Wednesday, February 28, 2007

5 Books from My Childhood

Totally stealing this meme from Sheila who was tagged by this person (who was tagged by this person).

List 5 books that played an important role in your childhood and explain why

I stuck to books I read before the age of ten. When I feel I was still really a child. I could give you a whole different list spanning 11-14, but this list probably covers ages 6 to 10.

The Secret Garden
by Frances Hodgson Burnett. This book had tremendous meaning for me because I understood Mary Lennox. I had become an emotionally distant child due to problems at home and I felt awkward in my relationships with my peers. This book was hope. In this book, I found the story of a girl who changed and grew and made friends and found happiness in spite of the struggle it was just to reach outside herself. The impact that message had on me is inestimable. I think it changed who I became as an adult. There isn't really anything greater that a childhood book can do for you than take that extra step into becoming part of who you are. With this book, Frances Hodgson Burnett told me that someday I could be better and more and happier than I was at the time. What a wonderful gift.

The Cricket in Times Square
by George Selden. I just LOVED this book. I had the most deep and passionate love for this book that a child can conceive of. This book taught me to love books. That they were whole wonderful worlds full of people and creatures for me to care about and learn about. I remember being so taken in by the story that I practically held my breath as I read. I still have the same dog-eared paperback I first read tucked away on my bookshelf. It was the first in a lifetime of much loved books.

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe
by C.S. Lewis. My father sent the entire collection of Narnia books to me as a present. Irnonically, my religious mother knew nothing about C.S. Lewis and thought the word “Witch” was an indicator that the content of the books would be unsuitable. So I found them in the back of a cabinet in our “junk room” - which I was forbidden to go exploring in. And I knew immediately who they must have been from and why she would not have given them to me. I fell in love with Narnia, I understood the "message" and for the first time I took a good long look at just how wrong my own mother could be. C.S. Lewis, however unintentionally, taught me to question authority (and at the time, I remember deciding that my strict mother actually had a few things in common with the witch). I read the entire Chronicles of Narnia hidden in the corner of a spare room, careful never to get caught. I don’t know if this made the books any more magical to me than they were to every other child, but I do know that the entire time I read I was able to vividly imagine a hidden doorway in the cabinet that I had taken those very books from and I would shiver as I read and wish again and again that such a thing could happen to me.

Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret
by Judy Blume. This book told me that it was ok to ask questions about God, something I had been doing for a long time in my own mind but had always felt guilty about. It had never before occurred to me that other people had questions, too. I don’t remember what Margaret learns or decides by the end of the book. I just remember the relief of knowing that God is something that you can think about and search for and that it was ok if everyone else I knew saw him in the stained glass windows of St. John’s Cathloic Chuch and I saw him in the sky and earthworms and the growing things in my godparent’s vegetable garden.

The Hounds of the Morrigan
by Pat O’Shea. I found this book in the school library and remember the cover looked interesting and when I opened it - well, I can only liken the experience to Bastian getting sucked into The Neverending Story in Michael Ende’s much beloved book (which would also be on this list were the list a bit longer). I was IN the book. The hounds chased ME. I was so afraid of the witches. I felt the incredible tension of the children when they were pursued - knowing that you must never run from the hounds or then they would actually RUN after you. This was a book about children but it was also dangerous and dark. Bad things could happen and I read it intently, wondering if “we” were going to make it out the the story alive. I was so taken in by this richly detailed world. I couldn’t find the book anywhere years later and finally ordered a new copy from Amazon - which I am just starting to re-read now.

Hot Scot Contest

I’m off to Scotland in a few days and as such, have been scouring the internet for all things Scots. By far and away the most amusing site I have found is for the Date A Hot Scot contest. Click the link and apparently after you vote for your favorite Scot you can also register to win a trip to Scotland for two (theoretically for two women). It seems to be an effort to boost tourism by way of pimping out native sons. Which I think is HILARIOUS!

I have no idea who to “vote” for. I wonder if the "winner" gets a real prize or just gets stuck spending an afternoon with some crazy foreign women. Probably the latter. The website also has a guide to areas of Scotland designated by the type of man you want to find. Completely silly but all in good fun. I certainly hope there aren’t women out there planning a vacation to the Highlands just because this website assures them of meeting a hot young Laird!

Monday, February 26, 2007

Girl Scout Season

This is something I wrote last year and originally posted on another blog, but I can't think of a better way to express my feelings about Girl Scout season, so...

They have returned. The annual Girl Scout Cookie Wars are being waged AT THIS VERY MOMENT in households across the United States.

The Samoas, Do-Si-Dos, Tagalongs and most ingenious or them all, Thin Mints, have arrived in the hands of people who only vaguely remember having ordered them from a co-worker's kid months ago during a weak moment, probably exacerbated by hunger over a missed lunch hour or skipped breakfast that morning. So now they are in our homes. Our homes have been invaded by these iconic cookies (I feel they qualify as cultural icons when you consider that a huge percentage of United States citizens can tell you what a "Samoa" is. It is a ridiculous word but until Dick Cheney shot someone, I would have wagered that more people knew what a Samoa was than could name the Vice President... Maybe that's why he did it.)

I know you know what I'm talking about. Large numbers of people order several boxes, thinking that THIS year the cookies will last for months instead of being mysteriously eaten at 3am when theoretically no one in the house was even awake. A lot of people store the most heinous and cruel creation - the Thin Mint - in their fridge or freezer. Is this truly because they like the chocolate to be cold and crunchy, or is it really a feeble attempt at self-defense, based on the idea that the siren call of the Thin Mint will be more difficult to hear through the thick refrigerator door?

I think little drug pushing elves in Brownie uniforms put crack in the Thin Mint chocolate coating. They do this so you will grow addicted and have no choice but to eat them all and then, caught in the clutches of drug withdrawal, will impulsively buy more when you pass the innocent looking little girl who has a stand at the grocery store. This will also get you to buy extra next year as the fear of being without Thin Mints for months at a time creeps into your consciousness becoming an inexplicable source of panic.

I am all for supporting Girl Scouts. The Girl Scout are important - they keep masses of bright eyed little girls busy running fundraisers and doing craft projects for badges which is important because it means that they aren't running around in the street or playing in the yard, making noise and otherwise generally annoying me. I see the inherent value in this.

We must find another way. Perhaps the wise thing to do is to buy Girl Scout cookies but immediately upon receiving them, hand them over to boring relatives who could use the crack-induced pick-me-up. Or offer to donate them to drug rehab clinics with the helpful suggestion that they try using Girl Scout cookies instead of Methadone to help wean addicts off Heroin.

I think it is most likely, however, that the wars will continue and all I can really do is avoid little girls who look like they might have Girl Scout tendencies if it is "ordering season" and if I am caught unawares, to keep my ordering to a bare minimum. It's a gradual process, of course. This year I only ordered 5 boxes. That's much better than the poor guy across the hall from my office who took home 8 boxes, 5 of which were Samoas for his three sons who will, no doubt, destroy his house in a fit of sugar induced mania.

Maybe the boxes should just have a warning label. Something like...

"WARNING: This box contains cookies which may have addictive properties. The FDA is still being lobbied to reevaluate the harmful effects of these cookies, but in there have been reports of: excessive hyperactivity, sleeplessness due to uncontrollable urges to go to the fridge at 3am, and the compulsive purchasing of cookies in large quantities. Do not purchase these cookies if you have a compulsive shopping disorder or psychological problems related to overeating and/or unhealthy body image. Check to make sure the vendor you are buying from is not an elf wearing an unauthorized Brownie costume in order to peddle illegal substances as the Girl Scouts of America have not authorized any elf salespersons."

I am pleased to report that I didn't order ANY cookies this year... But I did just give in and buy a box of Thin Mints from a stand. Because I'm not ready to quit cold turkey. Maybe I'll do better next year.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Billie Holiday

"Don't threaten me with love, Baby. Let's just go walking in the rain."
- Billie Holiday

"She could express more emotion in one chorus than most actresses can in three acts."
- Jeanne Moreau

"Billie Holiday’s burned voice
had as many shadows as lights,
a mournful candelabra against a sleek piano,
the gardenia her signature under that ruined face."
- Rita Dove in "Canary"

"Her education was her search for the truth within herself. She used all of the things that happened in her life and made them work for her in her music."
- Sylvia Syms

The Official Billie Holiday website

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Disclaimers (15 Things They'll Find Out Eventually)

When meeting new people I sometimes wish I could hand out disclaimers. Tips. Little bits of information that take forever to know about a new person. Things that you can be told, but that it takes a long time to KNOW and understand about a person. Practical guidelines. It’s a slow process, getting to know someone. And sometimes that is part of the wonder of having new people in your life... but sometimes I think about printing out little cards.

They would say:

1. I’m allergic to cats and cigarette smoke.

2. I don't like chain restaurants or "superstores". I don't go to Wal-Mart unless they are the only place on earth that carries something and even then I hesitate unless there's a gun to my head.

3. I forget birthdays and holidays. This is no reflection on your importance. Same goes for mail. I have stacks of cards that have never been sent.

4. I hate to be tickled. Not in an “It bugs me.” way... in a “I will look for the nearest thing to grab and bludgeon you over the head with until you stop.” way.

5. I always show up for movies at least half an hour early. I find it stressful when people are not willing to accommodate this.

6. I will never ask how you are to be polite. If I ask it is because I am genuinely interested in knowing. Conversely, don’t ask me how I am unless you actually want to know.

7. I flirt. With everyone. And I make a lot of eye contact. It’s part of how I interact. Don’t read too much into it.

8. Like most redheads, I will never tan. Don't make jokes about me needing some sun.

9. I don’t mind listening. You don’t have to apologize or be embarrassed when you realize you’ve been doing all the talking for the last half hour... This is because I am also a talker. If you can’t handle me babbling about nothing without acting uncomfortable or bored - we won't become friends.

10. I have a filthy sense of humor but am reserved about what circumstances under which I will indulge it. I don't curse around people I don't know very well but am capable of cursing like a sailor. It's ok to curse or tell a dirty joke around me - I won't be offended.

11. I won’t tell you personal information until I’ve known you a long while. If I do tell you something personal, I have a good reason. If you share personal information about me with anyone, I will never confide in you again.

12. I will never judge your interests, no matter how geeky or deviant they may be. I have no patience for people who judge mine.

13. If we’re friends you can call me at 3am and I will wake up, sound as if I haven’t been asleep anyway and will listen patiently for as long as I can stay awake. I will never complain about this later.

14. I am completely calm and competent in a crisis. I get upset over little things.

15. I don't keep people in my life if they lie to me. I will not lie to you. Even when you don’t like what I have to say.

So what would YOUR card say? Not intimate personal details. We’re talking 15 basic, practical instructions here. What would make life easier if people knew it from day one? There are so many things you would never think to SAY to someone, but that they learn by trial and error. Things that people who have known you for years just take for granted.

For example - SO many people apologize for cursing in front of me. Because I so rarely do. And then I end up getting into this long explanation about it. And a lot of people don't realize how serious I am about honesty. If I find out you have lied to me I will no longer socialize with you, pretty much without exception.

It would save a lot of time to just hand out cards.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Art of Camilla Engman

© Camilla Engman, click image to visit her website

Camilla Engman’s work features muted colors and the use of somewhat simplified forms to create emotive images. Her work has an off-kilter folk art feel that I find incredibly appealing. In addition to her paintings and illustrations, she works in paper collage and crochets one-of-a-kind stuffed animals. Visit her website here to see more of her work or puchase a calendar or print of one of her creations.

She also has stationary available here on artstar and there is a short interview with her here on decor8.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

That's Ms. Fish to You

Today in the Calgary Sun, Jim Slotek has an article about “Music and Lyrics," the new Drew Barrymore / Hugh Grant Romantic Comedy. Mr. Slotek opens with this paragraph:

“It's an old feminist slogan, and the ultimate cold-water response to romanticism — ‘A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.’ Ladies and gentlemen, meet the king and queen of romantic comedies, Mr. Fish and Miss Bicycle, Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore.”

Which I find hilarious. Why? Because it would be Ms. Fish and Mr. Bicycle. Leave it to a man to get this wrong. The bicycle is the thing not needed in Gloria Steinem’s infamous analogy (and incidentally, he calls it a “slogan” and doesn’t bother to credit the iconic source of the quote).

The man is the bicycle.

In spite of the fact that I am certain I make a plethora of huge grammatical errors and such (I'm such a hypocrite, my writing would never stand up to such scutiny!), I still get a nervous twitch when a journalist prints a factual error. I was raised by a print and television journalist. I can't help it. I have an uncontrollable urge to edit. I have trouble watching the news and actually hearing what they are saying because I'm too distracted by every misstep I notice. I resist the urge to make notes in the margin when reading the paper. I agonize over whether to send an email to a website when I notice that they have credited the wrong actor or writer or whatever. It's a sickness with me.

Not a bad read, though. In Mr. Slotek's interview with them, Grant and Barrymore are, as always, almost surreally endearing and self-effacing and whatnot. I know it’s his schtick, but I still fall for the whole Hugh Grant insisting he’s a grumpy old curmudgeon thing. It really works for him.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

What You Love

”But you are what you love and not what loves you back.”
- Rilo Kiley

As you know, it is the infamous commercial holiday / mating ritual known as Valentine’s Day. Whether you are spending a romantic day with your sweetheart or on a roof with a sniper rifle waiting to pick pick off unsuspecting love birds, I really think we need to try to maintain perspective.

It’s just another day. Just like any other day. And it cannot make you feel awful or make-or-break your new relationship or fill your world with warm fuzzies on it’s own. It’s all about how you choose to see it. I think it’s good to have a reason (not that you need one) to remind people in your life that you care about them. And in spite of my current single status, I can enjoy some of the cheezy goodness of the holiday. I think it’s sweet to see couples who look all moony over each other. I mean, naturally - I’m also secretly laughing at them. Laughing in a maniacal, cackling way which clearly implies that I can envision the impending doom of their love. But still - I think they’re cute.

So the important question today is NOT “Who loves you?” The question to be answered is, “Who do you love?”

I love my mom who has gotten some kind of Valentine candy for her kids every year of our lives (even though we’re all adults now) to make sure we get a Valentine from someone. I love my insane older sister who can’t go like ten minutes without some sexual innuendo or dirty joke coming out of her mouth. I love my baby sister who gives the best gifts ever and made me this decoupage box for Christmas that reminded me of the handmade gifts I used to make for her back when I was cool. I love my friends. I love this guy (friend) who came over and complimented me out of the blue last night because he could see that I had just been upset by something and he was determined to make it ok. I love people who pay attention like that. I love my brilliant friend who sent me the perfectly timed book (see previous post “How to Save a Life”). I love my girlfriends who call me at 3am when they are freaking out and need someone to talk to because it's so good to know they trust that you will be there. I love my gay boyfriend who has mailed me a Valentine gift that "you don't want to open at work" - leaving me in high anticipation of a blow up doll in a brown paper package on my doorstep tonight. I love Sheila O’Malley and Farmgirl and Petite Anglaise and the Neighbor of the Hoors and all the bloggers that brighten my day by being clever and warm and funny and whacked out and everything else I need to get through the day.

I love plenty. And I’ll try to tell them all. For me, that's what this holiday (and interesting cultural ritual) is about.

Happy VD my friends.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Barbara Grizzuti Harrison

“I refuse to believe that trading recipes is silly. Tunafish casserole is at least as real as corporate stock.”
- Barbara Grizzuti Harrison

Thursday, February 08, 2007

How to Save a Life

The way we interact and the way we impact each other is often so silent and constant it goes unnoticed, as does our control over it. I have been thinking about how we impact each other’s lives and how funny and quiet and important a thing that is.

I have known S since I was 19. I have only seen him once in the intervening decade. We went on a few dates when I was younger. S was tall and smart and several years older than me. We were so different. He was science, I was art. He was conservative, I was liberal. I was quietly impressed with him, but stubbornly would never have admitted it. When we were together we debated everything. I have no idea if there was a single issue on which we agreed. He was clever and kind but I was young and certain that he didn’t like me very much. When I moved, I’m not sure I even said goodbye. I think I mentioned that I was moving, but I didn’t give him an address or phone number. I didn’t think he would give it a second thought, so I let it go.

He found me six years later, surprised me by telling me that he had thought of me over the years and we saw each other because he was visiting a relative who lived near me at the time. Then we lost touch again. S located me again less than a year ago, thanks to the all seeing eye of the internet. Our lives have changed and a great deal has passed since then, but he’s still someone I am fortunate to know.

Yesterday I received a book in the mail. A book that is perfect for me, something that I would have thought only I would select for myself. Wise Women, a book of beautiful portraits of women between the ages of 65 and 100, accompanied by short quotes from the women themselves. It is perfect for me. I am crazy about it. S saw it online and decided to send it to me. Probably on a whim, not an action of any great significance in his life. But I have had the worst week. My play is about to open, I moved ten million (I counted) boxes into my new home and turned over the keys to my old house and I am uncomfortably aware that my five year anniversary with my ex would have been this week.

It makes for a difficult time. A time when a gift from an old friend, a gift that says, “I get you.” was tremendously needed. That kindness is a small thing to him but meant a lot to me. I opened the box and pulled out this slim volume of exquisite sepia toned photographs. I began reading, poring over glimpses of how full a woman’s life can be, even late in life. The photographs are beautiful and made me smile to think how much I have ahead of me. By some accident of fate this gift arrived in my hands as I was waiting on the steps of my old home, preparing to relinquish ownership and move on to the next phase of my life.

How perfect the universe can be.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Making Myself, At Home

"The house is a metaphor for the self.”
- Frances Mayes

Poet and essayist Frances Mayes’ wildly popular book, Under the Tuscan Sun, reminded me what it was to love a place and to put a part of yourself into a place. It is a romance of sorts, documenting how putting love and care into your home can create a warm and welcoming space in which to live. To be honest, she loses me a bit toward the end when she leaves Bramasole (her home in Tuscany) and documents time spent traveling in Italy. While I was originally drawn to Under the Tuscan Sun because of my fascination with Italy (my paternal grandfather was from Italy), I loved the book because I understood having a passion for a place and the care that goes into that. It’s about the character of the house, the work required to revive the house, learning to understand the history of a place, and appreciating the people, community and culture that surround the house.

Guilty secret - I also love the film adaptation. The clever, warm, very underrated and only just barely related to the book film. Mayes approved everything that was done with the script and honestly, the changes were necessary to adapt the book to the screen. Under the Tuscan Sun isn’t really a story. It is an account of life, of finding and loving a house and a town and another country. But it has no actual tale to tell. In the script, a story was created for this fictionalized version of Mayes that mirrors the growth and change of the house. Because the thing that the film does retain is the love story between Mayes and Italy and her home there, Bramasole. In the film, the character’s life has fallen apart and her own rebirth mirrors the changes taking place in the house as it is restored to it’s former glory. It is also full of lush images of Italy; the countryside, the food, the people.

The film is vastly underrated. In fact, I’m not sure anyone else thought as much of it as I did. Instead of the chick flick one expects from the previews, it is full of nuanced performances, the subtle beauty of human interaction and an unmistakable lack of willingness to have this woman be saved by anyone but herself (in fact, throughout the film, saviors seem to almost be on offer and each time they are pulled away as if to say, "No, they can't do this for her."). It does have some chick flick elements but it makes her recovery a gradual and organic process, filled with people who impact her in unexpected ways. In spite of the presence of certain cliches , there are a lot of beautiful details that I think critics overlooked. I am particularly in love with the performance of Sasa Vulicevic as one of the Polish men working on her home. He only says a few words in the film and none of them in English, but there is clearly this unspoken adoration he has for Frances that has nothing to do with the story but which adds brilliantly to the richness of the film. His sadness when saying goodbye after the house has been finished just kills me. It’s the little things that make this film great.

I have just moved to a new home (thus my intermittent blogging of late). I am renting. I do want to buy my own home, long for the chance to make a place truly mine by knocking out walls and installing new fixtures and generally imprinting myself. But I am not yet ready for a purchase, still reeling from the changes that have taken place in my life in the past few months. All the same, I want to bring warmth and good food and laughing people into my house and hopefully, in the course of building a life there, also rebuild myself.

I think of it as making my home my “happy place” - a phrase oft used by Sheila (to denote her brilliantly chosen photographs of much loved images that she wishess to share). Instead of having it just be functional or impressively decorated or arranged so as to be most attractive to visitors, what if I made sure everything in it and everything I surround myself with is something I love and that resonates with warmth? I think that decorating one’s own home should be like arranging one’s wardrobe. Get rid of the things that aren’t really “you” or never quite fit. Get rid of the things you never use or that remind you of anything unpleasant. And ignore fashion or whatever is “of the moment”. Making choices that are instead based on what really suits you and what makes you feel good.

I have been wearing the same faux leopard fur coat with hot pink lining for years and years. It is never really in fashion but not out of fashion either. It is odd, it is loud and it suits me to a T. I get more compliments on that bizarre coat than anything else I own. I want my house to be like that (not hot pink and leopard print, mind). Exactly what suits me from top to bottom. Filled with things I love and things that make me happy (which probably means that 50% off all matter inside the house will be books) or remind me of places and people that are important to me. I want to walk in the door and feel centered because everything about my home is warm and welcoming.

The new beginning of a move is largely metaphorical and has little to do with the reality of everyday life. Somehow, however, the cleansing mental image of having a fresh start is tremendously reasurring and imbues each choice with a great sense of possibility. And so I am rebuilding. In every possible way.