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Anthony Lane is the reason I started reading The New Yorker. My parents subscribe, and I used to flip through to read the cartoons. But then there was the day when I was lying on the living room floor paging through an issue when I ran into a truly arresting black and white photo of a pair of women. I have a very vivid memory of this photo on the page and the magazine on the dark brown carpet of my parents' living room. The article with the photo was Anthony Lane's review of The Dreamlife of Angels. I had no interest in seeing the movie, but I loved the review, and I started reading The New Yorker primarily for Anthony Lane's movie reviews.

Several years later, he published Nobody's Perfect: Writings From The New Yorker, and I'd been interested in reading it ever since. This year, I got it from PaperBackSwap and dived in on one of my trips that required air travel. I kept reading on my other air travel trips I took, and finished it in a final push yesterday. All in all, it took me eight months to read this book.

The first half of the book is entirely movie reviews. This is the part of the book I highly recommend reading, although not all in one sitting. Lane's writing is fantastic, but it can be a lot to take if you read very much of it at once. In the Introduction, he says that "the primary task of the critic, (and nobody has surpassed the late Ms. Kael in this regard), is the recreation of texture - not telling moviegoers what they should see, which is entirely their prerogative, but filing a sensory report on the kind of experience into which they will be wading, or plunging, should they decide to risk a ticket." I have not read any of Pauline Kael's movie reviews, but having read over three hundred pages of Lane's, I can say that he very much succeeds in this task.

The other aspect of the movie section that's highly entertaining is that I have seen many of the movies he reviewed. Lane started at The New Yorker in 1993, and the mid-nineties are the years when my mother and I went to nearly every movie playing at the local art house theater. Lane also covers many of the big name movies of the years, and that's half the fun of the reviews read at a distance. He praises the dance scene from Pulp Fiction as his favorite in the movie and calls Speed "the movie of the year." The delight of seeing what he thought of movies that I either remember or consider lots of fun even decades on (he hated Con Air, but people of my generation love it - or I do, anyway) fits in with one of his other pronouncements about movie reviewing: "Whenever possible, pass sentence on a movie the day after it comes out. Otherwise, wait fifty years."

We move from movies to books, and then to profiles. This is where I really had trouble continuing on with the book. Anthony Lane in small doses is fantastic. Anthony Lane on movies is always delightful to read. Anthony Lane on books and profiles, particularly more than three hundred pages of them, brings home how uninterestingly privileged he is. The books and profiles sections are primarily about white men, many of whom are dead, a fair number of whom are British, and none of whom I have any interest in knowing more about. Because I read The New Yorker selectively - I only read parts that seem interesting - I don't often notice the extent of its privilege, even though I know it's there. Lane's book really brought home the level to which it's there. Additionally, I found much of the books and profiles sections boring. I'm never going to read Thomas Pynchon, so I'm not sure why I would find a six-page profile of him interesting. What made this bearable was that even in the midst of these are Lane's delightful turns of phrase that make me laugh.
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Every year I space out and forget to do a post at least once. Yesterday was that day.

Yesterday I was thankful for The New Yorker. I'm a few issues behind, so I'm catching up in bits and pieces before bed, and it's so interesting and well written that it's hard to put it down and go to bed.
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As you may or may not know, California has some budget issues. To that end, the Legislature has put a series of measures on a ballot for a special election this month. Two of them have entertaining Con arguments.

Prop 1B "requires supplemental payments to local school districts and community colleges to address recent budget cuts." The Con argument? "No argument against Proposition 1B was submitted." Clearly no one thinks this is a bad idea!

Prop 1F "encourages state budgets by preventing elected Members of the Legislature and statewide constitutional officers, including the Governor, form receiving pay raises in years when the state is running a deficit." The argument against it is that legislators won't magically start working together and fixing budget problems if they don't get raises, and that it's essentially a feel-good measure, to which I say: no shit. Prohibiting legislative raises in deficit years is in no way going to fix our budget process, but I still think it's an important thing to do, and here's why: First of all, it makes sense. When finances are bad, the people in charge shouldn't get raises (assuming, of course, that the people in charge will still make enough money not to starve; generally, this is a safe assumption to make). This is a philosophy I think should apply to companies as well as governments. Secondly, and perhaps even more important than my philosophical argument, is the fact that this will help change future budget discussions. If we prohibit legislative raises in deficit years, people will stop talking about prohibiting legislative raises as a budget fix and focus their energies and conversations elsewhere. Essentially, if 1F passes, it will prevent a derailing tactic.

On the heels of reading/skimming the Official Voter Information Guide this week, I read Douglas McGray's "The Instigator" (abstract only available online) in the May 11 issue of The New Yorker. The article is mostly about Steve Barr, founder of Green Dot Public Schools, a charter school management organization. The article is interesting ("When case-study writers from Harvard Business School asked Barr to describe the inspiration behind Green Dot's model, he didn't cite other schools; he named the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee."), even if it never quite answered my main question (he brings up the objection people have to charter schools that they'll leave behind the most troubled of troubled kids, but never quite addresses it in the context of the school he profiles), but the point that caught my eye and connected it to the election is this:
He discovered charter schools by accident. When President Clinton went to San Carlos to visit California's first charter school, Barr tagged along, and encountered the school's founder, Don Shalvey, and a Silicon Valley businessman, Reed Hastings, who had just founded Netflix. Shalvey and Hastings were about to draw up a ballot initiative that would increase the number of charter schools in California.
And then there's this, which I didn't even know: "Barr explained that California lawmakers had created an option for schools to abandon the district for a charter arrangement if at least fifty per cent of tenured teachers vote to secede." Fascinating.

McGray talks to a couple of students who seem to bring home the lesson the rest of us learned watching Stand and Deliver: what makes a difference in troubled schools is teachers who care and expect things from their students, preferably backed by the school's administration.

Two other interesting points from the article: First, from the first meeting Barr has with the Locke teachers.
"We bombarded him," Cubias said. Barr came back with the same answer again and again: "How will it be worse than what you have now?"
Then, after the takeover:
Old-timers and union loyalists who left Locke after the takeover insisted that Green Dot would find a way to weed out problem kids. Others, such as Cubias, worried that uniforms and the promise of tougher discipline would simply keep bad kids away. But teachers and administrators went out into the neighborhood to visit hundreds of parents and students and encourage them to reenroll. Eighty-five per cent of Locke students returned. (In a normal year, only seventy per cent would come back from summer break.)
If this sounds interesting to you, you may also be interested in Katherine Boo's January 15, 2007 article Expectations about Michael Bennet (then the Denver schools superintendent; now Colorado's junior Senator) and Denver's Manual High.

And, of course, none of this is long-term data. Maybe the answer to problem schools is simply to reorganize them under a new charismatic leader every few years.
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The best article in this week's New Yorker is Ian Parker's "Lost" (abstract only available online) about Iceland's financial collapse. It includes the following bits that are by turns awesome, hilarious, interesting, and depressing:
Someone threw an egg that hit a wall and splashed a drop or two onto the policewoman's shoulder. Two bananas landed at her feet. Iceland's protests had a consistently culinary theme: skyr, Iceland's yogurt-like specialty, was often involved; that day, milk and cheese had been thrown onto the lawn in front of the Prime Minister's office; and at an earlier protest I had seen a bag of potatoes spilled onto the sidewalk by the Parliament building - potatoes being the gift brought by Iceland's Santa Claus to children who are out of favor.

Iceland certainly had resources - fish stocks, geothermal power, a highly educated workforce, beguiling pop stars - but it was hard to understand how this had been leveraged into "luxury and vulgarity," as Magnason put it.

When, in the middle of the nineteenth century, Iceland began to make its way toward independence from Denmark, the experience was more one of self-discovery than of revolt. "The rhetoric of Icelandic politics is steeped in the nationalist fiction of the 'struggle for independence,'" Hálfdánarson said. "I don't think the Danes were particularly sad to let us go."

Margaret Thatcher is one of his great heroes - after a glass of wine, he imitated her voice precisely - and another is the libertarian philosopher Friedrich Hayek, the subject of his Oxford doctorate.

When the krona did fall, some detected underhandedness. It was reported, for example, that foreign hedge-fund managers had flown to Iceland and had bragged in the bar of the 101 Hotel about their plans to bet against the krona. But as one senior and unsentimental Icelandic financier put it to me, "If you're so vulnerable that five idiots from the East Coast, drunk in a bar, can destabilize the currency, then it's not a proper currency."

(In a similar spirit of ironic self-laceration, a Web site called New Iceland, owing something to The Onion, had launched with such headlines as, "'It's Tempting, Very': Prime Minister Haarde on Selling National Treasure Björk to a Bulgarian Circus.")

At the Icelandic Red Cross, Katla Thorrsteinsdóttir said that the number of calls to a help line for people feeling down, or suicidal, had risen by fifty per cent. Her own dismay was evident. "The only thing that I know is that I will be here tomorrow," she said.

And, when two thousand people met on January 20th, it was with the idea not of making speeches but of filling the area with noise that would be heard inside Parliament. Beneath posters referring to events occurring in Washington on the same day - "Yes we can!" - they beat on pots and pans. This was the start of a noisy week: an open-ended, roaming protest that the local press came to call the Kitchenware Revolution. "Or you could call it the Night of the Long Spoons," Magnason said. That first day, the police were pelted with foodstuffs (including "occasional trays of pasta," as The Reykjavík Grapevine, an English-language magazine, put it) and in return used pepper spray.

On February 1st, Jóhanna Sigurdardóttir, a widely trusted, left-wing, and gay member of Parliament, became Prime Minister of Iceland, heading a new coalition led by the Social Democrats.
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I've now had two email conversations about this week's New Yorker, even while the issue sits on the desk in front of me so I can write about it, so I clearly need to just make a post about it and be done with it.

Ariel Levy's Lesbian Nation (abstract only available online) is one of those articles that I might have read anyway but definitely remembered to read based on the fact that there was a Jezebel post about it. The article is an interesting look at the history of the Van Dykes, lesbian separatists who traveled around the country from Women's Land to Women's Land in the 70s. It reads much like any other similar story: a charismatic leader inspires a revolution, a new idea comes in that divides the community, eventually the community falls apart and people go their separate ways, and the charismatic leader ends up leading a relatively everyday life in the current day. Specific interesting points from this article:

  • The first expert she quotes is a man, Todd Gitlin, author of The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage.
  • "The feminist Ti-Grace Atkinson went so far as to claim that her brand of celibate 'political lesbianism' was morally superior to the sexually active version practiced in her midst. Atkinson was not alone in this martyred line of reasoning; a 1975 essay by the separatist Barbara Lipschutz entitled 'Nobody Needs to Get Fucked' urged women to 'free the libido from the tyranny of orgasm-seeking. Sometimes hugging is nicer.' This argument was never particularly compelling to the lesbians in the movement who were actually gay."
  • Lamar Van Dyke, the charismatic leader in question, says, "If you look at me, there's no question about it: I'm a dyke. I am gay. If you don't think so, there is something really wrong with you." I'm really bothered by this, and I'm not sure exactly how to articulate why. It's something about you can't know that about people just by looking at them. I think it's also part of the generational difference. "'Your generation wants to fit in,' she told me, for the second time. 'Gays in the military and gay marriage? This is what you guys have come up with?' There was no contempt in her voice; it was something else - an almost incredulous maternal disappointment."
  • The new idea that divides the community is BDSM. I'm actually surprised The New Yorker went there. I think of them as being fairly staid, but maybe they're not so staid as I think of them being.
  • Lamar now works for Speakeasy in Seattle, "and she had just bought the first new car of her life, a black VW bug. Van Dyke also owns her house, but she doesn't use credit cards. That would cross some kind of line. 'I don't want to be a capitalist pig,' she explained."
  • The article is an interesting historical counterpoint to a Jezebel post about lesbianism as a political choice from earlier this month. The most striking thing missing from the history lesson that shows up in the modern discussions is the way these kinds of communities look down on and exclude trans folks. The other thing that gets left out that I saw in the Jezebel article and discussion is the idea that men are half the population of the world; any solution to the world's problems needs to include them.
The second interesting woman-focused article is Rebecca Mead's profile of opera singer Natalie Dessay (abstract only available online). I particularly like the way she treats the push and pull between acting and singing in the opera world - increased theatricality bringing in more money versus the wish to keep opera pure to the singing - and her acknowledgment that opera plots are notoriously thin. I also like it that Mead mentions the way Dessay's job keeps her away from her family - "she can sometimes go a couple of days without even talking to her children on the phone" - without going into any kind of hysterics about her being a bad mother, or even, really, much more detail about it. The focus is on Dessay as an artist, not Dessay as an example of motherhood, good or bad.

The third interesting woman-focused article is Nancy Franklin's TV column about Dollhouse and the DTV transition. My mom said the article "adds nothing to the chatter, but Nancy Franklin writes well." She's right on both counts. Franklin says, as the rest of us have been saying, "Only people who are willing to cut Whedon endless slack could find anything much to draw them in to this show . . . at the core of the series is an unpromising performance by Eliza Dushku." She also says of Eliza, in my favorite part, "the primary qualification that Dushku brings to the part is that she graduated with honors from the Royal Academy of Cleavage." Quite frankly, I think Eliza, or at least the folks at NBC Universal, know this; the best part of Eliza's Hulu ad is the part where she says, "eyes glued" just as her movement focuses your attention on her breasts. I also very much liked what Franklin has to say about actresses in general: "In terms of gender studies, it is notable that Dushku's demeanor as a zombie is much the same as the demeanor many actresses her age resort to when trying to project an image of themselves as unthreatening and 'feminine': a slouchy walk, a bobbly head, and ever-parted lips. Would someone please show these actresses a movie starring Katharine Hepburn, Barbara Stanwyck, Irene Dunne, Bette Davis, Cate Blanchett, Meryl Streep, or Judy Davis?" Both [ profile] norwich36 and I were struck by the inclusion of Cate Blanchett in that list. Like many people, I'm sure, I first saw her in Elizabeth, where she just blew me away. It turns out I've actually seen her in five other things and I have a number of her other movies in my queue. The only bad things about Franklin's column is that it makes the writing in Denby's movie reviews on the next page seem particularly uninspired in comparison.
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I was explaining this project and my downloading of fic soundtracks to a friend and trying to make him understand that I'm not one of those cool people who likes obscure music. But despite the inclusion of Paula Abdul and Vanilla Ice, I think this project doesn't really tell you how uninteresting my music likes are. So today's piece is a currently popular song that I absolutely love every time I hear it on the radio: Taylor Swift's "Love Story." (Is she more or less cool if Sasha Frere-Jones of the The New Yorker raved about her and my parents really like her?)

Love Story - Taylor Swift
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The January 19 issue of The New Yorker has an article by Tad Friend about movie marketing. The article itself is interesting. He talks about the marketing for W., The Fast and the Furious, Saw II, and New In Town. He also talks about how marketers see people and how they make films relatable. He tells us that "the most common form of partition is the four quadrants: men under twenty-five; older men; women under twenty-five; older women." When I read that to my mother over the phone, she was incensed that they would leave out baby boomers and perplexed that they would lump her and me into the same category. Interestingly, when I read his descriptions of the four quadrants, my actual likes fall into both the young women and older women categories, and I've spent some time enjoying the same thing as young men, although not so much recently. (Exception: horror movies, which I've never really been into, unless it's of the so-and-so fights the devil variety. "They go to horror films as much as young men, but they hate gore; you lure them by having the ingénue take her time walking down the dark hall.") I don't like movies for older men (the examples marketing consultant Terry Press gives Friend are Wild Hogs and 3:10 To Yuma) at all.

Friend outlines five rules marketers have "for making their films seem broadly 'relatable.'" My favorite quote from them, from the section on movie posters: "Because stars are supposed to open the film, and because they have contractual approval of how they appear on a poster, the final image is often a so-called 'big head' or 'floating head' of the star. Every poster for a Will Smith movie features his head, and for good reason: he is the only true movie star left, the only one who could open even a film about beekeeping monks."

It's an interesting article that really does tell you a lot about how the movie industry works. What's even more fascinating to me is how well the article itself works as a piece of marketing. One of the movies whose marketing development Friend follows is New In Town ("a title no one actively disliked"). When I saw the trailer, I thought it looked awful, although the premise is the kind of thing I like. The article, though, with how it talks about how they twist trailers to make movies seem watchable and how Tad Friend says he liked the movie and that "Blanche (Siobhan Fallon Hogan), Zellweger's administrative assistant at the plant, had got many of the biggest laughs. 'Droll and folksy reads as quaint, reads as art house,' Palen said. 'I love Blanche, but I can't sell her.'" actually made me think the movie might be worth seeing. It also made me think that The Proposal might be better than its ghastly trailer, although that might just be wishful thinking - I love a good they have to get married story, and I'm at least mildly fond of both Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds.
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I find The New Yorker extremely variable: some weeks I read nothing but the cartoons, other weeks I read nearly everything. The January 12 issue is a nearly everything issue.

Not all the articles are about Jews and Judaism, but it seems like a large number of the ones I read were. Let me tally the Jews and Judaism articles I read:

  • David Remnick's comment on Obama and Israel:
    And, what is more, history has proved that the seemingly impossible can be achieved: the Irish and the English have all but resolved a conflict that began in the days of Oliver Cromwell, and on January 20th an African-American President will cross the color line and move into the White House - a house that slaves helped build.
  • Jeffrey Toobin's profile of Barney Frank, which I found fascinating. This seems strange to me because I don't find either politics or the current financial crisis particularly interesting, and both feature strongly in this article. My favorite bit about politics:
    Before the meeting, the Democrats at the White House, including Frank, Pelosi, and Barack Obama, had caucused privately in the Roosevelt Room about their strategy for the day. "Barack said, 'I think we need to go ahead with this,'" Frank recalled. "He was being conciliatory, because he thinks it's very important for us, both in public policy and politically, that we don't get blamed for fucking up the economy. And that we not fuck up the economy."
    It also takes on gay rights, and as much as I'm uninvolved and relatively uninformed, I find messages of hope for the future so uplifting:
    Still, Frank is uncharacteristically hopeful about the future, including gay rights. "We're going to do three things in Congress," he told me. "First, a hate-crimes bill - that shouldn't be too hard. Next, employment discrimination. We almost got that through before, but now we can win even if we add transgender protections, which we are going to do. And finally, after the troops get home from Iraq, gays in the military. The time has come."
  • Adam Kirsch's critic at large piece about Hannah Arendt. I don't actually know anything about Hannah Arendt and I'm completely disinterested in philosophy, but I love The New Yorker's pieces on the lives of philosophers.
    The fact that Heidegger and Arendt were lovers was no secret to her close friends - "Oh, how very exciting!" Karl Jaspers exclaimed when Arendt told him - and it has been public knowledge since Elisabeth Young-Bruehl revealed it in her 1982 biography. But the affair became a kind of highbrow scandal in 1995, when Elzbieta Ettinger, a professor at M.I.T., wrote about it in a short book, "Hannah Arendt / Martin Heidegger." Ettinger, who had been granted access to the Heidegger-Arendt correspondence for the purpose of writing a new biography of Arendt, instead made it the subject of a sensational exposé.
  • David Denby's movie reviews, which included a look at Defiance:
    Daniel Craig, it turns out, can embody a Moses figure without losing his sex appeal, which may be the highest compliment I've ever paid an actor.
I also read a few other interesting pieces:

  • Ben McGrath's Talk of the Town piece about Caroline Kennedy, which points out that people had nearly the same things to say about how Hilary spoke, and which offers possible ways to address her image issues:
    Perhaps Mary Mayotte could help? Mayotte runs the Speech Fitness Institute and has experience in curbing the tics of fashion-industry types. ("I've seen people say 'fabulous' twenty-five times in a three-minute interview," she said.)
  • Lizzie Widdicombe's Talk of the Town about the rich selling off their jewelry, which fits right in with the recent Gawker mocking of the rich-based coverage of the economic times:
    Sherman helps them prioritize: "I always say, 'Well, now, have you worn any of it? Or is there anything you're still emotionally tied to?'" She does a bit of therapy: "Most of them never thought about having to come up with money to pay regular expenses. I look upon it positively and say, 'Be glad you had these things, and be glad you had great taste, so now you can sell it in order to continue.'"
  • Justin Vogt's Talk of the Town piece about official historians, which is could hilariously be about academia or fandom or any other semi-insulated community with an overbearing dean or BNF type:
    The allegations shocked the chairman of the advisory committee, Wm. Roger Louis, of the University of Texas at Austin. "Even by Texas standards, it was a level of vulgarity and crudeness that we found hard to believe," Louis said. Most troubling to Louis was Susser's apparent intolerance of any dissent. "We began to discover that it is the equivalent of a petty dictatorship in the Historian's Office," he said.
    Peter Hessler's article about a road trip in China (abstract only available online), which was good, but not as good as some of his previous slices of life in China:
    Periodically, he came through Beijing and slept on my couch for a week. The term of Peace Corps service is lifetime when it comes to guests. Sometimes I had three or four ex-volunteers staying in my apartment, all of them big Midwesterners drinking Yanjing beer and laughing about old times.
  • Sasha Frere-Jones' review of Bon Iver, which I'm now going to have to listen to:
    The stack of voices is overwhelming - a combination of the secular and the religious in one cloudy mass - and is as exalted as any sound in American popular music today.
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I swear I was doing book research when I stumbled across Up and Then Down: The Lives of Elevators, which I remember seeing and not reading when it was originally in The New Yorker. It's highly entertaining.
An over-elevatored building wastes space and deprives a landlord of revenue. An under-elevatored building suffers on the rental or resale market, and drives its tenants nuts. In extreme cases, when the wait becomes actually long, instead of merely perceptibly long, things fall apart. The Bronx family-court system, for example, was in a shambles last year because the elevators at its courthouse kept breaking down. (The stairs are closed, owing to security concerns.) This led to hour-long waits, which led to missed court dates, needless arrest warrants, and life-altering family strife.
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I read Zadie Smith's "Dead Man Laughing" in this week's New Yorker. I was reading, and I thought, "I should post that quote to LJ." And then I kept thinking that again and again and then it made me cry unexpectedly, and so now I'm recommending the whole article. Also, I would never have read the article if I hadn't seen a blurb about it somewhere else (possibly Jezebel), so maybe this will encourage one of you to read it.

In case you're interested, the bit I was originally going to quote: "Up there I saw my brother, who is not eight, as I forever expect him to be, but thirty, and who appeared completely relaxed, as if born with mike in hand."

While you're visiting The New Yorker, you might also check out Nancy Franklin's entertaining review of Elvis Costello and William Shatner's respective talk shows.
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The September 29 issue of The New Yorker included Service, a portfolio of photos by Platon. The photos are of members of the military and families of military members.

When I read the issue, I couldn't look at any of the photos in any depth, only flip through them steadily - look, flip, look, flip - as I cried. I tried writing an LJ entry about it at the time, and I didn't know what to say.

This week, I cleaned out my stack of New Yorkers that had been piling up, waiting to go to the library book sale. I now have a system where I tear the address label off of anything that's ready to go, but it's a new system, and I had to flip through the ones that still had labels to see if there was anything I still wanted to read. When I got to Platon's portfolio, I couldn't remember if they were the pictures that made me cry or not, so I started flipping through them. When I started crying, I stopped flipping, and I set the issue aside to write this entry. I still don't know what to say.
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From a New Yorker Talk of the Town bit about family members in the White House:
Doug Wead, the author of "All the Presidents' Children," pointed out that the extended families of First Ladies have long had the run of the place - Louisa Catherine Adams, he said, brought in a niece who seduced all three Adams sons, and "some nephews who kept bedding the maids."
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Full-Time Unpublished Novelist: Week 1
I did almost nothing last week. Well, okay, I went to dance, had coffee (for her)/hot chocolate (for me) with someone from my writing group, read a lot ([ profile] norwich36 keeps reccing me stuff), ate a heck of a lot (a combination of stress eating and the time of month when my body thinks I should get pregnant and therefore eat a lot so I can provide for the baby [No, body. Just no.]), spent two hours just browsing at Barnes & Noble, walked to the grocery store, walked at least a mile three or four other mornings before breakfast, did yoga every day, plotted out half of a novel (see below), went to Sultan's on Friday night, passed on some recs, and sent a few emails. And wrote one sentence of the book.

I was trying to be kind to myself and tell myself it was okay to take a week off, but it caught up with me on Saturday, when I woke up cranky and later wrote, "I feel like a failure. I need to get myself in gear." in my one-sentence journal. On Saturday night, I sewed new elastic onto my good zils (one of those now that I'm unemployed I have plenty of time to do it tasks I hadn't yet done) and wrote a few more sentences of the book.

On Schedule
After spending a week doing pretty much nothing, I got back on track today. Yesterday I roughed out a potential schedule for myself, and I've stuck to it pretty well today, although it probably needs some adjusting. It's funny how just thinking about it makes me write. The day I turned in my resignation, I had trouble falling asleep, and I was pondering the book, and I thought, "Crap. Now I really do have to write the song" (there's a song that was supposed to be a minor plot point but became a little bigger in the telling of it), and then there part of it was and I had to write it down. I think I didn't quite catch all of it even then. Last night, after roughing out the schedule and telling myself firmly that I was getting out of bed by six-thirty today, I was having trouble falling asleep, and then there was more of the song and another three sentences and a phrase I had to write down. This is why I keep a pen and paper on the stool next to my bed that serves as a nightstand, and just enough light that comes in from the parking lot, even with the blinds closed, that I can see where there's writing and where the paper's blank, and I can write surprisingly well in the dark. Of course, today I wrote only a few sentences of the book and spent most of my assigned work time writing a 2700-word lesbian fantasy role-play short story instead. (I think it's a little flat at the moment, but I can probably spark it up a bit and make it salable if I can come up with a place to try to sell it to.)

Mawwiage. Mawwiage is wot bwings us togedder today.
In three out of the fourteen J2 Big Bang stories I read, they get married. [ profile] norwich36 says this is more common these days, now that it's possible in real life. Apparently I missed this, which is what I get for pretty much only rereading fic for the last year or two. (Also, dammit! I should have done something about my Ted/Barney mpreg earlier because now they don't have to go to Canada, although that certainly has a flexible timeline, so it could be farther in the past. Except now I have to look up when the future bits are to see if that's true. Damn.) Between that and the joke I keep telling myself about the future - "A rich wife is not outside the realm of possibility" (I read Monika K. Moss's Life Mapping [It's fairly similar to other such books; if you've read a lot of them, you could probably skip this one. Also, if you're the type to be disgusted by The Law of Attraction, you should skip the prologue and chapter 1 and go straight to chapter 2. (I think it's mostly ridiculous, but I can also roll my eyes at that part and take the other things she has to say somewhat seriously.)] and worked my way through several of the exercises [I stopped when I got to writing down "Strategic Actions" because the one that kept popping into my head was "quit my job."], one of which is to write out your ideal day. I kept getting stuck and had to write three versions because I couldn't go for a more realistic one until I'd written the partnered version, wherein I write in the morning and volunteer in the afternoon and she works full-time at something she loves. We live in one of the houses in my neighborhood [but a few streets over] with two or three bedrooms - one for us and one to be my office, with a cottonwood tree outside my window, and maybe one more - and a detached garage that she's converted into a dance/yoga/workout studio for me. It has a wood floor with enough give for jumps, windows, one wall all covered with mirrors for dance and lush curtains that can be pulled over them when I don't need the distraction, a sink and mini-fridge because it's a good social gathering place too, and lots of cushions because it's a good gathering place and because doing shoulder stand with the head lower than the shoulders keeps the natural curve to the neck and because I maybe also have a harem girl fantasy where I'm the harem girl and she's the sultan.) - I have at least half the plot of a lesbian romance novel in my head.

One woman is a painter. She had a scholarship to a fancy private school when she was younger, and her best friend is still one of the rich girls, who drags her along to a party out in the burbs one night when she's depressed because the coffee shop she's been working at for years and years and years to pay her bills and buy her art supplies is going out of business and she's going to have to find some other kind of job. The party's at this giant house that two people who work all the time live in, and she's in a room that's mostly empty with great light and says, "What a waste," because it would be such a wonderful studio space. Also at the party is the businesswoman type (maybe an ad executive, probably not a lawyer) who's so close to making partner, and she knows that what they really want is some assurance of stability, something that says she won't leave them once she's got a name for herself that will get her something bigger and better somewhere else. She knows a wife who's tied to the community would do it. They meet, of course, and have some kind of moment at the party, something that's enough for the ad exec to get her secretary to track down the painter and ask her out again. I'm not sure exactly how to get to the proposal, but the ad exec suggests it would be the best thing for them to get married - she would get the wife that will convince the partners she's partner material, and the painter will get whatever space she wants in their house as her studio and money for art supplies. And because the painter's been worrying about what the hell she's going to do ("I can't go work at Starbucks. I just can't!") and she's three days late with her rent and she just used her last tube of red, she says yes. So they get married, and the painter plays hostess when needed, and the ad exec stays out of her studio and doesn't care how much she spends on paint and brushes and canvas. And then there's some kind of event, maybe New Year's Eve, and the ad exec gets drunk and they have the best, sweetest sex ever, and each one of them realizes she's fallen in love with her wife, but, of course, this is a romance novel, so they don't tell each other that. And then there's more that gets them, eventually to a happy ending. (Yesterday, my brain wanted the ad exec to be an alcoholic and send her to AA. I don't know.)

Releasing Ideas Into the World: If I Were An Editor
I've long thought that you could make a great erotica anthology out of the Chico News & Review's spicy personals. (For those who don't know: the CN&R is the oldest, most establishment of the local alternative weekly papers. There was a time when they were really good and did investigative reporting, and then the quality fell off. I think it's getting better under the new editor. The old editor, who maybe got fired over the dildo story they ran in the center of the paper a couple of years ago, started his own alternative weekly paper, and it's terrible.) You could assign one to each author, or provide a selection and let the authors tackle whatever strikes their fancy.

You could also make a good anthology out of the example sentences in Karen Elizabeth Gordon's The Well-Tempered Sentence. There are some wacky stories to be told behind some of those.

Emblematic of My Reading Habits
I went to the library on Saturday morning. I checked out three books: a young adult novel I had to get through interlibrary loan (Beauty Shop for Rent by Laura Bowers), a romance novel I've read before that I had to request from another branch in the system (Strange Bedpersons by Jennifer Crusie), and my Dewey Decimal book for September, which I originally saw when it was on the new books shelf (Free For All by Don Borchert). This is pretty much what my reading looks like these days.

Why Jennifer Crusie Novels Are Better
This week, I read two romance novels by other people - The Bachelor by Carly Phillips (not very good) and Remember When by Judith McNaught (better, but still left me emotionally unsatisfied) - which made me develop a theory about part of what makes Jennifer Crusie's novels better. Both The Bachelor and Remember When are horribly gendered, beyond even what you might expect from such a pillar of heterosexuality as the romance novel. Roman doesn't just like Charlotte's scent; it's her "feminine scent" that he loves while he's waiting in her bedroom for her to get home. It's not just the qualities that Diana's looking for that she finds in Chase, but the "male qualities." Here's a suggestion: if you can drop the gender word and your sentence still makes sense, drop it.

On the other hand, if there's an actual reason to keep it, do. I've always wanted to write a Klaus/Dorian story where part of what Klaus likes about Dorian is that he's a man and smells like one. (Can I tell you how much the Dorian smelling like roses thing drives me crazy? Yes? Well then: Very much.)

Elevator Priorities out of whack. More whack is on order.
It's cool and all that my cousin Sada (Technical details: We're not blood relatives. Her grandmother and my grandfather got married sixteen and a half years ago. We've been cousins for over half my life, which is long enough that some of the kids on that side of the family weren't even born at the time. Weirdest, to me, is that I'm pretty sure I'm the only one of all of us who remembers their Grandpa Jack.) won the silver in women's sabre and that they took bronze in the team competition, but what really rocks is that David and Tina (her parents) got to talk to Anthony Lane.

You All Fail
I watched The Boondock Saints on Saturday (I'm working my way through my Netflix Watch It Now queue before I have to give up Netflix for the time being), and I loved it. Why hasn't anyone forced me to watch it before?

Two spoilery questions )

Digital TV: Not Quite All It's Cracked Up To Be
Our local PBS affiliate finished their transition to digital on Friday. I decided I didn't want to miss another episode of The Inspector Lynley Mysteries, so I went out yesterday and used my coupon to buy a converter box (the Zenith DTT901) and hooked it up. I don't get channel 9. I suspect I need a higher quality antenna (they're out of Redding, which is quite a ways away), and I really have to think about whether or not that's worth it or if I just need to be bitterly disappointed. On the bright side, I now get the CW. (Should I just pick up watching One Tree Hill without having watched the intervening seasons? Will I still like it? I'm sure not having seen several seasons will make absolutely no difference to my understanding of the plot; it's not like it's a particularly complex show.)
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The July 21 issue of The New Yorker (the one with the controversial Obama cover) has an interesting article by Jill Lepore about the rise of children's literature and the publication of Stuart Little. Apparently Anne Carroll Moore, who was the arbiter of what constituted respectable children's literature and what did not ("Her verdict, not any editor's, not any bookseller's, sealed a book's fate. She kept a rubber stamp at her desk that she used, liberally, while paging through publishers' catalogues: 'Not recommended for purchase by expert.' The end."), was not a fan of Stuart Little: "Worse, White had blurred reality and fantasy - 'The two worlds were all mixed up' - and children wouldn't be able to tell them apart."
Tearing the pages out of books and rubbing out words that might worry their little one - it was just what Katharine White had been complaining about all along. In Stuart Little, her husband backed her up. And, in her next children's-books column, she, in turn, vindicated him, lamenting the pitiful state of a literature "careful never to approach the child except in a childlike manner. Let us not overstimulate his mind, or scare him, or leave him in doubt, these authors and their books seem to be saying; let us affirm."
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The October 8 issue of The New Yorker has a small bit about the Metropolitan Museum arranging their Rembrandt exhibit in order of acquisition. Peter Schjeldahl says, "Sportively arbitrary hanging of great art should happen more often."
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Today, I'm thankful for The New Yorker. This afternoon, I read both Malcolm Gladwell's "Dangerous Minds" about how the FBI profilers work, which suggests that profilers use the same cold reading tactics that psychics do, and Bill Buford's "Extreme Chocolate" (abstract, not full article, available online), which is a fascinating look at Dagoba and the chocolate growing industry in Brazil.
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Sick, Tired
I went to Southern California for a three-day meeting for work. I came back and then got sick. I blame the hectic schedule and bad air quality for depressing my immune system and the air travel for exposure to unusual germs.

I've been reminding myself that being kind includes being kind to myself.

I then went out of town on vacation, which would have been more fun if I hadn't been sick. Honestly, if I hadn't already paid for the hotel (I did the Priceline name your own price thing), I would have just stayed home and slept.

One of my coworkers passed away on Tuesday morning. She'd been battling cancer and out of work on medical leave for almost two years. I found that I didn't get much done at work yesterday or today. Her service is next Friday. We had planned for our team's annual retreat to be next Friday. This retreat has already been bumped once by a funeral and again by a training. Coworker O suggested we just stop planning it.

As I think I've mentioned, cleaning and organizing is one way I deal with anxiety. I did take a whole box of stuff to work today (and then my coworkers wouldn't let me get rid of the rock-based turtle I made in kindergarten and put it on the counter in our office space). I feel very stuck because I've emptied out shelves and two of my three desks, and they're just sitting here taking up space. My brother's coming over today to see if he wants the shelves, and my parents just came back from Burning Man and will be figuring out space in their lives for one of the shelves and at least one of the desks. I don't want to tackle the things on the wall until I have my furniture figured out. I also want a new dining room table, but I haven't felt up to going shopping for one.

A while ago, I saw an ad for The Rejection Collection: Cartoons You Never Saw and Never Will See in The New Yorker, and thought it sounded interesting. I put it on my "To Read" Amazon wishlist thinking I would browse through it in the bookstore or see if the library got it.

Some longer time ago, I joined The New Yorker Compass, which is basically an opportunity to take a bunch of marketing surveys. I'm a New Yorker subscriber, so I don't mind giving them feedback, and I like the idea that I'm skewing their results. Their questions make it obvious that they expect people taking the surveys to be a lot wealthier than I am. My favorite was the time they asked how much your watch cost. The lowest option? Under $200.

As incentive for taking their surveys, they offer you a chance to enter a drawing. I usually don't do that, because I don't want any of the stuff they're giving away. The last time, though, they were giving away copies of The Rejection Collection, so I entered my name. Today, they emailed me to say I won! Yay!
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I've written almost nothing in weeks. This week, I sat down and wrote a 2900-word story in three days. "Eleven Days at the Rocking M" was like that too. I wrote it in less than a week, and the bulk of it (as in, nearly 4000 words) in a weekend.

We had a henna party before the party where the belly dance troupe was performing yesterday. I did my own henna tattoo on the back of my left hand. I showed it off at breakfast this morning and told people I'd done it myself. My mother said, "I thought I recognized your drawing style." I had no idea I even had a drawing style. I'm used to thinking of myself as having no talent when it comes to arts other than writing.

The best politics subject line ever comes from John Scalzi's Whatever: SCOTUS to POTUS: RTFM.

Movies (I)
I did not go see Superman Returns, but I did read Anthony Lane's review in The New Yorker. You may remember from previous posts how much I love Anthony Lane. Here's the best bit of what he has to say about it: Possibly Spoiler-like )

Movies (II)
I did see The Devil Wears Prada, and let me tell you that it is awesome. It's fantastically funny, Emily Blunt's every line is delivered perfectly, and it's a wonderful vehicle for Anne Hathaway, who finally gets to be an adult. It also made me put Ready to Wear (fashion movie) and Something New (Simon Baker movie) at the top of my Netflix queue.

Other People's Fandoms
Someone at Escapade went on and on about Nip/Tuck, so I Neflixed it. Let me recommend that you not do any such thing. The characters are despicable and unsympathetic and the surgery footage serves no purpose other than to be bloody and gory.
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My brother gave me a CD, which I tried to listen to at work on Thursday. There was something in the quality of the sound that set my teeth on edge, so I gave up after about a half a song. (I'll have to try again at a different time, and possibly with different speakers.) Later that day, I started getting sick, which of course made me think of the alien signals in both Threshold and "Music of the Spheres," the Joshua Jackson-Kirsten Dunst episode of The Outer Limits.

I also had a non-serious flash of "maybe it's Asian bird flu," which I always misread as avian bird flu and then wonder who would come up with such a stupidly redundant name.

There's a New Yorker cartoon (possibly by Roz Chast) called "The Sweet Spot of the Flu." There's a person lying on a couch in front of a TV with tissues and other illness items spread around, and the caption says, "Too sick to go to work, not too sick for TV."

Yesterday I actually spent more time reading (Worldwired by Elizabeth Bear. I'm not sure if it's really not as good as Hammered and Scardown or if I just wasn't in the mood for it.) than watching TV. Today's been a bit more in the other direction.

I've been trying to watch things off of the poll some of you voted in. I've cheated a bit. I started with Dead Like Me because new friend Sarah loaned me the first season, and I couldn't resist Ned and Stacey as soon as I knew it was out on DVD (and I successfully stumped Guess the Dictator or Sit-Com Character with Eric).

I tried out Futurama. I told myself I was going to give it at least two episodes. I made it seven minutes into the second one before I gave up.

Farscape was the other top vote getter, and I've been putting it off because the discs are horribly inconvenient. Disc 1 has episodes 1 and 7, disc 2 has episodes 2 and 4, and so on in some incomprehensible pattern.

So instead of Farscape, I made The Dead Zone my next item. I watched the first three episodes yesterday. It was pretty good, but not spectacular. I may have seen too many psychic shows.

Today I watched Murder By Numbers. I can see why everyone was all into the teen gay murderers in love, but, eh. Michael Pitt is definitely a Leonardo DiCaprio wannabe.

Then I watched Dirty Dancing on TV. Erin says we watched it at Nikki's birthday party in elementary school, but I didn't remember it at all. Erin brought up a good point: Where did Baby get all those clothes? I myself have to wonder why this is a classic.

This evening, I tried watching It's a Wonderful Life, which I don't think I've ever really seen. I lasted 21 minutes. Then I tried ICE WARS Battle of the Sexes. That was only good for about eight minutes, but it did both make me want to see Ice Princess again and remind me of [ profile] entrenous88's "Spander on Ice" (part 1, part 2).

And now for the rest of One Tree Hill, season 2, disc 4. (Miscellaneous annoyance: If you're ever making a DVD, make sure that the theme song is at the end of a chapter. I don't want to watch or have to fast forward and find the end of the opening credits every time.)
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I mentioned some inappropriate het sex in that last entry about Riddick. I was only saying it would be hot, not "rec me some of that," and yet [ profile] vic_ramsey did rec me some of that. The fic is sixty parts of out of character melodrama, although there is some improvement in her character after they have sex. Overall, though, he's too soft and she's too weak, plus she inexplicably has blond hair. The plot's actually not bad if you think of it as original fic and just let go of any irritation regarding people in the far future still watching Little Shop of Horrors. It did, despite its flaws, keep me reading through all sixty parts.

I probably should have learned my lesson about Vin Diesel movie het fic back when I read a whole lot of parts of a Dom/Letty fic waiting for them to have sex. It was actually pretty sexy, and it kept building and building and building and then I knew that they were going to have sex in the next part, and I got to the next part--and they'd already had sex.

Generally speaking, Vin Diesel movie het writers need to learn how to write a strong woman character. I get it, okay? Vin Diesel's a giant guy and if you're involved with him or some character he plays, chances are that he's going to do some kind of taking care of you. But he has to be used to that, right? How much more impressed would he be with a woman who can take care of herself?

More Riddick

It was in the middle of this story that I went to Barnes and Noble. As I was browsing the sci fi section, I came across the novelization of The Chronicles of Riddick. I didn't have anything else to do this morning (I'd already been to the infamous book sale), so I sat down and skimmed through reading minor spoilers ). It was actually surprisingly good for a movie novelization, and I might try reading some of Alan Dean Foster's other work now.

On Writing: Voice

This week's New Yorker has a review of Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. I haven't read the book, but I've been annoyed by all of the hullabaloo surrounding it, and so it was with some amount of glee that I read Louis Menard's critique of Lynne Truss's incorrect and inconsistent use of punctuation.

Once he gets through panning the book, however, he moves on to the question of voice. "Writers often claim that they never write something that they would not say," he says. I have to wonder what kind of writers he's talking about. Because I rarely, if ever, write about characters who are anything like me, I make a conscious effort to make sure that the things I would say don't come out of my character's mouths. This is one of those things I could never get through to one bad writer I know. Just because you would say it doesn't mean your character would. And conversely, just because your character would say it doesn't mean you would.

On Not Writing

A previous New Yorker issue had an article about writer's block. I didn't read it, but you might be interested.

Gay Marriage (Again)

In case you can't tell by the previous two entries, I read The New Yorker every week. I once linked to a previous New Yorker commentary on age as a determining factor for support for gay marriage. A more recent New Yorker article takes a deeper look at the whole idea of gay marriage. It takes Adam Haslett a while to get there, but he eventually makes the point that I've yet to see anyone else get to:
Despite comparisons to the repeal of miscegenation laws, no other expansion of the marriage franchise--to the sterile, to slaves, or to interracial couples--has required an alteration in the basic definition of the term: the union of a man and woman as husband and wife. To discount this as mere semantics misses what the definition points up: that marriage, through all its incarnations, has been a procedure that assigns people a new identity based on their gender. For centuries, it has been the ceremony that makes males into husbands and females into wives. Until very recently, this meant a lifetime commitment to both the security and the constriction of a well-defined social role. The symbolic danger that gay marriage poses to such an arrangement is obvious. It alters the public meaning of the word by further draining it of its power to reinforce traditional expectations of behavior. What does it mean to be a husband in a world where a man could have one of his own?


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Ruth Sadelle Alderson


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