Sunday, December 30, 2007

When the Time Comes...

IMG_0066 copy

In Blackwater Woods (excerpt)
by Mary Oliver

To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

My grandma died last night. She was 89. When I talked to her a day or so before Christmas, she asked as she always asked, "When do you think you'll be coming to visit?" I couldn't say. I was prepared to take a leave of absence and help care for her if needed. She'd been under 24 hour care for a couple of weeks. My mom, my aunt, and a few friends were sharing caregiver duties. Mom told me that grandma was more confused, couldn't remember something that happened an hour before, but she could remember big pleasant things, like my calling. Mom tossed out the Alzheimer word, but it sounded more to me like the withdrawal that comes before death. The happenings of this physical world become less important. It also seemed Grandma was getting less oxygen, her lung cancer depriving her of that brain food. Mom told me they had a nice Christmas, with everyone remembering old times.

Now I am thinking about going back to Wisconsin, of visiting the house without my Grandma there. As much as her absence, I am thinking about the dismantling of her house, her big house that she'd always wanted, filled with the keepsakes of five generations. I think of sleeping for the last time on the bed that was always "my bed," and before my time, my aunt's bed. I think of the bed my grandma and grandpa shared for years, and my grandma alone for another decade. Who in my family will take these, or will they be sold, the past lives of these objects meaning nothing to the new owners? So many photos, scrapbooks, pieces of a life, how will they be scattered? We each will receive pieces of her, physical mementos, reminders for our hearts.

My grandma (and grandpa) and their house were always a refuge for me and my brothers. Theirs was a place we could find unconditional love, treats (ice cream every night), and none of the negative judgements. Even as I let her go, she will always be a part of me.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Better Together

Today, like any other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don't open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
~Rumi ...translated by Coleman Barks
Today Steve and I celebrate our anniversary. We officially married on December 27, 2002.


Notice the date just before the end of the year. We bought our duplex together that year, and when we thought of the complicated tax preparations, we decided to make it a little easier. So many legal documents are rolled up into that one signature. I know, that doesn't sound very romantic. From our point of view, we didn't and don't need that document to forge our commitment and love for each other. I was a little ambivalent about it, thinking of my gay friends who cannot get married and resolve so many legal matters in this way. This morning Steve and I were saying it didn't make much difference to us. In fact, we've never had anybody question our right to speak for each other. All we have to do is say we're married and the doctor will tell all, or the insurance will cover us.

Steve took this photo of us Christmas night. He spent Christmas day with Krissy. He asked me how my day went, and noticed my lack of enthusiasm. I didn't want to say so, but I'd been feeling lonely. I didn't want him to feel bad about spending Christmas Eve with me, and Christmas day with Krissy. In the end, I was glad I confessed, because allowing the words to come out, I realized my pain was about something deeper than that. I'd meant to do so much more on my vacation, and I missed him that day as a distraction from the things I didn't do. Also, we were going back to work the next day. His sabbatical over, we'd have no more relaxed days together, very few chances to dine out for breakfast. Thus the look.

As he left for work today, Steve said, "Don't spend all day reading a sad book of poetry." He'd seen the book in my hand, Risking Everything: 110 Poems of Love and Revelation.

I said, "It's about love!"
He said, "And poems about love are sad. At least bittersweet."
In a way he was right. Poems about love, or more especially about revelation, are about death. This will all go away.

I don't see it as sad, though death still scares me even after 20 years of a Buddhist practice. I see it as a reminder to let my divinity shine.

I'm not doing that when I'm wallowing in loneliness because I'm seeking distraction from inertia. Sometimes I escape in reading, as Rumi cautions against. Often I escape in TV. I watched way too many Christmas movies this year, even though there are only a few types: Santa (Miracle on 34th St), Love (A Holiday Affair), A Christmas Carol, and It's a Wonderful Life. I suppose I could include a magical category, but those can usually fall into those other types. At least all those holiday movies were uncomplicated fun, and always had a happy ending.

On February 7 it will be our 10th anniversary of the day we first met. For me, it was love within a couple of days. Steve declared love a few days after that, but admitted a few years later that he was slow to feel his was a deeper love. He is careful like that. It is easy to love him. If we're walking along a sidewalk, he will reach out to touch me, or put his arm around me, and I think, oh my, am I showing my love enough? I need to reach out more. and I reach out to touch him. It goes like that. Neither of us ever seem to think, I do too much. Rather, we keep trying to do more for the other, and my gratitude never ends.

Between us, it is not the way Marge Piercy says in "To Have Without Holding":

"It hurts to love wide open
stretching the muscles that feel
as if they are made of wet plaster,
then of blunt knives, then
of sharp knives."
[snip] have
and not to hold, to love
with minimized malice, hunger
and anger moment by moment balanced.

I don't find that finely tuned tension that Piercy writes of. Rather, I feel that we amplify each other, bring out the best in each other. We have each other, and like Piercy, we do not hold tight. We value the autonomy of the other, and the returns are so sweet. When I have loved others wide open, there has been this pain of stretched muscles, but with Steve, who so generously met my passion of a few days, I found warm embrace. We have found the sweet trust of non-ownership. We don't expect or want to be the only one, the soul mate, the one who is entitled, and through that not-holding, we find a peace that comes with never losing each other.

Tonight we went to the restaurant where we got married 5 years ago, Takahashi. We go there often, but tonight after reading these love poems, and remembering our 10 years together, I was excited about revisiting the night we tied the knot. Our same waitress was there, and when I said, "You'll never guess what night it is," she said, "Would it be an anniversary?" She told us there have been three marriages, three proposals, and when Steve asked, thinking of course not, "Yes, there was! One divorce." They wanted to give us free ice cream, but we didn't feel up to ginger, green tea, or red bean ice cream.

We decided to get dessert at Palio. A chocolate mousse tort for Steve, Red Velvet Cake for me. Divine. Once home, we finished the Scrabble game that we've been playing for over a year. We usually only play this travel Scrabble at Takahashi, and lately the food has been arriving much faster.

Santa was very very good to me

This was the last photo I took with my old camera:
new camera: Canon PowerShot Elph

Santa gave me this new camera with 8.2 megapixels and anti-shake technology. I don't know exactly what those mean, but I do know I can capture our cat so you can get a glimpse of her cuteness now. Old camera just gave us a black blob. I kinda knew Santa was bringing me this gift because we looked at various cameras in the store.

This is the first photo I took with my new camera:
first photo with Elph: snow on Xmas
We had a tiny bit of snow on Christmas Day.

Among other things we had this
for our Christmas Eve dinner.

Steve asked, "Are we having that dragon food?"
"Dragon food?"
"You know, that thing you got at the farmer's market that looks like a dragon."
"Oooohhh. I think of that as the fractal vegetable."

For the life of me I couldn't remember the name of it, but I kept thinking of Brendan Fraser reading "Dragon Rider" and talking about the humunculus. The folks at the farmer's market told me it is the father of broccoli and cauliflower. I don't know about that, but I did find from some creative googling including the word fractal that it is called Romanesco. I like Dragon better. It tasted a bit like cauliflower, only more green, that is, bitter. I liked it, Steve not so much.

Goodbye, old camera. Steve wants to have it.
old camera: Canon PowerShot 3.2 megapixels

Steve's dad gives him a Christmas carving every year. These and the tree make up most of our Christmas decor.
christmas carvings

Monday, December 24, 2007

Winter Colors

May all beings be happy. May all beings be at peace.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Breakfast Around Town

I've been on vacation the last couple of weeks. I meant to do a bit more writing buuuuttt we all know how that goes. I also meant to spend a bit of time with Steve while his sabbatical vacation wound down. It's been nice to relax, get some things done around the house, and go out to eat together. Steve's been on a breakfast food kick, so we've been going to various diners around the city. He's found that if he eats a really big breakfast, his day goes better. Me, I have more energy if I have a light breakfast of fruit, and I usually like to eat the traditional breakfast food for lunch.

We found that the restaurant around the corner, Sckavone's, the place I like for an easy-going place to hang out, use the wifi and maybe have a spiked Italian soda, has a decent pancake, along with the other breakfast usuals.

Steve's really been into the pancakes. I usually like eggs, potatoes, toast, but like a taste of the pancakes. I get to have a few bites of his. The best place for pancakes was, wait for it, The Original Pancake House. I don't mean The Original Hotcake House, a place closer to home that we don't like to go to anymore...they have great pancakes but cheap syrup and bad coffee. I don't mean just any Original Pancake House either, but the original Original Pancake House. We saw the chain featured on a travel channel Top Five breakfast show. Krissy got the chance to go with him first when she took some time off work last week. (Steve took my photo at TOPH.)

Steve told me he used to go all the time to TOPH when he was a kid in Aurora, Illinois, and here I thought he'd first heard about it on the show. He just hadn't tried it here in Portland because there usually is a seriously long wait. In Aurora, he told me, they never had to wait. He went there with his grandpa, who was a cop. The waitstaff always hustled them to a table, and somehow he got it into his child's head that people were waiting because they wanted to wait. If he'd known they got to skip waiting in line because his grandpa was a cop, he'd have been embarrassed.
Another day, we tried TOPH again, but this day the wait was indeed too long, so we went to a diner a few blocks away that serves breakfast all day, and which we'd figured was a backup plan for people who couldn't get in down the street. The Golden Touch became our own backup plan. I was fascinated by the decor, most of which didn't seem to have changed since mid-century. The food was good enough. Steve appreciated that his over-medium eggs were actually over-medium, and not runny. I especially liked my lunch choice, which seemed to me a carnivore's attempt to provide a vegetarian option without being too familiar with usual vegetarian offerings. It was called a veggie melt, and was scrambled eggs with onion, peppers, some other vegetables maybe, and cheese on a sandwich. It never occurred to me to put scrambled eggs on bread before, even though I like a fried egg sandwich.
Before I get to today's restaurant, let me think. Did we go anywhere else? We must have. Well yes, of course, we went to Genie's several times over the course of Steve's vacation. Gotta love their Eggs Benedict.
Funny thing is, Steve just walked in, and he told me he's been wanting to go to The Original Pancake House for oh 15 years. He's mentioned it to me, to Krissy, to previous girlfriends, but none of us expressed any particular interest in going there. I don't remember. Maybe he pointed to it in passing and I didn't know what he was pointing at. Suddenly within 24 hours both Krissy and I wanted to go there. I was interested because the tv show featured the Dutch Baby pancake that came out of the oven kind of like a souffle. I'd never eaten such a thing. Steve got the buttermilk pancakes, yummy unto death. I want to go back to try the sourdough pancakes.
Oh, there was at least one late night visit to the Jubitz truck stop. We were reminded of that place because of another travel show, the top 10 truck stops around the world. What a hoot. Steve liked the diner food there more than I did.
I'm sure I'm missing someplace. Today, we went to Sanborn's. Krissy introduced Steve to this place. The pancakes were great, I got my usual taste from Steve. I decided to go for the breakfast burrito with a mimosa. I remember getting breakfast burritos in the sleaziest casino on the river in Laughlin, NV sheesh 18 years ago, Don Laughlin's Riverside Resort Hotel and Casino. (That place incidentally is where I saw Dick Tracy and got my T-Shirt for a ticket. The theater inside the casino served booze before serving booze was cool in movie theaters. If my ex secretly reads this, that will take him back.) Quick things with scrambled eggs, beans, cheese, and green chiles. This was not that breakfast burrito. I could choose my insides, and I chose eggs, green chiles (of course), and jack cheese. On the outside I also got black beans, sour cream, guacamole, mango salsa, and lime. And Santa Fe style potatoes on the side. Yum. Mee.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Book Group: The Last Town on Earth

The Last Town on Earth by Thomas Mullen was suggested for our library book groups by the Multnomah County Health Department. If a book group chose to read this, the department would contribute the books, and send a pandemic health department expert to the group. We chose this for our November read.

Jessica, our pandemic expert, was excited about this opportunity to work with the library. She loves the library, and participates in Everybody Reads as a library patron. This was her brainchild, and she hopes to make something like this as big an event as Everybody Reads. (Believe me, it is big here in Stumptown, known for its readers. I've had people stop me and exclaim, "Oh, that's the book everybody's reading, isn't it? Do you like it?") The health department? Not so well-known. She was excited about the greater visibility the department could gain by partnering with the library. She'd heard the author on NPR, and took it from there.

The Great Influenza, a non-fiction book about the 1918 flu pandemic, was considered for this joint venture, but she and the other planners felt this fictional account would be more approachable.

Up to a point, it was. We readers enjoyed the background history we learned, not only about the flu epidemic, but about the unions, the Wobblies, feminists, and their influence in the Pacific Northwest. As a group, we felt the characters and plot failed to live up to the subject. (It's unusual for us all to share the same opinion, to be fair our numbers were small just before the Thanksgiving holiday.) I tend to enjoy a plot that is driven by interesting characters. This seemed more to us like the author had a plot in mind, and created characters to fill those roles...not so believable to us. One person summed it up, that it seemed to be written with the movie in mind. She already knew the actors: Tommy Lee Jones for the town's leader, Jude Law for Graham, the stiff-upper-lipped young man just trying to protect his family. I was a little annoyed at the implication that an attempt to create a utopia was doomed due to human nature. Another felt the book started out well, but then got too simplistic.

One of the first things Jessica told us is that this story is a good illustration that quarantines don't work. I'd been wondering about the effectiveness of the masks. Wouldn't a sick person contaminating the outside of a healthy person's mask still manage to spread the disease? Just so. It would be more effective to have sick people wear the masks. The 1918 flu epidemic was what they would call a "category 5" flu. The world hasn't seen such a flu since. There were some global pandemics in the 50s and 60s, but not like this. Recently it was discovered that this flu did indeed come from a bird. (They got samples from bodies frozen in the permafrost.)

The bird flu existing now is difficult to pass from person to person, but a few cases have. As to whether there will be a bird flu that is easily's a crap shoot. Jessica told us plans would trigger if "anywhere in the world a confirmed cluster of a new flu" has a certain "fatality ratio." Plans can't include a vaccine really, because we can't predict the strain of a pandemic. Part of the problem in 1918, the US government so controlled the media that communities couldn't learn needed details about what worked in other communities.

We learned that here in Multnomah County, the "community mitigation strategies" for a category 5 pandemic come from the best practices that cities and towns took in 1918. Portland happened to utilize these, and didn't fare quite so badly.

These practices are:

  • multiple social distancing strategies (don't get too close)
  • cancelling school classes for up to 3 months
  • urging businesses to stagger shifts so less people are working at one time
  • if an individual is sick, urging families to stay home voluntarily

Another health dept expert, Amy S, has been perusing the archives about the 1918 epidemic in Portland. The first case of "Spanish influenza" in Multnomah County was reported on October 15, 1918. Because of the US media blackout, the big news coming out of Spain made it seem as though it originated there, thus the name. In the Oregonian, on September 29, 1918, 85,000 reported dead in Boston. In Portland, shipyards were affected, businesses "concerned as to the loss of ship production."

Challenges faced in a pandemic? Jessica said, "The closing of the schools: teens get antsy." [spoiler alert] In the book, 20-something adults were the culprits when they got antsy. Also, the global nature of businesses. For instance, if the health department seeks cooperation from businesses in closing the Lloyd Center Mall, they may have to call owners in China. Jessica was clear that Multnomah County doesn't have the authority to enforce martial law, nor did it seem she wished for it. She emphasized that within the department they work towards consensus. Her overall message seemed to be that best practices involved cooperation, not authoritarianism.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Book Group: Three Cups of Tea

Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace...One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. (The book was written by Relin who interviewed Mortenson extensively. Mortenson was...and probably still is...too busy to write a book himself.)

I read this in October, and had the honor of presenting the author, David Oliver Relin, at our library book group that month. He will be speaking one more time for Multnomah County Library at our Writer's Talking Series on January 19.

Before the event I did some googling, and found Greg Mortenson was sought out for expert information when Pakistan's 7.6 earthquake occurred in 2005. I was eager to ask David if the schools and the bridge that Mortenson helped bring into being were still intact. They were.

Haji Ali said, blowing on his bowl, "The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family, and for our family we are prepared to do anything...even die," he said, laying his hand warmly on Mortenson's own. "Doctor Greg, you must make time to share three cups of tea. We may be uneducated. But we are not stupid. We have lived and survived here for a long time."

Greg Mortenson failed to climb K2, and while he headed back down the mountain, he took a wrong turn, missing the bridge that would take him to the village where he'd begun the climb. He found himself in Korphe, another village not found on his maps, and the people there welcomed him and brought him back to health. He happened to ask them to take him to their school. There was none. The children met under the cold sky and used sticks to write in the dirt. From that point he made it his mission to bring schools to those remote mountain villages in Afghanistan.

The people there welcomed secular schools that also would teach girls from the non-profit that Mortenson founded, Central Asia Institute, or CAI. The Pakistani government didn't bother with schools this far removed. But before they wanted a school, the villagers wanted a bridge so they could build the school. That bridge not only helped bring the school, it changed the lives of the women in the small village. David Relin told us marriage is a big deal there. When a woman leaves her family to live with her husband, she may never see them in her life again. One ridge in these mountains might as well be a hundred miles. This little bridge allowed them to visit their families on a weekly basis.

Excerpts, an interview, and audio with Mortenson can be found on Beliefnet here. From Beliefnet:

Often I ask the children, or the elderly, “Why are you doing this?” They’ll say, “This is what Allah wants,” or “This is what is right.” Over here if you ask that question to somebody, they’ll say, “Well, I’m doing this because if I do that, then this will happen and it will lead me here.” It’s very linear. Over there they rely on their faith and consciousness I guess you could say--thinking from your heart.

Has that become stronger for you also?

Well, certainly. The more I do this, I rely on my conscious and my faith. It often drives people here a little bit crazy. But I realized that things can work, especially when you have a dedication to something, and you’re driven by your heart and your compassion for something

David told us that CAI would never be something big like Mercy Corps. (CAI, I can just hear the conspiracy theorists...) That is probably for the best. What makes CAI work are hands-on partnerships that Greg creates with the people he helps. David said it is an example of the kinds of organizations we need to cultivate peace. Still, compared to Saudi oil money (that funds the Taliban madrassas), it is a drop in the bucket.

Greg Mortenson said in Parade, "If we try to resolve terrorism with military might and nothing else, then we will be no safer than we were before 9/11. If we truly want a legacy of peace for our children, we need to understand that this is a war that will ultimately be won with books, not with bombs."

How many times do we have to say that? We pacifists have been saying that all along. Why then do they keep dropping bombs? There is an amusing (now) incident in the book where Greg is interrogated by US investigators who obviously have little clue about the Pakistani and Afghani people they want to know about. They asked Greg if he'd ever met Osama.

David began his talk by telling us that he'd been to all kinds of groups in the previous several months. No matter the group, everybody is fed up with the war in Iraq and the "war on terror." He said, "The enemy is not Osama, Sadaam, the enemy is ignorance. We're going after the wrong enemy." He said we need to turn our attention to the root causes of terrorism, poverty and the need for education. He told us one of the things we could do to counter our own ignorance is to "try to remain sensitive to the phrase over there." So much of what passes for news encompasses anything in the Middle East as "over there." Any bad thing is "over there."

To one book group member's wish that we would address our own poverty here in the US rather than meddle in other countries' affairs, David countered that he's done work on child poverty here in the US. The poorest area in the US, Star County, Texas, is rich compared to these poor mountain villages in Pakistan and Afghanistan. (That just brings us back around to how simple, and cheap, it would be to stop war and foster peace.)

David clarified an important piece about Afghani politics for us. The Taliban are thugs and gangsters who want payback. (Want another example of that? Read The Kite Runner.) You want to do business, you pay your dues. They don't really care whether girls are learning. This surfaced in the book about one of the fatwas put on Greg's head: the local gangster just wanted some kickback.

David kept himself out of the book as the author, it was all about Greg Mortenson. In the beginning, he does chronicle his first hairy helicopter ride piloted by Brigadier General Bhangoo, who had been Pakistan President Musharraf's personal pilot. He told us that sadly, General Bhangoo had died in a plane crash several months before this October talk. The man was flying an ultralight around K2, intending to fly it around the world.

Other tidbits: David's main translator was Ghulam Parvi, one of Greg Mortenson's main supporters and important local staff of CAI. He said he is a "personal repository of Balti culture." Freaky moment: ibex head in the helicoptor. If I remember right, it was someone's illicit dinner. Ibex are protected, but, um, General Bhangoo has his connections. David showed us some of his photos from the book, and some extras. One he particularly felt needed to be remembered, a photo of the fateful bridge that Greg Mortenson missed when he found the village of Korphe.

The teachers in the schools are graduates of the schools. They have an equivalent of a 5th or 6th grade education, but that is what the villages need, along with basic hygiene and health knowledge. The teachers then get teacher training workshops during the summers. The earthquake zones "are still a nightmare." CAI dropped tents at the sites of the schools that crumbled. If someone wishes to sponsor one school, David told us, CAI asks for $50,000. That's $25,000 to build it, and $25,000 to keep it running and in supplies for a decade.

David began each chapter with a quote. I especially liked this one, and thought it summed up the wise simplicity of the people that Mortenson grew to love:

No human, nor any living thing, survives long under the eternal sky. The most beautiful women, the most learned men, even Mohammed, who heard Allah's own voice, all did wither and die. All is temporary. The sky outlives everything. Even suffering. ~Bowa Johar, Balti poet, and grandfather of Mauzafer Ali.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Movies Seen

Mansfield Park (BBC) (1983 miniseries)
This is BBC. So the sound quality isn't that great. So there aren't dramatic Hollywood plot points. The actors can really act, and the writing of Jane Austen is allowed to shine since the story doesn't have to fit in an hour and a half. Normally I would be frustrated with the very prescribed motions of the society this poor girl, Fanny Price, must navigate. But Fanny made it work for her, and the story was really about the expression of love within this structure. Fanny inspires love because she makes herself so indispensable to the ones she loves. I felt so light-hearted and happy after watching this, Steve said I should watch more things like this.

The L Word Season 4
This series is addictive, what can I say? Lesbian drama. The twink-girl slut of the first season is now the responsible older sister doing mom-like things. Not quite as many sexy scenes, but they're still there. A cute chica named Papi with old-fashioned Latino charm has taken her place as the largest hub on the chart.

Tivo suggested the second (see below) so I got the first from the library. Very dark and blue and gothic. Vampires and lycans came from two ancestors originally infected a long time before. They've been at war for centuries, and plots and betrayals could mean the end of the vampires. This would be another one of those gaming-influenced movies, a lot of rapid-fire gunning, endless enemies and copious mowing down of bodies.

Underworld: Evolution
A continuation of the story, in which the human Michael, now lycan, and the vampire lycan-hunter Selene seek to find their origins and prevent the uber-vampire from awakening his more deadly brother who is the original Lycan. Michael is very special, descended from both branches of the werewolves and vampires.

Interesting crossover: the actress who plays a vampire that helps Selene in Underworld is the actress who plays the human love interest and crime-solving reporter in a new vampire show, Moonlight. I've been watching that too, not bad, pretty people, but as far as pretty people solving mysteries, nothing so exciting as Veronica Mars. (Just watched the final season on DVD.) There too is another degree of crossover. The simmering bad boy vampire friend of the good guy vampire in Moonlight is portrayed by Jason Dohring, the simmeringly compelling bad-boy boyfriend of Veronica Mars. I keep waiting for Moonlight to give his role a bigger, more edgy piece of the plot.

Dark Angel "They designed her to be a perfect soldier. A human weapon. Then she escaped. ...she must fight to discover her destiny."
Tivo recommended this from SiTv. It was playing every day, but only lasted two seasons, so I'm already done. Too bad, it was a neat sci-fi plot just beginning to hit its stride. Genetically engineered kids broke out of a secret military project and years later are finding their way in an economically crumpled Seattle. In the second season, a cabal of other naturally-born uber-humans begin to emerge as the bad guys.

Splash updated for Generation Y. Or would that be Z? Anyway, mermaid story for teen girls. Steve actually watched this with me rather than move to another room. I guess he wanted to encourage me to watch light-hearted fluff rather than those bloody murder movies. It was nice (hearing Meg Ryan in my head saying that).

Librarian: Return to King Solomon's Mines
I was excited about this, another made-for-TV movie about The Librarian. The first one was campy B-movie fun, with a geeky Indiana Jones type saving the world through archival librarianship. This one was calling it in, filling in the blank with the required plot points and action gags. There could have been some simmer with the geeky archaeologist who could be a cheeky love interest (cute how they sparred over how many PhDs they had) but it was just a piece of the plot, thrown in for a little spark.

Sweet Charity
The best part was Sammy Davis Jr. Ah, to have seen him in concert. Steve was that lucky.

I liked this as a musical well enough. There was something familiar about Sammy's piece, Rhythm of Life. A few days later it came to me, the repeating tune comes up in one of my favorites, The Nightmare Before Christmas, in Kidnap the Sandy Claws, I believe.

You know, this gets me, the whole suing over stolen musical riffs. There's been a long tradition of piggy-backing and invocation of influences in music. It's wildly rampant in musicals, even a bit required. So why do artists get sued over the use of another artist's tune? Art influences and builds upon itself, no individual creates in a vacuum.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Books Read

I'm just about caught up with reviewing the books I've read for the past couple of months. Coming soon, the two from my book group that I want to spend more time on. One included an author visit. I took notes.

I plan to keep adding more to my goodreads, at times even adding some I read way back, as well as some I've already kept track of here.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
I'm inspired to read Sherman Alexie's other books. This is his first book for teens. It's gotta be tough straddling two worlds. Rather than blaming all on racism, you get a glimpse of the difference in rules that teens live by that the 'part-time Indian' must navigate.
This is fiction, but fairly autobiographical. I couldn't say it better than Sherman Alexie himself, see this video.

Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale
I love a good fairy tale, and this was one was based on one I do not remember encountering before, Maid Maleen. A princess is locked up in a tower for seven years because she won't marry the king that her father chose for her. She says she loves another. At least she has her maid. The author encountered the tale while seeking inspiration for another book, and found herself asking questions about the maid. "What did she do to deserve such punishment? How did she feel about being locked away?" Ms. Hale was frustrated, so she wrote the story herself, about the maid. We also get to find out why the princess was so adamant about refusing to marry that other king. As the title reveals, they don't spend seven years in the tower in this tale. An interesting side note, while the author made this all about the maid, there are other similar fairy tales that really do have the maid taking center stage.

Poltergeist (Greywalker Book 2) by Kat Richardson
I liked the world created in the first book, the Grey intersection between the regular world and the world of magic and spirits and beastly creatures, but I thought the style could get better. I decided to check out the second to see if the author improves. Not really. She relies on our previous introduction to the Grey to give us a fairly standard poltergeist mystery. I think I'll catch up on Anita Blake instead.

Tale of Despereaux (audio) by Kate DiCamillo
I save my audio books for walking. We've had some windy rainy weather here in the Pacific Northwest, and while it wasn't quite so bad here in Portland, in other parts of the state tens of thousands of people were without power for for several days, and floods made rivers out of streets and basements. I liked this book, but it wasn't quite compelling enough for me to brave the rainy sidewalks or finally join the old-school gym a block away. I imagine it might be more compelling for the readers of intended age.

The reader is talented, takes on different voices for the different characters. As narrator, he addresses the reader, or in this case, listener, directly. This mouse, Despereaux, prefers to read books in the library rather than eat them, like other mice. He also gets unusual ideas for a mouse from a book he loves that begins, "Once upon a time..." Since he lives in a king's castle, he doesn't have to go far to find a princess, and a quest just like a knight.

The Obesity Myth by Paul Campos
The western world and the United States especially is insanely preoccupied with dieting. Normal weights of normal people are considered overweight. People believe being "overweight" will cause them to die young. Some doctors still believe this. People undergo life-threatening surgeries that induce starvation diets so that they will lose weight. The multi-billion dollar dieting industry continues to sell its message even while more people catch on that diets don't work. Like Eric Oliver with Fat Politics, Paul Campos began his research believing the obesity myth and he just wanted to get to the bottom of it. What he found instead were fictions and obsessions. I'm sure I will write more about this. Meanwhile, some of the myths can be explored here. I'm considering buying this book for people I know who still waste time and self-esteem worrying about their weight.

Searoad by Ursula LeGuin
My favorite author only gets better with age. Her usual sci-fi genre is only hinted at in this more literary work, with one character escaping into the fantasy of an other-worldly hero that needs her help. Each chapter could be read separately as a short story, in fact I read the one about the librarian's affair with the bookseller in a collection of stories about libraries. Each story focusing on a character weaves the history of a town on the coast, a story of women embodied in metaphor. The foam women "lie at the longest reach of the waves, rounded and curded, shaking and trembling, shivering hips and quivering buttocks, torn by the stiff, piercing wind, dispersed to nothing, gone." The rain women "are tall presences of water and light walking the long sands against the darkness of the forest." A person can rest a while, watch the tides, observe the town through the lives of these women. Save time for musing, Ursula is worth it.

I Sold My Soul On Ebay by Hemant Mehta
At first he resisted the moniker, but as the media that picked up his story wouldn't let it go, Hemant finally embraced being known as the guy who sold his soul on ebay. While in college, he helped the University of Illinois in Chicago establish its first secular student group, Students WithOut Religious Dogma. As part of his effort to establish respectful dialog with religious people, he sold his time to attend worship service to the highest bidder on ebay. For every $10, he would spend an hour in a church. His time sold for $504. The winner sent him to several churches in several states, and what came out of a was a critique for Christians on how approachable their churches are. I personally would not like the churches he liked for the reasons that he did (entertainment?), but I thought his friendliness quite admirable. This guy is worth watching as a spokesperson for us non-god types.