Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Watching Lolita in Connecticut

(Happy Halloween! I really ought to be posting over at Things that Go Bump in the Night today, but the blog-posting demon that possesses me has insisted on this post today instead, and, of course, the exorcist is way too busy with far more important matters on a day like this to be of any assistance.)

Shortly after I wrote this, Becky (who also listened to the recorded book) and I decided we were going to have a Lolita party. The idea was to rent both versions of the movie, neither of which we'd ever seen, and to watch them back-to-back. One thing moving away has taught me is to quit assuming I have all the time in the world to instigate such plans and that when I come up with such an idea, the weekend immediately following is a good one to implement it. Needless to say, Becky and I never got around to having our party, and then it was too late. Happily, I came back, and we were able to implement half our plan.

I spent last week up in New England, mostly at the office in New Hampshire, but I stayed in Connecticut at the weekends going up and coming back. Becky was my gracious hostess as I made my way back down to Pennsylvania (if you’re ever in New England in the fall, go stay with Becky. She lives on a lovely old farm, where the trees are spectacular in their golden and amber glory, especially from the porch, and she has a very cozy guest room, with beautiful old hardwood floors, where she’ll bed you down with flannel sheets and a gorgeous hand-made quilt, making it very difficult to get up and leave in the morning). We decided to watch the Jeremy Irons version of the movie this weekend, since his reading of the book had been so perfect, had so mesmerized both of us.

When I studied Lolita in college, I remember a lengthy discussion about how no one wants to read a love story that is all roses: happy and uncomplicated (having been through what seemed like nothing but very unhappy, complicated love stories of my own at that tender age, I can remember thinking, “yes, sometimes they do,” but I kept that thought to myself). We were encouraged to take note of the fact, while reading, that Nabokov’s book, among other things, was a satirical take on that, providing readers with a truly impossible “love story,” one that was doomed from the get-go, a perverse story, given to us from inside the mind of a man in prison, who was trying to garner our sympathies. It was perverse, but it provided all the elements of a more standard love story. I loved the book for that, for its satire and irony, and for ultimately being the quintessential love story, as the genre is defined (I also loved myself for being clever enough to see that, for not dismissing it as “sick” the way, you know, all those people who read it on a superficial level and wanted it banned did. Forget the fact that this “cleverness” probably would not have been there without the course and our TA and that, without that, I very easily might have read it on such a superficial level and labeled it “sick”). And I came to realize that no, I was wrong. I’m just like everyone else: I don’t really want to read a love story in which there are no complications, in which everything is happy (first of all, because there’s no such thing, but second of all, because, as we all discussed, it would be very boring).

I wish someone would invent something I could take every time I watch a movie based on a beloved book, a magic pill that would prevent me from spending the entire length of the movie comparing it to the book. I am fully aware of the fact before I sit down to watch a film that this does nothing but make for a disappointing movie-watching experience, yet I can’t seem to help myself. I have been disappointed by movies based on books ever since I was a child. Nevertheless, I have over and over again found myself saying, “[Fill in the blank] has been made into a movie! I must go see it!” every time some fantastic book is translated on film.

I’ve been waiting years for What Makes Sammy Run? to be turned into a movie (seriously. I discovered and read the book, -- a terrific one. Read if, if you haven’t -- because of an article written in some magazine circa 1990 about how it was going to be made into a movie). As I read The Golden Compass, I found myself wondering how certain parts of it will be handled in the movie version. I’m thrilled to find The Time Traveler’s Wife is being made into a movie. Why? I will come away from these movies as disappointed as ever, I’m sure. I think it’s something called “hope.” I always hope that someone will make the movie version of the book as magical as the book was for me. Most of the time, nobody can, but every so often, a movie does manage to live up to the book. I loved The Remains of the Day (or, wait a minute, is it just Anthony Hopkins I love?), and I’d read that book twice before the movie was released. I actually thought the movie version of The Firm was better than the book (despite the fact I hate Tom Cruise). The Cider House Rules was a wonderful adaptation of the book (can't think of a parenthetical aside for this observation, but am adding one for the sake of parallelism).

This go around, I was glad to be watching the movie with someone else who’d read the book and was making the same comparisons I was. It was, really, an extraordinarily good movie: beautifully-filmed and well-acted. I was amazed to see an almost unrecognizable Melanie Griffith who was not her usual whiny, weak, baby-voiced self. Jeremy Irons was perfect for the role of Humbert Humbert. Dominique Swain did a wonderful job of portraying a sexually-knowing teenager. That was the problem, though. Lolita should not have been a sexually-knowing teenager. About fifteen minutes into the movie, Becky and I both looked at each other and said, “She’s too old to be Lolita.” We’re not told how old she is, but looking at her, we both agreed that she could be anywhere from fourteen to sixteen. At some point, her age is mentioned as fourteen, and All Movie Guide informs us she’s meant to be thirteen at the beginning. That’s too old. The whole point of the book is that by the time a girl begins to actually become an adolescent, Humbert begins to lose interest. His perversion is with undeveloped, pre-adolescent girls.

I don’t know why I was so disappointed by this. Becky and I discussed the fact that if the book-reading public was so shocked by a book about a man and his love affair with a pre-pubescent child, the movie-going public would have been in a complete uproar. It stands to reason that she had to be older, that to actually see a relationship between a middle-aged man and a child portrayed on screen would have been too disturbing. But then, I think it would be best not to try to make the book into a movie at all. Yet, we have two movie versions. Apparently, the first version is the same in this regard, with an even older Lolita.

All right, so she had to be older, and we do have two movies. She still could have, with the use of voice overs and cleverly-filmed scenes, been a figment of his imagination. The scenes of her trying to be too child-like with her bubblegum and gobstoppers, scenes she didn’t pull off very well, right after she’d just come onto him in a way I’d find nearly impossible to do even at my advanced age, could have been cut. She could have been an adolescent, truly gawky and awkward in her crush on the older man, an inexperienced teen, flirting (like a colt learning to walk) in the way teens will with men, a way that most men recognize for what it is, knowing not to act on it. Instead, we get the girl who would have been labeled the class slut by her peers. It’s a fine, interesting story (you might even call it a quintessential love story), and the movie does a lot to explore the power dynamics between women and men. It just isn’t the story I wanted it to be, and I stubbornly refuse to believe that it couldn't have been if someone had been a little more willing to take a risk.

Will this keep my from watching the original version? Of course not. It’s on our list of things to do next time Becky and I get together. It’s got to be good, right? After all, it's Stanley Kubrick, and Nabokov adapted it himself.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Google and My Blog

(Warning: if you have found this post through a Google search on “colonoscopies,” chances are this will not in any way provide you with the information you are seeking. Feel free to read it, though.)

Do you want to know which of my posts in 2007 has so far garnered the most traffic due to random Google searches? A brief, and by no means thorough, examination reveals that it seems to have been the one on my colonoscopy. I can’t decide if that’s extremely depressing, scary, or a good thing. It may be a good thing, because I still happen to think it was one of my better posts (maybe there’s something to be said for food deprivation and creativity), but it’s depressing, because I’m positive nobody stumbled upon it looking for a creative post on the subject, most especially since one person was looking for “pnemonia [sic] of the bowel.” I’d never heard of “pnemonia of the bowel” (which Spell-check is slapping me on the wrist for trying to misspell a second time when it already told me the first time was wrong). Don’t tell me there’s yet another hideous disease my inner hypochondriac is dying to race to Web MD to research. Anyway (stay focused, Inner Hypochondriac), I am sure these people coming to my blog through such searches were all desperately seeking solace, after having been informed this procedure was necessary, and that they spent half a second with me before becoming extremely pissed that someone could joke at a time like this.

And it’s scary to think that maybe people aren’t looking for solace before a procedure. Maybe there are just tons of hypochondriacs out there looking for information to confirm their “sure-I’m-going-to-die-tomorrow” diagnoses. Their stomachs hurt, which leads them to look up stomach pain online, which leads them to cancer, which leads them to the best way to diagnose the cancer: colonoscopy. Then I pop up when they type in “colonoscopy” to find out what it entails (if I’d accidentally typed “entrails” here, I bet Spellcheck wouldn’t have been slapping me on the wrist. You, however, might have been shutting off your computer in disgust). You’ll understand why I find the notion of the world being full of hypochondriacs somewhat depressing when I tell you I recently came across a diary I was keeping in 1985 and found this in one of the entries, “My legs hurt all the time. I hope I don’t have leukemia.” I really don’t wish this kind of morbid imagination on anyone. 1985 was around the same time I’d gone to the library to research some paper for school and had, instead, found my kiss of death: a book all about symptoms and what they may mean (although I have to admit I’ve obviously forgotten half of what that book contained since then. Nowadays, I wouldn’t dream of thinking “leukemia” when my legs ache. Aching legs are merely early-onset arthritis that’s obviously going to be crippling me by the time I’m 65 if it’s already making an appearance).

Still, I really must harp on how depressing this “Google and My Blog” news is. I want people to discover my blog because they’ve, say, been told they have to read The Lady and the Panda, and they’ve typed it in, read my exquisite review of the book, and placed an Amazon order in less time than it takes for the anesthesiologist to knock out a patient for a colonoscopy. I want people to discover my blog because they hate to clothes shop and are looking for someone who will say, “No, you darling person, you’re not crazy, or at least, if you are, you’re not the only crazy person in this world.” I want people to come across my blog, because they’ve typed in “blogs that will make you laugh out loud,” and have discovered that somewhere (in Sri Lanka or something), someone has included me on a list of 100 blogs guaranteed to make you laugh out loud. I certainly don’t want people discovering my blog because they’re searching for medical advice.

I sort of have to wonder about these people, though. I mean, if you were going to research your upcoming medical procedure, I wouldn’t think you’d click on a search result entitled “Telecommuter Talk: Lies, Lies, All Lies (and Irritability).” I know, with the impossibility these days of getting in touch with doctors, it may seem as though they’ve done away with such old-fashioned things as offices and hospitals, but really, I’m sure the chances of finding a gastroenterologist who telecommutes and performs colonoscopies from home must be infinitesimally small. (I would hope the chances would be zero, but you never know. After all, up in Massachusetts, there were people performing cosmetic surgery in apartment basements not too long ago.) Then there’s the “Lies” business. If you’re getting ready to have a colonoscopy next week, I wouldn’t think you’d want to read anything that seems to suggest skewed results, or worse, a procedure that your doctor may have lied about, making it sound completely painless, when it’s really about as painless as a visit to a Medieval torture chamber (which it isn’t! I feel the need to say that for all the people who are obviously going to Google search their way to this second post of mine on the subject).

Then again, I am definitely a beggar who is choosing. After all, I average about 25 visits per day to my blog. I am certainly not someone who should be complaining about how one of those visitors happens to stumble upon me. I should be grateful for every hit I get. It could be the person looking for “hours of fasting before colonoscopy” was just dying to read about someone who is driven nuts by said fasting. Maybe he or she found a kindred soul. Maybe that person is now permanently one of the 25. (As I’ve been known to say many times, please allow me my fantasy.)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

I'm Not Here Today

Well, revision is coming along a little more slowly and a little less easily than I'd expected, but I'm making some headway and have posted over here today. Please visit me, if you'd like, and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

"If You'd Like to Live in the Nineteenth Century, Press 2"

I despise the 21st-century. I just wasn’t made to be living during this time period. Call me na├»ve or romantic, or whatever you want to call me, but, really, those of us with tiny frustration thresholds need to be living in the good old nineteenth century (preferably with extraordinarily strong constitutions, so as never to have to visit a doctor of the age, and with obscene amounts of money, so as to have lots of servants to run the household, never having a twenty-first-century clue that one should feel guilty about such things as having servants. I know. You don’t need to tell me: I’ve read too many books and seen too many movies in my life). The early part of the twentieth century might be pretty good, too, although by then, things like telephones were becoming prevalent, and everyone in the “civilized” world was beginning to expect everyone else in the “civilized” world to know how to use them. Hell, though, even the second part of the twentieth-century would have been fine up until about twenty-five years ago. Then, along came not only the telephone, but also voice mail, voice mail that replaces the human you’re hoping to find on the other end of the line when you need to do business.

I despise telephones. I mean, they’re good for keeping in touch with friends and family members in far away places, but other than that, they’re nothing but a nuisance, always ringing at the wrong time, calls usually coming from someone with whom I have no desire to speak. However, if I lived in the nineteenth century, I wouldn’t really have that many friends and family members in far away places, would I? Almost everyone I knew would probably live within a ten-mile radius of my home. Maybe we’d summer far away in Newport, RI (remember, I have obsecene amounts of money in my nineteenth-century world) or something, but probably half my acquaintances would do the same (or they’d come visit and stay in one of the twenty guest rooms in the house). We’d just sit out under parasols on the sand instead of by the fire in the parlor. Possibly, I’d have some crazy cousins who’d picked up and gone West to find gold or something (or, knowing my relatives just to be able to say they’d made it across the Rocky Mountains and had lost only one toe to frostbite), but for the most part, everyone would be close by, and instead of hearing annoying jangles and beeps and shrills, I’d get calling cards (don’t you just love the idea of calling cards?) from my friends and would actually get to see them when talking to them. Visiting Aunt Betty, who’d moved to her husband’s farm eight miles away, would be an all-day event and an excuse for a fancy afternoon picnic.

But no, I have to live in this Godforsaken age. I wonder if Alexander Graham Bell ever imagined that by the year 2007, most people would use his miraculous invention to interact with an actual human being on the other end of the line only about 10% of the time. The rest of the time would be spent listening to voicemail messages and options. Don’t you hate “options?” None of them is ever the one you really want, which of course, is to speak to a live human being. It used to be, in the early days of voice mail, that if you wanted to speak to a live human being, all you had to do was to pretend you didn’t have a touch-tone phone. Well, that’s not fooling anyone in this day and age. Stop a homeless person on the street, and I bet even he or she is likely to have a cell phone. Can you imagine a cell phone with a dial? Only Thumbelina would be able to use it.

Does anyone else remember the days when you could always “press zero to speak to a customer service representative?” Now if you press zero, after losing patience halfway through a list of 100 different not-anything-close-to-what-you-need-or-want options, you will either be cut off, having to call back and listen to those first 50 options all over again, or you will get a voice that says, “I’m sorry. That is not a valid option,” and will still have to listen to the 50 options all over again. By this point, you’re praying for the “if you’d like to blow up this company” option.

Last time I moved was a little over twelve years ago. Back in those, oh so good old days, I had to cancel my phone service and things like my utility services, just as anyone moving has to do today. I can remember calling the companies, explaining to a live human (I remember the woman at the phone company being especially excited when she found out I was getting married and would need a new name listing in the phone book) that I was moving, asking them to transfer accounts, and having everything in place by the time I moved. The post office used to send out change of address forms to send to magazines, etc. I guess they no longer do that, because I sent them a change of address form ages ago, and we haven’t received a thing. Luckily, my lovely husband volunteered to be the one to call the magazines to which we subscribe and give them our new address. He was not, however, able to call the company in which I was given some stock as a graduation present years ago, and from which I receive small dividend checks on a quarterly basis.

Let me tell you what happens when you try to change your address with this company. Nothing. That’s right. Nothing. Yes, you sit through that long laundry list of options, tell it you want to change your address, and then you are told you have to pick a pin number. This pin number has to be six (six. Who the hell, other than a Guinness Book of World Record’s best memory candidate is going to be able to remember a six-digit pin number unless she chooses something like her birth date, which we all know is a huge “no-no” when it comes to choosing security numbers?). So, you go through this process; choosing a pin number you can’t possibly remember when the system cuts you off, and you have to call back; the voice on the other end verifies your current address; and then it asks for your new zip code. You punch in your zip code. That’s when nothing happens. You call back and go through the whole damn process again. Get nothing. I don’t know; maybe the new zip code is the pin number for the “blowing up the company” option. Perhaps the company no longer exists. Perhaps through all the smoke and debris, all anyone can hear is the monotone voice instructing you to “Say ‘customer service’ now.” God knows where my dividend checks are going to end up. If you get one, would you please forward it to me?

And coming soon: “Fun with Voice Mail Setup”

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

When You Don't Have Time to Write a Proper Post...

All right. Memes and silly quizzes. You can tell I'm really back, huh? (I would quibble with the "Expert" part. I bet Mandarine, a.ka. my personal "Idiot's Guide to Blogging" would, too.) Oh yes, and I found this (where else?) over at Charlotte's.

What Kind of Blogger Are You?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Bloggers Unite for the Environment

I found out from Charlotte that today is bloggers unite for the environment day. So, my post on how much I love my new house will just have to wait, because, well, how can I turn that down? I mean, if it were bloggers unite for the right to carry assault weapons, I just might be able to pass. But the environment?

And here you go: not only is it going to be about the environment, but it’s also going to be about telecommuting. Because, you see, I don’t happen to understand why more and more companies, most especially green companies, aren’t requiring their employees who don’t need to be on site to telecommute. I really can’t think of a much better way to cut down on the horrors of what automobiles do to the environment than getting rid of unnecessary drivers every morning and every evening. In more civilized countries, like those in Europe, people could probably be convinced to take public transportation, but in this country, where everyone wants to be independent, and no one seems to want to have to adhere to someone else’s timetable, public transportation is not very popular. Thus, if you live somewhere, like the Middle of Nowhere, PA, you can’t walk down to your local train station or bus stop and hop a train or bus to get to the office located 15 miles from your home, because of course, the train and bus companies would make absolutely no money off the ten people willing to do so.

I know there are some positions that absolutely require employees to be on site (for instance dental hygienists – and their dentists, for that matter). However, no one can argue with me anymore that even customer service representatives need to be anywhere but in their own living rooms, with the kinds of technology we have these days. It isn’t as if most customer service representatives are actually stationed in warehouses. After all, we are all perfectly aware of the fact that when we call almost any company for tech support, that we will most likely be speaking to someone in Prague or Bombay, not someone in, oh, Seattle, say. If companies are so hell bent on outsourcing to other countries, why can’t they also outsource to the next town over (I hope you understand that I’m taking complete advantage of the notion of poetic license here. I don’t want corporations outsourcing to the next town, hiring nothing but freelancers, and skirting their obligations to pay for benefits)? In all honesty, I’d love to know how many CEOs have a clue as to who 80% of their employees are and whether or not these employees are in the office at any given time.

And here’s the thing: once you get more and more used to the notion of not having to get up and drive to and from work every morning (at least based on this highly significant scientific sample of one telecommuter), you become very reluctant to have to get in the car to go anywhere. You really plan to go to the grocery store today, but then, as the day goes on, and you still haven’t bothered to change out of the sweats you’ve been wearing all day, you decide that maybe you can make some sort of casserole out of the 5 stalks of celery, the potato that’s growing roots, a little cheese, and the last few drops of milk in the carton. You’ve got that bottle of hot sauce that bar tender in New York gave you last summer that you’ve never opened. Hot sauce added to anything will make it taste good.

Now that Bob’s office is right across the parking lot, I’m imagining automobile costs that are going to plummet. I do still have to drive to places like airports for my job, and next week, I’m actually driving up to work at the office for a week, sandwiching my work week in between two weekends in CT to tie up some loose ends with our house up there (and to visit friends). I can walk to both the post office and bank, now, though, so those establishments that used to require car trips are no longer an issue. And really, besides food (and now cat food, litter, toys, and treats), what else do I need?

I think corporations are still afraid to let people telecommute. Corporate America has never trusted its employees. The average worker in America is treated no better than the average child of the early twentieth-century, with all kinds of strict and pointless rules and the threat of harsh punishment as a means of control. And what did those children do (especially the most creative of them)? They figured out ways to rebel and to fight the adults in their lives. They knew how to sneak around and have fun, without getting caught, despite all the rules (come on, tell me you don’t believe for a minute that all those people out there with all those extraordinarily clever and creative web sites aren’t sitting in cubicles at Mega Corporation desperate for some outlet to keep them from going insane, because they get their work done in three hours, but have been told they have to be sitting at those desks from 8:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., even if their time would be better spent out talking to customers or doing research somewhere, and have nothing to do for most of the work day). Their parents thought their children were models of good behavior, when they really weren’t.

If you treat your employees like children, sure, they’re going to act like children the minute they’re given a little freedom. They may lie on the couch, eat too much candy, and watch T.V. all day. But if you treat your employees like adults, whom you trust, and whom you expect will get their work done, you just may find that they are actually more productive when they work from home, don’t have hour-long commutes, and are more relaxed, not having fought any rush hour traffic when they sit down at their computers to work in the morning. And even if you don’t believe they possibly can be productive without some manager there hovering over their shoulders every minute of the day, you should at least consider the fact that future generations at your company, if it is going to survive, will need a planet on which to do so. Allowing them to telecommute is one step towards insuring that planet survives.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

2 Reading/Book Memes

So how about two book/reading memes together that have been making the rounds out there? I can't think of much that goes together better than books and memes. And I'm sorry, but I can’t remember where I first saw each of these, and no one has specifically tagged me for either one, so I can’t give credit via links.


Hardcover or paperback, and why?
I couldn’t care less as long as what’s inside is grabbing my attention. This question actually showed up in another book meme, and I think at that time I expressed an interest in the perfect electronic book reader, if someone (preferably Apple) would hurry up and make one.

If I were to own a book shop I would call it…
Heaven on Earth. It would be in a big old Victorian home, with lots of different rooms for different subject areas (horror and ghost stories would be in the walk-up attic, of course) and a wrap-around front porch with rocking chairs and a porch swing. I’d sell board games, too. Once a month, probably on Friday nights, some lucky customer would have the chance to “beat the owner at Cribbage” (a very easy thing to do, despite the owner’s love of the game) for a free paperback of his or her choice. (You can’t tell I’ve thought much about this, can you?)

My favorite quote from a book (mention the title) is…
I don’t have one. With the exception of things that were memorized against my will when I was in school and can’t possibly be considered favorites, quotes seem to go in one side of the brain and out the other, no matter how badly I want to remember them.

The author (alive or dead) I would love to have lunch with would be…
Surprise, surprise, everyone: Rose Macaulay. Does anyone else fear, when asked such questions, though, that the person you choose might turn out to be completely obnoxious/an utter bore/a dimwit, or something else you never could have imagined the object of your admiration could possibly be, thus forever tainting what were once some of your favorite books?

If I were going to a deserted island and could only bring one book, except for the SAS survival guide, it would be…
(This is another one I've answered in the past.) Either the Bible or Don Quixote and lots and lots of notebooks and pens, so I could write my own stories and books while there.

I would love someone to invent a bookish gadget that…
would hang books from the ceiling in front of my face while I’m propped up in bed, so I could read without having to hold up the book, thus keeping both hands free for holding things like mugs of tea and coffee. It would be nice if it would turn the pages for me, too.

The smell of an old book reminds me of…
My grandmother’s house when I was a kid, and now my parents’ house.

If I could be the lead character in a book (mention the title), it would be…
Milo in The Phantom Tollbooth. Imagine having such a wonderful “wordy” adventure just show up on your doorstep.

The most overestimated book of all time is…
The Horse Whisperer. How could people have been so enamored of something so trite and so predictable?

I hate it when a book…
tries to be too clever. Very few authors can pull it off (Italo Calvino being one of these very few), and writers are much better when they stick to telling a good story that is seamlessly written, than when they experiment with writing styles, voices, too many plot twists, etc. I most especially hate it when in-between every line an author (Kingsley Amis springs to mind) is screaming “I am so much more clever than you are.” Makes you wonder why they’ve written the book if they think so lowly of their audience.


How many books do you own?
I’m too afraid to count. Then I’d have to admit that there’s absolutely no way I could possibly read them all in one lifetime. Bob and I went to visit the library in our new little town the other day, a tiny little one-room building (it used to be a one-room schoolhouse) that’s adorable, and my guess is that he and I probably have more books than that library does.

Last book you bought?
Phillip Pullman’s The Subtle Knife. After our visit to the library, we had to go check out the Borders in Lancaster City proper (in case you’re interested, it’s not as good as the Borders we just left in Danbury, CT). Hobs (who, by the way, says I'm awesome, so it must be true) and Dorr turned me onto The Golden Compass. I pretty much realized I was doomed to read all three books in the series when, about a third of the way through it, I experienced an extreme panic, thinking the packers had packed it up somewhere. The last time I saw Hobs and Dorr, they confirmed my suspicions were true. The library didn’t have The Subtle Knife (I’m sure they do have it, and it was just checked out, the only thing by Pullman on the shelves being Lyra’s Oxford), so I had to buy it.

Last book someone bought you?
Well, technically, Bob bought The Subtle Knife for me, but that’s a boring answer, so let’s find another one. My brother-in-law works for a company that exhibits books for publishers at trade shows and often gives me books he gets free, so technically, he didn’t buy this one, but he got for me a fascinating book on the Amish called The Gentle People. It’s by Joe Wittmer who was born and raised Amish but left to pursue his education, so I’ve finally got a book about the Amish that wasn’t written by a complete outsider. And what's neat about it is that he obviously still highly respects his roots and these people.

Last book read?
For me, this question really has to be "last book finished," since I read so many books at one time, which would be Plain Truth by Jodi Picoult. It was a fascinating, but also somewhat disappointing read. And the “shocking, surprise ending” neither shocked nor surprised me, but rather didn't make sense to me. I felt as though Picoult had started out knowing how she wanted the book to end and then never wavered from that ending, although she should have by the time it was done, as the book was telling her where it wanted to go and would have been much better if she’d just let it go there.

Five books that mean a lot to me
Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary, the first “chapter book” I read all by myself, all the way through, as a child and one to which I returned over and over all throughout my childhood.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, the first book that literally made buckets of tears roll down my face when I read it at age thirteen. I still remember where I was: sitting on the couch in the den of the family for whom I used to babysit at the time.

The World According to Garp by John Irving, the book that got me into the whole world of contemporary adult literature when I was fifteen and worried adult books were never going to be as interesting or good as children’s and young adult books were. It was also the book that taught me an awful lot about men, probably much more than a fifteen-year-old girl should have known.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. You can read why here.

The Bible. I started out one year deciding to read this book with the help of one of those “read the Bible in a year” diaries, and encouraged Bob to do the same, because I was beginning to feel no one could truly claim to be literate without having read it cover-to-cover. (I'd attempted to do so on several occasions, but had never managed to make it much past Exodus.) After all, so much in literature stems from it. Little did I know that reading it was going to be the catalyst that would change our lives and is why we are where we are today, Bob as pastor and me as pastor’s wife.

You guessed it: if you’re reading this and haven’t done either one of these memes, consider yourself tagged (for either one or both). And now I think I've only got Becky's near-sightedness meme to go. This week of (mostly) memes has been fun, but I'm dying to move onto other stuff. Does that mean I'm going to have to abdicate my throne to someone else?

Friday, October 12, 2007

My Five Writing Strengths Meme

Everyone's doing this one, and Charlotte tagged me for it, so here we go.

1. I have no choice: I have to write. It brings me peace. It calms me. It keeps me sane. Some of you have heard me talk before about Charlotte Perkins Gilman and how her first husband had her committed to an asylum and who, in cohorts with her “therapist,” took away all writing utensils and paper, because, as they said, “writing wasn’t good for her.” (This was the catalyst for her wonderful work The Yellow Wallpaper.) I wept when I read that, thinking how extraordinarily cruel it was, and that if I weren’t crazy before I went into such a place, I certainly would be once I emerged from it (if I ever did). If I go a week without writing, I become morbidly depressed and negative. All this is to say that when you are someone who has to write, you, just by matter of all that effort and output (as with just about anything else in life), become pretty strong.

2. I read, all the time, everywhere. I know someone else out there is using the term for a blog, but I began referring to myself as a “book slut” years ago. I’m the sort of person who will read Crime and Punishment and think, “That’s it. No more trash. I’m not reading anything that isn’t as meaningful and as substantial and as brilliantly composed as that again,” and then I’ll walk into Border’s, see some eye candy like a new book by Katie Fforde, and there I’ll be up all night, bleary-eyed and unable to find my clothes the next morning, swearing I’m never doing this again. Anyway, everything I read either falls into one of two camps: “That was absolutely brilliant; the author is a genius; and I am in complete awe. I wonder if I can ever produce something even half as good” or “That could have been so much better, if only the author had…” I’m not kidding. I seem to read everything with an eye toward whether or not it is something I could do. Maybe being a strong writer means being incredibly narcissistic.

3. I’ve been encouraged to write all my life, by my parents, by my siblings, by my teachers, by my classmates, by my friends, by my husband. Being the sort who likes to please, I’ve done as I was told.

4. I’m empathetic to the point of its being a disease. I even empathize with inanimate objects. I’m sure this disease helps my writing, though, because I'm constantly writing stories in my head about all these poor humans, animals, and inanimate objects when I see them in trouble, wanting to help them in some way or to make sense of their troubling situations. I also think it may make my writing believable, because others can see themselves in it.

5. I believe I'm a writer. For a long time I didn’t call myself a writer, because that meant something very specific to me, mostly that I would earn a living writing. Finally, I came to the realization that: a. I do earn a living writing, even if a good chunk of it is really re-writing and even if it involves writing emails and letters more than anything else. Besides, people call themselves many things that they do, even if they don’t earn a living doing them (“skier,” for instance, or “stamp collector”) and b. someone who has been writing all her life and who has to write in order to remain sane must certainly be a writer, no? Once I began believing I was a writer, my writing got stronger, which makes absolute sense to me, since I know belief in being something is more than half the battle.

I'm tagging all those of you out there who don't believe you are strong writers. This is like my old compliments meme: it will make you feel better about yourself and help you believe.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?

(I just had to post on this. Back to memes tomorrow.)

You may have come to think of me as the Queen o’ Memes. Well, let me set the record straight. Long before I was the Queen o’ Memes, I was something else. I’m really the Queen of Making Life as Complicated as Possible. And Bob is the King of Same. This means we’re the sorts of people who get engaged, buy a house, move, and get married all in seven months. Did I mention we got married 400 miles from our home? Oh, and did I tell you that one of us had a job at the time that required him to be away from home for multiple days at a time at least once a month?

We’re also the sorts who accept a new job, move across multiple states, and plan an ordination service with 110 guests that takes place the day before one of us is supposed to start his new job four states away. This service also happens to fall three days before the first team of packers and movers arrives with the first truck (because, of course, we've chosen to live on one of those streets that does not accommodate semis, so the move has to be complicated by a need for two trucks) and a mere ten days before the second wave of packers and movers arrives. In the midst of all this, we decide we absolutely have to go see the King Tut exhibit in Philadelphia, because it didn’t come to New York, we’re not likely to make it to Egypt anytime soon, and we may be dead by the time it comes back to this country, if past history of U.S. tours of these artifacts is any indication.

Thus, we’ve moved. The worst part of that is over. We’re nowhere near being what anyone would call "unpacked." As a matter of fact, anyone walking into our house today would be perfectly within his or her rights to ask, “You mean you’ve been unpacking for the past five days? What do you do, unpack a shoebox per day?” However, we’re beginning to have an inkling of what it might feel like to be settled. We can see a light at the end of the tunnel. I’m having thoughts like, “Just ten boxes a day, and I should be done by Thanksgiving.” (I’m also having thoughts like “Where the hell did those %$#! packers bury that shower curtain, anyway?” But pastors’ wives aren’t supposed to think such things, so these thoughts are just whispering amongst themselves at the back of the class.)

Enter Francis. Francis arrived yesterday evening just in time for dinner. Actually, it was the second time Francis had arrived for dinner, and this was Act IV of this new version of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” Act I was set at the home of some church parishioners. I wasn’t there to witness its scenes, but from what I’ve been told, it involved a new pastor, here all by himself, his angelic wife left back up in Connecticut to weed junk from the old house, who’d been invited for dinner. After dinner, the grandchildren were outside playing, when they suddenly all burst in excitedly announcing “cat!” The exact lines are a mystery to me, but I gather the adults weren’t buying, the children were persistent, and finally everyone went out to find, not a cat, exactly, but rather, an extremely starved, half-dead, little marmalade kitten, whereupon all the adults started asking the pastor, “Didn’t you just say you were going to get a kitten?” The pastor (from what I can tell, very unconvincingly) replied, “Yes, but not right now.” After more urging, he seems to have resorted to (the old standby), “I’ll have to see what my wife says,” at which point, they immediately began urging him to pick up his cell phone and call said wife. Thank God she wasn’t around to receive the call.

Act II involved an answered phone call to the wife later that night. The pastor (who didn’t even like cats until he met his wife and the cat she had when they got married) was almost convincing about how sweet this little kitten was. He tried to break his wife’s soft heart by telling her the sad story of how the little thing had been abandoned and was nearly dead, so skinny and so tiny it was. The wife, who had seemed so angelic in those first few scenes, happily preparing the old home for the movers with nary a complaint, suddenly became mean and uncaring, repeatedly saying, “We can’t get a kitten now.”

Act III took place in a church, a parishioner rushing up to wife two days after the wife had moved down and was feeling headachy and not herself, inviting her to “come see the kitten, because I hear it’s all up to you as to whether or not you take him” and the wife feeling she couldn’t possibly say no. She did tell the woman that they couldn’t take the kitten now, that they had no place for him, that the house was completely chaotic. The next morning she went to visit the kitten. And then we come to Act IV, and well, we all know what happened in Act IV, kitten arriving in grand style, with bed and litter box and toys and food dishes, and, of course, food for dinner.

This is not how it was supposed to be. It was supposed to be a completely different play, a children’s play entitled “Puppy and Kitten Come Home to the Pastor’s House.” It was supposed to happen about three months from now. The pastor and his wife were going to be happily settled into their new home and feeling in want of the sound of paws and claws prancing around on hard wood floors. They were both going to come to the conclusion at the exact same time that it was finally time to get a puppy and a kitten. They were going to find one of each who needed homes and bring them to a home that had been completely prepared (read “kitten-and-puppy-proofed”) for their arrival. These two were going to grow up together and be great friends, the puppy thinking it was a cat and the kitten thinking it was a dog. The playbill was supposed to be accompanied by lots of cute photos of the new friends together taken by the pastor’s wife, who would finally have learned how to take and download digital photos by the time these furry residents arrived. The kitten was not supposed to arrive now, in the midst of unpacked boxes, possible poisons, and two frazzled humans, one of whom keeps going around saying, “Where the hell did the %$#! packers bury the camera and its directions?” (Must be the pastor, because pastors’ wives aren’t supposed to say such things.)

You’ll just have to take my word for it: he’s cute as a button. How could a five-week-old marmalade kitten not be? Oh, and if you’re wondering about the name: St. Francis, of course, Patron Saint of Animals. When the dog finally comes along, she will be Clare: St. Clare, for whom Francis was a great mentor. Maybe it’s appropriate, after all, that Francis came along first?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

What's in a Name

And today's meme is all about names. I first ran across this one over at The Paperback Stash, when I was cruising around, reading blogs, and procrastinating packing. I see many others have done it during my time away.

1. YOUR ROCK STAR NAME: (first pet & current street name)

Just was: Peppermint Homer Clark, which sounds like some hapless cartoon character not a rock star, unless it’s one of those “pretending-to-be-dweeby” type rock stars.

Now is: Peppermint Lincoln, which means I must be one of those androgynous-type rock stars.

2. YOUR “FLY Guy/Girl” NAME: (first initial of first name, first three letters of your middle name)

Emic, both vowels are long. Otherwise I’d sound like some sort of disease whose first three syllables have been forgotten.

3. YOUR DETECTIVE NAME: (favorite color, favorite animal)

Green Panda, as in “Watch out for the Green Panda,” which is what I was called in grade school, because I wore a fake-fur green coat that I LOVED, also LOVED pandas, and played a wicked game of “Four Square,” a game for which all good players in my class had to have a nickname. It was also the only athletic endeavor (if you can call it that) at which I ever excelled.

4. YOUR SOAP OPERA NAME: (middle name, city where you were born)

Michie Winston-Salem. No one knows how to pronounce my first name, and I’m always pouting (with my luscious red lips) about that.

5. YOUR STAR WARS NAME: (the first 3 letters of your last name, first 2 letters of your first name, first 2 letters of mom’s maiden)

Biremha. I must be the wise witch who lives in a tree trunk.

6. SUPERHERO NAME: (”The”, your favorite color, favorite drink)

The Green Martini. I can turn myself into an olive and roll into crevices where no one can get me.

7. NASCAR NAME: (the first name of your grandfathers)

Robert (Shadow) A. My grandfather on my father’s side, just as my father has done, only ever used his first initial, and my grandfather on my mother’s side was nicknamed “Shadow.” What can I say? I come from a very long line of weird Southerners and Englishmen with even weirder names. Maybe I pretend to be a NASCAR driver and am really a spy, because isn’t it a much cooler spy name?

8. FUTURISTIC NAME: (the name of your favorite perfume/cologne and the name of your favorite kind of shoes)

Barefoot Chanel. How could someone who loves shoes as much as I do have a favorite kind of shoe? And I don’t really have a favorite perfume, either, but I’ve been known to wear Chanel and have a friend whose extremely cool girlfriend is named Chanel, and I’ve always thought it was a great name.

9. WITNESS PROTECTION NAME: (mother & father’s middle name)

My mother had two middle names, so I guess that makes me Anne Forsyth Hewson. I think I’ll go into hiding just so this lovely name can be mine.

Tagging: you, if you'd like to give it a whirl.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

It's That Spooky Time of Year...

...although in PA right now, it feels like it's early July. Maybe we'll get some Halloween-like weather soon. Supposedly, some thunder storms may be rolling in tonight. In celebration of the prediction of such weather, please visit me over here and vote.

I'm Ba-a-a-ck!

Actually, I would have been back yesterday, but I guess Blogger decided to punish me for my long absence or something and wouldn't let me log onto its site. Anyway, what better way for the Queen o’ Memes finally to crash back on the scene than with a meme? As a matter of fact, this very well may be a week of memes, since they certainly do pile up when one disappears from the blogosphere for a month or so, don’t they? I know I've been tagged for at least one by Charlotte. This one is my own, though, and is, surprise, surprise:

The Moving Meme

Rules: 8 questions. Answer them. Tag others.

1. What was your most memorable moving experience?

On New Year’s Eve 1978 and into New Year’s Day 1979, my family (except Forsyth, who was in college) moved from North Carolina to Kent, England. We left Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C., where it was unseasonably warm, we kids all embarrassed to no-end because our mother was wearing her Eskimo-like snow boots, which wouldn’t fit in one of the eight over-stuffed suitcases we were lugging. We arrived at Heathrow Airport where everything was at a massive standstill due to a rare, huge snowstorm. The buses were running very irregularly, and we had to lug all our carry-on bags and our suitcases, which were piled high on carts, through the slushy, icy streets of London to get to a bus stop to catch a bus to the hotel where we’d be spending the night until the trains (which weren’t running) were back on schedule, and we could get out to the village that would be our home that year. The suitcases took great glee in leaping off the cart into the middle of the street at every opportunity, sending my father into a hopping-up-and-down sort of rage. I was carrying two extremely heavy canvas bags that I think housed my parents entire booze supply for the year or something. All I know is that my arms began to scream in agony from the weight, and I couldn’t decide whether I should attend to them or my toes, which I was convinced were frost-bitten, since I couldn’t feel them due to the fact that all I had on to protect them from the bitter cold was a pair of (very-fashionable-at-the-time-although-not-in-England-as-I-would-soon-discover-at-my-new-school) topsiders. We stood around at the bus stop, shivering some more and eagerly awaited what we thought would be a nice warm bus. When it emerged on the scene, mere decade later, we found its heater wasn't working. Needless to say, we were all ready to kill my mother for her boots. Later that evening, my brother and I locked ourselves out of our warm, cozy hotel room. Not an auspicious beginning, but no matter. It turned out to be the best of my teenaged years.

2. Have you ever made a move you regretted?

At the end of my first year living in Connecticut, one of my roommates announced she was moving back to Minnesota, where she’d gone to school, and my other roommate-turned-boyfriend and I moved into an apartment in a house that had been on the market for over a year without selling. The owners were looking to sell to someone who would keep it as a rental property, so we thought we were safe. Within two months, he was cheating on me, and the house was sold to someone who didn’t want to keep it as a rental property, and we were forced to move again (to separate places, obviously. Thank God really. I would've had to break the lease otherwise in order to move away from him). I should have broken up with him before we moved there, and I learned my lesson: don’t move into an apartment in a house that’s for sale.

3. If money/work/significant other/family were no object, and you could move anywhere right now, where would you move?

Absolutely no question: Manhattan. To be exact: a nice large place on Riverside Drive with a view of the Hudson River and the George Washington Bridge. Conveniently, I’m basically already all packed. Anyone want to donate the $1-$2M it would probably cost? Actually, I need about $4M, because I also want to purchase my second home on the water in Southwest Harbor, ME.

4. How many times have you moved in your life?

I spent the first 18 years of my life in the same house, with the exception of a stint in Chapel Hill, NC, when I was an infant, and the aforementioned stint in England. From age 18 to 31, I was a serial mover, and lived in 11 different places (dorm rooms, apartments, houses, rooms in friends’ houses, etc.) before moving into the house in which I’ve lived for the past 12 years and now into my new home, where I hope to be for a very long time.

5. Is there anywhere you hope never to have to return to live?

Winston-Salem, NC, where I grew up. I love the house in which I was raised, and we had some wonderful family friends, and I have great memories of much of it, but the town itself was a difficult place to grow up: very conservative, not a place for eccentricity, a quality that my family has in abundance. A few years back, I read in some magazine a quote from Maya Angelou, who had been a writer-in-residence at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem for years, in which she basically praised the town to the hilt, going on about what a wonderful place it is. I sure do wish I’d been able to hang out with her and to discover her Winston, which sounds so different from mine.

6. What do you find to be the most difficult aspect of moving?

Trying to decide what’s “junk” and what’s really worth keeping. Don’t call friends and family members and ask questions like, “Should I keep all the playbills from every play I’ve seen over the past twenty years?” You’ll get as many “yes” answers as you get “no” answers, with as many different extremely valid reasons for each answer.

7. What do you find to be the most exciting aspect of moving?

It’s like New Year’s, isn’t it? A perfect, new beginning with all kinds of resolutions, like, “I’m going to be completely, totally organized in this new house.” “I’m going to read all magazines the week they arrive and immediately recycle them in the new house, so they don’t pile up to become fire hazards.” “I’m never going to buy any food that sits around in the pantry/fridge uneaten for weeks on end in the new house.” “I’m going to learn to make perfect pie crust, never let a smidgen of transfats enter my body, and stick to a rigorous, twice-daily exercise routine when I’m living in the new house.” “I’m never going to wear anything that I’d be ashamed to be seen wearing when I’m living in the new house.” “I’m going to be a nicer, kinder, less critical person in the new house.” “I’m going to look at my reflection in the mirror every day, and instead of finding faults, marvel at how lucky I am to be such a beautiful human being in the new house.” Well, you get the picture, right? It’s so exciting to think of the fantastic new person I’m going to become just because I’ve moved into a new house.

8. How have your ideas/thoughts about moving changed throughout your life?

When I was a kid, I wanted my parents to move into a house that had five bedrooms, so I could have my very own big bedroom. (We only had four bedrooms, which meant sisters sharing rooms.) I’m not quite sure why I wanted this, because it seems when I did have my own bedroom for a period, I spent every night sleeping in my brother’s room, since he had two beds in his room, and I only had one. I never wanted to move to a different town, though, or to have to switch schools. By the same token, I had wonderful fantasies about moving to a place where I had a best friend who lived right next door, the way it seemed many of the characters in the books I read had. We had woods right next door to our house on one side and a cranky old couple on the other side. When I was a young adult, moving was just a matter of course. Roommates came and went, rent increased, etc. necessitating moves, and then salaries increased, allowing more options. I always thought, though, that I’d be moving from place to place all over the world, which has never happened. I never dreamed I’d find myself living in Connecticut twenty years after I first arrived. Makes me wonder about Pennsylvania, where I don’t imagine being for twenty years, either.

That’s it. See your blog over there on my blogroll? Then consider yourself tagged for this meme.

P.S. For those of you interested in my nieces’ recovery, you can my sister's blog, where she's posted a couple of things since the accident. My youngest niece is having surgery on her back today and will pretty much have to be immobile for the next few months. Both nieces continue to amaze me with their strength, courage, and wonderful senses of humor.