Monday, December 3, 2007

what would Jesus eat on his birthday? or, refined sugar makes the holiday bright

So the Christmas season is upon us again, and I find myself mystified by some of the great American holiday traditions. Why do we all seem to have this compulsive need to eat completely disgusting candy? Where exactly is it in the Gospel of Mark that there's some kind of discussion of candy at the birth of the Messiah? Maybe it came from the lesser-known adorants, maybe the shepherds, who wanted to bring a gift and could only find a half-eaten box of liquorice comfits coated in non-pareils way in the back of the pantry? Okay, maybe most Christmas candy isn't really all that disgusting (I direct you, tonstant weader, to Gravity's Rainbow and Pynchon's short little digression on the relative merits of English candies). But why this obsession with sweets at Christmastime? My grandmother used to set out large cut-glass dishes of stale candy for various gustatory and aesthetic assaults on the senses. At any rate, it's at this time of year that I suddenly am overwhelmed with the urge to eat hard candies of suspect provenance, well past its sell-by date.

I have been making gifts this year, since as usual I am completely broke. I didn't do as much pre-season shopping this year and am a bit panicky about what I'm going to give my husband. Anything I really want to give him is too expensive for us to really afford. This is kind of frustrating. I admire those women who can whip up sweaters and such in a trice -- I, however, need months at my disposal to make something as mundane as socks or a scarf. I do not know where people find the time. At any rate, I was watching some television yesterday and saw some of the ads...who are all these people purchasing cars as Christmas presents? Who is this wife who is stunned and surprised at receiving a Lexus? Didn't she have to co-sign the loan? Didn't she wonder why thirty thousand dollars disappeared out of the savings account? Are people this stupid? Or, no -- wait -- maybe people don't generally give each other luxury cars as Christmas gifts. Maybe people are pretty much pleased at getting the 8-dollar box of Russell Stover candy with the bow printed on the box.

I did spend the weekend wrapping most of my presents for this year, and making up some Christmas cards. Not that I do it in that made-for-television fantastickal way. I wrap everything in brown kraft paper and then make bows out of real ribbon (I always wanted Christmas presents with real fabric ribbon when I was a child -- so that's what I give now). I had my annual fight with the collapsible shirt-boxes that you can get at Kohl's and Dillards and such, which make intuitive sense until you try to assemble them. Anyway, now I have all these wrapped presents and a nagging sense that everyone's going to be disappointed in what they are getting this year. I try to remind myself that personally, I'm just happy to get a gift in the first place, so maybe it will all turn out okay.

Also, I made cookies. Chocolate-cherry-pecan oatmeal cookies, to be precise. They are startlingly enjoyable. I also hand-dipped some Oreos in that kind of dipping-chocolate. Those are pretty good too. I have not had time to make what is for me the uber-Christmas cookie -- Thumbelinas. Basically, these are butter with a little flour thrown in to make them hold together, a little sugar to make them sweet, rolled in pecans, then baked and globbed up with canned frosting. Trust me when I tell you not to eat more than 20 of these in a sitting. (They're deceptively seems like you could eat four dozen and not break a sweat...but believe me, you'll get sick after twenty.)

Finally, in other pre-Christmas news, I have not yet decided what to do about a tree. I love that winey-piney smell that a fresh-cut tree brings to a house, but it's such a complete hassle to get it and get it home that it seems almost silly to do it for no one but me and Kelly. I have a suspicion that the dogs will attempt to ingest the lower branches and at least one ornament each. Plus, they are tail-waggin' dogs, and this will invariably lead to an infestation of pine needles in odd places that I won't find until late February.

I don't know, I love this season and I love the traditions, but this year, it seems like everything's been so turned-upside-down financially and emotionally that maybe it would just be better to let it all go. Maybe we could spend one year just saying "you know what? You can have a day to think about the importance of religion, the sacrifice made by Jesus Christ, peace on earth and goodwill toward men without having to go through all this rigmarole." As long as there's cookies, I am thinking that I will have done my part. I'll keep you posted on what we end up doing, which will be low-key in the extreme. Unless Oprah happens to be reading this; in which case, I have no real need for a new Pontiac or a refrigerator with a television stuck to its front...what I would really like is a fancy espresso machine to give to my husband, which I cannot afford, and the fact of which is bumming me out.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

the evening redness in the west

I have been re-reading Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian, probably because there's all this buzz over No Country for Old Men (of which I am not a big fan). I decided to give Meridian another whirl because I realized I had not bothered with this book since throwing my copy out an open window at Sellards Scholarship Hall in 1987. Perhaps I was wrong. Perhaps I had misjudged. So, I'm an open-minded person. I'm willing to admit when I've made a mistake.

Okay, I made a mistake. This is a great book. It's not for everyone, and it's obviously not for those it's for at every time in their life. Get off my back, syntax police. Other critics will tell you more, in a more compelling way, than I'm going for here.

Here's my complaint. I got a copy of the Modern Library printing of the book, which has an oddly fetching photo of McCarthy on the front, and an essay by Harold Bloom at the beginning. About which: um, seriously, this should maybe go at the end. Unless the assumption is that the only people reading this edition of this book are people who have already read this book. This essay is odd. It sort of irritated me, which is strange because in many ways I tend to agree with Harold Bloom (i.e., that the point of reading is aesthetic enjoyment, not making some kind of political statement). In many other ways, I do not (i.e., that the best DeLillo book is Underworld; that Bud Powell's "Un Poco Loco" is some kind of watershed moment for music). But in the main, I don't mind him so much. But this essay struck me as unnecessarily condescending, and frankly overwritten.

At any rate. There's an awful lot going on in this book. Under no circumstances would I recommend it to my mother, whom I know quite well. Nor would I recommend it to someone, conversely, whom I do not know well. The violence may be allegorical, but I suspect not. Maybe there's something to the idea that violence is what we bring to the table, and it's the suppression of violence that is the only thing that makes civilization. Living beyond the pale may mean embracing the violence. Shades of Conrad, shades of Melville. This is a fine book, a frightening book, a book that causes me concern. This is why I love to read.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

ascension day

Well, I've been having a thing lately that I don't really want to get into, but suffice it to say: yes, I know I have not been posting with any kind of regularity. Management regrets the inconvenience.

Okay, so, just so this isn't the complete waste of space that it could be, I will mention here that I am in a recording studio at this moment, listening to various pieces of music that I may or may not mix onto a Veterans Day piece I've committed to for Friday. (And yes, I know that Veterans Day is Sunday. This needs to air before Veterans Day.) I keep lots of pieces of music in a file here just in case the perfect thing comes up. Fair use covers a lot of this, and our BMI/ASCAP contract covers the rest. I assure you that I purchased all of this. Anyway, if I hear a thing that I like a little bit of, I save it here and then can come back to it if I need it. This makes the craziest list -- sort of an iPod playlist gone all wrong. I just finished listening to a passacaglia that I like and the Brahms Clarinet Concerto. I have decided against both. I am noticing that virtually all of the music I have in here is kind of...well, either ethereal or sad, depending on how you want to look at it. (With the exception of a White Stripes piece I used for a commentator's thoughts on music and his father.) Anyway, it's good to go back through all this stuff occasionally and see what can be deleted. I have a disproportionate amount of Radiohead up here, apparently. That's another strange story, because I was determined that I did not like Radiohead, based entirely on my experience of their first record. I had a friend who adored this tape and played it endlessly and I didn't like it one bit. So, in short, I gave up entirely on Radiohead before they started making music that was right up my alley. I heard some of their other songs purely by accident and couldn't believe I had written this band off. Okay, lesson learned. So now there is a lot of Radiohead on file in studio E. I was kind of delighted to see just now that I have The Hollies' "The Air That I Breathe" in this file. I just love that weird whiny guitar opening with all the wocka-wocka processing on it.

At any rate, the thing I have up here that I want to use but cannot even think about is the Talk Talk song "Ascension Day" from their record Laughing Stock. I am just crazy about that record and have been for years. There's not a lot of instances in which I can use it, but sometimes I just come in and listen to it and it (exceedingly oddly) makes me feel better.

So. Go get yourself a copy of Laughing Stock and don't listen to the recordstore guy who will invariably tell you that this is not what you really want (unless you go to the record store in Lawrence and your counterguy is Kelly, who will cheerfully agree that this is an excellent choice, and that his wife listens to it all the time). Unless this guy is one of those crazy audiophile types, in which case he will probably go completely wiggo over you. But in that case, you should ignore his exhortations for you to buy it on the gold disc or the remastered pressing or get the original Verve release rather than the Polydor...all that stuff is just nuts.

Monday, October 29, 2007

the horror! the horror!

Having spent the weekend cleaning my house with the television on, I have once again (sort-of) seen the Bravo "100 Scariest Movie Moments" and "30 Even Scarier Movie Moments." I have to say that whoever it is that they are polling is really, truly, deeply confused about what entails a scary movie moment. Here's how I see it: there are movies filled with scary moments, and there are movies filled with completely disgustingly gross moments. People, I think, are now confusing the two. At least, this is what I believe accounts for the movie "Hostel" coming in at numba-one on 30ESMM. I have not seen "Hostel," despite my love for ucky movies, because all things being equal, there are just some things I don't think I need to see. I have not seen "Wolf Creek," or "Old Boy," or "The Audition," or whatever the latest entry into the Completely Awful Sweepstakes is. I saw Saw-s I and II and profoundly wish that I had not.

Anyway. I was glad to see David Cronenberg well-represented. I was afraid it was going to be all Hitchcock, all the time. Don't get me wrong, I love Hitchcock thrillers, but I just never thought Vertigo was all that scary. I'm more of the "out of a clear blue sky whammo" school of thought on psychological horror. I'm not so completely art-school-ified that I go all "Cahiers du Cinema" on this issue...I am not here to agitate for the last 45 seconds of the Rififi heist scene as the height of tension in all of modern film. I did not find the original "Wicker Man" frightening at all. But I feel as though there's still some kind of place for true thrillers in the marketplace.

I also do not understand how the villains of films like "Halloween" and "Friday the 13th" and "A Nightmare on Elm Street" became icons of frightening-ness. Did the sequel-makers actually see any of these films? Because Michael Myers was not supposed to be the scary thing in Halloween. The dread of being punished for what you did wrong, and what you knew was wrong when you did it, was the scary thing. It's scary because of the dread. It's scary because Laurie finds herself wondering what the heck she did wrong to deserve this kind of terror. She's the good student, she takes care of the children, she's living a life of rectitude...but somewhere, somehow, she must have done something wrong...if only she could figure out what. The message is: no one is innocent. No one is good enough. Evil might find you, for no good reason. That, my friends, is terrifying. (Of course, Halloween III is just scary because of the idiotic script.) Anyway, the mother was the killer in Friday the 13th, not Jason Voorhees, so I don't even know why the whole freaky-cat-in-a-hockey-mask thing had any legs at all. Then in ANOES, Freddy Krueger was not the scary thing -- having no control over the subconscious was the scary thing. Also, the parental lynch-mob was the scary thing. Freddy was punishing the parents who burned him alive -- the terror was inherent in the fact that the children were being punished for the sins of the previous generation, which had literally sacrificed a human being to get their flawlessly manicured lawns and conspicuously expensive cars. Seriously -- I saw these films. I remember seeing them. I remember the plot points. But I guess concepts don't make for such good sales and residuals in the costume division of Megaconglomerate Studios, Inc.

So: my scariest movie moments are apparently not especially scary, but, well, there it is. They say that psychological horror plays on the individual's particular fears -- "they", in my case, appear to be correct.
1) the moment in "The Shining" where Shelley Duvall suddenly figures out that her writer husband has been spending 12 hours a day writing different permutations of the same sentence over and over again
2) that moment in "The Exorcist" where the demon addresses Father Karras in his mother's voice and begs him to explain why he abandoned her
3) the moment in "Dead Ringers" when we realize just what exactly Beverley and Elliott are intending to do to Claire in a drug-addled haze ** editor's note: I realized that actually the horrifying moment is at the end, where everyone's all drug-addled and we see what it is that Beverley did to Elliott. The only horrifying thing about Claire is Genevieve Bujold's accent. **
4) the moment in "The Blair Witch Project" where the camera turns to that corner in the basement and sees Michael with his back to Heather...and the audience suddenly puts two and two together about what's about to happen, and then it's over! Whammo! Cut to black! Eek!
(note: I actually was thrilled when this film was finally finished because the cinema verite video made me motion-sick, so that may be why I had that ultra-Greek kind of catharsis at the end of this highly overrated film. But that moment -- boy, that was something.)
5) the "reveal" scene of what happened to Cleopatra at the end of "Freaks"
6) the "blood-testing" scene in John Carpenter's "The Thing"
7) the end of "Night of the Living Dead" upset me more than anything that happened anywhere else in the movie, go figure.
8) the last shot of "The Vanishing" (no, not...I repeat, NOT the lame-o remake...the original) gave me nightmares for a month.
9) Lars vonTrier's "The Element of Crime" was fairly horrifying to me for a variety of reasons.
10) Of all things, the torture-terror-dome in "Brazil" still freaks me out (those masks! Gives me the cauld grue).

All things being equal, if I really want to get scared to bits, I tend to read a book. I prefer the chiaroscuro of Lovecraftian horror to the crisp, hi-definition realism of, say, "Saw III." Anyway. Happy Halloween. Go watch a scary movie. Drink some hot cider, eat some popcorn, go wild.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

there's famous, and then there's impressive

You are never going to guess who I just talked with on the telephone. No, seriously -- guess. Okay, forget it, you're never going to guess. I just got to talk with Lee Mendelson, the producer of "A Charlie Brown Christmas."

In my accidental life as a journalist, I have talked with a lot of famous people, and it's kind of a little rush, but after a while, not that big a deal. You just say what you have to say and move on. I've gotten to talk with Presidents, Secretaries of State, Prime Ministers, Nobel Prize winners, National Book Award winners, Pulitzer winners, and they are invariably polite and kind of straightforward. I've talked with lots of celebrities, and invariably they are rushed and a bit bemused because of their "if it's Tuesday, this must be Chicago" kind of schedules.

But once in a while, you talk with someone who is so quietly impressive that it leaves you with this kind of glow all day. That's what happened today. An artifact of my childhood that made a profound impression upon me, then and now -- it came from this person's mind. It was created out of the force of this person's will and commitment. I just talked with someone who did, and does, his job with a kind of dignity and calmly self-confident excellence. I guess the reason I'm so completely over the moon about this is that the show itself always telegraphed a kind of low-key, stately quality. If I aspire to anything, that's what I want out of life -- I want to leave something behind me that, 40 years down the road, someone says "that person who made this -- I'd have liked to have known her. That person knew what she was doing. That person was good at her job."

All this philosophizing aside: squee! I talked to someone involved making in a MAJOR piece of pop culture that isn't a complete embarrassment!

Monday, October 22, 2007

the October Classic

I have been occupied by work to the extent that this past weekend, I was so tired I simply could not muster up the energy to do anything that required conscious deliberation and thought. As a result, I watched a fair number of sporting events.

Now, I love baseball. I really like the World Series. I guess I am rooting for the Rockies this year, for two reasons. Number the first: I like that they don't have the highest or second-highest payroll in baseball. When a team is so completely loaded with talent because the management has apparently nothing better to do with, oh, 300 million dollars, I just don't have any kind of warm feelings towards them. Seriously - Red Sox management - could you guys, like, cut that Julio Lugo and funnel the 36 million bucks to Medecins Sans Frontieres? It seems as though 36 million dollars would buy a lot of that creepy super-charged peanut butter stuff that's saving thousands of children from dying of malnutrition. Maybe if we could make the case that some of these children might grow up to be outstanding middle-relief pitchers? Anyway.
Number the second: I love that there was seven inches of snow in Denver on Sunday. Brr -- get out your woolies, Manny Ramirez. It would be super-cool to see the baseball fans turn themselves out for the home team at Coors Field all decked out like Packers fans at Lambeau. But other than this, I don't really care much. I tend to always root for the team with the lowest payroll (makes my support of the Kansas City Royals seem almost rational, when I put it that way). And the Rockies story is pretty remarkable. Of course, this is their kiss of death -- whichever team I prefer will get waxed, and disillusion me further about the world. It's not that I'm naturally depressed -- it's just that things have this way of working out not in favor of the underdog. Except in, say, major motion pictures like "Rudy" or "The Bad News Bears Go To Japan."

Speaking of Japan, we want to send out a big Konichi-wa to Trey Hillman, who is coming to Kansas City after a very successful stint coaching the Nippon Ham Fighters beisuboru team. Nice to have you with us, Trey. You will be able to find nice housing at an affordable price here in the City of Fountains. No light-rail, though, so you'll want to buy a car. They'll treat you right out in O-uh-woh-lathah. Or Tiffany Springs. My friend Mark kind of burst my bubble when he informed me that the Nippon Ham Fighters are more accurately the (Nippon Ham) (Fighters) rather than the (Nippon) (Ham Fighters), which is what I had thought. I had no idea what a ham fighter was, but it was kind of surrealist and cool, in keeping with the old-fashioned moniker of Nippon, so I was all excited about it. Because really, after a certain point, as a Kansas City fan, all you can ask for is some retro Surrealism. There's a giant lion who walks around Kauffman Stadium shooting hot dogs out of a cannon into the stands. Where do you go from there? Some guy who fights ham in pre-Imperial Japan. Works for me. I'll buy the jersey, sure, why not?

Anyway, I'm all ready to watch the Series, with my husband who will dismiss all of my comments about fielding and defense and "strategery," because I think he thinks I don't understand the game all that well. He will gripe about the overpaid Red Sox, and be all mad about the sponsorship/paid placement stuff, and rail about the Coors Company (which I guess is now the Miller Company), and in short, it will make me kind of long for the days when I used to watch the Series with my dad, and it was in early October because we didn't have, like, a month and a half of playoffs to make more money for the networks and the owners. I will think about the Big Red Machine and Reggie Jackson and Bob Gibson and Rod Carew, and feel, once again, that things were actually marginally more enjoyable in the 70s (hairdos, Qiana jumpsuits, and lack-of-cell-phones aside).

Monday, October 15, 2007

another sign of the coming apocalypse

Okay, so both KU and UK are now doing really well in football. This is a completely disorienting phenomenon, for someone who grew up just accepting that she was destined to be a college basketball supporter for her whole life. Also, it's driving me to actually watch college football, which was always something that I only ever did if something exceptional was happening. Or if Boise State was playing, because I kind of really am digging on the blue astroturf or whatever it is. I find myself rooting for the weird plays, like when the Stanford band took the field at the end of that one Cal-Stanford game and everything was all screwy. I find that I watch with a kind of desperate hope that someone will run the Statue of Liberty play, or the flea-flicker. It doesn't happen often, but it fills me with a joy that is downright unnatural when it does. It beats the whole sort of "Marty-ball" drudgery that my favorite pro football teams get caught up in: each play is a running play, and it gets 3 yards, and then they try to run some kind of locomotive-straight-ahead play on 4th-and-1, and the guy will invariably run into the knotted, twisted clot of 350-pound men in the middle instead of, I don't know, walking around the giant wad of linemen...and they turn over the ball on downs.

Anyway, it's strange, and I'm pleased, but I now don't really know what to say when someone asks me about college sports. I am used to only being asked about it once NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament time rolls around in April.

Also, I want to point out that I have a comparatively finite space, mentally, for sports, and I'm kind of all focused on baseball right now. Note well: if the Rockies get to the World Series...and sweep it...people will be talking about this team for the next 50 years, about how extraordinary their achievement was.

In other news: I have a new and really good recipe for Hello Dolly cookies. The secret is the toffee.

Friday, October 12, 2007

for fraternity between the nations, and the abolition or reduction of standing armies, and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses

The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded today. I found it exceedingly odd. Then again, how odd is it that this prize, possibly the most well-known prize in the world, was established by the guy who invented dynamite (and apparently something called ballistite, which I don't know what that is).

I went and looked up who else had won this prize, as the only other people I knew off the top of my head were Jimmy Carter, Arafat/Peres/Rabin, Mother Teresa, Wangari Maathai, Elie Wiesel, Muhammad Yunus, John Hume, David Trimble, Medecins sans Frontieres, Aung San Suu Kyi, Desmond Tutu, Lech Walesa, Amnesty International, Mairead Corrigan, Norman Borlaug, Dag Hammarskjold, Willy Brandt, Albert Schweitzer, Cordell Hull, Linus Pauling, Woodrow Wilson and Teddy Roosevelt. It turns out this is a creditable list to know off the top of one's head. I either never knew or had forgotten that Henry Kissinger had won one. I had thought that Mahatma Gandhi had won one, but he did not. I had forgotten about Fridtjof Nansen. I had forgotten about Robert Cecil. I didn't know Jane Addams got one.

I had never heard of Frank Kellogg (1929), and so looked him up. He won for something called the Kellogg-Briand Pact, which I had also never heard of, and so looked that up. This is because it was more commonly called the Pact of Paris, which I had heard of but was only a distant, hazy thing, tamped down in the memory-closet alongside the Hawley-Smoot tariff act and Jack Paar and mapping polar coordinates. Apparently, at some point, nations signed a treaty agreeing that war is really no kind of useful instrument for national policy. Hm. What do you know? Seems like that would be useful, if anyone remembered that we all signed such a thing. Apparently, it is still a binding part of international law. I guess it's useful enough AFTER someone launches a war...kind of like when they throw in all kinds of arcane violations when you get pulled over by a traffic cop. "Okay, you were going 98 in a 45 mile an hour zone, so that's a pretty big fine, right there. Plus, you were not wearing a seatbelt, and your windows are tinted too dark, and you can't have more than six trolls in your back window, and your brakelights are out, and you can't drive on the Turnpike with a cracked windshield, and there was also failure to yield, and also I don't like your haircut. 2500 bucks, see ya in traffic court." I picture the World Court filling out charges against the government of Sudan this way: "Okay, you violated human rights, so that's a pretty big fine right there. You misused NGO aid; you used your military to attack your own people; oh, you violated the Kellogg-Briand Act...and your windows are tinted too dark. See ya at the Hague, or you can just pay the fine by mail."

Anyway, I suppose that any day in which I learn that someone, somewhere, actually keeps track of the idea that there is such a thing as a "crime against peace" is not a wasted day.

I also learned that the first winner of the NPP was the founder of the International Red Cross, Jean Henri Dunant. He shared it with Frederic Passy, the founder of the Societe d'arbitrage entre les Nations. This seems like a good choice, in retrospect.

Albert Gore. I'll be darned. I'm not opposed to this per se, just extremely surprised. Perhaps next year is Bob Geldof's year.

Monday, October 8, 2007

(sing along with the 5th Dimension now)

Daylight Saving Time does not end until November 4th. I am sure all you people who go on and on about how great it is to have light later in the evening (I'm lookin' at you, Mom) for, I don't know, your marathon training sessions or 20-mile bicycle rides, are pretty self-satisfied about this. I'm going to point out here that while this is completely fine for you people who don't get up at 4 am, those of us who are now wired to get up at the crack. of. dawn. are pretty sick of it still being pitch-dark outside at 7 am. I cannot quite get over that somehow people who prefer the quality of light in the morning are somehow regarded as irrelevant idiots, while the ones who like evening light get all the breaks in this issue. Seriously. I like the sunrise. It is the only positive thing that has ever come from my protracted morning-shift radio job. I learned to love morning light. And now I can't see it because I'm already in my cubicle by the time I'm getting any of it. But no, no, we all love DST. Tsch. I hate the entire concept of it. This is ground I have trod before, but just wanted to bring it up again. I looked it up: the GOLF INDUSTRY was instrumental in getting this extended-DST stupidity through Congress. So, you people are indebted to nimrods with khakis, tucked-in pique polo shirts, braided leather belts, and quarts of Drakkar Noir. Thanks. No, seriously, thanks.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

united, we stand. divided, we blog.

Okay, so I updated the layout so there's less interminable scrolling-down to be done. Also, I like this sort of Prussian Blue color better for the post titles. This has nothing to do with Prussians. Whom I often confuse with Hessians. And Cossacks. I really have to read more.

The last few days, I've been reading up on the Siege of Leningrad (about which: there is no way I would have survived such a thing. I get cranky when I can't have a Nilla Wafer or two after supper. I never cease to be amazed at the sort of thing that people manage to endure) and am, as a result, into stripping down the fancy and keeping to the essential. Hence -- the more minimalist layout. I am a true daughter of my generation: in keeping solidarity with the survivors of the privations of war, I am...*streamlining the design of my blog.* I'm an idiot. It's like that story I always wanted to write where I'd have these guys sitting around watching "Apocalypse Now" over and over again with the heater turned up to 90 degrees and vaporizers running so they'd feel more "in-touch" with the Vietnam experience...I sit, reading, in my house with the windows open and fans trained directly on me so that it's freezing cold, resisting the urge to go get a snack. Puts me more in touch with what I'm reading about. Did I mention that I'm an idiot? Oh, I did? Okay, then.

Other things being read and re-read, with less of the urge to create environmental verisimilitude:

Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature (Auerbach)
The Ecclesiastical History of England (The Venerable Bede, whose name I just love)
Epictetus: The Discourses (Oldfather)
On War (Clausewitz) (hence, the obsession with Prussian Blue, hee)
The Holy Rule of St. Benedict (Verheyen)
Christian Iconography (Grabar)
American Tabloid (Ellroy)
The Great Deluge (Brinkley)
Murder Must Advertise (Sayers) (and might I add, this is just swell, just like eating a box of chocolates that turns out to consist only of your favorite kinds, which in my case would be dark chocolate buttercreams)

Surely everyone else in the world is reading something much more useful, or challenging. I despair of my chances at ever getting serious about learning anything. Anyway, the thing I'm getting at here is that while I'm doing a lot of reading (and not nearly enough real writing), what I'm really enjoying these days is taking a few minutes here and there to read these little snapshot bulletin-boards of my and my friends' lives, because it's this kind of interesting way to have a certain kind of conversation, without us being on a conference call or in the same room. It's from looking at these other discussions that I feel like I'm actually learning something useful, more than anything I read or see in other kinds of media. And so, for this, I thank you kindly, and beg your indulgence as I try to figure out what it's going to take for me to feel engaged in something meaningful, for the first time in a long time.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

I can write a washing-bill in Babylonic cuneiform, and tell you every detail of Caractacus's uniform short, in matters vegetable, animal and mineral I am the very model of a modern Major-General, but I am having a bit of a time figuring out what the heck I'm supposed to do about changes to my health care plan. The website that is allegedly the answer to all my problems is raddled with broken links, and no one has really clearly spelled out in the glossy cardstock catalog that arrived to explain it all for me what the darned new program that I think I'm supposed to enroll in is even actually CALLED, so I'm kind of at a loss, here. While I am by no stretch of the imagination what anyone would call profoundly intelligent, I can follow instructions (and, you know...can read) and am fairly web-savvy. But this process takes me down blind alleyways and labyrinths that would make Borges weep with terror. Wha-?

There are plenty of stone morons out there. I know, because I tend to be standing in line behind them at the DMV (or any other place involving the filling-out of paperwork...remind me to tell you a less truncated version of the story of my last flu shot at an open clinic where I got in line behind Mr. and Mrs. "Remember the Maine" and their complete bumfuzzlement at the idea that they might need to reveal...or at the very least know...THEIR SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBERS if they wanted Medicare to pay for it...which of course they did, because why would they pay for it themselves because he's a veteran of the freaking battle of the Somme, or San Juan Hill, or possibly Agincourt, for all I could tell). And basically, I don't know how these people are getting by. I don't know how they pay their taxes, I don't know how they register their cars, and I now have added to this sad compendium another thing to wonder about. How on earth are these people, who cannot figure out that the express lane is for twelve items or less...that the tollbooth does not take pennies, despite the giant sign printed in five languages that says "NO PENNIES"...that one should not reach into the diamond cross-cut paper shredder while it is are these people going to handle dealing with health insurance, which as it turns out, is actually hard to figure out? So here's what I'm saying: if the powers that be want people to choose lower-cost health care options, and get more involved in the administration of their health care, would it not be a good idea to make the brochure that tells you how to do it, you know, less complicated than a schematic diagram of flipping UNIVAC?
I know our mythic history, King Arthur's and Sir Caradoc's
I answer hard acrostics, I've a pretty taste for paradox
I quote in elegiacs all the crimes of Heliogabalus,
In conics I can floor peculiarities parabolous;
I can tell undoubted Raphaels from Gerard Dows and Zoffanies,
I know the croaking chorus from The Frogs of Aristophanes!
and yet, when it comes right down to it, I cannot really effectively say at the moment if I would be better off with preferred provider plan A or program 2008 B or the QHDHP with HSA. WTF. And let's not even get into the intricacies of the new prescription drug formulary, which requires three years of organic chem, a PDR and a consult from Elvis Presley to decipher.
But still, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,
I am the very model of a modern Major-General.
Next week: pondering the mysteries of the adminstration of NGO programs by the United Nations with a sing-along from the Mikado! He's the U-N-High-Comm-MISH-on-er!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

and for her next trick, she'll make the empire state building vanish

Okay, so the nightly catastrophe for yesterday was as follows (prepare for protracted backstory. abandon hope, all ye who enter):

I got up really early yesterday morning and started making bread. I decided I wanted a nice brown bread (oatmeal, molasses, whole wheat flour, some rye) to go with our leftover soup (chicken and cavatappi). Okay, I mix it all up, to the delight of Finnegan and the bemusement of Beatrice. I mix, I make a sponge batter, I let the yeast proof and the whole shebang, kneaded for 15 minutes and popped it all in the great big bread bowl I bought when I lived in Minneapolis and have lugged from house-to-house since then. So far, so good. I come home after a wretched day at work (about which more, another time) and punch it all down, separate, allow to rise in the good Chicago Metallic bread pans on top of the stove while getting the oven up to temperature. Took the dogs for a walk; came home; baked. Okay, so Kelly and I really like homemade bread, and especially like it still warm. So we eat about a half a loaf of this bread, because we are believers in moderation. Also, we are looking forward to sandwiches with this bread for Thursday.

So we're cleaning up the remains of the dinner, and I get this phone call from one of our reporters, and the long and the short of it is, he's got a piece that has to run on Thursday and I need to edit him, though he had promised me the script by 3 and he didn't get around to sending it until 7. Okay. I go off and fix up the syntax and question where he got all his stats and such. In the meantime, Kelly has gone upstairs and is watching a movie and is wearing headphones so that he can really appreciate the THX that George Lucas went to all the trouble of figuring out so that people can have their gallbladders shake whenever the Dark Lord of the Sith comes on screen, or whatever. So I finish up this edit after about 40 minutes, and go brush my teeth and get ready to go to sleep. (Early to bed, and early to rise, suckas.) I go upstairs and lay down and am reading John Keegan's "The First World War" (because I am a shade underwhelmed with all the Greatest Generation Love going on with the new Ken Burns film on The less-Great War). Kelly comes up and says, "what did you do with the bread?" I say, "what do you mean, what did I do with the bread? It's on the counter next to the loaf we didn't eat yet." (Can you guess where this is going?)

Okay, so we troop downstairs, mystified by the Disappearing Bread, and's like a moment out of a movie. We're looking around, mystified, the cooling rack is on the floor, there are no crumbs, NOT A ONE, on the floor...and we both, as if on a synchronized swivel, swing our heads to look at...Beatrice. Who, on cue, licks her chops. Oh, good grief. The dog ate a loaf-and-a-half of incredibly dense bread. And all of the crumbs.

Okay, this is not that big a deal, but was like aliens swooped in and kidnapped all this bread. Not. A.Trace. Not anywhere. Somebody call Anthony LaPaglia and Marianne Jean-Baptiste. And there Beatrice stands, looking for more. Or, possibly...for a pound of butter to wash it all down. Anyway, this morning, I think she was still pretty full 'cause she looked a little green around the gills and was unenthused about breakfast.

In other news, there's a bull loose on the streets of St. Louis after some kind of weird truck accident. Watch out, Missourians! Look both ways before you cross the street!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


President Bush gave a speech at the UN today and said that Americans are outraged over human rights abuses in Myanmar. It's my experience that Americans can't find Myanmar on a map that consists only of Myanmar and big red letters saying "This Is Myanmar," with a giant red arrow pointing to it.

Forthwith, here are things that I think Americans are actually more outraged over. I'm not saying that they shouldn't be outraged over human rights abuses anywhere, but seriously: outrage implies a level of engagement that I just don't think is there when it comes to Myanmar.
Outrageous things, according to the people I spend time with on a regular basis:

-- that Myanmar changed its name from the more-euphonious "Burma"
-- that there are only 16 games in the regular season of the NFL
-- that Buffalo wings are so small, and come with so much celery
-- that it takes so long to get to the weather during the evening news
-- the relative competence of the Chiefs offensive line
-- that Chinese titans of industry are poisoning everybody with lead in the toys and antifreeze in the off-brand juiceboxes and E.coli in the spinach and some kind of strange plastic in the dog food and so forth
-- the cost of cheese
-- those kids down the street
-- how that one family just doesn't care about all those dandelions in their yard
-- that time that Sonic took Frito Pie off the menu
-- that Britney Spears
-- that darn rap music
-- kids hanging out at after-hours bars
-- fish aren't biting
-- only 3.2 beer available out at the lake
-- allergies
-- "Rock of Love"

Monday, September 24, 2007

she's ready for her close-up , mr. demille

Here she is: Beatrice. Up close and canine. I don't really know how to edit photos so you'll just have to put up with the flash splash-back in the eyes.

She's been here all weekend, and after a rough 2nd and 3rd days, seems to be getting along a bit better with Finnegan. She's going to have to sleep in the utility room for a while 'til we get all of the continence issues sorted out. Days are more or less fine, but come nighttime, she gets a little confused.

We've got the food issue straightened out as well -- fortunately, she does not seem to have the same trouble as Finnegan with commercially-produced food. I almost had a sort of mini-nervous breakdown at the thought of making 50 pounds of homemade dog food a week instead of the current 25. But for now, she's cheerfully tucking away Hill's Science Diet Adult lamb & rice formula.

Anyway, we think she's awfully sweet. She has a louder, deeper bark than Finn -- our neighbors will continue to loathe us. She has staked out the windowseat in the living room as her lookout post.

Friday, September 21, 2007

the destroyer of vices and bringer of joy

There is a new member of the clan...straight from a sold-out set at Caroline's in New York and the Lawrence Humane Society...won't you please give a big hand to the little lady...I give you...BEATRICE. I'll post pictures soon.

Beatrice is a Great Pyrenees and is just the tiniest bit larger than Finnegan. She's all-white and has the double dewclaws, so we are assuming that she is a pure-breed. Which is not necessarily good news, barking-wise.

Anyway, we picked her up yesterday and she's (knock wood) settling in just great. Slept through the night, no housebreaking accidents. Go figure. Finnegan is not being territorial at all, which is a bit of a surprise. They're not bestest friendsters, but they've achieved detente. Beatrice appears to be more or less the Eastern Bloc (having staked out the austere, utilitarian yellow and blue rooms) while Finnegan is more like NATO (claiming the flashier, gadget-rich kitchen, TV room and stereo room).

Anyway, we had this list of names to try out and we did that, and after getting no response whatsoever to Annabel, Agatha, Frances, Fionnuala, Georgia, Olivia and Jemima, she perked right up when we tried "Beatrice," which is a name I have always liked, what with its connection to The Divine Comedy and "beatific" and "beatitude" and all that. And by inference, the Beats. Not Kerouac. More like Ferlinghetti and Snyder, McClure and Lamantia. So...Beatrice it is. The destroyer of vices, the bringer of joy.

In other news: I have had an idea for how to revise the book, so posting will be light for the next few days. Between this and acclimating a new dog, I'm going to be a bit tied up. But there will be pictures of the new dog soon! Beatrice, like her namesake, looks rather less like a beauty and rather more like she's ineffably kind. And that's exactly my style.

Monday, September 17, 2007

1, 2, 3, 4, please don't play that song no more

Enough with the video iPod ads, already. If I was going to buy one, I would have done it already.
That song was irritating even before it was being played 6 times an hour on national television.

On the other hand, I really do like the new Macy's commercial that Barry Levinson directed. I could see that one a bunch more.

up next, what Mischa Barton is thinking of having for lunch. film at 11.

It's a great day to be a journalist! I am so proud of my comrades in the ink-stained trenches! Just moments ago, while events in Afghanistan are apparently starting to spin out of control, the costs of the war in Iraq continue unabated, the world's clean water supply continues to be in peril, and the nation has a new Attorney General nominee, the MSM 24-hour newschannels just scored a hat-trick: on FOX, reports of a hit (!) being ordered on Kevin Federline (the less charitable among us might say, "well, at least he finally got a hit"); CNN was focused on OJ Simpson's arrest and bail hearing ('cause you know, he's not any kind of a flight risk, historically speaking); and MSNBC was showing a different piece on approaches that various solicitors might take in the upcoming custody hearing for Britney Spears's children. All at once! Whoo-hoo, hooray for the mysterious alchemical processes that determine priorities at major network news outlets! Anyone who comes by my desk right now gets a free piece of gum.

I, a member of the not-so-interesting media, am focused at the moment on a piece concerning the installation of a new voting-tabulation system at the Kansas Legislature and some kind of regulation up for approval by the Wichita city council that will restrict the ownership of, I kid you not, wallabies (the marsupials, not the shoes).

A proud moment for the heirs to the legacy of Edward R. Murrow et al.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

the marginal utility of discount luxury

Skirts acquired, though not from Kohl's -- from Target. I am a pitiful excuse for a fashionista. Though we all of us reading this knew that. Both skirts are black; one is a-line, the other a pencil-skirt, both designed by Isaac Mizrahi and sold for less than 20 bucks. I find the branching-out of luxury designers into discount stores to be a fine thing for me personally, but it raises lots of questions for the social theorist in me about the nature of luxury, and the relative worth of a brand-name. I personally could not care less that I bought these skirts designed by a designer; the price was right, the fabric seemed durable, and they came in my size (which is always a bit of a trick). Much of the other stuff there did not meet these criteria. I looked at the Vera Wang stuff at Kohl's but apparently the day they rolled her stuff out (two days ago-ish), the store was beset by people with the self-restraint and consumption impulse of locusts in a corn field. At any rate, not being a size 2, they had little that I was even willing to examine. The things seem nice, and I did pick up some super-opaque microfiber black tights that she designed, but in general I think this is not really for me. I don't wear a lot of synthetic fabrics and I don't groove on tuck-pleating. Still, as usual, you can't beat the Kohl's discount shoe section, and I got some oxford shoes with a heel. Tim Gunn would be proud.

All of this stems from the fact that I woke up a few days ago and was getting dressed thinking, "why do I dress like such a schlub?" I suddenly realized: well, you don't have to. Just start dressing like not-a-schlub. I have some nice clothes; why don't I wear them? So now, I am doing that. I am going to try to look nice. No reason not to. I decided that for this to work, I would need more skirts, and now have a pleated wool navy skirt that I bought back in about 1996, one in kind of a slate blue cotton jersey, one in a chocolate brown, and the two I got today in black for wear-to-work-type situations. I have a couple of others for "get all dressed up-nice" occasions. So we'll see how this little experiment goes.

The kitchen floor is mopped, the laundry is all done, the floor mats and scatter rugs have been washed...all in time for my husband to get home so he can mess them all up again. Finnegan does not much care for the St. Louis Rams, or at least I'm assuming that's why he's completely not into football today.

That is all.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

does the way i wear my hair determine my integrity?

After much soul-searching, I decided to get a haircut that would be more than just me, meekly asking Wes (the coolbop grandpop who cuts my hair) to just trim a little off, please. Vide, hic.

Okay, so this is not the best picture in the world, but in short, I took this in the bathroom so I could see the digital camera monitor reflected by the mirror to see if I could actually get a photo of me, rather than of the back of the wall or my shoes.

I kind of like it. I'm just sick to death of maintaining the sort of mid-length, not much one-way-or-the-other-ness of the haircut I've been dragging around on my head for the last couple of years. I think I look a little bit on the horse-y side, but I think I'll get used to it...and in the meantime, at least it will mostly be out of the way. At least it will once I glop it all up with what the hairstylists casually if a bit Orwellian-ly refer to as "product." They say that women who wear their hair short have a really strong sense of self-esteem. In my case, I must be the exception that proves the rule, but in general, I like this haircut -- I think it looks striking and strong and sort of cleanly-defined, in a way -- and the people (of whom there are legion) who will feel obligated to point out the number of lesbians with short hair and their concerns that I might be mistaken for one can go fly a kite. You know, I have had short haircuts regularly since I was a child and the only people who ever say this sort of thing aloud to me about the short hair are women, and in general, they have real venom in their voices when they do. I wonder what's up with that. Most men I know think this kind of haircut is cute. They like the Victoria's Secret/trashy girl in metal video hair in the abstract, but in the concrete, I always get complimented by men when I'm wearing my hair short. But women...women are another story entirely. I can remember being ostracized for several months in junior high after getting a particularly short haircut -- there were some really mean girls who just would not let the "lesbians have short hair" thing die -- but eventually a) my hair grew out, and b) in the meantime, I learned an awful lot about professional hockey and COBOL computer programming, because I ended up sitting with the ostracized boys, of whom several commented that they liked the new aerodynamics of my head. Kooks, all of them, but now successful kooks. People who were popular in junior high and high school never end up being a success.

In other news, I made pumpkin bread this morning, cleaned and folded the laundry, and made soup for this chilly day. I came home to discover that my cattycorner-across-the-street neighbors have acquired (purchased? leased? stolen?) an ATV and a contraption that looks like a motorcycle with training wheels. The unfortunate children born into this family are now blatting and buzzing these things at ridiculous speeds up and down the street, sending my dog into complete apoplexy. A man (father? uncle? cousin? boyfriend? meth dealer?) wearing a t-shirt bearing an obscene phrase is standing out there grinning maniacally at them (his offspring? nephews? foster-care-check-providers? customers?), drinking a beer. I kind of want to go offer him some lottery tickets and bait.

Tune in tomorrow, as our heroine goes shopping for some skirts at Kohl's and mops the kitchen floor.

Friday, September 14, 2007

re-enforcing the stereotypical banality of stereotypical blogging

...and in other news, I'm getting a haircut tomorrow. I'll post a picture after the deed is done, unless I'm sitting in a darkened closet, weeping uncontrollably.

also: a trip to the grocery store! And making food for Finnegan! Hooray for this outlet, allowing the most mind-numbingly mundane tasks to take on an emphatic postmodern significance! At last, my life has meaning...or at least, documentation.

yet another sign of the apocalypse, or: why everyone is SO over blogging

Which is to say, that now that I have gotten around to setting once of these up, it unequivocally means that the trend is officially dead. Though one would not be wise to bet that the appetite nitwits have for spouting their undoubtedly ill-informed opinions in a public space will dry up any time soon.
Anyway, here's the space for pictures, comments and all that jazz so that the extended family clans, moieties, matrilineal and patrilineal groups (and their unnamed subsidiaries, off-shoots, shell and offshore holding companies, et cetera, in perpetuity) can see what's-a-happenin',- hot-stuff, out in the center of these-here Yoo-nited States.
Welcome back, my friends, to the show that may not in fact begin at all. Consider this my unending mic-check phase of this little shindig.
Stay tuned for pictures from Kelly's trip to the allegedly magnificent Olympic Peninsula, and photos of my recently-painted dining room. Also: a forthcoming essay on the genius that is "The Wire," and ongoing updates on my book that may or may not ever get written, because I'm too busy updating this thing. Much attention will be paid to the evidence of things unseen, and the substance of things hoped-for. Discuss amongst yourselves.
Creative Commons License
A Microscopic Cog in a Catastrophic Plan by Laura Lorson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at