Monday, June 30, 2008
monday book review - prep: a novel, by curtis sittenfeld
Lee Fiora is an average, middle class girl who feels like she is meant for far greater things than her Indiana hometown.  Convincing herself that trading her Midwest family in for a fancy East Coast prep school is the answer, Lee becomes a scholarship student at the wealthy and prestigious Ault School, where she quickly learns that gaining admission isn't the same as gaining acceptance.  Prep chronicles Lee's four years at Ault, starting out as an insecure and lonely freshmen, leaving as a love-sick and angst-ridden senior, and reminding us just how very important all this felt at the time.

Coming-of-age stories are hard.  Being a teenager is so awkward, clunky, and uncertain, and it's difficult for any adult to write truthfully about that period without being tempted to go back and make revisions, creating a protagonist who's wittier, cooler, or more dangerous than most of us ever really were.  So when I finally picked up Prep - a book that was something of a critical darling when it was released and touted as a female version of The Catcher in the Rye - it was with strong feelings of reservation that I began.  After all, I had been burned many times before by the coming-of-age novel, and female authors tend to be the worst offenders for some reason. 

So, imagine my delight when Prep turned out to be everything it was lauded to be - a smart, honest, insightful, and often embarrassing trip back to one's formative years that doesn't make apologies or unnecessary revisions.  It was far from perfect, often painful, and at 449 pages sometimes felt a bit long, but these criticisms were easy for me to overlook seeing as I've never related to any fictional character the way I related to Lee Fiora.  Apart from the boarding school element, reading her story was like revisiting my own high school years, complete with all the heartbreak, angst, and feelings of self-doubt that it entailed.  Lee's decisions are often questionable, her insecurities difficult to reason, and she can often be downright unlikeable, but if we're being honest with ourselves - weren't we all? Aren't some of us still?

With Prep, Sittenfeld nailed what it's really like to be a teenager - or at least what it was really like for me - and in so doing restored my faith in the genre.  No small feat, that.

Curtis Sittenfeld
2005, 448 pages

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Friday, June 27, 2008
random posts of pretty
I've been thinking a lot recently about my "desert island" albums - mostly because there's little else to do when I'm in a pool swimming laps for an hour each day - and Neutral Milk Hotel's second and final album, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, would undoubtedly make the list. It's ten years old already, however I still can't help but go through frequent binges of this album, playing it over and over and almost exclusively at least one day out of each month. It's one of those personal things that hits me in just the right spot, and I can't seem to ever tire of it.  What I didn't realize until fairly recently was that Jeff Mangum's inspiration for the album came from the story of Anne Frank, and it was one of those realizations that suddenly made me see an old and beloved thing in an entirely different light, appreciating it all the more. 

Certainly, Mangum's warbly voice may be an acquired taste, but his song construction, lyricism, and yes, even his voice, are all just lovely, and I would have given anything to see him perform these songs at the 40 Watt Club in Athens, Georgia:

Part of me holds out hope that NMH will one day regroup, but another part of me sort of likes the idea that they made this one perfect thing and then called it quits, not letting any potential future mediocrity taint their past work. I sometimes wish more bands showed that level of restraint.

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Thursday, June 26, 2008
mrs white takes the 1939 housewife test, part 2: demerits
As you may recall, yesterday I ended in the middle of Dr. George W. Crane's 1939 Marital Rating Test, and the results (unsurprisingly) weren't so hot. After only being able to pick up 6 points in the merits department things aren't looking so fab heading into demerits, but l'm giving it a go nonetheless. Will I end with a negative score, creating such overwhelming feelings of self-doubt and despair that I swear off sarcasm and beer and gym shorts, quit my job, blow my final paycheck on aprons, and succumb to such a flurry of brownie baking, casserole making and sock darning that I eventually collapse, shivering with exhaustion on my immaculately clean Pine-Sol scented floor???

Gee, I hope not.  But for fun, let's give it a whirl anyway, and future consequences be damned.  

1. Slow in coming to bed - delays until husband is almost asleep - This seems like a squirrely way of posing a sexual question, Dr. Crane, and frankly that's none of your business. I'm awarding YOU a demerit, pervy sir.

2. Doesn't like children (5 Demerits) -  I love children!  Especially other people's children. Pass. 

3. Fails to sew on buttons or darn socks regularly - You bet I do!  Fail.

4.  Wears soiled or ragged dresses and aprons around the house - One thing I can never be accused of is wearing a soiled or ragged apron around the house.  My aprons are all lovely, pristine and wholly imaginary.  Pass.

5. Wears red nail polish - Like the little hussy I am.  Fail.

6.  Often late for appointments (5 Demerits) - If by "appointments" you mean "work," then yes.  Chronically so.  However, I prefer to call it "building suspense."  Fail (-5).

7.  Seams in hose often crooked - This doesn't really translate, however my bra straps are constantly showing, the tags are often flipped up in the back of my shirts, and my underwear has a nasty habit of peeking out of the top of my pants, so I'm fairly sure that if I were to ever wear hose with seams, then those seams would be hopelessly crooked.  Fail.

8.  Goes to bed with curlers in her hair or much face cream - If the modern equivalent of this is ponytailed and much day-old makeup that she's too lazy to wash off before heading off to bed, then yes I most certainly do.  Fail.

9.  Puts her cold feet on her husband at night to warm them -  Constantly.  And I have incredibly frigidy feet, too.  Fail.

10.  Is a back seat driver - Not particularly, no.  I have long since accepted that I was born without a sense of direction, so find it best to defer all directional decisions to someone else.  Furthermore - and I'm no expert here - but I'm pretty sure that driving from the back seat would be highly dangerous.  Pass.

11.  Flirts with other men at parties or in restaurants (5 Demerits) - Nope. Only with old men at the gym.  Pass. 

12.  Is suspicious and jealous (5 Demerits) - You tell me - do I have reason to be?  Pass.

Grand Total: Negative Four.  A Complete and Utter Housewifery Failure.

Oh dear.  Well, at least I got personality, and personality goes a long way, baby. To the apron store!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008
mrs white takes the 1939 housewife test, part 1: merits
A little while back, Boing Boing posted a picture of this Marital Rating Scale, developed by a doctor and marriage counselor in the late 1930s.  The test could be taken either by the wife or by her husband, and it rates the wife's success in her role by giving merits for favorable behaviors such as dressing for breakfast, and demerits for unfavorable habits like not mending your husband's socks in a timely fashion.  Lovely, eh?

Seeing how I hate to cook and only bake if it requires a creative challenge, cannot fathom staying at home rather than working, and tend to leave a trail of sarcasm in my wake, I have little doubt that I would have been a failure as a traditional 1930s housewife.  But since I've been playing the housewife now for the last week and a half, I figured this would be a fitting time to sit down and take Dr. George W. Crane's test.  It's a little long, so I'll break it up into two posts, starting first with the merits. 

So, shall we?

1. A good hostess - even to unexpected guests - Sure.  I guess. I mean, I don't know! Was I supposed to be making them fill out comment cards or something? To date, no one's died under my roof due to either starvation, food poisoning or injury, so I'm marking it Pass.

2. Has meals on time - My first inclination is to ask, "On time for what?" But even if it just meant "On time for eating," I'm afraid that most days I strike out there too. Unless it's the summertime, this domestic goddess rarely cooks. Fail.

3. Can hold an interesting conversation - I'd like to think so, yes.  Pass.

4. Can play a musical instrument, such as piano, violin, etc. - I can play several, thank you, although I fail to see how this has anything to do with being a good wife.  As long as I just have to know how to play it, Pass.  If I'm supposed to be providing him with private concerts on my jazz flute while he digests the imaginary dinner I just served him, then Fail.  Screw it.  I'm marking it Pass.

5. Dresses for breakfast - I don't eat breakfast let alone make it, so I'm certainly not dressing for it. Unless throwing on a pair of flip-flops and hitting the local IHoP once every two months counts (and I'm fairly certain it doesn't), this is most certainly a Fail.

6.  Neat housekeeper - tidy and clean - Seeing how I've spent the better part of my summer vacation reorganizing the house - the highlights of which include arranging my bookshelf alphabetically by author and genre and sorting my wardrobe by color, item and amount of use, then I'd say Pass, sucka!

7. Personally puts children to bed - But of course! The au pair never puts the dog to bed. Bed time is a special time!  (But seriously, no kids.  Fail.)

8.  Never goes to bed angry, always makes up first (5 Bonus Points) - Nice in theory, but seriously - always?  Can any couple claim this?  And since when is making up the sole responsibility of the wife? What if he's been a massive toolbox and refuses to own up to it???  Dumb question, Dr. Crane. Fail.

9. Asks husband's opinions regarding important decisions and purchases  - Yes. I tell him that I want to buy something, and then we buy it.  Pass.

10.  Good sense of humor - jolly and gay - I have a great sense of humor, but it's more dry wit and sarcasm than "jolly and gay." I'd like to say Pass, but since the question is clearly valuing one sort of sense of humor over another I'm not sure I can, and since I've never heard anyone describe me as either "Jolly" or "Gay" I'm gonna have to mark it Fail.  Whatever. If Nathan wanted "jolly and gay" he should have married Santa Claus.

11. Religious - sends children to church or Sunday school and goes herself (10 Bonus Points)- Unfortunately, I've become one of those annoying people who only shows up for Easter and Christmas Eve service, taking seats away from the regulars while my brother and I whisper little jokes under our breath.  Sorry mom, Lord knows you tried to raise me better, however this is a Fail.

12. Lets husband sleep late on Sunday and holidays - Always.  And I'll be doing the same.  Pass.

Midterm Standing: A whopping 6 Points

We'll save demerits for tomorrow.  I've got a microwave dinner that needs burning.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008
random posts of pretty: detroit edition
Until this story ran in last Thursday's Detroit News, I had no idea that Burning Man - the annual desert event that draws a slew of performers, artists and nudists - has become a national civic-minded community, so of course I had no idea that there was a very large and active branch of that community right here in Detroit.  Ordinarily, this news would only be of mild interest to me, but when the article went on to announce that the Michigan Burning Man community had constructed an elaborate, hand-made temple right smack in the middle of one of the most blighted communities in the city, and that they would be unveiling said temple on Summer Solstice, I had to check it out.  There was too much potential for the bizarre to not.

Unfortunately, there were no nudists or fire breathers at the temple's reveal, but seeing the odd, beautiful thing in person was worth the trip. According the those who had a hand in building it, the purpose of the temple is to put art in the center of a community that lacks beauty, serving as a symbol of hope. It's intended to function as a gathering place for the community, particularly for the Motor City Blight Busters' summer youth group.

Pictures really don't do the thing justice - it's really incredible.  Also incredible is how much it detracts from the blight that surrounds it.  Of course, I'm not so naive as to think that things like this are enough to change the atmosphere of a community, but at least it's something.  At least it's a start.  

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Monday, June 23, 2008
monday book review: snuff, by chuck palahniuk
,Something you may not know about me is that I have a weird and mildly embarrassing Palahniuk thing. I've read nearly all of his nine novels - most of them as pre-releases - and while there are a few titles that I've really enjoyed (Haunted, Diary and, of course, Fight Club), by and large I don't particularly like the dude's work. And yet, something about him keeps me coming back for more. He's like the boyfriend who doesn't treat you particularly well, but he doesn't treat you particularly poorly either, so out of familiarity, habit or laziness you stay with him way longer than you probably should. And so, despite hearing awful things about Snuff, I still read it. I had to. Chuck's my mediocre boyfriend of convenience. But despite the fact that he and I have shared some good times together, his newest book was so terrible that it might be the motivation I've been needing to finally break it off once and for all.

I refuse to spend more time reviewing this book than Palahniuk spent writing it (which couldn't have been very much), so I'll be brief. Snuff takes place entirely in the green room of a porno movie. Cassie Wright is an aging porn star who is trying to set a world record for having sex with 600 dudes in one film, an act that everyone seems to think will kill her. Cassie thinks this too, but that appears to be the whole point. She's hoping that if she dies trying to break the record, then the film will go gangbusters and make a ton of money, money which she will then leave to the child she abandoned eighteen years prior. A whole mess of creepy men answer the casting call to help Cassie make history, and the story is told from the point-of-view of three of those dudes: Mr. 600, a professional porn star and the man who got Cassie started in the business; Mr. 137, a washed-up television star who somehow thinks doing this will resuscitate his failing career; and Mr. 72, who - as messed up as this sounds - believes he is Cassie's son. And if this all sounds like a great big ol' wet, hot mess, then that's because it is.

I'm honestly not really sure what Palahniuk was trying to accomplish with this book. If I were feeling kind, I'd suggest that Snuff was a failed attempt at making some sort of larger critical commentary on the porn industry; however, I'm not feeling kind, so instead I'll suggest that Snuff is the product of a shocking author who has run out of ways to try and shock us. Trouble is, despite the subject matter, it's not particularly shocking at all. Instead, it's lazily written, pointless and boring.

In short, I absolutely hated this book. If it had a face, I would punch it in it.

Chuck Palahniuk
2008, 197 pages

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Friday, June 20, 2008
return of the friday video: requiem for a day off
Just when I start to think I can't possibly love the wasteful absurdity of YouTube any more than I already do, someone goes and makes a pitch perfect faux movie trailer melding Ferris Bueller's Day Off with Requiem for a Dream, and then I go falling in love all over again:

Happy Weekend, all. 

(Video via Andrew Sullivan)


Thursday, June 19, 2008
This might be hard to believe, but I've always had a bit of a love/hate relationship with writing.  Ever since I first learned how, reading has been a passion, but up until fairly recently writing has always seemed like more of a chore - a chore I was always fairly decent at, but a chore nonetheless.

I'm really not sure why this is.  Obviously, both activities were closely associated with school, neither one ever gave me too much trouble, and both could be considered hobbies, but while I always had a fairly easy time separating "work" reading from "fun" reading, writing - even creative writing - only ever felt like work.  I suppose I could blame past teachers for not engaging me enough, but I know all too well how hard it is to convince kids that writing - like reading - is something that can be done for pleasure, an act separate from the mandatory sort done for school and rubrics and grades.  

It's been my experience that those rare kids who do enjoy writing in their free time are often secretive about it, like they know it's considered weird to most of their peers, so they don't really discuss it with anyone other than their English teachers.  You might think these writerly kids would be a blessing to have in a writing classroom, but that's often not so.  The kids who truly love to write often roll their eyes at required, "composition"-type writing.  Like most of the other kids in the room, it's seen as a chore that must be endured rather than an opportunity to express an opinion, take a stance, or reflect.  All-in-all, the vast majority of my students tend to dislike writing, and as an English teacher who once disliked writing herself, I certainly sympathize, but am at a loss for what to do about it. 

All this leads me to the subject of one of the more interesting experiences I had during my most recent trip back to New York.  Within walking distance from my brother's Park Slope apartment is the  Brooklyn Superhero Supply Company, one of the quirkiest "stores" I've ever been in.  Shopping there is a fascinating, however puzzling experience.  On one hand you're thrilled to be in a place that sells secret identity kits, bottles of x-ray vision, aqualungs, and liquid ESP, but on the other hand you're walking around wondering why?  There has to be more to it; how can a store this silly possibly survive?

I was considering this very question when I happened to stumble on the shelf full of McSweeney's books, and after watching a employee swing open the back wall revealing a secret room, my suspicions were confirmed.  I wasn't in a store at all, but in a Dave Eggers's 826 writing center.  The store itself was an elaborate, lovely hoax  - a creative way to fund the non-profit center while making the act of writing appear impossibly fun and cool to the kids on the other side of the wall.  By all accounts, the kids who frequent the center absolutely love it.  For them, writing is worthwhile, satisfying, and fun.

I left the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Company feeling completely awed by the genius of it and slightly jealous of the kids who were able to frequent it, wishing such a place had existed in the mid-80's in Columbus, Ohio.  Who knows what I could have become had I been more engaged with writing at a much younger age?

But bemoaning the past is pointless, so in the spirit of looking forward to the future, a quick Google search led me to the 826 Michigan Center (cleverly disguised as the Robot Supply and Repair Company), and I fully intend on donating some of my time and skills to it, since places like these are rare, important and should be helped to thrive. Care to join?

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008
ferocious tigerlilies found hiding in my flowerbed:



Tuesday, June 17, 2008
staying sexy in the city
Dear Bea Arthur,

There's a reason you're the namesake of nearly every single fantasy sports team I've ever managed, but for those who don't understand why I love you so much, here's a pretty convincing reason:

Stay classy,

Mrs. White

(Via Pajiba)

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random posts of pretty
A few days back I stumbled upon this video via Current about a huge reverse graffiti project recently created by Paul "Moose" Curtis in San Francisco's Broadway Tunnel. I'm guessing you've probably seen it by now, - it's more than made its rounds on the Internet, as these things tend to do - but in case I'm overestimating the time you spend reading random blogs, here's some rad still shots I found via Flickr. Reverse graffiti uses soap and water to make images by cleaning grimy surfaces rather than painting over them, and I think it's just about the coolest thing ever:

It truly makes one pause to consider how filthy our world is, which I imagine is the whole point.

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Monday, June 16, 2008
This past weekend the lovely and talented Ms. Aimee - mother, cupcake connoisseur and poetess extraordinaire was featured over at Critical Mass looking all gorgeous and writing so pretty.  

Do go check it out.

monday book review: when you are engulfed in flames, by david sedaris
With this, his most recent collection of sardonic essays inspired by his life, I am officially starting to worry that David Sedaris may be running out of ideas.  

Undoubtedly, fans of Sedaris will eventually pick up his newest collection.  Unfortunately, fans of Sedaris are already long-since familiar with his family, his boyfriend Hugh, and his humorous struggles to learn the language while living in France.  And since When You Are Engulfed in Flames includes several essays about his family, his boyfriend, and his struggles to learn the language while living in a foreign land (Japan this time, but even still), I was left with the unmistakable feeling that Sedaris was scraping the bottom of the barrel. Furthermore, all of the essays in this collection have already appeared in either The New Yorker or This American Life, so for hard-core Sedaris fans there's probably not a single new piece to be found.

For those who haven't already read the essays in this collection, they are standard Sedaris - witty, dry, the mundane turned humorous.  Like the Van Gogh on the cover, some of the stories here are downright creepy - Sedaris' retelling of his brief stint in a morgue, the story of his awkward friendship with a Normandy neighbor who turned out to be a pedophile, and the one where he recalls various pervy experiences gained while hitchhiking to name a few, and reading these is more of a uncomfortable experience than a humorous one.  Certainly, there are some gems to be found, and "The Smoking Section" where he writes about his attempt to stop smoking by moving to - of all places - Tokyo was, for me, the most enjoyable.  But even still, I felt like I had heard it before.  Like the novelty had worn off a bit.  

But this isn't to say I didn't enjoy reading When You Are Engulfed in Flames.  It may be spotty, but for my money spotty Sedaris is still better than a lot of the crap that's out there.  It's just that we're often hardest on the ones we love the most, you know?

David Sedaris
323 pages, 2008

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Sunday, June 15, 2008
for my papa on father's day:

Cashew, Carrot, Cardamom Cupcakes with Cashew Cream Cheese Frosting recipe from the now sadly defunct Cupcake Bakeshop.

They're not particularly photogenic, but then again neither am I. Some things just need to be experienced in person to be truly appreciated...


my father, the (eventual) hero
As far as I know my father has saved two lives, one being my own.

I was no more than seven when I nearly fell victim to Lake Erie (and no, it wasn't the pollution that almost did me in). We were kicking off a family vacation to the lake, and although I had never swam in a body of water larger than my city's public pool, I approached the giant lake armed with an overwhelming confidence earned by having recently graduated from my YMCA's "Minnow" level swim class and having moved on to becoming a "Fish." 

I knew how to swim, thank you; what difference if the water be controlled and chlorinated or expansive and fresh?

Despite my intense excitement, my mother somehow managed to slather a thin coat of sunscreen on my heavily freckled shoulders before I wrestled myself free and hit the sand running for the water. I vaguely recall hearing something about "Be careful!" and "It's not the same as swimming in a pool, you know!!" before earning my freedom, but dismissed the warnings as I ran to explore the seemingly benign blue water on my own before my tortoise-slow dad finally finished setting up our spot on the beach and could come out to join me.

Being a "Fish" meant I had long since mastered the breaststroke, so I figured I would see how far out it could take me while I waited for my father.  Turns out it could take me out pretty far - too far, although the fierce undertow I had unknowingly swam into certainly did its part to escort me a dangerous distance from shore.  Soon, my limbs were flailing and failing to keep my body afloat as the waves mercilessly broke over my head and my mouth and throat started to fill with Lake Erie.  

Being a "Fish" also meant I had long since mastered the concept of drowning, and as my lungs took on more and more water and my body became more and more exhausted, I soon came to realize that drowning was exactly what I was doing.  Panicked, I did my best to wave to the tiny speck on shore that looked most like my father.  Curiously, rather than drop everything to run out to my rescue, the tiny speck just smiled and waved right back.

The harsh realization that no one else seemed to understand or care that I was on death's door hit me like a punch, so figuring myself a goner I started mentally dividing up my most valued possessions amongst my loved ones.  Fortunately, somewhere between exhaustedly giving myself over to the water and deciding who was most deserving of my My Little Pony collection, my father had figured out that my fervent waving was more of the "Help! I'm dying!" variety rather than the "Come on in! The water's fine!" sort.  He ran out, swooped me out of Lake Erie's watery death grip, and carried my spent body to shore, where I would would first cough, then sputter, then sob before giving him holy hell about taking so long to save me.

So, several years later when a woman began choking on a piece of lettuce while my family dined at a local Bob Evans - her face turning blue as her wide and watery eyes searched out the crowded restaurant for her hero - I knew my dad would be the one to stand up and administer the Heimlich Maneuver. 

And he did.  Eventually, after a few more sips of coffee.

Saturday, June 14, 2008
random posts of pretty
Spent the better part of today experimenting with full-sun, close-ups, aperture, shutter speeds and loads of other things I only half understand. Here are some of the better results:

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Friday, June 13, 2008
It was a bit touch and go there for a while, but here now sits a happy woman - a woman who has waved goodbye to the last of her kiddies, graded their myriad final papers and projects, run the scantrons, entered the grades, cleaned up her classroom, organized her files, and got a fairly decent head start on the new class she'll be teaching next year. Things are certainly looking up, and a celebration is in order.

Looking back on it this was a pretty good year, although it certainly had its moments. I helped write a new curriculum, parts of which we had to implement mere hours after writing it; attended so many meetings, professional development outings and field trips that I sometimes felt like I wrote more lesson plans for substitutes than lesson plans for myself; traveled to the Big Apple with some of the sweetest, most wide-eyed, conservative, and sheltered teenagers in all of the Midwest; did my best to provide a much needed positive role model to a small clique of girls so mean they put Mean Girls to shame; and successfully maneuvered one of the strangest student issues of my career thusfar.

But despite a few hiccups here and there, I feel like I did a pretty good job, had fun doing it more days than not, and helped the vast majority of my kids learn how to read good and do other stuff good too. So seal it, stamp it, and let’s put this baby to bed with the song that’s been running through my head all morning.

Shall we?

I realize things have been a bit quiet around here this week, but expect a change in pace effective now. Best prepare yourself.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008
things learned/affirmed at last saturday's the national show
  • The National are absolutely brilliant live. Their sound is huge and gorgeous, their energy completely infectious, and they rock - even on some of the prettier songs that you wouldn't necessarily expect to rock.
  • I absolutely love that they tour with a violin and a small brass section. It's not that I don't appreciate stripped-down guitar-bass-drum music, but I tend to view bands that know when and how to incorporate other sorts of instrumentation as being on an entirely different level. I can't help it. It's the music nerd in me.
  • I have a really, really nice camera now. I should start taking it places.
  • There's a special place in hell for people who don't even bother to watch the opening band, but then push their way up front when the headliners take the stage. And I'm not just saying this because my friend was in the opening band. It's common-sense concert etiquette - by not being there for the opening band(s) you are resigning yourself to third-tier standing spots. Spread the word.
  • By and large, your average hipster guy grows one weak mustache.
  • By and large, your average hipster guy will cave to any semi-attractive woman who asks if she can push her way ahead of him once the main act comes out.
  • By and large and regardless of how good the music is, indie rock shows are not particularly conducive to dancing. I was made for dancing. However, I try to accept the norms and standards of my present environment, so I'm sure that the band knew that my crossed arms and fervent head bobbing meant that I was enjoying them.
  • The National closed with "Mr. November," which was awesome, but awesomer still was that they dedicated it to Barack Obama. Which got me thinking, it would actually make a fairly fitting campaign song for him. "I'm the new blue blood. I'm the great white hope. I won't f---k us over, I'm Mr. November." Can't you just see it? (Squint your eyes, maybe.)
  • I really need to start buying traditional anti-perspirant again. I'm not sure what I'm trying to prove, but I'm far too moist while I'm trying to prove it.


Monday, June 09, 2008
i've come to crazy land
I'm still not sure how he managed to make it, but this video documentary shot by an American man in North Korea is fascinating, creepy, and completely engaging.  Because he chose to present it as a Internet video and because most web surfers have very tiny video-watching attention spans, it's broken down into 14, 3-5 minute long bite-sized segments, and is completely worth your time.   Unsurprisingly, North Korea is one seriously eerie place.

(link via Andrew Sullivan)

this is how the year ends...
not with a bang, but a whimper.

After a long winter of my whining and crying and throwing things about the house after making myriad disappointing discoveries that despite terrible road conditions my district decided against cancelling school, I wake up this morning - a beautiful, warm, sunny morning - to a phone call informing me that today is the day school gets cancelled.  This, the last day before final exams.

Humph.  Better late than never, I suppose, however a question lingers: what the Hades am I going to do about my 20 students who still have to present their final projects???  Arg!

Answer: Stop stressing and go see Iron Man, I guess.  Tra la la la la...

Sunday, June 08, 2008
*poof!* and just like that - all our problems are solved

This is a masterful fake, of course, but even still - wouldn't it be loverly

Friday, June 06, 2008
random posts of pretty
Barring catastrophe it looks like Nate and I will be seeing The National tomorrow, and I'm just tickled about it.   Thus, I bring you "Slow Show," which is my favorite song off of my favorite album of 2007, and is my idea of beautiful:

Hope your weekend is just as lovely.

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Thursday, June 05, 2008
I was barely fourteen when my family moved to Michigan, and although we had only migrated from the border state of Ohio, it sometimes felt as if we had moved to another country. The prospect of entering high school with zero friends was a huge source of stress for me, so when Shelly and Jenny took pity and offered their friendship that first summer at band camp, I latched on to them with a death-grip. They both had their own firmly-entrenched social circles so I’m not entirely sure why they reached out to sad little me, but I have a feeling that it was partly due to my fascinating “otherness,” that being my distinct “Ohioan-ness.”

All week they teased me about it – asking if I grew up on a farm (I didn’t), if I had ever milked a cow (I had), and commenting on my funny accent (Whatever). The gentle teasing escalated when I noticed Shelly’s necklace – a winged wheel – and asked her what it meant. In fact, if I remember correctly I think I asked her if it was some Greek mythological symbol, because, you see, I was born destined to be a literature nerd. Unsurprisingly, she looked at me like I had goat ears and fell speechless, forcing Jenny to take over, asking, “You mean, you’ve never heard of The Red Wings?” Gently. Like I was retarded.

But, no. I had never heard of The Red Wings. If fact, I’m not even sure I realized professional hockey existed. And lo, but did they make me feel ashamed.

They did their best to explain hockey’s importance to me, and while I could certainly understand the appeal of Steve Yzerman (yum), it really wasn’t until Detroit’s 1997 Stanley Cup win when I fully grasped the city’s love of the sport. The moment the winning goal was scored, a slew of fans flooded the downtown area of my suburb – shouting, honking, cheering, impromptu-parading and general merry-making. And although I hadn’t watched a second of the finals, I still couldn’t help but swell with pride at the very special thing that had apparently happened while I wasn’t looking.

And while I’m still not a huge fan of hockey (or of any other professional sport, truth be told), my knowledge and appreciation of the sport has come a long way since then. See, I may still not be completely sure what a power play is, but that doesn’t mean I was any less thrilled to see that 35-pound piece of metal being hoisted up in victory last night.

I'll always be from Ohio, but my heart now belongs to Detroit. Go Wings!

(And for the record, Shelly, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the way I say the word “pillow,” and you Michiganders all sound Canadian to me.)

Wednesday, June 04, 2008
in five
The end of the school year - while sugar and spice and everything nice - seems to have consumed most of my energies and attentions. Come June I find myself very much like many of my students - tired, anxious, snarky, and unable to focus on one thing for longer than five seconds at a time. So even though The Strangers and Iron Man are producing deafening siren calls, watching some of my old movie standbys neatly condensed into five(ish) seconds is currently much more my speed:

More here, and happy hump day.


Tuesday, June 03, 2008
things i stubbornly believe despite a complete absence of proof
  • Ghosts
  • Bigfoot (But the Abominable Snowman is so very clearly a fraud. Obv!)
  • Alien life exists, but poses no real threat since it finds humanity wholly uninteresting.
  • Some people truly believe they are vampires, however they're really just nerds with iron deficiencies.
  • The damage I'm very probably doing to my feet by wearing high heels nearly every day is minimal, thus worth it. After all, occasional numbness and slight cramping is perfectly normal, right?
  • That optimism is not synonymous with naivete.
  • That one day I too will own an iPhone.
  • Jeans and shorts are never appropriate church-going attire.
  • I will live a long life and will never be hit by lightening.
  • Consuming 80% of one's vegetables in salsa form may be an imperfect plan, however a perfectly acceptable, tasty one.
  • That people are essentially good.
  • My students all find me fascinating, although some of them like to pretend otherwise. Silly foolers!
  • White milk is only safe to drink if it comes from my own refrigerator.
  • Chocolate milk, however, is perfectly safe from any source.
  • That despite the media and the red herrings and the folks who may never be able to see the forest for the trees, yes we can.

Monday, June 02, 2008
monday book review - spook: science tackles the afterlife, by mary roach
Before writing this, her sophomore effort, Mary Roach (author of Stiff: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers) spent nearly a year traveling, interviewing, researching, and even enrolling in medium school, with the hopes of either proving or disproving the seemingly unprovable: the afterlife.  With a keen sense of a humor, a scientific mind and a mostly skeptical point of view, Roach writes of her experiences traveling to India to investigate claims of reincarnation, exploring the theory that a body loses 21 grams (presumably, the weight of the human soul) after death, charts ectoplasm's strange history, follows ghosthunters as they try to track down spirits with infrared cameras and tape recorders, and more.

Unfortunately (fortunately?), Roach's year-long investigation produces no real proof of the existence of a soul or of the possibility of an afterlife, but even still her stories are no less fascinating. It also doesn't hurt that she has a fairly well-developed sense of humor for a skeptic. And it's this skepticism that makes her final statements in the book's afterward that much more eyebrow-raising, as she ends her year-long, largely fruitless journey with these reflections:
I guess I believe that not everything we humans encounter in our lives can be neatly and convincingly tucked away inside the orderly cabinet of science...I believe in the possibility of something more...The debunkers are probably right, but they're no fun to visit a graveyard with.  What the hell.  I believe in ghosts.
And even though the book doesn't produce one iota of evidence to support her final claim, I have to say that I wholeheartedly agree.  After all, isn't it simply more fun to believe than to not?

In sum, Spook - 'though far from spooky and a bit dry in spots - is a enjoyable, quirky read for skeptics and believers alike.  (Although be warned that weak-stomached readers may just want to skip the chapter on ectoplasm.  It's truly amazing how much cheesecloth a scam medium can fit into her most private places.  Ick!)

Mary Roach
2005, 295 pages

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numb what?
I generally beg off watching the National Spelling Bee since it tends to take me back to Mrs. Smith's 1st grade classroom and the intense feelings of anxiety, failure and general sense of worthlessness I endured at the hands of the public humiliation that is competitive spelling, but after watching this I'm a little sorry I missed this year's competition:

Poor kid's never gonna live that one down, is he?

Sunday, June 01, 2008
Because come June 1st the size of my laziness is mountainous, whereas the size of my ungraded student work is merely big hill-sized...