Thursday, January 31, 2008
psycho kitty

Admit it, you're mildly interested in how you'd make out on the Hello Kitty "Am I good at taking care of others?" personality test.

I just took it twice because I was a bit uncertain how to answer one particular question. The first time the test rated me at 70%, explaining:
Your care is at the most appropriate level. When you are with other people, you usually can read others' mind and hold their hands and give them your support when timing is the most appropriate. Other than this, your care is quiet natural and can easily achieve the best result. Because your care is natural, it won't appear exaggerated or too obvious. To people around you, you are a very trustworthy person.
...but the second time I scored 20%, with the following kick in the face:
You are not really sensitive about other's feeling. (sic) It's virtually impossible for you to care for others. For example, you would probably eat or drink next to someone who is on a diet, or you would share your romance with a friend who just broke upiKor (huh?) some other insensitive things like such. Sometime, you should really stand in other's shoe and think for them, otherwise, those around you would probably think you are "self-centered" and evil person.
As far as I can tell, the drastically different result can be traced back to how I responded to the question asking whether or not I think there may be a sewing kit in a purse I found. Either that, or the fact that I would rather make curry for my friends than soup.

So, yes. Clearly this is a highly accurate and trustworthy tool for self-examination. Proceed.

(P.S., He He!)

Wednesday, January 30, 2008
the crazy dog lady provides an unnecessarily detailed update about her child substitute (and you'll kindly listen because you're just nice like that)
As I mentioned yesterday Chloe had her vet appointment a few hours back, and although I usually try very hard not to be one of *those women* who go on about her pet as if it were a human, I promised several folks an update, so...I guess I'm the crazy pet lady today. It's okay. Been called worse.

In sum:
  • We put her new collar on too tightly, didn't notice because she's so very fluffy, and by the time we realized what was going on - goodbye, fur; hello stinky, matted, red, itchy mess.
  • If I were a stinky, matted, red, itchy mess I'd probably mope around, not eat, hide under tables, stare blankly off into space and steal my father's spot in bed for the unforeseeable future too.
  • The vet shaved her neck, and it looks truly ghastly. I mean Sweeney Todd ghastly. When I first saw it I thought she was bleeding from the throat and I temporarily panicked ghastly.
  • The vet (thankfully) said it's not infected.
  • Our dog is currently on steroids.
  • No, it's probably too early for 'roid rage; and yes, it is a silly question. Despite what your kindergarten teacher may have told you, some questions just are.
  • Mental health-wise, she seems marginally better today. I've relayed all your nose kisses and butt scratches, and it seems to be working. Earlier this afternoon she actually sniffed at her bone as if she was mildly entertaining the thought of maybe playing with it sometime in the not too distant future!
  • Seeing how her neck sort of looks like a zombie bite to me, *zombie dog!* has recently replaced the *Godzilla!* game. I cannot say it's been a smashing success, however these things take time.
  • I feel like a bad, bad mom.
  • After this, I wonder if they'll ever let me have actual children.
  • On the brightside, when I do have actual children, I now know to be super careful not to put their new collars on too tightly! (Silver linings and such...)

Tuesday, January 29, 2008
non sequiturs
So, my doggie's pretty sick right now and I'm more than a little concerned. She's going to the vet tomorrow so hopefully she'll be staging a comeback soon, but until then I'm not sure which is worse - the condition of her skin or of her mind. If you haven't seen one, a depressed dog is one of the saddest things on God's green Earth, and she's got me blue, I tell you.

New thing I learned today: I was talking to some Jewish colleagues and was a stunned to discover that mixing meat and dairy isn't kosher. I guess it's a rule only observed by the most devout, but even still - the inability to eat a cheeseburger or to sprinkle Parmesan cheese on your pasta seems sort of tragic to me. (And this just in: I'm not as aware of other cultures as I'd often like to think I am.)

Although it looks like it's going to be really, really good, watching the trailer for Heath Ledger's last movie, The Dark Knight, made me sadder than I expected it would.

How much do I want to see Modest Mouse and The National open for R.E.M.? So much!

I know this is sort of an old discussion by now, but when did "brown" become an acceptable nomenclature for Latinos?

The good news is I'm officially up to "expert" level in Guitar Hero III. The bad news is my mysterious carpal tunnel/arthritic thumb condition is as bad as it's ever been.

Wanna see a *fierce* baby red panda? Sure you do!

After today, I'm firmly committed to the school of thought that permanent banishment to a desert island should be considered a perfectly acceptable punishment for people who sit next to you at meetings and pop their gum for two hours non-stop.

New thing I learned earlier this month: Apparently, <3 means "heart" in textspeak. And here I've gone all this time thinking it meant "asshat"! But come to think of it, "I 'heart' you," makes markedly more sense than "I 'asshat' you," doesn't it? (And this just in: Most days, I'm tragically unhip.)

Monday, January 28, 2008
monday book review: sway, a novel; by zachary lazar

I am not a child of the sixties. Heck, I’m barely even a child of the seventies. But even still, I couldn't help but be fascinated with Zachary Lazar’s Sway - a engrossing novel dealing with the intersection of three 60’s icons: Charles Manson, The Rolling Stones, and occult filmmaker Kenneth Anger (Invocation of my Demon Brother, Scorpio Rising). Despite using factual people, Sway is clearly a work of fiction; despite being a novel, it reads more like a series of character studies; and rather than romanticizing the 1960s, Lazar uses motifs of Satanism, drug culture, homoerotica and violence to approach the oft romanticized decade from a much darker angle. With three protagonists: Kenneth Anger – a experimental filmmaker who often found inspiration in Satanism and the occult, Bobby Beausoleil - a handsome, young musician, actor and eventual murderous member of the Manson clan, and Brian Jones – founder of the Rolling Stones who was later spurned by the group before drowning in his own swimming pool at age 27; Lazar weaves together three stories that not only intersect, but also darkly echo one another. I’m not particularly a fan of the Rolling Stones, I know next to nothing about Anger, and I’m only mildly interested in the infamous Manson clan, so I suspect a lot of Lazar’s more minor references and plot details were lost on me, but it was a highly engaging read even still. I felt that the back half of the novel dragged a bit so I can’t say that I absolutely loved Sway, but I ended with a deep appreciation for both Lazar’s story and the artful approach he took to telling it.

Sway, A Novel
Zachary Lazar
2008, 272 pages

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Sunday, January 27, 2008
senator, don't even front. i *know* you didn't just call Bill your boo.
(That's the best caption I could come up with at least.  If you can think of a better one, then by all means, share.)

Friday, January 25, 2008
friday video: because some women take their coffee black
I'm impulsively declaring video Friday a thing. Honestly, I'm not even sure why. But even still, if suddenly I declare it so, then so it is, and so it goes...

Here's a not-so subtly racist, yet somehow funny Italian commercial I found via Feministing. Happy Friday.


Thursday, January 24, 2008
at the movies: four things i highly recommend
Ironically, although I love movies it seems like I rarely get around to actually watching them.  A Netflix subscription has helped, but in general I'm still rather shoddy at keeping up with the cinematic world.  However, if there's one good thing to come of the writers' strike it's my gigantic increase in movie consumption, which became self-evident when the list of Oscar nominations was released and - lo and behold - I discovered I had already seen three of the five noms for Best Picture.  Even on a good year, my batting average is never that high.  

And so - seeing that I have this bloggity thing-a-ma-jig - I thought I'd tell ya about some of 'em. You don't mind, right?  Fantastic....

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Recommended for: people who enjoy improbable and spontaneous operatic singing, cannibalism, and heavy, heavy eye makeup.

Tim Burton+Johnny Depp+Stephen Sondheim=Right Up My Alley, so this was an obvious choice.  Although I wouldn't recommend it for people who blanketly claim to despise musicals, I would contend that Sweeney Todd makes the short list of "musicals for people who hate musicals."  Johnny Depp's vocals were surprisingly capable of the insanely difficult role, Burton's dark and dreary London was a perfect backdrop, and the boy who played Toby was amazing.  Sure, there were moments that fell a bit flat (Depp's rendition of "My Friends" immediately comes to mind), but it was a highly enjoyable movie, albeit not for the squeamish.

My Grade: B+

Recommended for: fans of The Great Gatsby, people who like gorgeous, sweeping and epic period pieces, and those who find Keira Knightley and James McAvoy terribly attractive (i.e. - people who aren't blind). 

Although I didn't love Atonement, I did like it quite a bit.  I couldn't help but compare this to Pride and Prejudice and in the shadow of that film Atonement felt like it had a bit less chemistry and heart, but it was excellent even still.  I don't particularly want to see it win Best Picture, but Joe Wright and Paul Webste sure do make some pretty movies together. (And by the way,  add the little girl who played Briony to the list of celebrities I'd like to fight.)

My Grade: A-

No Country for Old Men
Recommended for: fatalists, people who like don't mind the occasional bath in a pool of misery, and those who understand that some journeys don't always end the way we'd like them to.

I won't mince words, No Country... is a hard movie to watch.  It's violent, slow, and terribly oppressive; however, it's also very, very good.  Javier Bardem scared the living bejeezus out of me (which isn't an easy thing to do), I was on the edge of my seat the entire time, and unlike the book, the film contained moments of unexpected humor.  Which was nice.  Kept me from slitting my wrists.  

My Grade: A

There Will Be Blood
Recommended for: fans of P.T. Anderson, Upton Sinclair, and scenes that start out funny but then take a terrible, terrible turn.

I'll just come out and say it - There Will Be Blood was brilliant. I saw it three days ago, and I still cannot get it out of my head.  Daniel Day-Lewis was predictably incredible, but Paul Dano (Little Miss Sunshine) blew me away.  It was perfectly directed, the soundtrack thoroughly nerve-wracking, and the final act was equal parts terrifying, comical and bizarre.  I loved it.

My Grade: A+

And a Bonus DVD Rental Thrown in at the Last Minute For Kicks: Waitress
Recommended for: people who enjoy sweetness, light, and pies.

Everyone said I should see Waitress, but I kept ignoring them because it looked like such a easily dismissible romantic comedy, and I'm not generally drawn to that sort of thing.  Fortunately, I ignored my stubborn resistance and just rented it already, and I'm so glad I did because I absolutely adored this movie. In fact, it even made me break one of my New Year's Resolutions! (No, not the one about murdering people. The one about crying, silly.) If you haven't seen it yet, you really, really should.

My Grade: A

And tomorrow...Cloverfield.  Oh yes. It's on.


Wednesday, January 23, 2008
because it's hump day and i'm feeling scrappier than usual
Believe it or not, I actually have a substantive movie-related post in the works, but until I find the right combination of both stamina and desire to polish that little sucker off I'm allowing myself to be sucked in by Pajiba's comment diversion for the day.

And so, here's a rough draft of the list of celebrities I'd most like to fight:

Joan Crawford
I know she's dead so time travel would have to be involved, but it would be worth it. Who wouldn't want to fight Mommie Dearest? (Although I'll be honest and admit I'd be absolutely terrified going in. Bitch will cut you.)

Kevin Costner
Because he just seems overly smug to me, and when you consider the combined total running times of Waterworld, The Bodyguard and Dances With Wolves that's ten solid hours of my life that I'll never get back. Mr. Costner, I'd like to take those hours out your nose.

Rachael Ray
Punching her would be deelish!

Carrot Top
I doubt I'm alone here. Back in the mid-nineties I actually allowed myself to get dragged to one of his shows, and even then the dude was more offensive and pathetic than funny. He's bulked up significantly since, but he's also had so much plastic surgery he looks like a space alien from Planet Faaaabulous!, so my money's on me kicking his weird little butt.

Chuck Norris
For no particular reason other than so I could say I fought Chuck Norris.

Those are just the top five, but others who would certainly make the short list include: Lindsay Lohan, Victoria Beckham, Paris Hilton, Tom Cruise, Ann Coulter, Chriss Angel, Barbara Streisand, Elizabeth Hasselbeck, a young Paul Newman (although it would be more of a sweaty tussle than a fight, exactly), Mitch Albom and Queen Elizabeth II.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008
All-in-all today's been one helluva crappy one, but when I force myself to sit down and reflect I suppose I can give thanks that the near-accident I got in this morning was only nearly an accident, that the miscopied final exam I gave today turned out to be no big thing after all, and I did eventually find those two final student essays I misplaced after wasting two hours scouring the entire school building.


Oh, well. At least John Galliano's newest Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome - inspired ready-to-wear line made me chuckle. It's what to wear when you have nothing to wear after the bomb drops!

(WTF, right? And do keep going, because pages 4 and 5 are by far the best of the lot...)

Monday, January 21, 2008
monday book review: special topics in calamity physics, by marisha pessl

I finally got around to finishing Pessl's  debut, which seems to have met a steady stream of both critical acclaim and general annoyance following its 2006 release.  Well aware of the opinions of both camps, I tried to approach Special Topics... with an open mind, and I found myself wavering between loving it and wanting to hurl it across the room. The novel - at least in terms of length - is epic, but although the plot meanders considerably, it's essentially a murder mystery wrapped in coming-of-age drama.  Blue van Meer has spent her formative years bouncing around the country with her brilliant and pedantic father who seems hell-bent on creating a child who is every bit as brilliant and pedantic as himself. Although they rarely stay in one city for longer than a college semester,  Dr. van Meer finally gives in to his daughter's desire for stability by accepting a teaching position in a sleepy little town in North Carolina and enrolling her in St. Galloway - a ritzy prep school that reeks with pretension.  Here, Blue's major plans are to enjoy her senior year and clinch the title of class valedictorian, but when she catches the eye of Hannah Schneider - a mysterious, beautiful teacher who is the beloved leader and mentor of "The Bluebloods" (basically the richest, snottiest kids in school) - drama, intrigue and death are soon to follow. 

Again, it's been awhile since I've read something that was as enjoyable as it was frustrating. While the actual story was intriguing enough to keep me reading, I found the writing to be gimmicky and grossly overwritten.  I was constantly getting lost in endless strings of smiles, metaphors and parenthetical citations used, presumably, to prove how smart the narrator was (i.e. - A chandelier isn't "gaudy." Rather, it's "a gold, five-tiered chandelier...hung like an upside-down duchess shamelessly exposing to the paying public her ankle boots and froufrou petticoat."  Ugh.) But there are moments, especially after the first 150 or so pages, when Pessl seems to forget how witty, dazzling, and innovative she is trying to be and just writes, and these are the moments that keep me reading. Basically, is there considerable talent here?  Yes.  Would Pessl have benefited from more disciplined editing? Most definitely.

Marisha Pessl
2006, 514 pages

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welcome back
Whew!  Boy, that was a whirlwind blogation I just got back from, but back I am - rested and ready to roll.  What did I do on blogation you ask?  Ha! What didn't I do, is the better question!  This past week has been adventure-packed, let me tell you....

First, I got to spend some time catching up on my favorite activity: staring vacantly out the window.  But that soon grew tedious, and so - having been bit by the bug of adventure - I decided to mix it up a bit by tackling the wild and woolly jungles of my filthy house.  It was daunting and there were some moments when I thought I might not make it back alive, but with the exception of a giant post-vacuum sneeze attack and some bleach stains on one of my favorite shirts, I managed to emerge triumphant and victorious.  Feeling celebratory, I then spent the next few evenings catching up on my video rentals.  I laughed, I cried, I spent an embarrassing amount of time in my pajamas.  But the video selection soon dried up and I grew restless. I dubbed the next few evenings "The Missing Period," since I managed to completely lose track of myself reading epic poetry, writing long, tragic pieces in an attempt to shake the demons I smuggled back with me from the war, and aimlessly wandering these dark suburban streets. But life has a funny way of working itself out, and I found my salvation from this dark period in one of the most unsuspecting of places - my living room.  Turns out I am quite the little guitar hero, and, in recognition of my mind-blowing skillz, I was invited to join a Scorpions tribute band. It was fun for awhile but life on the road can be such a drag, and I soon realized that all the money, fame and barbiturates in the world couldn't fill the void you'd left behind.

So, I'm back, baby.  Miss me?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008
gone fishin'

I'm now off to embark on my blogging vacation - or, my blogation if you will. I should be back up and running by next Monday at the very latest, but in the meantime I need to go find myself because it's not you, baby, it's me, Stella's got to get her groove back, and if you really loved me you'd let me go.

(I also plan to spend this time working on my debilitating cliche problem.)

Be back soon...

Monday, January 14, 2008
monday book review: the abstinence teacher, by tom perrotta

Perrotta's latest installment uses public school health teachers and suburban soccer moms and dads to examine the war between liberals and evangelicals. For over ten years Ruth Ramsay let her motto of "Pleasure is good, shame is bad, and knowledge is power" guide her teaching of human sexuality; in her classroom no subject was forbidden, but the envelope is eventually pushed too far when, in response to a student's vocal disgust over oral sex, she replies, "some people enjoy it."  A student complains and cue the evangelical Christians, who have an amazingly easy time swooping in and getting the sexuality curriculum changed to an "abstinence only" approach - a philosophy that Ruth strongly opposes, yet must still manage to teach.  In the aftermath of this controversy, Ruth meets her daughter's soccer coach - a former addict turned born-again evangelical Christian named Tim Mason, who unwittingly creates a huge mess the day he decided to lead his multi-faithed, community soccer team in prayer right before Ruth's very eyes.  What follows is the story of an unlikely friendship born from the controversy, and a book that pretty much bored me throughout.  I admit that my knowledge of Perrotta's storytelling is limited to film versions of two of his novels (Election, Little Children), but on the power of these two films and reviewers' commentaries I was expecting The Abstinence Teacher to be sharp, witty, mildly satirical, and funny when it needed to be.  Instead, the story played a bit like a Lifetime Original Movie, none of the characters were particularly likable, barring one moment that I found mildly amusing it was decidedly unfunny, and I probably would not have finished it if it were not for the sake of this review which I now write.  Perhaps I'm being a bit harsh, but in a word - meh.  You can do better.

Tom Perrotta
2007, 358 pages

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Sunday, January 13, 2008
double sigh...
I seem to have come down with a whopping case of seasonal affective disorder, and I can't seem to shake it. I've tried most everything I could think of - shopping for home furnishings, ice cream, Pride and Prejudice, rewatching season 1 of The Kids in the Hall in its entirely - but nothing seems to work. Still blue.

I only mention it because - due to experiencing a severe lack of feist, wit and humor - this blog's going on holiday. I still plan to keep up with the Monday's book review, but after that a vacation. I'm thinking a week or so 'till the light therapy starts kicking in...

Thursday, January 10, 2008
As I’ve already mentioned - albeit rather cryptically - I got my panties all in a bunch yesterday, and although I tend to get myself in trouble whenever I try to discuss political issues (mainly because I feel grossly inept in that arena), I still feel it necessary to vent a few things. I’ll try my best not to offend and/or come off sounding like a complete moron. And so it goes…

Call me incredibly naïve, but I began the year excited and hopeful about election ’08. For one of the first times ever there’s actually a candidate that I’m excited to vote for, one who I think might be electable, and who is not merely the least of all possible evils. But wouldn’t you know it - when the Michigan primaries roll around Tuesday next, I won’t be able to vote for him. Instead, I can either cast an incredibly unsatisfactory “uncommitted” vote, or I get to choose – yet again- between the lesser of two evils. The whole thing makes me feel like crying. Or swearing. Or both.

And speaking of naïve, imagine my shock when I opened up a forwarded email message yesterday warning me that my candidate has a secret MUSLIM history. *Gasp!* I guess I’m not particularly shocked by swirling propaganda aimed at the candidate of color with the foreign sounding name, but nonetheless the insinuation that Obama = Muslim = terrorist got under my craw - so much so that I did something incredibly stupid. I brought up politics in the lunchroom.

Naturally, after venting my irritation to my all-female lunch colleagues, the subject of Obama’s race led to the subject of Hillary’s gender. I’m not a Hillary supporter – mostly because I feel she’s dangerously unelectable rather than because I’m at personal or political odds with her - but I was still shocked when the overwhelming majority of the women in the room admitted that they don’t like Hillary because she’s – get this - a woman. Really? Really? One woman even went so far as to call her “robotic, calculated and cold” in one breath, and then criticize her for ‘crying’ (which was really more like ‘misting’) at the New Hampshire primaries in the next. Come on, ladies, think – how can she be both emotionless and yet too emotional? Of course, this is all coming from the same colleague who lamented that today’s youth vote based on issues rather than along party lines - as if thoughtfully choosing a candidate based on their actual message was an incredibly stupid thing to do.

And so frustrated, defeated, and more than a little depressed, I headed back to my classroom to face those very kids who will one day dare to vote on something as foolish as issues. We are wrapping up our study of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (a book recently banned from my school’s American Literature required reading list), and so I decided it would be appropriate and prudent for us to explore the controversy of racism in connection to the novel. And explore we did, or at least attempted since the majority of my mostly white students are resistant – some even outright angered – to the suggestion that some may consider the novel to be racist by today’s standards. In fact, my 6th hour was so disgusted with me after making them explore the position that Twain’s inspiration for Jim came from his love of Blackface Minstrel shows rather than any real first-hand knowledge of the true slave experience that they completely shut down. Forced to make them voice their reactions in writing, one student responded, “I don’t care about any of this, and think it's a giant waste of time. It's just a dumb story, it doesn't mean anything, and I just don’t agree with you. Sorry.” As if I had ever given them my opinion on the matter. I wrote back, “I’m not trying to get you to think a certain way, rather I’m trying to get you to THINK! Some might say that's an important skill to have.”

And I wanted to add that perhaps he should abstain from voting until he was better able to think, but judging by the day’s previous events thinking isn’t necessarily a prerequisite for making judgments or decisions. Sigh…

Wednesday, January 09, 2008
how to be gay
I was all set to write about my recent political ire (a post that's still brewing by the way), but I heard about this on the radio this morning and found it terribly amusing. It's the description of a very unique course offered (and strongly objected to) at the University of Michigan, and trust that if I could I would toootally sign up for it - if for no other reason than to listen in while people discuss topics like "muscle culture" in an academic forum:

How to be Gay: Male Homosexuality and Initiation.

Credits: (3; 2 in the half-term).

Instructor(s): David M Halperin (

Course Description:

Just because you happen to be a gay man doesn't mean that you don't have to learn how to become one. Gay men do some of that learning on their own, but often we learn how to be gay from others, either because we look to them for instruction or because they simply tell us what they think we need to know, whether we ask for their advice or not.

This course will examine the general topic of the role that initiation plays in the formation of gay male identity. We will approach it from three angles: (1) as a sub-cultural practice — subtle, complex, and difficult to theorize — which a small but significant body of work in queer studies has begun to explore; (2) as a theme in gay male writing; and (3) as a class project, since the course itself will constitute an experiment in the very process of initiation that it hopes to understand.

In particular, we will examine a number of cultural artifacts and activities that seem to play a prominent role in learning how to be gay: Hollywood movies, grand opera, Broadway musicals, and other works of classical and popular music, as well as camp, diva-worship, drag, muscle culture, taste, style, and political activism. Are there a number of classically 'gay' works such that, despite changing tastes and generations, all gay men, of whatever class, race, or ethnicity, need to know them, in order to be gay? What is there about gay identity that explains the gay appropriation of these works? What do we learn about gay male identity by asking not who gay men are but what it is that gay men do or like? One aim of exploring these questions is to approach gay identity from the perspective of social practices and cultural identifications rather than from the perspective of gay sexuality itself. What can such an approach tell us about the sentimental, affective, or subjective dimensions of gay identity, including gay sexuality, that an exclusive focus on gay sexuality cannot?

At the core of gay experience there is not only identification but disidentification. Almost as soon as I learn how to be gay, or perhaps even before, I also learn how not to be gay. I say to myself, 'Well, I may be gay, but at least I'm not like that!' Rather than attempting to promote one version of gay identity at the expense of others, this course will investigate the stakes in gay identifications and disidentifications, seeking ultimately to create the basis for a wider acceptance of the plurality of ways in which people determine how to be gay.

Additional note. This course is not a basic introduction to gay male culture, but an exploration of certain issues arising from it. It assumes some background knowledge. Students wishing to inform themselves about gay men and gay culture in a preliminary way should enroll in an introductory course in lesbian/gay studies.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008
things i learned today after spending an hour with michelle, my substitute dental hygienist:
  • I'm not brushing my teeth enthusiastically enough.
  • I don't floss, and it's not clear who I'm trying to fool.
  • Mauve is not my best color.
  • It's a very good thing I'm not pregnant, because a) it allowed Michelle to take x-rays of my teeth - a task which she finds immensely soothing and I don't want to see her when she's unsoothed, and b) my unborn children will only disappoint me while draining me financially dry.
  • If you want your children to behave for their teachers, train them early. Michelle suggests pointing out homeless people on the street and warning your kids from as early as infancy that if they disobey in school they will end up just like that.
  • Good sons don't drop out of perfectly good chemical engineering programs to switch their majors to only God knows what.
  • In the old country, children are a reflection on their families. This is why Michelle thinks we should be able to declare our children "orphans" should they begin to reflect too poorly.
  • Michelle no longer has a son. She now has a twenty-year-old orphan who spends all his college money on booze and video games rather than perfectly good chemical engineering programs.
  • In a divorce, your friends will choose sides.
  • After her divorce, no one chose hers. (Although I can't imagine why....)
  • It's somehow possible to get more enamel polish in my hair than on my teeth.
  • With enough pressurized water concentrated long and hard enough in one spot of my mouth it is, in fact, possible to draw blood.
  • I will never, ever miss another appointment with my regular dental hygienist.

viva my papa
Someone very special to me celebrates his birthday today - my father. And in honor of the event, here's a picture of one of his proudest moments - the day he met President Nixon:

Cheers, dad! May your sideburns always be bushy, your leisure suits velvet, and your firearms fully operational.

Monday, January 07, 2008
books: 20th century ghosts, by joe hill

Ever since my first Girl Scout overnight camping trip I've been a sucker for scary stories, and Joe Hill's 20th Century Ghosts is one of the most original and entertaining collection of them I've read in quite some time. Some of the material here is certainly standard horror fare - "Best New Horror" is creepy and disgusting and "20th Century Ghost" is your basic ghost story, although a far better version of it - but Hill also tries his hand at science fiction, fantasy, and the surreal. Actually, several of the stories aren't scary at all - "Pop Art" is a touching story of an unlikely friendship and "Better Than Home" is a sweet father/son tale - and it's this versatility that I found to be one of the biggest strengths of the collection. Some of the most interesting moments for me were "And You Will Hear the Locust Sing" - a 21th Century version of Kafka's Metamorphosis, "Abraham's Boys" - a vampire story meets Frailty, "My Father's Mask" - the ending of which blew my mind, and Voluntary Committal - a brilliant novella that explores the old theme of Alice's rabbit hole and asks what would happen if a traveler could never return from it. After reading this collection it's easy to see how Hill was able to land a book deal so quickly, and after reading both 20th Century Ghosts and Heart-Shaped Box (his debut novel) it's clear that he's still a far better writer of short stories than novels. In any event, this is an excellent read and I'd strongly recommend it, even if horror isn't typically your thing.

20th Century Ghosts
Joe Hill
2007, 336 pages

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Sunday, January 06, 2008
dooming myself to failure for the new year
Largehearted Boy, a pop culture blog I both enjoy and endorse, has this series I like where he reads and then writes on 52 books in 52 weeks.  His reviews are quite brief - usually only 5-7 sentences long - and I like that about them, since I could certainly benefit from both reading more and trying to express myself in a size that is smaller and easier to digest. So, as insane as it sounds, I've been tossing around the idea of stealing his series, claiming it as my own, and posting it in a fairly predictable manner.  I was thinking Mondays would be good, and so I plan to board this crazy train tomorrow.  

In short, I can apparently add "be more concise," "be more predictable," and "set yourself up for failure" to my list of resolutions for '08.  Anyone wish to join the office pool on which will be the first Monday I'll skip?  I'm calling February 18th...

Thursday, January 03, 2008
books: 2007
There are really only two areas of pop culture that I feel I can discuss with any amount of credibility (a statement which is still a bit of a stretch), and since I've already written ad nauseum about the music I liked in '07, I felt a little guilty not talking about the books I liked too, a guilt I'd like to resolve today. And although I guess talking '07 is sort of passe by now, I still want to.

So I will. Darn it.

And so here it is - my favorite literary moments of 2007. Should you be interested, I've linked to the more thorough reviews previously posted on each title (reviews that were written by me, so do be sure to temper those expectations).

Central question: What would happen to the world should humans suddenly disappear? The answer: boy, we sure have made a mess, but nature is nothing if not persistent.

With a voice that is uniquely her own, her stories are precious, awkward, silly, unsettling and strange. I pretty much loved each one, although "Shared Patio" and "Something That Needs Nothing" are my favorites.

Favorite Title that I Suppose is Technically Young-Adult Fiction, but When You Really Think About it So is The Catcher in the Rye, So Who Really Cares?: The Dead Fathers Club, by Matt Haig
For those of you paying attention I've already gushed on about this book to the point of absurdity, so it's probably best I not repeat what I've already said both here and here.

Favorite Title that Scared Me in Ways I'm Not Quite Used to Being Scared: A Good and Happy Child, by Justin Evans
Is the kid crazy? Is be possessed by a demon? Who knows, but the road I traveled while pondering the questions was smart, unsettling, and dark. These are all things that I find tremendously pleasing.

I never did get around to giving this beautiful little book a proper review and for that I am sorry because I truly loved it and should have pushed it on more people. The title comes from the last few lines of Dante's Inferno, and the story is melancholic, heart-rending and beautiful in the way that a tale about standing in hell and somehow finding the hope to look towards the heavens should be.

Favorite Title for Making Me Laugh: I Love You, Beth Cooper, by Larry Doyle
Denis Coverman - a true nerd's nerd - takes his first real risk when he throws it all on the line to professes his love for the most popular girl in school during his graduating valedictorian speech, and the aftermath is a hilarious train wreck that you never really want to look away from. I laughed from start to finish, although through gritted teeth.

There's a reason this book is on almost every "best of 2007" list I've stumbled across. It's fantastic, and you should read it.

Other Scattershot Book-Related Thoughts on '07:

The One Title I Wish I Would Have Read Before Compiling This List: Out Stealing Horses, by Per Petterson
It made the top ten list for Entertainment Weekly, The New York Times, Time Magazine and more, so even if it doesn't sound much like my thing I expect I'll be getting around to it sometime this month.

The Book Whose Glowing Praise I Didn't Quite Agree With: Then We Came to the End, by Joshua Ferris
I appreciate the sort of Catch-22 meets The Office tale Ferris was trying to spin, but try as I might I couldn't get past the first person collective point of view. Lots of other people seemed to like it, though, so perhaps you shouldn't take my word for it.

The Book I Probably Should Have Tried Harder On, But Just Couldn't Find the Will to Do So: Tree of Smoke, by Denis Johnson
Perhaps it's every bit as brilliant as everyone said, but I couldn't get past page 70 so I wouldn't know. Not my thing.

Best Book Event of the Year Decade: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by JK Rowling
As if this is a point that bears repeating...

Best Film Adaptation of a Novel: No Country for Old Men
I'd be terribly shocked if this doesn't get a best picture nomination. It's a jagged little pill to swallow, but a damn fine movie based on a damn fine book.

The Book Whose Film Buzz I'm the Most Curious About: The Raw Shark Texts, by Steven Hall
Last I heard it's going to happen, but I can't for the life of me imagine how. Some stories are better left to the imagination, and I fear this might be one of them.

Saddest Literary Event: Kurt Vonnegut's passing.

Book-Related Thing that I Found Most Irksome: JK Rowling's announcement that Dumbledore is gay.
So's Walt Whitman, Ursula Le Guin, Achilles, Bert 'n' Ernie and my cousin Scott. So what?


Wednesday, January 02, 2008
my new year's resolutions for '08
In no particular order:
  • Stop blaming other people for all my problems.
  • Start blaming God.
  • Stop referring to Oprah as God.
  • Stop hiding behind humor - it's far less effective than hiding behind tangible things.  Like God Oprah.
  • Be more knowledgeable about current events.
  • Stop classifying TMZ as "current events".
  • Stop giving myself haircuts, for much like yodeling, some things are best left to professionals.
  • Cut loose and be more adventurous. Consider covering my entire back with tattoos or selling the house and buying a vineyard in Italy. Or, at the very least, stop organizing the clothes in my closet by the color spectrum.
  • Stop using sarcasm as a crutch. Instead, use something more appropriate.  Like alcohol.
  • And as always, cry less, hug more, and try to kill fewer people.