Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Water, Water Everywhere and Not Enough to Read

Unfortunately, I don't have much of anything good to read in the house--no novel, anyway, though I'm trying to give my best attention to Her Fearful Symmetry, written by the same person who penned The Time Traveler's Wife, now a motion picture starring someone benign like Ashley Judd. I didn't see the movie or read the book, but I have the sneaking suspicion that as the author was writing the Fearful book that she was imagining how it would make a great film--kind of  cross between Ghost and The Parent Trap. The plot is about twins (my friend Jess has always been scared of twins and I find this endearing, though I know one half of several twins in real life...Three sets actually, who I work with and they are not spooky in any way); two pairs of identical twins--the adult sisters and then the one sister's daughters, Victoria and Julia. One of the older sister's dies, and leaves her apartment in London to the girl twins. The dead sister is estranged from her sister (who lives in America) because they've had a mysterious falling out and the inkling I have is that the one sister stole the other one's boyfriend long ago. In any case, the British sister dies, but she comes back as a ghost, though a ghost constrained to only live in her apartment. I picture this dead ghost sister as being played by Julia Roberts with a poorly executed British accent. Where I am now is that the twins have come to live in the flat in London and the ghost sister is delighted to find them there. The younger twins have predictable personalities--one is more outgoing and willing to take risks while the other is shy and reticent. The novelist conveniently skipped over any boring scenes where the mother tells the daughters they cannot just up and move to England. She grumbles, but there's no real conflict about it. I suppose I'll keep at it for a while, at least until I can get back to the Princeton Public Library which has the best book sale in the world. The New York Times book reviewer liked it, but the Guardian's review is closer to my own assessment so far.

I did read a great essay in The Best American Essays, 2003 by Cheryl Strand, called "The Love of My Life." The previous owner of this collection penciled "strange" at the top of the first page of the essay and I found myself arguing back with him/her. Not strange--it's about grief and loss and how the writer used sluttiness to try to escape it.

And finally, I finished A Picture of Dorian Gray for my graduate class and was left unfazed by it. I suppose at the time it was written, it was scandalous (intimations of homosexual love throughout), but it seemed melodramatic and, at times, boring and too pedantic. Every once in a while, it would sparkle to life, like in this paragraph describing guests at a dinner party: "...Lady Roxton, an overdressed woman of forty-seven, with a hooked nose, who was always trying to get herself compromised, but was so peculiarly plain that to her great disappointment no one would ever believe anything against her; Mrs. Erylynn, a pushing nobody, with a delightful lisp, and Venetian-red hair; lady Alice Chapman, his hostess's daughter, a dowdy dull girl, with one of those characteristic British faces, that, once seen, are never remembered; and her husband, a red-cheeked, white-whiskered creature who, like so many of his class, was under the impression that inordinate joviality can atone for an entire lakc of ideas (171)."  Before class next Tuesday, we have to watch the older version of this movie, and I just discovered that Angelia Lansbury stars in it, likely playing the ingenue actress that Gray throws over. Will they really kill her off in the film?

Also, here's a clip from the October 23 epsidoe of The Colbert Report about the undecided voter. Love him.
The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Illusive, Mysterious, Undecided Voters
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogVideo Archive

Monday, October 29, 2012

Repost: Rainy Days and Mondays

I posted this today on our Penn Alumni blog, but I think it's okay to steal from my own work...

I intended for today's post to be a funny, yet poignant and insightful, photo-filled recap of the Homecoming Weekend events.  But then Hurricane Sandy arose. The name seems so benign; it makes me think of the scruffy and lovable mutt in the musical, Annie. How bad could it be? By all accounts, it's rabid. I learned early yesterday morning that all classes were cancelled at Penn for the next two days, and that only essential staff were required to report in to work. I couldn't decide at first--was I essential staff? I consider myself necessary in so many ways. But then I received an email from Kristina, our Alumni Relations guru to all things staff-related and realized that unless I planned on joining the facilities team, I needn't report. I have to say that Penn's quick and decisive response to the storm, and the numerous follow up emails we received from our VP and HR reps were very helpful and set my mind at ease.

Okay, so you'll have to wait until Wednesday to see our Storify recap of Homecoming Weekend--we'll give you a complete look at all of the tweets and related photos shared by alumni, friends, and staff over the last three days. Until then, here are a few tips for surviving the storm. You can trust me on these--I spent my childhood and teenage years living in Florida where hurricanes, like debutantes, have their own seasons and where one lives in a constant state of low level anxiety due to both the volatile weather and an abundance of flying Palmetto bugs.

1. If you have a patio, bring in all of the IKEA furniture and set it up in your living room so that the cats can inspect it. You should do this because the gale force winds are supposed to be at like 500 miles an hour. Strong winds can take one of these innocent looking fake plants and hurl it into your back window, shattering the glass and requiring you to spend the rest of the storm in your bathroom, which is way too small.

2. Stock up on foods that don't require electricity to prepare  (i.e. microwave popcorn or frozen foods, particularly those delicious Amy's spinach and feta pizzas). The alarming news stories say you should have enough food for three days to a year.  I bought a lot of cereal and snack items, along with cold cuts and bread. My still-living-in-Florida mom reminded me that if the power goes out, I should keep the refrigerator closed most of the time so that the milk doesn't spoil. I'm glad she reminded me of this, because sometimes, instead of turning on the air conditioner, I just leave the fridge door open all day.

3. Buy batteries for that transistor radio you have or I guess, if you live in modern times, extra batteries for that smart phone thinga-ma-jig charger nonsense. As an aside, that framed photo is my mom's high school graduation picture. I love those cat eyeglasses so much.

4. Keep matches and candles in every room, and be sure you have other activities lined up in case the power goes out and you can't watch Bravo's Real Housewives of Suffolk County marathon. I recommend reading actual books (your Kindle will eventually die). Currently, I'm reading a novel billed as a "haunting ghost story," which seems a little redundant, but also perfectly suited to candle light. I can pretend I'm Jane Eyre and try very hard not to lean in too close to the flames, singeing my eyebrows.

5. Have extra everything. I spent about 45 minutes on Sunday, scouring the house for boxes of matches, and congratulating myself for finding two actual flashlights that work. I also bought 24 extra water bottles. Sorry, Liz Pinnie (our Penn Alumni Relations eco rep). They are made from 30% plants and are 100% recyclable. And I discovered taper candles--no clue where they came from. Another tip from mom: fill the bathtub or an extra watering can with water in case the toilet stops flushing. I forget why this would happen, but I listened to her because I am a good daughter. Obviously, buy more than one banana from the grocery store unless you're taking this opportunity to start a fast.

6. Have an evacuation plan in case the worst occurs and the water rushes forward from whatever river that is to the East of me. I brought the cat carriers up from the basement because I have this fear that the entire basement will flood all the way up to the steps and I'll need a boat to get anything out. I read Stephen King's The Stand at a very impressionable age and so harbor this terror that the end of the world is right around the corner. This also comes from growing up in a place where cockroaches were liable to turn up just about anywhere--falling out the branches of a tree  and landing in your neckline while you were riding your bike to school, for instance, causing you to simultaneously crash your bike into a tree while screaming and ripping off your shirt in front of Bobby Bathurst for no apparent reason that he could see, which led to him avoiding you in the hallways ever after.

Note: cats will likely not allow themselves to be crammed into these boxes and so will have to be left to survive on their own.

7. Most importantly: take care of one another. That's what happened early on in the storm with reassuring messages from the Penn  administration and my Alumni Relations co-workers. I felt like I was well-informed and that they'd taken into account my safety first, over and above the needs of the University's daily operations.  So, you know, let your neighbor borrow one of your 20 boxes of matches if she needs them. We'll all make it through just fine.

The blob that Ernesto is grooming is actually Emma Carol, made even fatter by the extra food I've been giving them to assuage their (my) anxieties. Stay safe!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Rittenhouse AM

On my way to have my teeth cleaned this morning. I have a slight dentist phobia, but am working to overcome this.

In the meantime, witness the descent of fall at Rittenhouse Square.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Squirrels on Film

Lisa Marie and I saw a squirrel in a tree yesterday with an entire plastic jar of peanut butter in its little hands. I tried to take a picture for you, but it ended up a blurred mess. Then today at lunch, I was nearly assaulted by a squirrel that got cornered and feinted toward me like it was about to clamber up my bare leg. I screamed. Liz screamed. Squirrel ran halfway up a brick wall and then poing-ed out onto the patio. On Penn's campus, the squirrels are very tame because students feed them. They will take food out of your hands. Here is a video representing what squirrels are like here:

I'm writing about this innocuous topic to distract myself from the angst I feel in a general sense about the upcoming election. I was going to write a blog post ranting about undecided voters and how they should just go ahead and not vote. How they probably need to focus on recovering from that six-month coma they clearly just woke up out of yesterday. But then that seemed too negative and judge-y and mean. So instead, you get this:

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Listen to Margaret Atwood

Stole this from the website, Brain Pickings.  It in turn was taken from The Guardian.

Here are Margaret Atwood's "10 Rules of Writing." She's from Canada and so gets to spell words like "aeroplane" charmingly. I find #9 to be the most helpful. And the second sentence in number ten. Sometimes when I'm stuck on an ending or can't figure out a scene, I go back to short stories that I love, ones that handle whatever problem I'm facing really well.
  1. Take a pencil to write with on aeroplanes. Pens leak. But if the pencil breaks, you can’t sharpen it on the plane, because you can’t take knives with you. Therefore: take two pencils.
  2. If both pencils break, you can do a rough sharpening job with a nail file of the metal or glass type.
  3. Take something to write on. Paper is good. In a pinch, pieces of wood or your arm will do.
  4. If you’re using a computer, always safeguard new text with a ­memory stick.
  5. Do back exercises. Pain is distracting.
  6. Hold the reader’s attention. (This is likely to work better if you can hold your own.) But you don’t know who the reader is, so it’s like shooting fish with a slingshot in the dark. What ­fascinates A will bore the pants off B.
  7. You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there’s no free lunch. Writing is work. It’s also gambling. You don’t get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but ­essentially you’re on your own. ­Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine.
  8. You can never read your own book with the innocent anticipation that comes with that first delicious page of a new book, because you wrote the thing. You’ve been backstage. You’ve seen how the rabbits were smuggled into the hat. Therefore ask a reading friend or two to look at it before you give it to anyone in the publishing business. This friend should not be someone with whom you have a ­romantic relationship, unless you want to break up.
  9. Don’t sit down in the middle of the woods. If you’re lost in the plot or blocked, retrace your steps to where you went wrong. Then take the other road. And/or change the person. Change the tense. Change the opening page.
  10. Prayer might work. Or reading ­something else. Or a constant visual­ization of the holy grail that is the finished, published version of your resplendent book. 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

First Debate

Disappointed in the reaction by the media to the presidential debates last night; I listened to most of them on NPR b.c I can't stand to look at Romney's face, which always appears to me that it's made out of something soft and melting, like brie cheese. Obama was almost too polite, too diplomatic, he didn't go on the attack very often; didn't mention Romney's anti-choice, anti-gay, anti-old, anti-working class, anti-foreigners, anti-dog policies, but maybe this is a long term strategy that he's developed with his team to save the more destructive stuff for later, when Romney won't have time to recover. Romney actually said that he would cut funding for PBS--this to the host of the debate who works for PBS. Pundits are saying Romney did better b.c he was more aggressive. Is that what wins debates? Who shouts the loudest and interrupts the most?

I  was hoping that Romney would lose his temper and end up shouting the "n" word or make some other public gaffe that reveals his real agenda, but alas, he did not. .

At the end, Obama looked into the camera and said something like, When I was first elected, I promised the American people I would fight for their rights every day. If you vote for me, that is what I will continue to do. It was heartfelt, but also a little defeated, like Pedro in Napolean Dynamite going, If you vote for me, I will make sure all of your dreams come true. It wasn't insincere at all, just a little flat and I thought, Maybe he doesn't want to win the election. Maybe he's sick to death of being President of a country controlled by mostly by rich white cry babies who want to protect their wealth and don't give a damn "about you or your mommy or your daddy" (that's an indirect quote from David Cross).

Fingers crossed that the next three times are better.