Monday, January 28, 2008

State of the Union: Despondent, yet hopeful.

Is that possible -- to be despondent, yet hopeful?


Here's the thing: I can't watch the State of the Union address. It's not that I have anything else planned; on the contrary, tonight would be an ideal time to see if the television still works. All I've got is laundry to fold and bills to pay.

But I can't stand another one. I just can't listen to this President say one more damn sentence, even one that somebody else wrote for him. Not one more SOU, even his last. I would rather chew on tin foil.

I'll read the transcript, maybe it won't hurt so much that way.

For those who can take it -- those stronger than I, or those who think state of the Union is just dandy, or those sedated -- I think it's on at 9 PM EST.

Aw hell. Maybe I have a Valium kicking around somewhere.

Basement Cinema Report

Two things this weekend:

Kevin Costner has the title role in Mr. Brooks, about a successful businessman whose life is going swimmingly well, except that he's having trouble quitting this nasty habit he has of killing total strangers for fun. His alter ego (well-played by William Hurt) doesn't want to stop, and talks him into a double murder, which he commits, but with drapes open -- careless, careless! He was seen in the act by an antsy creep (Dane Cook, aptly repugnant) who doesn't want money, doesn't want to go to the cops; he wants to go along for the next murder. What to do, what to do about that. Meanwhile, Brooks's daughter drops out of school for reasons that aren't what they appear, and cause serious trouble of their own. Also meanwhile, Detective Tracy Atwood (an unconvincing Demi Moore) is on the case, and may be closing in. Also also meanwhile, an escaped killer is hunting down Atwood, who also, also, also meanwhile is going through an exceptionally ugly divorce.

Intriguing concept, and I so love a good psycho-thriller that I tend to overforgive their flaws -- but I can't quite put my finger on exactly why this one didn't work. It wasn't dumb, but the script wasn't strong enough to hold up a plot that stretches credulity ("implausible" doesn't quite cover it). Dropping one of the also-meanwhile subplots might've helped focus it some, and freed up some time to explore more interesting parts of the Brooks character, a lot of which was left sort of dangling. As is, the character somehow misses the mark. For me, the mix of traits didn't come off complex, just inexplicable, with too many loose ends to be satisfying.

Ah well. It should've been better, but it didn't completely suck. And several critics of the paid variety liked it fine, so maybe it's just me (and my brother, who was visiting this weekend and didn't love it either).

Next up: Live Free or Die Hard. This latest Bruce Willis vehicle is utterly ridiculous, but cool. With a young genius computer hacker in tow (today's villains are using The Internet, you know), our reluctant hero John McClane hurtles through one scene after another -- all manner of things that could never happen or be survived, happen and are survived. Get down -- he dodges bullets! Take that -- he throws cars at helicopters! Bang! Pow! BOOM! Ouch, that's gonna leave a mark. And the quips! Villain: "McClane? I thought I killed you already." McClane: "Yeah, I get that sometimes." Over halfway through the film, McClane is barreling a tractor trailer over, under, and through freeway interchanges and whatnot, and the bad guys arrange to have him chased by an F-35 military strike fighter. You know, nimble as a bumblebee. At which point my brother comes out with the best line not of the movie: "OK, now we're just making stuff up." Good times.

And with that, why am I banging out reviews nobody reads of movies everybody's already seen, instead of getting some sleep in preparation for shoveling the foot+ of wet snow that dumped on us this evening, and is still coming down? S'fun, that's why, and everyone needs a hobby. But good night, already.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Off on the right foot... unless you mean the one in my mouth?

Your child's school's secretary is probably someone with whom you want to have a pleasant acquaintanceship. My girls' school is K-8 and the secretary isn't retiring any time soon, so this is my first of potentially 11 years of interacting with her from time to time for various reasons. She'll know where to find people, how to get things done, how to bypass or shortcut hassles... and, maybe, if I need particular help sometime, she'll be more inclined to lend a hand if she knows me to be a courteous, helpful, responsible person whose children are neither spoiled brats nor thugs in training. Which, let's stipulate, I am.

So imagine my horror on our first meeting, when before "can I help you," she says "your zipper's open." And of course I don't hear her, so she has to repeat, "THE ZIPPER. ON YOUR SHORTS. IS OPEN." Ah. Right. Thanks.

Fast forward to early December... I'm wearing jeans now, fly checked and double-checked before I enter the building... and it's time for parent-teacher conferences. I go into the school and hear a horrible screeching, loud, like some kind of machine, maybe resurfacing or waxing something. I figure the office folks must be eager to have that done with. Coming into the office, relieved to close the door on the racket, I say, "Wow, what on God's green earth is making that noise?" Secretary says, "that noise is the children practicing for their winter concert."

Ah. Right. Too late, I recognize the sound of recorders, lots of 'em, played all at once by third and fourth graders. (Note to self: discreet earplugs required when children are at winter concert-performing age.)

Until last Friday, there was still hope she might not recognize me -- she sees a lot of mothers after all, and some of them have to be goofier than I, right? RIGHT? -- or at least that the Bean would escape being associated with me except on paper, and not have to go through the next nine years in school office lore as "good kid, smart, but her mother's kind of a dingbat."

Last Friday, though. It was pouring rain when we got up. Everyone had a hard time waking; the Bean even sat in my lap and said "Mommy, I can't stop sleeping!" Me too, Bean. Peanut wouldn't even get out of bed; I dressed her horizontal. Eventually I got them going, dressed, brushed, fed. Promised a movie and some popcorn for the afternoon. Some mornings are just hard like this, I said, even when we go to bed on time. It's still pouring rain and frigid outside, so we take the car to the bus stop. No bus. Did we miss it by a minute? Nobody waiting at the bus stop before ours, just visible up the street. Dang, we must've missed it. Pull out and follow the bus route... no bus, nobody waiting at bus stops... hm. Probably he's already at the other end of the neighborhood. Is my clock wrong? Whatever. We'll just drive to school.

Which we do. Because Bean is expected to arrive on the bus, I have to escort her in myself if I drive her. It is still pouring rain and frigid. The Peanut asks to wait in the car. OK, I can see the car from the office... I have to sign the Bean in at the office, I think, but I'm not sure because we've never missed the bus before... Peanut can wait. Bean and I hood up, grab her frog backpack, hold hands, dash into school. Into the office. Where I cheerfully announce to the secretary, "Good morning! We must've missed our bus by a minute -- do I need to sign Bean in? I've not done this before." She replies slowly. "There is no school today. That's why there are no buses, and no cars in the parking lot."

Ah. Right. That would explain it. That would also explain the odd notation I noticed in my calendar later.

Good kid, smart. But her mother's kind of a dingbat.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Blogging for Choice.

The people at NARAL/Pro-Choice America have declared today (35th anniversary of Roe v. Wade) Blog For Choice Day. Topic: why it's important to vote pro-choice.

I'm not going to talk about teen pregnancy/parental notification issues, or the inevitability of unsafe abortions being performed if abortion were made illegal, or the horribly classist economics of a ban on abortion (the financially secure can travel elsewhere; banning abortion would primarily, unfairly, affect low-income women). I'm not going to get into the shameful problems of the foster care system, or the rotten double standards we have in this country about sex education, birth control, and responsibility for pregnancy. However tempted, I won't get into the smarmy hypocrisy of many so-called "pro-lifers." All those represent good reasons to vote pro-choice; all are topics worth expanding upon.

Instead, I approach this issue from the only perspective I can with personal authority: that of having been pregnant.

Pregnancy is an intensely personal thing.

At about 16 weeks gestation, an expectant mother can have a procedure called amniocentesis, by which a sample of the fluid around the fetus is withdrawn with a needle and analyzed. Amniocentesis can detect a whole slew of genetic abnormalities, from Downs Syndrome to conditions that might make it impossible for a child to live long outside the womb.

Nobody makes you have amnio. Many parents feel that they want to know what's knowable; they might not terminate a pregnancy for any reason, but knowing about certain conditions in advance will help them prepare. Others opt not to do it because their risks of carrying the conditions it tests for are lower than the risk of miscarriage posed by the procedure itself, and/or because they believe whatever happens is in God's hands and they'll cross whatever bridges they need to when they need to.

Some parents, after intense and gut-wrenching soul searching, identify conditions under which they do believe a pregnancy would be best terminated. Within this group, the range of those conditions is probably quite large. There are countless scenarios you play out in your mind at that time. Maybe, what if, maybe, what if. It's nervewracking; it can be heartbreaking.

Overwhelmingly usually, everything comes out fine, as with our Peanut (we didn't have an amnio with the Bean, but my being 36 instead of 35 changed some risk numbers significantly for my second pregnancy).

However. If it hadn't: Nobody would've belonged in that decision but me, my husband, and my doctor. Doctors for information, then just me and my husband. And of the two of us, ultimately I am the one... what, gifted? saddled? ...with the biology, therefore the power, therefore the responsibility, of that. We thought long and hard about where our boundaries are, what our beliefs are, what "doing the right thing" would be, in various scenarios. We'd both have had to live with any decision; for me it'd have been visceral.

It is unspeakably wrong that The Government might declare that I am not allowed to make that most personal of decisions. I am deeply troubled by efforts to legislate that power away from women. In the big picture, it's about control and subjugation. Be afraid; be very afraid.

For that, and for the factors alluded to above: I'm pro-choice -- and I vote.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Stage fright... and a long catch-up movie post.

A few people have said very nice things about my blog lately, which feels great... and, of course, has me completely paralyzed, because I am now certain to spout boring nonsense which will make you all wonder what you ever saw in me in the first place.

What better way to get past that than to babble about movies for a bit? It's been a while.

Oh Netflix, how I love thee. I hear about a movie, add it to my queue (almost 100 movies long, obsessively sorted into genres, which are in turn listed alphabetically; help me, someone?), and a steady stream of DVDs comes my way in their cheerful red envelopes. The anonymity of the exchange makes it somehow more exciting. I put a movie in the mailbox, go away for a while, and the next time I open the box, there's a new one. Unseen forces keep the entertainment coming. Kind of like ordering dinner on the original USS Enterprise, no?

Hoo boy, am I easily amused.

When it's time to decide what to watch, I give Mr. S. the rundown on what we've got. Sometimes he just sighs and says, "of the ones without subtitles, which one's shortest?"

We've had a good mix of things lately though:

Ocean's Thirteen was entertaining and fun. As I remember, Eleven was more about the cool technicalities of the heist itself, and Twelve was a bit more about the characters (worth seeing just for that beautiful laser-dodging scene with the cool music). Thirteen feels more like "let's enjoy watching these great looking quipsters perform an elaborate, expensive, dangerous and groovily soundtracked practical joke on Al Pacino." Which is worth doing in its own right. I'd have liked to see more of George Clooney in the medallion-sporting, mustachioed disguise, but you can't have everything.


Ratatouille, the latest from Pixar, is pretty good. Basically, you have a French rat with an incongruous talent for fine cuisine, a hapless young would-be chef, a power-hungry chef villain, and a fearsome food critic. Amusing, endearing antics ensue. (Still... rats in restaurant kitchens... how cute can that get?) I liked it well enough, but for me it doesn't have the staying power of Finding Nemo -- which, if you haven't seen, grownups: do. Really. I'd never have bothered with it if I didn't have kids, but it's just gorgeous and funny and lovely. I even bought the soundtrack.


Office Space is a 1999 classic which I somehow never saw until a couple weeks ago. It's a basic spoof on working in an office, and it nails some things but good. How I missed it, given my years of working first for consulting firms, then for state government in a cubicle farm setting, is a mystery. Suffice to say that 1) Mike Judge is a funny, funny man; 2) you should watch this movie if you missed it when it was all the rage; and 3) I am on the lookout for a red Swingline stapler to bring to my next office job, if ever I have one.


After all that frivolity, I guess I wasn't bummed out enough about the state of affairs in Iraq, because I decided to learn more about them. If, like me, you saw Fahrenheit 9/11 and found it compelling but overly propagandistic -- maybe you think Michael Moore is probably right but his snide narration and selective editing lead you to believe the other side of the story might be worth listening to -- well. Check out No End In Sight, a documentary released last July, which examines, through interviews with intelligence, State, DOD and military personnel, Iraq's descent into insurgency and chaos. To his credit, the interviewer doesn't inject himself into the film. We're not just listening to the rantings of disgruntled employees here; these are high-level perspectives I hadn't heard before. The movie ends before the recent "surge," but it is well worth examining how we got to that point. I learned a lot; sadly, nothing I learned conflicts with my existing thoughts about the war in Iraq, which can be boiled down to 1) How could we be so stupid?! and 2) We have got to get out of there, but how?


I've no idea where I heard of Heavenly Creatures, but we watched it on a night when the other options were subtitled. It's about the 1954 murder of Honora Rieper by her teenage daughter Pauline and Pauline's friend Juliet. It's based on news accounts of the case and Pauline's own meticulously kept, horrifying diaries.

Pauline and Juliet meet in school in New Zealand, and soon discover that they share not only a powerful imagination, but an ability to enter the dramas they imagine. They create a deeply intricate fantasy of royalty and adventure, which they step in and out of as characters in it. At first, their parents are just happy to see their loner daughters in a fulfilling friendship; however, things begin to get weird. The girls spend all their time together, make increasingly less sense to those around them, and eventually can't seem to tolerate anyone else's company. Their parents, particularly Honora, forbid the friendship to continue at the level of intensity it has reached.

So they kill her. Yes, they do.

The movie's creepy, but I can like creepy, and don't shy from a true crime story well told. What I didn't like about it at all is the fantasy bits, played by repugnant, life-sized clay figures, and the seemingly endless footage of these girls twirling around and giggling... gah, I just hate stuff like that... and the camera swirling around, swirling around. It makes me want to yell KEEP STILL! SHUT UP! Kate Winslet plays Juliet; I guess this was her film debut. She's terrific, as is the other girl. But I still hated it.

Last (phew!), Stardust was a very happy surprise indeed. The description reads of a love story in a magical world, blah blah... and given the above foray into fantasy and magical worlds, I have to say I was reluctant to bother with this. But it's so cool! Our Hero lives in a rural village adjacent to... yes, a magical kingdom. He promises the girl he loves that he'll retrieve a fallen star for her, to win her hand. Before he goes, his father gives him some clues to help him find more than the star he's chasing. And he's off on his quest, which brings danger and intrigue, pirates (Robert De Niro!), witches (Michelle Pfeiffer!), disaffected ghosts, treacherous princes, a star (Claire Danes) and True Love. It's wonderful, and the effects are stunning. A keeper!


Right. So much for having lost the gift of gab...

Monday, January 14, 2008

How hard can it be?

Mr. S. is working from home today. He's a physical oceanographer. When he works on his research, his desk brings to mind one of those New Yorker cartoons of scientists' blackboards covered in equations. Today is especially intriguing; there are numbers and squiggles all over the place, and graphs on the computer, and all kinds of incomprehensible stuff. No words.

After Bean and I got home from the bus stop, she came into the study to say hi to her Daddy. She climbed on his lap, surveyed his desk and screen.

"Are you working?"
"Yes, Bean."
"Can I help?"
"I don't think so, sweetie."
"Please can I help?"
"Can you solve for the adjustment of an isolated lens in the presence of ambient rotation?"
Shakes head. "I know how to solve problems, though."


Later, in comes the Peanut. "Daddy, may I please have a jelly bean?"
"If you can solve for the adjustment of an isolated lens in the presence of rotation, you can have a jelly bean."
Silence. "Well, how do you spell that?"

Friday, January 11, 2008

So it begins.

Apparently, one of the Bean's kindergarten friends told her to call another one a name the other day. It's kind of hard to decipher, but the gist of it is that Girl 1 whispered to Bean that it would be funny if she pointed at Girl 2 and said "dummy." (Names obscured to avoid potential parental mortification; this blog is only semi-anonymous.) Bean likes Girl 1 a lot; though she hasn't mentioned her recently, for a while she was saying this girl was her Best Friend, wanted her hair done the same way, stuff like that. So Girl 1 is clearly An Influence. But Bean likes Girl 2 also, if not worshipfully. So it was a test of character, of sorts.

And my Bean -- my wicked smaht Bean, who isn't a joiner, who observes carefully and likes everyone, who sometimes declares out of the blue, "I care about all the people I know!" -- told Girl 1 she wouldn't say it, because it wasn't nice.

I'm proud of her. She's smart, ayuh. But I'm mostly proud of the fine person she is already, at not quite 5 and a half. (Though based on the playroom tyranny I am currently overhearing, her little sister wouldn't testify to that at the moment... sigh.)

And yeah, here we go. This is the kind of scenario that you know plays out a thousand times a day in school (scaled for age, of course. I'm guessing "dummy" isn't a big deal in 8th grade). Knowing it is what made my heart ache so, when Bean climbed on the school bus for the first time last September, when she was barely 5 and it had never even occurred to her that anyone might think it's fun to be plain mean to another person. It's so hard to see them take their first steps into a world where, to be blunt, people suck.

But so far, so good.

As she's telling me this little anecdote, and I am heaping praise on her for being a nice person and a good friend and thinking for herself, I can see she is pondering something, so I back off and wait for it. She is quiet for a moment, then, "Mommy?" Prepared for one of the universe's Great Questions, I look into her eyes. "Yes, Bean?" She's very serious: "If a pig pile is when we all climb on Daddy, what is it called when baby pigs all climb on a grownup pig? Is that a person pile?" and falls apart laughing. Peanut, who has long since wandered off to answer the call of nature, hollers from the bathroom "No! A dog pile!" And because this is the most hilarious thing either of them has heard in the last half hour, they just lose it.

End of moment.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

"Mommy, may I please borrow your..."

"Mommy, may I please wear your [points at own head with my ear warmer already snugly atop it]? Cause it fits. Our heads are the same size!"

(Actually no, I don't have a pinhead, though hats are usually too big for me; and no, my 5 year-old doesn't have a pumpkin head, though she does have a pretty big squash.)

Pause. Can't think of reason why not. "Sure, go ahead."

It's not as if I have any cool clothes she'll ever want to borrow. Might as well let her wear the fleece ear warmer before it just embarrasses her.

How far we haven't come.

(Note to readers unfamiliar with the American electoral process: We are early into our state by state "primary" elections, by which we decide who will be the candidates for the Presidential election in November. Yesterday was New Hampshire's primary.)

Because I hardly ever watch television, I don't see television news, and I don't become inured to it. When I do watch, I'm always taken aback by how crass and insulting it is.

Last night we turned on the idiot box to catch some of the results and wrap-up from New Hampshire. I was floored, just floored, by the coverage of Hillary Clinton. Holy shit: it's still all about whether or not she's "shrill," or shows enough emotion, or whether her having shown emotion a couple days ago is something "women, particularly, can identify with and respond to..." and on and on and on in that vein. What. The. FUCK. Is this where we still are? Can we not let this kind of crap go? Yeah, I've been hearing radio talk show assholes snicker about the size of her behind, etc., but in my naivete I didn't think the mainstream television news was itself so little removed from that.

It's insulting, both to her and to all of us, women and men, as voters.

When these campaigns were just getting going, it grated on me that the Democratic candidates perceived to be front runners were discussed as "Hillary, Edwards and Obama." Never "Hillary, John and Barack," cause that would (rightly!) have sounded really weird. Why the double standard in the use of her first name? It struck me as disrespectful until I saw that her own website is bannered "Hillary for President." So, OK, I guess. Maybe she likes it, and/or she's using it to give her campaign a kind of down-home familiar glow. I still think that it's inappropriate from major broadcast media, unless we're going to start talking about Barack and John, too. It's inconsistent, which in news coverage, means it's flawed. That nobody significant cares doesn't mean it isn't wrong.

I'm a ways off from deciding for whom to vote in the Massachusetts primary on February 5, and I've never been a particular fan of Hillary Clinton's. However, after taking in just a tiny fraction of the complete and utter nonsense that passes for legitimate discussion of her candidacy, I do have new respect for her. Issues aside, however far she gets, it's in spite of a lot of very disheartening, still very backward thinking.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Even her nightmares are cute.

My Peanut woke at 4:30 this morning, sobbing and calling me. When I got to her room she was sitting up in bed, tears streaming. I did the routine pad-down... no fever, no vomit, no poop, no pee. All clear physically - ohphew. I climbed in bed with her, and she held on for dear life.

"What is it, sweetie?"
"I want ALL the Muppet Show monsters to go BACK. IN. THE MUPPET SHOW!"

Hm. Evidently there has been an escape.

"Did you have a dream there were Muppet monsters out of the Muppet Show?"
Nods. "I want them to go BACK IN THE MUPPET SHOW!!!"
"I hear you. You were dreaming, Peanut. Muppet monsters can't come out of the Muppet Show. What were they doing in your dream?"
"There was a green one, swimming in a PUDDLE in our DRIVEWAY!"
"It'd be hard to swim in a puddle."
"It's a BIG one!"
"Or a small monster."
"OK. Were there other monsters doing something?"
"They were in our garage looking for the big bicycles!"
"They wanted to ride our bicycles?"
"Those sound like monsters that want to have fun."
"One was swimming!"
"I remember. Peanut, those monsters aren't real, are they."
Shakes head.
"You know that even on the Muppet Show, the monsters are just toys that people play with to be funny."
Nods. Eyes closing.
"Are you ready to go back to sleep now?"
Nods. Grabs her little lambie and makes it kiss me on the cheek.

I'm dismissed... but awake. Sigh.

This morning we found all the bicycles where they belong. No harm done.

Monday, January 07, 2008

My head is empty.

Lately I start thoughts that seem substantive, but turn out to be prosaic and obvious and stupid.

I read a comment somewhere about how language can deprive us of thinking of things with subtlety, and I was thinking yes, we're so attached to binaries and labels that we don't trouble to create vocabulary for the middle grounds. Then my own thoughts reminded me of that stale myth about Eskimos (that's how stale it is -- who says "Eskimo" anymore?) having something like 8,423 words for "snow," and I wanted to punch myself in the face.

Elsewhere, I read the final post of someone I've never met who has decided to stop blogging. So what? We don't really know each other. But I still feel a bit bereft. I'll miss her story. So I was thinking about what a strange thing this kind of loss is, on one hand without substance, on the other, quite real. Then I remembered that duh, it's hardly a new phenomenon, as about nine hundred million Harry Potter fans, including me, can attest.

So I wanted to write something about the nature of loss of online contact. But my head is clearly empty.

If there's a new idea in the universe, folks, you won't read it here.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

"Should we talk about the weather? Should we talk about the government?" (-R.E.M.)


It's cold as a witch's tit. That covers the weather.

And holy crap: CNN's projecting Huckabee and Obama won the caucuses in Iowa.

The Romney campaign, which spent boatloads of money there, has to be bumming. Unclear how big a blow it is though. The evangelical business might not be so gleefully received in New Hampshire, which conventional wisdom says is Romney territory. Although, all major newspapers in the area have endorsed John McCain. So who knows.

Obama's campaign organized babysitters for potential caucus goers. Smart. John Edwards appears to be #2, with Hilary Clinton trailing him by just a bit. So maybe there's a clear winner for the Democrats, but no clear loser.

Iowa can mean everything or nothing, but shoot, a Huckabee/Obama race is a no-brainer.

You know, in another life I would've loved to be a professional politics junkie. Ah well, another path not taken.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

It's OK, I'm all right. Really. I'm fine.

I just need to put my head between my knees for a moment.

Can you see if the bleeding's stopped?

The cheese grater, that's right.

Yes, I nicked my thumb. But whaddya mean, "just?"

It hurt, OK?