21 September, 2007

My laptop computer at home died last night and I won’t have money to take it to for repair until at least next week. It will probably be good for me to have a full weekend offline, but it means no updates or comment approvals here and no new pictures moving to flickr. I’m still not making much use of this blog so that isn’t much of a loss, but I wanted to throw a few things out before disappearing out of the ether.

I read the latest volume of Fruits Basket a few weeks ago and I had no idea how rusty my comics-reading skills had gotten. Not only did I have only vague recollections of who the various Zodiac members were, but my eyes didn’t want to leap from panel to panel in any comfortable way. I had to drag myself along, forcing the understanding. It really was like translating from a language you read with awkward fluency, searching for just how things fit so you can piece them together into some sort of tentative meaning. I do realize I’m still more fluent in manga than, say, classical Greek, but it was disconcerting. And I don’t think an American comic would have been much better. I think I’ve just fallen out of the habit of reading pictures.

I’m not all words all the time, though. I ought to be tracking my Netflix use. We watched My Flesh and Blood, which I’ve wanted to see for a long time and which I can’t praise highly enough. It’s an unsentimental view of a woman raising 13 children, 9 of whom (I think) came to her through special needs adoption. I follow the world of special needs adoption on blogs and in public policy very closely these days because I think it might be where I’m headed, but I was thrilled and inspired by Susan Tom’s handling of the linguistic politics and day-to-day realities of her life, not to mention totally in love with all the kids. There’s a beautiful clarity in it, at least for me, made all the more clear by the obvious pain shown.

I should probably get some categories going here if I’m going to make it a useful, functioning blog instead of whatever it is now. I’m writing weekly and that’s that, but eventually it should be more. In my livejournal I went with the six gifts of womanhood Emer exemplified: “beauty, a gentle voice, sweet words, wisdom, skill at needlework and chastity.” Everything I talk about in myself seems to fall into discussing either my success or failure on one or more of those fronts. Here things might be bigger, though.

Since I haven’t discusses any of my needlework here, I’ll say that I’ve got a Sadie-based sweater being seamed up now, though I’ll need to find a zipper to install in it. I’m also a sleeve away from something that started as Ubernatural but is a long-sleeved v-neck pullover. It may be quite a while, given the computer situation, before I can finish them up and have A. take some pictures of me and have a knitting post up here, but I’m looking forward to that. Since it’s 90+ degrees out today and I’m working with wool, I guess there’s no hurry in any practical sense.

I’ll be spending time with my family for my dad’s birthday this weekend. I’m looking forward to having all three brothers in one place. That only happened once over the summer, and it should be plenty of goofy fun.


being there

18 September, 2007

On Sunday, A. went to her departmental picnic while I took Addiston and met up with my own coworker and her dog at the Cincinnati Nature Center. I’ve never gone hiking with a dog before and I’ve learned (unsurprisingly) that the constant attention to leashing leaves you sore in different places than simple hiking would. We had a great time, though. The real point (inasmuch as there is one) of the story is that I then dropped the beast at home and went off to meet A. and one of her coworkers and said coworker’s spouse at The Pub at Rookwood Mews. Since I was the only one able to show up at 4 pm for a 4 pm appointment (for a change) I got to stand around and knit for 30 minutes until I had company. This was made more interesting by the fact that there were people filming in The Pub’s parking lot. What little we were able to learn was that there was a sitcom pilot being shot. Everyone’s very clear on the idea that it’s a sitcom, even though it seems to involve quite a bit of gun use and people driving around in BMWs. They weren’t actively filming, just having a guy with an exceedingly hip haircut wander around with some spyglass-like device, and since he didn’t tell me to move I just, well, kept to my knitting. When A. and her coworker went outside briefly, though, they were shooed away from the action.

That was funny enough, but then last night A. and I decided to be lazy and not cook and instead take advantage of wing night at Zola’s in MainStrasse in Covington, which was unwise in that she and I had both recently had the real thing at The Anchor Bar on our Buffalo trip. But we ate and enjoyed and vowed not to be tempted by false prophet wings (although we’re not ruling out the weekly Wednesday Burger Mania), then walked back to her car only to find we’d been parked in by the same film crew’s trailer. Spyglass guy remembered us, which is appropriate since it was only 24 hours since he’d been staring at me and telling her to move away, but we thought it was hilarious. Not only did he want us to move our car, though, but give him our names and contact information because they may want to use us as extras. So since this is all a super secret project, I’m sure I won’t be able to say anything about it if this comes to fruition except that the only reason I’m doing it is that it would be really cool if Lyle (the only person I know who might watch a pilot) saw me in the background, whether he knew it or not. Still, though, potentially hilarious or at least unique.

in hot pursuit

10 September, 2007

I’ve watched other movies since, but last week A. and I saw The Pursuit of Happyness, which I’d initially skipped because of my skepticism about what seemed like creepy Reaganomics apologist mindset but she put on our Netflix queue because of confidence about little Jaden Smith’s cuteness. That makes it one of those situations where we can both be right, I think. But yeah, cute and creepy pretty much sums it up.

I know especially the night before 11 September I’m supposed to be thinking about bigger and loftier issues, except for me it’s a different anniversary that resonates more strongly. This year is 10 years since I was first raped as a college freshman, and that’s something that affected and changed me a lot more than I wish it had. Last September my cat Saffron was loose in the woods and being in the dog park with Addiston this weekend really made me uncomfortable because it was so like and unlike the time I spent with my tears and a book behind my apartment building last fall until I was able to find my little cat and coax her back into my arms. I spent all the nights she was missing in hysterical guilt, crying and waiting and worrying. Losing Saffron more recently when I moved here is as close as I’ve gotten to a custody dispute, and while I had moments of deep sadness I know she’s well and I get to see photos at least from her new phone.

So what I’m saying at least at the end of that paragraph is that I have no idea what it must feel like to give up a child, even if to keep Solomon from slicing him to bits. And yet the most sympathetic character in The Pursuit of Happyness was protagonist Chris’s wife, Linda, who got sick of his constant promises that he’d find some way to make the necessary money to pay the rent and cover childcare. So she did the rational thing and moved herself and her child away from him to what seemed like a more secure situation, only to accede to his wishes to let their son Chris live with his father when she moved to New York in search of a new life. From the previews, I got the impression we were supposed to consider her heartless, but I pitied her and empathized. Sure, it was a failure of imagination not to go along with Chris’s plan to go from selling useless, unwanted medical equipment to taking an unpaid internship that would give him a 5% chance of becoming a stockbroker, but I’m not sure how we’re really supposed to blame her.

Except I’m being a bad person in talking about what we’re supposed to do because that’s not how art works and what always gets me in trouble, and yet this is ceaselessly didactic art. And I’m not sure about the messages, either. It was really painful not only to watch Linda have to suffer through indignities and disappointments and double shifts so Chris can spend more time badgering HR execs, but to then see the good-vs.-evil setup that permeates everything. Because Chris is good and trying to do right by his son and better himself, it’s fine when he rips off a cab driver and funny when he runs away. But when a mentally ill and presumably homeless man or a hippie musician steal Chris’s medical equipment because he’s being irresponsible with it, he’s able to hunt them down and recover his property. It really gave me chills to watch little Chris alone in a men’s homeless shelter at night while his dad studied and did machine maintenance because I couldn’t get over the foreboding sense that certainly little Chris (statistically speaking, at least) should be molested or something rather than just get to sleep angelically and be cute and endearing. And what kind of person does that make me?

I think I’m just a critical, fed up person. Because I said I’m not talking about national politics and yet I can’t avoid them. Yes, it’s great that Chris was able to essentially con his way into riches, especially since he proved his worth once he got there. It’s certainly admirable he was able to get his son off the streets unscathed, if that’s actually what happened. But the whole system that leaves people poor and broken is the problem. I spend so much of my spare time reading foster/adoption blogs and I’m deeply, deeply, constantly concerned about the nature of poverty in this nation. I know we have a horrible system set up that hampers the people who need help most and refuses to help plenty who are doing good work. And what am I doing now except being critical? It’s something I worry about a lot, the same way I worry about a fictionalized story of a poor black man who molds his life around inspiration from Thomas Jefferson without ever acknowledging that it might be possible to, say, pursue happiness more easily (if not with a free conscience, although perhaps that wasn’t even an issue) when you’ve got slaves taking care of your day-to-day concerns. So I’m bothered by this exceptionalism even as I admire exceptionalism in life, especially because I worry I don’t have enough sympathy or support for the people who are stuck in the system and not able or willing to do enough to escape. Because, really, who of us can escape when we’re what the system is made of? Maybe happiness is, as the movie says, something we can chase but never hold, but I think we have a moral duty to make sure that while they exist poverty and suffering have a hold on us.


1 September, 2007

This will be a short one because any minute now we’ll have people showing up for the first party I’ve ever (co)hosted. It’s not just that I’m not sure I’m sufficiently social, but I’ve never before wanted to go through the time I spent this afternoon chopping up vegetables and marinating chicken. I’ve been very good at living my life online and limiting my actual personal interaction to what keeps me comfortable. While I wasn’t actually worried about whether we’d get everything cleaned and sorted in time, it’s a different sort of pressure to know that I’ve asked people to come, inspect my space, approve of me. I’ve been online much less than I used to be this summer and I’m working on being able to speak as comfortably as I write, connect on other people’s terms. It’s not all about them, though. I’m the one who did the shopping, so there are salt and vinegar chips rather than more standard ones on the table in front of me. I think it’s now time for me to indulge.


23 August, 2007

I grew up in a little town nestled on the bluffs above the Ohio River. When I rocked myself to sleep at night, I could hear barges lowing on the river as they passed each other. Now I live a few miles farther north on the flat plain that rises from the river across from Cincinnati. I can see train tracks from the windows. I don’t know how my mental life would have been different if I’d started out here instead. I’ve often said that it’s easy to be a postmodernist in the hills, because it’s obvious that where things are and how they look differ depending on your perspective, and you can’t always get there from here. But down here on gridded streets, there’s a different kind of beauty.

I just finished reading James Loewen’s book Sundown Towns, and apparently the city I live in now was one and according to longtime residents even had a sign at city limits, though it’s obviously integrated now. We’ve seen some Confederate flags, but not a lot of active racism. Ft. Thomas, where I grew up, doesn’t end up on the sundown town list, probably because the VA hospital there gave them some sort of black (patient) population that would show up in the census. It certainly has a history of racism and exclusion going along with its legacy of class-based snobbishness and I never had a non-white classmate. It too is less white but maybe not much more welcoming than it used to be when I was a child. It was a good place to grow up because the woods behind my house were a haven for me and I was able to walk from school, but I was aware of the extent of my privilege and alienation there.

When A gets home in half an hour, we’ll be taking off for what will probably be my last visit (and her first) to my most-loved location, the cottage on Lake Erie my grandparents rent. It was one of the buildings used at the Pan-American Expo at which McKinley was shot, like several others then floated across the lake to be set down as a summer home. It’s a beautiful, shabby old house full of sand and memories. I love even the fishy smell of the lake, the flaps and cries of seagulls. It may be stormy while we’re there, but some of my favorite memories are of the times the wind kicked up wild waves and I could sit on the porch and watch the lightning. I feel more myself there than anywhere else. I love material culture more than “real” art in some ways, looking at something I know someone long ago has held, used, loved. The cottage has so many goofy little objects that are part of my history and part of me and in the future will be someone else’s. It’s going to be a hard but good goodbye, I think, and a good chance and place for me to rest.

Bs and Hs, or something

13 August, 2007

Moving ended up being much more time- and mind-consuming than I expected, and I obviously haven’t been writing here. This is going to be an unusually spoiler-heavy post, so I’ll go ahead and say now that I don’t see much point in avoiding spoilers in the kind of writing I do and this will probably be true in the future. I still don’t have categories or anything like that, but I’m thinking about how to deal with that. Work in progress, folks.

Last night A and I watched Sorry, Haters on Telly’s recommendation. While A was pretty much fully negative about it, I had a much more ambivalent reaction, maybe because I knew more than she did going in about what the contents would be. What impressed me was that it seemed like such a deep mix of good and bad directing choices. I mean, framing the movie so that it seems to have been financed by its fictional Q-Dog TV MTV-like enterprise is lovely, but then what do we make of main character Phoebe getting a music video director (or was it musician? I wasn’t paying enough attention) credit overlaying the last shot, as if perhaps all that we’ve seen is some director’s violent, semi-sensical fantasy. And that’s what it was, I know, but I’m getting tripped up a bit in what’s meta and what’s not and should probably circle back around to the start.

See, it’s pretty obvious from the start that things aren’t what they seem. Syrian-born cabbie Ashade turns out to have a PhD in chemistry back home and just isn’t able to work in the field here, especially busy as he is with mounting a daunting legal defense for his brother and nephew, who are either in Guantanamo now or have already been returned from there to Syrian captivity. He picks up a tightly-wound white woman who claims her name is Philly and she’s a creative executive at Q-Dog TV, scorning the bean counters in accounting and willing to partake of the odd “marijuana cigarette” as part of her job. But there’s obviously something deeply off about her, not merely in the prudish way she complains about “effing” problems at work and the way her tv channel (and especially the celebrity decadence-display show “Sorry, Haters”) teaches kids to treat women as “Bs and Hs” and drives viewers to hate themselves for not being thin or rich.

Philly’s thin, but since we see her having trouble getting the money she wants from an ATM as we first meet her, it’s not hard to believe she’s not as rich as she’d like to be. Except it turns out she’s not Philly, either. She tells Ashade that he’s driven her out to New Jersey where she defaces a car because it belongs to her ex and their 7-year-old Smitty’s Chinese tutor, which unsurprisingly isn’t true either. Instead, the car’s owner is the real Philly, an exec at Q-Dog, and the faux-Philly turns out to be supposedly mild-mannered Q-Dog accountant Phoebe, who began at the same time and with the same lack of rank as Philly but never progressed into someone who hates and succeeds at her job. While Philly has power, money, family, Phoebe stays in her apartment ordering bomb-making supplies and working on antisocial collages while doting on her little dog, Smitty. Of course, Ashade doesn’t find this out until he’s enlisted the person he thinks is Philly to help spring his brother from Homeland Security gulag and, for his trouble, had her steal all his cash and turn in his brother’s girlfriend and infant son to DHS. By that point he’s on the run from the government with limited funds and not in much of a position to bargain Phoebe down from what she wants him to do.

So what does Phoebe want? She wants to control the narrative, I guess, given how quick she is to lie about everything from her command of French to all the details of her personal and professional life. She wants to create another terrorist disaster, she tells Ashade, because she remembers how powerful she felt on 9/11 in that everyone else was just as powerless as she. I’m not sure whether Ashade believes her or gives himself over to some Stockholm-syndrome sympathetic acceptance because he’s trying to play a player and perhaps save his life, not to mention the lives of the family members he loves.

I don’t believe Phoebe about her motivation, though, and I’m not sure whether we viewers are supposed to. The movie’s set up to make you sympathize and identify with her, but even though I’m also a gaunt, tired white woman with no children and no husband working at what can be a mind-numbing job, I can never forget that this still gives me all sorts of privilege. I mean, yes, presumably I could go out and try to set up a cab driver in a byzantine scheme to create some sort of terrorist attack just like she did (although I don’t think I could pull it off even if I did want to, and the scale of her success is only one reason why) and I could do it because I am a middle-class white woman and that lets me move and act according to culturally prescribed roles without making any waves. But it bothers me that Phoebe basically has to be a white woman, that her particular (to my eyes nonsensical and unrealistic) form of craziness is one that codes as fundamentally female, white, bourgeois; I’m sure a movie I haven’t actually seen was called Single White Female for a reason and it was right there on display in Wicker Park. I get a related vibe from Freedomland and I know there’s another famous movie about a mother looking for a missing child who turns out not to exist, though I think the flipside of that is Flightplan. So what’s so bad about being thin, urban, sufficiently successful but single and not a mother that it drives women insane?

I wouldn’t have trouble with the idea that Phoebe’s a wannabe terrorist mastermind, though I suppose if that were even more obvious from the start the standard viewer wouldn’t have any sympathy for her at all. Or is that even a fair way to say it? I’m sympathetic in the sense that anyone who believed what she did would be deeply delusional and I’d pity her for having to live in such a world. But there was something creepy and annoying in what I read into this, that Ashade is supposed to code as other and we’re supposed to identify with Phoebe/Philly until (OH NO!) we realize that all our assumptions have been turned upside down and we shouldn’t be so closed-minded as to assume all that stuff. Except I never gave myself over to believing this was what was going on and neither did A, who knew nothing about the movie going into it. Instead we were just counting down the timebomb of plot twists until the ending.

And I guess it sounds like I’m saying I also thought this was a stupid movie, which is in a lot of ways true. Yet the acting was excellent, giving the story more depth than it probably deserved. It could have been good if it had addressed things like why Ashade wouldn’t actually feel comfortable casually touching Phoebe the way he eventually did, why she didn’t think that using her connections to free his brother would have given her the same rush of power that killing people might, why she deals with stress by ramming a fork into her hand in a public setting rather than saving her self-injury for a truly private time. I’m looking forward to talking to Telly about why he found it so moving when I found it compelling mostly for what it lacked or hinted at. But maybe it’s just a situation where those who can’t create hate.

I’m not going to say anything substantive about the contents or main story in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, but I do want to talk for a moment about wizarding marriage and family culture. I have a feeling that if it weren’t for slash fanfic, Rowling wouldn’t have felt it necessary to go out of her way and point out that all her characters are straight, but she sure went through with that plan. Poor Tonks and Lupin not only get their unconvincing romance legitimized so that there can be a plug for the power of father/godfatherhood but then hardly get to do anything as individuals throughout the rest of the story. Then there’s the post-war baby boom, and that’s the part that got me thinking about how weird wizard romance is. I mean, mudbloods have two Muggle parents and I’m pretty sure there are some wizarding people who do marry and have children with Muggles, although maybe the people described as half-blood are from mudblood/pureblood pairings. I know some wizards manage to live in Muggle society, managing technology like driving cars and so on, but many of them don’t bother. So what becomes of them?

Apparently just about everyone who goes to Hogwarts ends up in some sort of marriage to a fellow Hogwarts alum of the opposite gender, although there were plenty of presumably single wizards teaching there and working in various places Harry and the students visited. But virtually all adult relationships seem to lead to marriage and children, which is interesting in a story for children and that is in so many ways about love as the core of life. I mean, sure, after all these years together it’s not surprising that there would be plenty of Hogwarts romances, but the idea that a happy ending means settling down with some high school sweetheart to have a bunch of kids seems odd to me, though I know it’s hardly unique to this story. But if I were writing for a high school audience, I don’t think I would want to send the message that immediately marrying the first available wizard or witch after graduation is the way to find true fulfillment even though I understand how this fulfillment might seem satisfying to readers who’ve grown up with these characters. I’m conflicted but still bothered.

Basically what I’m saying is that I liked the book, enjoyed the series, really hated that epilogue. I don’t like the kind of certainty it gave, but that’s okay because there’s another perfectly good ending right in front of it that I can stick to instead. And at least we have the Muggle nation to keep supplying fresh magic blood before the stock gets too deeply inbred. I know I’m being unkind since there were so many other parts of the books that had nothing to do with marriage and family-of-origin stuff, but I guess I just can’t get over a happy breeding-based solution to a war with ethnic cleansing, at least not for these characters I’ve grown to care about over all this time. But that just leaves me like most fans of the series, happy to quibble over little details but happier still to have such a sweet, thoughtful resolution to the story itself.