but your gorgeous tan and/or skin cancer, or while you sit next to the pool, trying to be cool. Tears for Fears, Violent Femmes, Duran Duran, B-52s: these you listen to while you drive around in your car with your same sex friends while you lament the lack of attention from the opposite sex and/or how much your hometown sucks and how your life is going to be amazing and fantastic as soon as you move out of this terrible town. Sometimes you stop and get a Big Gulp or a Frosty. Sometimes you cruise, but you aren't trying to pick anyone up. You are, for once, enjoying your angst, reveling in it, finding in it an expression of the basic human condition. The only music for this: Scritti Politti, Tears for Fears, Violent Femmes. Even Prince, sometimes. My point is: they are not mutually exclusive. I need many soundtracks, including "Summer Metal" and "Summer Angst."

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Bikini Music

June! Wonderful June! I was driving around yesterday singing along to a Sammy Hagar tune that I don't know why I know the words to (it was "Why Can't This Be Love?"). It reminded me of all the hot hot Idaho summers spent lying out in bikinis in the back yard, on the back porch, at the reservoir (no lakes in Idaho. at least not where I was) or at the Olympic size pool in Lava. I didn't have a bikini body then and I certainly don't now. But there is something about summer that seems to make bikinis okay. It is this same principle that makes me nostalgic for the kind of rock music that Sammy Hagar made. You know what I'm talking about: Van Halen, my favorite Def Leppard, Aerosmith (is it a sin to lump them in with the others?), AC/DC, Guns 'N' Roses, others? I need a compilation CD: Summer Metal or something. Summer of Metal? Metal Summer? Okay, 'fess up. Who is your favorite? (slather on the baby oil and squeeze some lemon in your hair: it's time to tan) (does this remind you of that episode of "Sex in the City"? It was "Hot Child in the City").

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Tennis, Tennis, and more Tennis

We are now solidly into Grand Slam tennis season with the beginning of televised tennis. I'm happy to see that both Williams sisters are out of the mix (Serena was never in it; out with a sore ankle. Venus eliminated by a fifteen-year-old!). Unfortunately, Capriati is out too (injured?). Davenport carries all American hopes now, which are few (love Davenport, but she's slow). My new favorite is Sharipova. She's Kornikova (sic) with game. She made over $800,000 last year in prize money alone. Check her out in The New Yorker (in a camera ad).
The American men are out too. Every year I root for Agassi knowing full well that he is no competition for the young Latin men (Spanish AND South American). I don't want to like Roddick, but he's fun to watch. I despise Hewitt (a combination of the facts that he's a racist pig and he's arrogant). I like Guga, but I'm not sure what he's doing this year.
Wimbeldon is my favorite. Again, it's nostalgia. I remember the finals of my youth, eating strawberries early in the morning while watching the epic matches of MacEnroe and Borg. Of course, I rooted for Borg. But now I love MacEnroe as a commentator, he's lost none of his arrogance, but at least he makes fun of himself. And he seems to prefer women's tennis, which you have to love.
My guess is that Sharipova's going all the way. I have no idea who will win the men's side.
This season always makes me want to play more tennis, so hopefully that will happen too.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

The Last Day of School

Today is Son's last day of school. When I asked him if he was sad, he said no. But then he asked if I had signed him up for summer school. Summer school is about four times as expensive as regular school, so no.
We've already signed him up for Tee Ball (which begins in June). Soccer ends next week, and we're going to sign him up for swimming lessons sometime. How much activity does a four-year-old need?
Having a child means waxing nostalgic about the summers of my youth, when I would wake up in the morning when it was still cool, but you could feel how hot it was going to get. My favorite times were walking with my sisters to the tennis courts (which were not close, about a twenty minute walk) for our summer lessons. We all had crushes on our tennis teacher, a high school boy with black hair. He asked us trivia questions about Althea Gibson and threw tennis balls at our racquets. The next year we all went to see him in the high school production of "Kiss Me Kate." Needless to say, this did nothing to end our crushes. One year I took golf lessons because the tennis lessons were full. What I liked most about golfing was the club house, complete with soda and jawbreakers.
My other favorite summer memories are of the racquet Club. We would spend all day at the pool. They had a snack bar with french fries and frozen yogurt, which was containers of yogurt that they put in the freezer. I think they also had frozen candy bars.
I feel like this summer is about getting enough exercise to counteract the amount of beer, chips and popsicles I will invariably consume. Also, I want to go to Otter Butt's house and sit in her kiddy pool with her. We could drink some nice non-alcoholic ice tea. Also, I want to read a trashy novel. So far my summer reading has been way too highbrow. Maybe I'll do some book reports ala seventh grade. Speaking which, remember Lizard Music?

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Back to Work!

I just wrote 1,119 words on the new "new" novel. It's the same as the old novel, but with a new way into the story. I think it will work, and in any case it is giving me a structure that will make it easier for me to move forward. I had to get Son to take a nap in order to do it. And ignore the cleaning I should be doing right now because my dad is coming through on his way to Pennsylvania. Plus there are a lot of dishes in the sink. And there are some dead bugs lying in various locations around the house. I think writing, really writing, means just ignoring other things and sitting at the computer. Unfortunately, I'm often very bad at ignoring other things. But I think I could learn to ignore cleaning and the dirty dishes. Yes, I think I'll become very good at that.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Phoenix Redux

Boy am I glad to be back in the land of reasonable temperatures. 80 today. I can handle that.
Here's a run down of all the Phoenix happenings:

High temperature during vacation in Phoenix: 112
Number of days spent at swimming pool: 3
Most expensive swimming pool excursion: $3.50 (for entire Middle-Write-Son family at pool with two slides and three pools!)
Number of books completed: 2 (Sight Hound and Unconditional Parenting)
Number of trashy magazines read: 1 (Only People! Suprise Wedding! Who the hell is Kenny Chesney?)
Number of Margaritas consumed: 3? (one at a restaurant, the SuperBigGulp of margaritas! Two at my mom's retirement party from machine rented from company named "I Need A Margarita")
Number of flamingoes planted in my mother's front yard in celebration of her retirement by a company named "Flamingoes by Night": Unknown. I'd guess 50? I didn't even notice because my step-father has some flamingoes in the backyard anyway, and I thought maybe I just didn't notice that he had put some in the front yard.
Hours spent in car (roundtrip): 24
Number of vegetables Son consumed on vacation: 0
Orders of fries Son consumed on trip: 3
People in our house who are upset because they missed the season finales of Desperate Housewives and Grey's Anatomy: 2

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Ode to Summer

Middlebrow, Son and I drove into town on a hot night. The heat rising up from the pavement and the smell of Phoenix (what is that smell? It's heat and wood and some kind of flower. That's as exact as I can be) reminded me of my childhood. On the drive down I had remembered the summer my mom, two of my sisters and I lived with her parents. It was a sad and strange time, but I recall thinking that Phoenix was the center of civilization and, compared to Pocatello of course, it was. Phoenix has Metro, a mall with an indoor ice skating rink, and about a million pools. What else does summer require? Oh yeah, a bowling alley and a suitcase full of books. One summer I flew down by myself to stay with my grandmother, who now, as fate would have it, lives next door to my mom. But that summer, when I was 11 or 12, I brought a suitcase full of books to read. I did some art projects with my grandma and swam every day. What else is summer for? When did I get so worried about accomplishing things during what should be "summer vacation"? I think we went to the circus that summer. That might also have been the summer I almost fainted at a flea market because it was 100 degrees at 9 a.m. And I'm a thirsty person, even in the wet Northwest.
So by coming down here to Phoenix, we have somehow skipped over the transition of spring into summer and have gone directly to f*in' hot.
Did I mention that I forgot to pack shorts? My sister finds this incredibly funny.

Monday, May 16, 2005

The Foetry Debacle

Okay. Maybe it's not fair for me to call it a "debacle." But I've been following, from a comfortable distance, the debate going on over there at Today there is a Chronicle of Higher Ed story on Foetry.
This past week I've been posting and responding on the website, which was probably a big mistake. The posters there are angry and are not really interested in dialogue. They want to have angry exchanges with each other about "foets" whom they get to designate without really having an explicit criteria for who is and who is not a "foet." For sure Jorie Graham, in their opinions, is a "foet." There is a strange, paranoid conspiracy theory feel to their "conversation" which doesn't involve much listening or ideas about what to do about poetry contests, which they say are "rigged." I guess their next idea is to sue some University Presses using the Consumer Protection Act. The problem is, what constitutes "proof" of "unfairness" in a poetry contest? It's not like a contest at McDonald's, where everyone who gets a game card has an equal chance of winning. Unlike the lottery, there is some skill involved. It is a bit like the lottery, I guess, if choosing numbers is like writing poems. And if the person who shoots the number balls out of the big barrel (is that how it's done these days?) chooses the number of their friends or former students. But the idea of "rigging" or unfairness bypasses the aesthetic argument, which seems to me the most compelling.
I'm not saying Jorie Graham isn't unethical for choosing her former students or lover as the prize winner. I'm just saying that it's possible, theoretically, that she really did like the manuscript of that person best. (Maybe she was responsible for shaping the writing and THAT'S why she liked it). All I'm saying is that, in theory, it is possible to like one poet's work more than another's, and it may not even be because you shaped that aesthetic or because you love or even like the poet.
That's my five cents.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Exercise or Writing?

Lately (okay this week) I've been really good at keeping to my exercising regimen. I can't say as much for my writing "schedule." Why is that? Why is it so easy to go to the pool or get to the gym but I can't make it the few feet down the stairs to my "office" to "write" my "novel"? And why do I find myself using scare quotes to say "write" or "novel"? Because they are only concepts that have no application in the real world, i.e. here, where I live and dwell and fail to write. I want to write, I think, but then I find myself doing anything but. Again, I think I'm putting too much pressure on myself to write the perfect novel.
Time to reaquaint myself with Anne Lamott and "shitty first drafts." I resolve to write a really shitty part of something I'm working on tomorrow. And then the next day, I'm going to write something even worse. Yes. These are goals I can accomplish. And I will.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Those Wacky Brits

I have a question: why are the Brits (and the Canadians for that matter) so much funnier than Americans? It's not just the charming accents, though that may be part of it. Middlebrow and I just watched the first season of "The Office" and were quite entertained, though we couldn't always get all the jokes because of the accents. And then there was an ad for another BBC comedy, "Coupling." Both of these comedies were translated for American audiences by NBC (I think) and both flopped. I didn't see the American versions, but I heard they were terrible. But the British versions are hilarious. Why? The show (I'm referring to "The Office" now) doesn't shy away from the uncomfortable silence after a joke that bombs. The whole premise, the bad boss who thinks he's a great boss, is uncomfortable. Plus the British sense of humor is just, well, funnier. Like when one office worker puts the other guys stapler into jello and hides it in his desk. And the uncomfortable sexual politics of the office that make you cringe. I think American comedies are afraid of the real funny material, because true comedy is funny because it makes you uncomfortable.
There is also a pretty funny Canadian comedy on PBS about an American guy who moves to Toronto to do a morning show. I don't know what it's called, but again, funny. And they make jokes about Canadian Zinfandel. Must be good, right?
So what is it? Part of it is the dryness of the wit. Part discomfort. Part lack of laff track? Part poking fun at themselves and their foibles.
Also: BBC world news is far better than anything produced in America. They were covering Sudan when American news was still obsessed with Michael Jackson. (and still are, right?)
Also: My new favorite show, "Spy," is a BBC production that shows on PBS on Saturday nights. It's a terrible time and I've missed more than I've seen, but it's a spy reality show. You know what is great about it? They are forbidden from messing around with each other, so it actually is about spying and the techniques and not about who is sleeping with who and who will get voted off. The only way to get ousted is to screw up. So far, only one woman has. I highly recommend it. And I look forward to your theories on why the Brits are so much funnier than we are. (Is it the blood pudding?)