Tuesday, September 30, 2008
READ!: an update

Me: Hey, you want to see the picture I'm submitting
for my "READ!" poster?

(wryly) Let me guess, your dog's
in it.

Um...yes? But only a little...

Okay. So I'm the token crazy dog lady in the office. Whatever.

(And for the record, I happen to think my poster turned out quite nicely, thank you.)

one of my students on the subject of...
growing up Presbyterian:

Being Presbyterian can be summed up in one word: "Eh."  Sin? Eh. Do whatever you want. Instead of wine and Christ chips we get juice and bread, we sit and listen nicely to the pastor for a bit, and if we get bored there's always donuts in the back. Take 'em whenever you're ready.

(So there's your dose of sacrilege for the day. Don't say I never get you anything.)


Monday, September 29, 2008
taxi to the dark side
As happy coincidence to today's book review, I just noticed that Taxi to the Dark Side - a documentary investigation of the Bush Administration's use of torture - premieres tonight at 9 p.m. (EST) on HBO, and I'm going to get up on my high horse and suggest that you watch. Looks pretty interesting:

(And on a lighter note, have I mentioned that I'm totally gay for Rachel Maddow? Because I am. Sigh! Love her...)

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monday book review: the dark side, by jane mayer
"He who does battle with monsters needs to watch out lest he in the process becomes a monster himself." - Friedrich Nietzsche

In reaction to Britain's brutal treatment of American prisoners of war, George Washington vowed that this new Democracy would "take a higher road." Thus, the U.S. military doctrine was born, based upon the belief that "Brutality undermines military discipline and strengthens the enemy's resolve, while displays of humanity could be used to tactical advantage." Since its inception, this doctrine has certainly been tried, sometimes quite strenuously, but it has remained a fundamental tenet of American government since our country's birth. Remained, that is, until the events of September 11, 2001.

The attacks of Al Qaeda spun America into a state of chaos and fear, and in this atmosphere came the decision to abandon some of our country's most fundamental beliefs. Hell-bent on revenge and terrified of further attacks, White House officials deemed it necessary to throw out the old rule book in favor of their own set of rules. Despite evidence that torture only produces uncooperative prisoners and questionable information, the Bush Administration felt certain it was the only way to stop further acts of terrorism. Surrounding themselves with lawyers charged with seeking out the legal loopholes that would grant the military carte blanche, it was in these dark days when a new doctrine was born - one which ignored the Article 5 Tribunals, The Geneva Convention, and the Constitution itself in favor of arresting, detaining, torturing, and even killing anyone with suspected connections to terrorism, no matter how tenuous those connections may have been.

On January 27, 2005, President George W. Bush, speaking to a New York Times reporter, said, "torture is never acceptable, nor do we hand over people to countries that torture." But while speaking these words, thousands of prisoners were currently being held without due process in one of America's "black sites," Gulag-like prisons hosted by as many as eight countries, including Afghanistan; Iraq; Cuba; and, allegedly; fledgling democracies such as Poland and Romania. Inside these ghost prisons lurked a secret horror show of abuse where "enhanced interrogation" techniques such as waterboarding, stress positions, sleep deprivation, and exposure to extreme temperatures were often applied by untrained and unqualified guards to prisoners who may or may not have had any information to give. What little information was gained was either false or forever clouded by suspicion due to the method in which it was obtained, and in hindsight it's this false information procured by torture that mistakenly connected the events of 9/11 to Iraq.

Perhaps "essential reading" is a distinction too easily granted to too many books, but after reading Jane Mayer's The Dark Side, it struck me that this is a case when it is certainly appropriately-applied. Meticulously researched and masterfully written, Mayer provides a non-partisan narrative of how America lost its way in the aftermath of September 11th. Resisting the urge to infuse her own commentary, Mayer lets the events spanning from the attacks of September 11 to the aftermath of the Abu Ghraib scandal speak for themselves, lending the narrative an unmistakable air of credibility. Of course, this also makes the story all the more repugnant.

Like most politically aware Americans, I remember being confused at how an attack by a Afghan-based terrorist cell could lead to a war in Iraq, was aware of the goings on at Guantanamo Bay, and was appropriately shocked when the Abu Ghraib story broke, but reading the finer details of these events alongside their causes and effects was both eye-opening and overwhelming. But though unpleasant, this is a story that demands to be heard, especially now when elections can and should be used to bring events such as these to light. Mayer's story is gripping, intensely troubling, and an absolutely necessary reminder of why we Americans deserve better leadership. I'd strongly encourage each and every one of you to read it.

The Dark Side
Jane Mayer
2008, 392 pages

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Sunday, September 28, 2008
random posts of pretty
I've seen a bunch, but for my money this is the absolute coolest cake ever set to fondant.  My five-year-old self just peed herself, methinks!


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Saturday, September 27, 2008
r.i.p., mr. newman
I was incredibly saddened to wake up this morning to the news that Paul Newman - actor, humanitarian, activist, Ohioan, and an all-around good human being - has died.  He wasn't just one of my favorite actors, he was one of my all-time favorite people, and I'm going to miss him something fierce.  

Rest in peace Mr. Newman, and thank you for all that you did, including giving me one of my most beloved films: 

Friday, September 26, 2008
"it's like a really bad disney movie."
Scariest Fake Movie That Very Well Could Become Our Real Life, Sorta. Ever. 

From where I stand, two things are possible:

1) My student teacher was suddenly hit with the realization that she's woefully unprepared to take over for me on Monday, and consequently has decided to fabricate a sudden illness so she can stay home "sick" so as to pull as last minute cram session;


2) there's a very real possibility that I need get tested for mono.

Frankly, neither option sounds too appealing, eh?

So yes - sorry for the crickets.  I's been busy with last minute covering and fretting over my lymph nodes, but assuming option #2 is merely hot air and conjecture, I should be back soon. In the meantime, enjoy your weekend; it's supposed to be a lovely one.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008
random posts of pretty
I think there are basically two sorts of little girls:  Cinderella girls, and Alice in Wonderland girls.  Cinderella girls dream of being princesses - complete with the prince, the floofy dresses and the sky-high princess hats.  Alice girls, on the other hand, are a quirkier sort.  They make up fantastical stories in their heads, talk to their pets as if they were people, and have a fondness for the odd.  I'm sure it comes as no surprise that I was always a Alice in Wonderland girl.  

I suppose this is old news by now, but I'm finally just getting around to looking at some of the illustrations Mary Blair was asked to do for the original film version of Disney's Alice in Wonderland.  The illustrations were never used, but they have recently been included in a new, abridged version of the classic story, and as an Alice girl I happen to think they're flipping fantastic:

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008
random words, phrases and clauses that i'm going to try sneak into my "meet your kid's teacher" speech at tonight's open house
Because a) I can't believe it's that time of year again, b) I had oodles of fun doing it last year, and c) who am I kidding - I may have a student teacher this year, but I still make a pretty lousy role model more often than not...

And so without further ado, here she goes. *Ahem*:

As sponsor of our school's underground fight club...

a veritable smorgasbord of tomfoolery and ineptitude

...which was when Gabriel the Archangel descended from the Heavens, revealing to me that little Johnny was really a demon masquerading as a child.


...when we will spend the entire month intensely studying all the Austin Powers films.

...which is amazing considering I don't actually know how to read.

when my Triforce starts to burn

...but that was long ago and before my sex change.


in case of a zombie attack

...though with the fast approaching apocalypse this all becomes rather moot, wouldn't you agree?

...because it can be awfully hard to focus, what with all these voices in my head!!!


president of my vampire romance novel club

our recent lice infestation

where I live with my husband, dog and forty-seven feral cats

where the waterboarding occurs

Dungeons and Dragons Tuesdays

...because I never actually went to college per se, but I can see one from my house!


Monday, September 22, 2008
the kim jong il of this nefarious culinary cabal
I'm dedicating this post to my husband, who has both a man crush on Keith Olbermann and a fierce love of sandwiches.

Enjoy, dear:


monday book review: i was told there'd be cake, by sloane crosley
I don't know about you, but this last week was a bit of a kick in the gut for me.  A variety of things combined to get me feeling rather lousy, and it didn't take very long for me to realize that the Dick Cheney book I was reading wasn't exactly helping my situation. In search of something to lift my spirits, I turned to Sloane Crosley's I Was Told There'd Be Cake, a collection of essays you may remember being reviewed over at "Chasing Paper" by the lovely Ms. Carrie.  And wouldn't you know, Crosley's light and airy essays - written on subjects ranging from summer camps to bridesmaids to vegetarianism - proved to be just what I needed. 

Though not hilarious exactly, Crosley's stories are cleverly amusing, odd enough to be entertaining but universal enough for most anyone to find them relateable, and the storyteller herself comes across as being witty, charming, and just self-deprecating enough. After reading her collection, Sloane Crosley has officially secured herself a place on my list of 'famous chicks I'd like to have beer with.' (Which is really quite the little honor, I'll have you know. It's a fairly short list.)

And since this is one of those times when I feel examples speak louder than descriptions, here's a passage that made me chuckle. It comes from a essay titled "Bastard out of Westchester", in which Crosley describes a childhood spent growing up in a bland suburb and the subsequent disappointment she feels over the news that her family will not be moving to Australia after all:
If I ever have kids, this is what I'm going to do with them: I am going to give birth to them on foreign soil - preferably the soil of some place like Oostende or Antwerp - destinations that have the allure in which people are casually trilingual and everyone knows how to make good coffee and gourmet dinners at home without having to shop for specific ingredients. Everyone has hip European sneakers that effortlessly look like the exact pair you've been searching for your whole life. Everything is sweetened with honey and even the generic-brand Q-tips are aesthetically packaged. People die from old age or crimes of passion or because they fall off glaciers. All the women are either thin, thin and happy, fat and happy, or thin and miserable in a glamorous way. Somehow none of their Italian heels get caught in the fifteenth-century cobblestone. Ever.

This is where I want to raise my children - until the age of, say, ten, when I'll cruelly rip them out of the stream where they're fly-fishing with their other lederhosened friends and move them to someplace like Lansdale, Pennsylvania. There, they can be not only the cool new kid, but also the Belgian kid. And none of that Toblerone-eating, Tintin-reading, tulip-growing crap. I want them to be obscurely, freezingly, impossibly Belgian. I want them to be fluent in Flemish and to pronounce "Antwerpen" with a hint of "vh" embedded in the "w."

Why go through all the trouble of giving a ten-year-old an existential heart attack by applying culture shocks like they were nipple clamps? Because, ten-year-olds of the world, you shouldn't believe what your teachers tell you about the beauty and specialness and uniqueness of you. Or, believe it, little snowflake, but know it won't make a bit of difference until after puberty. It's Newton's lost law: anything that makes you unique later will get your chocolate milk stolen and your eye blackened as a kid.
And I can't help but think that my Grandpa Nestor, himself a Belgian immigrant whose uniqueness was largely lost on the playground bullies of his youth, would have whole-heartedly agreed.

Sloane Crosley
230 pages, 2008

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Thursday, September 18, 2008
So get a load of this: 

 My department chair tells me that our principal has somehow dug up the cash to create READ posters featuring every member of our school's English department.  You know, like the celebrity READ posters,  but...not.  

From what I gather, we're supposed to come to work next Tuesday dressed to impress, so we can each be photographed by one of the (arguably) weirdest men on our staff as we clutch our favorite books and do our best to appear particularly literate. Those pictures will then be blown up, laminated, and displayed somewhere in our building.  

Our images looming.  In the halls.  Forever.

And quite frankly I can see why our principal thinks this a rather cute idea.  If I were him I would probably think so too, but the thing is I absolutely hate getting my picture taken. 

Hate. It.  

I hate it more than I hate Star Trek.  More than I hate Muzak.  Maybe even more than I hate cilantro.  It's really the #2 reason I could never be a model.  (#1, of course, being that I'd make all the other models simply dizzy with jealousy, sparking such massive walk-outs, tantrums and cat fights that the industry would be thrown into a irreversible tailspin. I simply can't have that on my conscience, folks.)

So since the prospect of having my life-size image displayed somewhere in my workplace gives my tummy the twitters, I've decided to instead focus on what book I might want to be clutching for all of eternity.  A quick scan of my bookshelf reminded me that my copy of Franny and Zooey is currently M.I.A., so it appears as if I'll have to come up with a plan B.  

Here's what's currently on the short list for plan B:







So, what do you think?  Which one should I clutch while I stare my forced grin into that camera?  Which one most screams Mrs. White?  Currently, #5 is leading by a slight margin, but there's still plenty of time to be swayed in other directions and this truly is important stuff.  

(I mean, you know - I wouldn't want to look foolish!)

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008
random posts of pretty
I love Bruce Mozert's old underwater photographs, which have recently been posted over at the Smithsonian's website.  They're absolutely gorgeous, and it's mindblowing to think they were taken in the 1930s...

Reminds me of when my girlfriends and I used to hold our breath for as long as we could so as to enact strange little silent plays on the bottom of the Cambridge, Ohio municipal pool.

(What? You never did that?)


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hello, cupcake!
For the record, there's several post ideas currently baking in my oven, but none of them are quite ready to come out yet. Thus, puppies and cupcakes for a bit.

But I don't really feel so bad about it. These were flipping awesome cupcakes:

Taste: Um, it's carmel and apple. Together. The fact that it's going to be utterly delicious ain't exactly rocket science, folks. (I even convinced Nathan to eat one!)

Level of Ease: Easy peasy, like the best things usually are.

(Recipe Via Sugar On Top)


Tuesday, September 16, 2008
desperate times
No doubt, things are rough.  

I just read the most deepressing book, hurricanes are raging, politicians are lying, writers are dying, and I hear the economy melted yesterday.  Yep, the times but they be dark.  It's enough to make a gal change into her pj's at 4 o'clock in the afternoon and drown it all in ice cream and puppies.  

And since I can't (and let's face it - wouldn't) share the ice cream, I'll at least share the puppies:

So cheer up, sunshine.  Tomorrow's another day!  

(Unless, of course, it's not.  But maybe let's not go there, yes? Maybe let's just keep looking at the puppies, love...)



Monday, September 15, 2008
monday book review: beautiful children, by charles bock

"I want them to see me dying. That way, they'll know I'm alive."
Beautiful Children is the kaleidoscopic tale of Las Vegas' dark underbelly, a place where underneath the lights, glitz and glamour lurks a bevy of downtrodden and desperate. Bock centers the bulk of his novel around one particular Saturday night - the night that twelve-year-old Newell Ewing disappeared, leaving behind only a single shoe abandoned in the middle of the desert. Starting with the story of Newell's disappearance, the novel swirls out to include the stories of runaway street kids, strippers, washed-up comic book artists, seedy pornographers, angry teenagers and casino executives. Their stories are grim to say the least, but Bock's intent appeared more cautionary than anything - to show the paths each took to wind up here, rather than simply dwelling on the dark details of the present.

Beautiful Children is a thoroughly impressive debut and a pretty great read, though a painful one to say the least. And I suppose that would be my largest criticism of the novel: it's almost suffocating in its gloominess. The characters are terrible to one another and utterly self-destructive, and several scenes are so cruel and so graphic that I had to force myself to read on. In several respects, Beautiful Children reminded me a lot of Requiem for a Dream; it's a story that's true and important and often overlooked, but it sears its image onto your eyelids, turns your stomach into knots and and makes you relieved when it's finally over.

In short, it's a great book by a new talent, and though I'm glad I read it I don't think I'll ever go back for seconds. In fact, I'm not sure I even want to be in the same room with this book ever again.

Beautiful Children
Charles Bock
407 pages, 2008

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random posts of pretty
From Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace:
Mario'd fallen in love with the first Madame Psychosis programs because he felt like he was listening to someone sad read out loud from yellow letters she'd taken out of a shoebox on a rainy P.M., stuff about heartbreak and people you loved dying and U.S. woe, stuff that was real. It is increasingly hard to find valid art that is about stuff that is real in this way. The older Mario gets, the more confused he gets about the fact that everyone at E.T.A. over the age of about Kent Blott finds stuff that's really real uncomfortable and they get embarassed. It’s like there’s some rule that real stuff can only get mentioned if everybody rolls their eyes or laughs in a way that isn’t happy. 
So sad. So true.

R.I.P, Wallace. You'll be missed.

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Friday, September 12, 2008
les misbarack
Obama staffers doing Les Miserables?  Heart be still!

Happy weekend, you.


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So that's what my band teacher was doing whenever he disappeared into his office after ordering us to spend the period independently practicing our scales!

Good grief. What a bonehead. 


Thursday, September 11, 2008
a few things i've learned this week:
  • The beautiful/terrible thing about teaching high school seniors is their capacity for independent thought.
  • Somehow, 75% of my "advanced" sophomores are incapable of posting a comment on a blog without intense and painfully specific instruction.
  • Tom Brady's human.
  • When it comes to high fashion, I am completely incapable of distinguishing the difference between daringly original avant-garde, and laughably ridiculous costumes.  I do recognize that a model should never look like she's pooing fabric, however.
  • When my DVR wonks out and refuses to record a single thing, it becomes alarmingly clear that I've forgotten how to watch television without it.  (So, did I miss the premieres of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" and "Fringe"?  Oh yes.  I did.)
  • Bill O'Reilly may not be the total asshat I always assumed he was.
  • My seniors are of an age where they refuse to believe that Limp Bizkit was ever not a joke.  Furthermore, the mere mention of Carson Daily's name is enough to send them into a helpless fit of giggles.
  • No time is ever a bad time for hot chocolate.
  • I can only make it through six days on the job before resuming my habit of chronic (yet charming!) tardiness.
  • Doing a Google image search for keyword "PETA" is akin to searching for keyword "Porn."  Trust. (And maybe don't try it at work.)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008
one of my students, on the subject of:
Media Manipulation
In my opinion, the worst offender is the Weather Channel. It's completely untrustworthy. Do you know how many times I've canceled my plans because they've said it's supposed to rain, but then it never rained? Too many. That's how many.


random posts of pretty
I've heard of "food porn," but Herbarium Amoris - a gorgeous series of photographs by Edvard Koinberg - is "flower porn" if I've ever seen it. And besides being beautiful to look at, they also serve as a reminder that no matter how much I choose to spend on fancy cameras, I will never, ever be able to take a photograph that's even remotely as pretty as these. Alas!


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Tuesday, September 09, 2008
In case you haven't seen, it looks like that nasty Ohio church sign has received a slight makeover:

And while I know that defacing religious property is about as naughty as one can get, I can't help but think that this is one of those rare moments when it just might be alright.


random posts of pretty
Although some may beg to differ, I firmly contend that when it comes to music there's really very little that I can't appreciate on some level.  Just like I never understood how someone can claim hate a particular color, I find it puzzling why someone would blankly dismiss an entire genre of music.  So, it follows that I equate claiming to hate all folk music with claiming to hate the color green: perhaps you don't like it as a general rule, but there's all sorts of different shades. Certainly you can't hate them all, and music lovers should always aim to keep an open mind.

I say this because today I'm posting "Mykonos", by Fleet Foxes - a band that's received heaps of glowing praise, but who I don't particularly like.  From what I can tell, they're part of a certain 'shaggy-bearded hipster hippie band' niche that many folks love, but that I just can't seem to warm up to. 

That doesn't mean I'm about to dismiss the entire genre, however.  And how could I?  I love this song:

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utter loyalty
Reading this post about six utterly loyal dogs made my heart swell so much I thought it might burst.  Dogs so rule!  Think about it: your hamster may tolerate you, but is it really going to spend its remaining eleven years standing guard over the spot where you perished?  Hmm?

(And while I'd like to think that my Chloe is every bit as loyal, I'm a very reasonable woman, thus fairly certain that if I were ever to die while we were both lost in the wilderness, she would first eat me, then drag my clothes off to defile them under the gaze of a blood-red sky.  Sigh.)


Monday, September 08, 2008
This Blacklick, Ohio church sign would be hi-larious if I didn't suspect them of being 100% serious:

I almost called my cousin, who lives in Blacklick, to make sure this wasn't a church she attends, but then I realized the sign says "Pastor" instead of "Father" so I'm fairly certain that, as a Catholic, she's an unlikely parishioner. And say what you will about us Catholics, but at least we've never been big on spelling our phobias out with large, plastic lettering on giant marquees...



feeling crafty
Definitely not today, and probably not tomorrow, but I am totally making me this adorable cupcake stand... eventually.



monday book review: the answer is always yes, by monica ferrell
In this, her first novel, poetess Monica Ferrell gives us the story of Matt Acciaccatura, a sad, lonely and much bullied kid from Teaneck, New Jersey who is desperate to be cool. Seeing college as his chance to reinvent himself and start anew, Matt spends the summer before his tenure at NYC conducting meticulous research on the fashion, conversation and mannerisms of coolness in an effort to adopt that persona. Once he arrives at NYC he discovers that most of his efforts have been in vain; nonetheless, despite the fact that he cannot seem to break into the elite world he covets, Matt does make two true friendships, and for a time - perhaps for the first time - Matt finds acceptance and a semblance of happiness.

Matt Acciaccatura's New York is that of the mid-90's - the heyday of club kids, raves and Ecstasy. Despite seeming the unlikeliest of candidates for such a position, Matt is scouted and offered a position as a club promoter at one of the hottest nightclubs in NYC: Cinema. Matt has a natural knack for his job and fast becomes "Magic Matt", one of the brightest stars of the New York club scene. But his new found success comes at a cost, as Matt's acceptance into this gilded world puts a predictable strain on his real friendships, tests his personal ethics, and ultimately leads to his downfall.

Matt's fictitious tale is told by two narrators: Ferrell, the primary storyteller; and Dr. Hans Mannheim, a German sociologist who was studying Matt before his arrest, and who marks up Ferrell's manuscript with footnotes, personal asides, and addenda. And it's here where the novel fell apart for me. Had The Answer is Always Yes been narrated by Ferrell alone, I may have considered it a success. Although it dragged in sections, Ferrell's prose is skillful, her story engaging and her characters fully formed. However, the decision to add Mannheim as a second narrator revealed her limitations as a writer in that I found his contributions to be annoyingly interruptive, painfully overwritten and largely unnecessary.

As a person who counts The Great Gatsby as one of her all-time favorite novels, I really wanted to like The Answer is Always Yes. From early on Ferrell succeeded in earning my sympathy for poor Matt Acciaccatura, who, like Jay Gatsby, mistakes celebrity and money for happiness, is frustratingly insecure, obsessed with frivolity, but who is still deserving of our affection and of our pity. Unfortunately, Ferrell's attempts at innovation ultimately ruined the experience for me in that I just couldn't forgive the poorly executed gimmick that was Dr. Hans Mannheim.

In short, Ferrell is a good writer who certainly shows potential as a novelist, however her first attempt was far from a home run. Would I consider reading future efforts? Sure. Would I recommend this, her debut? Eh...Probably not.

Monica Ferrell
382 pages, 2008

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Thursday, September 04, 2008
one of my students on the topic of:
Chuck Klosterman
What a emo, hypocrite crybaby.  Either shut up and stop complaining, or move back to Germany or wherever, pal. 


see, what happens to opinions about sexism is they gestate over a period of months
Chances are good you've seen this already, but this clip of Jon Stewart pointing out various Republicans flip-flopping on sexism is just too good to not post:

UPDATE: I've reposted the clip, so it should be viewable again, at least, for the time being...

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Wednesday, September 03, 2008
back to school
Today was only my second day of the school year, and already I:
  • am mad missing my flip-flops, and have developed several blisters thanks to my stupid, cute high heeled shoes.
  • caught a cold. Apparently my immune system completely seizes and fails whenever I find myself in close proximity to more than 30 people in one room at one time. Zinc, ho!
  • dropped the f-bomb at lunch. Twice.
  • am wholly skeptical of my student teacher. She's interacted well with the students so far, however her professionalism is leaving much to be desired. Skipped opening day? Never bothered to get herself fingerprinted? Twenty minutes late on day one??? Really?!? I sense a come to Jesus meeting may be in our future.
  • scared the living hell out of my seniors. You know you've effectively driven home your point about the seriousness and intensity of your film course when four of them stay after class to confess past "C"s earned in English, and one of them bypasses all that and decides to immediately drop the class. And that's fine. I run a tight ship, and my high school basketball team didn't nickname me "Sarah Barracuda" for nothing.
  • jammed the copy machine. Twice.
  • served the school secretary an extra large helping of my infamous eye roll. She deserved it of course, however this is never a good idea.
  • am thoroughly impressed with my students. I know we're still firmly in the honeymoon stage of our relationship, but they all seem so eager! so nice! so willing! and so capable! that I can't help from falling in love.
  • have a cling-on. (noun. a well-meaning and sort of sad student who just. won't. leave you alone.)
  • feel a pretty good year may be on the horizon. Fingers crossed.


Tuesday, September 02, 2008
weekly book review: the soul thief, by charles baxter
File this one under "showed promise."

Baxter's anticipated follow-up to the highly acclaimed The Feast of Love started off well enough, I suppose. Nathaniel Mason, narrating awkwardly in the 3rd person, is a graduate student in upstate New York and on his way to one of the smarmiest parties ever put to ink. It's there, amongst the hipsters and faux Marxists, where he first meets Jerome Coolberg,"The Soul Thief." Coolberg is purported to be some sort of genius, however Nathaniel is quick to note that nearly everything spewing from his mouth is stolen material.

Though he first seems harmless enough, it doesn't take Nathaniel long to realize something about Coolberg is a bit...off. Still, Nathaniel can't seem to help from forming an uneasy friendship with Coolberg, and that's when things take turn for the creepy. Nathaniel's apartment is burgled, his clothes go missing, and Coolberg somehow seems know very personal things about Nathaniel - things Nathaniel doesn't recall ever sharing with him. The issue is forced to its crisis when he catches word that Coolberg has taken to passing Nathaniel's history off as his own. His excuse? He's writing a book, and Nathaniel's a major source of inspiration. From here the story takes several twists, the biggest one being, of course, the ending. Which was awful.

As I stated earlier, this novel certainly had potential. Annoying opening party scene aside, the first act read like Hitchcock at his best - full of ominously mysterious characters with undefined motives. In fact, the book even begins with a reference to Psycho, a reference the reader will later recognize as a major clue. And even though I *loves* me some Hitchcock, I most certainly didn't love this novel.

Why? As the plot unfolded I was bothered by several things, but I could have looked past the pedantic dialogue and unlikeable characters had the ending delivered better. And when it comes down to it, it's the ending that ruined The Soul Thief for me. I'll be vague for the sake of anyone who may still want to give it a shot, but after all the allusions dropped throughout, I was geared up for the ending to be as classy and smart as a Hitchcock film, when instead it felt cheap and gimmicky. Baxter my man, you could have done so much better.  

I have no doubt that Charles Baxter is a great writer, however I'm not sure one would be able to discern that on this strength of this novel alone. Hardcore Baxter fans will probably still want to check it out, but for everyone else...maybe don't bother. It wasn't the worst way to spend a few hours, but it was hardly the best.

Charles Baxter
210 pages, 2008

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Monday, September 01, 2008
random posts of pretty
On the cusp of both Gustav and the three year anniversary of Katrina, here's some pretty powerful examples of Banksy's work that have recently popped up in New Orleans:

Thoughts and prayers, folks.


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hello, cupcake!
In honor of Labor Day and summer's subsequent conclusion, today I present you with:

Level of Ease: Moderate. (Although, surprisingly, the hardest part was getting my hands on some culinary lavender.)

Taste: Perfectly lovely.  Fairly sweet, but the lavender and citrus were both subtle and complementary.  The end result was quite elegant, adult, and perfect for a summertime party.

(Recipe Via Cupcake Bakeshop)