Monday, December 22, 2014

An afternoon at Small World

Not the Disney ride, but one of the two independent coffee shops in Princeton. It's a cash only place where the baristas are always cheerful instead of surly, like every single coffee shop employee working in Philly. I have the next two weeks off from work, and so am out in the world at 3 p.m. on a Monday. I fully expected the place to be quiet send deserted, but instead, it's hopping with white people, almost exclusively, some old, some young, some in between. Perhaps they are also off work because of the holidays, or else there are a lot more people in town with leisure time than I ever knew. It's standing room only, so I am sitting at the counter part rather than a table, next to a woman who appears to be reading a book that requires her to underline sentences. How she can focus on words with the trio of girls next to her is hard to fathom. The girls are all brunettes, either skipping seventh period high school or possibly college students, though their topics of conversation (ranging from whether women are repressed because they don't have large pockets in their clothes like men do, to the hotness of David Bowie in the movie Labyrinthine, to what the girl should name her new iPod) do not help me determine their ages. Seventy five percent of the young men in here have some kind of facial hair, long sideburns included, and the women have that messy ponytail look. Other than those two observations, I see nothing else of note.

I do love this town, and I love that I can get to the center in less than ten minutes by foot. I stopped at the Arts Council on my way in and the women in there were so nice, opening up the art sale shop even though it closed on Saturday, and so I was able to pick up two very cool gifts, and they gave me both gift boxes and gift bags to go with them.

The town is magical and my fear then is that I'm not taking full advantage of it. Every night that goes by when I'm not out attending a lecture by a famous brilliant person or hearing a world-renowned choral performance or watching an independent film at the small theater feels like I am squandering my lifestyle. But the truth is that we have been more active here than in Plainsboro and have gone to movies and a concert at the Princeton Chapel and I am in the coffee shops every weekend and I go to the library Saturday without fail to check out more books. What I need to start doing is bringing my camera on my walks--I can start taking pictures again like I used to in Philly, though I have noticed a very distinct lack of cats in windows in this town. The one drawback.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A as in...

The other day, someone I don't know asked me to give her my email address over the phone. For whatever reason, she had trouble hearing what I was saying, even when I went really slowly. I did that thing where you say the letter, and then give an example. I always say, "'A' as in apple, 'B' as in boy..."

She was very confused, and when she repeated what she thought my email was, she had written down something like,""

We started again.

"No, the letter 'A' as in apple..."

She said, "Okay, apple..."

This went on for some time until I just started saying yes, that's right, and accepting that I would never get an email from her, though someone with a thirty-five letter username would likely be receiving her message.

I told my friend Adam this, and he said he had an idea for a skit, where you're in an office setting and start spelling out your email to a client, but using really profane, inappropriate language, as if it's nothing: "Yes, that's right, A as in anal, l as in labia, b as in bestiality, a again as in ass..." You get the gist.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Ugly Sweaties

Everyone at work, at the coffee shop, at the library, at the synagogue seems to be talking about the Ugly Sweaties parties they're invited to. You've heard about them--those are the usually office-centric parties where you are required to wear the ugliest Christmas/holiday sweater you can find at Goodwill. Except now, it's such a popular phenomenon that you can buy these special horrible sweaties at Target and Urban Outfitters and Kohl's.

What an embarrassment, though, if you bought what you thought was the funniest, most unique sweatie at Walmart, only to realize that Jean from accounting is wearing the same one!

I've participated in these parties and I even suggested one at my last job, but I guess it's one of those snotty things--like, once everyone's doing it, it's no longer funny and cool. And then you start to see the variations of sweaties that allow men to talk about their favorite subject, the penis.

And women too, can use it as an opportunity to show off their stuff.

I prefer the more traditional ugly sweaties, such as the ones below circa 1952 (though again, this may be an ironic ad from UO).

You could go the cynical religious route as well.

Unless you are a person of color, you should not wear a black Santa sweater.

Adam, this last one is for you.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

I Vow Not to Bitch about Christmas Music

Or to complain that they start playing it earlier and earlier each year, or to wonder if anyone under the age of 35 has any idea who Bing Crosby is or to say that I cannot watch Elf again. We have purchased a single wreath which Dan hung on the front door, but have not yet committed to a tree, as the whole endeavor will also require lights and new ornaments, since we can't face the same Target ones circa 2006. I am not invited to any Ugly Christmas Sweater parties, but we will have a staff party on Thursday and another one the following week.

I have done no Christmas shopping, and have no brilliant ideas for what to buy my loved ones. Maybe we need to sit down and make our respective lists for one another. PJs? Yankee candles? Gift cards to Starbucks? I really need to find some time to think about this more--I used to be creative and make photo albums and gift certificates, but now, I feel like I'm just trying to figure out how not to wait until the last minute.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Dave Eggers book consumed in two days

Princeton Library has this table of book club books and I occasionally browse through them. They're not current books, necessarily, just books that the people seem to be popular with book clubs at the moment. A month ago, I checked out A Tree Grows in Brooklyn because I never got to  it when I was younger. I read four pages, felt depressed by her scrounging for tin,  and put it aside. My guess is that the girl will find that the tree is her one steadfast friend through her years of poverty and painful girlhood lessons. But I could be wrong.

Instead, I checked out a Graham Green book, The Heart of the Matter. I read half of it, and then realized that I wasn't sure if the story was set in Africa during WWI or Syria during WWII or possibly current day Dominican Republic. The main character's name is Scobie, and so that made him hard to take seriously. I couldn't decide if it was a novel of intrigue, socio-political critique, or an historical account of racial relations in whatever country.  Instead, I read Dave Eggers A Hologram for the King. I actually started reading it in the library, somewhat skeptical (I was one of the few people I know who didn't love A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius). Something about the main character that I liked immediately, and though the story of a failing, middle aged white guy trying to make it with this last minute business venture isn't a plot I typically warm to, I read the book in about two days. And guess what, they're making it into a movie starring...Tom Hanks, of course. I like Tom Hanks, but only in so far as I am still in awe that he made it this far after starting on Bosom Buddies. I recommend the book--though it feels like the final message has something to do with the futility of life.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Frances Ha

Did you see this movie? I missed it somehow, and so we rented it on Saturday. The beginning scene is two twenty-something women talking in this slightly stilted, artsy way (or maybe it just seemed artsy because the movie is filmed in black and white) about their futures together. They're best friends, not lovers, but they are extremely close. That first scene is needed to set up the rest of the film, which is somewhat about the friends going in different directions (one appears to be jumping on the career/marriage track and the other is still finding her way), but it's mostly about Frances, a 27 year old dancer's apprentice trying to make it in New York.

It took me a while to warm up to the movie, and it took Dan about 30 minutes to dismiss it completely to go work on a logo in the kitchen, but I kept watching, and it never became what most movies about women turn into--this search for heterosexual love. In fact, there was pretty much no sex in the whole film, because, surprisingly, the focus was on Frances' self-actualization---her getting let go from her job, and taking up too much conversational space at a snotty dinner party, and having to go back to her undergrad as a residence adviser for the summer, and moving from a series of shared apartments in the city. All the while, she keeps making mistakes, saying the wrong things, taking foolish trips to Paris and missing every connection. But in the end, she takes the crappy secretarial job and gets to have this fairy tale moment where everyone comes to the show she choreographed, and then, the last scene is her putting her name on the mailbox of her own place.

It reminded me of living in Chicago and how I spent two years with bad roommates (and being a bad roommate) and then finally found a cheap apartment on Hazel Street, on the North-ish side of the city near the Sheridan el stop.

At 27, I thought I was old. There's a scene in the movie too where she tells someone her age and the other person goes, "Oh, you look much older than you." But when you're 27, everyone else seems both so much younger (all those college days seem far away and the kids going to the Art Institute appear clueless) or so much older and together than you (your friends who are getting married and moving to the burbs and registering at Crate and Barrel). So, you can feel stuck and end up making out with lots of bartenders.

I lived in Chicago for five years and had a semi-serious boyfriend for two of those years, but was mostly single and thinking about how my ship had sailed--how I was just going to get older and older and pile on the cats and the bad relationships. And that kind of did happen, because when I lived in State College for six years, I never had a serious boyfriend. FOR SIX YEARS.  I mean, I had six month relationships and three month relationships with lumberjacks and then one on-going fake love affair with a flaky poet, but none of it was real--none of it was the day to day stuff of living with someone, and I wanted that so much, because that's what you're supposed to want. Or maybe it's just that it's okay to be unhappy, as long as you're unhappy with someone else. Not alone. Much worse to be seen as unhappy and alone.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Thankful for Route 206

Now that we've lived in Princeton for two months, I can say that the main thing I like about our new location is avoiding route 1 completely. Remember last year? Remember how I used to race home at sundown because I was so scared to drive on route 1 after dark? And when it rained? Or during the day? And pretty much any time I got behind the wheel?

In our new location, I take 206 into work. Not only is it a shorter distance by about 10 to 15 minutes every day, it's one lane. One windy country road that goes past farms and mansions and the governor's house and then through quaint downtown Lawrenceville. There are a few traffic lights, but that's okay with me too, because it keeps people from racing too fast. I have a theory that you will find better drivers on country-type roads, because they are more interested in having a calm drive than in getting to their destination as quickly as possible. Those who want speed, efficiency, and near-death experiences are drawn to the highways and interstates. Those whose biggest worry is hitting a deer (and this is not an insubstantial concern, they seem to be almost suicidal at times) take the back way.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

For Ryan in Iowa

Did you ever have one of those days where you spend half your time putting off the things that you know you need to do? Or are you like me and those days are every day; this Scarlett O'Hara mantra playing out again and again, "I'll think about that tomorrow..." That is how I am about some of the promises I make to myself, like eating better, exercising, responding to emails right away, pursuing my life's dreams, etc.  This blog, for instance. I keep telling myself that I need to do a post, and then I go read an article about procrastination. For real, because I just found this blog called Life Hack that is rife with lists of ways to improve your life or things to avoid or ways to be happy. And a part of me hopes that if I read enough of those articles, one or two if the ideas will stick. At the same time, it reminds me of this article from The Onion that reads "Man has life changing epiphany and forgets it on the ride home."  No matter how many inspirational quotes I put up around my desk, not a one of them will likely provide the tipping point needed to actually do those things I keep putting off.

However, I do know myself well enough to understand that though I have trouble keeping promises to myself, I don't have that same difficulty as much when I make a promise to another person. Two weeks ago, I went to Iowa to give reading with several other writers as part of Writer's Harvest at Drake University (thanks, Megan Brown!). While I was there, I met some students in a writing class I attended, and a few of them also came to the reading later. A week or so later, Ryan, who I sat next to in the class and who shared his laptop screen with me, sent me an email thanking me for coming and telling me how much he enjoyed my story and my blog.  This poor, sad, neglected blog filled with posts about pillow-buying. But whatever. I promised Ryan I would write a couple of posts a week from now on, at least until January, when you can count on Bachelor posts (coincidentally, the new bachelor is an Iowan farmer named Chris), and so keep checking back.

In the meantime, let me know if you have any essays that you teach about why writing is important. We're talking about that in my last class next Tuesday.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Gone Girl, the movie

We don't often go to the movies, and when we do, I almost always get to pick what we see and Dan goes along for the ride.

The last few times, I've chosen movies that are too long and ultimately dissatisfying. The one before Gone Girl was the Tom Cruise blockbuster where he keeps having to live the day over and over, an action packed version of Groundhog Day, minus any attempts at humor or logic. We didn't hate that one--but it was another in a long line of what I call dick flicks, where the cast includes hundreds of men and two women. In this case, the two women neatly fell into the mother/whore dichotomy. One was the mommy of the evil doer and the other was a lovable prostitute. There may have been a third who was a little stronger--the main ninja trainer or whomever, but ends up not being quite as smart or wily as TC, and I think he gets to save her in the end.

There's this thing called the Bechdel Test developed by a woman comic where the movie isn't totally sexist if it meets the following criteria:

1. It has to have at least two [named] women in it
2. Who talk to each other
3. About something besides a man

In the TC movie, the women don't talk to each other at all--they live in different time spheres.

For more on this test, you read this link which will of course lead you to other links. You would be amazed at the number of films where this occurs, and the problem with this, says Bechdel and others, is that the women are essentially foils for the men's adventures. They don't really have any of their own inner life or agency or much of anything to discuss other than what's happening with the man/men in the movie.

But I digress...Gone Girl was one of these suspense films where they leave you to wonder if perhaps Ben Affleck really did kill his wife, but then about halfway through, they reveal that he did not kill her. Instead, we learned that she has cleverly framed him for her murder. This revenge comes about because she is angry about him losing his job and dragging her away from their life in New York City, for gobbling up what's left of her inheritance to open a crappy bar, and then for having an affair with younger woman with much less gray matter.

The problem I had with the film is that the framee, Amy, was completely unsympathetic and the framed, Ben A. wasn't enough of an asshole. So, the film seems to want you to root for him, not her, because what she has done is so out of line with his actions and because she seems to be without real emotion--like, you don't get the sense that she's lost it all and has no other recourse. On some level, you have to be rooting for the anti-hero--a more interesting conflict would arise if we felt like both were justified in their actions, and not just that she was the one who took it too far.

Also, don't have her stab Doogie Howser in the neck while having sex. It's kind of hard to root for her after that moment or to see her as anything more than an utter psychopath.

I did like the ending though, because they at least didn't pull this crazy twist ala Basic Instinct  or Fatal Attraction where the super smart and organized femme fatale makes a dumb mistake and gets caught. She doesn't get caught, regardless of how implausible and easy to disprove her kidnapping story would be. Her punishment is to end up with Ben Affleck.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

House decor

Dan's mom visited last weekend, and she and I went to West Elm, because we both felt we were in need of more things to make our lives complete. In my case, I was looking for decorative pillow cases. I told myself that I could not actually buy yet another throw pillow (we have a dozen), but I could buy a cover. But then I saw a pillow that completely matched the other two I got at West Elm a few months ago (go figure). It had a tag on it that read $34 and another that read $12. This made me think that the pillow was on sale for $12, in part because the helpful worker told me that though the insides of the pillow weren't included in the price, they also weren't that expensive. Imagine my surprise when I checked out to discover that not only was the pillow not on sale, the cover itself was $34 and the stuffing was $12, bringing this impulse buy to $46 plus take for something you can't even really rest your head on. He gave me a chance to reconsider, but I still mistakenly thought that the cover was $12 and that I could maybe find the stuffing at Home Goods. After thinking it through at a distance, I realized that this was not the case. So, for the rest of the weekend, I debated whether or not to return this pillow. Such is the life of the American consumer who has no other real anxieties regarding survival..

But really, it fits right in. 

Dan and I also purchased curtains for a mere $40 per panel at West Elm. That guy was more helpful, as he gave us the student/teacher discount without even knowing that I work at Rider. Now the question is whether or not to add curtains to the other window in the room. You see how one purchase leads to another to another. I think we are done for a while.

Dan's mom also helped us move things around and so now our bookshelf is in a corner in the kitchen---despite my initial weak protests that the function of the furniture should take into account the room it's in. In other words, it's unlikely that I'll be standing next to the stove, and realize I want to read a novel while cooking. But whatever. I think it looks nice.

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Yards

I hope you don't mind that I am just going to endlessly make comparisons between the condo in Plainsboro and the apartment in Princeton. One thing that's notably different is that we have a yard to ourselves. In Condoland, we had a back patio that looked out onto a bike path, so we didn't technically have a yard to speak of--just a patch of grass before the bike path that Dan and Luke used to kick the soccer ball around. The other thing was that we lacked a certain level of privacy, because every five minutes, someone would whizz by on a bike or jog through (and a disappointingly small number had dogs with them) or just leisurely walk by, looking into our back patio windows. Here, we have fenced in yard, and though the neighbors are still close (I met three of the four so far), they are not in our living space. Here is the back yard. Living in that big white house you see is a man named Lew who has two giant golden retrievers with sweeping tails.

This dog house comes with the property, because the owner has two rescues dogs. We are trying to have one rescue (this deaf dog named Finnegan who I fell in love with), but no such luck so far. The dog house awaits, gathering dust and sadness...

This is our next door neighbors' yard. It's chaos---sometimes, you'll see a random diaper or two on the ground. A little black chihuahua patrols the place, and some bunnies go between our two yards, nibbling grass and the occasional head of lettuce. Actually there were two bunnies, but one disappeared. Now, there's just one white rabbit. Luckily, she just gave birth to a bunch more bunnies, so hopefully, we can keep this going.

Lastly, you have Dan posing in a sweater he feels uncomfortable in because of its brightness. He's more of a beige kind of guy, not a bright blue. Please note the large pumpkin in the background, ripe for carving. Only $5 from Whole Foods.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Objects of the house

One of the things that happened when we moved was that our big fluffy sectional couch did not fit into our narrow, old house un-fluffy door. The movers tried it all--taking off the front door, then going up the back and taking off that door, removing the legs to the couch, all to no avail. We were on the verge of sawing it in half when we decided to let one of the movers keep it. Actually, what happened was that Dan agreed to drive back to Plainsboro with the mover guy and put the coach back into the condo to be removed at a later date. In any case, a week later, we found this sofa at Crate and Barrel outlet and the related ottoman. We think they are related. Upon closer inspection, we aren't 100% sure that the two match. We do not care.

This is what I would call a design cranny, and it now features two small objects de arte from Target.

Here is Dan, fixing Luke's breakfast. The plastic pumpkin is new.

Spice rack in the kitchen made out of what I think is supposed to be a towel rack for the bathroom. My mom bought me the whale pot holder from Jane, the local designer consignment shop, this weekend.

All in all, I would say that we're done with the major pieces, but buying furniture usually means you have to buy other things to go with the furniture, such as an area rug or matching end tables or lamps or more pillow cushions (for some reason, I'm obsessed with accent pillows, and have to remind myself whenever I go to West Elm that there's no need for yet another pillow cover. Unless it's on sale).

Friday, October 17, 2014

Two week anniversary

Tomorrow will be our two week anniversary in this new apartment in Princeton proper. I feel weirdly self-conscious now when people ask me where I live, as if I'm bragging or being snotty. I have an impulse to apologize and add, "But we don't own there. We could never afford to buy in Princeton unless we lived in a shack." From now on, I will practice not saying sorry for living in a town I love.

Our new apartment is beautiful, closer to the shops and restaurants and the library than anything we tried to buy, and it's only a $150 more per month than the condo in Princeton (or $75 each, as we split pretty much everything down the middle). And, I just changed over my car insurance to my new zip and it's $10 cheaper. Oh, and the cleaning ladies are charging us $15 less per month to clean the place, so that's another $17.50 less for me ($10 plus half of $7.50, if you're following), plus I use less gas going to and fro, and so when you get down to it, it's really not all that much more to live in this town.

And guess what, no more Route 1 for me. I drove on it yesterday to go to Quakerbridge Mall, and was like, yes, that's right, I still hate this.

This is our bedroom window. Note the baby Jesus Pope on the sill. 

And this is the view--please also note that it's not of a parking lot with a dumpster.

We have made it out of Condo Land and lived to tell about it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

And Now, We are Here

I keep making  a promise to write more in my blog, but in part because of a morning teaching class and in part because of my own inertia, I can't seem to get to it. I teach on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 8 a.m.--not something that is easy to do, for me or for the students. They are tired and disinterested, half-asleep, and I am usually pretty awake, but annoyed by their lack of enthusiasm. On top of that, the class is long--an hour and a half. When I taught at Penn State, I seem to remember that my T/R classes went from 9:45 to 11, for example. You wouldn't think that the extra 15 minutes of class time would make a difference, but it does. The first few times I taught, I would be working really hard to do the lesson plan, and have this whole thing planned out, and then I would be wrapping that up and discover it was only 8:30. I would write more about teaching, but I'm cautious because I want to be mindful of the possibility that students could find my blog. Suffice it to say that it's a good class of first year students who, like most 18 year olds would rather be sleeping than listening to me talk about thesis statements or MLA citations. On Thursday, we will be getting in the the third paper, rhetorical analysis, and I couldn't be happier. Ethos, logos, and pathos--those are the things I love because they allow us to talk about the "isms" inherent in the most blatant rhetoric of print ads.

We are now living in Princeton, in a three bedroom, two bath duplex on Witherspoon with a pretty red door. We could never afford to buy this house with its re-done kitchen and fancy bathroom and pretty hard wood floors, but we can (almost) afford to rent it. Of all the places we looked to buy, this one has the best location--just minutes away from the Princeton library and lots of shops and places to eat. I can now use my legs again to get from one location to another, which feels like a miracle.

Here are some photos.

This is the bunny who lives next door and sometimes comes into our yard. 

Front door. We are to the left. 

The re-done kitchen, reminiscent of our kitchen in Plainsboro but with a really nice Bosch dishwasher. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

House Hell, Part 2

Where was I? Yes, when last we left, we were attempting to buy a home in one of the most expensive cities in the country (I mean, I'll compare Princeton prices with like a penthouse in Soho, and the penthouse in Soho will be more reasonable). Okay, so we bid on this other house, above asking price as we were advised to do, and the guy accepted our offer. Just to back up a little for those of you who haven't purchased property in a while, you can bid on a house, but you first have to be pre-approved for a mortgage, just so that nothing crazy happens later, like you find out you can't afford it.

We were so excited to have the house! It was adorable--two huge bedrooms with slanting ceilings upstairs and a bathroom there too, then another bedroom with an on-suite bathroom, and a square sun room and decent living room, kitchen and dining area. The basement was clean and dry with high ceilings and the appliances were good (all I cared about was that the refrigerator had a water system in it--that's my idea of luxury). We had the inspection--the second inspection of our house-buying adventure and then we had radon testing, and all came out okay. The inspector was the same guy we had for the other property and he agreed that this house was in much better shape. He found some leaks, but said it was sound overall.

This is not the layout of any of the houses we looked at. 

What we didn't realize is that, in Mercer County, if the house is sold above a certain amount, you have to put down 20% or you will have to pay mortgage insurance, which is like an extra $150 or whatever a month. The way the mortgage folks tell you about it is funny---they don't say, "You'll have to pay PMI for the next 5 years."  They say, "You'll pay PMI for 60 months." Sixty months doesn't sound bad at first.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. So, we got the house, and we had the inspection and we started wanting to tell Luke about it, because he was worried about having to change schools. We had these elaborate plans for how we were going to reveal it to him, but we were also cautious because we hadn't yet sealed the deal with the mortgage or gone to the closing.

Have to run. Stay tuned for the rest...

Monday, September 22, 2014

House Hell

Why have I not been writing more? I feel stuck and mute---in the middle of lots of change, and most of it has been turmoil of the domestic kind. It's weird how you think your situation is difficult, and then it becomes more difficult and you go, Hey, wait, that thing before? That was easy. I suppose there is a lesson in that somewhere, but I hope the lesson is not "It is what it is."

For the last four months, we've been trying to buy a house in Princeton, in part because that's where Luke has gone to school since he was in kindergarten and so we want to keep him with is friends, and in part because if I have to stare at this condo parking lot for much longer, I may go AWOL.

In case you are unaware of what the realty market is like in Princeton, the median range to purchase a home is around $750,000. I made that number up, and so it could be higher, maybe more like $1 million at the minimum. Just know that most of the houses you see are millions of dollars.

Here is an example of a house in Princeton that would probably be listed at $3,590,000

We found a house that was much less than that, still a reach for us, but not impossible. Then, we had the inspection, and the guy found quite a few things wrong; nothing calamitous, but we also weren't in love with the kitchen and would need to buy a dishwasher and to rearrange the room so that the oven and the fridge weren't touching and knock down a few walls and we would also be looking at sharing one bathroom and having no closet space and one bedroom with no closet at all.  The shared living space was small, and the floors were uneven and you could tell that he owned a dog. The basement was a disaster, rickety with low-ceilings, and there was no driveway. At the same time, two other houses came on the market for only $7,000 more than the original house, and these places were way better. Like, had actual dishwashers and parking spaces, sun rooms, extra bathrooms, nice basements, were built in the last fifty years and the roofs didn't need to be replaced. So, we got out of the first house and made a bid on one of the other properties. Our realtor said it was a competitive market and so we should bid above the asking price, but within our comfort zone. Since we were already outside of comfort zone financially, we should've said no, but we bid d$15,000 more than asking price, and they didn't take our offer. So then, we raced to bid on the other property, the cute little Cape Cod, and the guy accepted our offer!!! Yay!

I will write more about this tomorrow.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

#TBT: Middle School or the Seventh Circle of Dante's Inferno

Luke starts sixth grade in one week. Maybe it's different for boys, and easier somehow because they don't mature as quickly as girls, but I found almost all of middle school to be hellish. I was too young to do anything on my own like go to the Quick Mart, and too old to play with stuffed animals and dolls. Plus, I was losing that ability to forget myself in games I made up. Or maybe that happened in seventh grade. I do remember this distinct feeling of loss--losing the ability to be able to make up pretend stories, like when kids play house or imagine they are super heroes. When you're little and making stuff up, there's a part of you that believes it's real--you really are Wonder Woman or Batgirl or slaying dragons or running away from monsters--it's possible to forget that you're a human girl and imagine that you are more than that and the world has mystical things like dragons and if you concentrate hard enough, you might be able to fly or time travel. When you're younger, you can still capture that feeling, or maybe it's more about having the ability to not be self-conscious. Because somewhere around age 11 or 12, those feelings evaporate and you are concious of every single thing about yourself, your family, the car your mom drives, the way your legs are moving as you walk, your stomach rumbling in the middle of class, how nerdy it is to bring a bagged lunch and how your mom still writes your name on the front even though you've asked her not to--all of these things that didn't matter, such as how your arms hang at your sides, become painfully obvious and horrible.

Even the name of where you're going is bad. You are entering "middle school." It's like "middle age," this nebulous existence where you're neither young nor old, you're just in between and stuck.  For years.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Wherein All of the Eggs are in One Basket

The show always starts with this benign preview nonsense. We pick up right after the final rose ceremony where everyone is oh-ing and ah-ing over the fact that Michelle got a 100th chance for love on this journey. She literally went from going home empty handed to staying there with huge lines of black mascara running down her Barbie face. AshLee astutely observes that there is one less guy than usual, forgetting again that they always add extra people.

First date card goes to Robert. He better ask out the one-arm lady. He does, mainly because they want to show her jumping into the water with just the one arm. Michelle goes from thrilled to absolutely pissed and crying more in the bathroom. Graham knocks on the door to comfort her. Highs and lows! Dude, he didn't pick you in the final rose ceremony, he's not going to then ask you out on a date, AND let us not forget that you shouldn't want to go on a date with a guy who has just expressed disinterest in you. She's going to go for Graham now.

She is totally wrecking that white towel with by wiping tons of mascara and snot on it. "In the back of her head," she imagines that all of the guys know she has a daughter and so they don't want her. Not in the front of her head, but she knows this in the back lobe, near the cerebral cortex.

Michelle agrees to do Sarah's hair in a Swiss Miss braid so that she can go swimming and sailing with Robert. I hope a shark doesn't attack and take off her other arm. It feels fake and forced to me, but that might be my own prejudice. Is it so hard to believe that a Rob Lowe look alike (named Robert) would be into a one-armed lady?

Hey guess what? Cody has arrived and I couldn't be less happy about it. He is the WORST. Remember? Remember how big his muscles are and remember his stupid hair cut and total frat boy attitude and what Clare calls positive energy and I call cocaine? He asks out Clare, who hesitates and asks Zach what he thinks. Clare is not going to put her eggs in one basket if the other person isn't going to put all of his eggs in one basket, she tells him.
 Zach says, From the beginning, I have had all of my eggs in your basket. He said that, people. While Michelle curls her eyelashes, Clare explains how she feels. She is direct. And I like her again. None of these guys are interesting at all. Graham and Zach with their super shaved buff chests and snakeskin necklaces discuss it. Is Graham a war vet or did he buy those dogs tags at Urban Outfitters?

Clare turns down Cody, because he's a goofball, but she uses the excuse that she wants to see what happens with Zach. Oh, yeah, I forgot that Cody does this thing where he refers to himself in the third person like a caveman. "Cody knows what Cody wants!" Cody decides to give his date card to Marcus because he feels like a dog asking out someone else since it would seem like that person was second fiddle. Clare hopes she made the right decision by following her gut. She wonders if Zach is worth it as she realizes he always wears his baseball hat backwards.

Second date with Lacy and Marcus. She also looks like a Barbie. How long have they known each other--two weeks? One week? Marcus says Lacy looks beautiful and then he accidentally says, I love you for you are--I mean, I like you for who you are. Boring. I bet the producers are banging their heads against the wall, trying to figure out how to make this more dramatic.

Did Sarah and Robert get killed in a shipwreck? What happened to the rest of the date?

A new man arrives and it is...Caitlan, the walking brown-haired Ken doll. He says that he is looking for someone with boobs. Everyone hates him because he's been cast as a pig. I guess he told Emily on her season that her kid was baggage. He says he would like to motor boat the shit out of her boobs. They must have forced him to say it. That makes two full-on duds in this episode. He asks Jackie to go and she says no, and then he asks Sarah and she also says no. None of them like him and all of them say that they are zero percent attracted to him. He decides to go spelunking by himself . He has to comfort himself and his own fears by hugging himself and telling himself he's going to be okay. He says that he hasn't rappelled into a giant Mexican hole, but he has rappelled into a tiny Mexican hole. Hoopla! This guy cannot be for real. He acts out the date with himself and says all of the cheesy lines, which is moderately amusing. He decides to spend the rest of his life with himself.

Jessie, yet another playboy, shows up. That's all of the crappy men in one place. Does he or does he not have a beard? He can't commit to facial hair and so I doubt that he can commit to a woman. He asks out Jackie and Marquel immediately puts his hoodie on in distress. Marquel has very chiseled features as though he has been carved out of stone.

Jessie takes Jackie to a Mayan cave with stalactites. He says, If you don't look someone in the eyes when you say cheers, that's seven years bad sex. Jackie wants to know if he's strategizing to make sure that he gets a rose. He says yes, sort of. She can't be falling for all of this. Oh, no. A two person band in the middle of a cave. Guys, what am I doing with my time? Like, I can see how someone might want to watch this show the first four times--but then...It stays the same. It is always and ever the same. Time for a cereal break.

Conflict is brewing as AshLee disses Clare in the hammock to Zach, not realizing that cameras are capturing it, even though she is on a reality show that is meant to catch interesting conversations, a rarity. What's also weird about the show is that half of the people disappear at a time. Because they focus on certain narratives, others don't get told or wrapped up properly. It's another example of a fiction "don't." Don't have too many characters in your story. You should only have as many characters as you need to tell a story--too many, and it's confusing and/or watered down.

They all gather by the fire and then AshLee decides to face Clare, realizing that it will give her more air time. She says that she's not sure why Clare is mad and Clare says, You have no idea what this is about? They go back in forth wiht AshLee stupidly saying that she's not upset with Clare and Clare looking at her like, Oh, good, you're not upset with me? She tells AshLee that it was tacky and not becoming a woman of her fake character. Also, could she please spell her name normally? AshLee, misreading ever social cue that Clare is giving her, asks if they can hug it out. Clare says, No, I'm good.

All the girls have baby voices.

Final Rose Ceremony

We can guess that Cody and Caitlan will be going home, and from the previews, we also know that Graham will be conflicted about whether or not to accept a rose from AshLee. Oh, wait, I forgot that Cody gave Michelle a back massage and so she's falling for him. Gross! He is so bland and obnoxious at the same time. Jesse looks exactly like Chris who looks exactly like 100 other unshaven guys. They are accidentally catching the bartender guy on camera, who turns out to be a hot Hawaiian dude. Maybe Michelle should date him. The bartender doesn't know how to get out of the shot. Michelle tells Graham about how AshLee is full of shit. Graham says, If you can't be yourself, then you can't be who you are, because that's your true self. Too much vodka.

Wrap it up, already. Do you realize that there is an extra show tomorrow night? I am not 100 percent sure I can commit to it.

Graham is too drunk to know what he will be doing for this evening. I hope Marquel gets to stay.

Lacy gives the rose to Marcus. Is she a human person?

Clare gives her rose to Zach. Clare is wearing a fake ponytail.

AshLee offers her rose to Graham. Graham does not move!! He asks to have a moment to himself, hence the extra episode.

TO BE CONTINUED (they write in huge letters across the screen). Cut to singer from the cave.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Because of You, a Novel illustrating how annoying it is to use the second person

It's not written in second person, not really--what I mean to say is that the first person narrator spends most of the novel in direct address to a man who is stalking her. With sentences like, "You were waiting for me at the bus stop. Seeing you made my stomach turn over, like a fish was dying in it. You smiled, your perfect teeth reminding me of a wolf from a fairy tale story that ended badly." I made those passages up, but you get the gist. I only read about fifty pages before giving up.

 Look, I know it's fiction and we should maintain our willing suspension of disbelief, but I was annoyed that the woman didn't consider going to the police to report her stalker until well into the harassment. And when she did, the police were like, Has he hurt you? Threatened you? No. Then there's nothing we can do. That may be true, I don't know. But it's still annoying to read a book where the suspense created isn't because of an interesting story with compelling characters, it's because of a victim whose main action is waiting to be attacked again.

I should remember this problem for when I teach fiction again--we want our central characters to  be active participants in the story, not little lambs bumping around in their day-to-day existence, waiting to be slaughtered. Do something, damnit. I also was annoyed early on by the writer doing that thing where she describes the narrator by having her look at herself in the mirror: "She noticed that her brown shoulder length bobbed hair had become threaded with white and her cornflower blue eyes with the thick eyelashes were looking haggard and dull." Cheater!

I also started reading Madness, by that woman who wrote Wasted--she likes to put herself on the entire cover of her memoirs--here, I found myself annoyed by the over-dramatization of the story. I like my nonfiction writers a bit like Cheryl Strayed--flat and matter of fact, rather than overwrought. This woman's story is compelling because she's struggling with undiagnosed bipolar disorder, but again, there was something victim-y about it. It didn't help that she was from an upper middle class family and so money wasn't an issue in terms of her care; it was just that she wouldn't or couldn't stay still enough to get help, and the cash flow allowed her to get even more crazy--to drive off to Mexico and live on whiskey in bad hotels without fear of running out of money. Her writing is affecting in some ways--difficult to read as she's purposefully cutting her own wrist, not in a suicide attempt, but because she wants to feel something. But then she would have passages like, :"I am standing on the cathedral steps. I am flying. I am drinking a bottle of vodka, where am I? I wake up on the floor with a velvet cushion pressed to my head and take the little pill that has appeared before me and disappear again."

I must be in the throes of something myself, perhaps annoyed that I feel like a victim of circumstances I created, and so I'm doubly-irritated when I see that quality in others--this inability to find the door yourself, to figure out how to get out.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Rainbows and Condoms

I don't know what all this chatter is about. Has the show started or is this all a preview? Or is it a recap? Or a preview of the recap?

Elise says, "Through the storm, comes a rainbow. And I want Chris to be my rainbow." There must be a dirty joke there somewhere.

A semi-black girl named Danielle joins the group, just to throw in a little excitement and so they can make a gesture toward diversity. Her date card says, "Choose a man of your choice to go on a date." I guess that's written by the same person who came up with the rainbow line. "Pick a person who is picking a people's very first choice." Danielle chooses Marquel. It appears that nerd glasses are in.

Meanwhile, this other girl is upset, but you can't really tell because she's wearing a distracting Cleopatra head dress and a watermelon-sized turquoise ring.

Lacy is so beautiful that she's hard to look at. It's like she's this super cute puppy that you just want to squeeze until it pops.

Elise gets the next date card. She's been waiting for this for such a long time, she says. One week. AshLee is bummed because she wanted to go with Chris. Who is Chris? Oh, the jerk who looks like a date rapist. Elise sits on his lap and he says, "Hell, yeah!" Elise thinks she and Chris will make a beautiful rainbow together. She SAID that. Uh oh, he can't go because he sprained his balls. Or something. Serves him right, is what I say. I just know he's guilty of something.

Back to Marquel and Danielle in an unprecedented moment where there are two black-ish guests on a date together. This has never happened before because they never cast an African-American as the lead. Danielle confesses that she's had a crush on him. They keep smiling at each other. I think maybe they do like each other, a little. The wind picks up and so they decide to hop out of the hot tub and almost get killed by a lightning bolt. Should they take this as a bad sign?

Michelle is purposefully over-curling Elise's hair into a huge bouffant so that she'll look ridiculous. I kind of feel sorry for Chris now that he's sweating in pain from his torn ball ligament. Even though he just said, "She's hot, and she's got a banging body." She does have a banging body and it's enclosed in turquoise mesh.

I missed a bunch of stuff because I was eating ice cream. Hey, Sarah, you're going home. What did I not get a chance to write about? About Elise and Chris having two very different experiences. She's experiencing him as a true gentleman, and he's experiencing her as a hot piece of ass.  They go to the fantasy suite and he manages to push through his pain. Michelle and Clare couple up with two other guys and Sarah feels left out and like she doesn't measure up because of the one arm thing. Michelle firmly states that she has closed the door with Marquel and put all of her energy into convincing Robert that she likes him so she can get a rose.

Another hot chick shows up and all of the women comment about her amazing body.

Below, please find the choices for what type of body you might have. Mine, I believe, falls under the classical "full hourglass" shape. Do they have these same type of body types for men so they can decide what kind of Dockers to buy to look thinner?

Zack B. thinks the new woman is adorable. Who is Zack B? The new arrival also picks Marquel for her one on one date and Michelle accuses him of being a slut for saying yes to all of these dates. I mean, who cares? He's only gone out once with all of them. And anyway, what's the woman supposed to do when six of the seven available men are holding hands with a woman who is clinging to him like a burr? Did Graham go home? I thought everyone was into Graham.

Oh, speaking of Graham, he's complaining to Michelle about how AshLee glommed onto him and how she's way ahead of the curve. They haven't even kissed and she's acting like they're getting married. I find Graham to be kind of average looking. He has a great six pack, but an average face.

Marquel feels a lot of chemistry with Jackie in her short short short white shorts. I also don't remember Jackie from Sean's season. Marquel asks Jackie what her definition of love is. She says it's attraction, a feeling of comfort, and that spark. And a rainbow. Marquel thinks maybe she was the one he was "waiting on." He says he doesn't believe in kissing on the first date, but he'll make an exception for her and kiss her loudly on an Aztec blanket.

Elise describes her night with Chris as incredible, and then they rush him to the ER because he has over-extended himself and will now have to be in a wheelchair and become an Oxycotin addict. Aw, bummer for Elise, who goes to fetch ice. Meanwhile, Robert picks a zit on his arm.

Elise likes to take care of Chris and be his nurse and she can't wait to be his full time care taker for the rest of her life and possibly even be on Intervention with him due to his brand new pill-popping habit.

Sarah warns Elise not to be too into Chris. Elise says she isn't, she just can't help it that she falls in love so fast. Robert may be playing games with Sarah by casually putting his arm on the back of her chair, the arm that he just picked a zit on.

Clare is cuddling on the beach with someone who might be Zack B. She is missing her dad so bad, she says. Zack has really stepped up by listening to her and not telling her to suck it. Clare then snaps out of it by spotting a dying turtle crawling across the beach to perish alone in the water. She sees it as a sign of her dad, who also died after laying eggs in a sand pit.

Graham and AshLee finally have a date together. Why is Graham wearing a newspaper rubber band on his wrist? Graham warns AshLee not to put too much pressure on forever. AshLee nods in instant agreement and quickly stashes the Bride magazine underneath her tiny floral dress. They are offered two keys and Graham, who might be religious, makes it clear that he does not want to sleep with her on the first date, even though he knows she would totally give it up for him and Jesus. Did she really just say that she thinks they would have hot babies? Yes, she did. Graham is a dope. A dope in a wife beater under a denim shirt. "Later," he says when they part.

Chris Harrison shows up, dressed like Danny Terrio in a three piece suit with a vest. What is the goal of this game? I don't understand how these people are supposed to win. Sarah still has hope that Robert will give her a rose. He won't, unless Michelle totally blows it. And she might. I hope she does. Robert tells Michelle that he doesn't want to talk about the final. rose ceremony, and Michelle says she does. Maybe she should stop wearing such dramatic eye shadow and head dresses.

This is boring.

Final Rose Ceremony

I believe that Danielle will be going home. Marquel needs to pick either the glasses or the Hawaiian shirt. Both together make him look like a wacky radio host. Quiet please, we must begin.

Graham picks AshLee, even though he doesn't like her very much.

Zack B. picks Clare. Zack looks like a former football player who might become pear-shaped very soon.

Marcus picks Lacy. Neither have had much air time this show, because they are equally desperate to find someone and paired off thirty seconds after meeting. Mostly, they sit in beach chairs, holding hands and having nothing to say to one another.

Marquel will pick Jackie. Danielle thinks that her mind is racing. She's not sure. She definitely thinks that it is. He picks...Jackie.

Robert will pick Michelle. He looks a bit like Rob Lowe. Pick Sarah. Don't be a dick. He picks...Sarah. Wow, she gets to stay one more week! Michelle starts crying.

Chris could pull a total dick move and pick Michelle. THAT would be great, because Elise has waited on him hand and mouth. He picks Elise, but will toss her off for the next hot bod that comes along. WHAT, he can't give her the rose because he has to go home to Chi-town and he wants her to travel with him to continue to cater to his every need without pay.

Does that mean that Michelle can stay or do the two women have to arm wrestle for the rose? Elise mentions rainbow again. He gives the rose to Michelle instead. He is totally drugged up and can barely articulate his clouded thought process.

So, Michelle will stay and hope someone better comes along. Sarah must be pissed that she has to continue to vie for Robert's half-hearted attention. Chris and Elise limp off the set. Elise is limping too, because of her high heels.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Sort of Liked The Likeness

Just finished reading Tana French's The Likeness, the second literary detective novel featuring Cassie Maddox, a weary detective in Dublin. The first was In the Woods--I have no recollection of the plot, as I read it a few years back and the details have since fled my brain. Something about some missing kids, and she and her partner Rob end up finding one of them, but there's a bleak ending. Most of this I recall because it's referenced in the second novel.

In any case, this plot centers around a girl who is found stabbed to death near an old mansion outside of the city. The twist is that she's a doppleganger for Cassie, and she happens to be using Cassie's old undercover identity. It sounds a bit on the soap opera side, you know, like when an evil twin suddenly surfaces and wrecks havoc on things, but it doesn't read that way.

Cassie, who has transferred out of the undercover life and into the numbing hell of domestic violence, is persuaded to go back in undercover, this time posing as Lexie, the dead girl. The detectives are able to come up with some tale for her roommates about how she wasn't really dead---she may have appeared to be dead, but it was hypothermia and now she's in a coma. Cassie watches all of these old videos of the dead girl to get down her voice and her personality, and then she returns to the house where Lexie lived with four other odd graduate students from Trinity College.They've created this comfortable family life in this old but interesting house, and spend their evenings reading or working together to repair the house. Cassie immerses herself in their lives and they accept her. Meanwhile, she's trying to figure out who might have stabbed Lexie--could it be someone in this group? An angry ex-boyfriend? Someone who is actually after Cassie, but not Lexie? In the meantime, the detectives on the outside are attempting to puzzle together the identity of this mystery girl, without much luck.

Do you want to know who killed her? It does not come as much of a surprise. What's more interesting is how Cassie falls in love with this life that doesn't belong to her, and these people who are virtual strangers.There is a bit of a fairy tale-like ending, where Cassie gets engaged to her steady, good boyfriend, the case is solved, and she is able to reconnect with one of the members of the house later. And then, if I'm not mistaken, there's a bit of a mystery remaining as to whether or not they caught the right murderer, or if this person took the fall for someone else (here, I'm momentarily resisting the urge to Google what other readers thought of the ending). Overall, I recommend the book, but only if you are interested in reading a thriller that's got a slow burn, and focuses more on the psychology of wanting to be accepted than it does on the motive for murder.

#TBT. Travels to Italy

When I lived in Chicago, my friend Becky Wittenstrom (who I worked with at Northwestern), suggested out of the blue one day that we take a trip to Italy. I'd only ever been to Germany, and had never taken a trip with a friend, but she was a go-getter and found us tickets for a long weekend to fly to Rome and then take a train to Florence. Or maybe it was the other way around. She was an excellent travel companion, organized without being too bossy, un-fussy, and interested in both seeing the important sites (the Uffizi, the Colosseum) and walking the streets to just see what was happening.

Here is a picture that represents one of the happiest moments in my life, because all of my favorite things converged at one time--a shop dog named Crisso (I wrote his name on the back of the photo), a gelato, and an adventure in a foreign land with a good companion.