Tuesday, March 31, 2009
random posts of pretty
Someone named "iri5" has a photo set up on Flickr of these awesome pieces of art that s/he has created from old cassette tapes, and even if they weren't portraits of some of my favorite musicians of all time, I'd probably still think they're pretty rad.

From top to bottom, we have cassette tape portraits of The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Ian Curtis (from Joy Division) and, my personal favorite, Robert Smith. Aren't they crazy awesome? I want one for my house!

Now, if s/he would just do Morrissey's portrait....

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Monday, March 30, 2009
favorite songs of '09: fanfarlo's "fire escape"
Since I'm still neck-deep in painfully poorly written rough drafts, I don't really have the finger mobility required to type very much at all. Thus, today you're getting get a song. Alright? Alright...

Fanfarlo is one of my favorite new bands, and I think you might like them too. They're London-based and sound a bit like David Byrne channeling Arcade Fire, so if that's the sort of thing that sounds interesting to you, then you might want to check them out. The album's called Reservoir, and it's fast become one of my favorite LPs to come out this year. It's too cool for school, kids. Observe:

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Friday, March 27, 2009
sometimes they want to punch you in the face
So, I stayed home today. Mostly, it's because I've been fighting a losing battle with some bug all week, and by the end of the day yesterday it had rendered me achy and snotty and utterly exhausted. Couple that with the seventy rough drafts I collected on Monday but have not yet touched, and I figured it wise to work from home today.

(And yes, the fact is not lost on me that rather than reading essays, I'm currently blogging. Whatever. Shut up. Don't judge me.)

Anyway, rather it be from illness or stress or the fact that I'm currently worrying myself silly over something that may or may not be a worrisome thing, I've been terribly off for the past handful of weeks - irritable, impatient, quick to frustration, and occasionally downright unpleasant. If you haven't noticed, then good. If you have, then, well, I'm sorry. Imagine me making weepy doe eyes of apology to you through my computer screen if that helps.

I only mention any of this because due to my weakened emotional and physical state, I threw a bit of a fit yesterday regarding a student. My 9th graders are in the middle of writing their one, big, formal essay of the year, and, as I've already mentioned, their rough drafts were due on Monday. We spent all last week in the lab - brainstorming, organizing, conferencing and drafting - and although folks LOVE to bemoan the writers that public high schools produce, that's because none of them have any idea how difficult it is to teach 34 9th graders how to properly write a literary analysis essay in a 54 minute class period. Know that I did the best that I could. It was exhausting, but most of my kids had a draft for me on Monday, and whether or not they're any good really takes a back seat to the fact that they are (mostly) COMPLETE. And being that it's high school, those kids who didn't give me an essay received e-mails and/or calls to mom, which took loads of time but largely did the trick. One way or another, I got drafts from nearly all 64 of my 9th graders by Thursday. That probably shouldn't be a source of pride, but - sadly - it is.

So, after all of this, when little Brian turned his "essay" in - three days late and consisting of one lone, solitary sentence - it set me off. Amazingly, I managed to keep it together when I talked to him about it, politely asking where the other sentences might be, and what the heck happened, and why didn't you ever ask for help if you needed it, and WHAT THE HELL DID YOU DO ALL LAST WEEK!?!?!? For his part, he said very little, clenched his jaw, and looked as if he wanted to punch me squarely in the face. Needless to say, I've had more productive meetings.

A third call to mom later, and Brian was finally convinced that he needed to come in after school yesterday for some one-on-one help. Surprisingly, he did, and it didn't take me more than five minutes to realize the core of this kid's frustration: he can barely read. His spelling was AMAZINGLY bad, and when I asked him to read the sentence he had written aloud to me, it was made clear from his stumblings and fumblings that mom had written his sentence for him. No wonder he hates me. If my skills were as low as his, I'd probably hate my English teacher too.

I wasn't feeling well and he clearly hated what I was making him do, but after thirty minutes or so we had both resigned ourselves to the fact that neither one of us was going home until this was done. We started with his one sentence, and managed to construct the skeleton of a less-than-average essay around it. It's not going to be good, but I think it will be COMPLETE - maybe the first complete piece of writing this kid has ever written in his life. So really, how good it'll be should probably be a moot point.

It took us an hour and a half, and for most of that time Brian worked without looking at me, grunting his responses to my questions, and basically silently despising me. But then something happened to him during that last half an hour. He must have been noticing how much he was accomplishing, and that led him (and me) to lighten up considerably. He started looking at me, asking me questions, and at one point even smiled at something I said. I'm not saying that he liked me during that moment, but he no longer appeared as if he wanted to punch me in the face. He even told me that he hoped I was feeling better as he walked out my room, carrying a complete outline in hand.

And that, folks, is progress: when they come in wanting to murder your face but leave smiling and wishing you well. Isn't teaching MAGICAL?


Thursday, March 26, 2009
random posts of pretty
I recently found these samples of Clark Little's wave photography via The Guardian, and they're probably the prettiest things I've seen all day. (Of course, I haven't really seen very many pretty things today, but that really shouldn't take anything away from these photos. Seriously. How is this even possible?)

Also, I'm ready for summer. So very, very ready for summer...

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009
where the wild things are
So, have you seen the trailer for Where the Wild Things Are yet? It's directed by Spike Jonze, the screenplay was written by Dave Eggers, and to say that I am excited about this film adaptation of one of the bestest, weirdest, most wonderful children's stories ever writ would be an understatement. My spine! She shivers!!!


Tuesday, March 24, 2009
regarding coraline
Alright, doves, here's my uninvited advice for the day: if you had any intentions of maybe seeing Coraline, then do it. Now. In the theater. In 3-D. (I'll wait.)

I know you, and so I know what you're probably thinking: That's nice Mrs. White, but I still think I'll just wait until it comes out on video. There's other things I want to see, and I don't particularly feel like wearing 3-D glasses during a movie, and it's not showing in the theater in town, and that's what Netflix is for, and cartoons are dumb, and I don't like weird things as much as you do, and la de da de da...

And to all that I'd repeat: See it now. In the theater. In 3-D. Otherwise, I'm not even sure you should bother with it at all.

Here's why: Absolutely stunning visual effects aside, Coraline is good film, however not great one. Admittedly, I have not yet read the graphic novel that the film was based on, yet I am comfortably certain that Neil Gaiman's story is better served in print than on the screen. On a strictly story level, Coraline suffered from the same affliction that graphic-novel-turned-film Persepolis suffered - the story couldn't help but feel noticeably condensed. Too much was made to happen in too little time, so some of the nuances has to be sacrificed for the good of the overall story. Viewers get the gist, but not necessarily the soul of the tale.

So, even if Gaiman's disturbing story about a lonely little girl who isn't careful what she wishes for is a compelling one, what makes Coraline the film so compelling isn't so much the story as it is the visuals. Without the 3-D element, Coraline would still be a beautiful, beautiful film, but with it it's transcendent. In the hands of a lesser director, I'm sure that the effects could have become a gimmick, but Henry Selick proves that he's a wizard with the taste and restraint to use this magic to immerse us into the story rather than fling it into our faces. The result is a film that looks as gorgeous as it does strange, and as realistic as it does other worldly.

You will not get this same textural effect sitting on your sofa in your living room, and you will most definitely be missing out. I'm not sure how filmmakers are planning on dealing with the home video aspect of this new 3-D push, however even if they somehow find a way to replicate it for home video it could only be, at best, a weak substitute. You need a dark room and a giant screen and the ability to view this technology as it was intended to be seen. I just don't see how the experience can be replicated, and I'm not even sure they should bother to try. If this this is the future of 3-D, then consider me a fan - a fan who concedes that the experience is worth the trip to the theater.

And this is exactly how one should view Coraline - in 3-D, with the silly glasses, how it was intended. It's a achingly stunning film, and is still showing in a theater just a few miles from my house. (Wink.)


Monday, March 23, 2009
random posts of pretty
I could spend hours browsing The Photographic Dictionary, which defines words through images. Some entries are literal interpretations of the words, while others take a more figurative approach. Regardless, I like them all.










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Sunday, March 22, 2009
the face of (march) madness

For the record I had absolutely nothing to do with this, seeing as I don't care a bit about basketball and so have most definitely NOT caught March Madness, and I also happen to think that putting clothes on animals is humiliating and cruel.

What you're looking at is Nathan's doing. I just took the picture. And then put it up on the Internet. And then let her wear my husband's Michigan State shirt all day long, because she didn't seem to mind it so much, and besides - LOOK AT HOW RIDICULOUS SHE LOOKS!!!

Friday, March 20, 2009
random posts of pretty
These pieces from Erwan Frotin's new Strangers exhibit - coming soon to a gallery in Los Angeles - feel particularly appropriate, what with today being the first day of spring and all. The part of me that knows a few things about art realizes that these are more than just pictures of plants set against colored backdrops- that they're careful studies in contrast, tone, form, and color. However, I'd be lying if I didn't admit that there's another part of me that can't help but just see them and think, "Ooh...pretty!"

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Thursday, March 19, 2009
weekly book review: the hunger games, by suzanne collins
Regarding the sci-fi/fantasy genre, I've recently come to this very simple conclusion: if it takes place in outer space then I probably won't like it, but if it's set in a dystopian future world then I probably will. And although I'm not positive what it means about my fundamental psychology that I'm a tad obsessed with horrific future scenarios, I guess I have a pretty good idea.


I recently finished The Hunger Games, which is the first book in a planned trilogy set in, yes, a dystopian future. The United States is gone, and what is left of North America (now Panem) has been divided up into thirteen districts, ruled over by a dictatorship run from a city simply called The Capitol. Like most dictatorships, life in The Capitol is swanky and well-fed, while the poor saps in the surrounding districts exist in varying levels of starvation, squalor, toil and strife. And it's very unlikely that things will improve anytime soon. District 13 once had the audacity to rebel, and - *poof!* - no more District 13.

In order to ensure that the remaining twelve districts aren't tempted to follow in the footsteps of District 13, the television-obsessed Capitol devised The Hunger Games: a annual lottery in which two children - one male, and one female - are selected each year from all twelve districts and forced to fight it out in "The Arena." The lone winner gets fame and fortune, while the 23 losers get a cruel, televised death. It's a yearly, crushing reminder of how much power The Capitol wields, and is required viewing for all of Panem.

The heroine of The Hunger Games is a incredibly resilient and resourceful young lady named Katniss Everdeen who hails from District 12, or what used to be called Appalachia. The folks in District 12 are desperately poor, and the kids unlucky enough to "win" spots in the Games are rarely competitive. Katniss is, of course, a notable exception. When her little sister had the misfortune of being selected, Katniss did the unimaginable and volunteered herself in her place. Further complicating matters is the second contestant from District 12, Peeta Mellark, who has a very obvious crush on the plucky Katniss despite the fact that the two are about to spar off in a fight to the death.

Personally, I could have done without this side love story, but I also understand that romance is a basic requirement for teen fiction. Another quibble I had is that the ending felt abrupt, but then I had also managed to forget that The Hunger Games is only the first book in a planned trilogy, so a hasty ending is a forgivable offense. Other than that, I really, really enjoyed The Hunger Games, despite one truly disgusting scene, some eye-rolling lovey-dovey moments, and a nagging feeling that I'd read parts of it before (*cough!*TheRunningMan*cough!*). It may not have been perfect, but it hooked me early and hooked me hard; I devoured the thing in two sittings, and am eagerly awaiting the release of Collins' next installment, which I believe is due to be released this September.

In a nutshell, The Hunger Games is gritty, absorbing and inventive, even if not 100% original. Fans of dystopian lit. should approve.

Suzanne Collins
2008, 384 pages

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009
detroit's st.patrick's day parade: 3.15.09


Monday, March 16, 2009
because i love you
The Second Pass is a fresh, comprehensive and highly engaging new resource for all things bookish, and the readerly among you would do well to bookmark it. It's very new so not much is archived yet, but I've been enjoying both the reviews and the blog. Of course, it helps that on one of my first visits I was greeted with a post that, at least in part, shared my basic assessment of Roberto Bolaño. The prospect of "anti-blurbs" is delicious as well.

Tiny Art Director is a blog recently featured on VSL, and if you need a laugh then it's a good place to start, as I was nearly in tears after ten or so minutes of thumbing through the archives. The blog is "a running account of the working relationship" between artist Bill Zeman and his 4-year-old daughter Rosie, who commissions him for pieces like "Poo-Poo Airplane" and "A Dinosaur Eating a Baby," and then almost always hates the results. Some of the funniest posts were when Rosie was only two or three and her criticisms were as simple as "Stop drawing! Stop drawing!," but a recent post when she tells her Daddy "I'm sorry to say that you're worser than me. You gotta learn to draw as me. You just don't draw so well. Why do you think that is?" made me laugh spittle all over my laptop.

Finally, someone finally went and linked SAT scores to musical preferences, and the results only served to make me all the more smug, seeing as fans of Beethoven, Radiohead, Sufjan Stevens, The Shins, Beck and Bob Dylan had the highest average test scores. Who had the lowest scores, you ask? Lil' Wayne fans. Heh.

Sunday, March 15, 2009
random posts of pretty
In case you missed it, Time Magazine recently featured a photo essay by two French photographers depicting Detroit's urban decay. The subjects of many of these photographs were once some of the swankiest, most impressive architectural offerings the city was once proud to boast, now left to sag, rot, and die. Its title - "Detroit's Beautiful, Horrible Decline" - is completely fitting, as the images are as eerily gorgeous as they are overwhelmingly sad.

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Thursday, March 12, 2009
elmo wants this tape!
You've probably seen this already seeing as it's posted on everyone else's blog, but, well... oh well. I guess I just want it on my blog too. Can't help it. Ricky Gervais asking Elmo about necrophilia just makes me GIGGLE.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009
weekly book review: the somnambulist, by jonathan barnes
"The many men, so beautiful. And they all dead did lie. And a thousand thousand slimy things lived on, and so did I."

For the most part, the books on my list of resolution reads are heavy, depressing, beastly things, and I found myself needing a break from all of that. Enter: The Somnambulist.

Set in Victorian-era London, The Somnambulist chronicles the (mis)adventures of Edward Moon, a magician past his prime whose true passion is solving crimes, and his sidekick The Somnambulist, a massive, milk-guzzling, hairless mute who is able to endure impaling with neither injury nor pain. Add a bizarre murder, an albino, a menagerie of circus freaks, prostitutes, assassins, poets, a creeeepy Utopian cult, a man for whom time passes backwards, a medium, and various assorted psychopaths and you have The Somnambulist - a novel that is part Frankenstein, part Sherlock Holmes, and one of the strangest, freakiest, funniest, and most overall enjoyable books I've read so far this year.

The narrator, both unnamed and unreliable, begins his tale with a warning: "This book has no literary merit whatsoever. It is a lurid piece of nonsense, convoluted, implausible, peopled by unconvincing characters, written in drearily pedestrian prose, frequently ridiculous and wilfully bizarre." And although Barnes' prose is far from pedestrian, all those other things are pretty much true. This, of course, is what makes it so much fun to read.

Full to overflowing with twist, turns, and red herrings, Barnes' story more than once risks becoming a bit too absurd, yet he somehow manages to pull it all off. Well, mostly pull it off. The only notable exception to this would be the ending, which wasn't quite as satisfying as I'd hoped it would be. Still, I found Barnes' debut to be a clever and wholly pleasant diversion, and its flaws easy enough to forgive.

In short - I liked it. I liked it a lot.

Jonathan Barnes
2007 (paperback), 353 pages

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009
me and my ACT
In 2007 it became a state mandate that all high school juniors, college bound or no, take the ACT, and so today I had the "honor" of becoming a member of a terrifically limited, highly elite group of people charged with administering the ACT for the third straight year in a row. What this means is I had got to spend four hours in a cave-like room watching 25 juniors half-ass their way through the test. I wasn't allowed to read, write, grade, sit, eat or drink. For the third bloody year in a row.

I'm not sure why I keep getting selected for this task, so I can only assume that The Powers That Be must have noticed how incredibly adept I am in all areas of the test proctoring trifecta: passing out and collecting things, managing a time piece, and staring off blankly into space for long stretches of time. What can I say? It's a gift.

Anyway, since there wasn't much else I could do other than observe, that's precisely what I did. And of my 25 kids:

  • 20 were brunette
  • 5 were blond
  • 4 "rocked" the buzz cut
  • 1's hair was curly
  • 1 wore hers in a strange little puff directly above her forehead

  • 22 were white
  • 1 was black
  • 1 was Latina
  • 1 was 12.5% German, 12.5% English, 12.5% Cherokee, 12.5% Mexican... and after that I sort of stopped listening. (Seriously dude - we had one 5 minute break and THIS is how I had to spend it? listening to you explain why you didn't know what to bubble in under "ethnicity"? It's called "OTHER"!!!)

  • 4 wore glasses
  • 3 didn't, but were perpetually squinty

  • 2 had acne,
  • but only 1 kept picking at it
  • 3 had perpetually runny noses
  • 2 merely looked like they smelled,
  • while 1 most certainly, offensively did

  • 2 tended to rub their foreheads when they concentrated,
  • 4 tugged at their earlobes,
  • and 1 had the unfortunate habit of unconsciously picking at his nose

  • 1 had a face I would call "cherubic"
  • 2 had curious hair
  • 3 had desperate facial hair
  • 1 looked like she'd own a large collection of ceramic dragons
  • 1 looked like she'd own a large collection of knives
  • 2 looked like jocks,
  • but only 1 looked like the sort who'd tape a nerd's butt cheeks together for fun after gym class
  • 4 looked like they could definitely take me in a fight
  • 1 looked like he sort of wanted to try

  • 13 looked like they managed the test fairly well, however
  • 1 kept falling asleep in the middle of the test
  • 2 appeared to answer all the questions in the reading section without even glancing at the reading selection
  • 4 looked as if they had abandoned all hope midway through the math section, and
  • 1 looked like he wasn't even sure where he was

So there you have it - my day hangin' (once again) with the ACT.

(Whheeeeeee!!!!!!! Sure do hope we make AYPeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!)


Monday, March 09, 2009
because we can all use a little help every now and then:

Well, I have "wear all black," "irony" and "hang out w/ Steve" covered. I do wonder where I can get my hands on some "Ambercroombie and Flitch," however...


spring spirit fingers
Anyone know what kind of flowers these are? Because I have no idea. I was getting a little tired of tulips so I brought whatever these silly mum-y things are home the other day, and of course Nathan thinks they're weird. And I suppose they are a little strange, but how could I resist? They're like little pom poms, cheering on the sunshine. Pom poms or a bevy of spirit fingers - I can't decide - but either way they sort of shout SUNSHINE, SUNSHINE, RA RA RA!

Wednesday, March 04, 2009
random posts of pretty
Seeing as Hymns for a Dark Horse was released way back in 2007, I am embarrassingly late to jump on the Bowerbirds train, but after one of my fellow DFTD bloggers posted on them I promptly grabbed the album and haven't really wanted to listen to much of anything else since. They sound a bit like the love child of Andrew Bird and The Decemberists, conceived while Danny Elfman's score for Beetlejuice played in the background. So, yes, they're absolutely my bag...

(And if you liked that, then you really must watch them perform "Bur Oak" in a candy store on The Take Away Show. Really. You must.)

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headline of the day:

And this would be reason #567 why I refuse to shop there. One tooth even had a filling!

Tuesday, March 03, 2009
shake your tail feather
Who said white birds can't dance?


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random posts of pretty
Since today was an uncharacteristically sad one, I'm hitting the photography, which rarely fails to cheer me up. I've recently become a fan of still life photographer Steve Cohen, and of his fire series in particular. With that single element of fire to tie the images together, the effect is something delightfully clean, bright, and sweetly subversive:

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Monday, March 02, 2009
book review: lolita, by vladimir nabokov
"My heart was a hysterical unreliable organ."

I must be honest - this one took me quite a little while and left me terribly conflicted.

I've been attempting to read Lolita for years now, and took two serious attempts at it before I ultimately had to make it one of my resolution reads just so I'd finally commit to finishing the little bugger. The strange thing is that I had been sincerely enjoying Nabokov's masterpiece during all of my false starts. Each time I had found it unexpectedly funny, and the pedophilic protagonist surprisingly likable. Yet, each time and always somewhere around page 100, I'd abandon it without any particular reason. I liked it, but I couldn't bring myself to finish it. It was as simple as that.

It wasn't until this third, successful go that I understood what was holding me up: I could only truly enjoy Lolita and its notorious protagonist for as long as Humbert Humbert's lascivious desires remained vague, uncommitted longings in his head. I, perhaps better than most, understand all the arguments in Lolita's defense. Art isn't polite. Art challenges, often offends. And who would argue that Nabokov's novel isn't a work of art? It's hardly my place to presume what Nabokov's purpose was with writing Lolita, but what the novel does is challenge its reader to sympathize with a violent rapist. Quite the little mixed bag, eh?

And despite all his poise and charm, Humbert Humbert is revolting. He's a murderer who abused his first wife, plotted to kill his second, and repeatedly rapes a child. His attempt to rationalize his actions - claiming the existence of "nymphets" and painting little Lo as a flirtatious seductress - is a weak and transparent attempt to dilute the obvious truth of what happened between the two. Whether or not she was a flirt is irrelevant; Lolita was twelve years old when Humbert essentially kidnaps her and keeps her as his sexual plaything until she finally finds both the opportunity and the will to escape. Sure, Humbert is likable and tells his story with a silver tongue, but it's the nature of violent narcissists to be incredibly charming. From the moment Humbert took Lolita to bed, I had lost my ability to sympathize or find humor in his tale, and I found myself wading through the back half of the novel with a tight ball of dread festering in my belly.

And frankly, I'm a little surprised by my reaction to this book. I'm the furthest thing from a prude and I like to think it takes quite a bit to shock me, but I'd also like to think that my affections aren't so easily won, either. Certainly, it's going to take a lot more than a little charisma for me to sympathize with a skeevy pederass.

But, hey - it ain't art if it ain't challenging, right?

Vladimir Nabokov
317 pages, 1955

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Sunday, March 01, 2009
recession shopping: zenni optical
In today's wintry economic climate, I count myself lucky that 1) I'm employed and 2) I have optical insurance. However, even with insurance offsetting some of the cost, glasses are still très expensive, so I'd been putting off getting new frames for - oh - say six or seven years now. Then my aunt tipped me off to Zenni Optical - an Internet-based optical company that offers glasses for dirt cheap. I was skeptical, but their frames were plentiful and unique, so I figured it was worth risking the twenty bucks.

Although I cannot vouch for their customer service (my glasses were delayed nearly two weeks due to a shipping snafu), I would still recommend the products they offer. My new glasses are not only adorable, they only set me back $20. At that price, it's hard to quibble over a little extra wait time.