Thursday, July 26, 2007
Even this time I did have to get used to the tone before really immersing myself in it. Once I did, however, I found myself enjoying the book immensely. Told completely via a correspondance between the two cousins, Cecy and Kate, their story (set in post-Napoleonic war England) is filled with intrigue, romance and magic. It's kind of a Jane Austen meets Tolkien meets Susanna Clarke affair. (The latter in more ways than one - I sometimes have trouble settling in with her tone as well and her stories also tend to deal with magic.)
The best thing about it, however, is how it came to be. The book started as a Letter Game (also known as Persona Letters or Ghost Letters). The idea is that each person participating takes on a persona and writes the other as that character. The plot developes as the letters are written and neither participant is to tell the other what her plot idea is. As a writing exercise, it sounds like great fun. For some reason it makes me think of the unfinished spoof romance (Pammyana: A Woman of Many Appetites) that Jen and I started writing together a million years ago. It featured a soup can heiress by the name of Pamelina Anastasia De La Croixville whose love interest was a bunion plagued dance pop singer known for his big dance extravaganzas and was loosely based on George Michael and it was awesome (in its silliness). For a time when I was away at school, we took turns e-mailing each other chapters. Knowing how much fun we had doing this (and also how much fun Anne and I had writing our opus about Derrida, Kevin and the Topf Ring), I can only think that the Letter Game has to be equally entertaining (and that I have, in my old age, somehow lost a love of collaboration that I apparently once had...I bet it could be regained, though...)
Meanwhile, however, if you've not read Sorcery & Cecilia, I can recommend it. It won't take long. It is the perfect escape into another world for days when your job is making you want to chuck your computer through a window. Not that I would know anything about that.
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
[The rest of this post has been edited away, because it was whiny and written out of frustration.]
Monday, July 23, 2007
As disturbing as dreams one and two should have been, it was the third time I fell asleep that was most vivid and frightening. It was one of my classic house dreams. I came home to find that some items had been subtley rearranged in one of the many spare rooms in my giant dream home and thereby knew that someone had been inside and was probably still lurking around somewhere. It was close to nightfall, so I decided that it would be best to take the dogs and go away somewhere safe to camp in the car for the night. Somehow we never made it.
Instead, some other friends came over. One (who does not exist in real life) was a police officer or detective of some sort. He offered to investigate. While he was doing that, I went into one of the spare bedrooms (not my own - I was afraid to go in there) and happened to see a shadowy figure going up a spiral staircase. Frightened and shaking, I ran back to where everyone else was. Via a lot of pointing and stammering, I was finally able to convey what I had seen. Our friend set off to investigate while I waited in the kitchen with my mother, who (in that way of dreams) had suddenly appeared as thought she'd been there the whole time. As we were standing there, a dishpan full of water began to levitate. I again found myself unable to speak and could only point at it.
A woman materialized. She was pale and beautiful with the most hateful black eyes I have ever seen. She grabbed two sets of spear ended tongs from the basin, preparing to throw them at us. Time moved in slow motion. We went around a corner. Somehow when she threw the tong, they did too - like they were following us, instead of being thrown at us. Yet in spite of that, they somehow missed, landing in the eye sockets of two other women who were milling about the house. I pulled my mother and we ran with this hostile entity after us.
We made it out of the house, and I remember thinking "we'll be safe now, it's the house she's haunting," but we weren't. She kept coming after us (this time with a tray filled with pastries with a lot of pink icing...I know, I know. Pastries, so scary, but it was a nightmare, so they were probably cursed or possessed or something). Suddenly, I stopped to face her. Her pretty face contorted into a nasty smile that faded when I decided the best way to get rid of her would be to chant Hail Mary's at her. This enraged her, replacing her previous demeanor of a cat playing with a mouse with genuine anger. I remember thinking that it must make her afraid when people fight back instead of running, that she wasn't as strong as I had first thought. But I have no idea whether I would have saved us, because at the moment of that revelation, my morning alarm began to go off.
Sunday, July 22, 2007
Rather than see him when my father called his doctor to report dizziness, headaches, and numbness on one side, he was told to "call back if it happens again". Any doctor should have been able to two and two together to come up with the idea that he might have been experiencing TIA's (transient ischemic attacks - basically "mini-strokes" that do no lasting damage, but warn of a more serious episode to come). The American Stroke Association advises calling 911, but apparently Giant HMO Corp doesn't feel they're serious enough to merit even an appointment. In the end, it did happen again a week or two later, but that time instead of TIA's it was a massive stroke that left him partially paralysed.
Once he was in the system, I will admit that the care did improve somewhat. There was one careless therapist who chose the day after my dad's stroke to have a "you don't want to become a burden to your family, do you?" talk with him. He was quickly set straight when we asked to see his boss for our own talk about tact and the notion that no human being is a burden. One may become ill, but that does not make the person a "burden". That individual notwithstanding, the treatment (I hesitate to use the word care) at his HMO hospital was okay. Thing did turn around for a bit after he was moved from his HMO system to Good Samaritan's RIO (Rehabilitation Institute of Oregon) program and the nurses at the hospital where he died (also not part of his HMO system) were really lovely. Everyone we encountered there was not only professional, but caring. Unfortunately, once he was released from the hospital, it was back to long waits for appointments.
Even worse, about year after his stroke, my father suffered a heart attack. Following HMO Corp's instructions to call the number they had provided in case of emergency, my mother dialed it only to connect with a line that rang and rang, finally ending with a recording suggesting she call 911 if it was urgent. Precious time was lost. By the time the paramedics arrived, my father had been unconscious for too long to revive. He was put on life support. At 27 I was left as half of the team that got to make the decision of whether to sustain it. A young woman dreams of many things. The torture of grappling with whether doctors could have been wrong about the lack of hope as she listens to the life rattle and wheeze out of her father's body is generally not among them. For years afterwards, I had recurring nightmares of a blackened room, filled with the sounds of the gasping breaths. Thanks for the memories, corporate medicine.
After my father's death, we went to an administration office to register a complaint with the HMO regarding the phone information. We were quickly relieved of the documentation we had with the bad phone number, but their literature now does refer people to 911 in an emergency. At the time I was too numb from just having gone through it all to see what they were doing. In retrospect, it is pretty obvious that they were relieving me of any paperwork that could be used in the law suit we never filed against them.
Now, ten years later, I don't know if my father would have survived the heart attack anyway after such a massive stroke. It is very likely that the damage was already too great. It is very likely that life support decisions may have had to have been made, even if he had received more responsive care. People do get sick. People do die. What I do know is that thanks to the crappy administration of his health management program, he was never really given much of a chance. Certainly, there were some dedicated nurses and doctors who meant well and took their positions as caregivers seriously, but I can't see where the system itself helped them too much. Those who want to protect the big business of healthcare always say that socialized medicine will result in poorer care, long waits. Yet when I compare the treatment my father got to what my grandfather in Germany received for his multiple heart attacks (his doctor made regular house calls and scolded him when he tried to come to the office when he was too ill), it's not our corporate run healthcare that comes out smelling like the rose. Even worse, my father had insurance. There are a lot of people who don't even have that and are far worse off than he ever was. It baffles me to think that he was one of the "lucky" ones.
Thursday, July 19, 2007
Until one day when Purple Monkey went out for cigarettes and never came back. After going on a three week tequila bender, he finally came home and promptly passed out under the butterfly bush in the front yard. (*dramatic reenactment - Playing the role of Purple Monkey is Brown Bear)
Baxter was inconsolable.
Even his girlfriend, Isis, could not cheer him up. The only thing that seemed to give him any solace was listening to Freddy Mercury's "Love of my Life" on repeat in the CD player.
Things changed when a new monkey came to town. In Purple Monkey's absence, Green Monkey swooped in to usurp his place.
Then one day Purple Monkey came back. He was filled with false regrets and empty apologies. Baxter tried, but things just weren't the same. Seeing his chance to regain his status, Green Monkey he fanned the sparks of Baxter's resenment into a brightly burning flame and encouraged him to do do the unspeakable...
[graphic picture of wounded Purple Monkey with stuffing coming out supressed by censors]
It was touch and go at first. It did not look like Purple Monkey would survive. After hours of surgery, doctors were able to save his life...
...but not his right leg.
The road to recovery has been long and hard, but with therapy the monkeys have put aside their differences. Green Monkey is secure in the knowledge that he is still the favorite (for now). Purple Monkey is now in a twelve step program. He spends his days trying to make amends and dreaming of the day when he has finally saved enough money to buy himself a pegleg.
And Baxter?With time and the help of his friends, he has managed to put the whole ugly business behind him and regain some of his former joie de vivre.
Sunday, July 15, 2007
Today is the birthday of my friend, Jen, with whom I have over the past twenty years created memories of Wigfest, learning to play poker (out of a book - because that's how you roll when you're born to be mild), enduring the deaths of our fathers, pronking, singing "why why why Delilah" at the dinner table, countless road trips ending at seedy hotels (often because having to pee really badly impared our judgement - remember the Santa Ana Sniper Arms or the seedy hotel with the vibrating beds in Yuba City?) and heart to heart talks about just the sorts of things good friends talk about. She and her sister are still among the few people who can make me laugh so hard that the nerve behind the back of my ear starts to hurt. Everyone should have at least a few people like that in her life.
Over the years, Jen and her family have become like family to me (which is a good thing, because, just between you and me, some of my biological family members bear a more than passing resemblance to Cletus the slack-jawed yokel). Thinking back to when we met in a History of Western Civilization class as when we were both starting college (remember the instructor with his Hitler mustache and penchant for sighing and muttering things like "they told me never to teach at a community college" as he stood at the lectern?), I think Jen and I got along so well from the moment we met, because (as we would later learn) our crazy overlaps in so many ways. She is just a few days short of being exactly three months younger than me, which means that I am older, wiser, more experienced, and therefore able to dispense useful advice on everything from love to how awesome she doesn't realize she is to penning indignant and harshly worded "how dare you!" letters. Get to know me! I'm very helpful that way.
So, Jen, have a very Happy Birthday!!!! and here are some words from ee cummings to put in your "Just say yes!" file:
Sunday, July 08, 2007
* A March 2000 copy of Teesha Moore's now defunct art zine The Studio. This makes you sad, because it was really cool. Then, upon doing some research, you find out that she has a new, similarly cool sounding publication called Art & Life Magazine and your world is again set right.
* A Webster XL-747 manual typewriter that used to belong to your grandfather.
* A box containing all of your "lost" sheet music for the violin.
* An unsettling amount of dust. It is, however, not more unnerving than the fact that your faithful assistant decided to gack on one of the shelves while you were in the kitchen getting a frosty beverage.
So, on my first (and possibly last - it's hard to know) Spiritual Sunday, I am looking at things that touch my soul and create reverence. As I was reading an interview on Lipstick Mystic this morning, I came across a link to Linda Dodds' website, which in turn had a link to the Women in Art video. It is well worth the three minutes or so it takes to watch. The music is peaceful and lovely - the perfect complement to the images.
In Kurt Vonnegut's "A Man Without a Country", he writes that his epitaph should read: "The only proof he needed for the existence of God was music." I think that these images could easily be absorbed into that sentiment. There is something sublime in the act of creation and there is a reason why we still look at centuries old artwork today - it touches the soul, it connects us to its creator, and even to the act of creation itself. And there is something beautiful and spiritual in that.
Saturday, July 07, 2007
Really, it's not so much a theory as the admission. Since the war started, I find it increasingly difficult to enjoy fireworks. No matter how pretty they are against the night sky, somehow the explosions make me cringe. The thought of watching a spectacle that mimics the sight of bombs bursting in mid-air just makes me feel guilty. I can't enjoy it as entertainment when I know that there are women and children a half a world away cowering at our real bombs. I used to love going to fireworks displays, but the nagging guilt somehow takes the fun out of them, so fireworks and I are on a break. Maybe one day, like Ross and Rachel, we will get back together, but for now, we're seeing other people. I guess I've been shocked and awed enough at this point.
So, instead of loud fireworks, Independence Day was quietly commemorated at my house. Despite it being a day off, I was up by seven. This provided ample time to sit outside and work on a story for a while before it started getting too hot to bear. That's right! I didn't talk about writing or thing about writing, I pulled out the notes for my nano novel and just did it. Then, as a reward for my hard work, the rest of the day was divided between the various forms of lounging - lounging around reading, lounging around eating, and lounging around watching movies.
Reading took the form of Cherie Priest's Four and Twenty Blackbirds, which turned out to be the perfect "it's my day off, so I just want to be entertained" read. It had everything that I love when I'm a great escape suspense novel - mystery, ghosts, and a high suspense/low gore factor. I am so happy that I plucked it off the library shelf and took it home on a whim. It was so hard to put down that I ended up reading all but the first two chapters in one sitting and that means that I will be going back to enjoy Priest's other books. Reading this one reminded me of that lazy feeling I'd always get in college after exams were over. When I was in grad school, one of my favorite traditions after the last paper of the year was written was to buy a big carton of fresh strawberries, a bottle of spumante, and a good book (usually a Barbara Michaels/Elizabeth Peters) and spend an afternoon just lounging around with them, knowing that I didn't have to feel guilty because I really should be researching something or reading Thomas Mann or Rilke or Hesse instead.
Priest's book gave me the same sort of feeling (minus the alcoholic buzz), especially after spending the past few days struggling through C.S. Lewis' dreadfully boring and pedantic Mere Christianity. I swear to you, if it hadn't been July's book group selection, I would have aborted reading and chucked it into the deepest, darkest abyss or slime covered bog I could find (and, trust me, I would have shopped around to make sure this was the deepest!). I'm sure the Multnomah County Library would not have appreciated a piece from their collection being handled in such a way, but it would almost be worth it...almost. Given my reverence for books and feelings about finishing the ones I start, I think we all now understand how little I am enjoying being lectured at by C.S. Lewis and how much I appreciated not being lectured at by Cherie Priest. So, in conclusion, yay witchy-ghost-suspense mysteries, boo prescriptive religio-philosophizing! (And yay making up works like religio-philosophizing! And, so as not to be a complete hater, yay C.S. Lewis' fiction and p.s. I loved Anthony Hopkins as you in Shadowlands.)
Once there was no more left to read, the day's festivities continued with a highly anticipated barbeque dinner outside. Can I tell you how good it tasted, especially after being on a diet for the past few weeks? We had shish kebabs - chicken, fresh red and green peppers, pineapple, and mushrooms marinated in marionberry barbeque sauce, pasta salad (with red grapes, walnuts and gorgonzola cheese), barbequed beans (my new favorite recipe ever from the Southern Living barbeque cookbook), grilled ears of sweet corn served, refreshingly minty Italian sodas and then NY style cheesecake for dessert. It was all so good that it could make a person want to barbeque every day! It also makes me think that we really should cook and entertain more often. Somehow I've rather fallen out of that habit.
And that was (with the exception of the evening's "two movies that don't fit together at all film festival" - Green for Danger and Seven Years in Tibet) Independence Day in Powellhurst. I had contemplated going to Living Earth's Interdependence Day Picnic in the park, but think we did just fine with our own celebration at home. Even without the fireworks, it was a pleasant, laid back day of appreciating a mid-week day of independence from work and war-related images, a day of celebrating and appreciating a lifestyle that many people in the world are not lucky (or spoiled) enough to share.
Wednesday, July 04, 2007
The film does not disappoint. Margaret Lockwood's Iris Henderson was lovely, smart and determined and what great clothes she had! Just as an aside (if clothes don't interest you, now would be a good time to go get a drink or something), can I tell you how much I love me some 30's couture? I absolutely covet her peignoir set in the scene where she meets the future object of her affections, Gilbert, played by a delightfully obnoxious Michael Redgrave. The two have such a great chemistry together that it's difficult to believe that this was their first time working together. In fact, it was (as I learned from the DVD insert - which has great commentary by Michael Wilmington) Redgrave's first movie.
But it's not ony Lockwood and Redgrave who are great in the movie. The deftly woven plot features a great cast of characters, all with their own agendas for making sure the train is not stopped due to any shenanigans - real of imagined. Caldicott and Charters (a duo that Wilginton refers to as a "sublime pair of aging British public school boys") are in a hurry to get to a sporting match. Mr. Todhunter (so aptly named, considering that Tod is German for death!) is on a trip with his mistress and does not want the publicity and ensuing scandal that would inevitably arise from a disappearance if the train were stopped. Dr. Hartz has his mysterious patient to transport for surgery and something is not quite right about the high heeled nun who guards her. Signor Doppo the magician (who reminds me so much of John Lovitz that I can barely stand it!) is suspicious and squirrelly from his first moment on camera as is Mary Clare's cold Baroness. All together they make for one engaging movie.
And so my first steps into the non-vertiginous world of Hitchock were good enough that it would just be wrong not to take my foray a little deeper. Any suggestions for what to watch next?
Sunday, July 01, 2007
How fun would it be to spend the entire day dressed like an extra from Gone with the Wind? Okay, so technically the dress my neighbor chose for her big day only had a skirt that would qualify for a ball at Tara. The bodice she was rocking was pretty, but (unless she her goal was to be labelled the slut of Atlanta-town and the subject of vicious gossip at Aunt Pittypat's parties) far too immodest to be more than a foundation garment in those days. But back to today (or at least yesterday), my neighbor looked absolutely lovely in her gown with its dusty pink corseted bodice as did her sister (who was one of her satin clad damas) in her pink dress and their eight year old housemate, who who looked like a little fairy princess in her white gown.
It really must be an exciting day for a young woman. By ten o'clock all of the birthday girl's damas and chambelanes were dressed up and milling around the front yard, waiting for an obscenely large limousine to come pick them up. The boys were looking very killer-diller in their pinstriped zoot suits and shiny black and white patent leather shoes. The girls were equally flashy in their shirred pink satin dresses, though I have to admit they were not so much to my taste, being of a cut that is unflattering for about 98% of the population. Still, as a group, they looked really lovely.
The day began with a trip to church for a mass. This part was particularly interesting to me, because it combined my first quinceñera celebration with my first visit to a Catholic church during service. Because everything was conducted in Spanish, there was a lot that I missed, but it wasn't too difficult to get the gist. It was, in many ways, quite similar to attending a wedding. It is funny, the things that cross a person's mind when attending an event where only about 30% of what is said is understood - for example, what kind eyes the one priest had or how the other would kneel to be at eye level as he gave communion to the children.
After church, there was a bit of a break until 3 p.m. when we all went over to the banquet hall for dinner, the big dance number (the kids had been practicing in my neighbor's back yard for weeks and I must say, I believe I saw shades of my famous turtle dance in the birthday girl's solo, so I really think my style of choreography is catching on with the young people), and family dance. As it turned out, the location was the same place where I had my high school graduation party and was much nicer than I remembered. Once we got there, we fortuitously ran into another Mexican neighbor, who invited us to sit with her, which was great, because it provided me with my own personal cultural tour guide who was just awesome about explaining everything from the padrinos to the order of the dances to the significance of the various gifts. It really was a great evening - the perfect way to set the mood for the remaining birthdays, weddings and assorted celebrations of the summer.
It probably dates me that I feel this tension between the electronic and the manual. When I got my first computer in grad school (late bloomer!), I could not write on it at all. Somehow ideas flowed better into pen than keyboard. At this point I can produce either way if I must, however typing on keyboard is a very different experience from writing. A computer does have the advantage of facilitating speed when ideas are flowing freely; what it lacks is the kinesthetic element. With a pen and paper, the whole body becomes engaged in the act of writing. For me, this creates an immediacy that is very different from sitting at a computer, which feels somehow more distant, more academic, less personal. I suppose that immediacy is why an old school notebook and pen are still my favorite tools for creative writing and for working out the finer points of ideas before releasing them into the wild. It is not a neat process.
My little notebook is filled with arrows, scribbling, scratch outs, and (sometimes cryptic) notes quickly jotted down while out in the world during non-writing time. I carry it with me pretty much everywhere. You never know when you'll need to write something down. I am no longer sure at what age it was that I started carrying a notebook. As far as I can remember, it has always seemed natural do to so. It fills time in moments where there is nothing too do and is the perfect tool for a collector such as myself.
I am not a big collector of items. There is no book of stamps tucked away in my dresser drawer and you won't find Precious Moments figurines lining my mantle (if you ever do, you will know that I've lost my mind and whatever good taste God gave me). What I do collect are words and ideas. My notebook is filled with notes, quotes, snippets of poetry, interesting turns of phrase. Sometimes thumbing through the pages later, I have no idea what I meant at the time or why it seemed important. My almost full notebook includes (among other things) the following:
- The barely legible scrawl: "Count guy who never died" (I think this might have been my way of referring to Count St. Germain. He is just the sort of figure who would intrigue me)
- A list of writing prompts gleened from various books on writing and sometimes just my own head
- The quote "Testosterone is the great equalizer; it turns all men into morons," which was scribbled down during a particularly resonant moment in a Buffy episode. (Since I'm more prone to assigning idiocy on an individual basis than a gender specific one, if I had to guess, I would say this was jotted down around the time I began to feel ambivalent about the Swiss - or one in particular)
- Notes on an unfinished piece about living between cultures that was started after hearing the story of an Aramaic Turk who, after twenty-five years of living in Germany, made a failed attemped returning to his native village in Turkey with his wife and kids who were German citizens and had never been out of Germany.
- A poem no one but me will ever read. It is perhaps a little melodramatic, containing the words "flowering moment of grief taking root in a garden that will grow into a thousand hallelujah's spreading like weeds"
- An outraged note stating: "Contents of desktop inevitably reveal character??? I don't have a desk, does that mean I have no character???" (I'm not sure what about it got me excited enough to use the repeated question mark technique)
Basically, my notebook contains a lot of crap. But in between the crap, there are some worthwhile ideas too. I guess it's a lot like my head that way. Besides, even fertilizer has its place in growing a flower. As long as the flower gets there, who cares if its seed was planted in a pot or in the ground?