31.12.05

Words that are, like, so 2002

Last week, during my Great Trek Northward, I stopped off in Smalltown USA to visit my parents. We had dinner plans in Small City USA, right next door. There were eight of us at dinner, and I was the youngest by a good quarter century - these were my parent's friends, all in their 60s, all retired.

Apparently, the women in the group have just learned a new word. Bling. I kid you not.

As we walked in, they all showed their "bling" off to each other. Now, granted, there is something to be said about the whole "look in the mirror and take one piece of jewelry off" rule, but these women were no where near the state of "bling" that, say, my grandmother's gauche I've-made-it-out-of-the-Lower-East-Side stuff reached. But there they were, pointing out a necklace here, an earring there, all gleefully exclaiming "bling!"

These women don't know what hip hop (much less rap) music is, and if they've heard of it, they couldn't tell the difference between Eminem, LL Cool J and Afrika Bambaataa. But they know what bling is.

Time to retire the word.

24.12.05

In a rut?

So Many Books posted about how many books by the same author she has on her shelves. Since I have The Collection in a nice computer catalog that provides statistics, I thought I'd do the same (cut off, as with SMB, is 10 by an author):
  • Catherine Aird
  • Margery Allingham
  • Robert Barnard
  • Julian Barnes
  • L. Frank Baum
  • Enid Blyton
  • Marion Zimmer Bradley
  • Lillian Jackson Braun
  • Elinor M. Brent-Dyer
  • A.S. Byatt
  • Alicia Craig/Charlotte MacLeod
  • Amanda Cross
  • Robertson Davies
  • Colin Dexter
  • Stephen R. Donaldson
  • Antiona Fraser
  • Jonathan Gash
  • Elizabeth George
  • Martha Grimes
  • Carolyn G. Hart
  • Reginald Hill
  • P.D. James
  • Diana Wynne Jones
  • Faye Kellerman
  • Katherine Kurtz
  • C.S. Lewis
  • Maud Hart Lovelace
  • Ngiao Marsh
  • Patricia Moyes
  • Carol O’Connell
  • Ellis Peters
  • Elizabeth Peters
  • Terry Pratchett
  • Dorothy Sayers
  • William Shakespeare
  • Darren Shan
  • Dorothy Simpson
  • Lemony Snicket
  • Rex Stout
  • David Williams
  • Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
I wonder who in the 8/9 books range will add to their oeuvre in 2006...

21.12.05

Nerves

Today I'm driving five hours upstate to see my best friend from grammar school. I haven't seen her in 30 years, and we only reconnected in April (luckily, I opened that e-mail instead of deciding it was spam!). To be honest, I never thought I'd ever pick up the phone and say, "Hello, Mr. A? It's L. Is K. there?" again. I mean, when your last contact was in 1975...

Anyway, we're getting together. I'll meet her husband and three kids (definitely not part of her life all those years ago!) And we'll have the opportunity to trip down memory lane some. We've already done that a little via e-mail; she remembers huddling like molecules during recess in 4th grade!

Still, there's a part of me that's very apprehensive. The past few times I've done the face-to-face with an on-line friend haven't always worked out well. One person decided that I was "severe and terrifying", two others have been very disappointing (nothing like their on-line personae). Rarely has it worked out where what I fell in love with - the words, the "sound" of their voice - meshed with the physical reality. And, in this case, we've got the whole used-to-be-best-friends thing to trip us up - what if there's nothing there that says, "yes, this is the person I knew back then", nothing that validates my choice of friends (even at the tender age of 9)?

Several months ago I met one of my father's best friends from "back in the day" (apparently there were seltzer and toilet paper-soaked-in-bleach fights in their apartments on the Grand Concourse - I can understand why H. was banned from my grandmother's!). My father is one of those true-blue people, always trying to see the best in others and sticking with friends he knew "back then" because, well, they're a tie to his past and who he was. I honestly don't think it occurs to him that some of these people aren't the types of people he'd care to know now - he knew them then, and that's good enough.

Me, I'm not so forgiving of flaws. I don't want K. to have flaws. I'm not saying I want to play Barbie with her, either. But I do want that sense of connecting now with someone important to me then. The same sense of connection I have with many of my friends from prep school (except I see them at least every 5 years).

I wonder how many of you have been in similar situations. How have you felt after?

19.12.05

Notable Quotes

(Inspired by Doug)

Growing old is mandatory -
Growing up is optional

Who are you and why are you reading my shirt?

Cleverly disguised as a responsible adult

Don't take life so seriously.
It isn't permanent.

17.12.05

Always saw myself as Puddleglum...

But Which Narnia character are you? claims I'm Lucy: "You have a strong sense of responsibility toward others and a deep respect for other people, even strangers, though you are not always sure what the best course of action is. You are Lucy, the brave child who who is wise beyond her years and kind to all she meets."

12.12.05

Maybe I'm just too old

I'm reading a YA book and I'm really enjoying the plot. But (and this is the troubling thing), I'm wondering how I can put this on my shelves when within the first five pages there's cursing ("shit" and "fuckin'") and a scene where the hero (in 10th grade) feels up his girlfriend. I know kids that would like this book are also kids that have probably seen "Sex and the City" and "The Sopranos" and viewed far worse in the movies.

Still...

So I wonder, am I too far behind the times? Perhaps I'm needlessly worrying about the impact of this type of book (after all, we do have Boy Meets Boy on the shelves). It's just that there's this voice in me saying, "I don't think so."

Should I listen? Or should I get a second opinion?

6.12.05

What do I want to say about me?

I've been pondering this post for a while. Sarah Houghton (aka "Librarian in Black") helped push me along with her post "Putting Yourself Out There", but it's been stewing around in my brain for a few weeks now.

What started this? I belong to a CS Lewis e-list. A few months ago, a new member of the list posted about a prophecy she had received, and (I suppose) was hoping for validation/discussion of this. What she got was something else: scorn and derision, mixed with pointed questions. She, naturally, got defensive and started posting rather mean-spirited messages. I have to admit, sometimes curiosity gets the better of me, so I looked for her on one or two Quaker e-lists (I knew she was a Quake, albeit a very conservative one).

What I found was more of the same tone from her. One post, relatively recent, basically said that she wasn't going to post, but that Christ told her to do so. I wonder if He mentioned killing with kindness, but I digress. Mixed in with her condemnation of others who don't believe/act as she does are posts that are, well, harassing of others. You see, Quakers tend to address eachother using first name and last name, for example, "Hello, John Doe". It can take some getting used to, I admit. And in an open forum, on the Internet, I'm not surprised that some people - even longstanding Quakers - have a problem with that. She's questioned those that have claimed that people have harassed and made life difficult for them via the Internet. And, in one message, she basically gave out everything anyone would need to steal her identity (including, I believe, her SSN!).

That sort of openness is problematic for me. Yes, Lazygal is a nom d'Internet, but there are a number of my faithful readers who know what my real life name is and where MPOW is, among other things. It's just not "out there" for everyone. And I don't participate in MySpace or Xanga or Flickr or Friendster or the other social websites out there. If you know who I am, you can google me (use Mamma, please!) and see many of my posts to other e-lists and articles I've written. I'm not as hidden as I might be.

The upside to that is when my best friend in middle school, who moved away in 1975, contacted me and we're now planning to see each other later this month.

The downside is, well, I get nervous. I'm not the type to post the down'n'dirty intimate details of my incredibly complex and fascinating personal life (sorry, Doug), the way some of my friends do. I'm not worried about my mother reading something here and thinking less of me, or my employer being upset that I've said something indiscrete about them. It's more a sense that anyone, and I mean anyone, could potentially use this information against me. How? Phishing. Identity theft. Stalking. You name it.

Getting back to the woman mentioned earlier: she's still at it. And while she may not have problems having her information spread around cyberspace, my ethical compass says it would be wrong for me to "out" her on my blog. But if you ask, I'll tell you where to look.

4.12.05

Notable Quotes

Technology ...

the knack of so arranging the world that we need not experience it.

- Homo Faber, Max Frisch

29.11.05

The Joy of Reprints

I just finished the reprint of The Unprejudiced Palate, one of the "Modern Library Food" series being brought to life by Ruth Reichl.

It was an enjoyable book: food writing, rather than a mere series of recipes. This was a man who truly enjoyed his food (it even costs him a wife!), and I suspect even writing about it was pleasurable for him. Because this was originally published in 1948, the chances of my running into it were slim; as a reprint, more people can enjoy this book (if not the recipes: I rather doubt I'll ever make my own wine or serve sweetbreads or tripe).

I've also recently read a book reprinted by A Common Reader. Several of my childhood favorites have gone out of print (Hugo and Josephine by Martha Gripe springs to mind). The concept of the reprint strikes me as one that should be encouraged more than it appears to be. Yes, some books would only find a few new readers. But others would find a whole new audience that loves them. What better fate for a book?

This year alone I've had the pleasure of introducing students to several of my favorites. Some (like White Ghost Summer) have lived on my shelves for years, bringing me much joy and happiness. Others (like The Great Good Thing) are recent finds. And nothing gives me greater happiness than a student asking not just to read a book, but asking where it can be bought so they can have that book. Sadly, several are not readily available (even on Alibris).

The question is, of course, who ponies up the money and the time and the resources? Do we allow Google to handle it? Quite frankly, despite Google's optimism, I'm not going to read a book on-line, nor do I have the printing equipment that would make downloading and printing for myself an option. So we rely on reprint houses, and second-hand bookstores to make these time-treasured books available to the general public for general consumption.

Would that there were more of these out there. Perhaps not all of them will appeal to me (or you) but enough will. If I win Lotto, I know what part of my winnings will go for: starting a reprinting press.

21.11.05

Notable Quotes

A recipe is just a story with a good meal at the end.
Pat Conroy

19.11.05

What are your mental snugglers?

There's nothing better than cuddling under the covers with a good book -- or watching a favorite movie/tv show. The mental break, the momentary "ahh... life is good" feeling is so necessary in today's frenetic world.

Alice and friends are listing some of theirs. What are yours?

6.11.05

Meeting Musings

Yesterday, I went down to NYC to hear my friend Jim Como speak as part of Narnia on Tour. He talked about "Believing in Narnia" and gave a good overview of why the Chronicles work as "first-rate fairy tale literature." One of the things he said struck me, and I've been thinking about it ever since: "Ultimately, Naria is about Hope. We hear a lot these days about Faith and Charity, but not that much about Hope."

How very true. And usually, it's hope, not Hope, as in "I hope I get it", and it's personal. But Big Picture Hope, Hope for the world and the future is not in evidence in our daily lives, in our daily thoughts, in our daily conversations. Perhaps it's time to change that, to talk about Hope, about What's Next and how it will be better.

3.11.05

Exactly how I feel...

The recent issue of Cites and Insights has an article/thinkpiece about life trumping blogging. In it, Walt cites this post at NexGen Librarian.

Of the six "what I learneds" in the post, three really resonate (the others made me think, but not quite as deeply):
1. Don't try and do more than you can do.

3. The 4o hour workweek is a farce.

5. F@#! living at the speed of today's technology.
Why these specifically? Because I've tried doing all of them. I spent a few years working two full-time jobs (only one of which paid) in addition to being a newsletter editor and sitting on several professional committees AND serving as the co-Chair of the school's self-evaluation committee. I often bring work home (including my work-issued laptop) and sit there, in my jammies in my living room, with a cup of cocoa or a bottle of wine, and finish what didn't get done during the day. And I have a 90+ feed Bloglines account and 6 e-mail accounts to monitor.

Since moving, though, I've made a conscious effort not to get over-involved, over-scheduled. It means less tv (and isn't that a good thing?), and being in bed, with a book, by 9pm at the latest, ready to read myself to sleep. It means taking a step back and not diving into the latest, the newest. And it means seriously thinking about what I'm doing and with whom: do I really want to spend this time on this activity? Often, the answer is "well.... you should...." but the desire isn't there. I'm giving myself permission to not do.

I suggest all of us do the same. I suspect we'll all be happier.

17.10.05

Notable Quotes

Silence is a way of saying: we do not have to entertain each other; we are okay as we are.
Martha Grimes, Hotel Paradise

16.10.05

Random Musings

For some reason today I couldn't focus in Meeting. The following are some of the random thoughts that flitted across my mind:
  • why is "Daydream Believer" stuck in my head?
  • when did Quakers become so intolerant of people that are not like them politically?
  • when did faith, or overt expression of faith, become a bad thing?
  • how can someone fall asleep on these hard, cushionless benches?
  • why are people that live in "red" states automatically Devil-spawn?
  • what's the protocol when someone starts snoring in Meeting?

4.10.05

Terrifying Words

Even though Colby Cosh is mostly talking about Serenity and the Cult of Joss Whedon, he hits me where I live when he says
Have you ever been interested in a member of the opposite sex (assuming the opposite one is to your taste) and had her recommend a book to you? "You simply have to read The Man With The Technicolor Trousers. Here, I'll lend you my copy." I believe I can expect near-universal agreement that there is nothing more terrifying. If you like the book, it's all very well--though you had better like it an awful lot. If you don't like the book, you must either tell the truth, and implicitly insult the recommender, or you must brazen it out, thus instantly despising yourself and/or her. On the whole, psoriasis is distinctly less unpleasant.
Because I'm a reader, people assume that I simply must agree with their likes/dislikes in terms of reading. That's not true. While Notes from Mt. Bookpile may suggest that I'm relatively indiscriminate in my reading, the truth is that I am: not everything I read is a "good read", and not everything I read is for pleasure (Harry Potter VI springs to mind, as does the upcoming Primal Teen).

So please, spare your friends and relatives the "you must read/watch/eat ____". You may think you know the person really, really well, but there's always that one bad book/movie/tv series that will spoil the entire relationship. I know whereof I speak.

1.10.05

Notes from Mt. Bookpile

This quarter, I've managed to clear off one shelf!

Fiction/Literature
Love, etc., Julian Barnes
Elementals, A. S. Byatt
The Last Days of Dogtown, Anita Diamant
Shut the Door, Amanda Marquit
Titmuss Regained, John Mortimer
A Dance to the Music of Time (First Movement), Anthony Powell
The Red Carpet: Bangalore Stories, Lavanya Sankaran
The Stone Carvers, Jane Urquhart

Non-Fiction
Accomodating Brocolli in the Cemetary, Vivian Cook
Bad Stuff in the News, Marc Gellman & Thomas Hartman
100 People Who Are Screwing Up America, Bernard Goldberg
Da Vinci Code Decoded, Martin Lunn
The Secret Man, Bob Woodward
The Ideas that Conquered the World, Michael Mandelbaum
Vows, Peter Manseau
Frugal Luxuries, Tracey Mcbride
My Kind of Place, Susan Orlean
God Among the Shakers, Suzanne Skees
The Colony, John Tayman

Genre Fiction
The Stranger House, Reginald Hill
The Historian, Elizabeth Kostova


Children’s/YA Lit
The Sisters Grimm, Michael Buckley; Brothers Grimm
Beyond The Valley Of Thorns, Patrick Carman
Played, Dana Davidson
Wizards at War, Diane Duane
Inkspell, Cornelia Funke
If I Have a Wicked Stepmother, Where's My Prince?, Melissa Kantor
Lord Loss, Darran Shan
Boy Girl Boy, Ronald Koertge
Blackthorn Winter, Kathryn Reiss
Spellfall, Katherine Roberts
You Are SO Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah!, Fiona Rosenbloom
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, J.K. Rowling
The Last Universe, William Sleator
Gossip Girl, Cecily Von Ziegesar

27.9.05

I'll be...

blown over with a feather?

damned?

a monkey's uncle?

Something, anyway.

We just got a phone call from a contrite alumni of the school. This gentleman was clearly atoning for his ill-spent youth and wanted to return - 10 years too late - books he'd borrowed while here. After putting him on hold and cracking up, I pulled it together enough to inform him that we were very grateful for the gesture, but it really wasn't necessary that he pack and ship them to us.

A cash donation would do just fine. (Of course I didn't say that, but I wanted to!)

18.9.05

Out of the silence

Today at Meeting there were three Messages that really spoke to me. I'd debated going at all, preferring to read God Among the Shakers, but I'm really glad I went.

Message One was from a Friend that was feeling overburdened. She'd started to feel guilty about not doing as much as she'd done previously, but those things were for others and she was putting them aside to do things for herself. Not in a selfish or self-centered way, but things like finding the time to quietly sit and watch the sunset or read. Things that help heal us and make us whole, yet can make us feel that we're wasting time not doing the "important" work that society or friends demand of us.

Message Two was from a Friend with vision problems. She'd recently seen a video about three artists, the final one being a Japanese artist with a clearly defined linear style. This Friend had always thought that was how she saw things: clear, precise. Yet that was only with her right eye, and when she closed it and looked only through her left, things were more like a Jackson Pollack, only vaguer. This troubled her not just because it was a physical problem but because it made her question how her mind also saw things. Was it clear, or vague? She encouraged us to only go with the clear, the defined, the strong.

I thought about that in the ensuing silence. One charge against me by a good friend is that I'm too inclined to see things in black and white, with no grey. I believe that I see too many shades of grey, but that I search for the black and white. At home, in the silence of my cottage, after a long day at work, the grey closes in: was that the right choice? were my directions clear? are my staff following? did the students learn anything? Trusting that I'll find the clear, direct path in life means trusting that God will help me find it. I try to be there, to listen, but sometimes....

And Message Three was from a Friend who reminded us that this is exactly what the silence each First Day is about: listening to the Inner Light guiding us towards the clear and direct. There is always time to stop and listen, we just have to choose to do so.

16.9.05

Coming soon to a mailbox near you!

Terry writes:
This correspondence was inspired by my new friend, who wrote to me a few weeks ago as follows:

Isn't it nice to open letters, too? In a funny way, I think all the email/blogging returns an almost romantic, Victorian specialness to pen & paper correspondence.

Until I answered her note, it had been years since I'd last sent anyone a handwritten letter longer than the compass of a notecard. Part of what inspired me to do so was her handwriting, which is neat, fresh, and a delight to behold. It took the place of the imagined sound of her voice: I felt as if she were sitting across a table, telling me about herself, and I felt irresistibly inspired to reciprocate.
This got me thinking. I have a good friend, one I've never actually met "in the flesh", who lives in Germany. We write on good stationery, using fountain pens. It's such a treat to go to my mailbox and get her letters and notes.

While I've tried to write to other friends, their reponse is inevitably by e-mail. So... I've decided to ignore the e-mail, to treat is as a letter and respond via snail mail. Obviously this won't work for everything - there are some things that aren't worthy of the pen, ink and stamp - but maybe I'll start a revolution/devolution back to the golden age of writing letters and having a mailbox filled with something more than junk mail and bills.

You have been warned!

15.9.05

Mom, are you reading this?

My mother is a grammar-maven, still correcting me after all these years. I've done a lot of work as an editor, but I'm still not up to her standards.

Then, today, I read Maud's posting about diagramming sentences. How very cool!

(for earlier posts about grammar, go here and here)

31.8.05

Outed

Each new job is an opportunity to remake oneself, to jettison bad habits or traits and to create a new image of who you are.

I started my new job with that intention and to some extent that's worked. Except... I've been outed as a reader and as having a mind that traps trivia. Since I'm a librarian, I'm hoping that's going to be seen as a good thing.

If not, I guess I'll have to apply for Head Research Librarian on "Jeopardy" for my next posistion.

29.8.05

Notable Quotes

It is usual to speak in a playfully apologetic tone about one's adult enjoyment of what are called 'children's books'. I think the convention a silly one. No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally (and often far more) worth reading at the age of fifty--except of course, books of information. The only imaginative works we ought to grow out of are those which it would have been better not to have read at all. A mature palate will probably not much care for creme de menth: but it ought still to enjoy bread and butter and honey.

C.S. Lewis
"On Stories" from The World's Last Night and other essays

26.8.05

Love it!


Cat and Girl
hits it square on the head. (þ : Librarian Avengers)

25.8.05

It's the little things

Years ago, my beloved Howard had to be hospitalized for a week. During that time I had to leave the apartment, because it felt empty without him. When we finally returned, he had one of those collars on that made him look as though he'd gotten stuck at the narrow end of a megaphone - it was supposed to keep him from licking his stitches and pulling them out, but in reality it made it impossible for him to eat. I removed it, he gobbled down some food, and then I helped him onto the bed. I lay back, he crawled on top of me, tucked his head under my chin and let out a huge sigh of relief. We held paws and slept that way for about three hours.

Howard's long gone and Mallory has taken to climbing up my side when I'm in bed reading. He puts his arms around my shoulder or kneads my neck and chin, occasionally snuffling my ear with his wet nose. Last night, for a variety of reasons, I couldn't sleep and so today I decided to take a nap. Mallory climbed on me, snuffled for a few moments and then tucked his head as close to my chin as he could and we fell asleep.

And when I woke up, the world seemed a tiny bit better.

24.8.05

106/60

That's my blood pressure - arrived at after trying two different cuffs and having two people take three readings each. My resting heart rate is 66. Another low number.

One of my friends keeps telling me that going from parchment to ivory does not a tan make. I guess I'm going to have to do a whole lot better if I want people to think I'm still among the living.

23.8.05

Never misunderestimate the powers of your Mother

My mother read my post about the toaster and found it funny. Good.

Then she called me to tell me that she did so remember who gave them the toaster: the parents of the children that lived next door to her when she was growing up (we're still close with the family). Not so good.

I'd have been a lot happier if she could remember conversations we had ten years ago. Maybe in another 36 years, she will!

Still, I said I'd correct the post and I have. Love you Mom.

20.8.05

They don't make wedding presents the way they used to!

Several years ago I was home, visiting my parents (in their version of Smalltown USA). In their basement, on one of the shelves, sat a toaster that I'd grown up with; I thought it'd been exiled to the basement because my father likes to toast bagels and this toaster didn't know from bagels. Silly me. It was there because it was a wedding present and my mother didn't want to offend the giver by throwing it away.

NOTE: Their wedding was in 1959.

My father, being the kind of guy he is, decided that perhaps he could fix it. He did. I took the toaster home and for the past 10 years I've been toasting with it; it even became part of a story I told to my Storytelling class: "The Brave Little Toaster". My mother made me swear never to throw it away, because - you guessed it - it was a wedding present.

NOTE: She doesn't remember who gave it to them.

Sadly, I don't think it survived the move. I put bread in, but it doesn't go down and the heating elements don't get hot. So I called home to report the casualty and my father suggested that 1. I get a new toaster, 2. I throw it out (Mom agreed!) but that 3. he might take a look and see if he could get it working again. Just to see if he can.

Because, you know, a wedding present toaster from 1959 should last longer than a mere 46 years.

18.8.05

May I just add

The Little Professor lists Signs that the books have taken over:

* Your parents send you an article from the L. A. Times that describes the lengths to which people will go to house their personal libraries--converting a garage, for example. It's not clear if this article is meant to be prophetic or admonitory.
* You remember that one of your father's professors kept books in his oven (until, that is, a graduate student turned it on). After all, you don't use your own oven for much of anything, so...
* Your mother recommends building library stacks.
* The books have pride of place in your voice mail message.
* When visiting someone's house, you automatically calculate how much wall space could be used for bookcases.
* You take the local bookstores into consideration when deciding whether or not to propose a paper for a conference.
* Visitors inquire if books have the same mating habits as rabbits.
* The furniture store deliveryman remembers you. And your bookcases.
* A trip to Chicago is incomplete without expeditions to Powell's, O'Gara's, and the Seminary Co-Op. Who needs to go clothes shopping on the Miracle Mile?
* Will work for books.

I'd like to add: you never pack for a trip without bringing a suitcase for the new books you'll pick up.

7.8.05

unFriendly thoughts

I spent my time at Meeting today trying to get the "bad" thoughts out of my head, but didn't succeed. In fact, more crowded in. What were those thoughts?

1. What do you do when someone you like says something (on a blog, in an e-mail, in conversation, where ever) that you find offensive. Not in a FCC-wouldn't approve sense, but in the "I can't believe you actually would say that and think I'd be ok with it" sense. Responding to something like that is difficult - how do you do it in such a way that the other doesn't feel defensive or that it doesn't become the thin edge of a rift?

2. What do you do when you find that someone you've admired or respected really wasn't what they were cracked up to be? You know, one of those Wizard of Oz moments, when the Great and Powerful Oz is revealed to be the timid charlatan behind the curtain. In this instance, though, there's no Glinda to show you how to get home - you have to do it yourself.

That's what I went in with. As I tried to empty my mind and let the Inner Light help, I heard snoring from at least four different people. When the a/c was on, it was too cold, and it took some time (and a great many clicks of the remote control) to turn it off. The only message during the actual Meeting was really an announcement. And several of the Afterthoughts seemed to be just rambling without purpose.

So here I am, sitting at home, feeling unsettled and unquiet. Not the way I'd wanted to spend my Sunday.

What I didn't see at the theater

Yesterday, I went to see "Philadelphia, Here I Come!" at the Irish Repertory Theatre. I'm not going to review the play, but I can tell you that the performance by James Kennedy is definitely something to see. What I want to talk about is the State of the Audience.

I went to see the show because I know a cast member and I know a crew member - and while I know that almost every waiter in the City is also an actor, it was clear that the audience wasn't made up of "friends of...". Rather, the average age of the audience was 60. Granted, it was a summer Saturday matinee, but still - 60? Not great if a theater company wants to survive. The audience needs a median age of 40-ish - difficult to do in these times. Part of that is the rise in ticket prices. I understand that theaters have to pay Equity salaries and IATSE salaries and rent and rental for costumes/props and royalties and other salaries and all that. But it does keep audiences - young, necessary audiences - away.

Artistic vision has something to do with it as well. When I was a Sweet Young Thing (as opposed to the middle-aged curmudgeon I am now) back in 1984, I moved to the Big Bad City because my first job out of college was as the Assistant Business Manager for a renowned Off-Broadway repertory theater company. They had introduced us to many works we now consider "modern classics" (and isn't that an oxymoron?!) and recently had transferred two hits to other OB stages. Many of the actors nurtured by the company are now well-known, and others make a steady living in the realm of "Hey, it's that guy!" performances. Yet when I got there, I became privy to the Behind the Scenes secrets: fiscally, the company was in bad shape and artistically, even worse.

My first season I got paid the whopping salary of $50/week. I worked in the Business and Box Offices, and got a pretty clear picture of the problems. The first was a really bad season that the critics savaged and the audience avoided in droves. One play was cancelled when it became clear that the author was unstable (going on stage and attacking - verbally - the audience and - physically - the people asked to escort her offstage was a major clue). There was a hugely lucky last play that saved the season and ended up transferring to Broadway. In the Business Office, though, things were even more dire. The Assistant Technical Director had been allowed to submit copies of candy wrappers in lieu of actual receipts - not cool in the accounting world. The computerized accounting program (remember, these were the Old Days in terms of computer programs - anyone remember WordStar?) allowed unbalanced transactions to be entered, so by the end of the year there was $10,000 in an account that we had to unravel. Of course, this $10,000 wasn't in one transaction: it was +$10 from one and -$.75 from another, and so on.

The second season my position was eliminated and I took a second job, working full time at an Elite Girls School on the Upper East Side during the day and working in the Business Office nights and weekends. For free. Why? Because by then I was the only one on the "inside" that had any memory of the previous fiscal year. We'd had two Managing Directors and three Business Managers and four Box Office Managers in one 12-month period. The company ultimately became fiscally sound, but the artistic vision never really came back. The Founding Member that had had that vision wanted to try Hollywood (Hollywood felt differently about that) and without that guidance, the company ultimately folded. I made good friends there, but the simple fact was, friends do not a viable theater company make.

Usually things aren't this dire in the world of Off-Broadway. Artistic Directors can leave, but the replacement is someone who can lead the company forward. Sadly, it's not uncommon for a company to not survive because the fiscal issues are too heavy a weight. And part of the problem is the aging of the audience. A subscription series that is priced for people not making millions (or even hundreds of thousands) is usually available only for previews and mid-week matinees. That's not helpful for people that work or have scheduling conflicts that make having a one-week timeframe problematic. Yet many companies cling to this old model and the results are... well... what I saw in the audience yesterday.

It's too bad, because Off-Broadway is where the exciting stuff is happening. It's where innovative productions and interesting actors are being nurtured. Losing that will mean losing part of our cultural heritage. What's the solution? I don't know. But there has to be one. Doesn't there?

2.8.05

Welcome

I'm a little in shock this morning: Terry Teachout has labelled me a "preferred blogger". Coming from him, that's high praise indeed. And a little dismayed because this is in the middle of inventory, when my blogging ability is limited (8307 items done, 31686 to go).

Still, welcome to all the About Last Night readers. Any friend of Terry's is a friend of mine. I've even updated the sidebar just for you. Enjoy!

28.7.05

Quite right, too!

Deb sent this to me. Pity more judges don't do the same:

http://toledoblade.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20050726/NEWS17/507260367

BOWLING GREEN - An idea that Wood County Common Pleas Judge Alan Mayberry has been kicking around for a while played out yesterday in his courtroom when he sentenced a young mother.

He ordered the Perrysburg Township woman to perform 200 hours of community service, but he went a little further, telling her she must spend 200 hours at the local library reading to her children or listening to them read to her.

25.7.05

Notable Quotes

Technology is not panacea. The word archival has no operational meaning when used in a sentence with computer.
Ray Schneider, SpareOom discussion list

23.7.05

Bad day, Bad book

I had a bad day yesterday... topped off by the fact that someone (in an SUV I can only assume) scratched my Brand New Car. So I comforted myself with a good crying jag and some frozen mini-eclairs.

Then I started to read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. What an awful book. Oh wow - more Quiddich. Hey! Snape's a bad guy! Whoda thunk? Will Hermione and Ron get together? What are the odds? Harry experiences more loss. Sob. Rowling is one of the least subtle writers and her imagination stopped in Book 2. Unlike most series books where the writer loses it, I can't just not read - sort of in the contract to read these things if you work with young kids. But really! Oh, I wish I didn't have to. One more and then we're done. If you want to catch up on the fuss but don't want to read 650+ pages: BookSpoiler is the place to go.

Off to cleanse my soul with something better, What, I don't know, but there's still a pile of books from ALA Chicago waiting to be read. Like one about the 1906 earthquake and one about the last Tsar... Or I'll watch a movie. Or something. Just not Harry Potter!

21.7.05

Death of Smalltown USA

Terry Teachout writes about the changes he's seeing in Smalltown MO. I was inspired to write to him, and then thought I'd share with the rest of my "vast audience":
I've been mourning the death of my two smalltowns (one in upstate NY, one in northern VT). The local department stores have closed, replaced by Wall-Mart or Lord & Taylors or some other "name"... the diner "proudly serves Starbucks"... the local radio has been bought and programmed by Clear Channel... and the charm and character are just seeping away. On the other hand, where I live now (so small there's no supermarket) also has no fishmonger, cobbler, jeweler, stationer, greengrocer or butcher. These are all things I had living in the Big Bad City.

I was in O'Hare last month after a conference and heard a little boy say, "Look, Mom, they've got McDonald's here just like at home!" It saddened me because isn't the joy of going someplace else NOT to see the things you see at home - to experience the new and slightly different yet still somewhat familiar?

Enjoy what's left of your Smalltown. Who knows how much longer it'll be there?
Along with the constant need for us to be plugged in and reachable, I think this is the second insidious thing that's ruining Life As We Know It. Small is better.

Agree or disagree? Leave your comments below.

20.7.05

Historic Event Commemorated

Google celebrates the 1969 moon landing. Check it out.

18.7.05

The quality of Silence

Yesterday I attended my first Meeting in the new area. I've previously attended in three very old buildings - 15th Street (Manhattan), Brooklyn, and Hampstead (London). This was in a much more modern building, and the Meeting itself is "young" (40 years, vs. 200+). Yet the sense of connection to the Light, the ease I found in being able to be with these F/friendly people was the same as at the other Meetings.

There was only one message, but what stayed with me was the Afterthought. The gentleman who spoke had tried to turn off the a/c unit, which was blowing quite hard during Meeting. He apologised not just for the coolness of the room, but for the "white noise" of the machine, which left the sounds of nature outside the room and outside our experience of Meeting. As I lay in bed last night, listening to the night noises, I agreed that the silence inside the "white noise" was not preferable to the "real noise" of the outside world, even during Silent Meeting.

15.7.05

Imponderables

Complaint Filed Against ABC F-Word

They're complaining because Roger Daltry had the balls to sing(?) "who the fuck are you?" at Live8 and MTV and VH1 didn't censor it. GET LIVES, people. The real complaint is that half The Who are dead and they're still touring!

You don't see the Beatles doing that with only half their original members, do you?

12.7.05

By the page or the pound

What is it with YA fantasy books? They're growing... one or two are even thicker than a Manhattan phone book and outweigh a bag of cat litter! As an adult, I don't enjoy the strain on my wrists, the ache in my back and the time commitment demanded by these Giant Tomes.

Here are a few examples:
  • Inkspell (Funke's sequel to Inkheart): 672 pages
  • Wizards at War (the latest in Duane's Young Wizards series): 560 pages
  • Magyk (Annie Sage): 576 pages
  • Amulet of Samarkand (second in Stroud's Bartimaeus Trilogy): 462 pages
  • The Will of the Empress (Pierce's Four Mages reunited): 320 pages
  • Peter and the Starcatchers (Barry & Pearson): 442 pages
This weekend, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is being released. Order of the Phoenix came in at 870 pages, a 150-page increase from the previous book. Since Rowling seems to expand, not contract, with each book, I'm thinking of hiring someone else to hold the new one for me.

How do kids manage? Are they really going to enjoy a 1,000-page, 5lb epic simply because there's hype? I'd love to believe that we're growing a nation of readers, but I fear we're scaring them off with ever bigger, heavier books that take forever to read.

5.7.05

Matthew Cheney explains it all

In an essay on collecting, Cheney writes:
"We collect to fill holes. I have surrounded myself with books partly for pragmatic reasons—I do read them, or at least a lot of them—but also because acquiring books allows me to give concrete form to certain aspects of my personality. When the days grow solitary, I don't need to feel lonely, because I can read the words of thousands of people. When the world becomes bewildering and life slips into shades of meaninglessness, I can rescue myself with other worlds and ideas. When I grow tired of my own words, there are always millions of somebody else's waiting within arm's reach."
I've known many collectors and I think Cheney hits it right on the head when he says "we accumulate our collections, sifting and sorting them so that should we, by some catastrophe, disappear from the Earth tomorrow, the connections between every item in the collection would be in a perfect state, harmonizing and vibrating in just the right way so as to express our personality better than we did ourselves."

In England, there is a place called Showshill Manor. The owner was a collector of epic proportions (ultimately he had to move into a shed because the house had no more room!). People visiting often wonder what type of crackpot was that obsessed with "stuff".

I wonder what the detritus of my life will say about me. I also wonder why that bothers me.

1.7.05

Notes from Mt. Bookpile

(I'm probably one of the few that feels that reading 23 books in three months is slacking, but I do!)

The following were added to The Collection April - June 2005:

The Spiral Staircase
, Armstrong, Karen
The Printer's Devil, Bajoria, Paul
The Final Solution, Chabon, Michael
The Naming, Croggon, Alison
Bitter Fruit, Dangor, Achmat
The Sign of the Book,Dunning, John
With No One as Witness, George, Elizabeth
Death of the Party, Hart, Carolyn G.
Vows, Manseau, Peter
Winter House, O'Connell, Carol
The Egyptologist, Phillips, Arthur
Nobody Was Here, Pollet, Alison
Pity Party, Pollet, Alison
Only You Can Save Mankind, Pratchett, Terry
Johnny and the Bomb, Pratchett, Terry
Johnny and the Dead, Pratchett, Terry
Dark Side of the Sun, Pratchett, Terry
Unadulterated Cat, Pratchett, Terry
Taking Wing, Price Graff, Nancy
Magyk, Sage, Angie
The Golem"s Eye, Stroud, Jonathan
Girl from the South, Trollope, Joanna
Sky Carver, Whitlock, Dean

29.6.05

Notable Quotes

WELCOME HOME

Your task may look impossible. Ignorance and inertia, partially camouflaged as time-honored morality, seem to surround you. Pessimism is enshrined as a hallmark of worldliness. Compulsive skepticism masquerades as perceptiveness. Mean-spirited irony is chic. Stories about treachery and degradation provoke a visceral thrill in millions of people who think of themselves as reasonable and smart. Beautiful truths are suspect and ugly truths are readily believed.

To grapple against these odds, you have to be both a wrathful insurrectionary and an exuberant lover of life. You've got to cultivate cheerful buoyancy even as you resist the temptation to swallow thousands of delusions that have been carefully crafted and seductively packaged by very self-important people who act as if they know what they're doing. You have to learn how to stay in a good mood as you overthrow the sour, puckered hallucination that is mistakenly referred to as reality.

What can we do to help each other in this work?

20.6.05

Best Friends Forever

I'm still recovering from my reunion. Those that know me know that I'm in bed by 8:30 and up at 5: for two days I was up until 1 or later, and rising around 7:30! Was I upset? Not at all. The people I was with are the smartest, sexiest, warmest, coolest people I can imagine spending time with and five years are just too long to be without their company.

I can't imagine my life without these friends, and I can't thank the gods enough for putting them in my life. Cherish your friends: I do.

13.6.05

Notable Quotes

I'm not sure I want someone proctoring my conflicts
English Teacher to me, discussing a schedule
change for final exam proctoring

10.6.05

They like me... they really like me!

At our MS closing ceremonies today, I was handed a bound copy of the 8th grade history papers.

On the title page verso was (is) the following:
The Eighth Grade would like to thank [my name], Librarian of [school] from 1996 to 2005. Ms. [name]'s guidance and assistance in finding material, assessing sources and writing research papers has been invaluable


Better than any parting gift I could have imagined.

9.6.05

Phrases I'd be happy to never hear again

  • "To be honest" and variants (Sherri has a great riff on this)
  • "In my humble opinion" (yeah, we get it - you're not so humble)
  • "We haven't always agreed, but I really respect you" (uh huh)
  • "I really want to know what you think" (why? so you can ignore it?)
  • "There are no small parts, only small actors"

What are your pet verbal peeves?

Personal Growth (and responsibility)

Earlier this week, one of my students brought me a book. This is a student that introduced me to a fantasy series earlier this year (much to the detriment of my wallet), and one that I introduced to Terry Prachett's Discworld (much to the detriment of his mother's wallet). So when he brought me this book, I was more than willing to read it. He handed it over with the words, "It really helped change my life." (Always amusing to hear that from a 9th grader!)

The Alchemist is vaguely in the magic realism/personal quest genre. I didn't find it life-changing, but I could see where someone younger might. It wasn't a bad read, just somewhat derivative. Oh well.

I'm not upset or concerned that the student thought I needed to have my life changed, either. I'm flattered when students want to share things that mean a lot to them, as long as they don't expect me to return the "favor" or to unreservedly accept these things into my life. This particular student didn't, and when we spoke about the book yesterday he was just happy I'd enjoyed the read.

However, I have colleagues that don't draw the distinction between personal and public revelation. I blog somewhat anonymously because I don't want to appear to speak for my school: the opinions here are in no way officially sanctioned. A blog that appears to be linked to the school would limit some of what I write, because of my responsibility to the school's name and ethos.

Similarly, when I speak with students, I'm constantly aware of the divide between an "official" opinion and a "personal" one. Here's an example. One of my students asked about the Bible, did we have any at the school? I said yes, and showed him where on the shelves they were (along with Korans, the Tao Te Ching, Dianetics, etc.). I also pointed out the different versions, how the annotated King James differs from The Good News and how both differ from the New Oxford Annotated. We then drifted into a discussion about the truth of the Bible. I said something to the effect that there are people that believe that the words are direct from God, while others believe they were divinely inspired but written by fallible men, still others believe that they're myths that illustrate truths about life, and so on. The challenge, I said, was to decide for yourself which you believe. Another student, listening, complimented me on presenting different views without giving away what I personally believe.

And that's critical: what I believe about religion, abortion, Terri Schiavo, the Curse of the Bambino are all personal beliefs and should not be shared with students. If and when I feel the need to shout those beliefs from the rooftops (as it were), I have this blog.

Other colleagues share information about their artificial insemination, the personal events going on in their lives, that Jesus is their best friend, that their experience with Landmark Forum allowed them to self-actualize and empowered them, among other topics. That's just wrong. Our job is to allow students to grow and widen their horizons, but when we talk about our personal beliefs, we cross that line into "official speak". Several students have told me how uncomfortable they feel in classes where Jesus or "right living" becomes a topic because they worry that their grade will suffer if they don't follow the teacher's lead.

The teacher that was changed by the Landmark Forum (EST for the 90s and 00s, for those of you old enough to remember EST) has even convinced two rather impressionable girls to spend three days in June at then next Forum session. I learned about this when they asked me to come with them (luckily, I have other commitments!). My immediate thought was "How very Jean Brodie", which was quickly followed by "nooooooooo". My feelings about the Forum aside, this is just wrong.

Schools are places for personal growth, and not only for the students entrusted to our care. But abusing our positions by giving them opinion dressed up as fact is just wrong. Much as blogging as a representative of the school while sharing personal feelings/experiences is wrong.

Sorry for the length of this rant, but it's one of the things I will not miss about this school and hope I don't find at the next.

5.6.05

At the ballet

My previous post covered the actual dancing, but as any audience member knows, it's the people in front of the stage that are as important as those on or behind. Like any good twitcher, one knows to look for certain species that appear in the audience on any given day. Here's a list of what I saw.

1. The Old Bald Guy with Ponytail. Kids, don't try this one at home; adults, do NOT leave home with it. This is a reminder that some bad hairstyles just never die.

2. Proud Parent/Grandparent. At last, the years of watching their darling suffer for their craft will be rewarded. If the child hasn't received a contract from a Good Ballet Company by now, clearly people just don't understand how good The Artiste is. Conversely, this is a way to wind up Their Darling's ballet career, as The Dancer morphs into The College Student (with luck, on their way to a good, paying career).

3. Bemused Other Family Member. They just don't get it: how can you dance to something that lacks a good beat? And just look at what it does to your feet! Isn't it just a little gay to wear tights like that?

4. Resentful Other Family Member: All those years of sacrificing so that The Dancer gets training and this is what they end up with?

5. Balletophile: How does this year's Workshop compare to last year's? What about a revival of a well-known work? (I actually heard one person say, "Well, when [well-known dancer] danced this it was so much better"... Uh, sir, this was a student recital not a professional performance - close as they may seem to the untrained eye).

6. Balletophobe: Only here because they have to be. This year we had a refugee from Duran Duran/A Flock of Seagulls two rows away, sighing loudly during the breaks (could have been a Resentful Other Family Member but more likely a Roped in Supportive Friend).

There were, of course, proud teachers (both academic and ballet) and other normal types scattered throughout, as well as dancers from lower levels hoping that someday they would be in Workshop. Still, those 6 species were enough to keep the intermissions lively!

4.6.05

Who's Next?

This week, NYCB loses Peter Boal to PNB and Jock Soto to retirement. This weekend, NYCB's School of American Ballet celebrates the Advanced classes by putting on their annual "Workshop". 

As I watched the dancers, I wondered which of the young men I was seeing would be the next "Peter Boal" or "Jock Soto". They all seemed good candidates. Of course, I don't know dance or dancers the way a professional critic or dancer would, but still. I'd name names, but there is a part of me that says I'm biased because I know many of them personally. 

The dances were also interesting. Benjamin Millepied (and isn't that a great name for a choreographer?!) and Christopher D'Amboise (son of Jacques, brother of Charlotte) created new works for this Workshop. One piece was danced by technically better dancers than the other, but the choreography for the other was better (again, can't name names). The final piece was a Balanchine crowd pleaser, "Western Symphony". It'll be interesting to read the professional opinion, to see how good I am at critiquing these things. 

If you're ever in NYC in late May/early June, Workshop is not-to-be missed. I've seen Ashley Bowder and Carla Korbes do star turns that led them straight to the company, I've seen Christopher Weeldon's newest choreography, and I've seen the future of ballet in America.

31.5.05

I never thought I'd read this

From A List Of Things Thrown Five Minutes Ago:
"STILL UNANSWERED: WHO DID DALLAS? In an upcoming article in Vanity Fair, former FBI agent W. Mark Felt -- who Carl Bernstein's 11-year old son already dimed, so nice job keeping the secret, dude -- says that he was 'Deep Throat.' This confirms Nixon's own suspicions."
Ok, first of all: Vanity Fair gets the exclusive? Vanity Fair?????

Second, I have to admit that I don't mind my pet theory being blown (I thought it was Ford, in an incredibly ironic twist of fate). I don't mind that it wasn't the former President Bush or Henry K. or any of the other "usual suspects". It's just so... I don't know... a letdown or something to hear that it was an FBI agent. Anyone else with me on that one?

Third, despite Mr. Felt's admission, there hasn't been a corresponding "yeah, it was him" from Bradlee or Woodstein, so until there is, I'm not accepting this as truth.

Still... wow. Now, if only we could find Lord Lucan...

30.5.05

ENOUGH Already

I'm taking advantage of the West Wing marathon to import books from my old catalog into my new one. It's bad enough when Rex Stout writes Death Times Three and Three Doors to Death, but when John Dickinson Carr and Dorothy Simpson both write "Wake the Dead"...

Notable Quotes

What is the sound of half a shout?
My uncle, after hearing that a friend was going to
a Zen Conflict Resolution seminar

29.5.05

Another rant

Bert Webb writes that Technology Can Hurt Writing Skills, something I've been saying for a long time now. Here are a few salient comments from Mr. Webb:
I received an email from a very influential person in the education profession. Her email was a profession update and was addressed to hundreds of educational administrators... This person has earned a doctorate. She has been considered an expert in her field for decades. However, she wrote like a teenager talking to her friends on her instant messenger on Saturday night.

Knowing that most of my readers are professional men and women in various professions, we should not allow our writing styles sabotage our credibility when communicating with clients, peers, subordinates, and superiors. Yet, many of us do, thinking that, because we are using an electronic medium, we can circumvent the rules of grammar and best practices in written communication. I have also spent hours reading blogs where the standard of communication has been less than acceptable, in my opinion. Sometimes, this is due to the author trying to attract a more youthful demographic audience. Shame on us as professionals.
There is a blog I read for professional reasons that irritates me as much as this e-mail irritated Mr. Webb. The author of the blog (one that is sponsored, I might add, by one of the leading publications in the school library world) was, in a previous career-life, a reporter. To me, that suggests a certain standard for communication. Yet this blog is rife with typos and grammatical errors, making it difficult to read. The lack of consistency and transitional phrases just compounds the problem.

I'm not claiming that this blog doesn't have it's share of mistakes, but it's a personal blog, not a professional one. Granted, that's a rationalisation, and a bad one. I do try to edit out the most egregious "oopses" (and welcome editorial commentary that blue pencils my work).

I keep thinking about my students, and the errors they make. One of our English teachers aggressively drills the students on grammar and sentence structure, ensuring that they get some instruction in this increasingly arcane field. Sadly, even after a year of this, many still cannot write a five paragraph essay that hangs together. When they come to me for help, I find I often have to write "Explain" or "How?" or "Where is the evidence?" or "You didn't answer the question" in the margins. Unlike the writer of the blog mentioned above, they are young and still learning.

Reliance on spell check is another problem. I've noticed that many words I use now (blog, for example) are not in the dictionary and must be learned. I tell my students (and myself) to read and reread so as to catch the mistakes that are not caught by the computer program. I mention one student, now a sophomore in college, who handed in a paper extolling the life and work of Martian Luther King, Jr. (the well-known alien rights activist).

Raising the bar shouldn't be necessary: we should all know how to present ourselves as competent, educated adults (Has anyone read the blog of a so-called celebrity who writes in verse? I tried and gave up because it sounds like the babblings of someone in need of remedial 6th grade English.). Those of us representing an organization or writing as professional experts should be held to an even higher standard.

27.5.05

K.I.S.S.

If you don't know what K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid) means, you're probably happy about the explosion of "features" in electronics. Me? Not so happy. Here's one perfect example of what I mean: Internet Tablet.

As part of my move, I've had to set up phone service. I don't want digital service, because it won't work if there's a blackout. Just a landline, thank you very much. And not one with Caller ID (that's why I have an answering machine), three-way calling, call forwarding, differentiated rings or a timer for my coffee maker. All I want is regular, old-fashioned phone service. Why is that so hard to get?

I don't want a cell phone that surfs the web. I don't want a coffee maker that shines my shoes. My computer doesn't need to also play DVDs or CDs. Yes, I end up with more machines, but I end up with ones that do what they need to do and do that thing well, without bloatware.

Yes, there's a certain appeal to TiVo, but I have a VCR and I can use that fastforward button. It's not like there's so much on tv that I want to save permanently, any way. Besides, relying on TiVo means I'm tied to a machine, and I'd prefer to be living life.

Too many machines, too much technology leads to too many complications and a too cluttered, too bustled life. Being "plugged in" all day, every day, isn't healthy. And, of course, now we're seeing a backlash. As Steve Johnson reports from MIT's Media Lab,
By the way, another irony from the event: A couple of the new devices discussed that seemed to draw the most interest from the audience weren't new technology so much as ways to put the lid on existing stuff.

One device let you kill all cell phone signals in any room you entered. The other was a pair of glasses that, as I understood it, make any TV screen you look at appear to you to be off, or dark.

Will there come a point when we're too busy correcting current technologies to actually develop new ones?
Might just be easier to turn them off. Heretical, but effective.

25.5.05

My biggest fear

As Eric Zorn says, "But it'’s hard to think of anything more poignant than a human being dying alone and unknown." Katherine's death in The English Patient brought me to tears - she wasn't unknown, but she was alone. My time in the hospital a few years ago brought those fears rushing back... I can't imagine a worse fate for anyone.

24.5.05

This is what's wrong with our country!

Tom Watson's posting that Frist Fades to Black. I'm not as sanguine about the recent events, but I am hopeful. What do I hope for?

A return to civility in politics. I mean, is it that too much to ask for? Here's how it used to be:
STROTHER: Incredible. What that is, is an example of what was compared to what is. The Senate at one time was a completely different institution. I learned about the Senate from these two guys, Monaghan and Dole, of course, but from John Stennis and Lloyd Benson.

They were a group of people who admired and respected each other, and Dole found out that I was filming Monaghan, walked by the room, said hey would you like to film me saying something about Russell Long, that`s an easy thing to do, and came in the room and sat down next to Monaghan, and I saw that as a great opportunity. But it just shows the difference in the violent partisanship that exists now and the comradery that existed in the late `70s and early `80s.
Only 20 years ago. Sigh.

Collection dilemma

Luckily, this isn't about The Collection - it's about the collection at school. This is the time of year when all good school librarians start to think about what they'll put into their summer book order: which books do we want students to "oooh" and "aaah" over when they arrive in September?

As I've mentioned previously, I get a lot of Readers Advance copies from publishers. It's a great way to figure out of the hype is really just that, or deserved. One of my big gripes has been the increase in the coming-of-age book that's clearly written to take advantage of the current technology and trends but is so poorly written that I can't imagine kids reading it.

Right now, I'm reading two books that are in that genre. One is set in 7th grade, the other in 8th (yes, it's a series). From what I remember of my time in those two grades, and from what I've seen my students going through, these are pretty good at getting the emotional side of things down right. Despite not growing up in NYC or attending a fancy NYC private school, I identified with the characters and situations. So, clearly, I should buy them for the school, right?

Not so fast! Something about the books jarred me and then, about 90 pages into the first, I realised what it was. They're written about a past youth (probably the author's). The newsletter is dated 1981, there are no cell phones, no computers, not even a Walkman; a group studying Jane Eyre names itself Eyre Supply in hommage to Air Supply; Elvis Costello is considered new. I double checked the copyright date, and it's 2004.

There's a part of me that wonders if the kids I work with now will read these and enjoy them because of the truthful emotions and situations, or will they get hung up on the latent nostalgia for a more innocent era (no rainbow club here!) and view this as historical fiction?

15.5.05

It's not always spam

Because I know someone that's a computer security nut, I started running my e-mail through Mailwasher. That way, I can kill the spam before it even gets near my hard drive. Usually you can tell when it's That Kind of e-mail: the subject line looks a bit off, the return address is completely unknown, etc..

Today I got an e-mail from an unknown, with the subject header "Old Friendships". That's the giveaway for Lonely Susie, just looking for a few people to meet/check out her webcam, right? So, it gets the big Delete. Except... this time I peaked at the message. Don't know why I did, but I did. And - big surprise - it wasn't spam! It was from someone I'd been friends with decades ago, in 4-7 grade.

How do I know it's real? She remembered the street on which I lived, the small town we lived in, and (not easily available on the web) my Dreaded Middle Name.

I'd love to say it's taught me a lesson about being more trusting about e-mail, or the amount of information out there on the web. I can't, but I can say that sometimes - just sometimes - it's a good thing all this exists!

13.5.05

Stuck in a book

I just started a new book and am about 30-40 pages in. It's one of the Readers Advance copies I picked up in Boston in January, patiently waiting on Mt. Bookpile to be chosen. It's a YA Fantasy book. It's the dreaded "d" word - derivative.

CS Lewis once wrote that if you're going to write about a sci-fi world, make the place and the story totally different. Don't create a love story and put it on a planet somewhere "out there": make the planet memorable. Make the story memorable. L. Frank Baum did this with Oz - the Gnome King, the Quadling country, Bunbury and Bunnybury could not be transported back to "real" Earth.

My current read might have been different years ago, but today it's another Tolkein-alike, another Eragon-wannabe. Will I read it? Yes, because it's my job. And it's quite possible that I won't find it so onerous I'll resent the hours spent on the read. But I do resent the lack of imagination that allowed it to be published.

10.5.05

You can't always get what you want

But sometimes you do get what you need!

I've been in complete panic mode about the Big Life Change, which seems to get ever more complicated and problematic every time I turn around. Since Saturday I've been taking Xanax to get through the day and night without hyperventilating and, to be honest, I'm not sure it's working.

This morning was one of those mornings when it just seemed like the world was caving in on top of me. Then, it happened. Our music teacher came in and told me that there would be an 8th grade field trip and did I want to help chaperone? The last time she did this, I got to see an opera, so of course I said yes. Where were we going? Just up the street to Lincoln Center Plaza, to see the Rolling Stones.

Oh.

We left the school and headed to the Plaza, along with NYU's graduates and a bunch of others. The stage was set up right in front of Julliard's entrance, with cameras and scaffolding obscuring much of the view. After a 50 minute wait, and several false starts, we heard lots of cheers, a roll of the drum and then... Start me up! blasted through the speaker towers. This was followed by some new song (the adults in the group agreed that after "Some Girls" the Stones could have stopped recording) and they ended with "Brown Sugar". Mick strutted, preened and made faces... Keith looked cool and very Johnny Depp-ish (who was parodying whom?)... Charlie's beat just steadied the music.

On our way back, some of the Asian students were still puzzled as to why we would skip class to see some old people play what they felt was derivative, repetitive music with unintelligible words. They've heard Mahler and Puccini, but not Jagger and Richards.

Lest you think we were neglecting our charge to educate today's youth, we came up with the following list of ways we met the NCLB standards:
  • demonstrating the cross-cultural/cross-gender appeal of music
  • listening to the meaning of the lyrics and how some could be perceived as poetry
  • showing the influence of African and black American rhythms on modern music
  • discussing the role of the Stones in the culture of the 1960s and the afteraffect of the Altamont concert
  • modeling the proper distance to be from noise (to avoid hearing problems) , how to lose weight by aerobic dance and how to shield one's self from the sun in an outdoor space
I have to say, though, that fun as this was (and I will miss this part of working/living in New York), I enjoyed seeing them at Shea in '89 more.

9.5.05

May? Now?????

Briar touches upon something I go through every year - the suddenness of May. The year passes by so quickly and then - wham! - May hits and all those project that you mean to get around to suddenly happen. Unlike Briar, I'm not finding the days going slowly. Possibly that's because my to do list just keeps getting longer, what with the Huge Life Change and all.

Sometimes I wish I could turn back the clock and return to the halcyon days of December or November, when things were "normal". I keep asking if I've made the right choice, if my life will ever feel "normal" again. One of my friends said that for the next six months I'll have buyer's remorse. I'm sure she meant to be comforting but it really wasn't.

Still, clock's a-ticking and that to do list isn't shrinking so... TTFN, readers.

6.5.05

What kind of reader am I?

This post over at THE LITBLOG CO-OP got me thinking about what kind of reader I am.

I'd like to think that everything in The Collection is a "good" book, but if I were to be completely honest I'd admit that there are some that are duds. I can recommend most of The Collection to others with reasonable confidence. Some of the books that I think are duds are those that others highly recommended and that left me either cold or feeling that there were a few hours in my life I'd never get back.

What makes a book "good"? If my real surroundings vanish and I'm in the book (fiction) and I'm so engrossed in what I'm reading that any interruption is a problem, even falling asleep as I'm reading (non-fiction and fiction). "Bad" books are the easily interruptable, could-care-less about the plot and characters books.

Which brings me to my real problem. I'm a clean-your-plate reader. You know, the kind that has to finish a book, no matter how horrible it is. It's hard to wean yourself off that, particularly when the book has been recommended/given to you by someone you know and trust. Even worse is if they expect you to love it and want to talk about it!

For those of you that are thinking I could weed The Collection when I move well, don't worry. I'm thinking about it.

So, what kind of reader are you?

26.4.05

How very cool!

BBC to broadcast the Quaker sound of silence.

I attend Meeting (irregularly these days) and I think this is a very neat idea. So many people ask me what it's like to worship in virtual silence; my only worry with this is that people might assume it's "dead air" and change the station.

Kudos to the BBC for the effort. Wonder if it'll make the BBC World feed?

24.4.05

Cheated

I've just finished a disappointing book (no, I'm not going to name names here). It was by one of my favorite authors, one of the earlier books he wrote. Usually I read his stuff with delight, but this one just confused me all the way through. Luckily, the next book I'm reading is also one of his, and it's more up to the quality level I expect.

I know there are actors out there (Michael Caine, famously) that take jobs because of the money. Bruce Willis has admitted that some of his choices are made so that he can take a lesser paying role in a film he feels passionately about (Nobody's Fool, for example). But an author?

Ok, the Barbara Cartland's of this world churn out their stuff at an incredible rate and who cares about the ultimate quality. And the genre writers can get a bit tired of the series and not give it their best effort. I understand that. But there are some, this one in particular, that have a certain reputation and have consistently delivered a certain quality.

This one book leaves me feeling cheated of both time and effort, not to mention the money I spent to purchase it (only available in England, for some odd copyright reason). Very annoying, isn't it?

22.4.05

NOW they tell me

The fish we love to hate: "Actually, it's not necessary: Gefilte fish has no symbolic significance whatsoever on the Seder plate."

All that misery could have been avoided had my grandmother and mother known! (þ: Alice)

19.4.05

Is it just me?

I've been accused of having a strange sense of humour before, but to me, there's something really funny about a book entitled "Ireland" written by a woman named Erinn!

16.4.05

Guilty as charged

Sarah Weinman wrote about her new bad habit - being overly critical of books as she's reading, and the book she's writing. At the end, she asks
Since I think this particular affliction affects those who write, either for a living or for a hoped living, did this sort of "sea change" happen to you, and when? How do you approach reading fiction when there's the distinct possibility that your time will be spent analyzing and deconstructing? And does the brain ever switch back, so you're "just a reader" once more?
I have to confess, I'm guilty of the analyzing and deconstructing, as well as wincing over bad grammar and typos. I'm one of those obnoxious people that threatens to red pencil a take-out Chinese menu or an incorrect ad in the subway. I scream at the telly when the newsanchor says "For Steve, Chris and Judy, I'm Susie..." instead of "On behalf of...". I'm sure it's very annoying for the people around me, but those that love me understand.

When I read a book, small errors can bother me (I read a mystery set at a major university library, with the books cataloged in Dewey not LC - and I couldn't finish the book). Large errors, like poor plotting or books that were rushed into print to take advantage of an emerging trend, bother me even more.

However, and this may contradict all I've written above, I can watch a badly acted show with few problems. On the other hand, I do the MST3K thing when I'm watching, so perhaps I am irredeemable after all?

15.4.05

Whine whine whine

Language Log takes a nice look at Pledge break psycholinguistics. Confession time: I haven't given to my local NPR or PBS stations in years. Yes, I enjoy their programming but I hate whine week to such an extent that when Channel 13 stopped their "we won't whine if you donate $X by this date" campaign, I gave up.

Also, why donate during the umpteenth viewing of Suze Orman or Visions of [Country] instead of Masterpiece Theatre or Mystery or Frontline, programs I actually will watch? Those "specials" are as annoying as the interminable pledge "break"! If anyone with any influence on the program managers reads this, suggest a Mystery-a-thon or a rerun of, oh, The Pallisers. I'd pay good money for those.

12.4.05

Private, Public and Personal

Yesterday, Camillofan disagreed with my comments about the personal taking over the public spaces in which we expect privacy.
It's just that none of the places you named (buses, streets, hallways, etc.) seem to me to qualify as "private space."
She's right: these aren't traditionally thought of as "private space."

Perhaps what I'm objecting to is the sense that there seems to be almost no behaviour that isn't considered public any more, and those are spaces into which the intensely personal has intruded. I don't mind a general conversation in the hallway - but a personal conversation about one's health or love life doesn't belong there. I don't mind people writing or reading on the subway, but putting on their make-up or clipping their toenails doesn't belong there.

My sister worries that her children are growing up in a world in which we're "on" all the time - always reachable by cell phone or IM or Blackberry or whatever new cool tool comes along - and in which we cannot distinguish between the personal and the public. Despite Will R's railing against the use of the word "blogging" to mean anything but thoughtful contributions to what he calls the read/write/think web, the fact is that blogging means using various tools (Moveable Type, WordPress, Blogger, Live Journal, Xanga, etc.) to write and publish publicly about anything the writer chooses to write about. Some blogs are very personal, detailing the writers struggle against illness or problems atwork or chronicling their sex lives.

I'm of two minds about that type of blog. Blame the way I was raised, but I'd hesitate to write in such a public forum about something that personal. Write or call a few friends? Certainly. That's what friends are for, after all. But even in this forum, with the minimal readership I get, talking about the intensely personal, my daily struggles to cope with my life and the on-going changes therein, seems wrong somehow. I've done it in the past and I've felt uncomfortable with it (heck, I feel uncomfortable reading about these things on friends blogs!). So I'm going to stop. That's not an indictment of others that do make that choice, it's simply stating that for me, in this medium, in this forum, it's not the way to go.

11.4.05

Exploring the dark side

No, I'm not going to write about The Revenge of the Sith (which will - thankfully - be the last of the Star Wars movies). Unless you think that all things dark are part of the Sith/Jedi continuum, and you're welcome to do so.

The past few weeks I've been seeing movies and reading books that are dark in tone. Sin City, for example, takes noir to a new level. First, there's the language. I had to keep reminding myself that it was a deliberate choice to use the clipped Spillane-ish language, that it was hewing to the reality created in the graphic novels. Still, it grated on my ears (I have sensitive ears for that sort of thing). The blatant objectification of women wasn't a problem for me, because I walked in knowing that this was what the genre was about. Ditto the lack of character development and the repetitive nature of the stories. I was even amazed and pleased at the creation of the "world", the cleanness of the transfer from the graphic novel to film. But it is a dark world that gets explored.

De-Lovely shouldn't be a dark film, but it is. The relationship between Cole and Linda was deeply disturbing. The power struggle, the love she has for him that is twisted (to say the least), the unhappiness they both had were moving. One could almost see a parallel to what we imagine the Clinton's relationship being: she's with him for the power it brings, despite the constant pain she's in thanks to his actions. I could name many in my circle of friends and acquaintances that also fall into that love/hate/need/despise relationship, including myself, which is probably why I found this the more problematic of the films.

Then there are the mysteries. By their nature, mysteries explore the ugly and the dark - a murder here... a theft there... intent and retribution all swirled into a nice package for the reader. Some mysteries, however, are darker than others. I usually stay away from the hard core and the procedurals, but the cozies are losing their charm for me. Years ago I read Judas Child and became enamoured of Carol O'Connell's writings, which started me reading her Kathleen Mallory series. Mallory (no one dare call her Kathy) is a unique creation, I think. She's a sociopath and a cop, adhering to her own moral code. The coldest, most disturbing of the series is Stone Angel, and I highly recommend it. The newest, Winter House, is not at that level - images from it have not inserted themselves into my head the way Stone Angel did. But... the story of Nedda "Red" Winter is chilling in its own way.

Wrapping up my dark exploration is With No One as Witness, Elizabeth George's latest. The story itself isn't bad, but the ending, with the casual violence of today's society wrecking havoc on the major characters, is the part that will stay with me.

Perhaps it says something about the place I am in my life right now - the things I'm finding important or are occupying my mind seem to be tinged darkly. Perhaps I'm seeing more darkness than is there, or than is intended. Yet given the recent events that have so captivated the news and the chattering classes, perhaps the darkness is out there reaching in more and more.

Just say NO

I read this post on Language Log with interest. Yesterday, during a 6 hour train ride, I was "treated" to the conversations of a young Hispanic lady seated three rows behind me (I mention her ethnicity because a few of her conversations were in Spanish). By the end of the ride, I could repeat the stories she told, including:
  • her recent college visit
  • she doesn't like the cafeteria not allowing her to eat what she wanted when she wanted
  • her friend Dave
  • her conversation with a girl that thought there was far more going on between Dave and her (this other girl) than there apparently is
  • that "old school" hip hop from "back in the day" is undanceable and should be banned
  • a dance floor in a bar that is the size of her living room is reason enough not to go to this college 
Each conversation ended with "I'll call you right back", but I don't think she did given the repitition of the stories. Every other sentence started with "Yo" (I'm assuming she wasn't using it as the Spanish first person singular pronoun). 

 Why do I mention this? Because I was a trapped, unhappy audience. It wasn't the single-sided nature of the conversation I minded, it was the conversation. Period. People on cell phones do not use their "inside" voices, they raise their voice so that everyone can hear. I resent this intrusion into my private space. 

If airlines go the way of busses, trains, streets, classrooms, hallways, elevators, etc., we'll not have anywhere available to get away from these unwanted, annoying disruptions. If you're ever asked, just say NO. Then use these cards to spread the quiet

The Great American Novel

Maud reminds me that yesterday was the 80th anniversary of the publication of The Great Gatsby. When I think about the Great American Novel, this is the one that I think fits that description most.

Why? Because it's the classic story of reinvention, of money and glamour, and failure: the things that epitomize the American experience. Yes, there's Moby Dick, which plays to our obsessive nature and the ruggedness that built the country. There are probably others that could contend for the title, but The Great Gatsby is It. So there.

1.4.05

Notes from Mt. Bookpile

New and cataloged this past quarter (note - these are mostly Chidren's/YA lit):

The Rise of the House of McNally, Philip Ardagh
The Book Without Words, Avi
Soul Stealer, Martin Booth
Diary of a Fairy Godmother, Esme Raji Codell
Shrimp, Rachel Cohn
The Legend of Spud Murphy ,Eoin Colfer
The Top 10 Ways to Ruin the First Day of 5th Grade, Kenneth Derby
The Old Country, Mordicai Gerstein
Blood Red Horse, K.M. Grant
The Princess Academy, Shannon Hale
Stealing with Style, Emyl Jenkins
The Shamer"s Daughter, Lene Kaaberbol
Escape Across the Wide Sea, Katherine Kirkpatrick
Jake, Reinvented, Gordon Korman
Word Spy, Paul McFedries
Take It Off, J. Minter
Winter House, Carol O'Connell
Stealing Princes, Tyne O'Connell
Sixth-Grade Glommers, Norks, and Me, Lisa Papademetriou
Hunting Unicorns, Bella Pollen
Going Postal, Terry Pratchett
The Carpet People, Terry Pratchett
Still There, Clare, Yvonne Prinz
The Color of Fire, Ann Rinaldi
The Lightning Thief, Rick Riordan
The Dashwood Sisters' Secrets of Love, Rosie Rushton
Hide and Seek, Clare Sambrook
Bras & Broomsticks, Sarah Mlynowski
Project Mulberry, Linda Sue Park
Fourth World, Kate Thompson
Click Here, Denise Vega
Dragon Keeper, Carole Wilkinson
Adam Canfield Of The Slash, Michael Winerip