Friday, February 27, 2009

This is NOT a Meme (Or Even a Note)

This is a guest post, taken off brother Ian's Facebook page. Those of you familiar with all the "notes" going around on FB, which are basically just (more demanding) blog memes in different (less creative) forms, might find this to be laugh-out-loud funny. Those of you not familiar with FB might still find it amusing. Then again, maybe it's just the quirky Michie sense of humor, and we're the only ones who will find it funny. (I'm pretty sure it was inspired by all of Ian's family members tagging him for notes he's too busy to do.)


Find a four hour block of time that you can commit to this note.

Type out every question on the IRS 2008 income tax return form (not the EZ!) into a word document.

Cut and paste every other question to a separate word document, alternating every third question, and replacing the second question with the third, and the third with the second.

Close the second document saving it to a file named "double secret whammy file."

Return to the first document.

For every even-numbered question get out your iPod.

For every odd numbered question turn on the TV.

For every question that has the letter "a" in it more than once turn on all the lights in your house and sing "I did it My Way" at the top of your lungs (then turn the lights back off--you don't want to waste energy these days).

Go to the first question.

To answer the first question hit shuffle on your i pod and use the first song title that comes up as your answer.

Decide that you don't want all your friends knowing you have "The Muppet Movie" soundtrack on your iPod, so try for the next song.

"Mandy" by Barry Manilow...try again.

"In the Pines" by Nirvana...too creepy.

"Peace, Love and Understanding"...okay that'll work unless something better comes along.

For the second question, set up a TV tray next to the television and grab a beverage, a legal pad, a uniball roller pen, and place a baseball cap on your head backwards.

Close your eyes and hit two random numbers on the remote.

Transcribe the first eight minutes of dialogue of whatever show comes on and translate into Spanish.

Find A Spanish speaking person to translate it back into English.

This is your answer to question two.

For the third question, reveal your deepest darkest fears, emotions, and secrets in full detail leaving nothing out, not even that one thing you've never told anybody, and swore you never would.

Realize that half of the people on your friends list are relative strangers, some are people you know only casually, others know you well enough to be upset by the information, and a few could use it against the ones in law enforcement.

Rewrite the deepest darkest fear part claiming that your only real fear is that the world will never know sustained peace.

Finish the rest of the questions alternating between the iPod and the TV, and occasionally just making things up.

Select all of your friends to complete this note.

Poke any friend who doesn't complete this note every two minutes until they do.

Go the "people you might know" tool, and ask every one of them to be your friend.

If any accept, select these people to complete the note.

Poke them every two minutes until they do.

For any friend who completes this note reward them with application requests like "little garden of rotting meat," or "little fish tank of cutesie piranhas," or "little forest of adults sending cabbage patch dolls around."

Start thinking of a new note to tag people.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Make Mine a Double

Here I am at the coffee shop, and yet again, here is the anorexic-looking woman who seems to follow me to coffee shops all over the country to stand in front of me and order her decaf soymilk latte. All right, I have to admit I am very biased here. I’m someone who, even though I drink soymilk, cook with it, and pour it on my cereal, can’t stand the idea of putting it in her coffee (having made the mistake of trying it not once, but twice, to “make sure it was as bad as I thought it was the first time”). In fact, if truth be told, I’m someone who, if she can’t have half and half (or if really desperate, whole milk) in her coffee, would rather not drink it at all. Therefore, you won’t be the least bit surprised to hear me say that Ms. Anorexic’s order is one that, to me, defeats the whole purpose. If you are going to order a latte, it should be the real thing: whole milk and caffeine. Lovely, frothy creaminess with that guaranteed wake-you-up buzz. Otherwise, why bother?

I know. I know. Some militant vegans are about to crucify me (note I said some. I am not insinuating that all vegans are militant, most especially since about half my meals these days are vegan, and I’ve had plenty of absolutely lovely vegan friends throughout my life). But I’ve never quite understood the notion of giving up something and then eating/drinking poor imitations of it, and I can’t fathom why anyone would need a poor latte imitation. I mean, many of us do grow up eating shepherd’s pie and spaghetti and meatballs and might want some vegan versions of those foods that remind us of Mom’s (or Dad’s) kitchen, but I don’t know many American children who grow up with mother’s (or father’s) special latte recipe.

A lactose intolerant customer makes a little bit more sense. Maybe Ms. Anorexic only recently discovered she’s lactose intolerant, has been a latte addict for years. (In fact, maybe that’s why she looks anorexic. Perhaps I’m being unfair in assuming she must be an anorexic, just because I can practically see the gap between her radius and ulna, under her skin, as she reaches for her cup. Perhaps she’s been drinking a latte every morning for the past fifteen years and has been unable to eat anything else the rest of the day.) She’s just been informed by her doctor that she needs to give up milk. Unlike me, she’s going for the poor imitation, because a poor imitation is better than nothing (kind of like those people who give up smoking and wander around with unlit cigarettes in their mouths).

All right, so, even though my taste buds are all screaming “bleh! Order me a nice cup of lemon ginger tea instead, and let’s have a scone to go with it,” if I think about it long enough, I can sort of understand why someone might order a soymilk latte. But my understanding and sympathy ends there. What’s with the decaf? This is an espresso drink, people. Espresso is meant to put hair on your chest, even if you’re a woman. That’s why Italians drink it in those Thumbelina cups, because they only want a Thumbelina amount of hair on their chests, not the Apeman’s. It is not a drink that should be stripped of its manliness (especially since it’s already beginning to doubt its manliness having been dressed in this womanly milky getup). Have a regular decaf coffee if you don’t want caffeine, and leave the poor espresso alone to flaunt his stuff.

Let’s face it: coffee is not a healthy drink. It has caffeine, a highly-addictive drug. Many of us then dump high-fat cream and sugar, another highly-addictive drug, into it. But let me ask you this: are sugar-free virgin daiquiris all the rage at every bar in town? Do people boycott snack machines that don't contain sugar-free, fat free, Snickers bar? Some things just aren’t meant to be healthy. Coffee is one of them. Please stop trying to make it so, or if you're going to insist on doing so, please get behind me in line.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Music Monday/Lyric Lundi

I knew that, at some point, I’d have to get around to posting some Grateful Dead lyrics. Back in my early (and more ambitious) days of blogging, when Ian and I thought we could actually keep up our own blogs plus a joint blog we were writing together, I wrote about The Dead and me (and Ian) here. The Grateful Dead is sort of like “comfort music” at this point in my life. That’s weird, I know, considering the band’s reputation, its links to drug use and the Hell’s Angels, but it really is like macaroni and cheese, something I can always count on to lift my spirits and sooth me, something that brings back fond memories of good times with friends and family members and that can be put on as background music for present good times with family members and friends. (A little aside here: has anyone else noticed I’m always comparing things like books and music to food?)

From September 1986 to September 1987, I lived in what was, for all intents and purposes, an off-campus fraternity house at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, NC. Because I was the only female living in the house (six guys and me), with the exception of Late Night with David Letterman (which was on NBC in those days) and The Young Ones, I never got to watch anything I wanted to watch on TV. I wasn’t much bothered by this, because this was my first year out of college, and I was ecstatic over the fact that I was spending my first fall and winter getting to read books that were not straight off multiple syllabi. Anyway, every so often, the guys would surprise me (they must have been dropping acid or something without telling me) by deciding to watch some movie on HBO that didn’t feature a. Rodney Dangerfield, b. Clint Eastwood, or c. Chuck Norris. Believe it or not, one night, we actually watched Terms of Endearment. However, we once had a fight over the fact that I wanted to watch White Nights (I think they were jealous over my not-very-well-disguised infatuations with Baryshnikov and Gregory Hines. Two fabulous dancers in one movie? Well, you know, no matter what the plot might be, that one is going to make it onto Emily’s all-time favorite movies list).

Anyway, one night, for some inexplicable reason, one of them talked the others into watching the movie Mask. I couldn’t believe my luck, as it was a movie I hadn’t seen and had had no hope of getting to see in that house. I assumed it was because my housemate had a crush on Cher or something (which he wouldn’t admit in the crowd, since in that house, it was de rigueur to go ga-ga only over stereotypical tall, leggy, thin, busty blonds – in other words, the impossible dream). Once the movie got going, though, I realized the theme song was “Ripple.” Wonderful! This was a house full of Deadheads. That theme song guaranteed for me that the channel would not be changed to watch Clint Eastwood. I loved the song well before that moment, but that night helped elevate it to an ever greater stature in my mind.

It’s a terrific song. I’m someone who is always drawn to water and who’s always loved skipping stones in water (although I somehow manage to do so quite unsuccessfully and am always amazed if my stone hops across the water the way it should), so I’m drawn to that image of the ripple in the water with no pebble tossed and no wind blown, how that little ripple can spread, and wondering what’s causing it. The lyrics are magical, the music is uplifting while also being haunting, and who could possibly hate a song with the words, “Let there be songs to fill the air?” And I like that ironic little “La dee da” bit at the end. I love to hear the Dead’s version, but I think I love, even more, to hear Ian play this one, which I can sometimes coax him into doing if it’s a special occasion or something.


by The Grateful Dead

If my words did glow with the gold of sunshine
And my tunes were played on the harp unstrung,
Would you hear my voice come thru the music,
Would you hold it near as it were your own?

It's a hand-me-down, the thoughts are broken,
Perhaps they're better left unsung.
I don't know, don't really care
Let there be songs to fill the air.

Ripple in still water,
When there is no pebble tossed,
Nor wind to blow.

Reach out your hand if your cup be empty,
If your cup is full may it be again,
Let it be known there is a fountain,
That was not made by the hands of men.

There is a road, no simple highway,
Between the dawn and the dark of night,
And if you go no one may follow,
That path is for your steps alone.

Ripple in still water,
When there is no pebble tossed,
Nor wind to blow.

You who choose to lead must follow
But if you fall you fall alone,
If you should stand then who's to guide you?
If I knew the way I would take you home.

La dee da da da, La da da da da, Da da da, Da da, Da da da da da
La da da da, La da da, Da da, La da da da, La da, Da da.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Gaudy Night

Sayers, Dorothy. Gaudy Night. New York: Haper & Row, 1964. (The book was originally published in 1936.)

(Yet again, the cover depicted here is not what the cover of the copy I read looks like, but I couldn't find an image of the one I read. I like mine better, but this will have to do.)

The Connecticut mystery book discussion group is dangerous. Before I know it, I’m going to be doing nothing but reading mysteries, because it seems I’m discovering a new author every month, and well, this genre isn’t known for writers who are one-hit wonders. I’m pretty sure that’s why it’s a genre in which I haven’t read too broad and deep. Bob’s been telling me for years to read Dorothy Sayers (both her fiction and nonfiction), but as spouses so often do (or is it just us?), I completely ignored him (as well as members of my family who’ve also recommended her), and it took the book discussion group to make me wake up and find out why everyone is so gung-ho. I’ve now searched around the house and found four more that I can read before having to go to the library or borrow from friends. Unfortunately, although the four we have all feature Lord Peter Wimsey, none of them has Harriet Vane, and I came to adore both characters while reading this book, which centers more on Harriet Vane than it does on Lord Peter.

I don’t know where to begin with this one. There’s so much to discuss, and I can’t imagine how the book group (which meets this afternoon) is going to keep from pulling an all-nighter to get through a discussion. I will try not to turn this post into a 20-page term paper. Maybe a good way to do that is to begin with someone else’s words. My sister Lindsay left this great comment when I wrote my post on Ngaio Marsh’s Death in a White Tie:

I like Marsh and Dorothy Sayers a lot but my problem with them is, frankly they're snobs: the culprit almost always ends up being middle class--"a person not quite...". Agatha Christie isn't as "intellectual" but she's far more democratic with her murderers and sleuths. The detectives, for example, don't have to constantly deprecate their education at an ancient college at Oxford or admit reluctantly to a connection with some duke.

That’s a perfect jumping-off point for discussion, because, after reading only this one book of Sayers and that one book of Marsh’s, I can see exactly what she meant. Why did I like this one so much better than Marsh, then? Well, first of all, yes, the snobbishness was there, but Sayers did seem to be making attempts (feeble, I admit, but still there) at not being so snobby, at having her characters argue about the unfairness of judging and distinguishing people solely by social class. She ruins those attempts, though, with lines such as this one when Harriet and the Dean (of the fictional Shrewsbury College at Oxford) are talking about two servants, “These people sometimes let their imagination run away with them.” (p. 311) You’d think we hadn’t been introduced to Lord Peter’s nephew whose imagination needs no encouragement to take off into the distance. A part of me wants to suspect that Sayers is clever enough that this is mere irony, but, then again, I doubt the irony would be coming from Harriet Vane’s mouth, but rather, from some less sympathetic character, so sadly, I have to conclude that the irony is unintentional.

This book takes place at Oxford, so that piece is most definitely there, but Oxford’s presence was almost like another character in the book, and as we know, I love it when the setting becomes a character. I liked reading about the esteemed university during that era, learning details, and thinking about what probably has and hasn’t changed since the book was written. I loved the way the faculty and alumni all look down on the abhorrent behavior of those presently attending (a trait that will never change at colleges and universities the world over), especially with the knowledge of how much more appalled they’d be were they to find themselves walking on those grounds today, and how today’s students would laugh at what they find wild. I was especially amused by the following quote, which could come right out of some book written about today’s youth:

[The librarian is speaking here] “…Responsibility bores them. Before the War, they passionately had College Meetings about everything. Now, they won’t be bothered. Half the Institutions, like the College debates and the Third Year play, are dead or moribund. They don’t want responsibility.”

“...said the Dean. “In my day, we simply thirsted for responsibility. We’d all been sat on at school for the good of our souls, and came up bursting to show how brilliantly we could organize things when we were put in charge.”

“If you ask me,” said Harriet, “it’s the fault of the schools. Free discipline and so on. Children are sick to death of running things and doing prefect duty; and when they get up to Oxford, they’re tired out and only want to sit back and let somebody else run the show…” (p. 101)

(I’ve been known to echo Harriet’s sentiment exactly when it comes to people joining fundamentalist religious organizations. They seem to be looking for some dictatorial father figure to, as the Dean notes, “sit on them,” because they missed out on it at an age at which it was appropriate, and now that they’re adults, they don’t want to have to take responsibility. It’s much easier to see things in black and white and base all your actions on fear of punishment.)

I liked this one better than Marsh, also, because it seemed to be about much more than just the mystery. In my post on Death in a White Tie, I noted that I began to get quite bored after a while with what seemed to be nothing but a long series of questioning of suspects. Harriet Vane is a fascinating character in and of herself, an intelligent woman fighting against sexist societal roles, turning down the constant offers of marriage from a man anyone should know a woman, whose main goal in life ought to be to make the best marriage possible, would be mad to reject. She lived with a former lover out of wedlock, was a murder suspect herself at one point in time, and writes mysteries (no one actually comes right out and says it, but you all know they’re thinking “How could a young woman educated at Oxford resort to writing such ‘trash?’"). Her relationship with Lord Peter could rival Scarlett’s and Rhett’s: intellectual equals trying to ignore their hearts, neither one wanting to admit how much in love they are, one-upping each other in proving through their intellects that the other doesn’t matter so much. And Harriet is so real when she captures the attentions of a young student, and she begins to realize that, well, maybe she is attractive to men and that maybe Lord Peter is attracted to her as a woman and is not just courting her for other reasons, like pity, pride, or intellectual spite.

We had lots about Harriet, lots about Oxford, lots about women’s roles, oh, and yes, we happened to have a mystery here, too. And I really liked this particular mystery, one that involved threatening letters, scary destruction in the dark of the night, door-locked-from-the-inside puzzles, and any number of suspects. We aren’t just handed a very prosaic dead body second chapter in with no other mysterious happenings or deaths and then made to focus on finding why some somewhat implausible suspect, who appears on the scene at the penultimate moment to confess that “my mother never liked me” would have killed the brilliant young scholar (because “she had eyes like my mother’s).”

Also, did I mention Dorothy Sayers is funny? It’s the kind of funny I love. You have to be paying attention, not skimming lines, or you might miss it. It’s perfectly encapsulated in these lines:

[Harriet has just read a response to a letter she wrote to Peter informing him that his nephew had been in a bad car accident. He’s indicated that nobody in his family ever tells him anything.] “Poor Old Peter!” said Harriet

The remark probably deserves to be included in an anthology of Great First Occasions.” (p. 198)

That’s just one example. The book has plenty more (and probably plenty I missed when I blinked or something).

So, do I have any criticisms? Just one. I was a little annoyed that Harriet felt the need to call in Lord Peter to help her with this case. A woman as independent as she was, who was busy writing her own detective novels should not have felt she needed his brains to solve this case. Certainly, strong independent female sleuths of today, would not rely on a male detective to help them solve the mystery (Lauren Henderson’s Sam Jones, springs to mind, and so does Linda Barnes’s Carlotta Carlyle, both of whom I love). I know, you can argue that Harriet needed to call in Peter, so we could have that whole touch of romance bit, but somehow, Sam Jones manages to have that without feeling she has to call in a man’s brains. It’s really just a quibble on my part, though. I mean, no matter how enlightened Dorothy Sayers might have been, challenging the sex roles of her day, she was still a woman of her time, and women of her time were quite dependent on men.

Anyway, all-in-all, yet another two-thumbs-up from me on this book club’s choice, and I’m very much looking forward to reading more.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Pennsylvania's Best

Ahh, a meme from Charlotte (where I seem to get all my memes), which will show up on Facebook a year from now in some much less creative form. Remember you saw it here first.

What are your middle names?
Mine was Barton (typical Southerner: surname becomes middle name, so we can trace our lineage back to our family’s beginnings in Dorchester – or wherever). Once I was married, I dropped it, and my surname Michie became my middle name (you know, so I can always be traced to my family’s beginnings in Virginia). Bob’s is Williams (family tradition as well. In his family, the first-born son gets the father’s first name and the mother’s maiden name. Thus, his father was Robert, and his mother was a Williams). Stealing Charlotte's idea, because I love making up stories for names: Barton Williams is a famous late twentieth-century writer who lives in complete obscurity ala J.D. Salinger or Thomas Pynchon. We met him in Wales where he claimed to be related to both of us, but we’re not sure how. I think he also claimed to be related to the other Emily Barton (you know, the one who actually finishes and publishes award-winning novels).

How long have you been together?
Since January 1994.

How long did you know each other before you started dating?
We met in November 1993, when I proceeded to blow him off for two months.

Who asked whom out?
He had this ridiculous idea that I would come over and listen to CDs with a complete stranger, because “We seem to have the same sort of musical tastes.” I saw “axe murderer” written all over his face and decided I might call him at some point, and we could meet in a public place. (You can read the whole story here.)

How old are you?
I’m 45 (as of tomorrow). He has all kinds of reasons for the fact that I won’t tell you how old he is. Suffice it to say that he’s older than I am.

Whose siblings do you see the most?
His, only because his has always been much closer geographically than any of mine.

Which situation is hardest on you as a couple?
Being a pastor and a pastor’s wife and living in a fish bowl. I’m looking forward to retirement. Need I say more?

Did you go to the same school?
No. He went to Hahhh-ver-fahd, one of those extraordinarily preppy, elitist colleges and then did his graduate work at St. John’s, one of the most expensive schools in the country, I recently discovered. I went to state schools for both my undergraduate and graduate degrees (we will ignore the fact that my undergraduate degree was acquired, by some fluke, at one of those preppy, elitist “public Ivies”).

Are you from the same home town?
Are you kidding? Is there anything at all about me that says “Midwesterner?” I'm so "East Coast," you could program a compass to me (he is, too, really, having spent most of his life on the East Coast, but don't tell him I told you that).

Who is smarter?
I am, of course. But he thinks he is, which keeps life interesting.

Who is the most sensitive?
Depends on what you mean by sensitive. If you mean constantly worried about how you might be affecting others, being sensitive to their feelings, and worried that they think you’re a horrible person, to the point of neuroticism, that would be me. If you mean taking completely benign statements from others and interpreting them as criticisms, to the point of neuroticism, that would be him.

Where do you eat out most as a couple?
Paradiso Pizza. That sounds pathetic, but it’s so convenient, and we love it. However, we do have some very special restaurants that we frequent or have frequented (mostly in New York).

Where is the furthest you have travelled together as a couple?
I’m terrible when it comes to geography. What’s further: CT to Scotland, CT to Portland,OR, or CT to Belize?

Who has the craziest exes?
I’d say it’s definitely a tie (although I had a few more than he did, and he actually had one or two who were probably more sane than I am).

Who has the worst temper?
We’re both pretty hot-tempered. Luckily, we also both have very good senses of humor, and nine times out of ten can laugh at ourselves (although very rarely does the laughing happen in the moment).

Who does the most cooking?
Are you kidding? He’s barely allowed to set foot in my kitchen, let alone do any messing around in it. I’m told that before he met me, he could cook up quite a feast, but we'll never know.

Who is the most stubborn?
He is, dammit, and I'm not about to budge from that stance.

Who hogs the bed most?
Depends on the night. We’ve both been known to do our fair share of cocooning.

Who does the laundry?
I do. I also happen to be a little more of a control freak when it comes to laundry care than he is.

Who’s better with the computer?
We’re both pretty pathetic, although I'm more fearless, and he thinks he’s better (however, when he can’t figure something out, he calls out to the other blind member of this household, and we screw it up together).

Who drives when you are together?
He does. I despise driving, and he loves to drive. However, I “help” quite a lot.

Tagging: Becky, Zoey’s Mom, Litlove, Sara, and Cam, Stef, and Ms. Knits, as well as anyone else who feels so moved.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

On The Pen Pal Experiment

I know I only committed myself to one blog post on the great pen pal experiment, which was meant to come at the end of this first year of exchanging letters, but I’m realizing now what a ridiculous notion that was. It was a notion that completely ignored my natural passion and excitability, one that assumed I might suddenly become a calm, rational sort who could go an entire year enjoying the process of reviving a dying art without squealing to everyone I know, “This is the best idea I’ve ever had!” And I’m not kidding. I really think it is (or at least one of the best).

Oh sure, letter-writing has its drawbacks. My pen pals already know that Ms. Instant Gratification here sticks a letter in the post one day and begins checking for a response the next. I have had to squash urges to race to my computer and send email responses and questions the day I receive a letter. Oh! for the days of old novels when the mail came twice a day (then again, that could easily mean twice the opportunity to be disappointed by a mailbox full of nothing but bills and Victoria Secrets catalogs). Ms. Instant Gratification has also been known to query pen pals on Facebook walls to find out if her letters have arrived safely.

Meanwhile, I’m not exactly “leaping to” when it comes to quick responses back. I open each letter excitedly, can’t wait to see what it says, and then realize, after the initial urge to email is put in its place, “Oh. I’m supposed to write a letter back. Will I ever have anything as interesting to say?” (You have to realize I’ve got pen pals around the world who are doing things like working and playing in NYC or learning to surf in Australia while I’m what? Playing Pathwords or Scramble on Facebook for the 200th time tonight?) I’m unsure what the correct letter-writing etiquette is, but I’m pretty sure that letting a letter sit around unanswered for 2 weeks, waiting for something interesting to happen to include in the letter, is not really acceptable. Luckily, I have not quite reached the two-week mark yet with any of my responses.

I can assure you, though, that these drawbacks are mere trifles in comparison to all the great things about having pen pals and why everyone needs to run out and find some of his own right now. First of all, there’s just the letter itself. It’s such a wonderful, permanent-feeling object. You can read it. Then you can re-read it. And then you can “read it just one more time,” while you impatiently await the arrival of the next one. I don’t know why, but there’s something very satisfactory about returning to a letter, finding out what did and didn’t sink in with the last reading. I don’t do that with emails. I tend to read, respond, and then save them somewhere never returning to them again. Emails are short stories. Letters are novels. Don’t get me wrong. I do enjoy a good short story, but my reading material of choice has always been the novel. I want to know and live with my characters, not meet them in passing.

“What makes letters different from blogs?” you may very well be wondering. I’m having trouble pin-pointing the answer to that question (my dear pen pals, if any of you wants to comment, please do), but I think it’s, believe it or not, that letters are even more personal than blogs. Blogs are meant for an audience of many, and yes, we do get personal, but a letter is meant for one special person. The writer caters to that recipient and reveals what will most interest her, going into depth in a way we don’t on blogs. Blogs have actually proven to be a great way for me to get to know some of my “real life” friends and acquaintances better. I’m beginning to realize that in the past, letter-writing served that same function – it’s a little easier for some of us to bare our souls from a distance, when we can’t see anyone staring at us trying to control laughter/a strained expression/a concerned, “Maybe you should see a therapist.” I’m now beginning to suspect that letter-writing served that function better than blogs. Not that my pen pals and I are free-associating and acting as substitute psychoanalysts with each other (far from it), but I can see how a certain sort of intimacy can develop that is even more special than that I’ve discovered through blogging.

It’s funny, because it’s not as though I’m new to letter-writing. I wrote friends and family members (even those who never wrote me) faithfully all my life until email arrived on the scene. I guess the difference is that I had nothing to which to compare letter-writing in those days. Talking on the phone was so completely different to me from writing letters that I never thought to compare the two, even though they could easily be lumped together as “means of staying in touch long-distance.” But now that we have all these ways of conveying written messages via wires, I can’t help noticing the differences.

So, what are some other things I love (besides the pen pals themselves, who write beautiful, informative letters)? Stationery, of course! I’m finally using (and using up) stationery I’ve had for years. I’m browsing in stationery stores. I’m anticipating what I’ll buy once I’ve gone through what I have. I’m enjoying others’ stationery (even when it’s notebook paper, because I’ve written my fair share of letters on notebook paper in the past and expect I will certainly do so in the future). We’ve been noticing that stationery is not always so easy to find. Note cards are available all over the place in abundance, but one has to look hard and long to find good stationery (which is a good excuse for those of us looking for excuses to feed our stationery fetishes to stock up when we find something we like).

I’m enjoying handwriting (and praying everyone can read mine). I’m amazed by how legibly others write, especially on unlined paper, but legibility isn’t really what’s important. I love the fact that the letter “e,” and all 25 other letters of the alphabet, can be formed in so many different ways, unique to individual people. We don’t see a whole lot of handwriting these days. I’d almost forgotten what it’s like to see the handwriting on an envelope and immediately to be able to identify who’s written me.

Oh, and of course, I have to mention pens! My pens are all getting good workouts (both the ridiculously expensive ones and my favorite cheap ones). And Francis (the cat) even had the brilliance to walk down to the Amish bookstore to buy me a green (my favorite color) Le Pen for Valentine’s Day. It has a very nice, fine tip on it.

Finally, there’s the sound of the mailbox. Ever since I was a child, I’ve loved pulling open the door on one of those big blue mailboxes, listening to the distinctive low moan of its hinges, and tossing my letters down the chute (what a fun way for letters to begin their adventures, mixing with other letters, pretending not to be afraid of the dark, and talking about where they’re going and why) and hearing the clang as it shuts. Thanks to online banking, I rarely even mail checks to pay my bills anymore. I’m enjoying being reacquainted with the big blue mailbox and its moaning and clanking (it could be a character in a ghost story, couldn’t it?).

Yes, I’m squealing. This has been so much fun, I’m almost tempted to shut down my blog and say, “Everyone who wants to read me, write me letters, and I’ll respond.” But I know that’s silly. This blog serves a purpose, and I love it. Also, I’m very glad to have so many different means of communication, and I wouldn’t really want to focus solely on letter-writing. However, I do think that, come the six-month mark, I may be requesting more pen pals, if I’m still feeling I can keep up with the letters. Keep that in mind, all those of you who may be interested.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Emily and Bob Talk II

The more observant among you may have noticed that I didn't post a favorite song for Music Monday/Lyric Lundi yesterday. That's because I was too busy spending my 3-day weekend (what is this President's Day happening the week before my birthday business? It's supposed to happen the weekend of my birthday, like it always has, so everyone can celebrate for 3 days) communing with all of Bob's and my CDs, which led to the realization that I could probably post a favorite song every day of the year for the rest of my life. I promise I won't, though.

What brought on this weekend of musical communing? Well, Bob and I bought this (exorbitantly-expensive-was-it-really-worth-the-price?-but-it's-just-so-cool) CD storage cabinet. It's made to look like an old library card catalog (for those of you born post-1980, libraries used to have these wooden cabinets with drawers that held actual cards to tell you where books were located in the library). We bought this, because we were beginning to feel the need to use the bookshelf that was housing our CD collection for (guess what) books. Pathetically, we still don't really have enough shelving for all our CDs and books.

Anyway, this meant I had to organize all our CDs alphabetically. That's the way we had them in Connecticut, but for the past sixteen months, since the movers didn't have the courtesy to pack them up in alphabetical order, and we were too eager, by the time we finally got to unpacking them, just to have music back in our lives to bother to take the time to do anything more than get them on the shelves, they'd been shelved all this time in what can only be called a "disorganized mess." I couldn't find anything (partly because, for the first six months we lived here, there was an undiscovered box in the attic that should have been labeled the "CDs-Emily-Particularly-Loves-Whose-Loss-Will-Most-Frustrate-Her" box). It's awful when you're about to take a road trip, are dying to take The Magnetic Fields along with you, and can't find them.

The result of all this organizing and alphabetizing is that for three days, we seemed to listen to music pretty much nonstop. Yesterday seems to have been declared Bob's "Day of The Clash." Thus, in lieu of Music Monday, I am giving you the musically-inspired recent conversation between Bob and Emily.

Bob: I'd forgotten that Combat Rock actually has some really good songs on it.

Emily: Are you kidding? Of course, it does.

Bob: Well, I was always pretty disdainful of "Rock the Casbah" and "Should I Stay or Should I Go?"

Emily (trying to hide her apoplexy. Those two songs were the backdrop of her college days): What do you mean? They're both great songs!

Bob: They're so "pop-y" for a band like The Clash. Especially "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" I definitely thought they'd sold out the first time I heard that one.

Emily (who, when she was eighteen, thought "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" was the epitome of "ironic edgy"): Well, I can see that with "Rock the Casbah" but not "Should I Stay or Should I Go?"

Bob: It was just so anti-Clash. "Pop-y" and a love song, of all things.

Emily: Oh, like "Train in Vain" isn't the least bit "pop-y." (This seemed to fall on deaf ears, but those of you who are listening: was I wrong? Not that I don't love "Train in Vain...")

This conversation, quite obviously, isn't going anywhere. Mercifully, it ends as Emily gets involved with making an Indian-themed dinner (must have been inspired by "Rock the Casbah"), and Bob immerses himself in looking up album reviews in the All Music Guide. As Emily is chopping onions and finds herself unable to keep from stopping in order to improvise a little dance to "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" she suddenly realizes it sounds quite "pop-y." On "American Bandstand," it would most definitely have rated highly for "It was easy to dance to." (But don't tell Bob.)

Friday, February 13, 2009

Is It Too Much to Ask?

Oh man, is that new Kindle ever tempting! It looks like it's so much less awkward than its big brother, and so many of the things I worry about when it comes to the e-book format seem to have been addressed (at least if the video ad is to be believed): screen glare, battery that dies after three hours, too clunky, etc. Amazon has definitely improved on the original model.

So why am I not racing out to buy one? After all, I am not someone who has ever complained about reading from a computer screen. I’ve said before, I’m moth-to-light when it comes to the written word, someone who will read the backs of cereal boxes if that’s all I’ve got in front of me. Although I don’t particularly like to read books for pleasure on my laptop, I have been known to read books for work on my laptop (and, as a matter of fact, I read all my manuscripts in electronic format now, finding editing online to be much easier than on paper, although I’m sad to think all those old proofreading and editing marks will one day be forgotten). When I read for pleasure, I want something I can easily carry around with me, that doesn’t require an electrical outlet, and that can be read anywhere. I love the idea of being able to carry around as many books as I like without breaking my back. I love the idea of being able to buy new releases for $10.00. Given all these factors, you’d think I would have been first on the waiting list for the updated version of the Kindle.

Let’s forget practicalities, which means we won’t talk about the fact that (if the Kindle behaves the way most technology does) this “wireless reading device” is bound to come down in price at some point (especially since the whole technology industry finally seems to be waking up to the fact that consumers may not be so willing to keep buying “better” versions with no change in exorbitant prices). When it does come down in price, it will be far superior to the model we have now (maybe with battery charges that last months, instead of days? Wouldn’t that be nice?). The pocketbook is a very good reason not to race out and buy one right now.

We will also forget the fact that I’m down on the Amazon Empire. I’m down on the fact that they are the Walmart of Internet shopping. I don’t like what they do to publishers in terms of their print-on-demand practices. I don’t like the fact that the Kindle has its own e-book software that is not compatible with other e-book readers, so if you want to buy an e-book from Amazon, you have to use the Kindle. That’s smart business practice, I know, but the librarian in me really hates it. I mean, the beauty of the book is that it can easily be shared once someone has bought it, and so, theoretically, as long as public libraries exist, anyone from any socioeconomic class can get their hands on it. (That’s not good capitalist thinking, but it’s worked for the book for ages, probably because most book addicts are not good capitalist thinkers).

I suppose the real reason I don’t want one yet, though, has nothing to do with practicalities or radical boycotting of greedy corporations. What it all boils down to is that I haven’t quite accepted the fact that this is as good as it gets when it comes to e-book readers. I’m still holding out for the e-book reader I want.

At some point, I wish those who design electronic gadgets would think more carefully about their final users, rather than showing off what they can make their gadgets do. Besides students (because I am absolutely positive e-books are going to replace textbooks within the next five years), who is going to be using e-book readers? Why, those of us who have always used books, those of us who love to read. I know we make up such a tiny percentage of the population that it was probably difficult to bring a group of us together for focus groups when designing the Kindle, but really, I find it hard to believe Amazon bothered to consult any readers. It seems to me, if they had focus groups (which I’m sure they did), they just pulled together a bunch of tech-savvy youngsters.

So, what does my dream e-book reader look like and do? First of all, it’s more like a book. I don’t really care that it’s going to have to be made out of some sort of metal and plastic material, but I want it to open like a book. I don’t like the idea of scrolling through pages. Can’t it be hinged, just like my laptop, only be the size of, say, one of those moleskin diaries, and open vertically, the way a book does, rather than horizontally, the way a laptop does? It would then have a verso and recto page. After all, Microsoft has insisted on making Word documents sent via email open with that extraordinarily annoying effect. If we’re so insistent on trying to duplicate book-like pages on computer screens, why on Earth haven’t we thought to do so with e-book readers? When I’m ready to turn the page, I would like to press a button and have it look as though I’m actually turning a page (like those old movie shots, where you see the flipping through of pages on a great big book of fairy tales).

Speaking of moleskin, I am perfectly aware that this is a new technology and that means losing some of what I love about books, but it doesn’t mean we can’t have something that is tactically-and-visually-pleasing. This is our opportunity to create something new that we will come to love. That means I want a special case for my e-book reader, not something to carry it around in, but something that I can take off or keep on like a book jacket. It could be moleskin, or some other kind of leather. Soft, velvety cloth, or wood might be nice. Think of all the “accessorizing” possibilities. The company that designs this e-book reader could make a fortune off accessories alone (reading a horror story? Choose your black, velvet cover. Reading Rachel Carson? Go for the wood. Wearing the brown leather boots today? How about a brown leather case to match?).

Ideally, there would be some way to display what I am reading on the outside of my e-book reader for public viewing. I can’t possibly be the only nosy reader around who takes great pleasure in noting what people are reading on planes, trains, in waiting rooms, etc. And, despite being pathologically shy, I love it when someone comments on what I’m reading or asks me what I think of it. When I don’t want others to see what I’m reading (for times when I’m, like Stef recently was, reading Sexing the Cherry on the bus), I can just leave my reader in its (cherry red) case, but maybe publishers could still design “book covers” (because, let’s face it, covers are important, and I don’t particularly want to lose that feature of the traditional book) that would pop up on a “currently reading” screen. The screen would be visible on the outside of the reader, so if I’m laughing, people will know it's because I’m reading Three Men in a Boat.

My e-book reader also has to be food-and-drink proof. If I spill a couple of drops of water, tea, coffee, wine, etc. on it, I don’t want it to fizzle out on me. Likewise, if some crumbs happen to fall on it, I do not want them to disappear under buttons, freezing my “book,” and rendering reading impossible. Ideally, it will be drop-proof, because I’m quite clumsy. I will (after removing its moleskin cover, of course, the same way I remove dust jackets on traditional books) be able to read it in the bath. When you consider the fact we scuba divers now all use dive computers, it could actually be better than the traditional book, which doesn’t hold up too well when accidentally immersed in water, for bathtub reading.

I know figuring out some way to have it emit that new book or musty, used-bookstore smell is probably going a bit far, so I won’t request that of the designers. Tell me, can you see why I’m holding out? Don’t you think this e-book reader would be far preferable to the Kindle? And what would your ideal e-book reader be like?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Why You Hate Math (And Maybe Some Help)

The other day, a friend of mine who does not consider himself to be a “math person” and who is somewhat amused that I edit books about math, sent me this question, which supposedly came from a 5th-grade classroom:

This is not a trick question.

There are 7 DNR wildlife managers in the woods in Sawyer County:

Each manager has set up 7 elk traps.

In each trap, there are 7 elk.

For every elk, there are 7 deer.

How many legs are there?

Ten years ago, being someone who would have told you I was not a “math person,” I would have looked at this problem, started thinking about all those legs in traps, and lain down my pencil in defeat. Today, I look at a problem like this and can’t wait to get to work (although I would beg to differ that it isn’t a trick question. It doesn’t tell you how many whose legs you’re counting. Does it expect you to include the wildlife managers’ legs? Is it total legs or legs in each trap? It could have been worded better, but we’ll assume it means total human and nonhuman legs). Anyway, my guess is that the majority of you are having the same reaction I would have had ten years ago (if you're even still with me at this point), but I don’t believe you need be defeated. I am absolutely confident you can do this problem (unless you suffer from dyscalculia, which is highly unlikely if you can do things like tell time and read a train schedule).

What happened to you, then, to convince you that you can’t do it and that you are not a "math person?" Most likely, you were presented with horribly-worded questions such as this one when you were in 5th grade. It probably showed up on a test or work sheet, and you were told to solve it in isolation. If you bothered to ask for help (which, if you were me, you most certainly didn’t), your teacher made you feel like an idiot when you didn’t even know where to begin to answer this question. Most likely, you couldn’t care less about wildlife managers and elk and deer (or, again, if you were me, you were distracted by the fact that the poor things were all caught in traps, and you hoped they weren’t going to be killed). If you managed to get away from those traumatic numbers (7 is a bad number, all around, as those who study numbers and cognition can tell you) long enough (me again. Anything to distract me from the actual equation I was magically meant to create), you were wondering what kinds of traps these were. How could you possibly fit so many large animals into one trap?

Then, having automatically marked this question wrong on your paper without even waiting for the answer, you heard the teacher ask if anyone had the answer. Some Smarty Pants you always despised raised a hand and before being called on, blurted out, “10,990 legs.” “Correct,” your teacher said. What? You were flabbergasted. Where was the potion that had been dumped on that huge number to bring it into sight? If you were lucky, maybe your teacher (or Smarty Pants) explained a little more:

“You’ve got 14 human legs

1,372 elk legs

9,604 deer legs

14 + 1,372 + 9,604 = 10,990.”

You were none the wiser and hadn’t learned a thing or understood the problem any better than when it had been handed to you. Nobody discussed the problem. Nobody was encouraged to show how it could be done another way. You just moved right onto more problems with invisible answers for which you were given no revealing potion.

Today, I’m going to put what I learn from the books I edit into practice. I’m going to see what I can do to help you understand this problem better. First of all, we’re going to take into consideration situated cognition, which is learning and problem solving in particular contexts. Even those who flunked math in school can develop powerful problem-solving skills when they are doing so in their own contexts, like when they're camping, if that's what they like to do, or cooking, or building a doll house. In fact, even when doing things we might not like to do, but need to do, such as attending staff meetings, we can be pretty good at it. If not, most of us wouldn't last too long in our jobs.

I’m pretty sure that you, my blogging audience, is likely to have the same reaction as my fifth-grade self would have to the elk and deer problem. Interest is half the battle, and most of you don’t find yourselves in situations in which you have to (or care to) count large animal legs. So, what interests you? Let’s take a wild guess here: books? And if you are interested in books, you’re familiar with walking into bookstores and skimming pages of books you might want to buy. Forget elk and deer then. Here’s my problem for you:

(First of all, before we get started, get out your calculators, because, even though I am going to make these numbers much easier to work with than Smarty Pants did, there is absolutely no reason for those of you who had that sort of teacher for fifth-grade math to try to add and multiply numbers greater than 100 without the use of a calculator.)

7 book addicts belong to a book swap group. Every so often, they get together, each bringing 2 books they’ve read to swap with others in the group (isn’t that a neat idea? I just made it up, but I’d like to belong to a group like that). Everyone gets to choose 2 books from the pile of fourteen. Today they’ve met for lunch at Good Enough to Eat in NYC. They all trust each other by now, confident no one is bringing a real dud to this meeting, so each one skims one page of each of the books he or she has chosen, and then they get down to the business of eating and catching up with each other. Near the end of the meal, one of them says, “Hey, why don’t we all go to The Strand today?” They all agree this is a great idea, and they make their way to the bookstore with “18 miles of books.” Once at The Strand, they go their separate ways, and:

Each addict visits 7 sections.

In each section, each addict looks at 7 hardcover books.

For each hardcover book, each addict looks at 7 paperback books.

Each addict skims four pages of each book to decide which ones to buy.

How many total pages do all of the addicts skim that day?

Now, let’s pretend I’m one of the addicts. I head first to the mystery section, because I’ve had so much fun reading mysteries for my mystery book discussion group. I check to see if there are any Ian Rankins. I’m in luck. I find one hardcover Rankin and seven paperbacks I haven’t read (not hard to do, since I’ve only read one Rankin so far, and he’s an extremely prolific writer). That’s 1 HC + 7 PB = 8 Ian Rankins. I skim 4 pages in each for a total of 32 pages from Rankin. Next, I cruise the shelves for Dorothy Sayers and again find one HC and seven PB I haven’t read. That makes 64 pages I’ve now skimmed. I do this with 5 more mystery writers for a total of 32 x 5, which is 160. Add the 64 Rankin and Sayers pages to that, and I’ve skimmed 224 pages before I leave the mystery section. In other words 7 (authors) * 8 (books) * 4 (pages) = 224 pages in one section.

Next, it was onto literature. Again, I skimmed 4 pages from 8 books from 7 different authors for a total of 224 pages. Then I visited the cookbook section where I found one hardcover book of vegetarian recipes and seven vegetarian paperbacks to skim, one hardcover and seven paperbacks on chocolate, one hardcover and seven paperbacks on soups, one hardcover and seven paperbacks on Chinese food, one hardcover and seven paperbacks on Indian food, one hardcover and seven paperbacks on bread, and one hardback and seven paperbacks on chili peppers. (I also found a whole shelf of Rachael Ray books, but I purposely ignored those.) By the time I left the cookbook section, I’d skimmed another 224 pages. I then moved onto the psychology, science, history, and religion sections, where I again skimmed 224 pages in each.

Uh-oh, after all that, I realized I’d better get to the checkout, because it was time to meet all the other addicts (after all, we’d been here for nearly five hours). Lo and behold, when we all got back together, we discovered each and every one of us had skimmed the exact same number of pages from the exact same number of HC and PB books. I skimmed 224 pages in seven different sections, and so did each of the others. That makes 7 (addicts) * 7 (sections) * 224 (pages) = 10,796 pages. But don’t forget, before we even got to The Strand, we’d each skimmed one page from each of our two swapped books. In other words, we’d each already skimmed two pages before we'd even walked through the doors of The Strand. That’s 7 * 2 = 14. We needed to add that 14 to the 10,796 to get 10,990.

The formula for this is (7*7)(7 * 8 * 4) + (2 * 7) = (49)(224) + (2 * 7) = 10,976 + 14 = 10,990. If you were talking about elk and deer in that original problem, that 224 would be the number of elk and deer legs in each trap. The 49 would be 7 (traps) * 7 (wildlife managers). The 14 would be the number of wildlife managers' legs. As you can see by Smarty Pants’s answer, neither one of us did this problem the same way (and there are other ways to do it, too). However, aren’t my numbers a little more friendly? Wouldn’t you rather tap in 49 * 224 on your calculator than 1372 + 9604? And, even if you hate math, isn’t it easier to get that 49 and that 224 than to get that 1372 and that 9604? And that, my friends, is what a good teacher would have helped you see.

Oh, and for those of you who wonder how many books I actually bought, well, you know the answer to that: I bought all 56 books from each section and found myself bringing home 392 (Strand purchases) + 2 (swapped) books! And yes, of course, I know real life is rarely this un-messy. I’m sure all the Ian Rankins would have been gone, and I wouldn’t have been able to find a single hardcover Dorothy Sayers, and one of my fellow addicts would have found nine hardcover M.F.K. Fisher’s, while I found none, not to mention the fact that I can’t possibly carry 394 books around NYC by myself, but that’s where fantasy intersects with math.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

King Lear for The Drama Challenge

Shakespeare, William. King Lear. Harbage, Alfred, ed. The Complete Works. Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1969.

I was so encouraged by my reaction to Spenser that I decided to kick off my drama challenge with King Lear. Big mistake. I hurried through this one in college, because I couldn't stand Lear. I see nothing has happened during the 20+ intervening years to change my opinion. In fact, nothing happened to improve my general opinion of the entire play. It didn't become something that made better sense to me at this point in my life (despite the fact I naïvely wrote in my post when choosing this one for the challenge that I was going to read it slowly and savor it. In fact, I may even have hurried through it even more than I did the first go-round). The characters didn't suddenly develop senses of humor or become sympathetic or become anything other than sickeningly sweet, cunningly evil, or scarily insane (and it's a very cruel insanity).

I've never been one who's latched onto any of those "Shakespeare-was-more-than-one-man" theories, but re-reading this play has got me re-thinking my stance on that. How could the man who made me laugh so hard when I was reading A Comedy of Errors that I had to leave the library where I was reading it have written this yawn-inducing work? How could the man who had me get to the end of Romeo and Juliet and go right back to the beginning to start again have written this work that I could barely bring myself to open? How could the man who gave me the lively, mischievous, and wicked characters in A Midsummer Night's Dream have given me characters who made me feel I was sitting around a boardroom watching PowerPoint slides on the intricacies of a lawn mower being read verbatim? Suffice it to say that if William Shakespeare did, indeed, write this one, it must have been during some period when he was suffering from insomnia, and he was desperate to compose a soporific.

You know, I'd completely forgotten what it's like to read pages and pages; mind thinking about what I'm going to have for dinner (three weeks out), what tasks I need to get done for work (during the next six months), household projects (till the day we retire), etc.; only to discover I have no idea what I've read. I don't think I've done that since I was in grad school. If I hadn't already known the basic plot line for this one (selfish father going mad, has three daughters, plays favorites, youngest daughter is so too-good-to-be-true she deserves to be smacked, older daughters are vengeful, everyone dies in the end), I wouldn't have much of a clue as to what happened here, because I just did not and could not care enough to stay focused.

I have evidence, though, that this play was written by the same man who wrote those plays I so love. There was a point at which I woke up and was greeted with this wonderful passage that smacks of the sort of wisdom I expect from Shakespeare,

This is an excellent foppery of the world, that when we are sick in fortune, often the surfeits of our own behavior, we make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars; as if we were villains on necessity; fools by heavenly compulsion; knaves, thieves, and treachers by spherical predominance; drunkards, liars, and adulterers by an enforced obedience of planetary influence; and all that we are evil in, by a divine thrusting on...An admirable evasion of whoremaster man, to lay his goatish disposition on a star. My father compounded with my mother under the Dragon's Tail, and my nativity was under Ursa Major so that it follows I am rough and lecherous. Fut! I should have been what I am, had the maidenliest star in the firmament twinkled on my bastardizing...(p. 1070)

Now that is the Shakespeare I know and love. Most especially when, a few lines later, the character (Edmund) in the sort of ironic, fun twist I expect from Old Will says (in comparing himself to his brother),"Oh, these eclipses do portend these divisions..." (p. 1070)

If only all of it had been like that! Do you suppose Shakespeare was like Rodin, hiring a team of writers to flesh out his basic plot line, like Rodin hired sculptors, letting them do the grunt-work most of the time and occasionally putting pen to paper to make his mark with passages such as this one? I hate to think so. I much prefer the notion of giving himself the literary equivalent of an Ambien, or maybe he was suffering through a period when his "More-Lovely-and-Temperate-Than-a-Summer's-Day" was "More-Hideous-and-Violent-than-a-Summer's-Tsunami," and he just couldn't focus or care too much about what he wrote. It makes him more human, anyway.

Now I need to go off and re-read A Comedy of Errors to restore my faith in his brilliance. Before I do, however, I must let you know that the notes in this edition of Shakespeare's complete works are far superior to the notes in my edition of The Faerie Queene. How do I know this, since I was basically just reading words while composing to-do lists in my head? Well, I came upon this word, "puissance." My first thought was, "Uh-oh. Is this some common word I ought to know? Did I draw too much attention to the ignorant fool I am by using it as an example in my blog post on FQ?" But then I checked the notes to discover it had been defined (so I must not be the only ignorant fool in the world). For those of you who are dying to know, it means "powerful.

Oh, and one final thing. If you've been reading this and thinking I'm more mad than Old Lear himself, I will have you know, you are in good company. Should I ever be served divorce papers by Bob, I'm quite sure one of the grievances against me will be, "She doesn't (oh, how could she not?!) like King Lear."

Monday, February 09, 2009

Music Monday/Lyric Lundi

I know; I'm a huge cliché when I say "I love Cole Porter." I mean, barring some extreme homophobes or musical snobs who "don't listen to anything that rhymes and has a melody," who ever says they hate Cole Porter? Cole Porter is as American as apple pie, and thus, if you're a music-loving American, chances are you love Cole Porter, even if you don't realize it (which I didn't for years and years, because I didn't know he'd written so many of the great songs I've loved all my life).

Back in the early nineties, I walked into an independent music store (remember those?) in Portland, ME and heard what was clearly David Byrne singing "Don't Fence Me In." What was David Byrne doing singing Cole Porter? I immediately asked the clerk what he was playing, and he handed me this great CD called "Red, Hot, + Blue: A Tribute to Cole Porter" that was produced as an AIDS benefit. It had all kinds of cool artists from the 1970s and '80s giving us their interpretations of various Cole Porter tunes (you can just tell Deborah Harry and Iggy Pop had great fun with "Did You Evah?"). I bought the CD immediately, and although it isn't as easy to wear out a CD as it was to wear out those old 33's, I very nearly did so with that one, listening to it practically every day for months.

That's a great CD; it really is. However, I've decided that really, nobody (but nobody) sings Cole Porter as well as Ella Fitzgerald. If Cole is the apple pie, Ella is the mandatory scoop of vanilla ice cream that makes it pie a la mode. I know, I know: some of you are dying to argue with me. What about Frank Sinatra? What about Fred Astaire? What about (fill in your favorite)? I stand my ground. Nobody can ruin Cole Porter, but some people merely sprinkle some salt and pepper on him and toss him in the oven for half an hour while others are gourmands. Ella is the master gourmand, consistently cooking up Cole in creative and delicious ways.

You may be wondering how I can possibly choose a favorite Cole Porter song. It's simple. I go to the one that I find myself humming most often. Is this really, truly my favorite? Well, today it is. And I love it when everyone does it, from The Jungle Brothers to Frank to Jamie Cullum to, of course, Ella. It's just such a perfect song. However, ask me again next month. That will give me the chance to tell you about some other perfect Cole Porter song.

I Get a Kick out of You
by Cole Porter

My story is much too sad to be told,
but practically everything
leaves me totally cold.
The only exception I know is the case,
when I'm out on a quiet spree,
fighting vainly the old ennui
and I suddenly turn and see,
your fabulous face.

I get no kick from Champagne
Mere alcohol doesn't thrill me at all
so tell me why should it be true
that I get a kick
out of you.

Some get a kick from cocaine
I'm sure that if I took even one sniff
that would bore me terrifically too
yet I get a kick out of you

I get a kick every time I see you standing there before me
I get a kick though it's clear to me you obviously don't
adore me

I get no kick in a plane
Flying too high
with some guy in the sky is my idea of nothing to do

Yet I get a kick
Out of you

Friday, February 06, 2009

What Do I Know? Meme

To my last point: the lovely Litlove tagged me for this meme, and I, Your Highness, dubbed the Queen o' Memes by Hobs not all that long ago, didn't even realize it until she told me. In the pre-FB days, that never would have happened. Anyway, it's a wonderful meme, and I'm glad I didn't miss it. The rules are self-evident.

1. The leaders who accomplish the most are those who are humble, who expect the best of their followers and treat them as though they do, and who say good, not bad, things about others behind their backs.

2. It's impossible to read everything I want to read in a lifetime, and it's a good idea to come to terms with that (not sure I have, but it's the "what do I know" not the "what do I put into practice?" meme).

3. Yes, you can teach an old dog new tricks, if the dog is open-minded and hasn't lost interest in learning.

4. Happiness loves company just as much as misery does, but nobody ever talks about that.

5. If you don't watch TV, you really don't miss much, and, despite the fact no one thinks you'll be able to do so, you are still able to function quite well in almost any given social situation.

6. The more you feel you have to convince someone to adopt your point of view, the less chance you have of doing so.

7. No family in the world is fully functional (what would that even mean or look like?), but if you come from a family full of good-hearted people who love as best as they know how, you'll probably be okay.

8. No one should be pressured into getting married until he or she is ready (if ever).

9. No one should be pressured into having children until he or she is ready (if ever).

10. The great catastrophes that happen in our lives are very rarely the things we sit around worrying are going to happen.

Since Litlove actually tagged people, so will I: Eva, Susan, Sara, Nigel, and Debby. But if you don't want to do it, you don't have to. Meanwhile, if you're reading this, and I didn't tag you, and you want to do it, please do. Maybe we'll all be a little wiser soon.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Facebook, Get Thee Behind Me

I used to live in and run around exploring this wonderful little universe (actually, not-so-little, but my galaxy was relatively small) called the blogosphere. I wrote posts at least every other day and went off visiting others to get to know them and to see what I could learn from them. We had wonderful, thoughtful discussions. We introduced each other to great books, great music, great movies. We talked about revolutionizing the world through blogs. We laughed together. We even cried together. We enjoyed a sort of intimacy I don’t often find offline. Always, we supported each other.

This universe wasn’t always easy, especially for us Natural Born Luddites. I had trouble for a while figuring out how to introduce people to each other (a.k.a. “linking”). Learning how to share photos made me wonder if I just might not be the stupidest person in the world after all. But I had wonderful friends like Mandarine who patiently guided me (from across the Atlantic no less) through the ins-and-outs of doing such things as posting pencasts. I’m actually still learning (don’t ask me how to embed a YouTube video into a Blogger post), and I still want to learn more.

It seems those were already the good old days, though. They were the days when I’d check my email, eagerly awaiting the encouraging and insightful comments my friends left on my most recent posts. The days when I couldn’t wait to see if my friends had new posts. The days when I’d leave comments of my own that I hoped lived up to their brilliant posts and inspired them to keep up their fantastic writing, so I could keep reading them.

Somewhere in the midst of all this, Becky invited me to join her in a new universe, sending me an email message asking me to be her friend on Facebook. I accepted but not exactly with a “gung-ho” heart. I’m pretty sure my thoughts went something like this at the time, “Oh God. Blogging is enough of a challenge – and time sink. I just can’t face trying something else.” That must have been way back in 2007. Try it, I did, but I pretty much dropped it in favor of blogging. I even forgot which email login I’d used and my password.

Fast forward to 2008. Ian gets all involved in Facebook and writes a blog post on it. He drops not-so-subtle hints (like, “Emily, get on Facebook!") that he’d like to find me there. Courtney (one of my most loyal and dearest blogging buddies) concurs. I still pretty much ignore them (after all, I’ve forgotten my login and password), despite the fact that Ian was the first one in our family to blog, and I should have learned by now to listen to him (but no, I’m still stuck in the “older-sister-ignore-younger-brother” habit). Then summer rolls around, and Fem comes to visit. She went to seminary with Bob, and through her, I discover that almost all of our seminary friends are keeping up with each other via Facebook. She invites me to be her friend, and I finally begin to realize there’s an answer to the question, “What’s all the fuss about Facebook?” Unfortunately, people like Becky have disappeared. That's okay, though. Ian is here. My sister and nieces are here. Courtney is here. And, of course, all our friends from seminary. I visit occasionally, growing more and more infatuated, and then head back home to the blogosphere.

But then, IT happened. People began to find me. And they weren’t always people I wanted to find me. I mean, there’s a reason we lose touch with some of the people we do during a lifetime. Chances are, if someone annoyed the hell out of you in 9th grade, and you think you’ve escaped her, she will show up through a friend of a friend on Facebook and be just as annoying as ever. She will send you invitation after invitation to be her friend. Eventually, just like in 9th grade when you finally agreed to sit with her at lunch (a move you came to regret for the next 3 years), you will click on that “confirm” button and then remember, way too late, that you had planned to stop being someone who can never say “no,” that you were going to learn to be someone who can say, “Leave me alone. I don’t want to be your friend.”

However, you have now discovered that Ms. Annoying Woman has 522 friends. You have a grand total of twelve. How can that be? Are you so much more of a loser than Ms. Annoying Woman that she’s got many, many more friends than you do? Did she suddenly blossom into Ms. Non-Annoying Woman, the way Ms. Dumpy blossomed into Ms. Glamorous Model during the ten years between graduation and your reunion? You suspect, as she starts to bombard you with all kinds of weird virtual bumper stickers and requests to join “tattoo-my-tongue” groups, that the answer to that question is “no.”

Trying to keep her from thinking that you have spent the last 25 years as a hermit, you desperately start searching Facebook for your cousin’s cousin’s best friend’s brother-in-law whom you met at a wedding 18 years ago. Then it hits you, and you find yourself thinking, “What the hell am I doing? I don’t want that person reading that it’s Friday night at 10:05 p.m., and all my update says is, 'Emily is headed for bed after a cup of tea and the crossword puzzle.’” What also hits you is this question, “Am I someone else’s ‘Ms. Annoying Woman?’” Maybe there’s a reason those ten high school “friends” you’ve just sent invitations have lost touch with you during a lifetime.

What I do want to do, on the other hand, is to see if friends I loved and wish had not slipped out of my life are here. I also want to see if friends who have not slipped out of my life, but who no longer live close enough for lunch and dinner dates are here. And you know what? They are (including Becky, who came back)! And that, unfortunately, is why I am now spending more time in Facebookosphere than the blogosphere. I’m enjoying reconnecting with long-lost friends and keeping in touch with other friends. I'm ignoring my "no computer after 8:00 p.m. rule," and staying up late "chatting." Worse yet, I'm "climbing the Pathwords ladder." (Warning: if you happen to love the game Boggle, do not click on that Pathwords link. You will find yourself in the throws of one of the worst addictions ever, because you know, now you can play much as you like...and no one will ever know...)

So, now, instead of reading blogs and pondering new ideas and looking for comments, I’m checking to see who’s posted new photos and discovering that “So-and-So is watching My College beat Enemy for the 100th time.”My guess, given the booming silence in the blogosphere for some months now, though, is that many, many others are doing the same.

Thus, I am here to say today that I really don’t like it. Sure, it’s fun. Sure, I am very happy to be back in touch with old elementary school friends, high school buddies, even old babysitters. But it’s not the same as blogging. In the blogosphere, I’ve made new friends (while also staying in touch with real life friends). In the blogosphere, we have real conversations, not mere sound bites. The blogosphere is an extension of publishing (a new form of publishing, if you will), a place where ideas and knowledge are shared, a place where authors can get and give immediate feedback. Facebook is a cocktail party full of small talk, and you know, I’ve never been a real fan of that.

Those of you who are reading this, let’s take back the blogosphere. Let’s refuse to spend more time cruising Facebook than writing thought-provoking posts. Facebook has its place (just as the cocktail party does), but let’s not get so drunk we can’t find our way back home, which is here, on our blogs, making each other think and taking the written word to new levels (oh yes, and debating what that means).

Monday, February 02, 2009

Music Monday/Lyric Lundi

Many of us who are Southern and have chosen to live elsewhere, if fed truth serum, would probably admit that on some levels we ran away from home. The South is a beautiful, bitter, heartbreaking, emotional place, and for those of us with fragile hearts and righteous indignity (especially twenty-something righteous indignity), it’s a difficult place to stay. Oh, who am I kidding? A better way of putting that is that I was a coward. I just never really fit in down there. Instead of staying and becoming involved in trying to make systemic changes, I focused on getting far away and leaving that hard work up to others (okay, in fairness, I also wanted to go somewhere that had a little more snow than North Carolina).

No place is perfect, though (although Maine comes pretty close). I learned that quickly enough, and I sometimes regret that I’ve always been so hard on North Carolina. I’ve learned secrets during the 20+ years since I left the South. For instance, no, the 21st-century South isn’t any more racist than many other places in this country (as a matter of fact, my hometown is probably less so than where I am currently living), and I now know that running away from a past for which I wasn’t responsible isn’t always the wisest move. I’ve also learned that there is much about the South that I miss.

The first year I was living in Connecticut, a friend of mine introduced me to the Indigo Girls. One song of theirs in particular made me homesick in a way I hadn’t been since moving. It’s true: the South may not offer up very good winters, but its springtime is spectacular. I listened to the song many, many times and was brought back to those wonderful afternoons in our old farmhouse with open windows bringing in a warm breeze that mixed the smell of freshly-mown grass with the metallic smell of rusty old screens, the mud puddles from spring rains that my brother and I played in for hours, the apple blossoms and dogwoods that turned our yard pure white. The horrible, oppressive heat and humidity of the summer was on its way, but somehow, it seemed like it was such a long way off, sitting on the front porch, watching the robins hopping around near the front walk. As I listened and reminisced, I realized with each tug of a heartstring, how complicated my relationship to my region of birth is.

It’s still complicated. It’s like a family member. I will complain about it all the time to others, but if anyone dares to say anything negative about it in my presence, I will snap to its defense, wondering “How could you say that?” But I am oh-so-proud of my home states of North Carolina and Virginia since November 4th. Look how far we’ve come in my lifetime. It looks like the South is continuing to move forward, that we’re staring at a magnificent new springtime “where the waters flow with confidence and reason,” so, this week's pick from among my favorite songs seems evermore appropriate.

Southland in the Springtime

Indigo Girls

Maybe we'll make Texas by the morning
Light the bayou with our tail lights in the night
800 miles to el paso from the state line
And we never have the money for the flight
I'm in the back seat sleepy from the travel
Played our hearts out all night long in New Orleans
I'm dirty from the diesel fumes, drinking coffee black
When the first breath of Texas comes in clean

And there's something 'bout the Southland in the springtime
Where the waters flow with confidence and reason
Though I miss her when I'm gone it won't ever be too long
Till I'm home again to spend my favorite season
When God made me born a yankee he was teasin'
There's no place like home and none more pleasin'
Than the Southland in the springtime

In Georgia nights are softer than a whisper
Beneath a quilt somebody's mother made by hand
With the farmland like a tapestry passed down through generations
And the peach trees stitched across the land
There'll be cider up near Helen off the roadside
And boiled peanuts in a bag to warm your fingers
And the smoke from the chimneys meets its maker in the sky
With a song that winter wrote whose melody lingers

And there's something 'bout the Southland in the springtime
Where the waters flow with confidence and reason
Though I miss her when I'm gone it won't ever be too long
Till I'm home again to spend my favorite season
When God made me born a yankee he was teasin'
There's no place like home and none more pleasin'
Than the Southland in the springtime