Monday, March 31, 2008
monday book review: the alchemist, by paulo coelho
Santiago, a shepherd boy from the Andalusian Mountains with a yearning to travel, seems perfectly content with limiting his exploration to his native Spanish countryside until a reoccurring dream - one which foretells of a great fortune that lies in wait for him near the Egyptian Pyramids - sets in motion a much larger journey, that of his Personal Legend. Accepting it as an omen, the shepherd boy makes the courageous decision to sell all of his belongings and leave home to heed the dream's call. Along the way, he encounters a mysterious King who teaches him to decipher omens, thieves who rob him blind, a European mystic who is seeking the secrets of alchemy, an Arabian woman who is to become the love of his life, dangerous nomadic tribes who wage war in the desert he must cross, and The Alchemist - the one who teaches him to control his fears, listen to his heart, and become one with the universal Language of the World so that he too can become an alchemist and fulfill his life's purpose.

On the surface, The Alchemist is a simple fable - an easily digestible fairy tale that can be polished off in a matter of a few hours. But just like any other "simple" fable, Coelho uses Santiago's personal journey to make much larger statements about life. Namely, that we all have dreams, however most of us never achieve our dreams due to obstacles of fear - fear of changing our comfortable lives, fear of leaving the people we love, fear of defeat, fear that we may not truly deserve for our dreams to come true, and fear that once we reach our dreams we will no longer have a reason to live or that the dream will ultimately disappoint. And since we are often the forces that hold ourselves back, courage becomes the most valuable trait a person can have. Coelho's message is one of supreme comfort and optimism, arguing that "fate is the world's greatest lie," that we are the ones in control of our lives, that we have the power to chose how we view the world, that the attitude we assume in difficult situations is enough to turn scary or painful moments into adventures, and that "to realize one's destiny is a person's only real obligation."

And although I have no idea whether or not any of these things are actually true, I sure do like the prospect that they just might be.

I can definitely see how more cynical readers would roll their eyes at Coelho's story, especially when he describes concepts like "The Soul of the World" and statements like "...when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it." And although it does feel awful close to the sort of overly sentimental self-help drivel that I typically hate, something about The Alchemist forced me to love it, despite the parts that struck me as hokey and sexist.* But despite these debatable turn-offs, The Alchemist is perfect for young readers whose dreams and aspirations may be newly forming, although I can't think of anyone who couldn't take something away from it.

Paulo Coelho
1993, 167 pages

*While on his journey, Santiago falls in love with a woman named Fatima, and like Odysseus' Penelope, Fatima's only destiny is to discover and wait patiently for her man to return from his adventures. Although Coelho never comes out and says as much, the implication is that these sorts of epic Personal Journeys are reserved for men. I found this terrifically irritating.

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would you rather...
...the powers that be proceed with their plans to create a television show based off of the very brilliant yet underappreciated Children of Men,


watch a full-day marathon of Two and a Half Men while being repeatedly punched in the neck?

(I know.  It's a terrifically difficult choice, isn't it?)


random posts of pretty
Elliott Smith's "Waltz #2 (XO)", Live

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Friday, March 28, 2008
your friday video: space alone
A little while back, Pajiba linked to an article from Smashing Magazine titled, 25 Brilliant Animated Short Movies, and it's proven to be a terrific time waster for me these past few days. All the videos are worth watching, but "Space Alone" was my favorite. It's pretty, sweet, sad, and involves a cute little space kitten thingy. What's not to love?

Enjoy, and as always - happy Friday!


overheard in the classroom…
...during a very quiet, very intense peer editing session of their biggest, badest, beastliest composition of the year:

Kid A: Oh my God, Evan. Did you even proofread this? Can you even spell?

Evan: What’s wrong?

Kid A: How can “racism and dialect exemplify the ongoing rollercoaster of dignity of life?” Dude, this makes no sense.

Evan: (Runs over to look at the paper in question.) True. But all the words are spelled right!

Kid A: (Pointing.) Look here. “Futhar?” That’s not even a word!

Evan: Yes it is!!

Kid A: Yeah? Then what does it mean? Use it in a sentence.

Evan: How about, stop mocking my paper in public, motherfuthar.

Kid A: (After a pause) Okay. Fair enough.

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Thursday, March 27, 2008
random posts of pretty
Because spring is coming. Eventually...

Photographs by Virginia Saunders


on my soapbox
Faith - whether the religious sort or not - is an important thing to have, but something tells me that if God indeed exists, then He would have not wanted this little girl to die of a completely treatable condition.

(And if I listen closely, I can almost hear the Scientologists plotting my slow demise...)

Wednesday, March 26, 2008
I'm feeling rather tired and uninspired today, so please take these links in lieu of my usual...wit? snark? poorly proofread ramblings? (Sorry. I forgot what we're calling it now.)

Although on the very short list of "bands I've loved longest and hardest and bestest of all" I'd sort of given up hope that R.E.M. would ever make another relevant album, but I've been listening to Accelerate nonstop for the past two hours or so, and I'm pleased to report that it's the real deal. It sounds a bit like Automatic for the People fell in love with New Adventures in Hi-Fi, but still had a thing on the side with Monster, all while receiving bits of sage advice here and there from its old friend, Fables of the Reconstruction. (That means it's good). And if any of that sounds interesting to you, then I'm pleased to report that the whole thing is streaming (for free!) over here, and you best check it. Stat.

Speaking of music, feel like teaming up and helping me make a video for the song of our choice off of In Rainbows? Because Radiohead is apparently holding a contest for just that. It can't be that hard, we could make some bank, and there's already a tutorial available for this very thing. Apparently, we just need some black and white film, a handful of venomous beasties and clips from old David Lynch and Ed Wood movies. So, what do you say?  This Saturday, my house, a King Cobra, and some "Reckoner" - who's in?

Speaking of venomous beasties, this funny list of endangered species that aren't endangered enough is pretty spot-on. (Except for #1, of course.  Who cares if they've lost all interest in perpetuating their own species?  Pandas are freakin' adorable.)

And since I'm both tired and a teacher, thank you McSweeney's for your list of ideas for classroom projects.  My favorite is, of course, the one whose brilliance lies in its simplicity: 
Lesson: Aww! A Puppy!

Requires: a puppy

Setup: none

Instructions: Bring the puppy to the classroom. Stay seated at your desk until class time is over.
And now, in an effort to increase this post's IQ, here's the post I wish I could have written on the subject of last week's Obama/Rev. Wright nonsense.

And finally, leftover Peeps s'mores?  Oh hell yes.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008
john adams: perhaps better with sam adams?
Although my spring break won't start for a few weeks yet, I found myself gifted with a four-day Easter weekend which I somehow managed to squander away in the least productive manner possible.  Which is fine.  I should do better to remind myself that every free day need not be spent organizing my closets.  However, after making the conscious decision to spend my free Monday in a manner that doesn't involve grading, cleaning, straightening or organizing a single solitary thing, I needed some activity to divert my mind away from the guilt I knew I would ultimately start feeling over not spending this time grading, cleaning, straightening, or organizing a single solitary thing.  And since watching television is usually the best way to stifle thought (which can be a pesky, pesky beast from time to time) that's how I decided to spend the day - hanging out with my television.

But then comes the issue of what to watch on a Monday morning.  Since my dad had raved about HBO's John Adams mini-series over Easter dinner, I figured I'd take his usually sound advice and catch the first two episodes on On Demand.  And since I found myself incapable of not starting a load of laundry about 45 minutes in, I guess it was with this decision where my dream of doing nothing failed.

I know most of my readers have been watching it, so I'll spare the details and cut to the opinion.  It's not that it's bad, exactly.  The acting is great and the actors well-chosen, but...well...damn the Continental Congress makes for boring television!  And I'm honestly rather surprised that I reacted this way seeing how I love history, and would have minored in it had I not listened to some whack job college advisor who was a bit too convincing that a Earth Science minor would make me more marketable than a History one.  (For the record, it didn't.)  

Actually, the first thirty minutes of the first installment were pretty engrossing, but then somewhere between tarring and feathering a British merchant and Abigail Adams's fight with small pox I became all fidgety and unable to resist the sexy pull of all that unfolded laundry.  The wonky camera angles were irritating in their frequency and nonsensicality (tilted to show the burning intensity John Adams must have felt when spreading manure over his farmland, I suppose?) and by Episode 2 the whole thing felt a bit interminable.

I don't know.  I'm loathe to quit when in the middle of something, so I might finish it despite all that.  

But then again, I might not.


Monday, March 24, 2008
monday book review: ovenman, by jeff parker
Antihero When Thinfinger is a bit of a loser, although a lovable one. After being kicked out of the house by his parents for accidentally getting both arms covered in horribly mangled tattoos, 15-year-old When found himself forced to take a job in fast food and has been there ever since. Although a maestro in a restaurant, he's basically hapless in everything else. He's a skater who keeps losing his boards; his bulimic girlfriend sleeps in the living room, plagued by dreams that he's trying to kill her; he's the lead singer in a band who will only let him repetitiously sing the word "Wormdevil," the band's name; and nearly every morning he finds himself reliant on the post-it notes his drunken self has affixed to his body in an effort to clue him in on the previous night's shenanigans. Although a terrible boyfriend who consistently steals here and there from the pizza restaurant that employs him, he's a fairly good guy; but when he wakes up one morning to discover a pizza box full of stolen money on his coffee table, things take a bit of a turn.

Despite being hailed as "uproariously funny," Ovenman is probably not the sort of book that would have made it into my shopping basket had it not been for my bracket in The Morning News's Tournament of Books. (Yes, it's sort of like a college basketball bracket, and yes I realize it's incredibly nerdy. Shut up.) Of course, this funky little book was quickly taken out in the first round by Denis Johnson's epic Tree of Smoke, I was intrigued at the description and figured I'd check it out.

Basically, I have this theory that there are some things that are better on airplanes. Sprite? - better on an airplane. Individual packets of peanuts or pretzels? - better on an airplane. Tiny bottles of liquor? - good, but definitely better on an airplane. Hand-held gaming devices, Sudoku puzzles, tabloid magazines, and novels by Jennifer Weiner and Helen Fielding ? - all nice enough, but for some reason far, far better when enjoyed on an airplane. It's something about the tiny, enclosed space where you are forced to sit and enjoy something completely and entirely in one sitting that makes all these things more enjoyable than they would be most anywhere else. I feel similarly about Ovenman. It was a good read, but as strange as it sounds, I have a nagging feeling that it would have been ten times better if I would have read it on an airplane. For whatever that's worth.

Ovenman, by Jeff Parker
242 pages

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random posts of pretty
Radiohead's "Street Spirit (Fade Out)", the video as well as the song:

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Friday, March 21, 2008
hanging with my peeps
(Such a corny joke. Sorry.)

I love Peeps. I love them soft. I love them stale. I love them in the morning, afternoon or evening. I love them dipped in my morning coffee. I Iove them crumbled up and sprinkled on my cereal. I love them in the den, in the kitchen, or in the hall. I love them pretty much any way at all.

(I know. I can't help it. We can't choose the things we love.)

But despite my abject love of the weird little buggers, I totally get why so many people hate them. They're weirdly crunchy, have a shelf life of roughly an eon, react startlingly strangely when microwaved, and probably shouldn't be classified as food in the first place. But that's okay. It just means more for me.

And since I'm officially and unfortunately faaaar too old for an Easter basket, it occurred to me that I'll have to hit the stores sometime very soon if I hope to get my yearly Peeps fix. Since I somehow got put in charge of Easter dinner this year, I thought I might challenge myself (and I'll be honest, punish those who put me in charge of anything culinary in the first place) by searching out a recipe that somehow mixed my favorite Easter candy with a "grown-up" Easter dinner dessert. Fortunately for my family, I couldn't find anything. But what I did find out is that The Washington Post, The Ann Arbor News, and slews of other newspapers hold annual Peeps Diorama Contests.

And this excites me.  Seriously. (Stop laughing.)

Unfortunately it's far too late for me to submit my own diorama (which you *know* I would have done had I known earlier), but here are some pictures of my favorite submissions from last year's Washington Post contest because 1) they're awesome, 2) I feel like I need to justify all the loopy, rambly stuff I just spent all this time writing, and 3) I don't have a Friday Video for you today.

"Reservoir Peeps" (Note Mr. Blue's missing ear):

"Dateline's To Catch a Peep-a-tor"

And my personal favorite, "Mommie Peepest (No More Wire Hangers!)" (Which, for what it lacks in execution, it more than makes up for in marshmallowly angry likenesses of Joan Crawford):

And for the record, I'm am most definitely submitting my own diorama next year.  It will be inspired by Cool Hand Luke, and I will call it "No One Can Eat Fifty Peeps."  (And don't you dare go stealing it, punk.)

Happy Easter if you celebrate it.  Enjoy the weekend if you don't.  And as for myself, I've got me some Peeps-kabobs, mashed Peeps and green Peeps casserole to get started on.  I have a feeling that Easter dinner's gonna be particularly awesome this year. 

Thursday, March 20, 2008
random posts of pretty
From The Invention of Everything Else, by Samantha Hunt:

"They'll say it all went wrong at wireless energy. But that's not true. If I'd had a bit more time, a bit more funding. Or else maybe they'll say Mars. They'll say I went crazy. They'll say I must have been senile to believe that I had talked to Mars. Yes, they will. I know they will. They'll say there's no way to draw free power from the sky. They'll say the only way to get things done is the way that makes them the most money. Coal. Oil." He lifted one leg up to the windowsill and perched there, staring out at the city. "But remember – they once said alternating current was impossible also."

Mr. Tesla stood for a moment by the window. He studied the pale bird, listening, before taking a seat. "People can make beautiful mistakes, dear, and each one is an arrow, a brilliant arrow, pointing out the right way to there."

His breath was loud and his eyes did not meet mine. I didn't know where "there" was, but I believed him


Wednesday, March 19, 2008
inspired by this week's book review, here's a few things i wish someone would hurry up and invent aleady:
1. A pill that keeps one's hair from turning grey.

2. An all-natural deodorant that doesn’t scratch-up and irritate my sensitive bits.

3. A robotic alarm clock like the one in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure that not only wakes me up, but physically forces me out of bed and proceeds to then feed, groom, and dress me before sending me on my merry way.

4. A pneumatic tube that *whoosh!*-es me to and from work every day.

5. A tiny screen I can fit inside my ears that filters out all the annoying little “likes,” “ums,” “you knows” and “stuff like thats” from others' speech. Additionally, I envision future advanced models that can also make boring people sound more interesting.

6. A tiny filter I can fit inside my nostrils to neutralize offensive odors. (For, alas, I have been burdened with a very sensitive sense of smell.)

7. An alarm that alerts me whenever my odor risks offending (while I'm thinking of it).

8. A super advanced spell check that points out my homonym and other word-choice errors since I really do know the difference, but most days my brain tends to move much faster than my fingers can keep up. (I would also like this invention to shock me whenever I misspell "occasionally" and "unnecessarily," simply because it annoys the Hades out of me how often I get those two wrong, and I'm just tired of it already.)

9. Similarly, self-editing chalk so I can stop embarrassing myself in front of the handful of fourteen-year-olds savvy enough to notice and/or bold enough to point out my errors.

10. A device that renders my voice mute whenever it senses I’m on the verge of saying something that can only lead to trouble.

11. A machine that allows you to scan in student essays for instant, mindless grading.

12. A mud-resistant dog.

13. A mirror that reflects how you will look in that outfit if someone were to take a photograph of you in it.

14. Pants that not only make your bum look nice, but also exercise it while you’re wearing them, making stair climber machines at the gym forever unnecessary.

15. An absurdity meter that goes off whenever someone is being ridiculous, since (at least in my experience) people tend to not like it when you care enough to point it out to them, so it's probably a job best left to robots.

16. Crazy person radar would also be nice.

17. Car windows that temporarily self-tint whenever the person inside is picking his nose, because I'd really rather not watch him do it.

18. Flattering shorts.

random posts of pretty
Photograph by Michael Keena:


Tuesday, March 18, 2008
when i learn that winning is sometimes losing after all
As some of you may recall, me and my gym's stair climber machine have a bit of a history. A long, bitter, embarrassing, and mildly painful history.

But while lesser women would have long ago accepted defeat, I, simply put, am not lesser women. And this would be why I - spurred on by a stubborn streak far more acute than the memory of past failures - decided to give things another go today. For you see, today would be different. My bum required it.

So, I tried. And ten seconds later - pedals cemented to the floor, glistening with sweat, and reeking of failure - I very nearly threw in the towel, 'though this time for good.

But as it turned out, today was different. This time my struggles - embarrassingly visible to most everyone in the gym - were acknowledged by a good Samaritan. My angel of mercy was roughly sixty, stocky, and wearing the sort of sweatbands around his forehead and writs that only a man of his age and physique can somehow pull off without so much as a trace of irony. Taking pity on me, he left his arm lifting machine (Yes, I am using all official equipment names. Thanks for noticing), crossed over to me and offered his assistance. Initially, he left rebuffed by my wounded pride, but after realizing just how painfully clear it was to him, me and everyone else in the immediate vicinity that I was lying, that I actually had no idea how to work this effing machine, my pride finally wore out and allowed me to give in. I turned to him, gave a nod and my most winning smile, and admitted that I couldn't do it on my own, that I was damsel in need of rescue.

A few minutes later we were up and running. The resistance was right, my legs were climbing and the sweet taste of victory tasted so very, very...sweet. I was positively thrilled, for I had conquered my arch nemesis - the stair climber machine - proving once and for all that no mere machine can make me its little bitch! Hells yeah, baby!!

Sensing my joy, my ally beamed a smile back. But my victory swell ebbed almost as soon as it flowed when he, eyes suddenly letchy and voice turning pervy, said, "You know, this machine is great for your behind!" glancing down at the object in question and sealing his sentiments with a wink for good measure.

And as if that wasn't enough to prove his point, he then wound up his towel and smacked me with it.

Smacked me Square. In. The. Bum.

In sum, What I Learned Today:
As it turns out, I lack a ready response for random pervy old men who've just smacked me in the bottom with their towels, other than to go all wide-eyed, let my mouth fall agape, and spend the remainder of my gym tenure feeling hyper-aware of my bottom. (Which, for the record, is now totally owie after only ten minutes on the blasted contraption. Damn you, stair climber machine! How was I to know this wasn't a war worth winning!?)


Monday, March 17, 2008
monday book review: the invention of everything else, by samantha hunt
"God said, 'Let Tesla be,' and all was light."
- B. A. Behrend

Nikola Tesla is arguably one of the most important inventors to have ever lived, yet one of the most unsung. To him, we can credit the efficient alternating electrical current system, the remote control, and the radio (although Marconi stole the patent for that last one). He harnessed Niagara Falls' energy potential, is credited with giving birth to robotics, and his "Tesla Coil" gave us neon and fluorescent lighting and x-ray photography. Wildly imaginative, Tesla was also rumored to have experimented with wireless energy transmission, extraterrestrial communication, invisibility, antigravity, time travel, and a "Death Beam" which, as a life-long pacifist, he hoped would make war impossible due to its fearful capability of mass destruction. But thanks to a far better sense of imagination than a head for business, Tesla died penniless, living alone but for his pigeons in the Hotel New Yorker, his legacy largely obscured.

Needless to say, Samantha Hunt - who spent four years researching the life and work of Nikola Tesla, weaving this meticulous research into her sophomore novel - already had some fascinating source material at her disposal.

The Invention of Everything Else blends fact with fiction so well that it often becomes difficult to discern between the two. Taking a non-linear approach to storytelling, Hunt bounces around through Tesla's biography, revealing his life through stories of his childhood up to the story of his death; however, the bulk of the novel focuses on Tesla's final days in the Hotel New Yorker and his brief encounters with the fictional Louisa, a curious chambermaid who - fascinated by the myriad curiosities she uncovers in his hotel room and encouraged by a shared affinity for pigeons - is determined to befriend the reclusive scientist. Hunt's novel is a history lesson wrapped in a pretty story, and the extent to which you are interested in Tesla, science, and history is probably the extent to which you will enjoy The Invention of Everything Else. Seeing how I am fascinated with all of these things, I firmly loved it.

The Invention of Everything Else
Samantha Hunt
2008, 251 pages

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random posts of pretty
Neko Case on Austin City Limits:

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Sunday, March 16, 2008
the best six google searches that recently led some random someone to my blog:
  • Dangerous literature
  • My wife makes me not want to go home
  • Naked fat redheads*
  • Thou shall not judge Lethal Weapon, by Danny Glover
  • My wife makes me cry myself to sleep
  • Inbred people living in West Virginia*

(* = A google image search, which , fortunately, did not lead to pictures of moi.)

Friday, March 14, 2008
your friday video: it's time to snuggle
Dear me.

This has been one doozy of a week. Not bad, necessarily, but definitely a doozy. Thank goodness the weekend is here, because after five days of grading and proctoring and conferencing and counseling and fretting and talking and cirriculuming and so much more et ceteraing, I sort of feel as if I've been dropkicked in the face. Mind you, I have no idea what being dropkicked in the face would feel like, however I imagine it would result in feeling a bit dazed and loopy and tired, your head would probably hurt, and your eyes would get all squinty.

And such is my case. Feelin' dropkicked in the face.

And you know what makes me feel better when I feel this way? Getting snuggled by Zack Galifiainakis:

That felt nice! Weird, but nice!

And now that it's finally Friday, I'm also looking forward to getting snuggled by: the ice cream I'll soon be eating, the series finale of The Wire I'll finally have time to get around to watching, a weekend visit with my wee little niece, the sunshine that's pouring through my window, the knowledge that the snow is all melty, and a Magic Hat or four.

And it will be glorious. Happy weekend, all.


Thursday, March 13, 2008
random posts of pretty
From F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby:

“If it wasn’t for the mist we could see your home across the bay,” said Gatsby. “You always have a green light that burns all night at the end of your dock.”

Daisy put her arm through his abruptly but he seemed absorbed in what he had just said. Possibly it had occurred to him that the colossal significance to that light had now vanished forever. Compared to the great distance that had separated him from Daisy it had seemed very near to her, almost touching her. It had seemed as close as a star to the moon. Now it was again a green light on a dock. His count of enchanted objects had diminished by one.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008
statements that, if i weren't so very professional, i'd attempt to sneak into converation during tomorrow night's parent teacher conferences:
  • I find that actually reading my students' essays takes far too much time, so I've taken to assigning grades based on how far each flies when I chuck a stack of them across the room.
  • However, this was all before I was stripped of my teaching certificate.
  • It seems that your child doesn't respond as well to corporal punishment as the rest.
  • I've found that Breakdance Fridays have really improved standardized test scores.
  • Unfortunately, my current journey through sexual reassignment means I've had to be out of the classroom quite a bit this year.
  • Would you believe that I never actually learned to read?
  • Does this look infected to you?
  • Sorry. I seem to be having a difficult time focusing on what you're saying, seeing how I'm so very drunk at the moment.
  • You do realize that none of this actually matters what with the rapidly approaching apocalypse, right?
  • Can you tell that I'm not wearing a bra right now?
  • It's just terribly hard for me to concentrate with all these voices in my head!

You know, for fun!

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008
sold, by patricia mccormick - part two: the dilemma
Due to the nature of my job, I find myself reading a fair amount of young adult literature, and while I wouldn't ordinarily feel compelled to publicly review one, Sold was different. Reading it was - to put it mildly – a bittersweet experience, and although I had no intention of staying up until 2 am reading it straight through, I couldn’t help myself. Once begun, it begs to be finished. But after two hours of reading, pausing only every now and then to take a deep sigh and at one point even cry, I found myself with a dilemma on my hands: Despite being geared towards young adults, how on Earth do I give such a mature and horrific book to one of my students? And furthermore, should I?

Of course, this would be a non-issue if I didn’t feel so strongly that this is an important story for young people to spend some time walking around with. Issues of social justice are of high import to me as an educator, and by the time they become teenagers, young adults should not only be aware of what’s happening in the world, but they should start getting angry about it. After all, while it is not my place to lessen or belittle anyone’s painful experiences, my students live very happy and comfortable lives in comparison with the sort of children McCormick's book deals with, and it’s important that kids know this so they can put their own challenges in perspective. Of course, I’d also hope that they tuck some of this knowledge away and maybe be part of future efforts to change some of the world’s atrocities. What can I say; I’m a dreamer.

But the dilemma isn't whether or not I teach my students about the unspeakable events of both the past and the present. I'm an educator. That's my charge. The issue is  whether or not I give them a novel filled with gritty details on the subject. At what point do we say that a fourteen-year-old kid is exactly that - a kid? She should be allowed to retain a certain semblance of innocence, and while understanding that modern slavery and child sex trafficking happens, she need not spend several days getting inside the head of one of the victims, seeing what she sees and feeling what she feels.

My school's librarian has already taken her stance on this issue. She has purchased a copy of Sold, and keeps it - along with several other titles she has deemed overly controversial - on a special cart kept locked inside her office. Like buying a pornographic magazine at Barnes and Noble, no one announces that the pieces are available, but if you have the inside knowledge and make discreet inquiries you can get your hands on the goods. I suppose I could do something similar with my classroom library, however it just doesn't feel right to me. As a teacher, my fundamental job is to educate, even when it hurts.  

But, now the question shifts: If I were a parent, what choice would I make?  While the primary objective of a teacher is to educate, the primary role of a parent should be to love and protect, so as a parent (which, being that I'm not one, I'll need to take a trip to imagination-land here), would I give a book like this - a book detailing the abandonment, drugging, rape and emotional devastation of a sweet, innocent and trusting teenage girl - to my child?  

The answers is, I honestly don't know.  What do you think?

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Monday, March 10, 2008
sold, by patricia mccormick - part one: the book review

In the days after the hugging man leaves, I consider myself in the mirror. My plain self, not the self wearing lipstick and eyeliner and a flimsy dress.

Sometimes I see a girl who is growing into womanhood. Other days I see a girl growing old before her time.

It doesn't matter, of course. Because no one will ever want me now.

Lakshmi is thirteen-years-old. She lives a simple and, albeit impoverished, relatively happy existence with with her Ama, infant sibling and gambling-addicted stepfather in a Nepalese village buried deep in the Himalayan mountains. She is a loving and obedient daughter and the best student in her class, but when a monsoon comes, devastating her family's home and the crops they rely on for sustenance, her simple life takes a catastrophic turn. In order to compensate for the family's crippling loss, Lakshmi's stepfather - who likens little girls to goats, "Good as long as she gives you milk and butter..but not worth crying over when it's time to make stew" - decides to sell Lakshmi away to a Calcutta brothel for the paltry sum of four hundred dollars.

Early in the novel, Lakshmi's Ama gives her this warning: "it is a woman's fate to suffer (and) simply to endure is to triumph." Told through a series of spare, free-verse vignettes, Lakshim's story is devastating, and yet somehow she endures, which - considering the myriad horrors she experiences - is most definitely a triumph.

Before writing Sold, Patricia McCormick traveled to Nepal and India, interviewing both the families who sell their children (some intentionally, some because they were tricked by unscrupulous traffickers) and the children who have been sold into the trade. Thanks to her first-hand interviews and observations, Sold - although fiction - feels intensely real. Lakshmi's story could be that of any one of the 400,000 children currently in bondage, working off their bloated debts in Indian brothels, and it was that realism - mixed with a beautifully simplistic style of storytelling - that led me to devour this novel in one sitting, despite the fact that every single page found a new way to break my heart.

Patricia McCormick
2006, 272 pages

(Expect the second part of this post: "Sold: Where the Review Got Away from Me" sometime tomorrow. For tonight, I am tired. A hex on Daylight Savings Time!)

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Sunday, March 09, 2008
time to spare
Gah!  I totally forgot about daylight saving time until after I woke up - all pleased with myself for being awake by nine o'clock in the morning on a Sunday - only to boot up the computer and make the dark discovery that it was actually TEN o'clock.  Boo.  This was the weekend when I got to laze around, reading and sleeping and not dressing, and I needed 48 hours to do it, damn it.  Gah!

And although I'm fairly certain there's nothing that can be done about it now, for the record here's a list of ten+ hours of my life that I would have happily given up in exchange for the one I lost today:

1.  The time I thought I'd check out whether or not The Moment of Truth was worth watching.

2.  Most days, my 2nd hour. 

3.  Every single hour I've spent playing capture the flag.  (Which, after five summers as a day camp counselor, is far more hours than you might think.)

4. Any number of hours spent stumbling through piles of horribly written student essays, being crammed in the middle seat on an airplane, and getting lost in my car.

5. The time I thought it might be fun to let my boyfriend teach me to drive a stick shift.

6. The time I let my dad teach me to parallel park.

7.  The day I decided to give the uneven bars a go. (Otherwise known as my last hour as a gymnast.)

8.  The hour spent in the emergency room after being bit on the face by a dog. (Not so much because it was so painful, but because I was only six-years-old, and since no one would let me look at myself in the mirror, I was convinced that I was hopelessly deformed and missing part of my face.  In case you've never seen me, I'm not.)

9.  The time I'd thought, "You know what?  Glitter can't be as terrible as everyone says it is."

10.  Last weekend's infamous "waffle incident," the details of which I refuse to discuss.

Seems to me that giving up all these moments in exchange for just one more lazy hour would be more than fair.  After all, this girl don't ask for much...

Friday, March 07, 2008
video friday: jem + le tigre = awesome
If you weren't a girl during the mid to late 1980's, then you may not be aware that Jem is truly outrageous. I mean, truly, truly, truly outrageous. And when you combine her powers with that of Le Tigre, it produces enough outrage to power a small, feisty, pink-haired, legwarmer-wearing army, providing them with enough energy to make it through at least one battle of the bands.

I just thought you might appreciate knowing that.

Have a very happy weekend, because it's showtime, Synergy!


Thursday, March 06, 2008
silver linings and such
In reference to my previous post, the weather yesterday morning was absosmurfly brutal. I knew it was coming so braced myself for the worst, but all the while still hoped for the best: a snow day, which have been bizarrely rare during this particularly soul-crushing winter. So, when I awoke to discover that the 5-8 inches DID fall, that all that moisture DID freeze, that the roads ARE the worst they've been all winter, yet school is NOT canceled, I sort of lost it.

(Actually, I cried a little bit. But let's just keep that between us two, yes? It's embarrassing.)

But being the optimist that I generally am, I tried my best to spend my 90 minute-long, white-knuckled drive through a fierce winter storm with teary-eyes and nerves shot to shit looking for the silver linings in my current situation.

As it turns out, these were the silver linings in my current situation:

1. It could have been a 91 minute-long drive, which would have made everything precisely %0.01111111 worse.

2. Rather than driving through all that snow, I could have been buried in it. When I was about ten-years-old I read this book about a kid who set off a avalanche while skiing down a Colorado mountain, and then got trapped for days in said avalanche. From what I recall, the kid spent that time drinking melted snow, getting frostbite, going a bit wonky in the head, and being really, really cold. I think I'll pass.

3. Yes, my nerves were shot to shit, but what if I didn't have any nerves at all? I imagine I'd spend my days burning my esophagus with scalding-hot liquids, laying my palms flat down on poker-hot stove tops, and perpetually playing that game where you swiftly and repeatedly stab a knife through the spaces of your splayed fingers just to show off. Of course it would be fun, however so very unwise.

4. Similar to #3, rather than driving with white knuckles what if I didn't have knuckles? Think about it - how horrid! Nothing to crack, no ability to grip or punch...and pointing out blame? Entirely out of the question. *Shudder!*

5. Instead of driving in snowy winter, I could be driving through a nuclear winter. Admittedly, my knowledge of the possible scenario is limited, however I'm pretty sure it involves a whole lotta dust, very little sunlight, and sudden infestation of radioactive zombies. I'll take the snow, thanks!

6. And finally, I could be this lady. In any situation. Ever.

And that's the best I could do until the commute ran out. Sounds like another beastie of a storm is lying in wait and due to hit tomorrow, though, so I just may get a chance to add to the list very soon.



Wednesday, March 05, 2008
a visual representation of how i felt this morning upon hearing that nearly every school district in the tri-county area was closed but my own:

The one on the right is me. The one on the left is life.

(via Fail Dogs)

Tuesday, March 04, 2008
verbage: right about now, i'm...
...doing most anything to avoid grading the essays I've been lugging around since Monday last.

...crossing my fingers that by this time tomorrow the Democratic primary will be decided, not so much because I'm rooting for one particular candidate (which, of course, I am), but because I feel very strongly that this needs to be over and done with already.  The longer the Hillary/Obama battle wages on, the more time we spend focusing on shredding one another rather than banding together to set our sights on what's truly important: making sure we don't replace one war monger with another.

...illustrating that last point with examples for those of you who simply cannot be bothered with clicking on links when they are provided:

...enjoying the last blackberry cabernet cupcake and thanking Mary publicly for her awesome recipe.

...still, 24 hours later, sitting all amazed at how visually stunning Sunshine was, and forgiving it for taking turn for the Event Horizon.  (But forgiveness comes easy, considering that the latter was a pretty terrible movie, all things considered.)

...listening to Basia Bulat.  Again.

...thinking this song and its video are both the bee's knees.

...wishing I had some crab rangoons right about now.


...grimacing at the weather report, which - what's new? - looks ominous.  
...dreaming of a snow day.

...fearing that - once again - my dreams will only come to naught.

...sighing deeply and staring off - eyes all dewy with the hope I still cannot help but feel.

Monday, March 03, 2008
monday book review: the monsters of templeton, by lauren groff

Wilhelmina ("Willie") Upton - a promising graduate student at Standford University - has fled back to her small, historic hometown of Templeton, New York "steeped in disgrace." The affair with her married grad school mentor has been found out, and, now pregnant with his illegitimate child, she hopes to find solace in her mother, Vivian ("Vi") Upton - a woman whose footsteps Willie has unwittingly fallen into. Herself a child of the free-loving 1960s, Vi had always told Willie that she is the product of one of the many lovers she took while living in a San Francisco hippie commune, but when Willie returns home Vi thinks it best that she finally tell her daughter the truth about her parentage. In an attempt to take her mind off of her own unraveling life, Vi partially lets Willie in on the long-kept secret of her heritage - that she is not a result of "any one of three random hippies in a San Francisco commune," but rather the illegitimate daughter of some "random Templeton man." Thinking it best that Willie have a task to keep her occupied in her time of emotional duress, Vi refuses to reveal this man's identity, but instead insists that Willie solve the mystery for herself. The novel that follows is made up of the random snatches of genealogical research, generational family rumors and gossip, and historical documents Willie digs up to help piece together the epic story that is her family's history, and - most importantly - to discover the true identify of the father who shared her hometown but whom she never knew.

The "monsters" in The Monsters of Templeton are numerous and varied. The day of Willie's homecoming also happens to be the day when the fabled lake monster of the town's Lake Glimmerglass dies, its fifty-foot fish corpse rising to the surface to finally end the several-hundred-year-long debate over its existence. There is an actual ghost that haunts Willie's bedroom, and who occasionally emerges to help her in her quest. And, of course, there are various human monsters who are unmasked as Willie unravels the thread of her family history to reveal betrayal, murder, rape, countless affairs and loads of intrigue. As a whole, the novel is part mystery, part historical fiction, part magical realism, and only partly successful.

Obviously, when you pick up a book knowing that one of its characters is a giant lake monster, you don't really go into it expecting absolute realism, but even still one of my criticisms of the novel is that some of the twists in the plot are too easily arrived at. For instance, when Willie reaches a dead-end in her search, her mother - *tada!* - suddenly remembers owning a sealed envelop of old letters written by the very same relatives Willie is researching at that particular moment. Or, when she's not sure what path to travel down next - *tada!* - a ghost emerges and tell her. There aren't many moments like these, but when they happened I couldn't help but roll my eyes.

Next, is the language. Time and time again, Groff's sentences felt like they were trying way too hard. I wouldn't call it pretentious exactly, but with characters named Marmaduke, Cinnamon, Primus Dwyer, and Ezekiel Flecher; and with ridiculous sentences like, "He slept, openmouthed like a boy, blissfully naked, his smooth rear exposed trustfully to the sky" she is definitely risking absurdity on more than one occasion.

But despite all of this, I couldn't help but enjoy reading this book. The story - although often unbelievable - was engrossing, and the language - while often grating - was also often beautiful, allowing the terrible spots to be quickly and easily laughed away. It's been a long time since I've felt so conflicted by a story, and that alone is reason enough to make me glad to have read it.

The Monsters of Templeton
Lauren Groff
2008, 361 pages

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