Archive for April, 2007

Karen kindly tagged me for a post about what I’m currently reading, which means I don’t have to come up with my own idea for today. It’s timely because I just discovered the riches of my local branch of the city library. There are plenty of partly-read books scattered around the house, and I think of them like volocanoes, in varying stages of activity. Here are the most active:

Hard Revolution, George Pellecanos.

book2.jpgPellecanos is a gritty Washington D.C. crime writer, and in this book he takes on the period in D.C.’s history leading up to the riots. Having spent a few years living in the neighborhoods that were once destroyed by the riots, I have a strong sense of place as I listen to this book (it’s a book on CD). Old-timers there refer to certain sections of the city as “before the riots” and “after the riots.” The lead character, Derek Strange, is a newly minted cop charged with patrolling his part of town with a white partner. What I enjoy most in this book is the delicate, charged interactions between blacks and whites as some of them try to find new common ground in the Civil Rights movement, while others don’t. What I don’t like is how masculine this book is. There’s a lot of talk of muscles and respect and weapons and cars and “that’s a damn good woman” type of stuff. Can’t relate.

Blink, Malcom Gladwell

book3.jpgMy coworker left this book sitting out on her desk for a few days in plain sight so of course I snagged it to read on lunch breaks. It’s an interesting exploration of the snap judgment and its usefulness and pitfalls, by way of art forgery, marriage, New Coke, and implicit bias.

Thirteen Moons, Charles Frazier

book1.jpgJust finished this one; historical fiction about a white orphan who grows up among Cherokees as President Jackson makes it his mission to remove them to the far west. I really enjoyed Cold Mountain; this book is a little more diffuse and meandering, but still satisfying. There are lots of good descriptions of food in it, which reveal plenty about class and culture in the mishmash mix of people at the frontier.

Exclusion and Embrace, Miroslav Volf

book4.jpgThe plan was to read a chapter of this book a month and discuss each one with friends. The reality is that I read it in chunks of a few paragraphs at a time, and it seems that my friends have fallen completely off the Volf wagon. Volf is talking about the new community in Christ and how it relates to place, forgiveness, relationships, and identity. Good stuff, but you see why it could take awhile.

On deck: The Audacity of Hope, Barack Obama; Prodigal Summer, Barbara Kingsolver; Ordinary Mornings of a Coliseum, Norman Dubie.

If you’re reading one or more books at the moment, consider yourself tagged.

Esme was very careful with the ficus. In the old days she used to drag them around by their tasteful white wicker root baskets but it turned out that if you put one near the window in the sun all its leaves would fall off. They would grow back and then when you moved it to the shade they would fall off again. Those fibrous leaves were hard to vacuum up. Now she just kept the trees on either side of the pulpit with the white lights still wound around them. For weddings they’d run a green extension cord from the back wall and presto, twinkle-o, ready to go. What was it with ficus and weddings, anyway? All the girls wanted them. And the white lights, and some precarious arch from the Rent-A-Center as a, what did they call it, “focal point.” The worst part about the ficus was dusting the leaves. The assistant pastor said that the whole point of the ficus was the shiny leaves and if they weren’t shiny then why did the church board vote to pay for the real thing instead of getting the lower-priced fake ones? It was incumbent upon Esme, he said, incumbent, that she be a good steward of the ficus. She was thinking of having business cards printed up: Esme Howard, Ficus Steward. Or maybe Ficus Stewardess? In her mind trees and plants were outdoorsy and you shouldn’t have to dust outdoorsy things. They grew in dirt, for goodness sake, with a layer of green-gray moss over the soil for good taste. The assistant pastor also said that ficus were a type of fig tree. They remind us of our Lord’s homeland. The fig, a mighty symbol, he added, staring over her shoulder as if into Jerusalem. She’d never seen a fruit on either ficus but now while she dusted she sang, “Oh give us some figgy pudding, oh give us some figgy pudding,” and thought about those tiny, tiny seeds inside figs. More like grit than seeds. In a perfect world a fig would have a pit that you could eat around, and the leaves on the tree would stay shiny of their own accord. She took up her cloth and moved to the next branch, individually wiping each bright, elliptical leaf.

Sometimes I’m really tempted to blog about work. Encountering the intricacies of my workplace culture for the first time, it seems like ripe, low-hanging fruit ready for the picking. The grapes! The nectarines! But, no. In general, I try to avoid it. To me, my workplace is sort of like a person and I apply to it the standards that I apply to other people. Though I’m not perfectly consistent, the intent is to protect other people’s privacy. A blog is essentially an international public forum and while my particular blog is not being read by thousands (or anything like it), you never know who’s looking. So, while I have chosen to air my private life worldwide, I can’t assume that other people and organizations would do the same. When I’m blogging about people other than myself, I usually try to get permission from them first ( if they are bloggers I just assume it’s okay). Some people, like Dr. G, have just given a blanket permission. Other people can have, in this forum at least, some say in whether (if not how) they are portrayed.

When it comes to my work organization, I believe it has the right to determine how it wants to present itself to the world, especially since reputation is important to its success. If I were a journalist investigating the organization, that would be one thing; as an insider, I can’t disassociate myself from it enough. If I could keep both myself and my workplace anonymous, then I might be more willing, but sometime in the last few months this blog became connected to my first and last name, which can in turn be easily connected to my organization. I have no particular desire to hide my identity, so that’s no big deal except that it further restricts the subjects I feel free to talk about on the blog for the sake of people and organizations associated with me.

Thinking about it, I realize that I do talk about Dr. G’s work sometimes. Probably I should stop. That’s a little bit different, though, because his work is so independent that the few things I mention bear little relevance for his organization as a whole. Still, probably I should think more about how what I write could affect his professional reputation and err on the side of caution.

The same thing should apply to writing about my specific church, too, though for some reason that organization feels like a somewhat different category. Is it?

I tend to have an outsidery, satirical perspective on organizations and their quirky cultural mileus, and a lot of things strike me as funny or make me roll my eyes, and that is bound to come across in my blogging. So it’s probably best to just leave it alone.

The line gets fuzzy when I’m focusing on my experiences and ideas, which are personal and only indirectly related to other people and places. If I inscribe the circle too small it starts to get boring. But maybe that’s a false assumption. Here’s an idea: you can challenge me with the most mundane topic you can think of and see what I can do with it. That might be fun. Say, a dirty kitchen sponge.

When I’m doing creative writing for myself or for official publication, though, all bets are off. I will use any of my past and present experience in any form I choose and make any kind of judgment I want to about any of it. That is bound to include people and organizations. Maybe it’s a contradictory stance but really, if I had to worry about all that stuff I would never get anything written.  Double standard!  Awesome!

Here’s a blogging code of ethics.

And here’s the Colbert Report Metaphor thing

And here’s a cute cat I kind of know who could be included in a picture book. Vote for Chloe!

P.S.  Karen– I dominated in Risk so thoroughly that I ran out of pieces.  Beginner’s luck, I’m told, as well as bad strategy.  In a rematch today I got trounced.  My little pink squares seemed to cower more and more as the game wore on.  They knew their days were numbered.

Well, last night I opted to play Risk with Dr. G instead of  making a blog post.  If the internet has suffered by that choice, so be it.  Also, most of what I think about lately is work. I don’t blog about work. So blogging time comes around and I draw a blank.  Any requests on topics of  interest?

I just stayed up really extra late to see Stephen Colbert take on Sean Penn in a duel of metaphors.  Completely worth it.  A few weeks ago, apparently, Stephen Colbert made fun of him for trotting out some mangled doofus excuse for a metaphor about George Bush.  It involved underwear and we’ll leave it at that.  Colbert challenged Sean Penn to a metaphor duel, which the actor accepted. Tonight they each had a metaphorical buzzer (an apple and a squirt gun) and there was an official moderator:  Robert Pinsky, former poet laureate.  There was a screen with categories, sound effects, and prompts.   Pinsky announced the category and they would each give it their best shot.  There was Robert Frost going up in flames.  There were rhymes, tears, and a fistfight; references to Shakespeare and Oprah; and correct and incorrect answers.  Also a complete Pinsky poem, though it was only onscreen for a few seconds and seemed to be on vellum.  Funny as all get out, if you like that sort of thing, which I do.  You can probably catch it on a Friday evening re-run or on YouTube or on iTunes.  Best TV comedy segment of the year.

What American accent do you have?

Your Result: The Midland

 

“You have a Midland accent” is just another way of saying “you don’t have an accent.” You probably are from the Midland (Pennsylvania, southern Ohio, southern Indiana, southern Illinois, and Missouri) but then for all we know you could be from Florida or Charleston or one of those big southern cities like Atlanta or Dallas. You have a good voice for TV and radio.

The West

 

Boston

 

Philadelphia

 

The South

 

The Inland North

 

The Northeast

 

North Central

 

What American accent do you have?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

My parents, like everybody’s, probably did a lot of things raising me that messed me up in one way or another (Hi, Mom! Hi Dad!). When I was a kid I was sure that one of those things was my mom’s health food crusade. At its peak, chocolate and sugar were banned from the house in favor of honey, carob, and fruit juice. I remember the fruit roll-ups fad that swept the elementary school when we were not allowed to have fruit roll-ups. Instead, my mom made all-natural fruit puree and put it in the food dehydrator on a cookie tray, then cut the resulting stiff, brown sheet into rectangles. It actually tasted pretty good, but I was swept with debilitating lunchroom shame, gnawing a thick, diarrhea-colored piece of apricot-pear puree instead of peeling a real fruit roll-up off of the wrapper in long strips and wrapping it around my finger. I was sure I was scarred forever.

Of course, that doesn’t seem so bad these days, from the long perspective the years provide. I never buy fruit roll-ups; when I see them going for 99 cents in the produce section of the store I think, “That’s just sugar and food coloring! Rip-off!” Another thing I used to complain about, Easter Sunday, now seems downright idyllic. The night before Easter, we’d put carrots in our shoes for the easter bunny, which he would mysteriously replace in the night with a brightly colored easter egg. Before church, we’d search the house for carefully hidden baskets. Then we’d put on our frilliest dresses and lace-edged ankle socks and shiny white shoes (or a suit and clip on tie, in the case of my brother) and head off to Easter Mass. My dad and I were both lectors, so once in awhile I got the chance to read from the Bible in front of the whole church. I loved singing the Easter hymns, especially “Joyful, Joyful.” After Mass, we’d head home for an age-graded easter egg hunt and a feast of handed down family recipes, usually prepared by my dad.

The point of contention in the family was the content of the Easter baskets themselves. If my mom had had her way, they would have contained only trail mix, carob malt balls, sugar free gum and travel games. My dad’s influence meant we each got a big chocolate bunny to eat bit by bit over the course of a week or so. But trail mix? It just seemed so… lame. So un-Eastery! How could we possibly celebrate the day with peanuts and raisins? There was a fair amount of eye-rolling. Scarred for life, my siblings and I suggested to each other. The deprivation! The utter lack of sugar! It was downright un-American!

Last Sunday my mom and I were reminiscing together about the good old days, which I now miss. She is still the most health-conscious person that I know, but she has mellowed quite a bit since my elementary school years. The subject of carob came up and she laughed. “It’s a good thing I’m not that way anymore,” she said. “Yes, mom,” I said, “But I don’t get to benefit from it since you no longer give me Easter baskets!” This weekend a heavy package arrived in the mail. it was a wall sconce, brim-full of chocolates and jelly beans. “A real, adult Easter basket,” read the note. A sweet gift, in more ways than one. I called my mom to thank her. She had a confession to make: the jelly beans were sugar-free. She insists she didn’t notice it until it came time to rip open the package, but I wonder…

Thursday,  I got a free 10-minute massage, a health screening with positive results, lunch at a nice restaurant, some compliments, and a little extra time off from work.  Yet I still feel a teensy weensy bit grouchy.  Goes to show: if you want to feel bad, you can, despite the circumstances.  Bartleby?  Bartleby the Scrivener?  Is that you?

So I have this RSS feed set up to search for sofas on craigslist.  Whenever a photo of red one pops up,  I feel a rush of instant attraction.  Smokers? Structural damage?  Don’t care.  Just let me curl up among the red pillows.  I’m on the lookout for a pair of sensible black summertime shoes for work.  Which shoes do I end up trying on instead?  Red ones.  Sneakers, ballet flats, stack heels. Red, red, red.  Now I’m searching for a beat up high MPG sedan to commute in, and a red Honda CRV catches my eye.  OOH! RED!  I don’t buy any of these things.  I did buy one thing: red lipstick, which is entirely new makeup territory for me.  (Note to self:  create occasion to wear red lipstick.)  In general I’m pretty good at talking myself out of the red zone.  It’s just not sensible!  I should not buy a couch that will limit my decorating options for the rest of the decade.  I should not buy a pair of shoes that I can only wear with one outfit.  I should not buy a car which will increase my chances of getting pulled over by the cops.  I’m a sensible girl nowadays.  I get up early, I work hard, I eat well-rounded meals and even occasionally take vitamins.  Maybe all this sensibleness is going to my head.  Maybe that’s the new, unsensible allure of red.

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All the animals and plants started flattening out like soggy pancakes, and no one could do a thing about it. The rich people noticed it first, when the fruit-bearing trees and rose bushes in their pleasure gardens began to sink and widen at the bases. They fired their illegally hired landscaping people but it didn’t help. Next it was the race horses, whose ankles thickened while their backs thinned until they couldn’t race. That’s where we get that old saying “easy as saddling a racehorce,” to describe an activity that seems straightforward but is actually impossible. The foodstuffs began to be affected as well. Everything tasted the same as before, except it was all the shape and consistency of a soggy pancake, causing no end of trouble for the food packagers and distributors, as well as for small children, who had been use to identifying disgusting food by its shape.

I don’t even want to talk about the housepets. It got to where you couldn’t tell a gerbil from a chihuaha; they were all just furry amoebas sliding around the house, and you tried not to step on them. People worried that humans would be next, since many of them had been sagging and thickening for a number of years. Fortunately, however, their rates of sagging and thickening did not increase. It seems they had built up some sort of tolerance or immune response. Scientists applied for multi-million dollar grants to study the phenomena, but when they came out with their results ten years later, the people had already voted to put a pancake on the flag. “Moot!” they cried. “Moot, moot, moot!”