Thursday, February 26, 2009
john cleese on twitter:



Tuesday, February 24, 2009
random posts of pretty
A bunch of us English teachers were discussing the Kindle today at lunch (none of us in favor, which I'm sure comes as little surprise). As far as I can tell, it's a question of versatility versus quantity - I can either carry my entire library with me at all times, or I can have a wall of real, tangible books in my home to take with me to the bath or to bed or to loan out to friends. Personally, I'd rather have the latter.   

Of course, another reason to champion the tangible over the technological is aesthetics.  Case in point, White's Books' gorgeous, new editions of beloved classics, each hardcover designed by renowned artists.  They're so pretty that I almost want to take a second stab at reading Wuthering Heights!  


(Via Apartment Therapy)

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happy fat tuesday!
To celebrate, please do peruse the grossest food website I could find, while listening to this:

(And I thought paczkis were bad.  I'm getting fat just THINKING about how many calories must exist in a deep-fried cupcake.)  

Sunday, February 22, 2009
a few riiiight under the wire pre-oscar night thoughts
Truth be told, The Academy Awards are the ONLY awards show I give a damn about, and even if I don't see as many new release movies as I'd like to, I try to at least make a point of seeing all the five Best Picture Noms before the actual awards are dispersed.  It was tight this year, but after braving a mini snow storm to catch Frost/Nixon yesterday, I met my goal.  And even if the Academy hasn't seen fit to consult my opinion on the matter, here's a few thoughts all the same.

Firstly, I'm happy to say that I genuinely enjoyed all five of the Best Picture nominees this year, which isn't always the case.  Of course, I have my favorites and there's one or two that I'd be disappointed see see win, but all five were truly great, highly watchable movies, and each brought something unique to the table.

But with that said, my favorite of the bunch, and the movie I'd most like to see win Best Picture, is:

Slumdog Millionaire
I know this is hardly a unique choice - "Slumdog" appears to be the clear favorite to win going in - but there's a reason for that; Slumdog Millionaire is a glittering jewel of a movie that has a little bit of everything. It's a fairy tale, a story of redemption, a study in social injustice, and even a Bollywood-style musical.  I know there's been some critical backlash against this movie - some don't like the dance number at the end, others are upset at Boyle's depiction of India, and many complain that the story is too unrealistic - but to all those complaints I cry foul.  To criticize the ending or the film's realism is to miss the point: "Slumdog" may depict some gritty and all-too-real truths, but at its core it's a fairy tale, and a magnificent one at that.  

And so even if I'm happily expecting to see "Slumdog" win, the movie that wins a very close second place position in my heart is: 

I ADORED Milk.  Truth be told, I might even be happier if it took the award since it was such a beautiful movie, yet a bit of an underdog.   I put this movie off for a bit because I was worried that a movie that ends in a political assassination would be too sad for my delicate sensibilities, but after seeing it I realized my concerns were unfounded.  Milk's life may have ended tragically, however his story is inspiring and the movie was incredibly warm and uplifting, despite the ending. Furthermore, even if Milk's story is over thirty years old, it's probably the most timely, most important film of the bunch.  Milk is such a inspiring story of social activism that a thought kept nagging at me while I watched:  if this movie had been released BEFORE the vote on Prop 8, would the result have been different?  I can't help but think that it may.   

An addendum - I know that Mickey Rourke is probably going to win for Best Actor, but I really don't want him to.  He did a fine job in The Wrestler, but I couldn't help but feel as if he was playing himself more than anything.  Sean Penn, however, was Harvey Milk, and so even if my feelings regarding Penn are often mixed, I would be very, very happy to see him win the award instead.

Next is the nominee that the critics love to hate: 

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
I will admit that this is the most flawed of all the nominees; however, I will not apologize for the extent to which I enjoyed it.  Yes, it's a bit like Forrest Gump and Titanic in the sense that it's the big Hollywood epic that's probably the most overrated piece of the bunch. However, I would argue that it's a much better film than either of the aforementioned movies.  Even still, I will acquiesce that "Button" was 30 minutes too long, adding the references to Hurricane Katrina was a sticky choice, and the viewer was asked to suspend his disbelief a bit too much at the end.  Still, it's a very enjoyable movie.  This doesn't change the fact that I'd hate to see it win.

The movie that's the most stereotypically "Oscar-ish" film?

The Reader

Don't misunderstand me, The Reader is a wonderful film; however, Holocaust pieces are in danger of becoming an Academy Award cliche, no?  The Reader is a thought-provoking film that's beautifully shot and perfectly acted, yet something about it left me cold.  I suppose that's par for the course when one considers the subject matter (we're being asked to sympathize with Nazis?!?), but it's largely the reason that this was one of my least favorite films of the bunch.  I'm glad I saw The Reader, but I don't feel compelled to see it again.  

As a side note, Kate Winslet will probably win Best Actress for her performance in The Reader, which is just fine by me.  She's consistently amazing.

And last but not least:

If I had to pick, I suppose Frost/Nixon would be my least favorite of the five films nominated, although that's hardly meant to imply that I didn't enjoy it.  If Sean Penn weren't nominated for Best Actor, then I would be pulling for Frank Fangella, as his Nixon was pitch-perfect.  For that matter, Michael Sheen was excellent as Frost, even if I'd never heard of Sheen before.  Ultimately, Frost/Nixon's biggest asset was in its performances, and since the other films had some pretty knockout performances as well, it's hard for me to throw too much love Frost/Nixon's way.

So there you have it.  Please file any questions or complains in the space below.


Saturday, February 21, 2009
effort and expectation
If you teach, then this article on grade conflicts and student expectations, originally published in the New York Times,  is worth a read.  Basically, it says what any teacher already knows: most students (and I'd add most parents as well) think that if they show up and try hard, then they should never receive a grade lower than a "B."  This passage drove me particularly nuts:

“I think putting in a lot of effort should merit a high grade,” Mr. Greenwood said. “What else is there really than the effort that you put in? If you put in all the effort you have and get a C, what is the point?” he added. “If someone goes to every class and reads every chapter in the book and does everything the teacher asks of them and more, then they should be getting an A like their effort deserves. If your maximum effort can only be average in a teacher’s mind, then something is wrong.”

No, Mr. Greenwood, nothing is wrong."C" means average, and if all it takes to be "above average" is a little bit of effort, then average ends up being pretty weak indeed. 

As I tell my own students, I once tried really, really hard to ski, but I was still complete crap at it.  I took a class, I had all the equipment, I wanted to do well, and I refused to give up, yet I still couldn't help but fall on my ass repeatedly.   Some things require more than just showing up, kids.


Friday, February 20, 2009
it's friday, and you know what that means...

BOOMBOX from Ely Kim on Vimeo

(Make it to #80, and trust that you will be rewarded.)

(Via Don't Forget to Dance)

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Thursday, February 19, 2009
I used to Twitter.  Maybe I still do - I don't know, honestly - but what I DO know is once one starts "Twittering" one suddenly starts distilling "interesting" moments occurring throughout one's day into tidy, 140 character long "tweets."  So although I've sort of stopped posting them, this isn't to say that my head isn't constantly twittering.  Trust that I'm still all a twitter, even if I've essentially ceased sharing my tweets.  Now I just write them down in my journal rather than post them, where they sit gathering dust.  They presently have no purpose, no audience, and no future, which is sort of sad in a way, so since I truly have nothing better to do, I'm going to give my previously unpublished tweets at least two out of three of those things.

So, yes.  *Ahem!*:

Mrs White... watching The Reader, where Kate Winslet's nipples spend so much time on screen I'm surprised they didn't get a Best Supporting Actress Nom.

...sometimes wishes she worked in a place where her "co-workers" didn't enjoy throwing pudding cups down stairwells so much. laughing while reading Lolita.  Is worried this makes her pervy.

...wants a poster to put on her classroom door that reads "Eeyore Free Zone."

...could have happily lived her whole life without knowing who Mike Jones was.  Thanks so much, students.

...hates questions she can't truthfully answer, like 'do you like my new haircut?' or 'does this make me look fat?' or 'is my essay good?'

...just (embarrassingly) reached for the same pair of $2 earrings in Forever 21 as one of her 14-year-old students.

...can take solace in the fact that at least it wasn't a $2 thong at The Express this time. having a hot flash?!?

...recently decided the colon is the funniest of all punctuation marks.

...thinks the flying buttress is the funniest of all architectural terms.

...thinks "skinny jeans" should actually make one look skinny. suddenly quite thankful that none of her friends keep chimps as pets.

So there you go; you're all caught up now on what I would have twittered had I not stopped twittering.  Tweet out, beaotches!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009
book review: the end, by salvatore scibona
One of five finalists for The 2008 National Book Award, The End is an impressive debut whose serpentine plot hovers around a single tumultuous moment during a Catholic street carnival held in an Italian-American enclave of 1953 Cleveland.  Amidst a backdrop of racial tensions, poverty and immigration, this pivotal moment ties together the beautifully developed characters who makes up this highly psychological drama:  There's Rocco, the town baker, who has just received word that his son has perished in a Korean POW camp;  Mrs. Marini, an elderly abortionist, who is looking for a protégé before she dies and thinks she has found one in Lina, a would-be spinster; and the story's antagonist - a jeweler - who is responsible for a large part of the novel's dread.   

In a book that often reads more like an epic lyric poem than a novel, Scibona's characters become the focus of a piece that is often more psychology than plot.  In The End, Scibona seems to be channeling heavyweight modernists such as James Joyce, William Faulkner and T.S. Eliot, so it should follow that his novel is dense, poetic, often awe-inspiring and frequently difficult.  

Ultimately, it's the author's sentences that become both his blessing and his curse.  The End is comprised of gorgeously opaque sentences like "If he could denude himself from his mineral self, leaving only caption, he would become at last translucent, transient, timeless," and "I was a fleeting thought the mind that the sea was might light upon and then forget." Scibona's writing is as breathtaking as it is obfuscatory, and, as such, it follows that The End is a novel that demands much of its reader and one that must be read slowly

Ultimately, I found The End to be a bit of an enigma.  Scibona's writing sparkled, his characters troubled, his story mystified, and he unapologetically tested me as a reader, just like the modernist authors he appeared to be channeling.  And as is the case with the work of Eliot and Faulkner, I must be honest and admit that I appreciate what he created more than I enjoyed it.

Salvatore Scibona
2008, 294 pages

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Monday, February 16, 2009
random posts of pretty
I think I've mentioned this before, but I have a real soft spot for artists who transform conventionally ugly subjects into something beautiful.  These factory shots, borrowed from beef.200%'s flickr photostream, definitely fit the criteria.  Don't they look amazing? Like glittery space age castles?

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Friday, February 13, 2009
an open letter K---, from my 3rd hour class,
No, I will not be your valentine.

I’ve told you this once already and in person; however, since you are so persistent – asking me several times throughout this past week – allow me to formally lay out my reasoning: 1) It is illegal, as you are only seventeen and I am…not. 2) Even if it weren’t illegal, it’s unprofessional. 3) I’m married. 4) It’s icky. 5) You are not particularly strong in English, which has always sort of been requisite to earn my affection.

This is not, of course, to say that I do not appreciate your effort. Placing a box of conversation hearts on my desk was a sweet, old school touch. And the hand-made card was nice, although I would have really preferred you’d been listening to the lecture I was giving rather than spending the hour drawing me a picture of a chubby dragon cuddling a heart. But here’s the deal, K--- - it’s not like you’re the first kid to ever ask me, and if I didn’t acquiesce to that one kid who serenaded me on his guitar to John Mayer’s “Your Body in a Wonderland” five years ago, then I’m certainly not going to give in to you.

So - once again - no, I will not be your valentine. I will, however, be eating your conversation hearts.

Mrs. White


Thursday, February 12, 2009
favorite songs of '09: ben kweller's "fight"
I've always been more aware of Ben Kweller than I've ever been much of a fan; however, his newest album, Changing Horses, has changed all that around. He hails from Texas, so I suppose it's not too much of a surprise that he'd eventually try his hand at making a country album. The surprising thing is that I LOVE it.  ...Me. The girl who hates most anything even remotely twangy. Who ever would have thunk it?  

Anyway, Gram Parsons would be proud is my larger point.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009
random posts of pretty
If I lived closer to Chicago, then you can bet I'd be taking a trip to see Colleen Plumb's show, Animals Are Outside Today, at the City Gallery of Photography.

From the statement posted on her site regarding the series: 
This series of photographs examines the essence of our connection, as well as our fragmentation from the natural. I am interested in the ever increasing disconnection that exists between humans and the natural world. The work explores simulation, consumption, destruction, and reconstruction as well as notions of endurance and the reality of loss.
From what little I've seen, it looks much more intriguing, challenging and thoughtful than any wacko stunt PETA has ever dreamed up...

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kittens inspired by kittens
I just saw this on Boing Boing, and since it very well may be the BEST VIRAL VIDEO EVER, I thought I'd share.  

I laughed so hard I upset my dog.  I think she thought I was sobbing.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009
book review: paper towns, by john green
A paper town is a utter fiction - a place that exists only in maps created by mapmakers eager to keep potential thieves from plagiarizing their work. In a sense, Margo Roth Spiegelman is a fiction too. To Quentin Jacobsen, she's a miracle - a sort of manic pixie dream girl who's "the kind of person who either dies tragically at twenty seven like Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, or else grows up to win the first-ever Nobel Prize for Awesome." 

Adorably nerdy Quentin (Q) seems to have spent his entire life in love with with myth of Margo, so when she shows up in his bedroom - dressed like a ninja inviting him to join her on a campaign of nocturnal vengeance - he is too flattered to refuse. It's a wild night that leaves play-it-safe Q exhausted, exhilarated, and hopeful that he and Margo can rekindle the friendship they one had as very small children in a time before deeply entrenched social cliques.

Apparently, Margo does not share the same sentiments, because come morning she is gone. Mere weeks away from graduation, Margo has seemingly disappeared off the face of the earth, although no one but Q seems too terribly concerned. She has, however, left a web of clues behind - clues which Q believes she has left because she desperately wants to be found. With little more to go on than a marked-up copy of Leaves of Grass, Q sets off to unravel the mystery of where his dream girl has gone, and in the process learns something perhaps more important: There are no dream girls. There are only girls, and loving the idea of someone is unfair to the actual person whom you've romanticized into fiction.

I heard about Paper Towns while attending a conference on notable new releases in Young Adult Fiction, and was eager to read it after my presenter called it a "masterpiece." Personally, I think that word may have been too freely applied; however, Paper Towns is one of the best books written by one of the best Young Adult authors doing it today. It's a fresh and compelling mystery that is smartly written and, at times, laugh-out-loud funny. Maybe I wouldn't call it a masterpiece, but it is really quite excellent. If you're a person who, like me, maintains a Young Adult library, then consider Paper Towns a must-have addition.

Paper Towns
John Green
2008, 305 pages

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Monday, February 09, 2009
cool video: "her morning elegance"
One of my fellow bloggers over at Don't Forget to Dance pointed me in the direction of the video for Oren Lavie's "Her Morning Elegance," and it's just too fun to not spread it around a bit more.  Enjoy.

Oren Lavie - Her Morning Elegance
Uploaded by IgnitionVM

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wm. shakespeare's five and twenty random things abovt me
Here's something that made me laugh today.  If you're on Facebook, then by now I'm sure you're familiar with this meme that's been floating around - "25 Random Things About Me."  Well, some guy took it to a totally awesome level by writing William Shakespeare's list for him. In Old English, even.  Here's a few choice ones:

1. Sometimes I Feele so trapp’d by iambic pentameter... Does that make me a Freake?

3. I am not uery ticklish. I am Not. So prithee, do not euen try. Waste. Of. Time.

5. Sometimes I thinke plays are all Talke, Talke Talke, and wish for a cart-chase scene. I tried one in The Merry Wives, but it looked like Shitte, so I cut it. The men playing the horses were so Pissed at me.

11. When I am happy I call Anne my Kicky-wicky. When I am cross I call her “Olde Fun Killer Hag-Ass.”

14. On the topic of dating, my daughter Susanna loues to remind me: ~Jvliet was only thirteen! And I remind her that i) she was Italian, an impulsive race ii), she was actually played by a middle-aged Eunuch named Ned, and iii) she died. That always shvts her right vp.

20. As a boy in my Bed, I would shriek i’the night that Witches wovld come to eat me. My Mother (bless her) wovld smooth my Hair and whispr ~ Be not afear’d, the Witches onlie eat the Jews.


Thursday, February 05, 2009
random posts of pretty
I love Landon Nordeman's quirky photos from last year's Westminster Kennel Dog Show:


(Via A Photography Blog)

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Wednesday, February 04, 2009
spelling tuesday
I can't spell. I try, but I just...I cannot. I've gotten better at it over the years, but even still I find myself having to look up how many "r"s in embarrassed, how many "c"s in accommodate, and I always want to put a "d" in privilege for some reason. It's something about the way my mind works, I guess. I see the forest but not necessarily the individual trees, and so the idea is more important to me than which exact combination of letters it takes to convey it.

So, even though I've sort of accepted poor spelling as one of the things that makes me me, it still makes me feel bad sometimes, especially when I eventually find an error in something I slaved over and thought was perfect.

Whenever this happens, I try to remember what Winnie the Pooh said:
“You can't help respecting anybody who can spell TUESDAY, even if he doesn't spell it right; but spelling isn't everything. There are days when spelling Tuesday simply doesn't count.”

And honestly, this really does help. Spelling isn't everything, and sometimes it isn't anything at all.

What also helps is hearing that Jane Austen, Ernest Hemingway, John Keats, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner and the guy who invented Scrabble were all horrible spellers too. I can't help it. Hearing This Side of Paradise being dubbed “one of the most illiterate books of any merit ever published" just makes me feel gud.


Tuesday, February 03, 2009
favorite headline of the day:
Surgeons remove healthy kidney thorough donor's vagina.

five minute book review: johnny got his gun, by dalton trumbo
I've got a more fleshed-out review of something else simmering on the back burner, but for today here's my lightening-quick response to Dalton Trumbo's Johnny Got His Gun, which is currently up for discussion amongst my book club peeps:

Johnny Got His Gun is perhaps the single most psychologically disturbing thing I've ever read.  A stream of consciousness narrative of a WWI soldier who has (perhaps unrealistically) survived a shell at the expense of all of his limbs and most of his senses, Trumbo's classic novel remains one of the most effective anti-war pieces of our modern era.   It's a lightening-quick read, but one that leaves a lasting impression for its searing portrayal of the effects of modern warfare.  If you've never gotten around to it then you probably should at some point, however do brace yourself for some powerfully disturbing imagery.   I have finished it, consequently I need a hug.

(And after tackling this back-to-back with Say You're One of Them, trust that I'm now in the market for some significantly lighter fare.  Something with unicorns who poo rainbows, perhaps.)

Dalton Trumbo
1939, 256 pages

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blog recommendation: don't forget to dance
Don't Forget to Dance is a awesome new music blog, and yours truly is a contributor. Adjust your bookmarks accordingly.


Monday, February 02, 2009
favorite songs of '09: andrew bird's "effigy"
I adore every single thing about Andrew Bird, so it's hardly a surprise that I love his newest endeavor, Noble Beast. As is his custom, the album is full of whistling, various stringed instruments and quirky lyrics, but it is a bit of a departure in that it feels a bit more accessible to a wider audience than much of his previous work has been. I must admit that I miss the epic, slow building ballads a bit, but it's a gorgeous album all the same. And while there's plenty to love here, "Effigy" is my current favorite. 

(And, might I mention, it's worth seeing through to the end, since the end's the best part.  His dreamy face that can serenade me with violins and la-da-das as often as it pleases!)

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