August 31, 2012

Eulogy

I just wasted SO MUCH TIME on a movie. It was Eulogy (Netflix link).

(photo from Amazon.com)


This review is going to be full of spoilers. FULL OF THEM. The movie is more than six years old and I don't think you should see it, so. I won't talk about anything else in this post, so if you DO want to see it, BOW OUT NOW. I mean, I am going to tell pretty much THE ENTIRE PLOT, so it's not like it's just going to be a detail here and a detail there.

Here is the idea behind this movie: If we cast Zooey Deschanel, the emotionally-scarring revelation that a father/grandfather was a secret polygamist can be CHARMING and WHIMSICAL and ADORABLE!!!!! heart! star! smiley! fairy dust! squee!

Speaking of embarrassing, the Debra Winger character is nauseatingly awful to her sister and her sister's fiancee, saying such HORRIBLE things to/about them (oh, you're having a gay wedding? as long as you're having fake ceremony, how about having another one to get yourself declared queen of the world? I mean why not?) that I thought I might rather DIE than think ANYONE I KNEW would EVER SAY SOMETHING SO BARFY---and it turns out it's because she's SECRETLY GAY HERSELF!!! OH I GET IT NOW!!!! And then she apologizes to her sister, kind of, and both of them get weepy, so THAT'S okay!

Ray Romano and Hank Azaria and Kelly Preston and Debra Winger are the four children of Rip Torn. Rip Torn dies. In his will he leaves his wife a house, and also leaves a videotape that tells them, "Ha ha, I fooled you all, I had three families, that's why I couldn't remember any of your names or act like I loved you, WHOOOOO what a lark, it's been a wild ride and I spent all the money and I regret nothing, you suckers!!!" He LAUGHS. I mean, you know Rip Torn, with his devil expression; that's what he does. He then tells his granddaughter, Zooey Deschanel, to please find his other two families and give them the sad, sad news of his death. (Why he couldn't have left them their own life-shattering videotapes is not explained.)

So she travels to the first of the other families, and she tells the whole story to the wife. The story she tells is the movie, where the four children fight and bond and talk about how their dad was a jerk who had clear favorites and was a jerk and said jerky things and no one can think of anything good to say about him for a eulogy. (Zooey does remember this one time where her grandfather pretended he couldn't see her on the porch, so, you know, QUALITY PERSON WITH MANY FINE AND REDEEMING QUALITIES, I GUESS IS THE IMPLICATION.)

At the end of the movie, Zooey Deschanel reads a eulogy that is actually a love note from her boyfriend but which by amazing coincidence makes TOTAL SENSE as a touching and emotionally manipulative eulogy for her grandfather, and which also brings them all around to understand that they shouldn't blame the guy for having three families and no job and for being a jerk, but instead should be so, so grateful and feel so, so loved that he kept bothering to come back to them! HE CAME BACK! Occasionally!! That means he must have CARED!! Then we come back to the present, where Zooey is telling all this to the 2nd or 3rd wife---only to find that adorable klutzy Zooey has been telling this whole story to a neighbor instead of the wife!!! Whoopsie!!

So then Zooey goes back to the car and kisses her cute boyfriend for awhile, and then adorably leaves the cruel, cruel videotape in the wife's mailbox next door, because Zooey is too busy kissing her adorable boyfriend to worry about ripping someone's life up from the roots, and plus, she already worked so, so, SO hard telling that whole entire story to the wrong person, amirite? I mean, she can't go through that AGAIN!!

And then as Zooey drives off giggling and in love, we see the wife opening the letter and video---only to find that klutzy adorable Zooey has accidentally switched the cruel videotape with a PORN VIDEO! Whoopsie!!! So the other wife STILL DOESN'T KNOW HER SECRETLY POLYGAMOUS HUSBAND IS DEAD, OR POLYGAMOUS!! Ha ha, isn't that ADORABLE!!?? And HILARIOUS!!?? She's sitting there watching PORN!! And soon (maybe) (somehow) she will find out that not only is she a widow, but HER LIFE WAS A LIE! And probably her house doesn't belong to her anymore, either! Wheeeeeeee!

And what about the THIRD woman?? Hey, who cares, the videotape has already been left for ONE of the two women, surely THAT'S enough to call her duty completed! Hobble cutely away on cute shoes with Mr. Curly Shoulder-Length Hair and Earnest Poet Eyes, Zooey! Everything has been taken care of!!! You've certainly done all anyone can expect of YOU!

I was so disappointed. Hank Azaria!! Debra Winger!! Ray Romano!!! Glenne Headly!! But no. They did their best, and they did a great job at the roles they were given, and there were good and funny parts of the movie too, but what were they supposed to do about it, you know? Barge into the final scene and be like, "Hey. Wait. This makes no sense. Why is happy whimsical music playing? Why did our mom act like everything was cool? Why don't we mind that our blinky-blue-eyed niece/daughter is all, 'Wheeeeeeeee, tripping merrily on my leg-crossed fairy feet to see wifeys two and threesies ha ha ha omg CUTENESS!!!'? Why did our dad leave this important task to HER? Should one of us maybe supervise her to make sure she, you know, DOES IT?"

Oh, movies are just for entertainment? It's just for fun, so it doesn't matter if it makes sense or not? INCORRECT. Movies need to HANG TOGETHER and MAKE SENSE. After THAT, they can be fun and entertaining and relaxing. Otherwise I could just patch together a kazoo solo and a cupcake sequence and a montage of YouTube kitten / babies laughing videos and be all "SEE? Entertainment! OSCAR PLZ!!!" ...Okay, that WOULD deserve an Oscar, but IN GENERAL I THINK YOU GET MY POINT. "It's just entertainment" does not justify things being STUPID and CRAZY and NOT MAKING SENSE AT ALL.

To be fair to Zooey Deschanel, she plays her part. She didn't write the part, she didn't direct the part, she just took the job and she did what they told her to, and she did a good job at that. They said, "Hey. We need someone who, for the first 9/10ths of the movie, can have truly great bangs. I mean, we want minimum 90% of the female audience to leave the theater wondering if they should go back to having bangs even considering what a hassle it was to grow them out last time. And then we want her for the last 10% of the movie to giggle, kiss, and blink her big blue eyes---no matter WHAT happens with the plot. Can you do that? GREAT."

August 30, 2012

Ug, I Can't Think of the Name of that Thing

"Island of the Lambs! Bay of Pigs! The one with the conch shell!" ---Me, last night, increasingly frantic as I try to think of the name of a book I want to mention. I knew I wasn't getting it close to right, but I ALSO know how frustrating/pointless it is for someone to say "That book, that one with the... Ug. What IS that? It's right on the tip of my tongue. Hm. Hmmmm. Hm. DARN it, I can't think of it! What WAS that? Hm..."---so I say whatever I've got and hope the other person can help.

"Lord of the Flies" ---Paul, who has had to solve this particular book-title-thinking-of puzzle for me before.

August 28, 2012

I Love You...IN HELL!!; Spam Referral Links

There was a conversation on Facebook the other day about how many times a day we exchange "I love you"s with our spouse. I find that question a little embarrassing to answer. Instead let's discuss how many times a day we tell our spouse we'll see them in hell. (Once per day minimum, upon parting for the day, in case Something Happens. Plus sometimes an additional spontaneous time or two, as conditions merit it.)

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I was recently looking at the statistics for this blog, and found over 500 hits from one particular site. I was like, "Oh! I will click through and thank this kind and popular sir or madam for their link to me!" Annnnnd....it's a porn site. I emailed Paul in a big tizzy, and then thought to Google it JUST IN CASE any other single person in the world had ever encountered such a bizarre and unheard-of thing.

Turns out it's a HUGE THING, and I just didn't know about it. It seems like such an inefficient way to get a single person to look at spam, but I guess it works great on sites that include an automatically-updating list of the places that link to them. In the meantime, there are probably a LOT of bloggers thinking, "I had 500 hits last month---how come I have NO COMMENTS??"

August 26, 2012

Change of Pace

Paul and the two oldest kids just got home from a 9-day vacation. I spent two and a half of those days without a car (entire exhaust system replacement, which is about as cheap as you'd expect), but other than THAT, everything went really well---and much better than last year, when the vacation happened while Elizabeth was recovering from her tonsillectomy and Henry was four. We bought lots of treats, and I enjoyed being on a much more relaxed schedule: instead of DINNER AT FIVE, it was, "Huh, it's 5:30, maybe I should start cooking something." Instead of BEDTIME AT SEVEN, it was, "Yes, you can stay up to watch the rest of that movie." It was fun to have a change of pace.

It helped to plan a lot of stuff with my parents: my mom took the kids for several 2-hour sessions of playtime; my brother and sister-in-law invited my parents and us to the lake one day; my mom and I took the kids on a walking trail; my parents had us over for dinner; we had my parents over for dinner; the kids and I went to my parents' house to visit with a family friend and eat ice cream.

Walking trail, run-style

I couldn't believe how much less LAUNDRY there was. I couldn't believe how much longer the GROCERIES lasted. And there was so much less ARGUING. (Though still plenty of it.) It was interesting to imagine what life would be like if I were a single mother of three (er, with the same budget and working situation, I WAS JUST IMAGINING, OKAY?), or if we only had three children and Paul was on a business trip.

I found I started changing things almost immediately, when I was the only adult. I was less likely to have an official dinner; more likely to snack on some of the kids' dinner and add some cheese and crackers. (Or ice cream, WHATEVER.) I stayed up later. I made arrangements so that I could sleep in later: putting plates and a bag of muffins on the counter; putting filled juice cups and milk cups in the refrigerator; setting the TV's channel and volume so that a child could just push the power button.

I also noticed a lot of stuff Paul does that I've gotten used to him doing, because no one else was helping with the little automatic tidyings and pitchings-in. And I noticed that the two older boys really do almost all of the kid cleaning-up time before dinner, because without them it was like nothing got done at all. I wrote to them: "I miss you! I had to unload the dishwasher MYSELF!"


The kids enjoyed talking to Paul on the phone, and they liked not having as many siblings to have to share the computer/television with. I found it was kind of fun to have an email message open all day to add to, telling Paul about our day.

August 24, 2012

The Deal With the Cat's Name

Oh, oh! I forgot to tell you The Story about why we haven't named the new cat yet! ...That does not sound like an exciting opening line, now that I have typed it out. ONWARD ANYWAY.

Hey, whatever, I'm just saying. Unthrilling.

Do you read the comic strip Penny Arcade? I do, but through a Paul Filter (i.e., he emails me links to the ones he thinks I'll like) because so many of the strips are (1) gory, and/or (2) distressing, and/or (3) about video games I don't play, and/or (4) about programming/computer issues I don't understand. So actually I guess I pretty much don't read it. Here are some Swistle-Filtered samples, if you would like to see the comic I'm referring to without having to risk seeing something gory/upsetting:

1. A game joke I kind of get, but not as much as someone who plays games (or perhaps a particular game?) would.

2. An Avatar/Airbender joke I do get.

3. A parenting joke I do get.

4. A DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince joke I do get.

5. This one has bad language, but Paul and I have been quoting the "rue" part for years.


So. Paul understands many more of the jokes than I do, and is much less bothered by the gory/upsetting stuff than I am, and I think he participates in that online community and SO ON. And Penny Arcade was doing a Kickstarter project to go ad-free on their site (Paul has the same Threadless squirrel shirt Gabe is wearing in that video), and Paul thought we should participate---more in support of Penny Arcade's general awesomeness than because we care if they have ads on their site. And so we did.

Are you wondering how this can possibly tie in with the cat's name?

Take your time---I'm riveted.

WELL. I will tell you. The Kickstarter thing had little INCENTIVES at each giving level. Like, you give $x and you get a digital copy of one of their books, you give $5x and you get a print of one of the strips, you give $1000x and you get a personal comic drawn of you, OR WHATEVS. I'm just making up x-numbers here.

The only incentive on the list _I_ really wanted was that Tycho (one of the Penny Arcade guys) would NAME YOUR PET FOR YOU. I wanted this incentive SO MUCH, that Paul and I donated individually so that we would get TWO pet names.

At the time, we had two named cats, so we planned to file the names away for later use. But then, er, we were abruptly down one cat. I will tell you that in those very first hours of our grief, one of us turned to the other and said, "...Hey. Now we can use a Penny Arcade name for a new cat," and the other one said, "I know, I thought of that too but didn't want to say." Joy in sorrow, etc.

PROBLEM: the Kickstarter email said that the incentives are scheduled to be distributed around December. We're HOPING that this is a plenty-of-time estimate to get everyone to back up a bit on demanding their stuff, and that distributions will actually start much sooner, and that we might be in the first batch. For one thing, it's entirely possible that we'll get two pet names and be uninterested in using either one. (In which case I was thinking we should use "Tycho" or "Gabe.") (Gabe is the name of the other Penny Arcade guy.)

August 23, 2012

Sense and Sensibility; Crazy Stupid Love; Romantics Anonymous

(photo from Amazon.com)

Would you like to see a movie that leaves you WEEPING and yet feeling LITERARY AND EDUCATED AS HECK? Then oh, I have a suggestion. I saw Sense and Sensibility (Netflix link) last weekend after seeing the Colin Firth Pride and Prejudice last month, and both are just PERFECT for that. I now have both annotated book versions on my wish list for Christmas or birthday.

I think it would be smart to redo the classics every ten years or so with whatever actors are hottt at the time, because I'm sure seeing Sense and Sensibility with Alan Rickman, Hugh Grant, and Hugh Laurie hurt NOTHING. Hugh Grant's awkward cuteness and decency! Emma Thompson's anxious earnest wonderfulness! Alan Rickman's EVERYTHING!

(photo from Amazon.com)

I was planning to see Crazy Stupid Love (Netflix link), because I tend to like ensemble casts and Steve Carrell, but I wasn't expecting to LIKE it much: the plot didn't really appeal to me, and the cover made it seem like it was about Special Moments and also Sex and possibly Cheaty Sex, and I suspected it would involve Steve Carrell finding True Love with a Much Younger Woman, so I went into it with low hopes. Which likely contributed to how MUCH I really, really liked it.

The Steve Carrell / Ryan Gosling pair-up is EXCELLENT. I completely loved both of them, and now all the Ryan Gosling love/hey-girl stuff seems wayyyyy better/funnier to me. Julianne Moore was perfect. Marisa Tomei was perfect. Kevin Bacon was perfect. I don't know if I'd seen Emma Stone in anything before, but now I feel like I know who she is and she was perfect. I didn't know Analeigh Tipton, but now I do and she was perfect. (And baby-namers, I suggest spelling that name with a double N.) I enjoyed everything except the plotline with the 13-year-old boy, because I have a 13-year-old boy so I was completely grossed out whenever I wasn't thinking, "Wait. That makes no sense. He wouldn't do that or talk like that, I don't think. ...Would he? Is my 13-year-old defective, or am I even more clueless about him than I think, or is this just that some kids are like this and some are not, or..."---and that is not relaxing.

I also wouldn't think too hard about the messages of the movie, which seem to be that if you "let yourself go" in ANY WAY, including footwear choices, you should expect, nay ASSUME your partner will cheat; and also that every smooth bad boy changes the minute he finds the right woman---MAYBE YOU!!! I didn't feel these messages at the time, only when looking back on it; at the time, I was caught up in it and really liked each thing that happened.


(photo from Amazon.com)

Romantics Anonymous (Netflix link). My parents came over for dinner/movie, and they brought this movie. We were all UTTERLY CHARMED by it. It's in French, with subtitles; that adds to the charm. If this were made in the U.S., the female lead would be Amy Adams. (She looks more like Geena Davis on the cover there, but in motion she's more Amy Adams.) The male lead, we couldn't think of an obvious U.S. equivalent for (Tom Hanks, maybe?), but he's nervous and kind with very expressive round dark eyes. Both of them are unusually nervous types, but in different ways; they somehow manage to start a relationship. It's the kind of movie where someone's EXPRESSION is so funny you laugh and laugh, and no one has even SAID anything.

We were really rooting for them, but didn't see HOW they could manage their own issues enough to make things work. We kept saying "HOW can this WORK?" (Well, that's what _I_ said. My MOM said, "I don't see how this can possibly end in sex.") The movie left me with a happy, takes-all-sorts, it's-okay-to-be-a-nervous-type feeling.

August 22, 2012

Depressing Thought, or Maybe Not

In need of an activity for a melancholy mood? Go to a library. Pick an aisle of floor-to-ceiling books and walk down it, running your fingertips along the spines. Go slowly and, as you go, consider how every single book on these shelves was a huge enormous deal to its author: likely one of the biggest accomplishments/excitements of the author's life.

Imagine the huge amount of work that went into the writing and submitting of the manuscript, the thrill of hearing the book had been chosen for publication, the frantic stress of editing and decision-making, the anticipation of publication day---and at last, the book in the author's hands! Their OWN BOOK! THEIR words on REAL pages!! A dream come true at last! And then the reports coming in of sales! The commissions! The excitement, perhaps, of interviews and book-signings! The parties with friends and family!

And now the book sits with rows of other authors' dreams come true on library shelves, and hardly anyone reads them even when they can do so for free, and most of the authors' names are completely unrecognizable. And in a few more decades the books will be in the "Fill a bag for a dollar!!" library sale, and still no one will want them, and they'll be recycled. A few decades after that, a few of the books will show up in antique stores where, again, most will be passed over even though they're only $2 and are Snapshots Of An Earlier Time.

It is not a very cheery thought, to see all the NOTHING everything comes to after so few years. On the other hand, sometimes it is good to put accomplishment goals into perspective: even if those goals ARE accomplished, will they be as marvelous as expected, or less so? and then what NEXT? Another book to be quickly forgotten? A new, loftier goal?

I have a feeling the letdown after achieving a Big Goal is worse than postpartum or postwedding: so much anticipation and such fervent hopes, coming to something that turns out, once obtained, to be surprisingly ordinary. And that can be encouraging and perspective-straightening to think of, particularly if the goal never IS achieved---and if it is achieved, good to think of ahead of time to reduce the letdown.

August 20, 2012

Denying Reality

Here is something I vigorously object to: being told that things are not as they are. Oh, you too? WE'RE LIKE TWINS.

In the year I tried psychotherapy, a common discussion topic was my perception problem. For example, that when people are behind me in an aisle at the grocery store or tailgating me on the highway, they are NOT getting impatient, I'm just ASSUMING they are because of my anxiety disorder. And that I shouldn't be upset about asking for a second opinion at the mechanic's or at the doctor's or whatever, because people in those jobs are PROFESSIONALS and they KNOW that that's normal---that while _I_ might feel awkward, THEY know it's the way things are done. It's only my anxiety disorder that makes me falsely assume that they'd feel hurt and upset.

And yet, those psychology-professional claims don't line up with my experience of the world. When I told the mechanic frankly and cheerfully the other day that I was going to get a comparison quote before making my decision, he DID get hurt and huffy: his tone, his attitude, his behavior, and his words all lined up with THAT theory, and not with the theory that he was totally okay with it, so I'm not sure who it is that is "misinterpreting reality" here. And when someone tailgates me and then, at the earliest opportunity, ROARS around me and then zoops back in RIGHT in front of me with an irritable shimmy of the trunk, I can tell they WERE INDEED impatient with my driving-only-ten-miles-over-the-limit. And when someone sighs heavily and inches their cart riiiiiight behind me at the grocery store and starts ostentatiously craning to see around me, it is not that I am IMAGINING that stuff because of some crazy psychotic perception problem: I am PICKING UP ON THE NON-VERBAL SIGNALS THAT HUMAN BEINGS DO IN FACT EMIT.

I think it's not that my anxiety is causing me to imagine something that isn't there, but rather that people like my former psychologists are deficient at picking up such non-verbal signals. Or perhaps they're denying that those behaviors DO exist, on the basis that they SHOULDN'T exist. Like, because my mechanic SHOULD BE fine with me getting a second quote, he IS fine with it.

I realize you could at this point say, "But that's just your ANXIETY DISORDER telling you so"---as if I were saying I WAS INDEED getting instructions from the voices in my head, and that YOU just weren't hearing it.  Well, and that's the tactic the mental health professionals took as well, so you'd be in good company if you went that route. Or I'm sure there's a term for taking one's own problem and turning it into someone ELSE'S problem---like, look at me taking attention off my anxiety disorder by flipping things around and claiming my therapists were the ones who had problems with reality. But at what point does someone else's opinion of how things work trump MY opinion of how things work? Do you see what I mean? This is why "Who is REALLY crazy here???" plotlines are so popular: do I need help because I am especially sensitive to body/attitude/voice language, or should my former psychology team get help because they aren't? Am I imagining things, or are other people failing to pick up on things? WHO here is the one turning their OWN problem into someone ELSE'S problem, HMMMMM??

Now, when they argued that I shouldn't CARE, that was another matter. I might disagree ("shouldn't care about others" is a philosophy we need to actively work on getting MORE of?), but I could see that point: it's good to care about other people's feelings and I don't generally want to deliberately flip that switch off, but there are times when my own preferences need to take precedence (decisions about my own money, for example, or decisions about my own body or my own free time), and in those cases it would be nice to activate a "I might feel an instinct to care---but I should try to SUPPRESS it in THIS case, or at least realize it's unnecessary/silly so it doesn't stop me from doing what I want/need to do" attitude. And THAT seems like a worthy pursuit.

This could apply when, for example, I want to get a second quote on a repair, or a second opinion about a diagnosis: we don't need to deny the reality of a professional's feelings/reactions ("Oh, THEY don't mind!!") in order to argue that we should nevertheless pursue our plan ("They very naturally might mind, but it is still the right decision to compare").

Or maybe I see a post that states that blogging should be a way I disagree it should be, and so I immediately get anxious and upset: this person will think I am doing it wrong, then, and I don't want them to think I am doing it wrong. I may realize I have the right to disagree---but I don't WANT to disagree, I want us to AGREE that I am RIGHT; it would be nice to instead be able to override/dismiss that want. Or when I need to get a second opinion on a medical situation: I WANT the doctor to WANT me to get a second opinion---but if he or she doesn't, I would like to be able to override that want with a shrug.

I'm not sure that's that easy, though. The psychology people I talked to had a "Now that you know you shouldn't care, you will be able to stop! Ta da! It's like magic!!" attitude, but I don't think that's how personality and temperament work.

August 19, 2012

Book Reviews and a Giveway

(photo from Amazon.com)


The Coffins of Little Hope, by Timothy Schaffert. I think it must be very challenging for a male author to write a female narrator, because I so rarely find one I can tolerate to read for more than a few pages. This one was a success. The narrator is an elderly lady who writes obituaries, and she's not at all creaky, or silly-accented, or full of phrases that are meant to remind you constantly how old she is.

There's a big fuss in her town when a young girl is kidnapped---WAIT, no don't turn away yet, if that's the kind of plot you usually avoid. I usually can't stand it either, but it wasn't bad. The main reason is that it's uncertain if the girl ever existed: there's no sign of her in the entire house she allegedly lived in: no toys, no clothes, no skin cells or hair strands. The bigger plot is about another family (the elderly woman narrator, her grandson and granddaughter and great-granddaughter) and how they and their town respond to (and exploit) the maybe-yes-maybe-no tragedy and the resulting national fuss.

...I'm making it sound very DRAMATIC, but it's a laid-back novel, full of interesting little remarks and good dialogue. It reminded me a little of the Muriel Spark books I've read. I do wish the ending had been a little clearer, but I nearly ALWAYS wish an ending would be a little clearer, and it wasn't RANKLINGLY unclear.


(photo from Amazon.com)
 
The Green Mile, by Stephen King. I periodically re-read the Stephen King short story collections, but I don't usually re-read the novels. I have two exceptions: The Stand, and The Green Mile. I have been known to read a Stephen King book and wish someone, ANYONE, had the courage to EDIT him a little for the love of trees, but those two books make me shut my mouth. Sometimes I think of his books as the scary equivalent of romance novels: entertaining fluff, that's all. But again: these two novels make me shut my mouth. Some of his books ARE entertaining fluff---and others show he's got a couple of different quality levels available to him. I have a feeling he writes some for fun, and some for serious.

The Green Mile is a great one for a good therapeutic cry. I completely dampened two handkerchiefs at the end there, and felt very happy to be doing so. It's NOT a horror novel; it's more like a fairy tale, or a parable, or someone's real-life testimony of a strange series of events they lived through. There are some bad crimes in it; some are particularly hard to read, but I found them manageable: we mostly hear a summarized report of the crimes from the prison guard narrator, rather than having to read along as the crimes are occurring.

Have you read or seen The Shawshank Redemption (Netflix link)? That's the only Stephen King movie I've ever seen (I didn't realize it was a Stephen King movie until I read the short story years later), and The Green Mile is similar in many ways: a prison story, this time told from the point of view of a guard instead of a prisoner. I'm tempted to see the movie version of The Green Mile, but I'm also scared to.


(photo from Amazon.com)

Shutter Island, by Dennis LeHane.  I'd already seen the movie, so I knew the plot secrets, so it's hard to know what I would have thought of the book if I hadn't. I think it's a book/movie pairing where I'm glad I saw the movie first, so that then I could read the book without skimming too fast just to get to the answer. One thing that was better about the book was the absence of visual flashes of upsetting child-danger imagery---and of course the absence of Leonardo DiCaprio's "New England accent."

Shutter Island is about a pair of federal agents who go to a mental institution to investigate a missing patient who can't possibly have escaped. From there it's a "What's REALLY going on??? Tell me quick or I'm skipping to the last page!!" book. There is a very upsetting part involving drowned children; it's recounted to us by someone remembering it, but it's still very upsetting. It makes me uncertain about recommending it.


(photo from Amazon.com)

Getting It Right, by Elizabeth Jane Howard. My mom and I both really enjoyed The Cazalet Chronicles, but our library system doesn't have anything else by this author, and most of her books are out of print. So for my mom's birthday, I had the idea of ordering a selection of used copies online. Then _I_ would get to read them too! Bonus!

So, the book photo above is the one I ordered. And this is the version that arrived:


Yes. Does it or does it not look like every single videotape in the 1980s? (But no, the actual VHS looks like this:

(photo from Amazon.com)

I'm pretty sure I ACTUALLY remember seeing that cover on one of my main high-school-aged trips to the video rental store. But in those days so MANY videotape covers included a woman's leg.)

Anyway, the paperback cover calls it a "delightful sexual comedy." My mother opened this gift while my attention was elsewhere, and then I heard, "Um. Swistle?" Explanation was required.

HOWEVER. We both read the book, and we both really really liked it. It's this skimpy-looking little paperback, but it's DENSE. It is NOT a sexy-sexy book, as you might think. I would not at all call it a romp. It is a "sexual comedy" if "sexual" means "pertaining to the sexes": that is, it's about relationships and about men and about women, not about S-E-X. (There is ONE scene of S-E-X.)

My mom and I both love Maeve Binchy, and we've seen many, many lists of "If you like Maeve Binchy, you'll like..." books that always turn out to be silly blicky romance novels that leave us thinking "Huh? That's NOTHING LIKE Maeve Binchy!" But this author, THIS author, reminds me of Maeve Binchy. She also reminds me a little of Muriel Spark: the quiet little interesting insightful remarks. I liked this book a lot, and really wanted to know what would happen to all the characters.

My only complaint was that it seemed like the end suddenly accelerated---like, a deadline or page cut-off was reached. It was like la la la insight, la la la plot furtherance, la la la insight, la la la plot furtherance, la la la OKAY DONE!

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I'm still in the mood for book evangelism, so let's do another giveaway like before. You can leave a regular comment without being automatically entered; if you'd LIKE to enter, mention which of the books you'd like me to send you a copy of. If you choose Getting It Right, it's out of print so it'll be a used copy; the cover...could vary. U.S. mailing addresses only; I'll pick a winner on Wednesday, August 22.


[Edit: Winner is No Whey, Mama! I'll email you!]

August 15, 2012

In Case of Death, Blogger-Version

I dreamed last night that I had just gotten a "months to live" diagnosis, and that Paul was dealing with it by listing aloud all the things I should not have to tolerate in that short time ("We are NOT using the box fan, we will leave the air conditioning on ALL THE TIME! And don't do the dishes, ever! And..."), and I was dealing with it by composing a blog post in my head. I was trying to find a way to write it that wasn't overly dramatic, but it's a little difficult to convey that kind of information non-dramatically, since it IS INHERENTLY VERY DRAMATIC.

Anyway. Back when our cat Benchley died and I was having lots of death-related thoughts, there were requests for a discussion on what we would do about our blogs if we died---i.e., would we have someone post the news? or what? I'm in exactly the right kind of morbid mood to discuss that this morning.

I'll tell you MY plan: I put a note in my "In Case of Death" folder that requests a survivor to please put a post here and on the baby names blog. Because I think it would be weird and alarming if a blogger just...disappeared. I've noticed that if people don't blog/Twitter for even a few days, other people will be saying, "Hey, anyone heard from....?" If that went on longer, and if emails to the person weren't answered, I think people would get quite worked up and might even try to take action: I remember in a similar situation awhile back, people were comparing notes on Twitter and asking for re-tweets to see if anyone knew the blogger's address so someone could CALL THE POLICE.

So. It seems like it would be better/easier to have a family member do a post, and I would CERTAINLY CERTAINLY CERTAINLY want to know if a blogger I'd been reading for years DIED. (Furthermore, I'd want INFORMATION---not just a death announcement, but information on what on earth HAPPENED.)

This plan would be more challenging, of course, with a secret blog. I think if I were in that situation, I would give my log-in info to a very trusted blog friend (or perhaps to an in-person friend I wouldn't mind reading my blog, if the blog was really just secret from FAMILY), and then add the friend's name to a list (also in the "In Case of Death" folder) of friends to be notified if I died. I'd arrange with that blog friend that if she got an email from my family, she should post the news on my blogs.

If you have a blog, would you want someone to post the news on your blog? And for everyone (I was going to say "And if you READ blogs..."---but, er, that would be all of us since we are ALL READING THIS): what would you want to see happen, if a blogger died? Do you agree with me that you'd really want to hear about it?

August 14, 2012

Self-Deleting Posts; Old-Timer; Sticky

Four times in the last week, I've been typing a post in Blogger and the page has, like, refreshed or something, deleting my post. At first I thought I must have done something, pushed the wrong key combination or something, but repetition has destroyed that theory: it has happened when I'm just sitting there proof-reading, not even touching the keyboard, and nothing else is touching the keyboard either.

Sometimes I can get the post back by hitting the back and forward buttons until I happen upon it. Sometimes I can't get it back at all. Whether it ends in relief or frustration, it's INCREDIBLY WRONG AND SHOULD NEVER HAPPEN WTH. Do I need to copy and paste every 30 seconds into a wordprocessing document just for security, or is Blogger going to get its act together?

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I was just thinking how I used to READ THE TV GUIDE, which I got from THE NEWSPAPER, and then I would PROGRAM THE VCR so that it would RECORD SHOWS. I plan to make that sound a lot more exciting for my grandchildren.

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There are few things I hate more than stepping on something sticky. Oh---well, I mean, sure: bigotry, poverty, spiders, political ads. But after THAT, it's stepping on something sticky. Or more specifically, the first step AFTER stepping on something sticky. There are days I think that if I step on ONE MORE raisin, I will NEVER BUY RAISINS AGAIN.

August 10, 2012

Awake, With Potential Regrets; Justifying One's Existence

On WEDNESDAY, I sneezed so much I felt like I'd rather be knocked out by allergy medicine than go through another day like that. I took the allergy medicine at night, in case it made me drowsy. It was the 24-hour non-drowsy kind, so I hoped the drowsiness was mostly in the beginning.

On THURSDAY, I thought, "Why have I had a pot of coffee and can still barely keep my eyes open? I'm so tired. My brain is asleep. My mouth is just, like, hanging open." Ah. The non-drowsy allergy medicine. I didn't take any more that night.

TODAY, I am wondering how things are going to go. Already I have that irritated tingling sneezy rip-the-face-off feeling, but I also feel AWAKE. I don't feel I should have to trade one of these things for the other. Nevertheless, that reality continues to exist despite my objections.

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If you are of a temperament that periodically has Low Times where you feel you have done nothing, that you do nothing, that you in no way change the world, that all you do is suck up more than your fair share of world resources, that you OUGHT to find a career in which you would Do Some Good but instead you are trapped at home and also skill-less and it's too much effort/expense to identify, choose, and obtain skills---then I have a suggestion, and it's donating blood. It is surprisingly comforting. You show up and other people do all the work, but if you do NOTHING ELSE IN YOUR ENTIRE LIFE, not even after you are out from under the sticky little hands of your tiny oppressors, you will nevertheless have done good.

Plus, there's usually treats afterward, and people will thank you, and you will go home with pleasant inaccurate fantasies of your blood being IMMEDIATELY RUSHED by special messenger to the hospital where someone worthy is JUST ABOUT TO DIE but will be saved by YOUR PRECIOUS STILL-WARM BLOOD. And the children will look a little cuter, because they haven't been in front of your eyeballs for an hour or so.

The first time was a big hurdle for me, because I hate new things. I hate finding out where I'm supposed to go, making the appointment, and showing up not knowing how things go or which door I'm supposed to use. But after that, it's easy. If you want more pre-reassurance (plus a LENGTHY section on "No, I don't think you ought to be donating blood if you CAN'T or DON'T WANT TO"), see What It's Like to Donate Blood. I specifically made it non-squicky.

August 9, 2012

New Cat: Settling In! (or Possibly Miserable)

You may be wondering how things are going with the new cat. And so am I! We see him about once a day now that he's been released from his Gradual Introduction Room into the household-at-large. Yesterday he sat on my lap for awhile in the morning and wanted many skritches, then vanished for the rest of the day, and I couldn't find him even though I felt like I looked everywhere he could possibly be. This morning when I woke up he was on our windowsill over our heads, but then Henry came up and the cat fled (I admit that was my impulse as well, at 4:55 with a child who hits the ground talking).

I am hoping this is not a Bad Sign. I have an acquaintance who has a cat who ALWAYS hides, ALWAYS. She says she wouldn't even know she HAD that cat except for his vet bills and litter box and food dish. That would be...a disappointment.

On the encouraging side, my family growing up got a cat who hid at first but then eventually joined the household proper, with no further issues to speak of. Well, no further issues beyond a lifetime of various neurotic behaviors.

Also on the side of encouragement is that our cats who have gotten themselves in trouble (trying to escape outside, attacking each other, etc.) have been the cats who incorporated nearly effortlessly/confidently into the household, all but kicking previous feline residents to the curb.

And this new cat has only been with us for five days. I know it's not time to panic yet. But I find I can get quite a bit of pre-panicking done if I start early. I see this cat-hiding thing as the first segment of many, many potential futures branching ahead of us, many of which turn out fine but some of which include Later Woe. (Anecdotes from all kinds of branches are welcome.)

I wish pets had little gauges on them, so I could determine if, for example, the cat is just adjusting slowly/normally and/or this is just his temperament---or if he's permanently miserable here. Like, if he's going to be the sort of cat who prefers to stay contentedly out of sight in pleasant quiet nap nooks, and maybe only come upstairs after the children are asleep, that's fine and also I wonder if I could join him. But if he's cowering miserably, flinching at every sound, and would thrive and be happy in a quiet household with two adults and no cats or children, that's not fine.

I would be perfectly content
if you'd leave me alone with my dishpan.
Or maybe I'm miserable
and you should spare me the agony of your family life.


He doesn't have a name yet, and there's a story behind WHY, and that has to wait because it's time to get ready for swimming lessons.

August 8, 2012

Complaints

Today I continue to feel like complaining. On my list today:

1. I understand that it is preferable, even LIFE-OR-DEATH preferable, to do hot-weather landscaping work early in the day. And it's true that I am already awake, and so can't claim to have been awakened. But 6:50 a.m. is too early to mow in a residential area, Landscaping Company, and I believe you are even more aware of that than I am.

2. I take 50 points off the speaker's IQ whenever I see/hear a strident statement against something NO ONE WOULD EVER SUPPORT ANYWAY, EVER. For example, does ANYONE think that people who are barely scraping by with their honest, family-supporting labor, should have to deprive their small children of food in order to give drug/tattoo money to people who deliberately choose not to work even though they're perfectly capable of it? No. NO ONE thinks that. NOT ONE PERSON IN THE WORLD. (No, do not tell me you know someone who does, because THEY DO NOT, even if they say they do.) (NO, trust me, I can READ MINDS.) But goodness, I certainly see a lot of people speaking out strongly against it! Good thing they're ON PATROL against...whatever issue they think this is evidence against! Nothing like making a statement NO ONE COULD DISAGREE WITH to force others to appear to agree with AN UNRELATED ISSUE!

3. You would think, you would THINK, that I would stop clicking on online sale links. You would THINK. But I am still SO INCREDULOUS that online companies I know and trust would send me a "40% off clearance!!" email---and then I would go to their site and find that the prices have been increased first, so that the "sale" makes things the same price everything was last week without the sale. You would THINK that I would stop being so incredulous, considering it happens EVERY TIME. You would think that I would take a deep breath and realize there are other, better things to be outraged about. But you would be WRONG. I WILL NEVER STOP BEING ANNOYED AT THIS. NEVARRRRRRRR!!!

August 7, 2012

School, Yes; Back to School, NO

I don't know why, at the start of every summer, I make lists of what we're going to do. I always peter out after a few weeks. At least it's happened enough years in a row that I now think of that at the beginning of summer: "I'd better do this stuff right away, since I always peter out after a few weeks." And fortunately, some of the stuff I do right away is signing the kids up for things like swimming lessons, so then I HAVE to follow through.


I'm looking forward to school starting, but I'm dreading the start of school:

• A million pieces of paperwork to fill out (WHY CAN WE NOT JUST CORRECT THE OLD FORMS?? WHY MUST I FILL IN ALL THE INFORMATION EVERY YEAR, FOR ALL FIVE CHILDREN, AND WHY IS MOST OF THE SAME INFORMATION NEEDED ON SEVERAL DIFFERENT FORMS?? AND COULDN'T I DO THIS ONLINE, WITH CONNECTED PROFILES SO INFO CAN COPY OVER FROM KID TO KID?? OTHER SCHOOLS ARE PWNING US ON THIS!!)

• A whole bunch of open houses to go to, each held at a weird and/or inconvenient time ("Let's see, this one's from 2:00-3:00 on a Wednesday; this one's 5:30-6:30 on Thursday, these two are both at the same time on Monday, this one is an ice cream social at 5:00 in the afternoon...")

• The massive pile of school supplies to be divided into five piles using non-parallel school supply lists ("Let's see, YOU needed TWO binders and FOUR folders and an eraser and a box of pencils and two boxes of crayons, and YOU needed two erasers and ONE folder and three boxes of pencils and a pencil box and FIVE binders, and somehow I have eight packs of highlighters I don't need...")

• And EVERY SINGLE PIECE LABELED WITH A CHILD'S NAME

• The papers from each teacher specifying VERY IMPORTANT INFORMATION I will need to put on the calendar and/or put on the shopping list and/or still be able to find in six weeks and/or sign and send back with a check, and all the gym days when different kids will need sneakers, and all the school picture dates/forms to handle ("Package A doesn't have a size I need; Package B has a size I don't need; Package C is way too expensive..."), and the particular ways that particular teacher wants communications/forms handled

• Also at least one sheet saying "Oh, you know that school supply list that got sent out? You don't need any of that, and please don't send it, and please send everything on THIS list instead, even though all the school supplies are sold out by now and I have extremely particular requirements on brand, color, material, and size!"

• And many sheets will not have the teacher's name or the grade anywhere on them, so I will have to make sure I know which child just handed it to me before that child runs off and doesn't know what I'm talking about when I ask

• And oh, crud, have I seen a bus schedule yet?

August 5, 2012

Cat News, Sad and Happy

To say it in the ripping-off-a-bandage style, our cat Feather was recently hit by a car and killed. We got a call early one morning from someone who found her and got our number off her collar, and if I were deputized to dish out blessings I would dish them out all over her, because she went out of her way to do it and saved us significant missing-cat distress. And speaking of distress, I had to go fetch Feather using a snow shovel and a towel, and I don't want to talk about it anymore except to say I now have a much more positive outlook on peaceful vet's-office euthanizations.

This is our third cat total who has been hit by a car (two fatally, one non-fatally but with an injury that led to euthanization), so we are switching to indoor-only cats; our street is evidently too busy. Have you noticed that different regions have different opinions about whether cats should be indoors or indoors/outdoors? In one of the areas where we used to live, it was considered Serious Deliberate Animal Abuse to let a cat go outdoors. In our current area, the outdoors is considered part of The Natural Realm of the Cat, even by animal shelters and vets. So this switch is a big deal here---like deciding to have a relative committed to a home.

Happily, our recent orange-cat acquisition was an indoors-only cat when he came to us. And at that time we were still reeling from Benchley's death and already planning to transition to indoors-only cats as soon as Feather (a dyed-in-the-fur indoors/outdoors cat) was...er, no longer with us. And so we hadn't let him out, so he's already all set for the new policy.

And yesterday we acquired a second indoors-only cat, a 2-year-old male who seems very laid-back and we hope he will get along with Orange Cat. Right now they are in the sniff-and-hiss stage, but neither of them is freaking out---it's more like the usual bow-and-shake-paws formal introductory hissing.

We specifically chose a cat who had reached adulthood while always living indoors. And we chose a laid-back cat rather than a bold adventurer, in the hopes that he will be happy and calm restricted to indoors life. I do feel sorry for them, not getting to climb trees and roll in grass/dirt and bask on the driveway the way our other cats did/loved. But I also feel relieved on various matters from rodent/bird issues to neighbor issues to danger issues. As Elizabeth said to me just now, "I'm glad we got another indoor cat. There's not as much worrying to do."

August 1, 2012

Compromise

I've been reading a depressing novel that touches on world issues (children kidnapped to work as prostitutes! fathers shot in the street in front of their wives and children! very cheery stuff!), and meanwhile my childhood friend Jen in MI made a very good point on Facebook about how time/money could be better focused, and those two things together gave me the idea for a compromise.

What if everyone who wanted to show support for a fast-food restaurant's spending priorities bought GIFT CARDS at that restaurant, and donated them to a shelter or food pantry or other such organization? They could then hang around and have a soda or something to show warm-body support for the fast-food employees, who have probably been having a rough couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, everyone who wanted to show NON-support for a fast-food restaurant's spending priorities could (1) write a letter to the restaurant (boycotts may or may not do any good, but they definitely don't do any good if no one knows you're doing it---and an absence of $7 doesn't show up in the annual report); (2) send the money NON-spent at the restaurant to a non-profit organization that DID reflect the person's point of view (see also: Spite Charity), perhaps with an accompanying letter about the reason for the donation.

(Both sides could, if they liked, crow about how their side's larger contribution to good causes meant significant things about the quality and legitimacy of their side's point of view.)

Everyone who didn't care either way could carry on as usual.


Let's not have a re-hash of the reasons a person might make one of those three decisions. What I'm interested in is whether these three options are enough choices to let everyone feel happy about their actions, while also funneling all this Enthusiastic Effort in a pleasing direction.