Monday, January 30, 2006

I have started reading the Mitford novels. I hovered in the realm of embarrassment for a minute when Abbi asked me what I had been reading, "Should I mention it..?" then decided I was old enough to publicly embrace my eccentricities.
I thought I would look into them after reading in random articles of Lauren Winner's Mitford obsession. If a smart unorthodox girl like her reads them, there must be something about them that has made fans of millions of readers.
I am hooked and happy that the series is very long. The books are my bedside companions, perfect for reading right before sleep--nothing too frightening, sweet enough to ensure happy dreams, not too addictive that I am up until 2 AM.
I think I am going to write a paper on the similarities between Lord of the Rings and the Mitford novels.

Friday, January 27, 2006

In the uproar over Frey's book "A Million Little Pieces", people are questioning the truthfulness of memoir. Aren't all memoirs somewhat shaded with the untrustworthiness of memories, as well as authors who embellish an otherwise lackluster episode (audiences won't read books about happy family lives in which not much really happened)? Frey is an extreme example (he claims he was in jail for months when he really only languished in prison for a day, for instance).

I have powerful memories that are more impressions than factual reminiscines (the roughness of knee-high grass in the hills around the creek by Jenny & Rosie's house ; the cream-colored walls of stone of the Palace of the Popes, whose building never seemed to end, etc.) and to write about such impressions requires fleshing out the memories.
Jon was a science fair judge at a local elementary school this past Wednesday. He awarded the "most creative" prize to a kindergartener who tested whether Christmas exists (Jon said her parents must have been watching a lot of FOX news, with its raging debate over the p.c.'ness of "merry christmas" greetings).
For her experiment, she would greet people with, "Merry Christmas!" then ask them whether they thought Santa Claus existed. Of course, all the adults said "Yes," (what else would you say to a kindergartener?) So, 100% of adults said Santa Claus existed, and 70% of children agreed, therefore: Christmas exists!
Another experiment: a girl tested whether her dog was colorblind. She would show him colored pieces of paper, saying the name of the color several times "PINK! .. PINK! ... PINK!" etc. Then she laid out the pieces of paper on the ground, put doggie treats on each of them, then said the name of a color. She observed that the dog ate all the treats in "random order," therefore he is not colorblind.
I'll leave you to figure that out.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Everything in this quote combines in a bizarre funny way : "Nacho Libre" (June 2), from "Napoleon Dynamite" director Jared Hess, stars Jack Black as a Mexican priest who doubles as a wrestler to raise cash for his orphanage (from

Friday, January 20, 2006

Here is a movie I really-really-want to see: The Lady in the Water.

People either love or hate M. Night Shyamalan. I enjoyed all his previous movies. Jenni and I came home from Signs and sat in the kitchen, afraid to enter our rooms--afraid that dressers or dirty laundry might actually be aliens in disguise--silly imaginings like that.
The scene from The Village where the blind girl stands boldly in the door, her hand outstretched, knowing that her lover will come, even as the creepy creature is advancing down the porch not 10 feet away, still makes me shudder.
The Lady in the Water is described as a fairy tale/bedtime story that is true, with Shyamalan's customary eerie undercurrents.
From an essay I am reading:

a lamed-vovnik is one of the 36 hidden saints whose identity is known only to God, and for whose sake alone the world is each moment spared the destruction it deserves.

From a story retold within the essay: How to Pray: Reverence, Stories, and the Rebbe's Dream by Ben Birnbaum

Jewish literature is full of mystical legends like this.
Being one who likes fantastical literature, I find this funny:

Bill Nighy, some British actor, plays a range of characters that I only just now noticed. He is a sleazy politician with no soul in The Constant Gardener, a master vampire in the Underworld movies, a loser musician in Love Actually, among others. The juxtaposition of His Lord King Master Allmighty High Vampire with Billy Idol-in-his-downfall musician is especially amusing.

Perhaps I am the only one that finds this entertaining, but it's just too surprising to watch a movie in which you are deeply involved (The Constant Gardener), then think "Hey, I've seen this guy before." then realize the last time you saw him was with blood smeared on his chin, and his eyes all vampire-weird. You don't immediately register him as as an actor.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Now I understand the title "The Constant Gardener". I had just assumed that it was an avant-garde name to use for a mystery/thriller book. It is certainly a movie that makes you think. The ending was wrenching, due to the abrupt jump to the funeral scene. Throughout the movie, I had never thought seriously that Quayle would die. He would certainly live to spread the news that his wife so desperately wanted to make known.
This movie succeeded in making death very real--very present (I can think of no other word)--in Africa. It is too easy to hear news of genocide and rampant AIDs out of Africa, because millions are dying--a number that is too vast for the mind comprehend.

Friday, January 13, 2006

The other day, Jon and I were trying out some Bertie Botts, and the minute I ate the Soap bean, I immediately remembered Mom putting some soap on my tongue for sticking my tongue out at her when I was little.
Last night we were talking about how we wanted to raise our kids, in light of the overall permissiveness we see in most children nowadays. Little things, like how strict we want to be, rewards and punishments, etc. Of course, you take what you say with a grain of salt, because everything changes once you've got a kid.
Speaking of kids, why are babies the cutest things in the world when quite rationally, a lot of them just aren't? Case in point: Mary H brought her 3-week old son in to work. I meant it when I said, "Oh, isn't he just the most beautiful baby!" when we were both looking down at a pink, puckered looking thing whose limbs moved of their own free will. Maybe we are recognizing the divine spark without its being clouded over by such things as temperament and annoying behavior, and bodily odors and patches of fat in the wrong spots.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Class started today. When the teacher asks how many hours a week you can devote to the course, you know you're going to have no life for the next 4 months. That won't be too much of a problem for me, since I really don't have that much of a life to begin with, but all the same that means I have to put aside all my thoughts of books to read (which will be near impossible seeing as I work in a bookstore and a library) to focus on the task at hand.

Dr. Chan launched into the theory of subject analysis, and I could see my interpreters' eyes flicker in confusion quite a bit (some have told me: "I hope you understand all this, because I certainly don't"). I told Heather and Erin afterwards that my classes are the favorite among UK's interpreters...

It makes me wonder what it's like interpreting for a variety of classes--ranging from basic literature classes to nursing to physics, etc. Is it like going to school all over again? Are you able to switch off that part of your brain which seeks to understand what information is entering it, and just sign the words as the teacher speaks them?

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

While driving home from Lake Geneva, Wis., we passed a large lake and Mom asked Jon,
"Have you heard of such-and-such observatory?"
I heard:
"Does your church believe in purgatory?"
and I knew immediately that my ears were not trustworthy at the moment, since Mom is quite educated enough to know that Baptists, the denomination of Jon's upbringing, do not share the Roman Catholic view of the afterlife.

These misunderstandings are so funny, I need to keep a collection of them--like Sue jotting down Dr. Joly's witticisms (and eccentricities).

Monday, January 09, 2006

I saw a possum last night. It was as big as a fat cat, or a corgi. They aren't necessarily the ugliest animals on the face of the earth, but they are certainly one of the most confusing. Their ugliness isn't streamlined like insects, nor horrifying like demonic visages. It's a mish-mash, hodge-podge ugliness, like a clump of string, hair, dirt and who-knows-what-else that you always find in the corner of a room. And then that naked rat's tail the color of cold caucasain skin... Did God get bored one day?

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Work is particularly frustrating right now because I have no clear plan or directive on how to conduct myself here at EPIC. The previous inhabitants didn't leave any directions on what to do, so I've felt like I've been laboring in the dark. I've come across documents on the library dating from the 80's, which are historically interesting but not of practical use.
The girls in the office are helpful in the sense of showing me around the cubical maze, but they have no hands-on experience here in the little library. It's almost like an excavation as I work my around, finding documents and books and trying to figure out where they fit.

School starts next week. I've only just got back into my freedom routine, now I'll have to turn around and head right back. It's a Dr. Chan class, too, so it will be doubly harder. She speaks English in brisk, authoritative tones which seem so out-of-place coming from a tiny 50-ish lady like herself.
I re-read Robin McKinley's first book, "Beauty," a retelling of the fairy tale "Beauty and the Beast." I think this is the best book of her career because of its simple, strong prose. Most of her subsequent work delves into prose-y language, like a peony the keeps on blooming and the writer is the ant that scurries in and out of the petals.
I haven't read her Newberry award winning stuff, preferring to stick with her fairy tale oeuvre (is that the proper use of the word?). Retellings of fairy tales and myths are my deeply favorite works of literature. Jorge Luis Borges says that we use the same metaphors for things, such as comparing death to sleep, even if we might embellish the metaphors or approach them from different angles, because they ring true. The same is true for retellings. Approaching an archetypal story from various probings, we seek to glean all we can from the story, learning about ourselves and each other in the process.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Last night the sky turned green at Robert & Debbie's and curtains of rain lifted and fell as the wind rushed by. There was a tornado warning southwest of their house, but the storm's fury lessened as it moved their way. We paced the floor, keeping an eye on the storm outside and the weather station as TG Shuck excitedly pointed out the different bands of color on the radar screen and explained their implications.
I have two memories of previous near-encounters with tornados. In the first, the whole family was sequestered in the basement of Gary and Lorrie's old house south of Beloit, Wis., listening to the crackling radio. I remember looking up at Mom and worrying about my hamsters on the second floor of our house in Rockford.
In the second, we were at Grandpa Clow's funeral in Minnesota. A tornado warning was issued for the area, and we all went into the basement of the funeral home, where the coffin showroom was. I remember some men looking at the array of coffins, most with their doors partly open, revealing the white silk lining the empty space within, and joking that if the tornado should hit, we could all jump into the coffins and surely be safe.