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.