Tuesday, January 28, 2014

January Cold Randutiae

A couple years ago, we had one of those winters that never really got started... hardly any snow, and the temperatures weirdly high. Spring came and I felt like I'd been cheated. That's certainly not happening this year. And here in Cambridge, our frequent temps of 10 and 20°F (-12 and -7°C, approximately) are downright balmy compared to the -20 and -30°F temps (-29 and -34°C) a friend in Minnesota is having on a regular basis. For me, it's something to laugh and occasionally whine about, because I'm damn lucky, but for a lot of people, it's creating a lot of suffering and is downright dangerous… I wish everyone could be okay.

A heartfelt thank you for everyone who clicked on my Seabane Isn't Real post! I just took a look at the hit count and was touched that my readers are taking my request seriously.

Work has been enjoyable lately but also intense and energy-sapping. Hence, no blogging. But I've been keeping a little list of randutiae that bears mentioning, so here we go.

Sherlock. So, Sherlock has returned for a third season in the USA and I'm having some trouble trying to keep straight whether Sherlock has come back from the dead as a total and unforgivable asshole (as in the first episode) or as an entirely forgivable and endearing asshole (as in the second episode). I find his characterization inconsistent, but Benedict Cumberbatch is such a fine actor that I believe in every individual moment completely. Also, these new episodes are FUNNY. And (if you're allergic to spoilers, skip the rest of this paragraph), that kiss in the first few minutes of the first episode was the most entertaining (and hilarious) TV kiss I've ever seen. Fly through a plate glass window, adjust the trenchcoat, ruffle the hair, OH MY GOODNESS. About Mary -- notice I'm not going wild with excitement that they've introduced an important female character. You know what, I'm sincerely glad they have, but I'm tired of treating tiny baby steps as if they're a revolution for the industry, so I'll leave it at that.

Downton Abbey. I have a lot of words about why I'm done watching Downtown Abbey (serious spoilers ahead), but this evening I'd rather do something else with my energy. So instead I'm going to link to an article in the Guardian in which two thoughtful women, Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett and Bidisha, present opposing opinions about whether the rape scene in the second episode of the most current season was acceptable television. I appreciate both women's perspectives, but I especially appreciate Bidisha's, as I am sick to death of the frequency with which rape is portrayed shallowly in entertainment media. I also feel that this particular case -- the rape of Anna, whose husband will certainly retaliate if he finds out -- should be an opportunity for people to talk about what a serious problem it is in our society that there are too many women and children who suffer rape and other violence but are then unable to tell the men in their lives -- fathers, brothers, husbands, partners -- the truth of what's happened, out of fear that those men, rather than giving them the real support they need in that moment, will retaliate in a fit of violence that is understandable but in fact selfishly makes the woman's or child's situation worse.

Among Others Audiobook. I recently read and very much enjoyed the novel Among Others by Jo Walton, and I'd like  to make a special point about the audiobook, read by Katherine Kellgren. Wanting to rest my eyes, I switched to the audiobook at about the 20% mark, and I'm SO glad I did! I would've loved the book either way, but this was one of my best audiobook experiences ever, up there with listening to Barack Obama read Dreams From my Father. At first, I thought it might be a disaster, not because Kellgren reads with a very strong and distinct Welsh accent (this is appropriate to the book) but rather because she reads with a distinct tone of voice that is so different from my inner voice that I was momentarily thrown. It only took me a few minutes to get over that, though, because in fact her tone is just right, and so much more spot-on my own. I laughed out loud so many times! I've now used the word "so" four times in this paragraph (not counting that time), which demonstrates the passion of my recommendation. :o)

The Ides of March. I enjoyed George Clooney's movie The Ides of March, which stars Ryan Gosling (spoilers ahead), but I felt that what was IMO the biggest flaw in the plot was demonstrative of the casual systemic sexism in Hollywood. Namely… why would she kill herself? Why would she kill herself? I felt like maybe the reason she would kill herself is because she's not a real or believable character and exists only to serve the plot. It's a crack in the movie. The actress (Evan Rachel Wood) did a wonderful job with the role, but the movie would have been a better piece of art if she'd been more legitimate a character.

The Heart of Robin Hood I saw this show recently at the American Repertory Theater here in Cambridge, Mass, and (spoilers ahead!) you know what, while I didn't entirely believe in the characterizations of Robin Hood or Marion (Why would she love him exactly? He's a violent, murdering thug! And why would he love her? He saw her once!), the staging is something special. On the stage roof and extending over the audience is the most enormous oak tree, and the actors are essentially aerialists. They enter and exit by climbing or descending ropes OR by sliding down this rather extraordinary steep slope at the back of the stage. You're sitting there watching the show and people keep suddenly appearing on stage by sliding down the back wall! The one moment when I did believe in Robin Hood and Marion's love was achieved by aerialist work. Also, randomly, the show contained the most magical and realistic snowfall I've ever seen on a stage. And it was funny, AND, there's a scene where Robin's gang uses the corpse of a man they've killed as a marionette and it is the FUNNIEST THING EVER, magnificently acted by the guy playing the corpse marionette. (My apologies to this actor; I'm kicking myself for not paying closer attention to the name of that character so that I can share the actor's name here.) Hints of a few Broadway shows – in the use of music, I found it reminiscent of Once, and in the depiction of animals, I thought of War Horse.

Hourly News. This is my new favorite phone app. It plays the three-or four-minute hourly news headlines from NPR, the BBC, the CBC, and a range of other options, including one as far away as Hong Kong. A great way to spend a few minutes getting the major headlines. I wish there were options from a broader range of worldwide sources, and hope this will come in time. Seems to be only for Mac devices, though?

The Perilous Gard. I recently reread and loved The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope. A wonderful book with some Tam Lin elements!

Note by Note: The Making of Steinway L1037. Curious about the hand-craftsmanship that goes into a Steinway piano? If you can get your hands on this documentary, do watch it, it's really fascinating. One thing I love about the process of creating these pianos is how many times a piano is sent to a new department in order to have practically the same manufacturing process applied to it as in the last department. These piano-makers repeat the same process repeatedly with each piano (something I can relate to as a writer), and that's partly what makes Steinway grands such wonderful creatures in the end. Each one unique.

Finally (have I really reached the end of my list?), I'm so happy to report that Bitterblue is a bestseller in Israel. Many thanks to my Hebrew-reading readers and to my Israeli publisher, Kinneret Zmora! That's the cover at the top of this post – click to enbiggen.