Friday, December 30, 2011

Baking Bread in Time for the New Year

I kept all my New Year's resolutions!

I baked this bread (with my mother, in her kitchen) in honor of Bitterblue.
(When you read Bitterblue, you'll understand.)
Happy New Year, everyone!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Conversations from the First Leg of My Trip


(Background: My nieces, codenames: Phoenix and Isis, are approaching 2 ½ years old.)

Someone discovers an enormous quantity of water inside one of the low kitchen cabinets where the girls have just been playing together.

Me: Isis, did you pour the water from your cup into the cabinet?
Isis: Yes.
Me: Phoenix, did you pour the water from your cup into the cabinet?
Phoenix: No.
Me: You didn’t?
Phoenix: No, but I poured my water into Isis’s cup.

Sometimes it’s difficult to maintain the appropriate stern expression.

***

Isis, Phoenix, and I are lying on the floor together, hanging out, talking. Each girl is holding a bottle she found in the kitchen.

Isis (holding out her bottle to me): Will you read it and tell me what they is?
Me (reading the labels): Yes. This one is coconut oil and the other one is balsamic vinegar.
Isis: No, they are peepee and poopy!

This joke rocks Phoenix’s world. She tries to repeat it, the way one does when one enjoys a joke, but she’s laughing so hard that she can’t even get the words out. “They are peepee and poopy,” she finally manages, bright red and gasping, then collapses into giggles again.

***

Phoenix: Daddy, do Santa bring presents to bad girls too?
Codename: Joe: Yes, Santa is very nice. He brings something to everyone, even bad girls.
Phoenix: But Santa can be bad too.
Joe: What do you mean, Santa can be bad?
Phoenix: Santa run over Grandmommy with his reindeer.
Joe (understanding): Did you hear that in a song?
Phoenix: Yes.
Joe: But Phoenix, that song isn’t real. That song is only a joke.
Phoenix (actually sounding quite relieved): Oh! That song is a JOKE! (giggles)

***

Codename: Cordelia and I are driving with the girls to a festival called the Winter Wonderland. We hear giggling in the backseat and listen in.

Isis: It’s the Winter Peepeeland!
Phoenix: It’s the Winter Poopyland!

***

Isis (very upset): NO! IT’S GLOOT!  IT’S GLOOT!
Phoenix (very upset): NO! IT’S FLOOP!  IT’S FLOOP!

(This is an argument over the pronunciation of the word “flute.”)

***

Cordelia and Joe are whispering to each other about what a good job the girls did sharing that morning. They’re whispering in the girls’ hearing on purpose, so that the girls will overhear the praise. Isis indicates to me that she has a secret to tell me, too.

I lean toward her.

Isis (whispering): Poopy!

(Were you expecting something else?)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Things I Thought I Knew about Writing, But Had to Learn Again in New Ways from Bitterblue

  • Even if you go into a book knowing your plot and your plot never changes from your plan, you still don't know what you're getting into.
  • Making messes isn't just okay, it's necessary.
  • For most of the process, nothing but faith, fueled by your own stubbornness, will be pulling you along. The work that you've done on the book so far won't be much comfort, because so much of it will be insufferable crap, until the very last moment, when you figure out how to fix it and everything comes together.
  • Everything will come together, as long as you don't lose hold of what the soul of your book is, work as hard as you can, and don't give up.
  • When it does come together -- that moment is the best feeling there is.
  • The next part, where the book stops being just yours and becomes other people's, will be thrilling to your spirit, but there are aspects of it that will possibly be too strange and surreal for your quotidian little soul to process. You may be overwhelmed, scared, or hurt on occasion. That's okay; you'll get your solid footing back. Just let it happen, observe, try to grow, and be grateful. 
  • And in the meantime, ground yourself with a new project.

    Monday, December 19, 2011

    Waiting to Be Rescued by My Bunter in Shining Bowler Hat

    I'm going to be away from home for 31 of the next 40 days, which is always lovely once I'm on the road but COMPLETELY BONKERS before I go... especially this time, because I need to bring so much stuff and so many books. I mentioned my e-book reader in a previous post... I much prefer reading physical books -- there's no contest -- I should write a post sometime about all the things I find frustrating about e-books -- but I do have an e-book reader, pretty much solely for travel, and I can't overstate how much easier it makes life. I'm in research mode for the next three weeks and will probably be reading as many as 15 to 20 books, not to mention a few manuscripts, and all of it weighs less than a pound and takes up practically no space at all, since it's on the e-book reader. As it is, I'm still going to be lugging a lot of books and paper, but at least I won't be a walking bookcase.

    Anyway, as I write this, I'm in travel prep mode, so I'm not at my best. I just want to take a nap, not spend every waking moment being organized about getting tasks done. Also, I have strong words for whoever invented 7 AM flights. HELP HELP 

    Once Upon a Time (um, vague spoilers ahead?) may have done something unforgivable; they may have lost me; yes, a mere seven episodes into the show, I may have to stop watching, UNLESS THEY DO SOMETHING EXCEEDINGLY SPECTACULAR TO MAKE UP FOR GOUGING OUT MY HEART WITH EPISODE 7. If they're going to make me that sad and OUTRAGED, then they also need to make me that fascinated and delighted. IMMEDIATELY. Or it's all over. Here's a suggestion: UNDO WHAT THEY DID.

    *hrmph*

    There is probably other news, but I'm working with about a 10-second memory span at the moment and can't remember it. If I have bloggy time and things to blog while I'm traveling, I will. I need some tea. Where is my tea? Oh, wait, I remember: I wanted to link you all to Tui's fabulous holiday book-buying post in which she tells you what book to buy for whom on your list! She also mentions some favorite charitable organizations, and I'd like to share my own at some point, too, maybe while I'm traveling.

    Why hasn't Bunter brought me my tea?

    It always strikes me as funny that the time of year which involves quiet contemplation and reflection for me (New Year's) is always preceded by the time of the year involving the most frenzy (December). I used to hate it. Now I kind of feel like the process of fighting for calmness and centeredness in the middle of frenzy is an important step.

    I guess I'd better go get that tea by myself, and pack, and make arrangements, seeing as I'm not an English lord in the 1930s and Bunter does not seem to be materializing...

    Thursday, December 15, 2011

    The World's Smallest Reading/Writing Lesson

    Look look!  Hebrew cover from Kinneret-Zmora! ----->

    So, a gazillion years ago, I wrote a post about Megan Whalen Turner's A Conspiracy of Kings, which included a picture of my own copy of the ARC. Afterwards, people kept asking me what was up with all the post-it flags, and I got all inspired and enthusiastic about writing a big long post about How to Read Books like a Writer. I was going to tell you all the things I'd flagged in A Conspiracy of Kings, then tell you why I'd flagged them. Unfortunately, Bitterblue yada yada, in other words, I never got the time, in addition to which, now that I look around, I can't find my copy of A Conspiracy of Kings anywhere. *directs suspicious glances at my sisters and other ne'er-do-wells*

    So instead of that big grand post, I'm going to give you a teeny crappy post. :D? I'm going to share one tiny example of something I just flagged in the excellent book I'm currently reading, The Likeness, by Tana French:
    When I was sure they were gone, I shut the door and stood still in the hallway, listening to the empty house. I could feel it settling, a long whisper like shifting sand, to see what I would do now. (p 124 of the 2008 Viking edition)
    Here's the thing: when I read a book and find myself loving or admiring the writing, I'm always trying to learn from it. How is the writer making me feel this way? How is the writer being so evocative? How is the writer making it so damn easy for me to read this book?

    So I flagged that line about the house, to remind myself that one small way to breathe life into a book is to breathe life into the book's important spaces. Almost everything I write has some sort of important domicile. Now that I've read this line by French, I want to remind myself to think about the spaces in my books, the buildings, and ask myself, what is my building like when my protagonist is alone? What does it feel like, what does it sound like, what kind of personality does it have? The next book I write will probably have moments where I try to do something with this. I also flagged this line:
    The house felt huge and unwelcoming, the way a house sometimes does when you come back downstairs after you've closed up for the night: alien, withdrawn, focused on its own private business. (329)
    Yet another reminder to try to think of new ways, when I'm writing, to breathe life into my settings.

    Sometimes I'll read a book and flag nothing, or only one thing, because nothing much has sparked my writing brain; sometimes there aren't enough flags in the world for the book I'm reading. Sometimes a book is creating explosions in my mind with every single line and I don't flag anything because the whole damn book is a big waving, flapping flag.

    I started doing this flagging thing when I started getting serious about writing. Once you find yourself trying to breathe life into people, places, dialogue, once you realize how hard and frustrating it is, it becomes impossible not to start deconstructing how other people do it.

    And that's why I post-it flag the books I read. And to answer a frequently asked question, no, they're not color-coded. I will sometimes color-code the flags I use in my own manuscripts, in order to follow a single revision thread or a single character or WHATEVER all the way through, but I'm not that organized with the books I read.

    Monday, December 12, 2011

    Holiday Randutiae and a Couple FAQs

    Dear Santa, I would like a teleporter for Christmas.

    Though I have to admit that air travel has gotten less onerous for me recently. Not because anything has changed for the better at the airports or on the airlines; quite the opposite. Things seem to be getting worse. Rather, because I've come to realize that unless I want to be miserable all the time, there are certain things I just need to let go. Like my expectation of being treated with any dignity, for example. :D?  Sigh...

    I just took a look at last year's resolutions. I've happy to say that I've kept them all, except for one: I still haven't baked any bread. I was too busy making Bitterblue. HOWEVER, there is still time, and I bet I can convince one of the many people I'll be traveling to in the next few weeks to make bread with me before the New Year.

    A couple random FAQs: 

    Should I read/reread Graceling and Fire before I read Bitterblue?
    You don't need to. It wouldn't hurt, and I suppose it might help, but only do it if you feel like it; don't worry about it if you don't.

    Why do you use swear words on your blog, but never the F word?
    Because I'm saving the F word for the day when I write a blog post about the for-profit health insurance industry and the way its CEOs become wealthy by not only preying on, but exacerbating, other people's personal tragedies.

    *ahem*

    Happy Monday, everyone :o)

    Thursday, December 8, 2011

    Bad Days, Voice Recognition Software, SNoQ, and Benedict Cumberbatch

    Wednesday was one of those days where you wake up and it's so dark outside that you feel like there must've been some mix-up with the sun. And it never gets any brighter, and also your hands hurt, but you have to do a lot of computer work anyway, and because your hands hurt, you're clumsy, and because you're clumsy, you keep spilling crumbs and splattering liquids everywhere on account of a person must eat, and it sucks to have to clean everything all up, because your hands hurt.

    I depend on my dictation software for my e-mail communications and the transcription of my work. I'm inexpressibly grateful for its existence. BUT that doesn't mean that it doesn't make me livid with anger, even bring me close to tears, from time to time. There are just some days where nothing works; no matter where you put the microphone, no matter how distinctly you speak, it won't get any of your words right, and nothing works, and you have to use your hands. On Wednesday, in the middle of an e-mail to my sister, codename: Apocalyptica the Flimflammer, I finally gave up. "I'm not correcting what my software just wrote," I dictated. "You can figure out what words I actually said, right?"

    She wrote back, "Of course, and I'd much rather do some sleuth-work than have you typing."

    A minute later, she wrote back with another e-mail: "Sleuth-work! Benedict Cumberbatch!"

    What a splendid world it is when we can run into Benedict Cumberbatch around every corner.

    Which reminds me of an excellent game of Sufficient Number of Questions (SNoQ) Apocalyptica and I recently played. (SNoQ, as I have explained before, is a game much like 20 Questions -- 20 Questions being the game where Person X thinks of a physical entity and Person Y guesses what the entity is by asking no more than 20 Yes/No questions. Here's the difference: With SNoQ, there are no limits to what the entity can be. It can be an abstract concept, a nonentity. It can be a made-up invention. It can be an existing thing that you might not in ordinary circumstances consider to be an existing thing. There are also no limits to the number of Yes/No questions Person Y is allowed to ask. S/he always asks whatever number is sufficient.)

    It only took Apocalyptica about 25 minutes to guess this concept: Apocalyptica herself, rescuing Benedict Cumberbatch when he deposits a quarter into the world's largest gumball machine and the machine goes haywire, burying him in gumballs! She is a SNoQ pro! (Especially in matters concerning Benedict Cumberbatch. Which is why I made sure this matter did. Concern him, I mean.)

    It took me significantly longer to guess "an apple blasting off." (I don't have it in me to explain the context for that, but if you're curious, it's quite delightful and has to do with the scientists who recently won the Nobel Prize in physics for discovering that the universe is expanding, and you can read about it here.) (ETA 8:28pm: Okay, I confess that when it comes to physics on the blog, I'm sometimes lazy on checking my facts, because I happen to know that one of my friends will let me know if I've made a mistake. Which I did here. The scientists did not discover that the universe is expanding -- that has been known for some time. They discovered that its rate of expansion is *increasing*. Thanks, former physicist JD. ^_^)

    Incidentally, my TOS keeps me from being able to type, but two things I can do without pain are: (1) drawing; and (2) procrastinating.

     Apocalyptica rescues Mr. Cumberbatch
     from a gumball calamity

    Monday, December 5, 2011

    Bank Of America Makes Me Happy That I Have So Many Pictures of Women with Swords At My Disposal

    Yes, I hate Bank of America so much that I'm writing an extra Monday post to rant about it.

    Ladies and Gentlemen, I am to be congratulated. I just closed my Bank of America account (as I've been promising to do for months). But before it could happen, there was one last moment of bullshit.

    Very nice lady on the phone who I'm sure is only doing her job: "We want to make absolutely sure that all of your checks have cleared and all of your automatic payments have been canceled, because if, after we close the account, a request comes through to pay anyone, the account will automatically open back up again."

    Me: "WAIT. What? That is not acceptable. It's my account; it's my right for it not to exist. I don't want an account that pops back open sometime in the future, simply because I've forgotten about some yearly charge or something. How can we do this so that when we close the account today, it's gone for good and it's closed forever?"

    Nice lady on the phone: "I can do that. I just need to make a note here that that's what you want."

    Why did this piss me off so much? A few reasons. First, you know what would happen if a payment request suddenly popped my account back open again? Bank of America would charge me an overdraft fee, essentially for bouncing a check. And not only that: suddenly, I would have a bank account again -- but my balance ($0.00) would be WAY below my minimum balance! Bank Of America would charge me its monthly fee for dropping below my minimum balance. Once again, Bank of America would be nickel and diming me out of my money with their crappy policies -- AND now I would have to go through the process of closing the account again.

    And you know why else it pissed me off? Because this is apparently the bank's default: closing accounts so that the slightest thing can pop them back open again. And even worse, not only is it their default, but they don't explain that you have another option -- that you have the right to close your account for good -- unless you ask them for it. Nor do they explain the consequences of the account popping back open, unless you ask! This just strikes me as even more evidence that Bank of America deliberately takes advantage of unsophisticated consumers, of busy people who don't have time to learn or understand all this crap, of the way we do banking today... of every single way they can harvest the mistakes people make to LEGALLY make that extra bit of money off of us.

    Rant over.

    The Phantom Sculptor Strikes Again

    The month has only just begun, but already, December is reliably crazy. I'll do my utmost to keep blogging, right up until the point where it starts feeling like another task on my list.

    Today I don't have time for anything of my own, but this post by Robert Krulwich on the NPR blog is too delightful not to share: "The Library Phantom Returns!"

    Somebody has been dropping glorious little paper sculptures into libraries and museums all over Edinburgh, Scotland, and we've just heard (thank you, alert reader Paul Smith) that there are now three more.

    Readers, please go take a look at these delightful, imaginative sculptures, created by an anonymous library phantom! They're too beautiful to miss.

    Thursday, December 1, 2011

    The Mysteries of the Multiverse

    If my initial reaction to the theory that our universe is just one in an infinite series of universes in the multiverse, each universe containing a slightly different version of me -- if my initial reaction to this theory is that I'm going to be the BEST one (of all the me's) and all the others me's can kiss my ass -- does that suggest that I have a competitive nature?

    (Perhaps more importantly, do all the me's have this competitive nature? Because if so, I think I/we am/are in trouble...)

    Speaking of alternate dimensions... against all expectations, I'm utterly charmed by ABC's new drama Once upon a Time. I'm three episodes in. The premise is that back in fairytale land, Snow White's evil queen cast a spell on all the characters, propelling them into a terrible alternate dimension -- our world. Now they all live in a small town in present-day Maine, and none of them can remember the truth of their pasts or their true identities. (Here's more about the show.) It's fun to watch the real-world manifestations of such familiar characters (including, so far, characters from Snow White, Cinderella, Pinocchio, Little Red Riding Hood, Rumpelstiltskin, and more); it's also fun to learn their back stories during the parts of the show when we jump back in time to when everyone was themselves, living in fairytale land. For example, how did Snow White and Prince Charming really meet? Cast into the forest by the Evil Queen and scrambling for a means to live, she stole from him, of course. Here's a picture of Snow White kneeing Prince Charming in the stomach. Yee-haw! Also, I have to say, this Prince Charming is extremely charming. Rakish grin, heart of gold, ability to shoot an arrow hundreds of yards through a forest of trees into the back of the man on the galloping horse kidnapping the woman who (Snow White) just punched him (Prince Charming) in the face and threw him in the river: he's got the whole package.

    Relatedly, what does it mean if you finally set about to clean a closet no one's cleaned in years, then find it to be spotless? Not a cobweb, not a dust bunny, not a single carpet beetle carcass, not a speck of lint, not even in the deepest darkest corners? Would you start pushing things aside looking for a looking glass, wardrobe, police box, or the door to Howl's moving castle? Or am I the only one who, finding something clean in my house, assumes that I've stumbled upon a portal to an alternate dimension?

    Monday, November 28, 2011

    For Amber Waves of... Stone



    This post picks up where last Monday's post left off. My dear friend and excellent photographer TLR and I had visited Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, then driven back to Salt Lake City, remember? In Salt Lake City, we picked up a third friend, codename: Perfect Gentleman. Then the three of us drove south.

    In the southwest corner of Utah sits beautiful Zion National Park. I'm going to let the pictures (all taken by TLR) speak for themselves. Click any picture to enbiggen.



     This bench, which TLR called the "pi bench," led to a conversation in which PG and I tried to decide which
     Greek letters would make the best benches. Some letters were more easily judged than others. Capital delta, for
     example (∆), would not make for a particularly comfortable bench. Lowercase delta, on the other hand (∂),
     might make for a nice sort of rocker, depending on how you sat on it.

     While we considered such matters, TLR had the sense to ignore us and keep taking pictures.


     

     Can you spot the rainbow?

    How can the landscape be so dramatically different from what we'd seen in Wyoming, yet still be so beautiful? We spotted the rainbow on the way out of the park; it seemed impossible to me that any place could be more beautiful.

    Which is the innocent sort of thought a person might have when she hasn't been to Zion's neighbor park, Bryce Canyon, yet.

     Bryce Canyon National Park






     Can you get a sense of the vastness, of how far it extends?


     In case you've been doubting that this is planet Earth, here's a picture of a humanoid as evidence. (Don't be deceived
    by my T-shirt. No one on Tatooine actually wears R2-D2 T-shirts.)

    Bryce Canyon was the last stop on our trip. We drove ourselves back to Salt Lake City, then flew home. If you're aware of the size of the states of Wyoming and Utah, you'll have gathered that we covered a lot of miles on this trip. 1,900 miles, in fact (~3,000 km)! In case you don't know, most USA national parks charge some sort of nominal fee for entrance, and if you plan to visit several national parks in one year, it's wise to purchase the highly economical annual pass.

    What a wonderful trip it was; I'm a bit sad to wrap up this photo essay. I'll end with a thank you to TLR for taking such beautiful pictures and for allowing me to post them here. You know, during the Wyoming portion of our trip, we were in grizzly bear country. I have what I believe is quite a rational terror of grizzly bears -- and in fact, someone had been killed there by a grizzly bear quite recently -- so TLR and I made sure to implement a Bear Plan whenever we went hiking. Bears don't like to be startled; also, if you do encounter a bear, you're supposed to back away slowly with your eyes on the ground while speaking in a soothing tone of voice. (NEVER RUN!) Our Bear Plan involved keeping up a steady conversation as we hiked, with an occasional "Wokka wokka!" thrown in (so that if a bear did hear us, it would know we were friendly to bears). Were we to encounter a bear, the plan was that while backing away slowly with our eyes to the ground, I would recite T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," with suggestive modifications. Let us go then, you and I/ When the evening is spread out against the sky/ Like a bear etherised upon a table.

    Fortunately, this is the only bear we encountered.

    TLR strikes a pensive pose.


    Thanks to my traveling companions. And I hope you've all enjoyed the pictures from our trip. :o)

    Thursday, November 24, 2011

    What I've Been Reading (and some music TV)

    Okay, this is an even more random edition of What I've Been Reading (and Watching) than usual -- I hope some of it speaks to some of you out there! 

    1.
    Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About Colleges (2006, 2nd revised edition), by Loren Pope. The college application thing is such a rat race, isn't it? So stressful, so depressing, so many assumptions about what's best (name-brand schools), so many messed-up notions about how to decide who is and isn't "smart." When I was choosing a college, I bought into all of that completely. I thought it was all about rankings and scores. I think differently now. And yeah, I'm happy with the path I took, not that it matters, because I wasn't really in a place then to take any other kind of path. But if I had to go to college now, knowing all I've learned, I might choose one of the colleges in this refreshing book I've been reading, called Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About Colleges (2006, 2nd revised edition). It's by Loren Pope, who, according to the book cover, is also the author of a book called Looking Beyond the Ivy League.

    High schoolers, if you're stressed out about all this crappy crap, you might want to pick up this book. Please note that the tone can be old-fashioned, some of the reports of complete collegiate bliss make me suspicious, and I have the occasional quibble with the author. For example: "Agnes Scott is one of the best colleges around. It is a women's college that has all the advantages of a coed one, and, the women there say, a lot more besides. First, there are thousands of attentive young men at seven heavily male institutions nearby, eager for dates." ...SRSLY? This is the very first thing to be said about this stellar institution?

    But that's not the point. Reading about colleges that approach admissions, education, and/or grading a little bit differently from the norm but are still extremely challenging, still passionate about learning, and still produce all those quantifiable results everyone is crazy about -- it might just help you break out of the trap so many of us are/were in when the time comes/came for applying to colleges. Much of this book involves students and alums talking about their experiences in their own words. (By the way, an aside in case you don't know, from someone who does know: a lot of the schools in this book -- and outside this book -- a lot of small, private, expensive schools -- have extremely generous, need-based financial aid. You may actually be able to afford to go to the school you think you can't afford to go to, and without taking on terrible debt. There are probably books out there to help with that jungle, too... I just did a search in my library catalog for college financial aid and came up with a bunch of titles.)

    Anyway. After reading a few of the college profiles in this book, I had to stop myself from sending a copy to my sister, codename: Cordelia, to give to my nieces to read. They just turned two. They can't actually read yet. Do you think it's too soon?

    (By the way, another book kicking around my house that I haven't had a chance to look at yet but I'm mentioning just in case it's helpful for people to know it exists: Peterson's Colleges for Students with Learning Disabilities or AD/HD. And I just did another search in my library catalog; college learning disability comes up with a lot of titles.) 

    2.
    Death Comes for the Archbishop, by Willa Cather. I've tried to read this book so many times in the past, and was never able to get into it. Now I'm realizing I was just trying on the wrong days, or something. It's SUCH a wonderful book -- quiet, not a lot of plot, but a lot of substance and character stuff. I'm allergic to plot summary... it's about an archbishop in the American West in days of yore. He dies. ^_^ But! The imagery!  "At one moment the whole flock of doves caught the light in such a way that they all became invisible at once, dissolved in light and disappeared as salt dissolves in water. The next moment they flashed around black and silver against the sun." This book contained so many moments like that. 

    3.
    Toning the Sweep, by Angela Johnson. This is a tiny little book, Johnson's first novel, leaves you with impressions of the desert, light, heat, color, family, memory, grief, and healing. Read it. 

    4. 
    Skim, by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki. This is a graphic novel about a high school girl in Canada going through some pretty normal life stuff, especially loneliness. Understated, and I just loved it. Take it out of your library or take a peek at it the next time you're in a bookstore; see if it appeals to you. Or, if you want to know more about the themes or whatever, go to goodreads and see what people are saying. 

    5.
    There Devil, Eat That, by JonArno Lawson. I've blogged about Lawson's poetry before. It is a quiet delight. JonArno has given me permission to share a couple that spoke to me particularly -- because it's so much easier to show you the poems than to try to explain what they're like!

    From a section called "Travels":

    iv.
    305 Rue Marie-Anne est
    (or How my past self tried, unsuccessfully, to disown me)

    I know more about him than he thought I'd know.
    Looking back, he didn't know much.
    He couldn't guess well --
    Certainly he didn't know that I'd come someday

    Straight to where he hid in the past
    Not to disown him
    As he disowned me,
    But to gather him back.

    And one more:

    Here Comes the Wind

    Here comes the wind
    to push your goat over the side of a mountain
    to sadden a wall
    to darken the sky
    to rattle a little tin can --
    It comes to toss a tired bird beyond reach of the shore --
    here comes the wind
    oh friend of the wind
    to rid me of your ashes.


    ******

    Now, we should all feel free to look beyond the Ivies, but HAVING SAID THAT, I would like to point out that there is a young man who sings in Dartmouth's all-male a cappella group, the Dartmouth Aires, who, as far as I can tell, was born to be a big Broadway star. His name is Michael Odokara-Okigbe, and while the entire group is talented and fun and energetic and funny, I think Odokara-Okigbe is the biggest reason the Aires have made it all the way to the upcoming finale of NBC's slightly quirky a cappella reality competition show, The Sing-Off (link opens a video with sound). Judge Shawn Stockman (of Boys II Men) said to him once, "What were you thinking of doing outside of singing?"

    This video will give you a sense of his voice and presence. (Sorry about the ads. Props to NBC for posting the vids so we can embed them legally -- but of course with ads, sigh. Wait... suddenly I wonder if this video will work overseas. If it doesn't and you want to search elsewhere, the song is "Shout," the group is the Dartmouth Aires, and the show is The Sing-Off.) (BTW, the music only lasts 3 minutes -- the rest of that space is judging.) (ALSO. Last parenthetical: if you get my posts as emails, you may need to go to my Blog Actual to see the vids.)



    And here's a really fun performance of the Aires doing a Queen medley (the music is only about 3:30 long). I think this was the moment when I first thought to myself, Could I please see him on Broadway someday?:



    In the meantime, my favorite group on the show is Pentatonix, who do not actually sound like Florence and the Machine, except for when they're singing Florence and the Machine (music lasts 2:45):



    (If you love them, here they are again with an adorable version of "Video Killed the Radio Star".)

    What I love about really good a cappella is that you can try to deconstruct what's happening while you're watching it -- who's doing what, and how? Sometimes it helps you deconstruct what the original artist does, too. It made me laugh to listen to a group of five vocalists put on the Florence and the Machine sound -- I think I would've recognized it as F+tM even if I hadn't known it was her song! Anyway. The finale is Monday on NBC; I'm guessing some pretty good music is guaranteed.

    Monday, November 21, 2011

    O Beautiful for Spacious Skies

    Now that the days are growing short and it feels like it's night most of the time, I love more than ever to look at the pictures from my recent(ish) trip out west.

    All these pictures were taken by my dear friend and excellent photographer, codename: The Lovely R. Click any photo to enbiggen.

    Suuuuure okay no problem.

    The Flaming Gorge (northern Utah, southern Wyoming) was so utterly silent that when I stepped
    out of the car, I thought something was wrong with my ears. Our footsteps sounded SO LOUD.









    So, TLR and I live on opposite coasts of the country and don't get to see enough of each other. We planned this vacation kind of haphazardly. About a year ago, we basically opened our calendars, stuck a pin randomly into the last week of September 2011, and promised each other that we'd get together then. About five months ago, TLR sent me an e-mail saying that her favorite airline was having a special deal on fares to a list of cities, did any of the cities appeal to me? I was like, "Gah, I don't know, I've never been to Salt Lake City, how about there? I can get us a rental car with my airline miles." We agreed: Salt Lake City, last week of September. Then, literally a week before our trip, I was like, "Huh, I wonder where Salt Lake City is, exactly. Here, I'll look at a map. Hey, TLR, did you realize that Salt Lake City is driving distance from Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone?"

    In other words, it was some really random, last-minute planning and a whole lot of luck that landed us in one of the most beautiful parts of the country during just about the most beautiful time to be there -- the height of leaf-turning season. I won't speak for TLR, but I can attest that I was completely unprepared for the magnitude of the beauty. Honest to God, it was overwhelming.

    The colors in Grand Teton National Park




    I'm being as selective as I can with these pictures, and it hurts to leave so many out.

    Love TLR's framing here.

    Can you even believe the size of those peaks.

    Grand Teton National Park is in western Wyoming. A bit north of Grand Teton is Yellowstone National Park, which encompasses an ENORMOUS stretch of land in northwest Wyoming and also a little bit of Montana and Idaho. The pictures I'm going to show you are the barest fraction of the range of natural landscapes we saw at Yellowstone. I'm trying to keep this post from getting out of hand, but it's almost insulting to these parks to show so little!

    In Yellowstone, we saw a lot of what you might call classic, normal, natural gorgeousness.

     Hiking down to the bottom...

    ... of this waterfall.
     Here's how it looks from far away.

    We saw elk.


    We saw antelope, a wolf, and many many bison.


    And cliffs, water, rock, rolling hills, trees, mountains.


    Beautiful. And like I said, pretty normal, right? But Yellowstone actually sits on top of one of the world's largest active volcanoes, and in various parts of the park, the landscape is SO BIZARRE.

     See that steam venting out of the ground?

    All kinds of weird things are surfacing from the inner depths of Yellowstone National Park.

     Hi, I'm just an innocent rock, and an innocent pool of water.
    No really, I'm not boiling or anything. *flutters eyelashes innocently*.


     Double double, toil and trouble. Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

    Gloopy glops in blobby bogs.
     Nearby, Old Faithful geyser blows off some serious steam.

    It's hard to believe that some of these colors happen naturally. Like, just sitting there on the ground.




    After Yellowstone, we wound our way back down to Salt Lake City, through beautiful Idaho. The gentleness of the landscape was almost a relief to my eyes; like I said before, the dramatic gorgeousness in Wyoming was almost overwhelming. We could see the far distant Tetons from the other side (the western side) as we drove south through Idaho. Beautiful.

    Back in Salt Lake City, we visited the Great Salt Lake.


    And then, what did we do? Did we get back on the plane? Hell no! Because you know what else is driving distance from Salt Lake City? Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon, both in southern Utah.

    But I'm already worried about how much I'm monopolizing your blog readers, so I'll save that for next Monday. On Thursday, I hope to have time for a post about what I've been reading lately -- including a book about choosing the right college for some of the stressed out high school students (and parents)  out there.