Monday, August 30, 2010

Input Versus Output: A Weekend off Leads to Monday Randutiae

Angel to the team: This may come out a little pretentious, but one of you will betray me.
(Spike raises his hand to volunteer.)

Angel (giving Spike a disgusted look, then turning to Wesley):
Wes.
Spike (disappointed):
Aw! Can I deny you three times?

As a writer who's also a workaholic, sometimes I need a particular kind of rest. Namely, I need to take a break from output and spend some time on input, as if I'm refueling. It's tricky, because when this happens, I need to find things to read or watch or do that will NOT encourage my mind to spin about my own work. IOW, I don't sit down with a novel or movie that has similarities to my own -- because that would not be restful. But I *do* watch Friends reruns, and maybe read some scifi or Peanuts or nonfiction.

My instincts tell me when I need this kind of rest, and I always listen, because not listening -- keeping working -- leads to burnout.

Consequently, this weekend, due to my fondness for Ving Rhames, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, and Billy Crudup, I watched Mission Impossible III, and let me tell you, this led to some deep thought. Here's what I concluded: there are a number of reasons why that mission would have been highly improbable for me. (Um, spoilers ahead, sort of?) I don't have much experience with guns, and no experience while hanging out of the open door of a moving car; I could probably be convinced to base jump off a building under very specific circumstances, but not as part of a robbery, not while being shot at, and not into traffic; I can't lip-read with superhuman accuracy, or even at all, really; I cannot climb a 500-ish foot elevator cable; I can't speak every language fluently and with no tell-tale accent; I can't pick locks with, you know, like, a potato; I definitely can't run around having adventures with my long hair flopping beauteously in my eyes (This is one of my least favorite action movie tropes. If she were in a shoot-em-up adventure chase, she would tie her hair back. For the love of god, TIE HER FREAKING HAIR BACK!); I can't imitate other people's voices; I can't win a fistfight against Philip Seymour Hoffman. But do you know why this mission would have been flatly impossible for me? It's because of that moment at the very beginning when Ethan receives his instructions. "Sylvester McMonkey McBean is tied up in a third-story bathroom at 1465 Succotash Lane in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and must be rescued within 24 hours, after which you must call Virginia Cadwalader Throttlebottom at o11-33-3456-46747-343 and tell her to wire $349,000,005 EXACTLY to bank account 56534-4535 at routing number 129543230. This is your mission, should you choose to accept it. This directive will self-destruct in five seconds." What? Five seconds!? Wait! Where am I going again? Shanghai? How much money? Who? WAIT! And then, *poof*, the message self-destructs.

Seriously, I think the most impossible thing Ethan does during his impossible missions is transfer random names, numbers, and places from his short-term memory to his long-term memory with no problem, even when drugged or under duress.

Anyway. The movie was fun, it was what it was, and it was slightly less insulting than most "rescue the beautiful, helpless woman who didn't know you were a secret agent but will love you anyway despite your lies leading to her being kidnapped and nearly killed" plots. (Sad, how low your standards drop and how little agency the beautiful, helpless woman has to have for you to feel like the movie is better than average.)

I also watched the episode of Friends ("The One Where Monica and Richard Are Just Friends") in which (spoilers!) Joey keeps his favorite book, The Shining, in the freezer, because the book scares him. (It scares him less if it's trapped in the freezer.) Rachel finds the book in the freezer, which leads to a conversation, and the conversation leads to a deal: Rachel will read The Shining if Joey will read Rachel's favorite book, Little Women. The two spend the episode reading each other's favorite books.

At the end of the episode, Joey comes into Rachel's apartment, nearly in tears, because Beth is sick and not getting better. And so Rachel and Joey put Little Women in the freezer so that Joey will feel less scared.

Joey always was my favorite of the six friends.

And! I watched more Angel Season 5. There's a LOT of good stuff in Season 5. Even some of the things I was meh about in previous seasons improve in Season 5. For example (spoilers!), Wesley's a complex, super-interesting character (so funny and goofy, so dark and occasionally horrible), but I've never really been able to care about his unrequited love for Fred, because I've never been able to convince myself to care about Fred. If I'm going to get behind a super-smart but frail female Whedon character, it's going to be River Tam every time, never Winifred Burkle. But then -- Fred turns into Illyria! Illyria never simpers, she is no one's second fiddle, and her relationship with Wes is so much more interesting than Fred's. I like the blue look, too. Good job, actor Amy Acker (say that 10 times fast). And good job, Alexis Denisof, too, of course. I wonder if he ever won any prizes? He does a great job with Wesley.

I also read Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins. No spoilers here, I promise; I'll only say that I loved it. And some of my friends didn't; I'm looking forward to those conversations. I'll link you to a couple places where the book is reviewed or discussed -- note that you WILL find spoilers in both of these places. First: I like how Kirkus dealt with the Mockingjay embargo, and I agree with their starred review. And second: I've been enjoying the Mockingjay discussion taking place in the comments at Roger Sutton's blog.

I also read, and recommend, this article in the Huffington Post: "Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner Speak Out on Franzen Feud." I doubt that many people in children's literature will be shocked by the suggestion that The New York Times Book Review can be condescending to those written genres that are not literary fiction?

Lest you think I did nothing but read and watch my TV this weekend (not that there would be anything wrong with that), I also went to a park I hardly ever go to, and sat on a bench. It was peaceful, and then an amazing thing happened. You see, there are 3 writing projects I'm really excited about diving into once I finish Bitterblue. On Saturday on my bench, I suddenly realized that two of them are the same project. Two different books melded into one, and I started to have IDEAS. The ideas were tugging at me... I began to jot them down... and then, eventually, I noticed that the ideas and I had switches places and now I was tugging at them, and at that point, I stopped myself and went away to do something else. Because I'd crossed over from rest to work -- from input to output. It's a blurry line sometimes.

******

One of my books has received a very nice honor in Italy: young readers chose Graceling as their favorite book in the "terza media" category for the Xanadu prize. Thank you, Italian readers! If you look at some of the other winners in other categories, you'll understand why my Italian editor asked me if I ever imagined I'd win a prize along with Jane Austen. :o)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

In Which the Babies Discover Leverage

The Internets surely are dangerous today for people (i.e., me) trying to avoid the temptation of Mockingjay spoilers.

That's why I'm going to blog about twin babies!

So, here's the thing about twin babies: the ways they interact with each other are awesome. For example, the way the awake one tries to wake up the sleeping one: by patting her stomach, rolling around on top of her, and yelling, "ERRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!" Or, the way the cheerful one tries to cheer up the fussy one: by patting her stomach, rolling around on top of her, and giggling, until both babies are giggling and rolling together.

This is IMMENSELY awesome.

And how about when they work together as a team?

The other day, I was in the kitchen, throwing some yummy baby foods into the crockpot. The babies were in the (baby-proofed) office, with the double stroller, wheels locked, in the office doorway, blocking them inside, akin to a baby gate. The babies were being pretty quiet, hanging out together, occasionally trying to get out but not seeming upset about their confinement. Another thing they seemed to be doing, besides trying to get out, was getting behind the door and pushing it shut and pulling it open, together, over and over again. Ah, babies and their games. How mellow and content we all were.

Until I watched them for a few moments and realized WHAT THEY WERE DOING.

They were getting behind the door, pushing it shut, opening it, then coming out from behind there and trying to get past the stroller and into the kitchen. Then finding that they couldn't get out, then going back behind the door, pushing it shut, opening it, then coming out from behind there and trying to get past the stroller and into the kitchen. Why? Because they'd figured out that though the stroller itself was too heavy for them to move simply by pushing it, they could move it by USING THE DOOR AS A LEVER. Every time they closed that door, they were moving the stroller forward an inch or so.

THEY WERE A TEAM OF BABIES PLOTTING AND EXECUTING ESCAPE.

Oh, it made me so happy. They have no idea how awesome they are.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Why I Haven't Been Blogging Much

Sometime in July, I got a massage. Before we started, as usual, I gave the masseuse a rundown of all the little aches and pains, pulled muscles and bruises I had so she would know what she was working with. It was a longer list than usual, and then, after we'd started, she kept pointing out problems I hadn't even realized I had. Finally, when she pointed out that my knee was puffy, I said, "I'm a wreck!" And she said, "Nah, you're just using what you've got."

This summer, I've been using what I've got, all the time, to the extreme. I've been working really, really hard, and I've been playing really, really hard. Some of the time, I was working so hard that I had to stop trapezing because the pace of writing hurt my arms too much. And some of the time, I was up to my ears (well, more accurately up to my lower thighs) in HEAVENLY BABIES.

So.

This is not the most earth-shattering post ever, I know. I just wanted to explain my semi-absence and apologize for the lack of substantive stuff in my brain and on the blog. Work has been hard, family and friends have been plentiful, and life has been awesome. I am a lucky ducky.

The trick below is called a set whip, and I'm proud of myself for pointing my toesies.


Friday, August 20, 2010

Perspective for a Friday

I continue to have the will to blog but not the time. Since I don't want to leave you all with nothing, here's some instant perspective:


Source: Hubblesite.org

Can you believe that beautiful thing exists in our world? (It's called the Sombrero Galaxy and you should really click on it to make it bigger.)

I always find it comforting to realize how tiny we are. Tiny doesn't mean unimportant; it only means tiny. I like to think of myself and everyone else as a tiny, important part of an enormous gargantuan world.

For a slideshow of some of the Hubble's best work, go here.

Monday, August 16, 2010

"Angel's just feeling a little off... and... he's not in the mood to... you know... butcher a camel."

So, I've still got those posts I want to write about writing, and I have a little time tonight... but I just don't have the brainpower or the heart. Or, rather, I do have the heart, but it's otherwise occupied. Brain, though: definitely absent.

In the meantime, in the world of the Internets, books, and television...

Internets!

Why on EARTH would Katsa and Hermione be fighting to the death? I keep trying to weigh their strengths and weaknesses and decide who would win, and I just end up giggling, because this is a fight that would not happen, except in the most bizarre circumstances. I'm thinking it would either need to involve a tragic misunderstanding that would lead to horrible guilt for the winner... or a weird circumstance in which the only way for one to save the world was to kill the other (i.e. -- BUFFY SPOILER! -- Buffy sending Angel into a hell dimension by plunging a sword into his heart)... which would lead to horrible guilt for the winner. Anyway, if you go over to vote, for that or any other match, do think it through. It's not about who we *want* to win; it's about who *would* win. Right? WE SHOULD ALL BE VERY LOGICAL ABOUT THIS. Or anyway, it shouldn't be a popularity contest, because those aren't fun. I'm loving the comments in which people argue for their winner.

Speaking of logical, I'm not sure why when my *book* is in a contest, my instincts tell me to stay away, but now that my *girl* is in a contest, I seem to be enjoying it. I guess I feel confident that Katsa can take care of herself.

Books!

I just finished rereading To Kill a Mockingbird. I hadn't read it since high school, so it'd been a while. I was supposed to read it in grad school, but I confess that it is the one book I was assigned in grad school that I didn't read. Why? Because it came up in a week in which I was also assigned The Wizard of Oz; Peter Pan; The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe; The Perilous Gard; The House on Mango Street; Wrestling Sturbridge; 145th Street; and The Bluest Eye, plus turned in a paper called "Defining the Impossible: What is Fantasy?" There was... a lot of reading the semester I took Fantasy and YA together. Go to Simmons. It's awesome.

Anyway. So, I don't have the brainpower to say anything deep and meaningful about TKAM, in addition to which, it's probably hard to find things to say about it that no one else has said before, so I'll just report that I enjoyed the reread. I'd remembered that it was about Boo Radley, I'd remembered that it was about race and prejudice and injustice, and I'd remembered that Scout wore a ham costume. What I hadn't remembered is that it is, essentially, a book about a girl who loves her father.

Now I'm reading, and enjoying, The Greengage Summer, by Rumer Godden. Rumer Godden is magic. I think my all-time favorite of hers is A Candle for Saint Jude, but I've also read and loved China Court and In This House of Brede.

Television!
Yay Lauren!

[Angel Season 5 spoilers ahead!]
So, my subject title today is something Fred says in Season 5 of Angel, in an attempt to comfort Harmony, after Angel yells at Harmony for having a camel delivered to the office. Poor Harmony. How was she supposed to know that Angel wouldn't want to ritually sacrifice a camel in the lobby of Wolfram & Hart?

Here's another favorite line so far from Season 5: "If you separate yourself from the ones you love, the monster wins." This is something wise Angel says to a young woman werewolf whom I'm pretty sure was cast because of how she looks in a wet t-shirt.

Without a doubt, Angel is no Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But I am enjoying Season 5 so far. Partly because it's not Season 4. (Almost every time I sat down to an episode of Season 4, I felt like I was taking one for the team. I'm so glad that's over.) And partly because (!!!!):


Welcome back, boys!

At the moment in my viewing, Spike is rescuing people from vampires in dark alleys, after which he verbally abuses his rescuees for walking through dark alleys at night while wearing impractical shoes. *sigh* My hero. Lindsey, the... ex-attorney weirdly-tattooed guy?... is lurking around being gorgeous, mysterious, and possibly pointless. So far, so good.

You know why else I like Angel?


For those who've never watched Angel, Lorne, the green guy pictured above, is an empath demon who can read minds and hearts and destinies -- if he hears the subject singing. In earlier seasons of the show, Lorne owned the most awesome karaoke bar where people came to sing for him, then get his life advice. He calls everybody by pastry endearments and I ♥ Lorne.

Yay, Angel Season 5!

And that's what's going on here.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Fanny Price Like You've Never Seen Her

On the one hand, I have at least two posts I want to write about writing.

On the other hand, I only have five minutes.

Here's what five minutes gets you:

  • You might find this fun. Thanks to many people for the link.

  • You also might find this (below) fun! Thanks, Tui!



Monday, August 9, 2010

In Which a Dance Is Important (and Parentheticals Are Liberally Employed)

The people at So You Think You Can Dance presented an important dance last week, and they did it without any fanfare. Usually, when SYTYCD thinks they have a special dance, they over-explain it and over-inflate it to the point that by the time I actually get to see the dance, I already hate it. This time, not a word; they just let us figure it out for ourselves. As a result, it's hard to know how deliberate it was, but regardless, it was real, and it did happen: for the first time ever, they presented a same-sex dance in which the characters were in a relationship that could easily, without a stretch, be interpreted as a romantic pairing. It was choreographed by Travis Wall and danced by contestant Kent Boyd and all-star Neil Haskell, and by the way, in addition to being important, it was absolutely beautiful. I don't know how long this link will be up, but you might be able to watch it on YouTube. Some photos are here (click the right arrow at the top of the photo to see more). (White shirt = Kent Boyd, black shirt = Neil Haskell. Clapping guy they cut to at the end = Travis Wall.) And if you're somewhere where you can watch the show, you might want to check out the season finale on Thursday; I betcha they'll dance it again then.

Some context for why this matters: in all the seasons before this one, the setup of the show has meant that maybe 98% of the dances involve one girl and one boy. Since the themes/stories, explicit or otherwise, of these dances tend to be romance/sex a lot of the time, the show ends up feeling really heteronormative. This has been encouraged by the rare same-sex dances with two boys tending to be very "buddy-buddy" -- two friends hanging out, or two enemies/rivals fighting, or a competition over an unseen woman, or something else explicitly non-love-related -- and the rare same-sex dances with two girls being about girl power, or two little temptresses playing for the crowd, or something else explicitly non-love-related. It's also been encouraged by the vibe of the conversations between the contestants and comments from the judges. Generally speaking, contestants talk about their opposite-sex dance partners being hot, male judges talk about the female dancers being hot, and female judges are allowed to say that anyone is hot (that's one of the unspoken rules, right?), but even though we know that some of the judges and/or contestants are gay, there's a certain (loud) silence on the matter. Judge Adam Shankman, who is openly gay, can mention how great it is that California is allowing same-sex marriage again, and jokingly ask judge Nigel Lythgoe (btw, google his name with the word "homophobia" and see what happens) to marry him, but when a male-female pair dances, Adam's going to make his "ah-OOOO-gah" noise at the woman standing before him half-dressed, not the man. I've always found it to be weird, and kind of sad, the degree to which mostly everyone seems to feel the need to pretend that there's no such thing as gayness. Especially on a show about dance, an art and an industry that would be so much less than it is without people of all sexual orientations.

Please note, however, that I'm certainly not suggesting that anyone should be required or pressured to reveal their orientation! I just wish there were more openness and license on the show -- and in the world, of course -- for people to do so without repercussions, and a freer atmosphere on the show, so that the jokes and comments and good-hearted innuendo could make room for different ways of being. And naturally, I also wish gayness could just simply be an artistic option on the show, just like so many other things in the world are artistic options. Stacey Tookey choreographed a dance about an interaction between a homeless man and a rich business man. Napoleon and Tabitha choreographed a psychiatrist and his patient. Many choreographers choreograph men and women in romantic or physical relationships. All these things exist in the world. (Note: Not to confuse matters, but of course, dances are also allowed to be about imaginary things!) If the show were open to gayness as a thing that exists, a dance could have a gay theme -- and it wouldn't have to say anything personally about the dancers or the choreographer or anyone -- it would just be welcome on the show because it's part of the WORLD. (Thanks to my friend Rebecca Rabinowitz for helping me hammer out some of those thoughts. To be honest, I even lifted some of her lines.)

This season, however. A teeny little step! The setup has changed this season, in a way that allows for an uneven number of male and female contestants, which is new. For the last few weeks, there's been only one girl, and a pile of boys. This has meant a lot of dances with two boys. The dances have tended to be the usual, two-guys-who-barely-touch-each-other type of thing -- and please note, I'm not saying that that necessarily makes for a bad dance -- the Twitch/Alex, psychiatrist/patient hip hop number was a showstopper! But -- then, last Wednesday, the Kent/Neil/Travis dance happened. The dancers touch and lift each other; it's obvious that the characters love, or once loved, each other; there's obvious heartbreak. I almost couldn't believe it while I was watching. Gah, what a sad and beautiful dance. Congratulations to choreographer Travis Wall.

BTW, for those unfamiliar with the show, all the dances are always preceded by some commentary and explanation. Of course, in the commentary for this dance, everyone described it as the story of a "friendship ending," no more. It doesn't matter. The dance spoke for itself.

It was gorgeous (did I say that yet?), and the fact of it being on the show makes me so, so happy. Of course, you're welcome to disagree with my interpretation, but you won't talk me (or any of my friends who are similarly gushing) out of mine.

And now, for the SYTYCD watchers out there who'll know what we're talking about, here's a single complaint about the routine, as expressed by my friend Laura Lutz: "The only thing negative I can say about it was that it totally overshadowed Lauren's ridiculous awesomeness." Contestant Lauren! Lauren is my vote for Season 7 champion. Did you SEE that tango Lauren and Pasha danced? (Merciful HEAVENS. PASHA!) (Photos. Especially this photo!) And all-star Ade! Did you SEE that jazz number Lauren and Ade danced? (Photos.) (Costumers? Stop dressing that gorgeous man in bunchy, ill-fitting clothes! Loved Lauren's outfit, though.) GO LAUREN!

Also for SYTYCD watchers -- I was seriously pressed for time last week, and am lucky enough to have a DVR, so decided to watch *only* the dancing (and then, if I loved a dance, take the time to go back and watch the intro, and maybe the commentary of any of the judges I find bearable, which, incidentally, is not all of them). I highly recommend this form of watching, if it is available to you. It was a two hour show but there were only about 30 minutes of actual dancing. I cannot tell you what a relief it was to cut out all the over-explanation of the dances (I hate when they tell us what the dance means; the dance should speak for itself) and the manipulative commentary of the judges (gee, I wonder who they wanted in the Top 3? It was so hard to tell).

And ALSO for SYTYCD watchers -- has this not been the weirdest season ever? I loved Alex, and the Twitch/Alex (Tabitha & Napoleon) hip hop made the season for me, and then Alex tore his Achilles tendon. I loved Ashley, and the Ashley/Ade (Dee Caspary) contemporary dance made the season for me, and then Ashley got knocked out with an injury. The Billy/Ade (Stacey Tookey) contemporary routine that Billy did after coming back from an injury made the season for me, but then Billy got eliminated. I guess it's okay though, because the Kent/Neil (Travis Wall) dance has made all seven seasons for me. (Boys? Don't hurt yourselves!)

For non-SYTYCD watchers: if you're curious about this show, and if you can, you might want to watch Thursday's finale. During the finale, no one is competing; the voting results are in, and over the course of the show, the winner is revealed. This means that there's some campy drama, but the rest of the time is filled up with a showcase of dancing -- mostly, performances of the season's best routines. Unfortunately, as two of the best dancers fell to injuries this season, we won't get to see two of the best routines (maybe they'll replay the videos of Alex/Twitch and Ashley/Ade?), but I bet we'll get to see the Billy/Ade piece, and the Kent/Neil piece I'm talking about above.

And that's all for SYTYCD.

Randomly: cutest thing a bilingual, well-mannered two-year-old in my family yells when he wants to be released from his nap: "OPEN THE DOOR, POR FAVOR!"

Friday, August 6, 2010

How to Be Alone

If you have 4 and a half minutes today, this is worth it. Written and performed by poet/singer/songwriter Tanya Davis. Directed, shot, animated by hand, and edited by filmmaker Andrea Dorfman. Thanks, Jess, for sharing this with me.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

To Kill a Mockingbird Read-a-Thon at the CPL, Aug 5, 9am-9pm

Aunt Alexandra was fanatical on the subject of my attire. I could not possibly hope to be a lady if I wore breeches; when I said I could do nothing in a dress, she said I wasn't supposed to be doing things that required pants. Aunt Alexandra's vision of my deportment involved playing with small stoves, tea sets, and wearing the Add-A-Pearl necklace she gave me when I was born; furthermore, I should be a ray of sunshine in my father's lonely life. I suggested that one could be a ray of sunshine in pants just as well, but Aunty said that one had to behave like a sunbeam, that I was born good but had grown progressively worse every year. She hurt my feelings and set my teeth permanently on edge, but when I asked Atticus about it, he said there were already enough sunbeams in the family and to go on about my business, he didn't mind me much the way I was.

If you're in Cambridge, Massachusetts tomorrow, August 5, and have a few minutes, stop by the (new!) main branch of the Cambridge Public Library at 449 Broadway between 9am and 9pm to listen to the all-day read-a-thon of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. Local storytellers, poets, politicians, members of local bookstores, members of the library administration and board of trustees, and numerous members of the staff of the Cambridge Public Library will be reading. I read at 6pm.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Cuteness, It Burns

What used to be birthday week around these parts is now birthday month... because as I approach my 34th birthday, guess who -- and who else -- is (are?) about to turn one whole year old?


That's secret codename: Phoenix on the left and secret codename: Isis on the right, in a photo taken way back in March. My nieces! Congratulations, codenames: Cordelia and Joe! You have gone almost an entire year without sleep!!!

And my dad is also about to be a birthday boy!

If life allows, I'll try to come up with a brand new birthday poll, but please don't hold your breath, folks; things are a bit hairy right now.

Leos, unite.