Obligatory Journal Entry, Forced at Gunpoint

November 19 , 2004
I write this after working 12 days in a row, and I am CRANKY. Not only am I forced to work like a slave, shifting gears every other minute, racing about fixing things, reading enough email to choke a goat, doing endless company website updates... but apparently, I am expected to write journal entries for the amusement of others. Figures.

So, here is my insight, which has been refined over time though trial and error and much consultation. I am actually 7 years younger that everyone thinks I am.

Now, I am not one of those people who is obsessed about appearing younger than my age, nor do I see any reason to lie about my age, or refuse to tell people what it is. I really could care less, and frankly, I'm delighted in the interest. I think it's pretty well established that my goal in life is being paid attention to. And to that end, I was born on December 3rd, 1968. You can find my birthday wishlist at amazon.com.

So, when I say I am 28, it isn't vanity. It's REAL years. I noticed several years ago that although I was the same age as several of my co-workers, I felt much younger and more inexperienced. Why? Well, for one, they had more real life experience of the most obvious kind: they were married with children. Now, I've observed enough, read enough, been told enough, that being married is difficult - requires sacrifice, compromise, etc. Then, having kids requires more of the same, in addition to loss of sleep. So after a while I realized that my peers really were much older than I was, in a very practical sense.

But how much older? I was fortunate enough to pick some numbers which have been confirmed by the approbation of several of these "married with children" individuals, so I see no reason to question the validity of my random choice:

Married: add 3 years
Children: add 4 years

So, I told married friends to tack on 3 years to their age. That's your actual maturity. If there were children, I told them to tack on 7. Now, this was not popular with many of them, since their vanity did not enjoy this additional imposed aging. But I remained firm, and despite the blow to their vanity, none truly contested my theory.

Time passed, and I reached my thirtieth birthday, and promptly sank into deep depression. It wasn't that I was getting older; it was that I was at a major threshold, and anything that points out to me that I am actually living in a real world and not an imaginary fairyland where my car never breaks down and Mr. Right is scheduled to appear at the precise moment I am my most charming, lovely, and unselfconscious so that he might fall madly in love with me, tends to frighten me rather badly. I had much the same reaction at ages 10 and 20.

This deep depression prompted much self-analysis, and I realized a significant flaw in my REAL years calculations: That at thirty, I was supposed to be married with children, but I wasn't. By thirty, the wedding is supposed to be long past, and at least one child produced. Yet I had done none of this, while the MAJORITY of my friends had. So, instead of the Smug Marrieds being 7 years older than I, in reality, I was 7 years younger than them! They were right on schedule - I was not. Upon explaining this difference to several of my test subjects, I was much cheered by their unanimous agreement with my New and Improved Theory.

So, as a 28 year old, going on my 29th birthday, what does this say? Not a great deal. It's just a clever way of processing a major difference between Singletons and Smug Marrieds, it is a fail-proof conversation starter, and it makes me seem smart and funny which to a single woman is almost as good as looking thin and beautiful. Years from now, as my married sisters enter their 13th and their 17th year of getting up before 9am on a Saturday to feed their families breakfast, while I sleep in past 10 with the help of a couple of Benadryl after a night out with my friends, it will surely be a comfort to them (as they wearily wonder if they will ever get to sleep more than 7 hours ever again on this earth,) that I am an immature baby in comparison to their rich and full lives.

I live to validate other people. It's just one of the ways I serve.

[Are you happy now, Mike in MI?]

Visualizing Time

January 10, 2004
As a former History major, I tend to look at things from a... historical perspective, I suppose. That's probably common and obvious. But recently I realized that I look at history, at months and years and centuries, from a VISUAL perspective. For me, time goes in different directions, turns corners, runs perpendicular or parallel (depending on the century) and in the course of a year, goes in a circle.

Why do I envision time at different geometric points? Probably due to subconscious memories of elementary school bulletin board displays, or textbook timeline charts. Some "chunks" of time are set apart with a greater focus on individual years, while others are a long line with nothing to distinguish them.

This is going to take some drawing, and I'm a lousy artist. Bear with me. I also don't want to mark specific events on the line, as it will become an exercise in "looking things up" that I remember imperfectly.

The B.C. years emerge from a misty patch to my right - they go back endlessly past some invisible horizon, but from about the time of Moses is when I can see the beginning of the line. They go in a straight line to the left, until 60 BC, when they break left and go straight down until the BC/AD turnover, where they resume their journey to the left. Upon reaching AD 30-ish, the line turns right and goes straight up through 300 AD, when it breaks left again and continues on in an unbroken line until the Renaissance.

In the year 1400, time begins to fold back and forth upon itself; still continuing from right to left, but starting in the year 01, going straight up to the year 00, and then turning left and skipping back to the starting point of 01, to repeat the upward journey until the year 1800.

In 1800 time takes the left turn, but instead of skipping back down to the 01 starting point, it takes a hairpin turn and time starts running the other direction, from top to bottom. At 1900, time turns right, and skips back up to the "top of the page" and starts running downwards. Only now the line becomes thicker, and as you follow it along, the individual years stand out, and each one has an actual visual significance. It's like zooming in on a DNA strand, and starting to see the details of each individual dot. You realize that each year within the line is actually an oval, which loops from top left down until June-July, and then loops back up on the right to make the oval. Look closer, and each month is, of course, a calendar page, a square grid strung one after the other like beads on a necklace.

Upon reaching 2000, the line becomes less certain - you can't quite figure out which direction it is going, or plans to go. Currently, it is still continuing on from right to left, but it has made no turns - it is the same unbent line since 1900. I suppose that because this is the part of the line that I am personally living in, I can't make it bend any direction other than the inevitable drive to the West/Left. Give me a few more years and maybe I will be able to see if it will bend.

I suppose psychological gender studies that look into this sort of thing might make much of the fact that individual years are circular (feminine), while the direction of centuries is in straight lines (masculine). Maybe because women instinctively count the months for their menstrual cycle, or the cycle of yearly rebirth and death is more apparent to women; and the straight lines of history are more about time as visualized by the men who made most of it. I have a healthy curiosity of gender differences, but ultimately all I can say is that my visualization of time has been the slow development of education, books, culture and my perception of the years I have actually inhabited time.

Now... it's your turn! How do you see time? I'd love to hear about it.

Happy Holidays!

December 19, 2003
I didn't write a Christmas letter this year, which troubles me. I always wrote it to get attention; either by my literary skill, humor, or novelty. To remind guys that I had a slight crush on of my existence; to assuage my guilt at having neglected other friends throughout the year. This year I was just too busy at work and by the time I realized that it was time to send cards, it was too late to do a letter. I did design a Christmas Card and send it out; I attach it here for anyone whom I didn't send it to. (I cut down my list this year to 100 people; it's costing me around $125 to do cards and postage!) Heck, here's the one for 2002 as well - much more wordy!

My friend John Folsom is a gifted artist, and I've been doing his website for about a year now. His stuff is wonderfully atmospheric and subtle. He sent his Christmas Card just today, and you really ought to go see his work on his website.

You Shouldn't Have

September 30, 2003
There is a party this week for a girlfriend of mine who just got married. I cannot attend due to a previous engagement, so I brought her gift to the office for someone to take in my place. And I realized, as I waited for the elevator to arrive, that I really hoped that I wouldn't see this friend before I could unload the gift. Because I knew what she would say: "Oh, you shouldn't have!" And you know what? That phrase sickens me.

Think about it - you've gone to the trouble of picking out a gift; you've taken the time and money to put something together, only to hear the recipient say "you shouldn't have?!" What that really is, is someone protesting that you have made a MISTAKE in getting them a gift, and that on some subconscious level they don't want to be burdened by it; either because:

1) they feel like they don't deserve the loving gesture of a gift
2) they feel guilty that they didn't get anything for you, and resent feeling guilty
3) they feel like they have to pretend they didn't want anything from you for fear of appearing greedy
4) they really don't care for what you've chosen

Passing years have brought clarity to a great many things in my life, and I finally realized why I always hated to hear someone say I shouldn't have gotten them a gift. It takes a great deal of my enjoyment out of giving the gift in the first place, because it implies that I have made a mistake, and I hate making mistakes. Oh, they always say it in a cheerful tone, or with a rueful smile, but as one of my acting teachers observed over and over, "Many a truth is spoken in jest."

I wonder how many other people get that sinking feeling when they hear this phrase. Now that I've finally recognized how this makes me feel, I'm inclined to start saying in response, "well then, I'll take it back!" I used to LIVE for the chance to see people open presents I'd given them, but the response is often so disappointing. To their credit, I think most people feel like "you shouldn't have" is a self-deprecating expression. But all it does for me is make me feel somewhat rejected.

So I have some suggestions for a more appropriate response to gifts:

1) If you find yourself saying "You shouldn't have…," immediately follow it up with "…but I'm so glad you did!" That will soften the blow.
2) Come right out with a full-blown "Oh my gosh, you are so sweet/amazing/ thoughtful/inventive/wonderful" instead. Because they are, and your immediate happy response is better than any thank-you note (which you STILL have to send, people!)
3) Be honest. Say "I LOVE presents!" because, really, who doesn't love presents? (excepting one of my friends who feels she doesn't deserve them, and whom I have to trick into accepting them...)
4) If you absolutely hate a gift or don't need it, and know immediately that you want to exchange it, try this: "Oh my gosh, this is perfect! WHEREVER DID YOU FIND THIS?" The information will be happily and enthusiastically given.

Honesty is always the best policy, but take the next step and think about the feelings of the gift-giver and the time, love and money they have expended on your behalf.

Bollywood Ballyhoo

September 4, 2003
I have found my quality programming. It's called Bollywood Cinema - films made in India. Well, actually, I don't know that I would call all of it "quality", but it is highly addictive. Its complete lack of reality soothes me as nothing else can at present. I wish I could distill it down to a simple description. Some of the more obvious tendencies:

1) they're LONG - averaging 3+ hours each.
2) no matter what the genre, they seem to all contain song and dance
3) no kissing, but lots of hugs and nuzzling each others' faces in the romantic bits
4) vibrant color - especially the women's saris. I want to go to India just to buy fabric...
5) lots of tear-filled eyes, men and women alike. The men cry as easily and unashamedly as women.
6) the rich are SUPER rich, and the middle-class are rich, and the poor have enough to get by in moderate comfort. I have yet to see any slums

7) locations in various European countries, rarely related to the plot. I think the more unbelievable remote locations must indicate a dream state (I doubt the hero and heroine would fly for an afternoon to trapise about Mykonos in a dizzying array of outfits...)
8) lots of melodrama; lovers torn apart by parental disapproval, mostly.

There are laughable elements - one film has a SUPER rich family living in a French Chateau that I KNOW I've seen in pictures from the French countryside... but they pretend it is in India. Mothers and fathers love their children so much they weep frequently over their joys and sorrows. Sons and daughters may resist arranged marriages, but usually go through with them out of love and respect. If a couple starts dating on their own, they might have to deal with some seriously furious parents. Did I mention no on-the-lips kissing? That's a serious line that I have yet to see crossed - that of respect to one's elders and lack of romantic contact.

My description insults, though, by making so many generalities. I wish I could describe how moving these films can be, even to a Western viewer unaccustomed to such Victorian conventions... so Victorian that Louisa May Alcott would be writing screenplays for the Indian cinema had film existed 125 years ago. It takes about 10-15 minutes to get absorbed, but once you've accepted the conventions of the genre as well as its limitations (humor tends toward the slapstick, plot towards soap opera) it can be wholly absorbing.

I think I've finally figured out why these films fascinate me. Firstly, because of the sheer novelty. There's so much visual beauty in these movies; in locations, the actors, the clothing... you rarely get that in contemporary film, except for Baz Lurhman's work. Secondly, the unashamed emotion. Joy and sorrow are so strong in these movies, and perhaps it's not terribly subtle, but it really affects you.

Thirdly, and most importantly, these films move me because they're like my childhood daydreams. I was a serious daydreamer as a child, usually because I was miserable and disappointed and felt rejected. I had my own mental music videos even before MTV came along, and the similarities to Bollywood's song and dance are strong. Life is so often colorless, ugly, and disappointing, and we get so used to dull routine with so few things that really DELIGHT us... Bollywood actually addresses the human longing for adventure, beauty, love and heartfelt emotion: the key elements of fairy tales.

Plus there's some really cute guys in them who dance really well and don't act remotely gay. Although they need to stop featuring Hrithik Roshan's biceps in an array of sleeveless tops...

Something Clever

August 14, 2003
I need to write something clever. I desperately need reassurance that I am actually a talented and gifted individual with a knack for writing smart and witty pensees. Yet I lack ideas. No blinding insights of late; no incidents that made me say "dang, I need to write that down!" Nothing that the Sedaris siblings would applaud.

I did just spend a week on vacation, and it was marked by an utter lack of any productivity. The most I did was to buy a lampshade and fabric to cover it that matches my boudoir. Not that I actually followed through with it - it's still sitting in bags on the table at home. I took an afternoon nap most days, went to the pool a couple of times with the nephews, bought some clothes. Ate a lot of junk, mostly sugary and fried. Towards the end I was getting a bit bored with it - I've learned by now that you have to do SOME work even in the midst of idleness or otherwise it goes sour and you can't enjoy your leisure. So I did go to the gym 4 times, and worked on some computer problems at an organization I help sometimes.

Now, in my third day back at work, I want to go home and take a nap. Granted, I would like to take a nap most afternoons, but the impulse is particularly strong today, despite the fact that I didn't even have any beers at lunch as I did on Monday and Tuesday. If I were to curl up on the mini-sofa in my office, I would definitely doze off in a minute or less. Yes, I wanna drive on home listening to more of Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix on tape, then fall asleep and doze for a couple of hours, and wake up to a really stellar TV lineup of all my fave shows.

Maybe that's my problem - lack of quality programming. All of my favorite shows except for The Amazing Race are on hiatus, and many are not even in reruns. I can't wait to get home at night, but then I sit in front of the TiVo for hours until bedtime, and fall asleep feeling unsatisfied and disappointed. I've actually started to just turn off the TV at 9 or 9:30, which is usually an indicator that for a Loner, Life has become Sad and Dreary without the presence of an unacknowledged lover/a small cute child/a dog that has wrecked their apartment but brought a Light into their Existence, Heretofore Unknown. And now that the Light has departed for Parts Yonder, the Loner wonders how they ever lived without that lover/child/dog before.

Well, considering that there hasn't BEEN a lover/child/dog anywhere near me for...ever, I'm afraid I must chalk my strange restlessness up to a lack of quality programming. Perhaps I should bite the bullet and invest in digital cable, so I can get BBC America and branch into British TV. I do need something to keep me from just eating incessantly in the evenings, and reading doesn't do it for me anymore.

My Poor Hairdryer

May 14, 2003

My poor hairdryer died yesterday morning. It was a rather dramatic death… There I was, styling away, and suddenly there was a loud pop, sparks whizzed from the dryer past my face, and then silence and the smell of burnt plastic and wiring. The power cable had apparently twisted itself as far as it could go, and suddenly snapped, breaking the copper wiring. Fortunately I didn’t have it too close to my face when it blew out. But I actually felt rather mournful when I realized it was gone. It wasn’t that it had been a particularly good hairdryer or anything — but that I’d had it for so long. I had been using it off and on for 14 years, and that’s pretty amazing when you think of it. I had bought it on my mom’s credit card when I was 20 and in college, and I remember thinking at the time that it was rather pricey (all of $15 at Service Merchandise!)

In the years since then, $15 has seemed like a minor expenditure. I can easily spend that in a restaurant or at the movies. I have bought curling irons, RevoStylers, flatirons, and various hair care products for about the same amount, used them a few times, and stuffed them in a basket under the sink. I’ve wasted $15 on more things than I care to remember. But that hairdryer… It has gone far and beyond in recouping what I initially paid for it. The value of that battered, smudged gadget was far greater than anything else in the bathroom.

And it has been with me through my twenties and into my thirties, through all my Seasons of Hair and pitiful efforts to fix it in a style that actually looked current and fashionable. I’ve used it with diffusers, round brushes, regular brushes, glitter gel, tinted gel, leave-in conditioner, mousse, you name it. And in the moment of its passing, it gained a historical import and a personality all its own. It had been with me when I still permed my hair, when I tried bangs, when I bobbed it short, when I gave up on hairdryers and it sat forlorn in the basket under the sink while I went au naturel for several years. A year ago I cropped my hair the shortest it’s been since my toddler years, and I picked up my old hairdryer and started using it again. For the first time in my whole life I was absolutely current with the flippy, razor-cut styles of the day.

So when it snapped on me, it felt like I’d actually lost a friend, and I put it down on the counter, patted it, and thanked it for so many years of hot air. I hummed Taps as I wrapped its cord around the handle and carried it to the trash. That Conair 1600 hairdryer had done good service, and now it was gone, and I would have to find another one. It seemed like I shouldn’t replace it so soon; to go right out to Target and buy another one would be disrespectful in the face of so many years of faithful service. Plus I knew that whatever I bought to replace it would not be as sturdy or long-lived, since "they really don’t make them like that anymore," whispers my inner Old Codger. For example, my 2-year-old VCR died a few months ago, while the one I bought after college is still going strong.

But I did go get another one, because, after all, it is just an appliance; just an inanimate object with no soul. There is no room in my life to hold onto a dead appliance just because I’ve had it for so many years and I have some nostalgia for what it has endured with me. Plus I am obsessive about making my hair look as good as I can manage, and I can’t do my current hairstyle without one. Vanity reasserts itself. The Revlon 1875 I purchased to replace it only cost about $20, but the thing seems cheap and lightweight and has this ion switch that supposedly cuts back on the frizzies. The Old Codger within rises up in protest, muttering "we didn’t have no Ion Switches on our hairdryers in my day… didn’t need no Ion Switches…"

But then I am cheered by the hopeful thought that, if this one lasts me 14 years too, I will surely be married by then, and possibly have some kids. It will be with me as my looks begin to fade and my hair continues to thin, and I only use it to keep up appearances, and dry my kids’ hair after their bath, until it dies in its own dramatic accident when one of my children attempts to use it to melt plastic. I won’t name it… I refuse to sink to that level of pitiful personification of a mere gadget… but over time it will become common and everyday and familiar as did its predecessor, and when it dies, I will mourn it too in a corner of my mind. Because sometimes your hairdryer is the only thing you can count on.

The Naming of Cats

October 10, 2002
I'm looking for a condo in Franklin, Brentwood, or Bellevue. Once safely ensconced therein, I shall obtain two cats, and their names shall be (if suitable to their personalities)



Bunny (to be said in low growly voice with the emphasis on "Bun")


Kotatsu Neko (from Urusei Yatsura, an older anime comedy series by the creator of Maison Ikkoku; a human-sized white cat (neko) with black patches who always sat at one of those low table-warmers (kotatsu) with the blanket hanging from the edge - like the one in Kyoto's apartment)

I don't want matching names, like "Fish" and "Chips" or "Mr. Darcy" and "Elizabeth"; no, they must be unrelated and equally absurd. There can be a minor common theme; for example, cats are partial to both fish and bunnies. I'm not entirely satisfied with Bunny or Kotatsu Neko. I feel the need for something on another tangent entirely, perhaps literary or historical. I don't want both names to be French, unless it's too good a word to pass up and has the required cool French pronunciation. I'd like something Japanese, really.

It has to engender a certain implied cuteness, either by the extreme stupidity or unsuitability of the word; but also have a soothing hiss or easily repeatable syllables. "Pwa-sohn" works beautifully in that regard. I'm partial to "Brown Cow" or "Smudge" but they don't inspire or make you clap your hands with glee.


October 15, 2002
Now the names are "Poisson" and "Aunt Ada Doom" from Cold Comfort Farm, one of my favorite books/movies. Although "Jiji" from "Kiki's Delivery Service" will be considered if I get a black cat!

December 17, 2002
Now the names are "Poisson" and "Pigwidgeon" from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

May 11, 2003
No, I don't care for "Pigwidgeon" anymore... I'm thinking of "Jambon," the French for "ham" or 'Lapin," for "bunny". "Poisson" is still a definite.

June 24, 2003
OK, I'm back to "Bunny" and "Poisson". The bunnies have returned to the field behind my apartment for the summer, and they are TOO cute! It's the Hello Kitty enthusiast in me that adores the cute and kitschy. But never Precious Memories knickknacks. No no no no no. The cat named Bunny will, of course, have to Hop and Bounce upon occasion.

Fall, 2003
Finally, I have found the unchangeable second name. It is to be "Poisson" and "Laddoo." Laddoo are South Asian sweets; sortof like the Indian version of a cookie. They're perfectly round and fat, very dense with sugar and grainy flour, and I have seen them many times in Bollywood films. I just love the way 'laddoo' rolls off the tongue. Now, having solidified the names, I have to actually GET the cats!


September 10, 2002
Mark Twain once said that "Worrying about something is like paying interest on a debt you don't even know if you owe." I have spent a great deal of my life worrying about what lies ahead of me, and dwelt much on the possibilities of leukemia, diabetes, paraplegia and acute appendicitis. Yet in my life, despite a weight problem, I have been disgustingly healthy. I rarely take sick days, and when I do, it is usually from exhaustion. Lack of sleep, for me, is the equivalent of illness. [Brief pause for the parents of small children to stop their hysterical laughter…]

But despite my robust health, I have been a worrier, and in my senior year of high school finally developed the one thing it had not occurred to me to worry about - depression. In the years following, depression has come and gone in various cycles lasting from 2 days to 3-4 months, with months to years of relative contentment in between. I've been seeing a Christian counselor since I was 20 to combat this, and have gained an enormous amount of personal insight and healthy coping mechanisms. I have also taken St. John's Wort, Celexa, Zoloft and now Prozac.

Depression has become my handicap; not the cancer, the diabetes or the actual loss of limbs or senses. The patterns of the affliction have become as familiar to me as going through the motions of brushing my teeth. Yet I have struggled against it, tried to justify it, resisted medication, embraced suffering, sought and found God within it, and eventually hit bottom and begun the rise back up to normalcy.

I particularly resisted medication for a long time. Only when I went through a truly horrific bout when I turned thirty did I finally succumb and start on Celexa, eventually switching to Zoloft. It always seemed to me that taking medication meant that I was truly helpless and out of control; that it being a chemical issue meant that I couldn't fix it on my own. I still believe that a lot of my depression is due to my poor coping skills and overactive imagination; but during an extended bout of depression my serotonin levels get so low that I am unable to pull myself back out of despair. The thought of being on medication for the rest of my life seems unendurable. I see the whole Prozac phenomenon as unnatural and an easy escape from coping.

Lying on the couch in my office during my lunch break one day, I wept at the life that I saw stretching ahead of me; where I would periodically be incapacitated by depression and the difficulties that might arise if I married or had children. And a little voice in my head pointed out that this was my handicap… that if I had useless legs I would use a wheelchair, wouldn't I? Then why was I (figuratively) dragging myself along the ground, refusing to use a wheelchair or crutches because it wasn't "natural?" It's ludicrous; and likewise, suffering needlessly through depression and despair is the same as dragging myself down the hallway. Yeah, I could get where I'm going eventually, but it would be mighty unpleasant and take a very long time! So for now, my crutch is Prozac. Maybe, years down the road, they'll figure out another way to combat depression that I don't find so... upsetting.

Friendship Halitosis

August 29, 2002

Recognizing that I have Friendship Halitosis has been a difficult but necessary part of my early thirties. From 4th grade onward, I found I was markedly deficient in friendship skills. My chronic Foot in Mouth Disease, coupled with a relentless honesty that came across as tactlessness was bad enough. What made it worse was a prodigious vocabulary, eccentricity, and way too much reading. These combined together to give me the Stench of Social Outcast; which ultimately led to what I like to call Friendship Halitosis.

What is Friendship Halitosis? It is desperation, coupled with a demanding spirit. Even now, years after those bleak years in primary education, the fear of finding myself lonely again will push me to heroic feats of friendship. I truly love to be involved in my friends' lives, but on a subconscious level I feel I must perform to be acceptable to them - remembering birthdays, invitations to see movies or watch TV, helping them move, attending Pampered Chef parties, baked goods, backrubs, awesome Christmas and wedding presents - but there is an aura, a smell of fear that I give off even when I am being the best friend in the world, and it turns me into Pepe Le Peu. Friends can't get away from me fast enough.

The unfairness of it all - how very hard I've worked to keep up "my side" of the friendship! - frustrates me, and so I call, or email, or suggest an outing, or an invitation to lunch or dinner. And they refuse, or do not respond at all. Which makes me angrier, and more frustrated, so I try even harder - I silently demand that they reciprocate my friendship in like manner. The halitosis is great enough at this point to floor a superhero, so of course everyone in my vicinity heads for the hills. It is a self-perpetuating stench, which only recedes when I collapse from exhaustion and give up.

Having finally understood the pervasive nature of this disease, I make the best effort I can to back away when I start to see the metaphysical wincing of my nearest and dearest. It takes an enormous effort of will to not give in to self-pitying flights of fancy and childish daydreams of "how sorry they'd be if I were dead." To indulge those thoughts is to feed the disease. No, it takes a firm brushing with reality and a concerted effort to find solitary entertainments, like endless stacks of videos from the library or a reeeeealllly good cross-stitch project. I feed my Inner Geek for a while, and eventually may venture out again, bearing firmly in mind to make no demands lest halitosis begin to pervade my life again.

This is not to say that my friends haven't been unfair or disappointing - it's not always my fault - but how I choose to respond has been like that of an adolescent. I may have been reading James Mitchener when I was in 5th grade, but I traded that in to behave like a 5th grader in my twenties and thirties. I may have the best intentions in the world, and truly enjoy my friends, but self-consciousness and self-interest still play way too big a part of my interactions with people.

"There is luxury in self-reproach ... When we blame ourselves we feel no one else has a right to blame us." -- Oscar Wilde


July 31, 2002
I'm sure I have nothing particularly fresh to say about restaurants, but I want to, so I'm gonna.

Let me just start by saying that I like throwing peanut shells on the floor. It makes me feel better about my own much less messy apartment. For that reason, Logan's Roadhouse will always hold a special place in my heart. It delights my Inner Child.

Restaurants, for me, will always be a treat and a pleasure, except for those rare occasions when I've been to one for every meal in the space of a few days. It's like eating Godiva Chocolates incessantly - they're still fabulous, but after a while you get tired of them if you have them every day. Restaurants are my Godiva Chocolates. Then again, Godiva Chocolates are my Godiva Chocolates. You'd have to be a soulless heathen not to like them.

I went to restaurants so rarely as a child that the few occasions we did go tend to stand out in my mind as holidays; Special Events to mark a Special Day, or the simple fact that Mom had put her foot down and was sick and tired of cooking pinto beans and biscuits, which Dad required every night for supper. (I don't personally remember growing tired of them myself; they don't hold any negative associations for me and I still like them.) But we ate so many meals at home; even the traditional Nashville Sunday Lunch at a Restaurant after Church was denied us. How my sisters and I envied our lucky peers who always went out after Church. We were far more likely to go home to leftovers and Yard Work. Talk about your negative connotations!

A Snow Day story: we had driven back to Nashville from Christmas in Batesville, Arkansas with my mother's relatives, and we had driven all night to beat a snowstorm (driving east from Memphis; remember, weather always comes from Memphis if you live in Nashville) and arrived home around 3 am. When we got up later that morning, the snow had hit and we had a few inches on the ground. I don't know why we didn't just eat breakfast at home, but instead we drove to Green Hills to a restaurant that was practically empty except for us; I recollect pancakes, and a big screen TV showing old Lone Ranger serials. It was the most delicious feeling; of snow falling that we would play in that afternoon, of pancakes that were not served in our house but in a restaurant, with the added kicker of continual Westerns. We girls didn't particularly care for Westerns, but we knew our Dad loved them, and so it was a guaranteed mood-lifter. Like watching the football game with him - he was so easily angered, that anything that made him happy, however briefly, was a blessing to us as well.

A restaurant is not just a place that serves food; it's an encapsulated moment in time with several important elements: Food, conversation, and novelty. I can eat alone, and do on occasion, but that's so I can read a book or a magazine, which is almost another sort of conversation, isn't it? My most meaningful discussions come over a meal. Why else do you think Jesus had the Last Supper? Or ate in the home of a tax collector in the company of prostitutes? Because He knew it was the best way to talk to people. There's something about food and the way it loosens up our emotional and intellectual tongues, and I'm sure some scientist could make a very interesting study about the correlation between brain functions, emotional response, and the act of eating.

The novelty comes from having choices. If I go home to eat, I can almost guarantee that I will be eating one of three things: pasta, rice, or stew. I rarely buy vegetables because I never want to prepare them and they go bad before I can use them, and so the only way I can count on occasional roughage is by going to a restaurant and getting a salad or a veggie platter. Given a choice between vermicelli with sauce from a jar in my fridge and a Caesar Salad with Cajun-grilled chicken on top, my response is predictable, particularly when you take into account that the pasta would be eaten in front of the TV, while the salad would be accompanied by an interesting conversation.

And my family wonders why I can't seem to save any money. Let's see: I'm not dating anyone, so my chief socialization comes from going to restaurants with friends. I'll spend $10 on the average in a restaurant, compared to $2 for a meal at home. At least it's only lunch and dinner - I never eat breakfast in a restaurant except 3-5 times a year, tops. Even when I'm on a business trip with an expense account, I still tend to go to a guy on the corner and get a bagel and cream cheese for $1.25.

I'm not a dining snob; I'm perfectly happy in any average fern bar. I wouldn't be comfortable in a really fancy-shmantzy restaurant. But I will not eat a salad constructed entirely of iceberg lettuce. I want mixed greens or romaine, and even spinach is starting to become pedestrian to me.


July 18, 2002
I've been reading a great deal of James Lileks lately - namely, his web log, called The Daily Bleat. I have just recently been elucidated on what "Blogging" is: a consistently maintained online journal. No way I will ever achieve that myself. I have too many dead spells where I haven't any interest or ideas of what to write about. Which makes James Lileks' site all the more inspiring and discouraging at the same time - the guy updates his every single weekday with apparently effortless ease. And writes several newspaper columns, and books on arcane aspects of 20th C. American architecture and pop culture.

And it's always interesting, or funny, or apt. One minute he's telling a story about his adored 2 year-old daughter (known to regular readers as Gnat), and the next he's analyzing certain ridiculous aspects of the war on terrorism, and the next he's talking about the latest Star Wars movie. The most wonderful jumble of well-reasoned, well-informed thought on serious matters combined with mundane (but enjoyable) personal revelations on family life.

And he is so well-informed. At one point he referred to some local politicians as "Panglossian" which sounded familiar but I couldn't place the reference. Then Google reminded me - Dr. Pangloss in Candide. Now THAT'S a literary allusion. And he tucks them in like truffles throughout - the most delightful little nuggets of intelligent analogy and classical reference. I literally sit there and bounce up and down in my chair sometimes, I'm just so tickled to see a reference to a historical character or event that I haven't heard since college and my more literary days.

I forgot what it was like to have that sort of context to life - to reference arcane aspects of the French Revolution, or Greek and Roman Mythology, or the 18th C. novel. I miss it a lot. I know it sounds conceited to say that, and I wish it didn't. It's like taking delight in something that you do pretty well, like golf or crossword puzzles. In my line of work a classical allusion is as likely as... as Tantalus getting a drink of water. That's why they are so delightful when they do appear.

I honestly thought I would stay in academia. I read so much, just tons of books growing up, sometimes 1-2 a day. I never enjoyed studying, and was in fact appallingly bad at math, but I did like cultural history and good stories, and I wrote decent papers. I think I knew that I wasn't going on to a higher degree when a history prof told us one day about grad school and the "Book of the Day" club we would be joining if we continued on in history. The stuff I was reading at this point, though chock-full of goodness and exhaustive scholarly fact, was excessively dull and did nothing to endear me to history from the academic sense.

I did discover soon after the crucial difference between what I liked in history, and what was taught in classes - what I call "cultural" history. What people ate, read, wore, and did. Academia only rarely strayed into those areas, and when it did it was always with a rather surprised sense that this was rather enjoyable, wasn't it? I had read too much historical fiction growing up - I was used to learning historical facts embedded in a narrative.

But I have completely strayed away from the point I wanted to make when I started, which is this: I have no gift for puns. I wanted to set a foundation of how I consider myself to be a semi-intellectual, good at Trivial Pursuit and knowledgeable of obscure vocabulary words... but that I can't make a pun to save my life.

It's like I have pun dyslexia - I rarely recognize them when they appear, and I most certainly could never come up with them on my own. I have managed to squeeze out 1 or 2 with a very great effort, like a small child laboriously writing his name for the very first time and proudly displaying see what I did? In the improv comedy group I belong to now, there are people who can reel them off like a factory conveyor belt, and I just stand there, as confused as if they were speaking to me in Chinese. The only time I truly feel at a loss in conversation is when pun-swapping is taking place. The chunk of the brain that handles the pun-making process is dead, and has been as long as I've been conscious.

I think it is God's way of keeping me humble. If I am thinking that I am particularly clever, then a pun comes along, and when I realize it (a good 60 seconds later, when everyone has already moved on) the sense of self-disgust and "oh how very stupid I am" is quite enervating.

Really Good Books

May 29, 2002
I realized years ago that I have a "completionist" tendency. I hate to have things be piecemeal - I like for them to be completed, tied up, with no loose ends. My bookshelves are filled with examples of this. I have an inordinate number of classics and textbooks from college that I cannot bear to part with, for fear of needing them for reference at some unknown point in my future. I have hauled some of the heavier ones through 4 different apartments, where they weren't even unboxed because I had no place to put them. But discarding them was never a consideration.

But there are books that I still reread over and over again, and those are only sensible to keep. The McCaffreys, the McKinleys, the L'Engles, the Lewises, the Austens, the Karons - I would not be able to part with any of them.

However, there is a point at which the author should stop writing. In recent years I've become convinced that most authors should never ever be allowed to write a sequel. If you think of the great classics - Jane Eyre, Pride & Prejudice, Silas Marner - almost anything written before 1900 has no sequel (except for Louisa May Alcott, and she was an exception) and although we would dearly love to read more about beloved characters, we quite reasonably accept that there will be no more, and enough is as good as a feast.

But in this day and age, either greed or egotism seems to be triumphing over artistic sense. I can't think of a sequel to ANYTHING within memory that hasn't been a profound disappointment or at best, tepid and thinly spread. One of my favorite authors is Anne McCaffrey. Her Dragonflight fantasy series is extremely re-readable. But she needs to stop... and I wish that the last 3 or 4 books she's written in that universe could be wiped out. All of the original ideas are gone, and the images and storylines that made the first books such a pleasure to read are either beaten to death or entirely absent from her writing now. Yet still the books come, and still I buy them because I am, regretfully, a completionist.

Even Madeleine L'Engle's last few children's books have been utterly bewildering in their pointlessness. The original stories were FINISHED - and yes, I did like her characters, but she couldn't take them any further and in forcing the issue has made them entirely unrecognizeable. Only the names are the same. And the same points apply to movies - George Lucas needs to be barred from a keyboard. He might have a story arc he wants to finish, but any ability he had to tell a compelling and entertaining story has entirely disappeared.

But that is a tirade for another day. I want to talk about Really Good Books, the ones you discover and obsessively collect in an effort to keep their essence always at hand. When I was young I was content with library copies of many of my favorites. But as I've grown older and those beloved books have inexplicably disappeared from my library's shelves, I have become rather obsessive about finding copies for myself so I should never be without them again. Thank God for the Internet. I have found more out-of-print books in recent years than I could have ever hoped to find a decade previously.

Gloating over my growing hoard of treasured books has made me start making lists, and I have a list that I call (like the spell in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader) "For the Refreshment of the Spirit"

At Home in Mitford series by Jan Karon
Avalon by Stephen Lawhead
Enchanted April and anything by Elizabeth Von Arnim
Mrs. Miniver and anything by Jan Struther
The Darling Buds of May series by H. E. Bates
The Blue Castle and Jane of Lantern Hill by LM Montgomery
Anything by Garrison Keillor

Depending on how long it's been since I read them last, I can generally count on these books to restore peace or comfort. These are the kinds of books that make me quiet and contemplative, and make me long for heaven, I guess. They make me see something better, and more aware of how stifled and unnatural modern life can be... but not to the point that it's depressing. They make me hope, and secretly plan to move my life in a different direction someday. Granted, that different direction usually entails a 3 BR, 2 BA log house on 10 acres about 30 minutes from Nashville...

I guess the point I'm trying to make is these are books about good and beautiful things. They aren't blind to the ugly, disagreeable and painful things in life by any means... but they remind me of the beauty that our hearts long for and rarely acknowledge to anyone, least of all ourselves. We've become so accustomed to living in an ugly world with our lives wrapped up in unimportant, obsessive activities and work that most of us are just totally blind to the fact that we are meant to live a much better life, and a much happier one. These books make me hope that I will live that kind of life before I die... and that even if I don't, heaven is going to be utterly delightful.


April 9, 2002
The siege towers are encircling me, and the food and water are running low. I may have to start eating the horses to survive. The independent life that has been 95% satisfactory is now only about 40% endurable, and it's worsening. Living alone, which can be such a pleasure, is definitely sucking now. Why the "siege" analogy? Because the catapults are hurling difficulties and frustrations over my walls as fast and furious as they can.

It started with my car… my darling, cute little Honda Civic 1993 hatchback with the rear window windshield wiper that was only made for a 6 month period (then discontinued); that dearly loves to kick off its grease boots so the axle can be chewed up with roadway grit; with the sticker of Charlie Brown & Snoopy on a sled in the window so I can find it easily in a parking lot. It started overheating. I know better than to drive it like that, so I popped into my local repair shop, and they could find nothing wrong. I drove it home, and it overheated on the way. I drove it back. This time they found the thermostat (which they had replaced 3 months earlier) was toast, so they replaced it. Next day, it overheated again, so I took it back. They bled air out of the system, and then it was fine… for a week.

My life became a nightmare of taking my car in, them finding nothing wrong, picking it up, it overheating, and taking it back. I was reluctant to go anywhere else because so far I hadn't needed to pay for it since they were responsible for the initial repair job. But after 1 month of this, they exhausted their ideas of what to do, and I took it to the dealer. Turns out it was a head gasket which needed replacing - over $1000 to fix.

Perhaps I was really sick the day I dropped it off, (I had actually had a fever the night before) but as Elder Sister took me to work that morning, I fainted. My mom is convinced it was a panic attack, and in the weeks since I suspect she was right. There was something about having to deal with this ongoing nightmare of seemingly unfixable car repairs all on my own that just melted my independence away. I had to find rides to work and to pick up my car; and when you live alone it's going to be inconvenient for SOMEONE, no matter how willing they may seem to help.

Elder Sister and Elder Brother-in-law were sympathetic and helpful… but not always available. I live a half-hour from work - so practically no-one from work could drive me. But even having had loads of available assistance wouldn't have removed the essential worm in the heart of this apple - that I live alone, and have no boyfriend or husband for support. Roommates wouldn't have altered the picture much either - they may live with you, but they are not bound to you intimately; at least, none of mine have ever been. Both the financial and inconvenience issues were mine to deal with, with no help in sharing the burden. My mom ended up paying for the car repair (for which I am paying her back) but by her unseen shaking finger it's obvious that she thinks I should be more financially prepared to take care of problems like this.

Then the mice assaulted my citadel. A few days after the car debacle was finally concluded, mouse droppings appeared in my kitchen. Everywhere. The following evening as I was getting into bed, one skittered in front of me. Too freaked out to sleep in the same room as a mouse, I went to stay at Elder Sister's house. In the days that followed, a pattern emerged. Wake up, get ready for work, vacuum up the droppings, wipe down the counters with anti-bacterial spray, fix breakfast, go to work. Then upon arriving home, repeat the cycle, including vacuuming the furniture and floors.

I should mention that I am in a state of extreme ambivalence regarding mice. I think they are adorable, and when I wasn't screaming when they darted in front of me, I thought they were awfully cute, sticking their little heads out from under the dresser to see if it was safe to come out. All I wanted was for them to be GONE - I didn't want to have to deal with dead or alive mice. The thought of picking up a trap with a mouse in it makes my skin crawl. Even nudging the traps with my foot to see if they were "occupied" requires a herculean effort. But even more did I want them to stop littering my apartment!

It took my landlord 5 days to finally get pest control in, so in the meantime I went and got one of those ultra-sonic plug-in units that emits a high-pitched sound that makes the mice go away. It worked so well that the mice left more droppings than ever right under the socket where it was plugged in. Finally pest control came and put down a couple of glue traps. Having carefully checked the traps for several days now, I can confidently say that GLUE TRAPS ARE WORTHLESS. They've escaped every time so far. Apparently for glue traps to work, you need to 1) hear the mouse getting caught and flailing about, and then 2) press down on top of the trap to completely envelop them in glue. It should be obvious by now that I DON'T WANT TO GO ANYWHERE NEAR A TRAP WITH A MOUSE IN IT, DEAD OR ALIVE. Do you know what a mouse completely caught in a glue trap does? It has a heart attack - that's how it dies. I'm not sure an old-fashioned snap-trap isn't more humane than that.

In a state of extreme frustration, I went and bought mouse poison and put it down in my kitchen. I should start finding dead mice in 4-5 days, or so the box tells me. Pest control has returned and put down more pointless glue traps, I still vacuum and disinfect every day after work, and I think I smell mice in my ventilation system. This past weekend I stayed at Elder Sister's again, just so I could avoid 2 days of having cocky mice jump out from behind the microwave or Kleenex box, giving me heart palpitations.

It's amusing when related like this; but the essential fact remains that once again I have to take care of the problem by myself. I've made jokes before that everyone (especially women) should be single for a good long stretch at least once in their life so they can learn to "squish their own bugs." Well, I've graduated from bugs to mice, and I can assure you that the same saying does not apply here. I am thoroughly tired of independence and want to embrace my inner fragile Victorian woman who faints at the sight of mice.

The most recent attack on my independence came this past weekend. Either I read somewhere (or I dreamt it) that a mouse infestation means death is imminent. Well, my 2nd cousin Wallace and my friend Denise's aunt and uncle (not married) all died Saturday, my boss's good friend died Friday, and on Monday morning we found that a co-worker had had a stroke Friday night and lain unconscious all weekend long, until we called her son when she didn't show up at work. It's the quintessential single person's fear, as far as I'm concerned… to be hurt or incapacitated and no-one is aware you're in trouble until days have passed. Bridget Jones said it best "… and you're half-eaten by an Alsatian," or words to that effect. I told Elder Sister that she had better remember to make sure she'd spoken to me at least once each weekend, and my mom will be told the same.

I think I am quite ready to give up the citadel - I'd throw open the gates, but in peeking through the crenellations I can see that there is no army outside to accept my terms for surrender. This is the cruelest kind of war - where your strength and fighting ability are undermined, yet your foe cannot be seen or identified and you are given no opportunity to surrender and be given terms of peace.


A Trip to the Library

June 14, 2001
As a small child growing up in Nashville, my life was dull in many regards - my sisters and I didn't get to watch much TV, rarely went to movies, and lived a very quiet life. Going to our branch library in Green Hills was a weekly necessity; my sisters and I always checked out the maximum number of books allowed and usually had read them all in the first 48 hours. The Green Hills branch was, after our home, one of our more constant and comforting environments.

But the Ben West Library - the Main branch - that was our Disneyland; a treat for enduring a visit to the doctor, or finishing school for the summer. It had those Tichenor puppets that we saw on school field trips, and more books than Green Hills - books we couldn't find elsewhere. It had the thrill of novelty, and for fanatical readers like me and my older sister Amy, it was nirvana. Among the three of us girls (Greta wasn't an enthusiastic reader and would allot us her share), we could get 24 books, and we planned and contrived how to get the most out of that unreasonable (to us!) limitation: "I'll get The Secret Garden and you can read it when I'm done, if you'll let me read Anne of the Island when you're finished..."

25 years later, I am still going to the Main library, but more frequently than back in those days. In high school and college I researched countless papers there, I moved into the Adult Fiction area, and in recent years I have haunted the audio-visual department for books on tape for long commutes. I was delighted that it was moving into a bigger space. The last 2 months have been hard - waiting for the building to open, yet unwilling to approach the slowly emptying husk of the old building that had been my Disneyland.

I could not wait for the official opening ceremonies on Saturday - I left work early on Friday to see if I could sneak through in advance. Fortunately for me, the doors were open and I was able to walk in. All along, I had not envisioned what the space would look like, even though I had seen architectural sketches on display. I figured it would be a dull, functional civic space with linoleum floors.

I walked into the main lobby on white marble. I was in Heaven's Library. Three immense stories of books and materials and conference rooms and stages and computers and galleries. It was as though someone had asked me, "What would you like in your library?" and every single suggestion offered was met with a hearty "We'll do it!" My mouth stayed agape for most of my reconnaissance through the building. Nice things like this, where you're genuinely surprised and delighted, are so rare in this world that they should be commemorated with plaques.

I went into the Popular Materials section, and did my first acid test. In over 2 decades of visiting Metro libraries, I have noticed how many beloved but out-of-print books have slowly disappeared from the shelves, like old dogs sent to "live on a farm;" or stolen by highly literate thieves. I have gotten in the habit, in bookstores and libraries alike, of checking to see if these books still live on shelves somewhere. So I started checking... H.E. Bates? Check. Brent? Check. Bristow? Check. Alcott - the obscure works? Check. They were all there. It was painful to leave them on the shelves, but I could tell that the checkout stations weren't open.

I should mention that there were other people walking through like me, but many had tags on, and I instinctively knew I wasn't supposed to be there... which made wandering through the stacks even sweeter. I saw the immense children's section, with almost a half-dozen copies of each book on the shelves in some areas. Blyton? Check. I was finally captured on the third floor, looking out into the lovely courtyard. A very nice young man named Dallas politely informed me that the library wasn't open to the public yet, but offered to walk me through a few areas I hadn't seen yet on my way out.

The Grand Reading Room (magnificent - look at the ceiling!). The Nashville Room (spacious, after that tiny room in the old building). The Theater (even the stage lighting was hung!). The Art Gallery (an exhibit already in place)... and I was out in the street again. In a world where we usually expect so little, and usually get it, the new Main Library is a delight, exceeding my expectations in every respect. The media is fond of asking the question "Is the Internet making libraries obsolete?" to which this building, and the vision behind it, shout a resounding and defiant "NO!"

I'm going back on Monday during my lunch break. Let's see... Malvern? Streatfeild?

What's Wrong With Branagh's Love's Labor's Lost

January 11, 2001
Why a discussion of this movie, already released in the US and abroad (without, I might add, reaching Nashville) and just as speedily sent to video would be of interest to anyone but myself is apparent to me, even as I write this - but when it's 3:55 am, and you cannot get back to sleep for the myriad of details and inconceivable choices made by Kenneth Branagh flooding your mind - well, there's nothing for it but to purge it by writing it out. To say that this production is lamentable is a mildness which I employ because I respect Branagh's original intention when he conceived the piece. That the words "disappointing," "bizarre," "murderous," "pointless" and "stupid" might also be well used in such an analysis is inescapable.

Branagh has, in recent years, made a practice of mounting lavish productions of Shakespeare's works on film - and in an effort to make the final product more palatable to Americans audiences, he offers several pivotal roles in each production to a handful of deserving actors from the US. Like greedy children offered the contents of a candy store, they devour this rare opportunity, for as we all know, there's nothing like Shakespeare to validate one's career as an actor. Some actors have managed extremely well - Denzel Washington in Much Ado About Nothing, for example, and I suppose Billy Crystal as the gravedigger in Hamlet wasn't too bad - but as production follows production, his efforts to choose actors in hopes of appealing to the broadest common denominator become more obvious and ill-advised. Alicia Silverstone as The Princess of France, Matt Lillard as Longueville, Nathan Lane as Costard - teenage boys and girls, horror film fans, Disney fans! You can almost see Branagh crossing focus groups off a list.

And they aren't bad, precisely. There's a certain awkwardness in their delivery, but thanks to Branagh's lavish cuts, they never speak for long, except for one well-done section, which I will return to later. Their main crime is that of obviousness. To enjoy Shakespeare, it's almost better to be ignorant of the identity of the actors. Am I the only one who thought Gwyneth Paltrow in Shakespeare in Love was simply playing herself with a British accent? Gwyneth modelling a series of lovely Renaissance dresses, pretending to be an English lady? She was too big to be believable, and not good enough as an actress to transcend her own celebrity and hype.

But I digress. The point is that Alicia Silverstone and Matt Lillard are too tainted with celebrity and modernity to be believable in such a piece. Nathan Lane is actually pretty good. So the American actors go through their parts at top speed (have you noticed that Branagh adores having actors arrive in a scene at a run, possibly dressing or accessorizing as they dash in, all breathless... it gives such a sense of realism to the scene, don't you think? Ay, the first time I saw it. After about 4 productions the trick becomes obvious, especially when he employs it several times in the same film.) As I was saying before I was distracted, they "go through their parts at top speed," hoping their deficiencies in presentation will not be as evident if they whizz by us. Perhaps this is why the film clocked in at 90+ minutes.

We all raise a collective eyebrow here. Would someone please explain to me how, on God's green earth, could a Shakespeare play be reduced to an hour and a half and still be called Shakespeare? The cuts are so numerous, so Jack-the-Ripper-esque in their totality - the internal organs of the poor victim lie beside the gutted body. Um, that's a bit gross. Ok, it's like a pretty new dollhouse - beautifully detailed, nicely furnished - but there's no-one in it. Nary a doll. Nah, I like my Jack the Ripper analogy better.

Where was I? Oh, the play's been cut. A lot. And, to complete the confusion, many popular songs of the Gershwins and Cole Porter have been slotted in. The actors sing and dance. Adequately. But, why oh why? It's as though Branagh has lost all faith in Shakespeare; and as the self proclaimed producer of Shakespeare on film for our generation, he's determined to get a piece that no-one else would do (there's a reason why I've never even had the opportunity to see a production of it) and to keep up the current mode of modern settings such as Ian McKellan's Richard III, Baz Luhrman's Romeo + Juliet (emphasize the Plus, it's what makes it cool!) and Ethan Hawke's Hamlet (which doesn't even deserve to be mentioned, it's so hideous) he's grabbed desperately at the idea of turning Love's Labor's Lost into a musical set in an ersatz WWII era Europe a la Hollywood. I must credit Branagh on his efforts to make the characters clear and the plot (such as it is) discernable. The old-fashioned Movietone newsreels he created have a charming air of authenticity about them, and as the newsreels are done entirely in modern English, anyone who might have gotten lost in what remains of Shakespeare's language is set straight. Also, Branagh has kindly color-coordinated the 4 couples in red, orange, green and blue (as director/producer/actor, he chose the blue for himself and Natasha McElhone; it matches his eyes), just in case anyone was getting lost.

As I mentioned earlier, they sing and dance adequately, But that's not good enough. Yes, actors can be coached and skillfully choreographed to look good in a dance number, and I don't doubt some of them have had some dance training in their past. But dance professionals have a stillness, a nuance that amateurs can't duplicate - there's a shakiness to amateur dance. It reminds me of Circus of the Stars - yes that's Bernie Koppels from The Love Boat up there on that trapeze - but you know he just wasn't meant to be there. And most of these actors just can't pull off song and dance with the kind of skill that makes you want to watch them. Any voice can be processed in a studio to be on pitch and sound good, so there's no point belaboring that.

I think I'm almost done, so I'll return to the good part I mentioned before. After a highly confusing mishmash of songs, dance, feeble comedy and occasional speeches which make no real impression on the audience, circumstances force the 4 couples apart. In an almost miraculously intact series of farewells, all of these actors get a few moments to show that they do understand the language, and that they are credible actors. I was actually moved by the scenes between Alessandro Nivola as the King of Navarre and Silverstone as the Princess of France; likewise the scene between Branagh and McElhone. It was almost infuriating that these actors were denied the opportunity to really shine in a Shakespeare production, and instead were only offered this slipshod mess of a piece.

Singleton Day

February 10, 2000
As a single person in February, I am keenly aware of the impending depression and panic of Valentine's Day. It is ironic that the holiday that celebrates love has become the most vicious holiday of all to the single and unattached. More effectively than any other holiday, Valentine's Day manages to make a huge majority of the public miserable.

The independence and relative solitude that was enjoyable in January is dispelled the minute that red and pink heart-shaped items start to appear in store aisles; and unfortunately that is starting sooner and sooner each year. I was able to buy a little box of those chalky candy conversation hearts in mid-January. Great. Now we can count on feeling depressed for an entire MONTH.

No matter how brave a face you put on it; either wearing black in defiance or sending yourself flowers and buying a heart-shaped box of chocolates at 50% off on February 15th, you have still lost the game because you are single and unattached.

So I would propose a new holiday. In the bestseller Bridget Jones' Diary, author Helen Fielding refers to singles respectfully, with their own proper noun: Singletons. I would like to see the creation of Singleton Day, oh, some time in June since it is a relatively holiday-free month. And since people like to occasionally have a reason for a holiday, we can celebrate it on June 4th, the day the Nineteenth Amendment was passed granting women the right to vote. Nobody can complain about celebrating that.

Now, since all holidays need a few criteria…

The Color: Blue, because no other holiday has it except for it being part of the tricolor of the 4th of July. And it's practical, because leftover chocolates can be brought out again on the 4th.

The Meal: Lunch, in a restaurant. Singletons do Lunch better than anyone else, probably because it's our chief form of socialization, and this should be recognized. Just think - no huge family feasts where the questions "So when are you getting married?" or "Are you dating anyone yet?" are asked… paradise!

The Gifts: Chocolate, of course, is universally accepted. For the under-21 crowd - videos. For the over-21 crowd - videos and kitchen implements. You can always use kitchen implements, especially the guys who generally never think of buying such things for themselves. We're not getting a wedding shower anytime soon - and we have apartments to furnish, dammit! No useless gifts, please.

I can't imagine why this wouldn't work - just look at the merchants with another major source of holiday income, the restaurant boom on that special day, the greeting card industries - M&M/Mars would LOVE it! So write to your local representatives or whoever it is that is responsible for legislating stuff like this, and talk about it amongst your friends, and maybe we can get a groundswell of support. On February 14th, as you look longingly at the bouquets arriving for other people in your office, think about how nice it would be to celebrate your personal independence and get some chocolate at the same time.