Monday, December 29, 2008

Clean Sweep!

I don't know about you, but I still have Christmas decorations up. Far from being proof of my tendencies toward laziness, I've held an Epiphany party in early January for the last few years, which provides a legitimate reason to leave my ever-so-slightly tacky tree and porch lights up a little longer.

But Christmas is over and New Year's is a-coming. One of my favorite New Year's traditions is the hanging of a broom on the front door. The idea is to provide a physical reminder of the "sweeping away" of the old year. However, I don't do the black-eyed peas and collard greens thing. I'm Southern; I don't need to prove it. Pass the sweet tea and hush puppies, y'all!

At any rate, it's a good time to look back over the year and I must say, there's more on the "good" side of the scale than on the "not so good" side. I had the thrill of being published. I was a "roving chair" (I still prefer the term "ottoman"!) for the third biennial Slayage conference. I grew tomatoes and basil. Hey, I even started a Facebook page and reconnected with friends from decades ago!

Life is good. Really. I just need to remember that a little more often.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Facebook Revolution!

Sigh. I avoided it as long as I could. No, not wrapping Christmas gifts (although I really need to get on that). It's also not writing Christmas cards (although now that I mention it, I really need to get on that, too).

No - I refer to joining Facebook. I really have put it off. I mean, I have this blog and I'm pretty good about writing here on a regular basis. It just didn't seem like Facebook (or any other "social networking" site) was something I needed to tinker with.

Until today.

Instead of getting an occasional "hey, I'm out here and I'd like to hear from you, don't you remember me?" I was barraged today. Fully a dozen college chums hit my inbox, all with invitations. I'm not too sure what's going to come of this - many of these fine folks I haven't spoken to in - gee, fifteen years. But I'm willing to find out.

So I'm in the process of setting up a Facebook page. I'll let you know when it's a done deal, although I bet I just set up a skeleton for now. Is this the beginning of a brave new world for Mockingbird? Or just nothing but trouble?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

'Tis the Season

Unfortunately, "'tis the season" includes things other than holly boughs, decked halls, and shiny ornaments. It also includes any variety of nasty bugs that circulate and breed in closed environments such as offices and schools. For many a year, I'd been lucky enough (and nearly obsessive about hand-washing, truth be told!) to avoid catching anything more than a sniffle, but the law of averages caught up with me recently.

It was the polar opposite of fun. Furthermore, while a stomach bug is never to be mistaken with a stroll through a sunlit park, I can say with great authority that the recent consumption of chicken teriyaki does absolutely nothing to render the experience more pleasant.

Luckily, it was a short-lived bug - a basic 24-hour variety. (Okay, it seemed a lot longer at the time, but it was only a day according to the clock.) The truly odd thing about such an illness is the opportunity it provides for the "sickee" to contemplate the concept of gratitude.

Told you it was weird. But it's true.

You discover how many friends you have. For example, Stacked Librarian and I were scheduled to go for our annual Christmas tree hunt; an outing that we had to put off. She couldn't have been kinder about the delay. FryDaddy brought me soup (Chicken 'n' Stars - my childhood favorite) and tucked me in. My colleagues (to be fair, I was [legitimately] described as "peaked" by these same people) basically told me to go home and not answer my phone.

It's nice to know people care. It's also nice to know that the world can spin without you for a day or two when you feel sick. And it's especially nice to know that it's okay to ask for some help when you feel too shaky to be vertical for eight straight hours. And it's sheer heaven to wake up and realize that you're well again.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Black Fridays & Discount Knights

As you may know, I come from a family of modest means. We also have a competitive streak, which can turn shopping into a contact sport. At family gatherings, our conversation centers far more around how much we saved on something than how much we spent on something. We're Calvinist enough to view conspicuous consumption as a rather tawdry sin. (Or maybe those poor folk just don't know how to shop.) Seriously - my father brags that for many years, his hobby was scouring auctions to set up housekeeping for three children (and I can state that my first apartment was decorated with solid wood furniture - not a milk crate or particleboard bookcase in sight) and many a family tale revolves around the finer points of haggling. The running joke is that the motto of our thrifty clan should be "Never pay retail!" We're just too darn cheap to get it translated into Latin.

All this said, I still don't see the point of camping out in front of Wal-Mart to buy a 50-inch plasma TV at four a.m. Think about who/what is up at that time of the night. Muggers and owls. Anyone else is pretty much prey. No, thank you - I'll stay snuggled under the covers (closeout price and and irregular, but I defy you to find the flaw) until the coffeemaker (30% off) kicks on at a reasonable hour. I'll then stuff my feet into my leopard-print slippers (10% off; I really wanted them so I got them despite nearly paying retail) and shuffle to the kitchen to get the milk out of the fridge (25% off, scratch 'n' dent sale).

See, to me, Black Friday is the consumer equivalent of New Year's Eve, which is amateur night. True talent (a fully-spurred Discount Knight) smiles, sips a second cup of coffee, and saunters out around 9:00. Sure, the 50-inch plasma TVs are gone by then, but did you really need one in the first place?

Didn't think so.

So take the money you saved by not getting hysterical over the techno-gizmos and divide it into two piles. With one, do whatever you want. But use the other to help someone else out. Send it to the local food bank or take a couple of "angels" off a tree set up for needy kids (and adults) this holiday season. Or send it to the Central Asia Institute, which devotes donations to building schools (primarily for girls) in Pakistan. Or send it to Heifer International, which lives out the adage of "teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." If those don't float your boat, find another worthy cause - there are plenty out there.

Then count your blessings that you're the one sending the donation instead of the one fervently praying that someone else does.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Beethoven Is So Metal!

Most people associate classical music with tinkly harpsichords and men in prissy powdered wigs (and maybe knickers). It's an unfortunate linking, for classical music is hardly all polite tea and crumpets. It's passion and sweat and hunger and yearning. With kettledrums.

The Trans-Siberian Orchestra ("TSO" to its legions of fans) understands this and works very hard to bring the thrill of classical music to a wider audience. Think Pink Floyd style laser light shows, hot backup singers (with a three-octave range!), and a lead fiddle player whaling away on a hot pink electric violin. I know, it sounds quirky (perhaps bordering on bizarre), but FryDaddy and I had an awesomely good head-bangin' time.

Mind you, FryDaddy and I have different tastes in music - he can rattle off arcane facts about metal bands and is a closet Dethklok fan (this is what happens when you begin reading Nietzsche at the tender age of nine; let this be a lesson to you), while my dark musical secrets include the Monkees - but vive la difference.

Some classical lends itself easily to this bass-heavy treatment (Orff's "O Fortuna" leaps to mind), but TSO makes it work with pieces that you wouldn't think would come together. Then again, I've often heard that all you need is a guitar, three chords, and the truth.

Beethoven might not have had a guitar, but TSO lets you dream of what could have happened if Ludwig had gotten his hands on a Stratocaster.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

5 Good Things

It seems that every time I turn around these days, I'm beset by gloom and doom. Let's face it, the economy has everyone as nervous as a hen in a foxhouse, groceries seem to cost $15 more on every trip to the store, some teachers in Charlotte, NC know enough technology to set up Facebook pages but lack the common sense to edit what they post publicly and there has been a spike in gun sales lately - something that doesn't exactly shout "Happy Holidays!"

Well, I'm here to tell you that it's just not that bad, Drake. (Don't ask who "Drake" is - my brother-in-law uses that name as his generic "John Q. Public" reference and I sort of like it.) I'm not saying that the holidays aren't going to experience a certain level of cut-backedness, but there's some very good stuff going on right now.

Such as? Ah, you are a cynical reader. What about:

1. Hand turkeys! One of my favorite goofy art projects. When's the last time you made one of these classics? Grab a box of crayons and a piece of paper - a napkin will do in a pinch - and try this out! Always fun and guaranteed to liven up a staff meeting! (Or an exam - check this out!)

2. Progressive dinners. A group of my friends started doing this a few months ago. In the classic form, the party is a "moveable feast" which goes from house to house as the meal progresses (hence the name). We do it more as a potluck. Whoever is the host takes care of the main course, and everyone else fills in with salad, appetizers, desserts, and so on. For our group, every month has a theme - Italian, German and this month is Russian (FryDaddy had a stroganov recipe he wanted to try out). It's a fun way to socialize without breaking the bank.

3. The peaceful transfer of power. Seriously, I think we forget how extremely rare and supremely cool this is. A hard-fought election, spread out over nearly two years, plenty of nasty things said on both sides, and now - poof! It's like voting tallies are the pixie dust of democracy.

4. Unseasonably warm days. I actually had the windows open for most of today. A good thing, since the Spookster had been muddy and somewhat - ummm, aromatic lately.

5. Candy corn. Gotta love this stuff. And look here - a way to use it to add to a tasty Thanksgiving Day treat! The best of both worlds - slice 'n' bake cookies AND toothsome fat-free (but chock-full o'sugar!) candy bits!

There's plenty of good out there. What have you noticed lately?

Friday, November 7, 2008

Now What?

On Tuesday, I watched Election Night returns with several friends in a sort of impromptu party. I can't deny it - there was a certain tingle of excitement in the air. History was being made and I held my breath as I served as both participant and witness.

But what does it say about me that I learned the identity of my next president from Jon Stewart? Hmmm. Might have to ponder that for a while. We were all watching the Stewart/Colbert report and flipping to CNN during the commercials. I'll admit that I dashed over to Anderson Cooper for confirmation before I believed much of anything.

After all the nastiness of a protracted campaign, I am left with two questions. One, why does anyone put themselves through this? Okay, I know the answer to that one. (Watch the video.) And two, now what?

No matter how you look at it, the "election thing" is done. The country spoke decisively (the days Reagan-style landslides are over; 52% of the popular vote is plenty to be considered definitive with 364 electoral votes in your column [Missouri is really living up to its "show me" motto and hasn't been called yet]) and there are no pending "spoiler" court cases. I'll admit to getting misty-eyed at President-Elect Obama's victory speech, as well as thinking that John McCain showed grace under pressure with his concession speech. I've taken down my yard sign (first one I've ever put up and it was a job of work to get it!), done the happy dance that my state went blue this go-round and am ready to move forward with the business of tackling what must be considered by any sane person to be "a mell of a hess." Winning is one thing - now it's time to deliver.

It's time to quit blustering (or worse, pouting) and roll up our sleeves. Let's get to work, people. We've got a country to re-make. We can't let this chance trickle away like sand through our fingers. We just can't.

Please.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Elections & Other Scary Stuff

As you can tell from the photo, Spooky loves Halloween! (With a name like that, she should. It seemed to fit - she adopted me five Octobers ago and the name just sort of stuck.) She's patient enough to indulge me in the funny collar sort of thing and you have to admit - she's cute! You can't really tell in the picture, but the points of the collar are tiny little pumpkins. Spooky doesn't care, but she doesn't care for the jingling.

Tonight is Halloween and I've had the pleasure of distributing Skittles and miniature candy bars to a host of ladybugs, tigers and at least one li'l Tony Stark. However, my vote is not available to the candidate with the cutest outfit. Although the prospect of a horde of candidates running amok in my neighborhood pleading for my vote scares me more than a rowdy crowd of teens festooning my oak trees with quilted Northern. Trick or treat, indeed!

At any rate, in four days, the United States will have a shiny new president (barring lawsuits, of course - which seem to be an integral part of modern politics. Sigh.). I'm not going to get partisan here - vote and vote thoughtfully and you'll have no problem with me. But it has been a scary season, hasn't it? Advertisements that have accused candidates of every vice short of cannibalism have dominated the airwaves for months and there's a stench of desperation in the air wafting over several campaigns on both sides of the aisle. I'm ready for the whole thing to be done. And to the naysayers who claim, "If we elect (fill in the blank), America as we know it will be over!" I say, "Nonsense." We survived Harding's incompetence; we'll make it through whatever comes next. But I'm beyond ready for the supposed grownups among us to learn how to disagree without demonizing.

A girl can hope.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Fat Lady Is a Myth

Most of the time, I'm a jeans-&-sneakers kind of girl. But, like most women, I'm a mystery. Add to that the fact that I spent most of my twenties backstage at one theatre or another and you begin to see why my closet contains the clothes of any number of women. Who will I be today? Cowboy boots or pumps? Velvet or cotton? Stretchy T-shirt or frilly blouse?

Now, FryDaddy and I have a standing date once a week. Normally, it's a quiet dinner & a movie sort of thing. But this week, we went in an entirely different direction and went to Carolina Opera's production of Faust. Now this was something special - new clothes were involved, along with a visit to the spa for what would (if I were a car, which I am not) be considered detail work.

I hadn't gone to an opera in many a year and I know the art form has a reputation for being boring and difficult. Nonsense! (Hee, hee - just check out the Bugs Bunny take on it!) Opera is life writ large - everything is just bigger! The sets, the emotions, the raw passion - it's grand! And despite the icon of the "fat lady," opera singers can be downright buff!

What? You don't want to go because you don't speak German/French/Italian? Don't worry - most opera houses have "supertitles" projected above the stage so you can follow along. But if you watch carefully and allow yourself to get swept up in what you're watching, you'll hardly even need the translation.

Go on! Give it a try! You'll be joining 20 million other Americans - surely, something that popular (it's about the same number of people who attend NFL games - only with fewer people wearing body paint) must have something going for it!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Instrument of Destruction!

I've heard it said that a friend is someone who will help you move. I'm here to tell you that isn't quite true - a real friend is someone who will help you move a piano! I'm fortunate indeed to have a slew of friends who are not only willing to give up a chunk of their weekend to help me with a task that is practically a standard in comedy sketches (although this one is impressive!) involving pulley systems and steep hills, but told me repeatedly that it was "no problem."

In true Discount Knight fashion, the piano was a find in and of itself - some folks were moving and couldn't take the solidly-built 1901 upright with them. If I could move it, I could have it. This was too good for pass up, although it's been many a year since I so much as played "Chopsticks."

Now, moving a piano is no small task. It's a full-size upright and they built things to last back in 1901. As Victorian Marxist pointed out, "I don't know what sort of wood this thing is made of, but it ain't balsa!" The piano also has a cast iron (or brass, maybe??) frame to hold the strings in place. In short, it was a job of work and did I mention there were stairs involved? But my crew - Stacked Librarian, FryDaddy, Victorian Marxist, Binary Biker, and BeanCounter worked with good cheer and solid horse sense and we now all have a story to tell. (And no smashed fingers, toes, or other body parts!)

I should go practice my scales now. I better know how to plink out something other than "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" by the time the holidays roll around!

Seriously - don't try to go through life alone, even if you're not moving a piano.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Changing Weather & Shifting Tides

It's been a while since I've posted - that wasn't on purpose; things just got a mite cattywampus around the Nest. Since last we chatted, summer has ended and autumn has begun. It's one of my favorite times of the year - cool enough that it's prudent for you to you dig out a quilt, but the air warms up to the point that short sleeves are still a good idea by mid-afternoon. The leaves haven't really started to change here just yet, but there's the occasional crimson harbinger of fall on the sidewalk.

Even Spooky's getting ready for the shift. She enjoys the crisper weather - she always says it reminds her of pleasant times on the north face of K2, but I know she's making that up - her ascent was up the west face, not matter what she tries to tell you.

Seriously, I adore fall. There's the smell of wood smoke in the air as people christen their fireplaces for the season, pumpkins and gourds are everywhere you go, cinnamon spice candles suddenly replace citrus ones, and classes have settled into a rhythm of sorts. It's also an election time in the midst of a lean economic year, which can bring out all manner of cranks and kooks. (In my opinion, our Founding Fathers were very wise in promoting the idea of a secret ballot.) Just how much of a geek-sign is it that I not only enjoy watching presidential (and VP) debates, but excitedly make popcorn for the occasion? Yeah, that's what I was afraid of. Well, it's my TV (and my popcorn), so I suppose that makes it all right.

I'll steer clear of making this overtly partisan, but I've picked my horse for this race and you can rest assured that I'll be at the $2 window when the time rolls around. In my town, election results from the local precincts are posted throughout the night after the polls close - a gaggle of cold-defying wonks clad in wool coats (and armed with Thermoses and webbed aluminum lawn chairs for "comfort") gather at the local fire station to watch the numbers go up. I guess it's our version of the smoke-filled room. (Hey, waitaminnit - what's in that Thermos, Jim Bob?)

Go vote! I don't care for who (well, I do, but that's another story), but a big chunk of the world's population would ride two days on muleback for the opportunity that over half of us can't be bothered with. Exercise your Constitutional rights! No one likes a flabby voter!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

In the Middle

Lately, I've been having an inordinate number of "those days" - to the point that it's more like one of "those weeks." And I'm fearful that it's on the verge of becoming one of "those semesters." Seriously, it's been rough lately and my workdays are not exactly stretching out before me like a glittering land of promise.

So I get a fresh cup of coffee and try to shake it off.

You see, things will fool you. And if you're not careful, you'll start thinking that what you're seeing - the gritty side of things - is the way things actually are. You forget to notice the pearls and begin to think that the headlines of doom, gloom, despair, and such-like are all there is. (Oh, no, rain of toads!!) Nothing in that is to be construed as meaning that there is no grit. Of course there is, and it's nasty; all I mean is that it's not all there is.

For instance, there's the book I just finished reading - Stormy Weather by Carl Hiaasen, if you're interested. Funny, passionate about saving what's left of South Florida, and unforgettable characters. There's the fact that I realized that Jimmy Buffett has a song for nearly every mood and maybe I should dig those out. There's the fact that the autumnal equinox is just around the corner - a day of rare equilibrium when the Earth is literally balanced in the middle of light and dark. And there's the fact that I found a recipe for "fidget pie" that I'm going to try, using equinox as an excuse. Maybe it'll get the "fidgets" out of my own system and let me move into the last part of this year with my head on a little straighter.

Or maybe I'm just bellying up to some strange sort of celestial raw bar that Douglas Adams could appreciate. Could go either way - I'll let you know.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

"Perfect" Songs

One of my favorite songs is R.E.M.'s "Nightswimming." A somewhat melancholy look backwards, the song includes the line "September's coming soon" which I've always seen as a lonesome statement of life's sands running swiftly towards - well, towards something that isn't quite certain.

So I started thinking. "Nightswimming" is a song I enjoy a good bit (in a certain mood, anyway), but it's not what I consider a "perfect" song. (Notice the quotation marks. I cheerfully accept that this is about to be a wildly subjective post.) I have a hard time explaining what makes a "perfect" song for me, but I think I've finally come up with a few criteria. Keep in mind that we're discussing perfection within the context of rock 'n' roll songs - I loves me a good piano nocturne, but that's off-limits for this discussion.

A "perfect" rock 'n' roll song must do the following, according the the Arbitrary Rules of Mockingbird:
  • Tell a story. Gotta love the narrative. The more universal, the better, but I'm a sucker for lyrics.
  • The story must be told from the perspective of looking backwards with knowledge gained over time.
  • Have a "hummable" hook - it's even better if it makes you want to belt out the lyrics.
  • Clearly capture a mood, time, season, etc.
  • Do the whole thing in under five minutes.
As you might imagine, I've found very few "perfect" songs. As is true of all art, most popular music is trash. A small percentage is good, a smaller slice of the pie is memorable, and a tiny sliver of the pie is transcendent. It's hard to find songs that fit that sliver, especially with my rules. As an example, the Rolling Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want" is fantastic, but I have to admit that it doesn't have the "looking backwards" part. Bob Seger's "Night Moves" fits my list, but it officially clocks in at 5:25. We won't even discuss Billy Joel's opus "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant."

So what should I add to my playlist? Are my criteria just random and wacky? What works for you?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Was Greta Garbo Right?

I'm being facetious. Greta Garbo never said she wanted to be alone, you know. She actually said she wanted to be left alone, which in these days of whirl and bustle makes a world of sense.

I'm in the midst of reading Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift from the Sea right now. It's a slim little book and should have been a quick read, but I've found myself lingering over this book of near-meditations. In part, I think that's due to the subject matter of the book. Although first published fifty-some years ago, the author's musings on the results of an ever-increasing whirl of life still seem nearly painfully relevant to me today. However, I think there's another reason I'm savoring this book like a fine chocolate mousse.

This is my grandmother's copy of the book, complete with her pencil underlinings. I'm learning a lot about the reader of the book, due to those markings. What bits struck my grandmother as worthy of marking? Is this where I get my habit of dog-earing and marking my favorite passages in my favorite books? I don't know, but I'm having great fun considering the possibilities.

At any rate, time alone is a precious commodity. Lindbergh notes that, as a society, we are nearly suspicious of anyone who wants to be alone, although we'll accept almost any other excuse. But if we are meant to give to our society, it stands to logical reason that we must refuel ourselves in order to continue. She mentions a term she ran across while reading William James, who is generally considered to be the father of the self-help movement. The term is "Zerrissenheit" which translates into "torn-to-pieces-hood." Surely that is a state of being that is best avoided.

So in the midst of classes, appointments, and obligations galore, I'm off to find a quiet place, hopefully near a sunbeam slanting through the blinds. Don't worry if I don't answer the phone; I'll be back. In fact, why don't you leave a message and find your own sunbeam? I'm sure there's one close by.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Keep Your Friends Close

. . . and your enemies closer, the adage goes. An axiom that has special poignance for the people of Georgia these days. (The one that's a country, not the Bigfoot hunting grounds one.)

It's always shocking to come face-to-face with the reality of how much can change in just a few days. Ten days ago, most Americans couldn't have found Georgia on a map (the country, but it's possible that statement extends to the Bigfoot hunting grounds one as well). Now we've seen footage reminding us in very clear terms that the Russian bear is back - if, indeed, he ever really went away. I'm not going to get geopolitical here; better minds than mine are working on the snarl of issues raised by breakaway provinces, Russian passports, and tanks rumbling into cities. Rather, I started thinking about the concept of quick changes.

In the theatre, "quick changes" are just what it sounds like - rapid transformations, usually of costumes. The actor exits the stage and voila! re-enters in a completely new outfit, delighting the audience who gets to marvel at the precision it takes to smoothly accomplish a quick change. In life, it's messier. Maybe I just need a better dresser.

Sorry, I digress.

We all have moments in our lives that we can point to and say, "That was me before; then that happened and that's me now." These are the "quick changes" I have in mind. Sometimes, it's something awful - the death of a close friend before his time or the moment where you must admit that the center of the marriage can no longer hold. And we often use the "awful" as a yardstick in our lives. But just as often, the yardstick is something beautiful; we just don't usually notice - a young child hands you a chalk drawing, insisting that it was made just for you or you catch yourself humming tunelessly one morning as you realize that, sometime during the night, fiery passion transformed into something much deeper and solid.

I've spent too much time being a spectator in my own life - that sad truth may have something to do with the way I currently look at the world. About a week ago, a group of friends gathered at the always-hospitable home of Stacked Librarian to watch the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. Turns out part of the ceremonies were faked, but the warm glow of good friends sharing a meal and oohing and aahing over human accomplishments (did you see those drummers?) was real. Victorian Marxist and FryDaddy engaged in deep conversation over the writings of Chairman Mao while Barefoot and I rolled our eyes and ate more of Stacked's delicious Chinese-inspired food, which all of us had helped prepare.

Life spins on a dime, people. So hold hands when you can and keep your friends close. You never know when you're going to need them.

(That's one reason I give them fake names in the blog! Wink!)

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Oxygen Masks and High Tide

Well, the school year is once again knocking at my door. Syllabi and related materials need to be copied and neatly stacked for students and I need to prepare my opening day lectures.

Sigh.

Not that I'm complaining, mind you. I truly enjoy teaching and it's been a good summer. Still, I'm grabbing a vacation before everything academic re-commences. After witnessing the opening ceremonies for the Olympics on Friday, it's off to the beach with me for some much-needed down time. While not truly packed yet, I have my beach towel folded - Douglas Adams taught me to always know where my towel is - and a stack of reading material (ranging from months-old magazines I haven't had a chance to read to throwaway novels to Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift from the Sea) ready to go.

You might think that a vacation isn't really warranted in my profession - after all, I'm a professional educator; don't we get summers off?

Oh, naive reader. That's just so cute! No, really - that's adorable. Have a lemon drop.

The truth is that I'm what's known as a "twelve-monther." Therefore, I teach during the summer session as well as the traditional fall and spring semesters. So summer off? Not so much, as Buffy might say.

What it does mean is that it is crucial for me to know when I need to stop and put on my oxygen mask. A friend gave me this image a few years back, and I just love it. If you've ever flown and listened to the flight attendant's spiel about all things safety-related, you will remember that a standard part of the talk is a bit about sudden decompression in the cabin. After telling you that you will hardly ever need to know this, the attendant reminds you how to put on the mask and then says something along the lines of "If you are traveling with a small child or someone in need of assistance, put your own mask on first, then assist the other person." (Emphasis mine, by the way.) In other words, you can't help anyone else if you can't breathe. The lesson here is that sometimes you have to just stop and breathe for yourself before you can go on to help someone else.

So I'm off to the beach to breathe for a few days. See you soon and I'll try to bring you a shell or two.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

10 Reasons to Go to Your Local Film Festival

The 9th Annual Real to Reel Film Festival just closed in my chosen hometown and it's worthy of an entry. Turnout for this event is always far lower than I think it should be - all too often, we don't pay attention to the goings-on in our own backyard. Further, since I live in such a small town, I think there's a certain amount of "well, if the films were any good, they'd be entered in bigger festivals, so these must be pretty lousy." Not so, cynics. Here are ten reasons to mark your calendar for next year.

1. Not-quite-discovered gems like CRAZY and THE FLYBOYS. The first was a biopic of Hank Garland (yeah, I'd never heard of him, either. More's the pity.) and the second was a fun family romp involving airplanes, the Mob, and two new friends who bond over a stowaway adventure. (By the way, if you're a Browncoat I defy you to see FLYBOYS and not note that the two boys are Li'l Mal and Li'l Wash.) And the technology is changing - nine years ago, films were on VHS. Now we're on DVD, and FLYBOYS was actually the first hi-def film shown.
2. Four straight nights that give you an excuse to dress up. You don't have to; I saw plenty of flip-flops and shorts, but I like dressing up and this is a great chance to pull out the little black dress and see if I remember how to walk in high heels. (Lead with the toe, ladies, not the heel!)
3. Documentaries about people, places, and events you knew nothing about. I now have a new favorite saint and did you know there was an all Puerto Rican infantry regiment? Me neither.
4. Silent auctions. Every year, this is used as a fundraiser for the Arts Council and the packages all somehow tie in to movies. (I donated a copy of SERENITY and a copy of my book - called it the "Serenity Prayer Pack.") My favorite was probably the white water rafting trip that came with a copy of DELIVERANCE. Seriously.
5. Eating popcorn while in a cocktail dress. Out of the red and white striped box. While humming the "let's go out to the lobby" jingle.
6. Snarking at the mongrels that made it through the screening process. There are always one or two absolute travesties of films that get into the festival; usually due to some local connection. Even those can be fun, especially if you're a fan of the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 school of film criticism. One of these actually won for best amateur feature (I honestly think it was the only one in that category) and I'm sure it was accepted only because it was filmed in North Carolina. Dear God in heaven, it was awful. No, I won't provide the link. These people ought not to be encouraged.
7. Gala closing receptions. Nothing says "red carpet" like food served with toothpicks. I jest, but it is nice to have a chance to circulate and chat with other film-goers and some of the filmmakers.
8. The deal! Ticket prices are extremely low and one price will get you in all five sessions. (Four nights and a Saturday matinee.)
9. Freebies! There's always a "swag" table with promotional material and you never know - you might win a raffle prize. As proof, my "Space Chimps" T-shirt is whirling away in the dryer right now. Yeah, I know - what do I need a "Space Chimps" T-shirt for? But that's not really the point, is it?
10. Realizing that you're seeing things that commercial ticket-holders are going to miss. I wish more people would turn out for this event, but until then, I'm going to enjoy being one of the ones "in the know."

Mark your calendars now for next year! It'll be the 10th Annual, so there are bound to be some big surprises!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Something to Sing About!

A highlight of this past week had to be the broadcast of Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-Long Blog. Briefly, this was a 45-minute musical that came about during the dark days of the writers' strike that began last November. My hypothesis is that Joss Whedon has a touch of hamster in him - if he's not busy doing something creative, his teeth grow to a worrisome length. (Mind you, I have absolutely no proof for my hypothesis, but when's that ever stopped me? Exactly.) The show is a collaboration between Joss Whedon, his younger brother Jed, and Jed's partner, Maurissa Tancharoen. Each of the show's three parts was launched separately and the entire shebang was available only through July 20 (well, for free, anyway). Demand was incredible and the experience even led your intrepid blogger to finally puzzle out how to buy and download video from iTunes - and pay full retail, to boot! (Whether or not that newly-acquired skill turns out to be a positive thing is something that has yet to be determined.)

I'm not going to recap the show here, other than to say: Catchy tunes, strong voices (who knew that Nathan Fillion could work the power ballad?), quirky characters, interesting twists on costuming, and the mix of guffaw-funny and sudden heartstrings-tug that I've come to expect from Whedon, yet find myself surprised by all the same. I'm now a convert to the fanbase of Neil Patrick Harris and I challenge you to find either (a) a cuter bug's ear than Felicia Day or (b) a better villain nickname than that of "Bad Horse" who is known as the "thoroughbred of sin." For more, by all means check out the main site.

As is typical of Whedon's work, there are too many good lines to attempt to include them all, but I particularly like one of Penny's more plaintive lines as she reminds her "laundry buddy" that everything really isn't as grim as it may appear, so I'll close with that.

"Even in the darkness, every color can be found."

Seriously - buy this show.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Whaddya Mean "Back to School"?

Insofar as I am concerned, this "back to school" stuff has gotten seriously out of hand. I begin another two-week round of pre-registration for the fall semester on July 14; I can understand that. Students either hadn't made up their minds to start/return to school during our earlier registration offerings or (equally likely) what I shall refer to delicately as "outside forces" have converged to make registering for classes an exceedingly good idea. All of that is fine by me.

It's the other stuff.

Why, oh why, am I deluged with advertisements and fliers and perky on-air personalities exhorting me to take advantage of back-to-school bargains when August is weeks away? Let's look at this logically - in my part of the country, public schools can't begin before August 25. (That's by state statute - long story involving resort areas who need the cheap labor.) For the love of Heaven, rehearsals for high church (that's two-a-day high school football practices for those of you who benefit from translation) don't even traditionally begin until August 1. On that day (and not one sunbeam before) will I entertain the idea of the back-to-school season commencing.

Yes, yes, I'm being snarky. I'm also swamped in work for the fall semester that I'd enjoy putting off until August 1st, which very well may have something to do with the tone of this post.

But I'd enjoy the ice cream truck chimes not having to compete with the class-change bell.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

A Challenge for the Holiday

I like the Fourth of July. Really, I do. To me, it's not about the hot dog cookouts and ice-cold watermelon. Heck, it's not even about the bottle rockets and Roman candles. And, although I am a fully-spurred Discount Knight, it's not about the sales. In fact, I make a firm vow to never, ever shop at any establishment that advertises "Freedom from high prices!" No, thank you. The Fourth is about much, much more than 20% off electronics.

To me, the Fourth is about taking a stand when you have absolutely no guarantee of a favorable outcome. The Declaration of Independence was (and is, for that matter) a completely radical and subversive document. Signing this was not the same as adding your name to an Internet petition - publicly supporting this idea could get you killed, in pretty nasty ways. And that was after your property had been confiscated to serve as a lesson to any others in the neighborhood who might harbor sympathies towards this independence thing.

Which brings me to my question: What do you think is worth taking a stand for? As that great philosopher Wolverine once put it, "There ain't no shortage of windmills to tilt at." So what's worth sticking your neck out to support? Ending child abuse? Fighting human trafficking? Encouraging people to "go green"? Whatever it may be, the Fourth is a great time to rededicate yourself to your chosen cause; to renew your pledge of your "life, your fortune, and your sacred honor."

Go for it!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Can't Stop the Signal

One of the core concepts of the movie SERENITY is the idea that you "can't stop the signal" - that information always goes out, even if it's buried under layers of distraction (like a Fruity Oaty Bar commercial). One of the ways that the Joss Whedon fandom is distinguished from other (somewhat rabid) fandoms is the level of activism; in a way, we often see ourselves as the "signal." Case in point -

Back in 2006, some fans wanted to figure out a way to get SERENITY back on the big screen. They settled on a charity screening, with proceeds to benefit the very worthy charity Equality Now, a human rights organization that focuses on issues facing women and girls. (A former student of Whedon's mother was a co-founder of the group, so there's your connection.) The group does some amazing work on issues that other (also worthy) groups don't deal with, such as stoning disobedient women, so-called "honor killings," and other dreadful practices. This is the third year of organized, worldwide screenings and the movement shows no signs of slowing down.

Last night, the Charlotte group had its screening - it was a blast! Raising money and awareness should always be fun, don't you think? The global goal this year is $150,000 and I believe the Charlotte group did its part to reach that goal. In addition to the screening, there was live entertainment (really amazing music), a costume contest, food, and a veritable treasure chest of raffle items. I contributed by having a table to sell my book, with autographs for an extra donation. I raised nearly $50, which I thought was pretty cool. Not to mention, it was great (and a little humbling) to meet people who had bought the book, read it, and wanted to chat about it.

These really are some of the best fans in the world.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

To Arkadelphia!

I'll be gone for the next little bit. I'm off to the third biennial SLAYAGE conference; a conference devoted to the scholarly discussion of all things Joss Whedon. This year's version has attracted scholars from all across the US, the United Kingdom, Germany, Turkey, and I don't know where all. All of us are descending on the once-peaceful sleepy town (see previous post about "sleepy towns") of Arkadelphia, Arkansas where the lovely and open-minded Henderson State University has agreed to host us.

I'll be posting thoughts and observations from there over on the blog devoted more to Whedon material - you can access that by following this link - and I'll see you back here in a week or so!

Until then, keep safe and may all your vampires have souls!

Friday, May 30, 2008

Crisco!

I think that many people who don’t live in small towns think that nothing very interesting ever happens in them. These people use words like “sleepy” and “dull” to describe small town life and they often think that the inhabitants of small towns are unsophisticated rubes.

Clearly, they never met Crisco.

Let me explain. See, a few nights ago, I was two towns over having a frozen treat at Tony’s Ice Cream (makes Haagen-Dazs taste like Winn-Dixie ice milk, but that’s another story). After I wiped the final drips of butter pecan away, I wandered outside into the gathering twilight. I wasn’t really paying attention to where I was going; I was happy just drifting along under the clear night sky. Suddenly, a tall, rawboned man reached out a ham-sized hand to keep me from walking straight into him. I was embarrassed and stammered an apology for being so moonstruck by the beauty of the soft spring evening, but he just waved me off and said, “Now, miss, don’t you fret none. I get the same way when I’m working. You just have to kinda take in everything, don’t you? And it still runs over the edge of the cup.”

Turns out I had just run into (literally) the great up-and-coming installation artist, Crisco. He was in town planning his next huge scale project, which involves wrapping the local Sun-Drop bottling plant in thousands upon thousands of Moon Pie wrappers. I didn’t catch it all, but there was something about making a statement about consumerism and Southern identity and I don’t know what-all.

I tried to interject into the admittedly one-sided conversation. It sounded so similar – had he ever heard of the Bulgarian installation artist who made a world-wide name for himself with his colorful huge scale wrapping projects involving islands, buildings, and Central Park? Although I’m pretty sure that guy doesn’t carry a Cheerwine bottle with a paper napkin shoved down it to catch the residue from the pinch of Skoal he had tucked into his lower cheek, giving him the look of a plaid-draped squirrel.

He looked surprised. “Sounds like this fella is trying to rip off my good name and work. I’m Crisco. There’s only one of me, no matter what this European might try to say. Wanna Moon Pie? I need the wrapper.”

Only in a small Southern town.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Savoring the Strawberries

I’m about to leave town for a short vacation before my summer class begins in about ten days. This break provides me with a good time for me to stop, drop, and roll. No – wait a minute. That’s not quite right, is it? I mean that it provides me with a good time to stop and look around at my life. Yeah, that sounds more like it.

It’s been a busy, hectic time and I think I often get caught up in the minutiae of daily life and forget to savor things. It’s good to remember that life is more than an unending series of lists and a few days with my toes in the sand is a good way for me to recall that bit of wisdom. So let’s see – a week’s worth of things to savor, some from the last few days and some (hopefully) from the near future.

1. Helping out at a therapeutic riding horse show. I was washing ponies by 7 a.m. and sunburned by noon. By the time it was over, I was filthy with horse-grime and so exhausted I had to catnap before I could muster the energy to clean up. It was better than New Year’s Eve and Mardi Gras combined.

2. Eating the strawberries that the Divine has put in my life; some of which are literal and some of which are delightfully metaphorical.

3. Music – both new stuff and old favorites re-discovered.

4. Having Krispy Kreme for breakfast.

5. Playing hooky for an afternoon to gawk at lemurs and feed emus. By the way, emus are greedy birds, sloppy eaters, and very, very persistent.

6. Re-discovering the joy of reading aloud.

7. Sitting on the beach, reading a Terry Pratchett novel and daydreaming.

So what do you savor?


Sunday, May 11, 2008

Semester's End!

Well, sports fans, it's almost over. Monday is the final day of classes and Tuesday is graduation at the college. While I will once again be wearing someone else's monkey-suit regalia, I've at least ordered mine. Yes, my very own fancy, velvet-trimmed bathrobe - black with stunning purple accents, edged in gold and topped with a gold-tasseled hat modeled after a brioche. (Hey, no one ever said regalia was tasteful and restrained! Still, it's better than Harvard's, which is pretty much the color of dyed fish bait and that's not sour grapes on my part. See what I mean?)

I like graduation. Some of my colleagues bemoan it and I understand their point of view. It's hot in those robes, which aren't very easy to move around in. We hold graduation in the school's amphitheater, which features some very rigid aluminum benches and boy howdy! can those hold the heat of the Carolina sun! But our students have worked hard - often very hard - and that deserves to be celebrated. So I'll straighten my puffy brioche, ask someone to drape the long hood down my back properly (I never can manage to get the colors to hang right on my own), and stalk around with a packet of bobby pins to secure mortarboards.

So, in the spirit of graduation, the highlights of my never-to-be-given commencement speech:

1. When you're sick enough to go to the emergency room (and you will be), never, ever go alone. Your friends want you to call, not to tough it out because you didn't want to inconvenience anybody.
2. Take an extra two seconds to smile at the people who re-fold the clothes you just tried on and decided didn't suit you.
3. We stay in school to have better opportunities. Don't get so busy with work that you miss them when they come your way.
4. While you shouldn't become a slave to fashion magazines, update your look from time to time. As a person, you're changing and evolving and that should be reflected in your outward appearance. Otherwise, people will continue to treat you as if you're still the age you stopped changing. (And heaven help you if that's during the high school years! Oh, the photos I have from that time . . . )
5. Sometimes, telling someone "no" is the kindest thing you can do for them.
6. When someone who has known you for a very long time gives you advice, even if you didn't ask for it, it's best to listen. However, keep in mind that you still have to live with your decisions and actions.
7. Be willing to expand your boundaries while being true to your own likes and dislikes. For example, I'll try about anything, but I don't expect to ever really like seafood at this point of my life.
8. Read books you don't quite understand. Then spend time thinking about them. You're not stupid; it'll click after a while, but give it a while.
9. Every now and then, play hooky. (This must be balanced with #6, which can be tricky, but you're a grown-up and life involves essay questions.)
10. Don't expect the world to change just for you. The light turns red for everyone sometimes; it's really not personal.

Yeah, I know. Lists usually have ten items, but this is mine, okay? So here's Number 11. Live passionately and by your own lights. This is risky, for it means you'll make mistakes and occasionally, they'll be big ones, and might often be made in public. But you'll at least have been authentic.

Go forth and do good work!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Derby Day!

I’ve always enjoyed the Kentucky Derby. Seriously – always. I was first put on a horse when I was about three and that bug bit hard. Since this is also a weekend devoted to end of semester chores, I didn’t have a Derby party to go to, which meant I needed to make my own.

Being a believer in the axiom of “life is uncertain; eat dessert first,” I assembled a plate of farmers’ market strawberries, lemon petit fours, and mint chocolate. (I’m Southern and I know it; I don’t need to prove it by sipping a julep, but I do enjoy mint.) I picked my horses and settled in for the 134th Run for the Roses.

The race was exciting, as it always is. I was yelling like Eliza Doolittle at the Ascot. Gorgeous animals, flying manes, pounding hooves, breaking from the outside - this race had everything. The favorite, Big Brown (yep, named for UPS), was the first horse since 1929 to win from the 20th position.

But it was tempered with sadness.

My first choice was Eight Belles – I have a natural affinity for fillies and one of the first Derby races I remember screaming my lungs out at was the 1980 race, which was won by the speedy filly Genuine Risk. Eight Belles ran a whale of a race, coming in second to Big Brown, who practically burned up the Churchill Downs track, winning by 5 lengths. Tragically, Eight Belles broke down just after the finish line, breaking both front ankles – an injury that is not recoverable for a horse; they just won't stay still to let the bones knit. She was euthanized on the track, which is a kindness in such a situation. I never met her, but I know she was valiant – all horses are. In the Book of Job, it is written of the horse that “She paweth in the valley, and rejoiceth in her strength . . . she mocketh at fear, and is not affrighted . . . she saith among the trumpets, 'Ha, ha.'" May you be among the trumpets now, Eight Belles.

Amidst the fancy hats and the strains of Foster’s “My Old Kentucky Home,” here’s a sure thing to remember at the betting window: Life is uncertain.

Postscript: I was curious about the name, which seems to me a clever cross between a nautical reference and a Southernism. Knowing that that time is marked on ships by the ringing of a bell, I did a quick bit of research. "Eight bells" signifies the ending of a watch. It is also used to mark the passing of a sailor. When I read that, I got chills.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Seven Veils and Asparagus

Ah, the plethora of springtime opportunities in a small Southern town!

We had a new farmers' market kickoff today, so I went up to stroll around a bit. I even took my "look, I'm green!" shoulder bag with me. That turned out to be a wise move - I left with a number of locally-grown items, some of which (like a butterfly bush) wouldn't fit in the bag in the first place. I also scored a couple of lovely pork chops - that was unexpected. I was set for veggies and fruit, but not protein.

By the way - I may have any number of sins staining my soul, but I'm no hypocrite. I like meat and yes, I know exactly where it comes from and that little piggie was probably gamboling around a pen just a few days ago. I'm okay with that for you see, when I was but a fledgling li'l Mockingbird, my father raised hogs and Angus cattle so I got the whole "circle of life" thing at quite a young age. That'll happen when you both bury kittens and help a colt get born.

But back to the topic at hand.

I love farmers' markets. I like talking with the folks who grew what I'm going to be planting, cooking, or otherwise enjoying. I like petting the dogs who are checking everything out with their owners - Spooky stayed home today - she's in the final stages of planning a climb up the east face of K2 and couldn't really be disturbed, even for locally-grown Swiss chard. And this was also the day of an arts festival, so I got to browse through painted gourd birdhouses and listen to hammered dulcimer music.

Then, it was off to the Y for another attempt at introducing exercise into my life. I'm getting better at it, thanks to friends who expect me to show up. Today, we tried something new - exercise through belly dancing. Tremendous fun - hip shot, figure 8, kick, and circle! Again. Now add the arms! And s-t-r-e-t-c-h and kick. Now the hips again! While I'm in no danger of being mistaken for a transplanted desert flower, I did at least okay.

But I want finger cymbals!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Red Carpets and Sharpie Pens!

It's done! Yes, folks - the book is finally, officially "launched." Last night, the college hosted a reading and reception for the book, which is something I've never been a part of before. There had been a bit in the local paper and an interview on the local news channel. There were posters and announcements. And it all came together last night.

Okay, there wasn't really a red carpet - but there was nearly everything else.

It was sort of like playing at being a rock star for a couple of hours. Well, a hyper-literate rock star, anyway. People are glad to see you and listen with thoughtful looks on their faces to what you have to say. Students actually take notes. The audience asks questions and listens to the answers. Later, they stand around eating little nibbly-thingies, discussing ideas that they got from your presentation and (biggest of wows!) they stand in line to talk to you for a minute or two. You smile and ask how to spell their names and brandish a Sharpie pen, sort of wondering how you got here, but liking it an awful lot. And even though you know it's not exactly "real life" and that tomorrow, you'll be back to your work-a-day life, by golly, you're determined to enjoy it at the time!

Highlights included: my parents making the trek down here and being a part of the celebration; the badge one of my friends made for me with the book's cover on it and "Author" printed on it; the representative of the Charlotte Browncoats who not only came for the presentation but was wildly promoting the upcoming "Can't Stop the Serenity" event; and students saying to me, "You know, I sort of liked it." Students don't say that if they don't mean it; they just slip out and leave.

I think that's worth a night off, don't you?

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Endorphin Rush!

By its very nature, writing is a sedentary occupation - people most often sit in order to write. True, there have been a few who soak in a tub when they write, but their lives are often marked by sorrow (see Agatha Christie) and often, they come to a bad end (see Jean-Paul Marat), mocked by society (see Diogenes). Speaking of writing, you are still planning on coming to the reading/signing next Monday evening, right? 7 p.m. at the college auditorium. I'll look for you there!

At any rate, it was off to the gym with me. Since reaching that pivotal birthday and crossing a certain demographic threshold, I had decided that, painful as it may be, it was time to get serious about strength and cardio training. After all, I hope to be around as an eccentric goad for many decades to come, so I needed to get to work!

And work it has proven to be. I'm equipped now with a pedometer - it fits on my shoe and looks like a delicate little probation device. While I haven't yet hit 10,000 steps a day, between my Spooky-walks and using the walking track at school, I'm getting close. I've started going to water aerobics classes (which my uncoordinated self likes far more than the land-based classes - there's less chance of taking someone out by confusing left with right) which provide quite the workout, if you push yourself. Or have a drill sergeant for an instructor, as I did last night. And I went to a spinning class which was an experience. If I'd been able to figure out how to release my toes from those little clippy things, I'd have run for it!

But I understand better now all the talk about the effect of exercise on endorphins. You really DO feel miles better right after your exercise, although the next morning can be a different story. And I understand why. See what I found:

When scientists in the 1970s isolated a biochemical from a pituitary gland hormone that showed analgesic properties, Choh Li, a chemist from Berkeley, California, named it endorphin, meaning "the morphine within." . . . Prolonged, continuous exercise contributes to an increased production of endorphins . . .

"The morphine within." Who says poetry and science can't coexist?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Countdown to Launch!

I'm back from San Francisco, where the book was received VERY warmly! If you want to read about the conference (which was stellar), please follow this link.

The launch I'm talking about is the book launch. I’ve just gotten confirmation that my book will have its official launch on Monday, April 14. Please – if your schedule allows it, join me at CCC for this event. (C'mon, you know your taxes will be done by then!) The shindig will begin at 7 p.m. in the Keeter Auditorium where I’ll talk a little bit about the project and why popular culture is worthy of serious examination in the first place. I’ll discuss a bit from the book - and where else can you go to talk about vampires on a Monday night in Shelby? Also, a reception will follow. Hopefully, strawberries will be involved for any Kaylee fans out there and it is my sincere hope that no malevolent Chumash spirits will crash the party.

Copies of the book will be available for purchase and, if you ask nicely, I’ll sign your purchase. Heck, I’ll do that if you ask harshly! But please take Giles’ advice and do not speak Latin in front of the books.

Again, mark your calendars! Monday, April 14 at 7 p.m. in the Keeter Auditorium at CCC. Tell your friends and better yet, bring them along!

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Luck o' the Irish!

As John Belushi once said, "More like the BAD luck of the Irish!" Potato famine, failed rebellions (including the Easter Rising of 1916), civil war, etc., etc. (Although he was Albanian, so what did he know?) Nevertheless, today is the traditional wearing o' the green; a day where otherwise sane Americans go around talking like the Lucky Charms mascot.

I've been in Dublin for St. Patrick's Day - very different. Not better, not worse - just different. And Dublin's only kinda/sorta Irish these days. I guess it depends on what "Ireland" you want. Dublin is more European - if you want the romanticized stone walls, green fields dotted with sheep, harp and pennywhistle music floating out of a pub - go west, young man.

Let me make it clear: I love Ireland. I love the moodiness of the weather, the poetry of the speech pattern, the sense of history being right there, and the boundless optimism in the face of odds that would have long ago made most people tuck their heads down. And the Celtic Tiger of Ireland's financial success and growth was centuries in coming. As for being Irish-American, well, it's a doubtful claim for me at best. While I can legitimately claim Celtic ancestry (as can most Southerners; the Scots-Irish were the primary settlers out this-a-way), it's so far back that I'm just plain ol' 'Merican and I like it that way. Still - there's something about the Irish.

The band Black 47 (named after the worst year of the potato famine - which wasn't a "famine;" there was enough food in Ireland to export. It was a deliberate starvation) writes some great stuff. Some of it's loud and raucous, like the ri-ra of a good Irish ceilidh, some of it's mournful, and some of it's angry. If you really want to observe St. Patrick's Day (he was Welsh, anyway), check them out.

I'll be off to San Francisco for the National Popular Culture/American Culture Associations conference beginning tomorrow and I expect to be posting about the conference, the attendees, and the city over on the other blog; the one that's devoted to academia and Joss Whedon. Please follow the link and bookmark unfetteredbrilliance.

From W. B. Yeats poem about the failed Rising of 1916:

I write it out in a verse -
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Faith and Choice

Hallelujah and pass the chocolate! Not only is the book done, I've held my baby in my hands! I nearly tripped over the square box - writing has not made me one lick more graceful - and I tore into it like a five-year-old on Christmas morning. I didn't post immediately because I had a nefarious scheme afoot to thank my fine, tireless, and noble editors/proofreaders/
cheerleaders/wardens for all their efforts and I wanted their copies to be surprises. Keeping the secret was nearly fit-inducing and that plan almost worked - we had a great time regardless. In all honesty, I can't thank them enough for all their efforts over the past, oh, let's say eighteen months.

I know I'm biased, but I have to say, it's beautiful. By the way and for heaven's sake, don't bother to point out any typos you may find; I've already come across a couple and I've decided to view them as freckles. When God created the world, He looked at His work and proclaimed it very good, He never said it was perfect. Therefore, a couple of typos are in keeping with that general theme.

I'm not sure what happens from here - it's not like a parade is planned (although I'm fully in favor of that idea, but only if they have elephants. Have to have elephants in a parade). Official publication is still set for June; I simply got advance copies. McFarland is sending me copies of notices that are running in publications such as Booklist, which is pretty cool. WARNING: SHAMELESS PLUG AHEAD! Of course, you don't have to wait until June to buy your very own copy - while Amazon has the book available for pre-order (I think I'm listed at something like Number 2.1 million, but hey! I'm on the list!), you can buy now if you order directly from the publisher. Go here and tell 'em Dale sent you. I hope to have a book launch at the college in about a month (after spring break, at any rate - plans are very preliminary at this point) at which time I'll talk about why popular culture is worth the bother of studying in the first place. Then the biennial international Whedon conference (Slayage 3) in June nearly coincides with the official publication date, so I'll probably be stalking the crowd. (I know, nearly pitiful, but hey! it might be a l-o-n-g time before I do this again.)

It's been a long, uphill climb and I skinned my knees a couple of times clambering over the rocks, but I have to say that the view's spectacular from up here. Hey, look! I can see my house . . .

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Calling for the Check

It seems that there are any number of pithy phrases regarding stress. There's the one about the two-ended candle, the one about recompensing the piper, and so on. Well, it seems that I delayed payment as best I could, but that finally my bluff that "I never got that, so I shouldn't have to pay it; can't I at least have a few extra days; oh, that - that's in the mail" was called by The Powers That Be. I've been revealed as an inept juggler who tried a couple of balls too many.

In short, I'm a stress-puppy just now. I've been one for the last week or so and probably will be for another week or so. I know some people thrive on pressure and I do tolerably well, but it's not something I actively yearn for. My friend Stacked Librarian has a theory that this is just delayed stress from the book-writing project bubbling up to the surface. I'm not sure, but I think that no one is indispensable and right now, I'd really like to take about three days off to test the theory. Alas, I teach and that's just not an option. I like teaching, so I don't want to not be there - substitutes never do things quite the way I want them done. (Did I mention my tendencies toward control-freakism that are also plaguing me just now?)

Sigh.

Oh, for a late-February snowstorm. As it is, I'd better dig out the karmic checkbook - that piper's starting to glare at me.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Callooh, Callay!

While I don't think I've actually slain the Jabberwock, it may at least have been the Jubjub bird. So please - join me in a moment of well-deserved celebration. The book-beast has been delivered unto the publisher, properly updated and indexed (which is sort of the publishing equivalent of the twelve-pointer being trussed and wrestled into the bed of the pickup). Yep, the final edits in manuscript form are done and everything is indexed and even (mostly) cross-referenced. Never having put together that sort of index before, I can tell you with confident authority that the alphabet is harder than you might think it is.

But it's done. Sent by me and received by the publisher, so now it's a waiting game. I won't actually believe it until I hold the final product, bound in a shiny cover (and yes, I've seen the cover art. Squeee! I'll say no more), but it seems I'm an author now. How can I work that onto my business cards? I don't want to give up "Notorious Adventuress" but perhaps something will suggest itself. Maybe "Loquacious Wordsmith."

Hmmm. Maybe not. Well, I'm open to suggestions.

I appreciate that not many people in the world give a rip about this project - it's hardly likely to be a best-seller or a "beach read," but by golly, I'm pretty proud of my baby. And if you're going to be so much of a sheep as to live by the standards and opinions of the rest of the world instead of trusting your own lights, well, they might as well make a sweater out of you.

Yeah, I know. Easy to say, hard to do. Still, at least for the moment - Callooh, Callay!!!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A Rhetorical Question

. . . that's been bugging me for the last few days.

Why do all things electronic seem to resent me? I'll admit, I don't understand binary code as a primary language, but I know enough to identify the slidy-out-thing as a place to put a CD or DVD, rather than thinking my computer comes with a handy cupholder.

Alas, it appears that more is required of me. At this moment, my home computer is poxed with - well, something. Whatever it has, it's got it bad. It'll try to connect to Windows, but will then give the computer equivalent of a death rattle and - well, it's bad. Further, my laptop (it's work related; I travel for my job) will, for some freakish reason, hop on a wireless connection with no problem, but really doesn't want to connect through a cable and my house doesn't have wireless. So I'm at the coffee shop. I've been updating student rolls and announcements (long story that really isn't interesting to anyone who isn't me, so I'll spare you), but decided to post a "why me?" sort of thing.

Sigh. I know February isn't really out to get me, but some days it looks that way.

No picture this week - it's just one more chance for something electronic to go screwy.

There's good stuff going on, too, but I'm sticking with my theme here. I know I have some sackcloth around here somewhere . . . woe, woe, woe!! (Rending of garments, gnashing of teeth. Repeat as necessary.)

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Shortest Month

I must confess that February is not my favorite month. Oh, sure, on the calendar, it's the shortest. But in the real world, February has a nasty tendency to stretch out far beyond what is decent and acceptable in polite society. That said, I'll still admit that the groundhog (aka "woodchuck") is sort of fun.

In my part of the world, February is a trickster. Think of it as the Joss Whedon of months. (Ignore the part in parentheses if that last sentence confused you.) We'll have days that are warm enough to make you wish for a convertible. You're walking along with a spring in your step, taking note of the optimistic crocuses and jonquils poking their tender little heads up above the once-cold earth, providing a visual promise that spring is a-coming. (Look, Fred and Wesley are finally getting together! Yay and it's about time!) Then, just as your heart is thawing toward the minx of a month, WHAMMO!! Three days of cold, miserable, steel-grey rain will come slashing down. ("Why can't I stay?" followed by "Yes, please.")

Sigh.

Well, there's no way out except through it. And it's not all bad - the underdog Giants beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl in a game that truly separated the boys from the Manning. (Rimshot!)

So it's time to find out, once and for all - how much wood can a woodchuck chuck, if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

Monday, January 28, 2008

"Work" vs. "work"

It's been an interesting week. To begin with, I celebrated my birthday this past weekend - I am now what the French refer to as a "woman of a certain age." Far from being depressed by the fact that I'm not in the first blush of youth anymore, I'm actually sort of thrilled. The phrase is a good one, for I am more certain about some rather key things than I was in my (occasionally) misspent youth. I'm more certain about what I like, what I don't like, what I'm willing to put up with, and what I'm willing to walk away from. This is good knowledge to have, in my opinion.

And it's come in handy lately. Part of last week was particularly grimy - the details don't really matter; suffice it to say that work was just an unholy mess - disorganized, unpleasant, and generally designed to squelch my spirit. I pitched fits, ranted, raved, and quite possibly foamed at the mouth, all to no avail. It continued to be absurd to the point I was wondering if someone named "Godot" had left a message for me. I kept waiting, but . . .

Then, in a very rare quiet moment, I remembered something important.

It really doesn't matter.

Really. It doesn't. I was confusing "work" with "Work." I'm trying to not be too hard on myself; it's an easy mistake to make. However, it's a muddle that can lead to unending heartache. See, "work" is what you do to make a living. If you're lucky (I am), you usually enjoy it and it doesn't seem like a dull series of frustrating chores. (Sure, it does from time to time; I'm talking overall here. Look at the big picture, not the frame, Chumley.) But it's not "Work."

"Work" is the big stuff - that's why it rates the big "W." It's why we put up with the little "w" work. Our purpose and reason for being, if you will. It may take years to find your Work. But I guarantee you'll know it when you see it. Further, your Work is something only you can do, although you'll probably need help with parts of it and you should never hesitate to ask. And if you don't do it, it won't get done, which means that wonderful whatever-it-is - whether it's a book, or a garden, a happy home, or a well-adjusted child - whatever is intended to be your Work, will simply never be. And we'll all be poorer for that.

For me, my Work is this book that scattered in a dozen stacks on my dining room table. Maybe to the world at large, it's not that big a deal. Well, pfffffftt! to the world, I say. Go find your own Work; mine's on the table waiting for me to index it. Hopefully, it'll be back with the publisher in two weeks (she said with crossed fingers) and to the printer shortly thereafter.