Wednesday, December 23, 2009
The office of secretary has been around for hundreds and hundreds of years. This isn't an exaggeration; five centuries ago, Queen Elizabeth I had a Master Secretary, and she was hardly the first on this count. For countless generations, "secretary" has been the name of the highest offices in government; and no matter how out-of-style the styling may seem to people who aren't listening, the President's cabinet is still made up of Secretaries. The word has no natural taint, and I tire of people's applying one to it. The offensive cartoon-image of a woman in a tight wool skirt being chased 'round the desk by her lecherous boss (... and - as an aside - to whom is that sad cliche' MOST offensive, really ... ?) never arose until a generation ago, perhaps less than five years before my own birth.
That half a century's puerile laughter has left me with the *inestimable* offense of corporate-speak instead bothers ME. Every last one of the other available options is by far more demeaning, or just plain empty, than "secretary" ...
This one has the misfortune to include a word just this side of "servant", for my tastes - "assistant" really puts the focus on subordination and judgment. A secretary in this day and age is a relationship manager, a project manager, a clerical professional, a liaison and ambassador; *most* of these things, and in most roles, set by one's own
Okay, has *anyone* - ever - actually used this phrase outside of the designated buy-your-barely-tolerated-peon-a-card day? ... Bueller? Yep. Didn't think so. The peak of empty terms, this one may well have been invented by Hallmark themselves.
Also pretty out of vogue, you do still see this at least more often than "secretary". It rings my mental bell as a bit ecclesiastical, with "cleric" holding the place it does in my mental dictionary, but it's not altogether awful. The main problem with this one is that it's generally code for - "total bottom of the ladder" stuff, not even *deserving* of the term "administrative". What could be more dismissive than that, I ask you? Give me "secretary" any day - from entry level to Executive ones, it's more functional *and* tidier.
And the bottom line in some ways ... is that "secretary" is just pleasing on the tongue. It has a sibilance and sharpness to it, an economy and weight the vowel-intensive, soft-consonanted Admin-based terms do not. These days, to use it is definitely a dare, too - I never ever employ it without someone pulling a face, occasionally a guilty one. The value judgments these reactions convey indicate far more about the reactor than they do about the inherent worth of the word. They certainly seem to make people stop and think about *me* every time, which is always interesting. I can almost see the wheels - "Huh, I'd have pegged her for a feminist, maybe" - and the sound they make grinding merely amuses me. The lingusitic torture of other people is an amusement of mine, and that along with my perverse/contrarian take on entrenched (or even new) prejudices makes for a pointless mental game from time to time.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
The important thing is this: to be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are
for what we could become.
-- Charles Du Bos
That IS ridiculously terrifying. It isn't always difficult. But it is probably always a frightening prospect.
Monday, December 21, 2009
"Becket" is just fandangtastic historical fiction. The writing is the best, historical inaccuracies be d*mned, the dialogue is sparkling without having that Noel Coward sheen of pretty wrapped around it; some of the emotional scenes are as raw as anything I've ever seen performed. Peter O'Toole is at the very tip-top of his game, and this may be the single most exemplary and excellent performance Richard Burton ever gave, of course. It's O'Toole, though, who "does it for me" here - the demands on him are so much less cerebral, so he has much more on display than a voice, powerful as Burton's is, which one can't help but remember was as much G-d given as it was a tool in the use of skilled acting. Peter gives his all, in the most vintage way, and I never EVER come away from a viewing of this flick thinking of Thomas. It's always Henry, for me. (See also his turn in "Lion in Winter" for more unbelievably amazing dialogue - and Kate Hepburn, as well!) His commentary (I had to listen to that after the flick itself, again) is also everything a commentary should be - a collection of reminiscinces and insights into the production, a highly entertaining view of a wildly skilled professional - and, one's gotta say it, bon vivant - and a fascinating duel with his own interviewer as well, whom he shoots in the foot-in-mouth once or twice, flatly ignores several times, and occasionally puts to good use at others. Hee. Awesome. Peter, baby, I'm all about ya.
"Superman Returns" I have on a stripped-down no-frills DVD edition, and every time I watch it I hate not having extras. But with or without, this is an intensely entertaining film, for me. I love the way it looks, I love its callbacks to Reeve's editions, I love even the incredibly creepy moments where Brandon Routh's voice sends shivers down the spine because occasionally he actually sounds like Christopher. I love the story, the pacing, the casting, and almost especially, the Other Man - a plot which is actually really engagingly handled (yeah, adverbial overload; sorry, kids). I remain weirded out that the little boy is allowed to, you know, KILL SOMEONE - even if said someone is a scary minion guy even more dark than some of the larger plot points themselves. But this is a spectacle, it's a tribute, it's a ripping yarn and a wild ride, it's FUN and be-darned if Routh wasn't perfectly serviceable. The blue contacts were weak, and with a budget like that, one might think they could have CGI'd a better cosmetic fix, but if THAT is the nature of a complaint about a movie, it must be doing pretty well overall. I do love me some Bryan Singer, and here he's just Hollywood Dandy.
Speaking of Hollywood - in the Absolute Blockbuster department, I finished both illness and weekend with "Iron Man."
RDJ earned himself a TON of goodwill both leading up to and with this movie, and d*mn me if I can find any reason to dispute or complain about that, even if the guy has become a republican. This movie entertains my pants clean off, and I started it AND finished it dancing around my home going, "This movie is SO GOOD I can't even deal with it!" and generally discomfiting the dog. Holy smokes is this a great flick. I love the music, I love the character of Tony Stark, I love the contextualization - something which is so hard to manage, with comics that hold a character at age's bay over decades of crime-fighting, which sort of "need" to be placed into a recognizeable setting in space and time to really sell a ticket with relevance. I love the development and the reveals. I love the music. Listening to Williams' work in "Superman Returns" I was already keyed to "soundtrack" for this viewing, and be dang if "Iron Man" didn't dance along perfectly. The cues are just amazing, and I can NOT wait for II to come along, all crunchy-scenery-Mickey-Rourke and all. And RDJ, who makes me love him to pieces even though I once sat through "The Pick Up Artist" and barely survived. Roger Ebert goes on about his eyelashes in a review his maudforsaken site stupidly refuses to search properly (Ebert's Sun Times reviews site is one of the biggest pains in the behind when it comes to its "search" non-function ...), and there is another observation about a film I just can't argue with. Those follicles are amazing (and check out all the other whack-tastic facial hair, I mean - of COURSE)!
So even if I couldn't breathe over the past five days, and even if I was snowed in with a completely deranged canine, and even if it exhausted me just to walk up my own stairs, at least I was entertained. And really well, too. That is important, when illness comes to call.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Mom and I were driving somewhere on Friday, out terrorizing Stein Mart in the sunshine (and I finished my last shopping, hurrah for me), when the topic of E came up, and I said to her, "You've never really noticed just how well I have done this year, with the way it began. You've never asked how I *have* done so well ..."
She said she had seen how well the year had gone with me, after E's not coming home in a fairly dramatic and painful way.
And I told her I'd found a church.
We were on the way to the house, as we talked, and so the chat was brief but mercifully positive. When we got to the house, she prompted me to tell D, my stepfather - it took me a moment to realize what it was she was asking me to get into, but I did, and D was overjoyed, actually.
We all talked a bit about it in dribs and drabs for a while, discussing the denomination I've chosen (Episcopalianism) and my concerns about telling them both. She talked about her own aversion for ritual, and I explained lightly why the "high churchiness" does appeal to me, and focused on the fellowship, which has been the most important part for me. We went to the Mediterranean Bakery, and D continued saying how happy he was for me.
D comes from another denomination originally himself, so in some way this made him an unexpected "ally" for me on the fact I've gone a little foreign in my church-search. He was Methodist himself, so Episcopalianism is not quite so alien to him as it is from my mom's perspective, and his genuine happiness for me (and for G-d, heh) kept things very positive.
I had a hard time finding a way to come to this conversation, and am glad to have had it now - and, of course, a little embarrassed at acting like going to church was some sort of dirty secret at all. I don't feel dramatically emotionally fulfilled; I didn't feel that way about church itself - merely satisfied, and happy to have found a place - feeling satisfied within my family is a blessing too.
I still worry my mom won't be satisfied (their Christmas card reflected her happiness that I am visiting churches, and hope that I would G-d would lead me to the right place ... tensed in such a way as to dismiss my having stated I already felt I had found it). But, as my brother and I somewhat wryly put it - I'm ahead of him now.
As with the privileges of age, and family (holiday) dynamics, I'll take it and try not to complain. It's all one can do, for now at least ...
Family and the Holidays "issues" are of course just convenient hangers on which to throw the blankets we know are made of bigger cloth than holiday guest towels. The dismissiveness of family is a whole big kettle of fish really only momentarily symbolized in these moments we encounter at holidays and such. The philosophizations and complaints and jokes of Single Siblings are *always* about the bigger "I don't matter in the way I want to" things we come to understand as we grow up, and maybe inevitably away, from our parents. What is expected of us isn't what we Spinster Aunties and Confirmed Bachelors have chosen or been able to provide; and therefore they just don't know what to do with us (holidays or no).
I've touched on this before ... My mom has no appreciation of the woman I really am; I'm her little kid, still in need of raising and remediation. It hurts a little, but overall I am so fortunate and so grateful for the parents I was given, it's hard to really hold her ambivalence against her. Good grief, I don't know what to make of myself some of the time, why should she be held to a higher standard? I think she is, as my brother put it wistfully not so long ago, missing out on me. But I also know she's not unapproachable. I can reach her. Sometimes, I wish I didn't have to be the one who always has to try (this is my role in so many of my relationships). But I do know how to. It's not like my mom hates me.
There are so many lenses we can view this sort of thing through - "as a feminist, I feel marginalized when my family devalue me for not having children and/or a man" ... "as a grownup, my parent's dismissiveness chafes at the holidays" ... "it just hurts, dammit, doesn't everyone see that?" ...
At the end of the day, man-less or no, childless or no ... I know the people I'm dealing with, and can hardly claim surprise when they inevitably forget that I'm a fully-fledged, responsible, homeowning (middle-aged!) adult. The times my mom and my stepfather do REMEMBER otherwise are worthwhile - and they do, of course they do. As for the rest, I either adjust around their expectations sensitively or less so, and try to prioritize by my own lights, sticking with whatever those priorities may mean in a given year. I've hosted at my house, it can be done. But I always remember, mom sees herself as the fulcrum around which orbit is supposed to occur.
And, you know what ... ? To a large degree, in my family, maybe in my part of the country, maybe even in my culture at large - the reason for that is that we all participate in the presumption that age DOES sometimes confer certain privileges. Generations DO get to behave differently because they've aged or had kids or reached certain places in life. I don't always love it, but (like my mom ... like my grandmothers before her), I'll probably participate in some of those privilege-of-age assumptions myself in the future too. "Fair" has little to do with living life. And if it did, it might get boring anyway.
You can't control family responses, but you can appreciate those that are good, and either adjust or revise an approach to those that annoy. My mom can be a really selfish person - this is something I recognize in myself too. I can either pit my inherited venalities against hers, or tuck my head and push through.
Having a mom who doesn't really "see" me ... beats having a mom who doesn't even care. She doesn't KNOW she doesn't see me. And - like myself - she also probably hangs back, erring on the side of not being a nosy pain in the behind. I know this in myself too.
I also know ... she loves me. And that's the beginning and the end of the really important stuff.
Merry Christmas. I'll be at my mom's and stepfather's house.
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
My brother and his family had been frequenters of the MDB themselves, and mom had entered into the habit with the granddaughters; this visit was, I am sorry to say, only my first.
The place is eight miles out of my way, but its purveyance is so superior to anything else in town (the other Mediterranean deli actually happens to reside in my backyard; and is, amusingly or not, run by a Bosnian who used to work at the MDB out of my way). And so - particularly since they're closed on Sundays (which, residing directly in front of a Presbyterian church as it does, seems to me a mad business decision - heh) - I have to plan hummus and tabouli runs based on my Fridays off, or other vacation time. (Saturdays, most often, are housekeeping days - and fast days, for me, at that.)
Today, I want a run. The trick about this is that I tend to get headaches - every day, yes - and dips in blood sugar can really be painful for me. A delayed dinner means misery, means the poor dog gets shortchanged, means a long night, means I'm one cranky little number by the time I get home.
Ugh, but you know how it is when you want what you want.
Last time I made an MDB run after work, I made it there and out happily, but in the miles toward home, nearly lost it when queasiness took me over and temper got out of hand. By the time I ate, it was too late for my blood sugar - and too late for my poor dog. She did get her full mile walk, but I probably was a meager companion. Dear old darling, she puts up with me anyway.
Today, I've been strategizing. I took a headache cocktail early in the afternoon (one acetaminaphen, one Excedrin-knockoff; and hush hush, my last doc took one look at the brand of headaches I get and said "take what works for you" - quelling my mom's usual protest that my "cocktail" is a bad one), and am now eating a peanut butter granola bar. PB granola has remarkable stick-to-yer-ribs-osity, so I'm hoping it handles the blood sugar business. The caffeinne in the faux-cedrin has got me a tiny bit jumpy - I'm NOT much of a caffeinnator - but it's not tipping me over into woozy territory. And so, I am thinking seriously about a run.
We shall see - as I don't leave for another hour. But at least, by then, traffic should be something like bearable.
Mmmm. What I do for the best hummus in town.
I mean - seriously - do NOT eat that Athenos muck, Fellow Babies. Just do not. Try the real stuff. And you will never go back.
I was fourteen years old and a brand new Beatlemaniac when, in 1980, John Lennon was murdered at the Dakota. I look at that date, and intellectually understand it to have been TWENTY-NINE years since this moment - my own "where were you when" first formative mass-cultural moment ... my own Kennedy Assassination - but emotionally, it is almost harder to separate myself from the girl I was at fourteen than it is to stand (way) back from what I was at twenty, or even thirty.
The experiences you have at a certain age are so immediate, and so ... pure, really ... they never adulterate, throughout your life. And some losses, the losses of people whose creativity burrows deep (I remember Douglas Adams' stunning demise also), stay with you in the same kind of inviolable memory-space as sacred time itself. Some events never pall, never abandon you, even if the shock goes away, the memory of it remains clear.
I was friends with a girl named Laurie (I figure her identity is at a safe remove, near three decades later and surname omitted), and she and I were little acolytes of a science teacher at our middle school. She had introduced me to the Beatles, and he was The Cool Teacher (in a way which, years later, has not become creepy and gross). He called us each "Odd Child" and we both dug that happily, and the three of us suffered the loss my mom had told me about as I got ready for school, and even my beloved TEO isn't as closely associated with the loss as Laurie and Mr. B.
That friend, and that teacher, I haven't seen in all these years. The Beatles never left us, though. And John, who seemed so spiritually venerable ... was a younger man at his death than, now, I have finally become. Not much younger. But I can look at "forty" and feel sorrow at such youth. I can look at Paul and allow myself to accept, too. John Lennon twittering or being the rarefied thing (even more than "a Beatle" already was back then) isn't an image I wish to conjure, if it meant wishing him back.
I remember the substitute teacher in English, who brought all the most impressive technology of the time to bear in showing us, over two days (or even three ... ?) his prized FILM of the concert at Shea Stadium. I'll never forget the green, low-ceilinged room where we watched that, even if I knew I would never find nor recognize the way to get to it again, though the school still stands. I'll never forget *sharing*, in the way a fourteen-year-old girl can, and identifying with the ghosts of long-aged-themselves fourteen year old girls (... by this writing, nearing sixty ...), and entering into their spectatorship, and loving that teacher I never remember seeing again. I remember (still own) the FIFTEEN YEAR anniversary tee shirt my brother gave me, of the Beatles. The only black concert tee I have ever owned - other than one of my own ex husband's band (BEx my dear, you're in honorable company ...).
I remember my own fourteen-ness, truthfully, more than I remember John Lennon. But his existence, and his music, made this part of me possible. Made other parts of me germinate, too - a certain off-brand creativity. A certain desire to be ... "unlike" ...
Requiescat in pace.
Student to teacher: Doesn't being scared let you know that you're on
to something important?
Teacher(/main character guy): You're right. If you're not scared, then you're not taking a chance, and if you're not taking a chance, then what the hell are you doing?
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
To be sure - this was in like 1987. And I was an underclassman. But I used those language muscles.
I've become a German atrophite. I lost my whole language.
I have long blamed this (without spite) on my ex husband, whom as I hope has become obvious, I hold no malice toward - for this or anything else. And it pretty much is a result of living with him.
It's a d*mned irritating thing, living with a person who goes around spouting at you in a foreign tongue. It drove him batty. And quite rightly (he's taken revenge, over time, by jabbering at me en francais, the smartypants). But of course - in order to know a language - to keep it - one must use it.
I went years and years without using it.
I bought a converter box last February. The digital switch was coming, I haven't had cable in over a decade, I wanted to be ready (... and I live in the hometown of Circuit City, and as they went belly up the deals, sickeningly, *were* there to be had ...). So boom-boom, two boxes for me. Fab.
The best thing about the new channels was going from two really REALLY fuzzy iterations of PBS to no fewer than FOUR. All crystal clear now, hoorah. One of these is acutally not quite PBS, though. It's a world station. They broadcast Al Jazeera in English. They have international news from France (the anchor has the most distractingly nice voice, and she seems sassy somehow). They feature Japanese and Indian sitcoms.
And they play International Mysteries several nights a week. From Europe mostly; I've enjoyed reading a couple Swedish teleplays.
I don't watch the IM's often; they come in at two hours, and that's a good bit of reading for me, most "school" nights.
But this week, twice, they ran the German series. Even better, they ran the exact same episode twice.
It's all very Law and Order - some of the procedures in the procedural are no less laughable than they are in English (the Medical Examiner of rich, creamery, expositive goodness - the absolute unprofessionalism of the cops) - but watching a show that long, twice, auf Deutsch ... ahh, a pleasure. I caught myself speaking German to the dog before bedtime. And she didn't mind the tiniest little bit! I even pleased myself by finding a few words still buried in my head.
I miss German. It's one of those things I think about - seriously - a couple times a year. And don't do much about.
Wonder whether it might not be a bad idea ... you know, before I have to go to Europe on my book-signing tour ...
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
I haven't posted much on this subject, owing slightly less to most new authors' paranoia that "my idea might be stolen" than to good old-fashioned circumspection, outside my intimate circle. But it is one of the biggest aspects of my life right now.
My work is historical, and I came to it inexperienced. James River Writers blew me away, four years ago, with a Conference that educated me, inspired me, convinced me - "I can do this" - and convinced me I HAD to "do this", too. I started within a month of that event, and have never truly stopped my work ever since.
Research for this piece has been insane, and I finally only felt I had finished it just this past summer. All the way along, I was writing.
The result of this approach, of course, is a bit of disorganization - and the creation of a lot of work, for myself, in terms of "process" as the kids probably call it. I really don't care. It's been a ripping ride, I'm ready for novel #2, the work is still GOOD (even if it is so much work!), and no first novel ever birthed itself easy-like. I'll be proud of this baby when it's out, even as I tend not to be all that maternal or goopily attached to My Words.
So during these past two weeks of time on my hands, I killed off all the cousins my warrior had left to kill off, I wrote a passionately exciting passage with his wife, I found myself pouring out scene after scene previously unattended.
In five days, I wrote thirty-five pages.
This is unprecedented - duh. But d*mn me, I feel good about it.
The fire here is one lit by THIS year's conference, where I met with an agent. And she wants three chapters.
Bless my ex husband for saying he wants to help me kick the tires on this one - and E too, who has been at it for weeks now. Good midwives, even if they are men.
Bless motivation, too.
I'm gonna finish this thing. Whoo!
Mostly, though, strength is just the only option.
I endured a period of years when people marveled at my strength. Waiting for E, who lives four thousand miles away, seemed to many - particularly women, of course - some sort of personal feat. I believe it got romanticized somewhat. Then, of course, he lived too far away for too long - and he ended up demonized. But that's a different post.
The point is, "waiting" was not an active pursuit for me. I wasn't building up some sort of moral muscle in myself. I wasn't pining particularly (still not, really). It's just: E is the man I love. He's four thousand miles away. The only option was this "strength" people were once so impressed by. The only other was to buckle, and why would anyone do that?
Strength is easy to come by. Frankly, it'd be harder to fail to develop some. Life is a daily exercise in building toleration, ability, even a bit of personal power. Strength is the inevitable result of getting up every day, and not choosing to be defeated.
It is COURAGE I admire. That is a virtue worth reaching for - and one you do have to reach for, after all. It isn't the clear end of ordinary action, and it takes more thought than strength (which can so often be negative; how many people whose strength of conviction do you know, whose convictions terrify you??). Courage is what you get after three years have gone by, your love is still half a planet away, and people begin abandoning you as a madwoman or a stubborn old biddy. Courage is what you have to learn when, having begged G-d for years to relieve you of an attachment so many think is unhealthy, G-d says, "abide; stay more" ...
One of the best authors in the world, Donald Harington, has much to say on the subject of staying more. On the subject of love. Go find him, I'll wait.
Courage is what you have to have when you're past forty and looking for fellowship. Courage is what you have to have as a woman without a family. Courage is what you have to have to suffer the disease of vanity, and to age contentedly with it. I am prideful, I am shallow, I am many embarrassing things. But I give myself credit for courage, for something more than strength.
I'm grateful G-d gave me even the small portion of it I do have. I wonder, often, whether the people who think they know me best realize how big my supposedly empty heart really is. I wonder whether contentment is the only reward, really - contentment only, without ever reaching satisfaction.
(Contentment is another one of those half-measures - like strength to courage, contentment's got nothing on satisfaction ... But, again, another post perhaps; if that sentence doesn't say it all, simply.)
With age, I have shed fear. With the absence of so much "everyone" things is necessity, in my life, I've been forced to the ambition of my own necessities. With the strange priorities I set for myself, I have learned how to reach, for myself, what most people never even want. I am so strong.
And I'm a little bit brave, to boot. Imagine it.
Daddy asked me, that day when I was four years old and in the hospital for stitches: "Who is my big, brave girl?"
I am, dad.
Monday, November 23, 2009
Before his death, he was dad. My daddy. Papa-san, on affectionate occasion. I really don't recall referring to my living parent as "my father". Only dead is he so formalized, dehumanized.
The term is one of respect, of course. "My father" is the ancestor who singlehandedly gave me an instant, intimate understanding of ancestor-worship. He is the angel at G-d's side, the spirit, the entity the living man necessarily became when he could no longer share his presence with those of us still living.
But DAD was a living creature. A man, a breath, a flawed (... how ... !??) human, a wonderful person. A person.
It was not a person who died, but a relationship: the person is always, in mind, the very essence of breathing vitality. The venerated dead - that is My Father. I have hardly ever uttered the phrase "dad died" - except to perhaps the very dearest in my heart. My best friend, TEO - my brother. My mom. DAD is not fit to be put to death by my words. He's the humorous creature of my youth, he is the teacher, the fine man everyone loved. He's the silent-picture memory, the voice at the base of my hypothalamus, gruff and warm and safe. He is inviolable, unassailable.
He doesn't wear oxygen in my memory, he's only *alive*. Essential dad. Distilled daddy. Unalloyed, undimmed.
DAD is the memory, and the life. The thing he left us with which cannot be destroyed.
My Father ... is the rest.
That part of a person which never must be used until they can't hug you anymore. The relationship; which, after all, isn't everything. It's a category, a label for something.
It's DAD, we call the essence. The real thing, the experience of family, the joy of appreciation and gratitude. It's DAD who had to get glasses when his arms got too short to hold the book far enough away to see clearly. It's DAD who loved the granddaughter who spent months under the extended-family roof, pretending she was a doggie. It's DAD who hugged real hard after he had a heart attack; and real long after he was terminal. It's DAD who pranked little kids funny-sweetly, but with a little bit of edgy mischief.
Dad was mischief. He was heart, he was intellect, he was my archetype.
He IS still. Always.
My Father is a person who died; an avatar, a thing I can express love regarding - but not the direct line to my heart, to my LIFE, that DAD is and always was.
I miss my dad.
I am, in some ways, still coming to know ... My Father. That name for the divine - and there are reasons for such a usage. I understand this verbiage of faith in a way I didn't before.
My dad was a great guy. I'll have to post about him, and his love for my mom, some time when I have time. He was something.
I love him.
Happy Thanksgiving, daddy.
Thank you for: everything.
It's a perfectly nice movie, but ... I have to admit some confusion as to how the "buzz" on this one got so breathless. I guess perfectly nice is pretty stunning, to your moronic Hollywood types, when considering anything produced outside The System. Either that, or quirk still hadn't worn out its mealy welcome by 2006.
For me, the quirk isn't so much bothersome as symptomatic. There are scenes in this movie - and quite a few of them - in which action occurs specifically for the writers to accomplish certain goals. They have things they want Said, with a capital S - and so grampa's gotta die, the bus has to be a rustbucket, whatever-whatever. The trope must be served, and the quirks exist more to make that happen than they do in any realistic way.
To be sure: I'm very well aware that "realistic" is beside the point, in most movies. And it can be said that, frankly, holding ANY movie character to the standard of "what could happen" (or what "would") isn't my interest. LMS is entertaining enough, I wouldn't dis-recommend it to a potential viewer.
But I wasn't nearly as entertained as, apparently, Everyone Else was.
I like Alan Arkin (beats Adam), I think the casting and production were good. I liked the low-key setting for all the quirks. I was just surprised at how utterly sitcom-keyed so many of the turns of events were.
Suicidal Uncle has just been dumped - we're treated to not one, but repeated, instances of his being directly faced with the parties of his humiliation. And he's a SUB-plot. Asking us to swallow a single coincidence is a bit much; asking us to suspend disbelief through on-the-nose confrontations several times in a row - again, for a b-plot - is just punitive. Not to mention ham-fisted. By the time we see the full-page ad about "the number one Proust scholar" in Act Three, I had bruises about my head and shoulders from the beating I'd taken from Carell's character's humiliations.
And his incredible equanimity and positivity in facing them - considering he was supposed to have been SUICIDAL the DAY this film commences (and it comprises only about three days in its own running time).
The one quirk I had to take exception to was the teenager with the Vow of Silence.
I've met some d*mned pretentious teens. I've been one. This "character" took a whole cake, gave it stuffing, grabbed a fork and stuck it in the audience's eye, ate the cake, farted icing-scented fumes of disgust, and slumped sulking into a corner.
Which is a huge waste and a shame - because, by the time he faces HIS crisis (everybody's got one - even the guy who dies; though he's the *one* character who doesn't really face up to his own problems or deal with them honorably really), he turns out to be muuuuuuuuch more interesting. And well acted. Poor Paul Dano, being stuck with a silly gag for two-thirds of a film he could have apparently grounded a little, in a good way.
Like I say, it's a nice enough film. But I gather it was MUCH re-written. I could hear this happening, louder than anything I've watched since "The Mask" (which I hated with a white-knuckle annoyance). Again, not the worst thing in the world - unless, of course, the medium of one's entertainment is predicated on, oh, willing suspension of disbelief ...
It was perfectly nice. I think slobbering on something so insubstantial is probably unwise - how could it maintain cohesive integrity? It's made of papier mache' - which can be moulded to great effect. But which isn't designed, really, to be tongue-jobbed quite so heavily.
Maybe that is the problem (I'm dubious). Maybe my viewing came, with the lens of this film's initial reception, laden with too many expectations.
I really don't think this is the problem.
I think it is a perfectly nice film.
And, apparently, perfectly nice films really don't do it for me very deeply.
Every object in the quiet sitting-room had an elderly aspect of simple comfort
and precision, which is the evidence of outward repose.
"I should like to live here," Robert thought, "and watch the gray sea slowly rolling over the gray sand under the still, gray sky. I should like to live here, and tell the beads upon my rosary, and repent and rest."
He seated himself in the arm-chair opposite Mrs. Barkamb, at that lady's invitation, and placed his hat upon the ground. The elderly terrier descended from his mistress' lap to bark at and otherwise take objection to this hat.
I've been reading "Lady Audley's Secret", a sensation novel from 1860, at Project Gutenberg, to pass away those lunch hours I haven't been spending on my own writing.
I must-must-must get an actual hard copy of this one. Even aside from the terrier, this is a keeper - the author is a woman, and some of the social and personal observations of the time and of the writer are almost indispensably interesting. Take this item:
There must be a battle, a brave, boisterous battle, with pennants waving and
cannon roaring, before there can be peaceful treaties and enthusiastic shaking
of hands. Perhaps the union between France and England owes its greatest force
to the recollection of Cressy and Waterloo, Navarino and Trafalgar. We have
hated each other and licked each other and had it out, as the common phrase
goes; and we can afford now to fall into each others' arms and vow eternal
friendship and everlasting brotherhood. Let us hope that when Northern Yankeedom
has decimated and been decimated, blustering Jonathan may fling himself upon his
Southern brother's breast, forgiving and forgiven.
For someone reared in the Capital of the Confederacy, that alone is quite the corker.
The "sensation" of the novel's genre is almost beside the point. Its secrets are laid bare within the first chapters; anyone who's ever read a book in life (or ever seen any one of the squillion "Law and Order" series) can see who-done-what, and even why. What is wonderful about this book is its precision of language - even with the inevitable tangents and philosophies of Victorian literature, the expression of these ideas (and they *are* fascinating ideas, considered on their own - and in the context of the author's gender) is clean, engaging, and immediate. It has, as my dearest writing friend TEO once said of me, very kindly, a "there-ness" which makes the progress from clew to clew a great deal of fun.
Plus: awesome, oudmoded spellings, like "clew" for "clue" - and that indispensible Victorian trope; subtextual (but barely, in this case!) homosexuality.
What could be more enter-taining?
The there-ness in this case involves the diffident main character, a well-to-do layabout who slowly turns himself into Matlock in the best possible sense. He's a gas, and his own mental monologues are frequently pretty funny - but he's also one of the best DEVELOPED characters I have read in some time. He actually develops. He grows, he gets somewhere.
Read this book. If you're not experienced in nineteenth-century novels, it's a really nice place to start, and not so well-traveled you'll have to endure much cultural baggage - funny as this work is, it's not a towering piece of pop-culture history. If you DO have some background, but haven't been impressed with the written legacy of Victoriana (or if you've been abused by Louisa May Alcott's "darker" sensational pieces), this might be a lighter hand than some of the heavier ones to be endured, out there.
Also - seriously. The terrier. Awesome.
Friday, November 6, 2009
I alluded to something, post-before-last, and said a further discussion of it was for another post. Let's have that post, then.
--vamping to my own smaller audiences with my tongue only a little bit poking at my cheek ... THIS is the part that speaks to another kind of wish-fulfillment, but one for another post. Stay tuned.Awright, here we are.
One of the things about exploitive TV, the kind where specifically it's women who are exploited, is that ... this isn't just targeted for men to watch. "Charlie's Angels", "Alias", "America's Next Top Model"; any show or movie or motion picture entertainment piece centering on chicks donning multiple costumes (gag me: "Pretty Woman") has a firm and complete understanding that, s*xy as its stars may be, and startlingly attention-getting as chicks-in-wigs are for a certain demographic of men ... there's every bit as substantial a demographic of women - who want to play dress-up. Who want, specifically, to play femme fatale.
I grew up with a thick streak of vanity, and its outward expression has come always in the form of self-decoration. How I wear my makeup, the clothing that I like. It's something I keep myself fairly honest about in terms of social interaction - and the bells and whistles are for my own amusement, not for "some man". It is human nature to enhance, to focus on appearance, to go way the heck overboard in playing with it.
Females-as-dolls shows play with the very concept. I don't remember ever really seeing this discussed, though; certainly not within the concept of feminism, either.
There are a lot of areas of most people's lives they don't contemplate much. Dressing-up fantasy is a pretty ingrained part of our culture - for women most particularly. For a feminist, though, this is a dirty little secret, if not outright abomination. And not merely because the stereotype feminist hates men/lipstick/brassierres, but because so much of what dressing-up represents is so deeply, so very exploitive and squicky. It's not just those women who refuse the label for themselves who think I can't be a feminist - there are those happily in the club who find "traditional" outward expressions of femininitY to be outre' if not downright traitorous.
But feminism - like costuming, and preening in umpteen different looks as a creative and conceited outlet - is about choice.
I wish I could make some point *about* this brand of wish-fulfillment. But there are too many. For some, taking ownership of old-fashioned forms of dress and vampishness is akin to the dreams some have of just letting go of control, forgoing the responsibility it can represent to be A Feminist. For others, "old-fashioned" is appealing precisely because it has nothing to do with the politics of just waking up every single day. For others, aesthetics and creativity are key; I have found over time a fifties (Dior's New Look) profile just happens to be flattering, and so even as I peek at all my own personal baggage I just happen to like a dirndl-inspired silhouette and nipped in waist. Some shapes just appeal to us. Some ideas. Some dreams ... "if I were only Barbie, I could be anything - do anything."
We all learned long ago, the Barbie thing is a serious trap. That's why TV makes it safe. To watch Dollhouse, to watch Farrah and her winged hair, to watch Sidney don a wig and go shoot another spy. It both absolves us of the burden of expressing ourselves, and invites us to judge others even as we live a little vicariously, guiltlessly. Women who are all things to all men - who seem like they might even be all things to themselves, within themselves - are just as beguiling to women as surrogates, as they ever have been to men as safely unavailable/available paper dolls.
I wonder why I've never seen a deconstruction of this aspect of exploitation entertainment. I'm intrigued, and squeamish, and fascinated by my own participation. I'm powerfully curious.
I'm still, though, so happy with this part of myself ...
I do have to say one thing about the premise, though. If you are going to predicate a slightly supernatural thriller on a Deal With the Devil scenario ... please don't make the "temptation" a sum of money Dr. Evil made fun of in an Austin Powers movie like a DECADE ago ("WAN ... MEEL-YON ... DOLLARS ...).
Offers Evil Frank with Half a Face: "You can have ONE MILLION DOLLARS if you press this button. But someone you have never met ... will die ..."
As moral dilemmas go, the purse here being what it is (enough for a lifetime ... as long as you conduct said lifetime in the nineteen-twenties): I ain't interested. Even with Frank thrown in the deal, That Voice and all. It's too reminiscent of Bugs Bunny - and of Dr. Evil.
I think this might be fun to see with my friends Zuba and Eddie, over Thanksgiving.
But seriously, scriptwriters. I know it's not the most lucrative profession. But - trust me (I spent over a decade in financial services) - this prize ... isn't. Bump it up for the sequel. Or we'll all just keep tittering.
Just like Dr. Evil.
Monday, October 26, 2009
When its remarkably exploitive ads first appeared on Fox last year, "Dollhouse" gave me several fits of the screaming heebie jeebies. Then I found out it was a Joss Whedon product.
I don't happen to number among those people for whom "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" is a serious obsession, but I definitely was a fan, and I didn't even hate the notorious Season Six. I know enough about Whedon to appreciate his ensemble (this is a guy loyal to his acting troup and his crew, and I can dig that), to enjoy the dickens out of his smart humor, and to be able to give in to whatever adventure he's up for, even those which conventional wisdom dismisses as too-too, or not quite exactly right. I trust him, it's fair to say - to at least consider the implications of the naughty stuff he uses for television.
The extremely exploitive hook for the show - images of the sultry face and body of lead actress Eliza Dushku - is used to bring one into DH's "world" ... and then it is used all over again to DEAL with the implications of this exploitation (and to deal with the hook itself , for that matter; this show unabashedly uses its own tools to examine the way certain tools work on people, and it's not afraid to see that entertainment's workings on people aren't always pretty).
For those who don't know it, DH is a show about very very very pretty young people (unsurprisingly, largely female - but, surprisingly, including some significant male characters) who essentially sell their lives for a contracted period of time, to allow their consciousnesses to be uploaded and stored outside their bodies ... which then may be used for "engagements" of various kinds. As wish-fulfillment TV goes, it's pretty heady stuff.
The show never flinches both displaying and analyzing the inevitable aspects of pr*st*tution and sl*very this setup presents. It lays out in stunningly queasy detail the DH world, and the people (blank and otherwise) operating within it. Precautions are taken for the "actives" (their professional designation - only in slang/urban legend are these pretty young people referred to as "dolls") to protect their physical wellbeing at all times. A spa-like atmosphere of absolute physical luxury is maintained to house the actives when not on assignment, and every engagement is monitored on multiple levels. Clients and scenarios are screened, failsafes are prepared for both progress and outcomes of each deployment. Actives are even given military designations - Alpha, Echo, Sierra, November, Victor ...
As a world-building geek fantasy, it's entertainingly deployed itself. And the show never forgets its own role as an "active", sent out every week on assignment ... nor does it forget for whom. This show is not exclusively, but very particularly designed to "get" a certain kind of fanboy audience. The cast includes women who have become cultural bywords for a certain kind of guy, who are physically formidable specimens of feminine appeal, but who very specifically have a cache' with legions of Whedonites. I cast my comments specifically as male-oriented, not because Whedon products - and this show - is unaware of other kinds of attraction, but becuase DH knows, and knows well, its unique connection with this particular brand of male audience. It is arch beyond arch, and doesn't spare for one moment every drop of appeal it can wring out of its various levels of "cred" for this audience; all the while subverting the very magnets its using by pointing out what it is doing.
Season one Episode Six, famous in its own right for being the point where everything kicks into gear for the series, uses its very audience for its weekly guinea pig - positing a client, Patton Oswalt, who embodies much of what DH's, and Whedon's, target audience represents. He's a geek.
Keep in mind - I'm a geek-o-phile, here. I've dated this guy. More than once. I love him.
But I am aware of his un-self-aware prurience. I have used it myself on occasion, vamping to my own smaller audiences with my tongue only a little bit poking at my cheek.
And THIS is the part that speaks to another kind of wish-fulfillment, but one for another post. Stay tuned.
See what I did there? Exactly what DH does.
The great thing about this show is, it challenges the heck out of you to deal with your own tacit participation in the shocking kinds of exploitation on tap here, but it doesn't come up with pat answers, and it never resolves anything. No questions as complex as the gender and power dynamics at play here raise CAN be answered in a one-hour TV show - nor should they - nor is that even necessarily a problem, at least within the realm of watching DH.
The thing about DH is that it doesn't absolve itself any more than it does its audience, and when it deals with its own morality - and definitive lack of it - it is at its very best. This show challenges, but it also entertains like mad, and never MORE so than when it is pushing on its own bruises.
That's a really remarkable, dizzying thing. The dialogue, when it counts most - when a character attempts to assert any sort of moral superiority as they operate within this terrifying system - is at its absolute height. No scene is ever better than those depicting the man-kicks-dog dynamics of "what must be done" because of the constraints and inherent inhumanities of a system like DH's. And Friday's show abundantly illustrates this. And it was entertaining as h*ll to boot.
I've never in my life watched a show of DH's like for brutality, humor, sickening lurches, an ever-deeper and always entertaining ensemble, and absolute second-to-none entertainment. It makes me angry at times, but not *at* its production. It makes me roll my eyes happily, when it gets gleefully dippy - something it does extremely well, and effectively. It GETS me, hard, when it punches without pulling at all. I think I like it more personally than I ever did Buffy, and may even find it more entertaining to boot. I can't wait to see more.
Here's hoping the thousands of voices like mine will be heard.
Because Fox is looking at dumping the whole thing. Add this to the list of creative and challenging television one might never have thought could ever get made in this country, but did - and then tanked far too soon.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
This is a person whose behavior, when he's thinking about it, espouses much enlightenment - but whose real feelings occasionally seem to peek out from under the mask one is expected to wear.
I can't say I know anything about another person's mind, I know this. But I've known him now long enough that I think it's at least not an unreasonable thing to think. Other people do, quite flatly, find him a sexist and a nuiscance in this context at times. And I've seen him completely unaware of his own dismissal of women, at times. But I've also seen the genuineness of his excitement when he discusses the youngsters in his own family in the context of school. It may not be bone-deep, but it's real. I've seen his occasional self-deprecation, too.
We all suffer disparities between what we want ourselves to be and what we are; few people are capable of much honesty about it. I think this guy is probably a good one, but butting up against this frustrating divide is still incredibly frustrating sometimes.
There are times I really like this person, and times I want to brain him with a brickbat (and I don't even know what a brickbat is). It seems to be the way. People - can't live with 'em ... can't punch (most of) 'em in the neck and get away with it. *Sigh*
Anyway. Feminism. Good stuff that.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Having a discussion, once, with X on the topic of feminism, he said to me that by the definitions as I put them forth (and as Sarah Bunting did; starting our conversation), he definitely was one. But he would never apply the label to himself. So powerful is this taint, this shameful and regrettable association created by those who fear, that, he told me, even his ex wife would shun the title.
I've discussed this rejection, by women, of the title of feminist with many people over time, and it is overwhelming and a bit sad to me the frequency with which "I believe that, but I still won't call myself that" overmasters any adoption of a new way of thinking. The one shining example I have of another reaction comes with a conversation which was incredibly special to me. I brought on a convert.
She was a goth girl I knew online, a fierce friend, a wife and a mom, and a stauch proponent of traditional values - this isn't as unusual as you might think, for that subculture. Anyway, we got into a real discussion one time, about how feminists are all man-haters and the like - and I explained that my makeup-and-clothes-loving self happened to be a very real feminist. Then I gave her the Diane-version of Sars' essay above.
The gratifying response she had to what I had to say ... was to elatedly and excitedly take the label. It sounds silly, given the smallness of my importance overall, but I'm proud of that moment. I loved it when she told me she had self-identified in some context or other as a feminist, I loved that she bonded with me over this shared aspect of our beliefs, expectations.
I loved, to be sure (vanity), her respect for what I had to say. She was a great friend, and hearing her talk about feminism in the context of raising her fiercely beloved son, in the context of talking with her husband about it, really got to me.
It's not really in me to be an activist. Laziness forbids - distraction, fear, inertia, safety ... I don't "make a difference" in the way that phrase is so frequently exhorted. I'm not a Strident Feminist.
This was just a conversation. This was just ... my own small legacy, from a family full of teachers, of an educational impulse. It wasn't proseletyzing nor insisting nor even persuading - it was just a reveal. "We all know what people say, but this is the reality of feminism." It was listening, and openmindedness.
The very essence of communication. I engendered a new way of thinking, I felt someone's responsiveness. That's a great feeling. I've never been more gratified in any exchange.
It feels so good to think *with* people, sometimes.
Knowing it, however, is really the key to gratitude. And grateful for the MANY blessings I've been asea in all my life, I definitely strive to be.
(As to the main one - even greater than my social opportunities - my parents and family; another post, and probably many of them.)
Born white and middle class in a prosperous and arrogant country, I had advantages from the word go. My family valued education, and I got a superior one, most probably. Even my public education was excellent, though of course at the time I resented it duly, as was the habit of the day. Heh.
But to be born a girl in 1968 was something special.
I witnessed some small effects and details of the revolution of feminism's Second Wave, but of course had no proper notion of it. The world of my childhood wasn't something I quantified; it was merely experienced. I didn't understand that my own position in it was by some standards sequestered; by others practically cutting-edge. I just sat in my bedroom looking at the red-and-white gingham curtains, reading books of MAD and B. C. comics, playing with Barbies, hiding from my brother - or getting under his feet.
I hadn't any expectation that school wasn't a place I should raise my hand and speak up in; something even many women of my own generation *were* socialized to (not) do. In class and at church too, I talked when I had an idea. My family is rife with teachers - and that is what one does in class, any class.
This is inestimably a revolutionary thing itself.
I had friends who were boys; the first real friend I can remember was a little boy across the street from me. The redheaded kid up the street. I had girls for friends, too - from church, from my dad's coworkers' kids - but we had to go *see* them. Those closest by, in my immobile, walking-distance youngest years, were boys from the neighborhood. The girls around there whom I got to be friends with (and "friends" with) actually came later.
Having co-ed friendships at very young ages is nothing unusual, but a young WOMAN having male friends becomes stranger, as history brings the sexes to a certain age, and her freedom with males is constricted or removed. I used to drive packs of my friends around; whole crews of us, with car keys and two dollars worth of gas (it didn't buy a LOT more then than it does now; but I remember that being a fairly typical amount for me to spend on entire fuel purchases more often than not!). Unimaginable freedom, simply handed to me.
Through history, women have been brought up, if not as outright chattel, then at least as vessels; the premium placed on procreation and legitimacy cannot be overestimated. The mothers of the world had to be guided into proper position (correct marriages; correct comportment), and sexual behavior was both a woman's most formidable asset AND the most dangerous weapon to be used against her. This isn't new; it isn't old - it just is: the fear of a child not "really" its father's. The biological imperative. One can judge it ... or not ... but doubt it, and you live outside reality.
I grew up with the understanding that sexual behavior was, simply, not an option. Period. My mom had been reared in a time and a place where teenage hormones led to early marriages, often; and she had held out to mature a little, to become a professional woman, to find a husband she was more than merely excited about, but who embodied certain aspirational qualities: he would be educated. He would be professional. He would be kind, and ready for a family. He would support a family.
I didn't learn until I was nearly forty exactly how powerful my mother's resolve, in finding my father, really was. How she endured years of being considered a bit mad - she was very different from her schoomates. How she was called an Old Maid.
How she was rewarded for having a goal, and doing what it took to reach that goal.
My mother had to put a special guard on her teenaged sexuality, because she saw - even before her schooling was over - both the results of extramarital relations, AND marital ones. She understood, in a rare way, both consequences and possibilities. I can't begin to express how deeply I have come to admire the values she held to so very tightly, having come to understand them as I have.
I admire the devil out of her.
So I grew up with fairly old-school values, and *enough* timidity to hew to what I was told. (Few people understand me now as timid, but deep down most loud people are so.) My upbringing was simultaneously unprecedented in history, yet steeped in certain traditions. My deepest tenet, the older I get, but for a long time now, is gratitude for my many blessings.
One of my blessings has been choice.
Many people come to despise the word feminism, or feminists, because they've been successfully duped into thinking the belief comes down to a specific set of political principles. This is a pity and a shame - depriving not just "the movement" or an entire gender, if you look at things that way, but also the women who shy from the word because they're republicans, or religious, or afraid to be seen as strident, or just don't care but really dislike the label.
Feminism is choice. My mother made choices which in many lights appear to be old-fashioned (I've learned better, as noted), but she is the single most influential feminist in my life.
My dad was the second.
Neither one of them would, or would have, ever chosen the name "feminist" for themselves. But their teachings, to me and to my brother, were clearly laid out on the notions feminism really IS - not what it is depicted as being, by those who fear it so. That girls, ladies, women, students, dames, skirts, broads ... have rights. To live un-harassed. To live neither bought, nor sold. To be valued for more than the contents of their underclothing. To be smart, to be okay, to be HEARD. To be loved, whatever they are.
The point of feminism is not the right to have abortions, nor to hate men, refuse to marry, renounce the accoutrements of "femininity", nor even discuss the belief. The point is the RIGHT to follow one's own conscience - it is entirely possible to be a feminist and a pro-lifer. The point is the RIGHT to access to the world's advantages, and the tools to deal with the disadvantages. The right to be free of artificial disadvantages, born of nothing more than the absence of a Y-chromosome.
The point is choice - or, perhaps more incisively, autonomy.
I am part of the first generation or so of women, in the history of civilization, who can expect ... to live on my own terms.
What a magnificent thing that is to think.
Monday, October 12, 2009
In 2004, my brother approached me - neither he nor I are natural joiners, but he has always been more willing to try, to put himself out there; and so, when he wanted to go to some conference, I thought, okay, sure. That first year, the education was so intense and the inspiration was so high, I began to write my novel within less than a month after attending.
In the four years since, I've found JRW generally, and the Conference specifically, to be an incredibly helpful resource, a socially enjoyable way to push outside myself a little bit, and a goose to my motivation every time. My confidence that I can - and WILL - be published is entirely due to JRW, and my understanding of how best to go about that seems almost to actually be getting me somewhere.
2009 was my fifth Conference. By now, I leave all the seminars and discussions involving the words "agent", "editor", and "publish" to what I quite amusingly think of as the newbies, and focus intently on those subjects which just *interest* me. Those with a focus toward selling yourself/your work I feel I got a lot out of during my first couple of years' attendance; they tend to be the biggest mobs, too - so I am happy to delve into more romantic particulars, or into more diverse areas of consideration.
And one thing the Conference did in a big way for 2009 is to diversify its focus. It has always included journalism and nonfiction writing, but this year we had a graphic artist and more poets and writers for youth audiences than I recall in the past as well. The people JRW attracts to participate are just the most stunning group of sophisticated, generous, lovely writers and professionals I can imagine - and the access the Conference provides is beyond belief. And, if this sort of thing matters, the star power is pretty intense as well. Never mind that these people have all been absolutely incredible, supportive, and simply interesting to hear from.
Some years have been better than others for me personally in terms of making contacts for my own work (historical fiction). But two years ago, I did get a bite on the work I have in the chute for after I complete my first novel.
This year, though, was the big one. I got a bite on my nearly-completed draft of "The Axe and the Vase" ... and a request for three chapters.
When one of the organizers' eyes widened, and he grinned and said, "She is tough!" ... well, if I hadn't already felt pretty d*mned good about not only getting in front of her, but getting somewhere *with* her, I certainly got bumped up a notch with that. Which was the intention, of course; did I mention the generosity of the real working writers, for us wannabes, at JRW ... ?
I told her I was within six months of having a presentable draft. I'm hoping I can make it more like three.
The oddest thing about this is, I paid a good deal of attention, in signing up for this agent meeting, to who the agents were, what this particular agent's focus areas are, and to corresponding what I have to sell with what she'd *like* to sell. Her interests appeared to me to align to my work better than anyone who has attended the Conference in the past; I was excited to see someone mentioning historical fiction at all, but she also notes a preference for ground not already covered, and her agency does foreign rights as well; something I think is almost necessary for A&V.
As she mentioned Victoria Holt on her site, I opened with the explanation of my interest in histfic, which began with the chronic thieving of my mom's books when I was a kid. I cadged "My Enemy the Queen" and "House of a Thousand Lanterns", "Mary, Queen of Scots" and one about Marie Antoinette. I still have a few of these even to this day; eagerly thumbed, loved till their covers fell off and disappeared in the mid-eighties; inspiring and interesting and like crack for my youngish brainmeats. Mom's reading habits early informed mine - and I am so grateful!
So the agent and I waxed mutually enthused over Victoria/Jean Plaidy, and Norah Lofts (I just lent "The King's Pleasure" to a friend last week!), and I told her, well, one of the things you mention on your site, that you like a niche that covers new ground, is what got me off the Tudors and Plantagenets, and made the story I've come to so unique. I high-pointed my subject - a king of France, an early Catholic - and noted Oprah's November 2007 featuring of "Pillars of the Earth", which she also seemed to like. She asked me what I would work on next, and I had an answer; the female novel, to complement this first so-very-male one. She asked me whether I thought women would read such a male-oriented book, and I said the very fact that a woman chose such a subject should at least create some interest (I didn't highlight enough - but my query, when I send it, will - that the enduring relationship between my subject and his wife is a core thread of the book, and a fascinating one), and I was able also to touch on the many kinds of audience this story would appeal to - Roman, barbarian, and theological history buffs, Francophiles, those who've had the Tudors up to here ...
In short, I hit the buttons - I proved I'd paid some attention to whom I was speaking with in the first place (surprisingly, this doesn't appear to be habit for some writers), I spoke to her own specified points of interest ("the European rights are a strong possibility here"), I had a response to the "surprise" - yes, but what else have you got - question, and I expressed myself pretty well. I think confidence in a pitch is probably as important as it is in a job interview, and I certainly had that; she didn't have me nervous at all (and I was even able to display a bit of generosity, switching time slots with another Conference attendee, when they thought they couldn't find me and led the next person up to the agent).
And so, it was strange, when I got to the end of this winning and enjoyable conversation - and the agent smiled, said "that sounds great! I'm sold" and slid her card across the table at me, asking for three chapters when I am ready to present the whole manuscript.
I hadn't anticipated either success or failure; I realize, somewhat conceitedly, that I rather considered the things I had to say such a slam dunk that of course this must be the necessary outcome. So it is funny that the simultaneous response I had to "well, it is to be expected" she'd want to see my work itself, was "holy smokes, I can't believe this!"
My confidence in the work is complete. I've never doubted since starting it that it would sell.
What I didn't think about so much was how that process might be eased. One looks (if one is smart) at other books of similar nature. One thinks, "Harper Collins published Bernard Cornwell's gritty Arthurian series; my work would fit with that." One works out marketing points and a query letter, and thinks seriously (but not WHILE writing) about how to create an audience; who that audience might be.
The thing is, on the possibility that I could get an agent I would be so deliriously happy to have for my work (this is a pretty well informed interest on my part, too; not merely the desire for "an agent, any agent!") ... if it happened that I actually sent in my chapters, followed by the manuscript, and got an agent out of this process - the impossibility of how fortunate a piece of work that would be, and the incredible time-savings and work-savings it would represent, is a genuinely astonishing consideration.
I've got a foot in a door here, and that alone is an extremely large asset. It's not easy to get in front of an agent, never mind get that agent to pay attention to you. They WANT to say yes, to be sure.
But consider this - the job of an agent, no matter how much they want to find new authors to represent, is to say no. Constantly. Every single day. More than not. And that "more than not" is probably a factor of several hundred (at least) "no's" to one single "I'm interested."
I haven't sent a query letter here; I haven't sent out a dozen. I spoke directly with this woman, and sounded a chord. "That's great! I'm hooked." She *asked* me for chapters. It's up to me only to make them yes-able, as it were. She's open to me already; more than many authors can hope for in a day.
I have the chance here to get the door opened the rest of the way. This is an enormous opportunity, and possible advantage. I am grateful and vindicated and excited and happily blown-away.
I have worked for four years, almost exactly, on 385 pages of a historical novel on a subject not covered before in American publishing. I'm sellable. I'm ready.
I need to finish this thing. I kind of can't believe it, and am so thrilled at the same time.
Time to start kicking below the doorknob. And make my way in now.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
I initially started the thing using a nickname made up something like ten or more years ago, in the throes of sarcastic amusement at the IDs people come up with for Teh Intarwebs. I am increasingly leery about having personal information online, particularly in the tangled web of networking sites.
The fact is, I love ALL my friends and all my family - but they don't all know one another, life is a compartmentalized thing, and that's fine with me. I would not have everyone I know or ever did over to my house at once, because the mix would be unsociable at best, and in some ways for prudish sensibilities such as mine, outright inappropriate at worst.
I think to myself at places like FB - do I really care about being in touch (or being accessible to) with people who have faded from my daily life for one reason or another? In some cases, the "fading" has been entirely intentional. Why would I risk reversing all my efforts to cut ties to certain people - the offense and unnecessary hurt feelings that could cause in so many directions - merely to keep myself visible electronically?
I don't really CARE about being available to people. Those relationships I value, I have been able to pretty much maintain. That some things are memory, not present tense, is not merely all right, but actively preferable to me. That my whole life isn't viewable at the touch of a button is kind of a "thing" for me.
"So why do you have a blog, Ms. Smarty-Smarty?"
Precisely because this medium confers on me some control. I may be find-able, but I am still not exactly accessible - not, at least, beyond my comfort with that potentiality. A blog is sort of outmoded, at least in social terms. I know mine will always be a backwater, and prefer it that way. That this space bears my name at all is a concession to electronic mores, and some allowance for my paranoia to be proven wrong. It's a space where I can be long-winded and need apologize to nobody. It's the one flag I can stand to fly, in a mileiu so full of banners.
I think to myself sometimes: my friends are all in good fun, but some of them use language online I would never ask them to censor for my young-adolescent niece. Still I would not care to shepherd her into acquaintance with her auntie in the terms I fully accept from other people. Here, nobody need run into any of my relationships in any uncomfortable ways. Nobody need tolerate MY personal tolerances. And nobody needs to know anyone else too well, through me; be offended by someone, be judgmental of anyone. What I choose to embrace, I do not mean to recommend to any and all comers.
Right or wrong, and as much as I love everyone in my life, I don't want to be held responsible by one for the other's language, politics, outspokenness - or meekness. I don't want to worry about who's ruining whose experience in any space one could call mine.
I also really don't like hosting parties anyway. I am increasingly private as I age, increasingly a hermit. (Not anti social by any means; but definitely appreciative of solo space.) Asking myself whether this is a neurosis, I come again to the question of my family, my nieces.
And I say, you know, it's okay if I'm neither famous nor even paid attention to. What notice people give me in that mythical place called IRL suits me aplenty. This stuff? Is negligible. So here is my limit.
I find it's contenting, deleting that FB profile.
Now if only I could content everyone else. *Rush rush rush*
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
No post about spirituality can really encompass the content of one's heart, but the steps of a journey have long been of interest to me, even if it is impossible to convey feeling or belief.
I grew up in the Baptist Church - Southern Baptist - at a time when that wasn't a snarking epithet (before the 1980s, for you young'uns out there). The pastor of our church was - and remains, to be sure, though long since retired - an engaging and charismatic man of great good looks, intelligence, and storytelling ability. Our Sunday schools were geared to talking, at least part of every week - and I was one of the kids who engaged, who talked, who entered in with consideration. We read all the stories; I knew about Lot's daughters at a young age, and other such stories I realized long later were verboten in many faiths and churches. Faith wasn't a difficult or inscrutable thing, and it was to be handled, exercised - declared. My teachers, no matter how conservative they might have been, never discouraged me from talking either for dogmatic nor gender reasons. Of course, I would have offered little heresy in my childhood. But even so. I don't have clear, specific memories, but I do know I was nurtured by my successive religious instructors.
It was in fourth grade we came along for baptism; instruction and rite, followed by our own bibles (I still have - and read - mine) and membership. Our church had just built a new, large sanctuary; I was the first "class" baptized in this venue. I learned not long ago, my stepfather's late wife was also in this class; one of those odd confluences our city boasts in droves.
Also around this time came the teacher who paid most close attention to our class - Mrs. M., who had us to her own home, and once gave her girls REAL silk wallets - and Youth Group, and that subtle transition from immature (passive) experience to more sustained, cumulative-and-building memory banks. Cognition. In fourth to sixth grades, I moved from "child" up to "kid" and that meant something important to me. To this day, I view that time as the span in which I began to process things, mentally, with a new set of abilities.
I stayed in my faith pretty well, if not indelibly strongly, through high school.
Inevitably, it was Religion 101 which alerted my freshman brain, come college, to New Ideas, New Vistas. Oooh, Taoism. Oooh, Buddha!
I never could go so far as to adopt a new religion - even now, I'm too WASP a kid to believably appropriate anyone else's culture unapologetically. But I did ... let my own slip away.
It wasn't a speedy process, relinquishing my childhood churchin'. It wasn't precisely conscious, though I knew I was disillusioned and found the Other at least somewhat seductive. I just quit, except when living under my mom's roof, and let go of most spirituality altogether.
I was twenty-five before my own poorer character and discomfort with choices made led me to question again. I'd married the man I genuinely loved, and didn't understand why this wasn't the be-all. I felt myself becoming bitter and ugly in ways which terrified me. The strength it would take to overcome myself was more than I felt I could possibly muster, and I have never been much of a natural self-starter.
Cut to the divorce, after geographical histrionics and some outright meanness to a man who didn't really deserve it, and I found myself in a position to reach, but with no understanding what to reach for - and little direction or motivation to figure it out. We didn't have Teh Intarwebs, really, back in 1995 y'all; I wasn't the kind to haunt libraries, or go to bookstores' "Spirituality" sections.
Like a lot of women my age, in that period of the world, I became a Solitary Practitioner. I wasn't quite the vogue neopagan some opted to be, but the model fit well enough: someone both timorous and arrogant enough to feel they might find their own way.
I re-learned prayer, and found it could come to me - from me - with some power and depth. I discovered how possible it was to be something other than completely self-interested. I spent time loving lightly and less so, and also being alone. I spent a lot of time alone, acutally. Liking it or not, I understood that was important. Never having been willing to "settle" I understood it was necessary, too.
More than anything else, I cleansed myself of the sins of my worst nature. I repented and learned what behaviors could come out "good" even if coming from me. When enough time passed, I was blessed with the friendship of my own ex. When enough exposure to TEO, my best friend, has worn across my life's surfaces, I was taught some fundamentals of decency and friendship. I never lost my vanity, or worse traits, but I know how to work around them, and I know them for what they are. I no longer ascribe to my hopes any real importance. I'm not at all free of sin, but I know where it lies - everywhere.
When I met E, he astonished me quickly by first turning out to be a republican, then being a churchgoer. He wasn't my first churchgoer (there'd been a young man who wanted to be an Episcopal priest, years back; and a conflicted Preacher's Kid of more overwhelming prettiness and charisma than enduring emotional substance). But he was the churchgoer ... who got ME thinking about it seriously.
I wanted, for some time, to find a church home with him. Some thousands of miles got in the way, and then several years; and I finally realized, this year - after a conflagration in which he was supposed to come home after so long, and finally didn't - I needed to do this with or without him, at last.
I tried the Methodists, and found them warm, kind and welcoming.
I tried the Episcopalians, and felt fellowship.
For the first time in my life, I felt adult, spiritual, volitional, real fellowship.
I saw people praying in their sanctuary, on their own - and learned that this is something people DO, that independent, public, individual prayer, isn't just something depicted in movies wherein something awful is about to happen in a Catholic parish.
So. Since springtime, I have tested other waters, and found myself coming back to one Episcopal church, a pretty place near my home, populated with fellowship, with kindness, with prayer I feel very deeply, with welcome and an open invitation. Only last week was the subject of my "finding a home" there broached, and then kindly, lightly, by a member of the choir who was one of my first two friends here.
There is much about the Episcopal church I feel fits me as a person. Their politics. The immediacy of the prayers. The sociability blended with the "high church"ness, the sense that faith pervades but doesn't contain or constrain. The sense of their innate wellbeing, socially, financially - I can admit some of what draws me is cultural familiarity.
Even as the unfamiliarity, the exoticness of ritual beyond my own experience, and the texture of a faith unknown to me in my youth, do appeal to me at the same time.
More than anything else, though, it is communion (another, higher, fellowship) and prayer which draw me fundamentally.
In February, in much pain, I experienced something in Christ I have never known before, and since then I have felt inordinately blessed. Such joy is as exotic to me as the vestments and altar of this new church; but so rapturously, gratefully welcome. It is the single minute, felt in the darkness of my terrifying solitude, of love from the Son of G-d, which has made this year possible for me. It has been powerful. Literally ... awesome.
My faith is weak and vascillating, but connection to this congregation, to this church, have been immensely strengthening. Giving my solitary practice to the guidance of a church, a faith designed - as they all are - to hold me (okay, maybe contain without constrain), has bestowed one thing I've prayed for for yeaars: "teach me how, and I will give; show me where, and I will go."
I craved instruction more deeply than I could have imagined thirteen years ago, feet just embarking on a kind of growth beyond my comprehension. Finding it has been amazingly joyous.
The bittersweet. The painful part.
To tell my mother I want to embrace a faith other than hers will be genuinely heartbreaking - and not only for her. I know what her children's religion means to her, and I know that my own path will look like a betrayal. There is part of me young enough at this venture, enthusiastic enough at its beginning, with the freshness and brightness of embarkation, which will want to persuade her of the joys in this - if not for herself, at least for her daughter. It seems important to keep this part in focus, and possibly in check. I'm not introducing my mother to a man I'm nuts about I hope she will like: I am contemplating the possibilty of taking on a faith alien enough to her - disparate enough from her depth of belief, her hopes and expectations - that the choice may be actually spiritually fearful to her.
I don't want to betray my mother, but her convictions, I fear, may make this nothing less. I can't condemn her for "rigidity" for that; to her, there is strength, even if it appears intolerant to reject what is coming to mean so much to me.
She is not mine to judge.
But I am her daughter. I am more than hers to judge, no matter my own convictions - or final actions. No chafing, nor even righteousness, removes her right to *feel* as she does. Spiritually. Maternally.
I have been unable, as I initially envisioned, to go to her and say, with some pride, that I'm back in religious practice of a recognizeable kind. It had always seemed to me something of an offering I might be able to make - as, yes, the bum-kissy younger child. As the religiously filial daughter. I didn't expect a Protestantism quite so removed from hers.
Now instead I have a secret which is so nurturing to me, yet will hurt the woman who nurtured me first. And in her faith.
What does one do?
And keeps praying.
Last night, we had a NOVA followed closely by a National Geographic special about stress (it's been a long time since I heard NG's theme music! Good stuff!), and the two make a really excellent pairing. NOVA discussed epigenetics, dead fascinating stuff and as always ridiculously well organized and presented. NG brought us stress, and some of the information tied in nicely with the preceding content.
My parents raised my brother and me on PBS and documentary programming of that ilk, not merely because that was in the Dark Time Before Cable TV and we only *had* all of four options - but because they were people interested in things a bit beyond "Mary Tyler Moore" and "Real People". We watched medical stuff, TONS of nature stuff (yep, who else grew up on "Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom"?). My dad owned the book for "Connections" (and I watch James Burke to this day), and "Cosmos" was a serious event in our home. As were "The World at War" and several "Masterpiece Theater" series ... not least of which was my mom's 'soap opera', "Lillie", about Lillie Langtry - one of the many old BBC series I own today. It wasn't all highbrow, to be sure.
I don't know how much I loved this stuff in comparison with cartoons, back then - some offerings more than others, I'm sure. But the sense of importance with these shows, particularly with the more event-TV stuff like Sagan's opus, and serious topics from medicine and science to genuinely funny stuff like animals getting loopy on the savannah after eating fermented fruit, has definitely stuck with me. I watch a show about the unbelievably *riveting*, incredible life of a fig wasp and its particular fig tree, and am devastated with the knowledge that the geeked-up joy I get from this fascinating stuff is actually rare - is not par for everybody's childhood (or grown up) course. Being a non-parent, I find it offensive EVERYONE doesn't raise their child on these experiences.
It is, at least, a pleasure to me that this stuff "took" with me, that I'm not completely insulated in mainstream entertainment. That "America's Next Top Model" really is a sideline for me, not something I'm capable of taking quite seriously. I'm grateful to mom and dad for giving me this diet, and glad it's become something of my own too. Instructive TV is diggable stuff. Having four channels of this now, too, doesn't stink either.
We never did video his rendition, but I can hear him so well.
I thanked my friend for putting that in my mind's ear.
No day with some Jabberwocky in it can be all bad.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.
I do laugh at the time to come. And, most of the time, at what's gone by. As to the rest, we shall see. Empress's new clothes.
For the Second Lesson, we went to James 3 and 4.
You do not have, because you do not ask. ... Draw near to G-d, and He will draw near to you.
Grant me wisdom to keep asking to bring G-d satisfaction and joy. To want to learn how that may best be done.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
I have friends who amaze me constantly. Brave and beautiful. Delicate and pungently funny. Generous beyond even bearing it. Constant and comfortable. There are so many different kinds of people in my life. But I am no less than blessed, and joyous, in ANY of those who are so kind as to love me. If smart people - if such *good* people - think well of me, I am humbled; and hope only to live up to it.
I said, earlier on, a little bit about my friends. Time to say just a little bit more.
I have not requested to post personal information about those in my life, and will not be doing so. However, so as to clarify obvious future posting, a little background.
M is my brother, three years my elder, a dad, a scholar and scientist, and a traveler currently residing on the "other" coast quite a ways away. His family are N, his wife, and my nieces, whose identities will be obscured here to the greatest possible degree. When I was young, I idolized him completely - never a nice thing to do to somebody - and now that we're older, we admire one another and find that both frustrating and beautiful, and it seems to work for us. He is the fiercest person I know, and deeply, deeply gentle and tender. He's also just awfully funny and bent.
Acronymed thusly for reasons intentionally lost here, TEO has been my indulgent friend since we were twelve years old. She is a teacher and a mother, with two luminous tots of the male persuasion; she is incandescent herself, one of the most joyous, energetic, devoted, and intelligent people I will ever, ever know. She's helped to teach me how to simulate personal decency, and her enthusiasm for those she loves is second to nobody. How she's put up with *me* since the Reagan Era, I cannot imagine: but my gratitude and happiness on this point know absolutely no bounds.
TT is a friend from my childhood neighborhood, and about a dozen years of school. She appeared after a long absence from acquaintanceship, in a group I worked with at my previous employer. TT is a generous soul with the most winsome curiosity and humor, an openness to others which makes *her* incredibly interesting, and a level of engagement in life which is rare and special. She's delightful and enjoyable, pleasant and interesting, and easily ranks in that short list we all keep, of "my favorite people".
Where TEO and I met in the summer before our first year of middle school (7th grade, for us, back then), V and I met once the school year began. V recently married a guy of whom I thoroughly approve; the latest in a series of friends who have been blessed to find amazing, wonderful mates. Being the "thing of honor" at their celebration - and the wedding itself - was everything lovely one might think of to say, and has renewed the bond of two friends who appear to be just fine with being doomed to a lifelong relationship. Her husband, W, has grown on me and become a friend in his own right (I am grateful to have friends who will come to my house in the dark to jack my car up off my own old *broken* hydraulic jack ... and friends who will lend me their husbands to do this in the first place).
K and T
K, like V, has been a friend for so long the story of how it began is lost to my memory banks. Somewhere in middle school, I knew she was a friend of V's, and since then the three of us have ebbed and flowed - but always become deeper and more sincere in our friendship. She married T last year; a guy I've come to really enjoy and admire and be glad she has found. Their own small, farm wedding, one of the farthest off the beaten path of current bridal expectations I ever expect to attend, was an acutely beautiful affair. They will leave Virginia soon for other opportunities, and I will miss them terribly. That K turned to me, when said opportunity arose, and asked me for advice - and that she and T used it - is an honor I hope I can be worthy of.
Ahhhh. Z. There are no women like her, and I get the joy of saying she's my friend. Z once sent me a private message online to say she thought I was funny, and I have been astounded to have caught the attention of this charismatic, hilarious, incredibly inappropriate, and unbelievably deep woman ever since. She's boisterously gorgeous, creative, smart, and energetic; her life is more than a pageant - it's a drag show with every possible dramatic trapping - and one of the most entertaining people to listen to. She's a woman who can say to my mother, "Nice TONGUE ACTION, H!" and get away with it, when she catches my mom getting a dollop of whipped cream off of my stepfather's chin at Thanksgiving. She's a gust, she's an impossibly engaging story, she's a hilariously fake wrestling move and an After School Special. I missed her birthday this year. I love her anyway.
How to explain X. He is the person I love, but can't be with geographically. He is far away and hating it. He is, to quote K ... "X-beautiful" ... which means more than K even understands. Savagely, terrifyingly brilliant, abruptly curbed by circumstance, the most refreshing person I've ever seen, when he laughs. He's ruined me, rather. He brings out a lioness from my heart - both the fierceness and the protective instinct. Life without knowing him, loving him - would be *less*.