Thursday, August 30, 2007

Bipolar Music Disorder, Undiagnosed

I’m not an Apple person. Though the iPod is pretty cool and I think the entire iPod marketing campaign is sheer brilliance, I don’t know, I never really got into the iPod thing. Plus everybody has one, and that automatically makes me contrary.

Unfortunately, that means that the music player I do have and like because it’s also a radio is also fairly incompatible with WMP, which means I have to make playlists in WMP to blast at home, and separate but equal playlists in Creative for tuning out on the bus or other places.

On the 4-hour plane ride to Detroit (where, by the way, my 8-month pregnant sister refused to stop by and see me during my layover even though she lives 40 minutes away), I created new playlists on my music player.

My favorite playlist (at the moment) I named Girl You Know It. It’s only slightly different from the Soul Sistahs playlist I have in WMP.

I realized a few months ago that my entire music collection is made up of artists who are, for the most part, either white men (everything from boy bands to jazz to indie rock) or women with big, deeper, powerful voices (largely pop, and a fair amount are also women of color). This is fine in and of itself, except for the disturbingly Freudian fact that that matches my family makeup almost exactly.

There are the exceptions to this trend, of course, like the fact that I have every song by Dar Williams, the Blue Scholars, and Enrique Iglesias.Nonetheless, it’s a weird thing to readmit as you’re rearranging tunes on a plane.

Time After Time

It occurred to La Madre the other day that it’s ten years to the day that I left home for college. Odd how that works out.

Back then, it also happened to be the day Princess Di died. As I was packing and excited and bouncing up and down in the house, it came on the news that she’d been in a car crash, but that was all at that point. Then, literally, as I got in line to board at the gate, it came on the news that she died, and my sisters handed me their goodbye present (the Mission: Impossible soundtrack). For some odd reason, the combination of a major news event and leaving home and a cool soundtrack made me lose it once I got on the plane. Luckily my seatmate was a quiet middle-aged guy who wisely said nothing and let me sniffle and blow my nose throughout the flight. The guy was also fairly hefty, so I practically had a private little booth in the airplane row to slump down and hide and blubber. In a similar instance a decade later, all was well with the leaving until I had lunch with two good friends and then had to take off to pack and catch the plane.

But this time, there was no wise, silent, and large seatmate to provide a buffer zone. I had to walk through a neighborhood, wait at a crowded bus stop, board the crowded bus, switch to a different bus downtown, and then take another crowded bus home, all while blubbering and snuffling and generally looking awkward. Don’t do so well with the leaving people thing, even ten years later.

And speaking of both college and sobfests…

The Scot bought a set of director Karan Johar’s films back from India, so before I left the best coast we watched two, both of which star Shah Rukh Khan.

Kuch Kuch Hota Hai was a fairly cheery, lighthearted film. Rahul and Anjali are best friends in college until Tina the hot new student arrives. Rahul chases after Tina; Anjali is heartbroken and leaves. Years later, Tina dies after begging Rahul to name their daughter after Anjali. Little Anjali, told by her dead mother through letters to do so, then schemes to bring her father and big Anjali together again.

The first half of the story is told as a flashback, and so the sequences at the college are all in a slightly overdone, mod, 1990s style. (My God, we really did dress like that, didn’t we?) It’s a musical, and the song-and-dance numbers are amazing. The tunes are extremely catchy.

The great thing is that Shah Rukh Khan does such a good job of playing both the cocky college kid and his more mature older self. The only problem I had with the storyline is the transition from grieving, lonely widower to guy re-finding the girl he never knew he loved; years later, when Rahul suddenly re-encounters Anjali, he just suddenly realizes he loves her. That seemed too quick a turnaround. He should have had more time to realize all that.

But other than that minor detail, it’s a really cute story, with some creative tricks to get the two main characters in the same place. Some of the characters, like the school principal and one of the teachers, as well as Little Anjali’s summer camp director, are deliberately campy and eccentric.

Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham has the same two actors, coincidentallly playing characters with the same names. Like the first Karan Johar film we watched, the first half of Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham is told as a flashback.

However, this story is not even vaguely lighthearted. Shah Rukh Khan plays Rahul, the adopted son of a very wealthy family, who falls for Anjali, a merchant’s daughter. (It’s a Hindi movie, so there’s not even a kissing scene. But nonetheless, there are several scenes that are still really mind-blowingly sexy!) His parents disown him for marrying her. Years later, his younger brother Rohan (not adopted) goes off to
London to find him and bring him home.

But the last fifteen minutes of the film are nonstop tearjerking -- one of those movies where slowly, everybody watching starts to wipe their eyes and sniffle, and then gives up because their faces seem permanently wet. There’s a death in the family, there’s a lot of “Forgive me” speeches, a lot of talking about the meaning of family.

Again, it’s also a musical, with addictive songs and spectacular choreography that puts American cinema to shame.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Minting penance

No sooner had I just put the big honking brace on my foot to settle down for the night, than I heard a shriek from La Madre's room. The damn brace is extremely cumbersome, but I managed to hobble hurriedly, tripping only slightly, over to the source of the wails.

Turns out, the quarters lying on La Madre's dresser were the last 6 or so state quarters, and were marked with the D and S of the Denver and San Francisco mints, and the quarters were acquired almost fresh off the minting machines. Apparently on the days that the quarters come out, La Madre rushes over to the tellers from the loan department at the credit union where she works, to get the new quarters from the different mints.

And here I thought they were just spare quarters lying around for bus money...

So now I have to figure out a way to make it up for stealing collector-item coins.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The joys of aging

So with all the free-time-calm-before-the-grad-school-starving-storm, I've been walking around a lot more and pounding the treadmill at the gym almost every day. But because of all the increased activity, pronation, and because I wear shoes like these
I have to wear this to bed at night until the inflamed tendon in my foot is alleviated:
I argued for several minutes with the podiatrist when he tried to tell that all people everywhere should wear only shoes like these, all the time:
Actually, first I laughed, then gaped in horror when I realized he was serious, then argued, then caved in and lied and said I'd try to buy a few pairs of shoes with a good sturdy, unbendable sole and slight raised heel.

And the elliptical machine is apparently better for the aged than the treadmill.

Which reminds me, Title IX turned 35 this year

The Scot recently returned from six weeks in India, so a bunch of us headed to the local Hindi movie theatre to watch Chak De India.

First of all, I'm a sucker for sports movies where female athletes kick ass. (That's what three years of low fan attendance at and more losses than wins in JV softball and varsity soccer games does to your psyche...)

The sports-movie genre has many elements: the initial sporting humiliation or challenge; individuals with various ethnic, religious, and regional backgrounds who must overcome their differences and be a unified team; the showdown; and finally redemption. In Chak De India, the pre-story is the field hockey player who cost India the World Championship game against Pakistan. Years later, he goes on to coach the women's national field hockey team. No one believes they are "real" athletes, and they have to overcome their pursuits of individual glory and in order to win. But of course, he still has the ghost of his own lost championship to haunt him.

The story is a familiar one, obviously. But the refreshing aspects included the omission of any romance story of any kind, a kickin' soundtrack (which I have already downloaded), and the fact that it's field hockey.

And, of course, female athletes who kick ass.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Infinity and beyond

When TK got to "Pick 3" on the radio, she focused on songs that changed her opinions of music genres she thought she didn't like. That was pretty cool, and very admirably open-minded.

I'm coming to the realization that I need to change my attitude towards science fiction. Watching Firefly and Futurama proved that there are some series I can like, at least in the arena of television. Most recently, the Library suggested I might like the works of award-winning sci-fi author Connie Willis; and the two books of hers that I found are not what I've ever though of as science fiction. Maybe her other books have my stereotypes of cyborgs and spaceships and exploding planets, but the two I read didn't at all. Hence my confusion and delight.

Bellwether was a quick and humorous read; but it was a thinly disguised, extremely tame, nerdy romance story between a sociologist who studies fads and group behavior and is focusing on the 1920s (practically my senior thesis -- how cool is that?) and a biologist trying to find the cause of chaos. They team up to go after a science grant; hilarity and wackiness ensues as they try to find common research ground between group behavior in humans and behavior transmission in general. It's really a very cute story, but for me the cool part was all the little tidbits about fads throughout history, and little anecdotes about how famous scientists made their discoveries and had major breakthoughs. The whole point was that in both the social sciences and the, uh, "hard" sciences, the best results are often never planned. But aside from answering taking huge liberties with some questions and answers in chaos theory, it didn't seem like something I'd consider to be "science fiction."

Willis' Doomsday Book was the complete opposite. Where Bellwether was a short, light story filled with hope and wit and humor and sarcasm and nerd love, Doomsday Book was really long, serious, and had nothing but gloom, despair, and death. The book takes place in Oxfordshire: in 2054, a time-travelling research team of historians thinks it sends a student back in time to 1320 but discovers she has really been sent to 1348, the year the plague reached Oxford. Meanwhile, there's an outbreak of an unidentified virus in 2054, and NHS quarantines Oxford. So in both the 2054 and 1348 storylines, the reader is besieged by an epidemic and the panic and hysteria each outbreak causes. In both story arcs, everybody dies (or most do, anyway...) It's an incredible portrait of how death, panic, and fear of the unknown are somehow timeless, and how moments of compassion and caring can shine through. But naturally, it's extremely dreary and depressing.

Willis doesn't paint a quaint picture of Ye Olde 14th-century England, with cute little villages, lovable peasants, ladies in waiting, or knights jousting; she depicts it as it would have been for most, with rare bathing and lice and rotting teeth and rotting food and ... then the Black Death. Willis is also pretty creative with the futuristic technology; for instance, a translator implant enables the 21st-century student to speak to people in the 14th.

It's so well-written, and so captivating, and even though it's pretty long I couldn't put it down. It was also fun because in the field of History there's a friendly academic rivalry between Medievalists and Modernists, and that definitely came through in the book.

But here too, I wouldn't have classified Doomsday Book as science fiction. I guess in some way I don't really think of time travel or "tales from the future" as necessarily science fiction. (A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court would have to qualify, and something in me just thinks Mark Twain wouldn't identify with the sci-fi genre.)

Maybe I just don't like classifying things. Maybe I just don't like the word "science," having been holed up in "humanities" forever. But maybe I need to throw out my preconceived notions that a genre is strict and fixed --after all, I always rave about interdisciplinary approaches, why not an inter-genre or supra-genre reading approach? At any rate, I've decided I really like these two vastly different books from a widely recognized science fiction writer.

Now, where can I get a Star Trek costume...?

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Was it the same cat?

After watching several haka performances at the 'hood's annual Pacific Islander festival where my sister and her husband were emcees, Deja Vu seemed like a good chill-out movie.

Wasn't the best movie. Wasn't the worst. It was okay. It was a typical action suspense thriller, so it didn't require any stellar acting on anyone's part, just car chases, explosions, techie-looking gadgets, an inkling of a government cover-up, one determined hero, and one Pauline in peril.

But I'm a sucker for time-travel stories, or stories with alternate and parallel time lapses.

Once you grasped the basic idea of the film, it wasn't hard to figure out what would happen (or rather, what was happening....) Plus in all the widely-disseminated trailers, there are some key scenes that you realize, the more you watch, gives it all away.

The movie attempts a half-assed discourse on free will versus destiny, which adds nothing to the plot and in the end is redundant anyway. Because of course it's America on the big screen, where the issue is always that simple and that polarized, and where free will always wins.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Summer reading, happened so fast ...

The Seattle Public Library had this really cool service a few weeks ago (I think they stopped it, because I went back to their website and couldn't find it), where you filled out a form to get a personalized book suggestion list. They asked you what you felt like reading, what you'd just finished reading, what sort of protagonists you liked, etc. Since I'd just finished Jasper Fforde, I also love medieval mysteries, so I wrote that, and then also that I liked strong female characters and was in the mood for something silly with a tinge of seriousness or something serious with a hint of silliness.

So the list of about 25-30 books and/or authors the librarian sent back contains a lot of historical mysteries with headstrong female sleuths, and a lot more zany, wacky situational comedies. For the first time in over ten years, I have a summer vacation with nothing to do, so I've been making my way through the list.

One of the recommended series was Sharan Newman's medieval mystery books, set in mid-twelfth century France. Ellis Peters' Brother Cadfael series got me hooked on medieval mysteries back in high school, but Newman's is far more captivating. For one, the main character is a stubborn former nun-in-training whose family hides their Jewish heritage. And real-life 12th-century theologian/scholars Abelard and Heloise are background characters who serve as mentors to the amateur detectives.

I vaguely remembered the story of Heloise and Abelard from high school French class --scandalous love affair, intellectual letters, a love child followed by a secret marriage, castration by enraged relatives, theological debates. I had to re-read up on the story on wikipedia -- it's the stuff that's perfect for teenagers learning French. Anyway, Newman's series features both Abelard and Heloise as background characters.

Newman's first two books are good and addictive, and of course they follow the predictable and mappable route of the mystery genre. The heroine is an accident-prone merchant's daughter who wants to join a convent so she can keep reading and studying. Cue murder, intrigue and mayhem.

Now that I'm addicted, I have to wait for the other books to arrive on reserve from the library. But meanwhile, there are a lot of zany sci fi books to start.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Subduction seduction

Volcanoes are fascinating because of their unpredictability and, paradoxically, their constancy.

In 1980, when I was a wee toddler and my parents and I were living in central Washington, Mount St. Helens erupted. We moved back to the City shortly after that. But my younger sisters, born later, would only learn about the eruption in school and from La Madre, who loved to tell them that I was cranky for days because I wasn’t allowed to play outside due to the falling ash.

I finally read Simon Winchester’s Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded. Years ago, I’d read Winchester’s The Professor and the Madman and couldn’t put it down; his The Map That Changed the World had the opposite effect. But Krakatoa was good.

The book isn’t just about the volcanic eruption in 1883 in present-day Indonesia. It’s more about the technological and scientific advances (Western ones, that is) that enabled the rest of the world to learn about the incident. Winchester spends more chapters setting the stage for the 19th century event than he does the actual eruption itself. He details (and I do mean details) developments in:

  • communication (telegraphs, news agencies)
  • trade (the various natural resources found in Java and Sumatra, the history of the Dutch presence and colonial administration there)
  • biology (how observations, many of the differences in Sumatra and Java, shaped theories of evolution)
  • geology (there was the usual Plate Tectonics 101 as well as more in-depth stuff)
  • climatology (barometric readings from around the world showed how “air waves” from the eruption circled the globe, and tidal measurements showed similar results from the ocean waves generated by the eruption)
  • and tangential but interesting other pieces of information.

All of these details and back stories are fascinating, and Winchester does a good job of keeping the reader’s attention. He really only has one very long chapter about the eruption itself, where he takes accounts from various ships’ logs, administrators’ records, and survivors’ letters or other reports; and then focuses on how the eruption served as valuable knowledge-building for various fields of science. Indeed, Winchester’s central argument is that Krakatoa was the first truly “global” event, where new innovations allowed it to be reported and studied around the world almost immediately.

”Krakatoa” almost instantly calls to mind tragedy and disaster, much like “Titanic.” But for some odd reason, before reading this book I would always confuse the eruption of Tambora in 1815 with Krakatoa in 1883 (there are, after all, something like 100 active volcanoes in Indonesia). I knew that some eruption in Indonesia in 1815 caused the “year without a summer” elsewhere in the world, but I always assumed it was Krakatoa. Oops. After reading this book, I won’t confuse Tambora and Krakatoa any longer!

I learned a lot about the development of scientific and academic fields in the 19th and 20th centuries, and I learned more about the 1883 eruption too. I assumed Krakatoa’s destructive reputation originated with fiery displays and dramatic lava flows. I didn't know it was a Plinian eruption, nor that most of the human cost of Krakatoa was from the huge tsunamis generated by the explosion, not anything coming from the volcano itself. (Winchester wrote the book in 2003, two years before the horrible, horribly huge one occurred in the Indian Ocean. Unlike the last geology-oriented book I read, Winchester didn’t have to emphasize emergency preparedness to get grant money for his book.)

The author makes it powerfully clear that what humans can’t see beneath the earth is far from being understood even remotely, and that the earth is quite frankly capable of mind-bogglingly scary things (Krakatoa’s final eruption was heard 3,000 miles away; the air shocks circled the earth seven times; tides everywhere were affected; the dust particles that shot 30 miles in the air caused sunsets so red all around the world that firefighters in one American town thought it was a distant fire; and the island of Krakatoa itself imploded into nothing.) Another overriding theme that Winchester does not fail to make clear to his reader is that eruptions like Krakatoa are not a one-time deal, that the earth is constantly reshaping its surface from its core. All that is very interesting from a detached standpoint --but if I look down the street I can see Mt. Rainier looking suspiciously peaceful in the distance! It is indeed scary but also strangely and hypnotically humbling, too.

Walking past the butcher's

To file in the "You Can Go Home Again or Wait, Can You Really?" category: I was wandering around trying to figure out how the old 'hood has changed or stayed the same. After peering into the quinceañera boutique and a gazillion pho shops and uber-cheap beauty salons, I passed by a store that I didn't recall being there before. (Turns out it was a carnicero, and it's been there forever, but my sister in Michigan had to tell me that.) I tried to casually walk by and peer through the windows to see what it was, and a woman inside stared back at me very intently. Not wanting to attract attention and seem like a total weirdo, I hastily walked on. Even when she ran outside after me and started shouting after me, I tried to be cool and seem inconspicuous. But then my curiosity got the better of me, and I turned around to see why she was chasing me.

Turns out we went to high school together, and she remembered my face while I remembered her name. She just wanted to see if I'd been keeping in touch with some folks from our graduating class about a possible future get-together. I hadn't, but she told me who to contact for more information.

Eek, it's been ten years! Gaaaaaaack!

J'apprends parler une autre langue

I took French for five years in middle and high school, mainly to be rebellious because everyone around me spoke Spanish, and I didn't want 1) any help with homework and 2)to fit in. Ah, the foibles and stupidity of adolescence! Now that I've figured out Spanish is way more useful (for instance, in my past two jobs) and sounds way better with remixed techno dance music, French has actually served me well. I've always been able to get the gist of a conversation in Spanish by recognizing the Latin roots I learned in French.

Recently, I read about two BBC staffers who travelled around the U.S. speaking only Spanish. Personally, I think they chose a fairly easy route, going from Miami to LA and staying entirely in the southern half of the country. But nonetheless, they raised some interesting points. And one of these days, I'm going to try speaking only Spanish around the old neighborhood.

I've already had a bit of practice. Last weekend, on the way to brunch at Mica's for our ongoing Futurama-a-thon, I bought pastries from the locally renowned Salvadorean bakery a few blocks away from the house, and I was able to order and pay entirely in Spanish. ("Por favor, cuatro empanadas de guayaba. Y cuatro semitas de mango. Y cuatro pastels de arroz. " "De arroz?" "Si, arroz." "Seis trente." "Gracias!") It helped, of course, that the pastries were clearly labelled. And if our interaction had strayed beyond the standard how many/what/numbers/thank you routine, I would have been exposed as a total poser.

But I wasn't, so ha! No more complex about seeming like a snobby Latina who refuses to speak Spanish. Well okay, I'll probably always have that complex because people will always assume I'm Latina, which is their own fault and I shouldn't feel responsible for everyone else's ethnic preconceptions nor the American social structure that mandates cultural and linguistic assimilation, even if I do like to mischievously play up the cracks in those perceptions. But this was the first time I think I completely passed. Um, yay?

And the other day on the bus, when the driver asked everyone to close the windows so he could turn on the air conditioning, I was able to say "Por favor, la ventana" to another passenger when it became clear he didn't understand either the driver or the screaming old lady who kept saying "Close the window! The window! dow..." louder and slower with every scream. Of course, I and three other people were also gesticulating wildly and pointing to the window, but after he looked at me he closed the window. (I'm just glad I remembered the right word. At least I didn't accidentally say something like "Dude, the umbrella" or "Please, the shoe" or anything else that would have seemed totally random. ( Someone I know used to always say "Verde" all the time when he meant to say "Verdad," and I am admittedly so glad I didn't get the pitiable look that he always got.) Unfortunately, I don't do so well conjugating verbs, so the only imperative I had in my head was "Fermez," and I didn't want to assume the Spanish there was close to the French. (Turns out it isn't, it's cerrar, and I have no idea how to conjugate it. Yet.)

Can't speak in complete sentences. But one of these days...

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

These burning fits but meteors be

A friend lent me Wit. She'd bought the video after seeing the play, which she highly recommended. She warned me it's a horribly depressing movie, and she was right. At its core, the film explores the of facing death alone, the ironies inherent in medical objectivity, and the conviction of human emotions in poetry and art.

Emma Thompson is brilliant, as usual, this time as an English professor undergoing cancer treatment. The film also incorporates very stage-like shots of the main character talking directly to the camera. In a theatre it's how the narrator directly engages the audience, by having a one-sided conversation with them; it works well in this movie too because it highlights how isolated the character is from any other human contact, so her conversation with the viewer becomes one of her only interactions. The other brilliant but vaguely eerie aspect of the movie (probably taken directly from the play too) was that the professor's flashbacks to teaching the works of John Donne are done with her in her hospital gown and shaved head.

As a teen, I was a little morbidly drawn to the works of John Donne. I think it was because my mother made me watch the film and then read the book Death Be Not Proud in middle school.
Indeed, Wit bears a strong resemblance to Death Be Not Proud, a memoir about a son's losing battle against a brain tumor. And of course the poem is quoted in the movie!

Words and their nuances are a central puzzle in the movie: the long or witty or tricky words of the Metaphysical Poets that the cancer patient dissects, and the long and seemingly cold words of the medical profession to which she must submit herself.

One of the themes of Wit is the polarization of the arts and sciences; the young doctor in the film repeatedly makes comments about how English majors would not have been able to pass his Biochemistry class, but any good science student can pass the hardest and most difficult English class. (Which of course is ridiculous, and brought back long-buried class discussions with very smart science friends who couldn't grasp basic postmodern theory. Thinking --unrelated to academic excellence-- is just one mode or ability to see a bit of the world, and the way one person or field goes about it isn't necessarily superior to another. It's just a different lens for seeing a different part of the whole. But arrggh, the old chip on the humanities shoulder still remains!) The other end of the stereotype, of course, is that science lacks feeling and human empathy. That too is horribly untrue, and I think the film does an excellent job of conveying the complexity of academic rigor and human interaction across various fields of study, through the various characters and the words of John Donne.

Wit is a portrait of how humans relate to each other as teacher/student, scholar/subject, and parent/child and a host of other subtle roles. It ends of course as the viewer knows it must, as the inevitability of not just the character's life and death but the viewer's as well. There is no neat wrapping up of character lines, no happy hint of hope, no explanation and no answers to any of the human conditions portrayed.

Wonderful film, wonderfully written and acted, wonderfully philosophical and depressing.

So after Wit's heavy-handedness, Netflix (due more to neglect in reordering of the queue than fortuity) delivered something from the complete opposite end of the mental spectrum: Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous. It is a truly, truly terrible movie. I thought the first movie was okay. Not wonderful, but not hugely terrible either. But the sequel had every possible bad cliché: the cheesy and dumb kidnappers, the black lady who performs the "surprise" show-stopping song on stage, the gay fashionisto, the gruff FBI supervisor. The only redeeming quality was the saw-it-coming moral of the story, which is that little girls should just be their beautiful selves and shouldn't change for other people.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Blindsided by the laserdiscs!

(Actually, all the songs at karaoke are MP3s.)

This week's karaoke coup d'etat #1 was a stunning duet rendition of "Cell Block Tango" from Chicago. It is indeed meant for six people, not two. We assumed the karaoke version would have the speaking bits as the background, and all we'd have to sing was the very easy and very fun chorus. So we were blindsided, and had to improv the whole thing. Luckily it was a hit. Luckily we'd watched bits of the movie earlier so it was fresh in our minds.

Other duets we've recently discovered are show-stoppers with two female vocals: Sarah McLachlan's "Angel" as a two-part harmony (it's practically a cappella). We've requested the Norah Jones/Dolly Parton duet "Creepin' In" from the host, too.

Karoke coup d'etat #2 was Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," which I stole from The Scot in his absence. With my range I had to go an octave higher, but I managed to hit all the high notes. Plus the song was severely edited, and nowhere near the version I know best. It completely killed my voice for the next few minutes, but there's nothing more satisfying than a gut-busting performance in a half-empty bar on a Monday night.

Damn it! With only two more Mondays left at karaoke, my goal is to find a good karaoke place in Boston by the end of September.

Off to do some online research on venues and create the Google spreadsheet . . .

Friday, August 10, 2007

Why song choice is very important

I'm guessing there was more going on with the woman than just disliking one guy's song --and anyway, the point of karaoke is that performers can sing whatever they damn well please! But we've been to karaoke night at the place where this happened:

Karaoke singer attacked after starting song
Woman punches man on stage
(from the Seattle P-I)

It could have been the Coldplay song "Yellow" that upset the patron of a Wallingford neighborhood bar. Or perhaps it was the karaoke singer who belted it out.

Employees at Changes, on North 45th Street, said they don't know, but the ensuing melee just past 1 a.m. Thursday was one unlike anything seen at the bar before.

As soon as the man on stage started singing about the stars in his best Chris Martin impersonation, the woman reportedly said: "Oh, no, not that song. I can't stand that

Witnesses said her distaste for Coldplay quickly took a violent turn, and she leaped at the would-be crooner, shouting expletives and telling him that his singing "sucked," while expressing the same opinion of the song, according to a Seattle police report.

She pushed the man and punched him, all in an effort to stop his singing. . .

Text and subtext and textuality and the Council of Genres

After much waiting, the new Thursday Next buy came out a few weeks ago. I went up to Third Place Books with a friend to buy it, then hear Jasper Fforde speak.

The first half of First Among Sequels is just like the previous four TN books: the reader spends most of it going "Huh? What?" until the alternate world is all finally understandable enough to start the action and detective storyline.

In this fifth book of the series, the SpecOps branch where the Literary Detectives work has been disbanded, so Thursday is secretly running it out of a carpet business and secretly funding it by smuggling cheese from Wales. The carpet business is also a front for Thursday to maintain her position at Jurisfiction, the police force within books. Since the real-life Thursday has become so famous she's been written up in books, she gets to encounter the written (and rogue) versions of herself while she's in the book world. Then there's the simultaneous and impending destruction of time travel: her teenage son Friday is supposed to grow up to become a brilliant time-police operative, but as a teenager he's dragging his feet so his future and possible selves come into the present to try and make his save Time.

It's a little weird to explain the Thursday Next series, as the author admitted in his talk at the bookstore. But it's awesome and really nerdy and very meta and highly addictive. And because it's so unique and almost paradoxically simple in its complexity, there's really no accurate way to describe it to folks who haven't read it.

This new one ended in the middle of a storyline, with Thursday realizing there's a killer loose in the book world (a serial killer no less, hahaha --oh how the puns run rampant in Jasper Fforde) . So there's one of the plot lines for the next Next book. It left me hanging but at least not hanging like books 2 and 3, where Thursday's husband's existence is erased and not resolved until book 4. First Among Sequels left some great teasers and nuggets in the dialogue to keep fans hooked on possible future storylines.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Masochistic tendencies

A friend has this massage tool, and we have somewhat similar physical therapy schedules and experiences, so I played around with it.

I think I went a little overboard. I swear I woke up this morning with internal bruises. Oh, the pain.

But I like the little contraption!

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Bourne again!

When you're thirsty in a movie theatre and you forgot to smuggle in a beverage, you're often forced to buy water at the theatre. More than likely, it's the Coca-Cola water, Dasani, which tastes like absolute crap and has salt added to it. But you muddle through...

The Bourne Ultimatum was good, but I think it was the weakest of three Bourne films. The plot wasn't very strong, and there were some characters and issues still left hanging. I thought the final resolution of Bourne's identity quest was too neat, too easy, and too anti-climactic. (Maybe it's based on the book, which I haven't read...)

David Strathairn was great as a cold, calculating CIA higher-up; Julia Stiles was kind of blah as an agent "coincidentally" popping up wherever Bourne is (they never go anywhere with that. Why have the coincidence if it's not going to be developed more, except as a catalyst for a manhunt in Morocco?)

However, the action sequences and vehicle chases made up for all the plot and character mediocrity. There were some amazingly well-choreographed fight scenes and cool car/motorcycle chases through half a dozen cities.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Anatomy of the 'Hood

Now back on the WestsiiIIIIde until the move to Beantown. And apparently the 'hood is the new up-and-coming place. I had brunch with one of my oldest friends and her bf this past weekend, and they pointed me to this recent article in Seattle Magazine:
Long in the shadow of the view side of West Seattle, this working-class neighborhood is quickly going from blue collar to one of the last bastions of affordability in the area, as affordable homes grow more and more scarce in the Puget Sound region. Just how popular is it becoming? One look at Delridge Way SW and surrounding roads tells the tale: townhouses sprouting up on every other block, replacing tired, older housing stock (many of them small, wood-frame homes from around WWII); additions to established cottages going up right and left; a bustling Home Depot that opened in 2005. The nearby brand-new High Point mixed-income housing development that replaced a decrepit low-income project in the middle of West Seattle is a catalyst for change around these parts. ...

This neighborhood in transition is still somewhat rough around the edges. Some streets lack sidewalks and curbs, and homes here and there need some loving. But don’t expect that to last for long. “Now you drive down Delridge, and instead of it being an eyesore, it’s ‘Wow!’ ” says [a veteran West Seattle real estate agent]. “It won’t be very much longer until the whole thing is improved. In 10 years, either through new construction or through the deferred maintenance being done, that will all be fixed up."
Now that I'm back in one of those small, wood-frame houses from the 1940s, it's a little odd to reconcile the neighborhood I grew up in (and got out of!) with the neighborhoods I've lived in since. It's weird, but in a way I feel like I'm contributing a small part to the gentrification of Delridge. I'm not buying one of the dozen new townhouses or anything, but I did whoop with delight when DSL first arrived in the area a mere 6 months ago and offered dirt cheap plans to residents who signed up (no more dial-up for Mom!). There are now also two cafes with wireless (I get a weak but steady signal at the house;, and the formerly crumbling little shopping area kept alive by Target and a local grocery store now boasts a Barnes & Noble, Starbucks, Jamba Juice, Bed Bath & Beyond, a trendy organic dinner cafe, Chico's, Taco del Mar, and Pier 1 Imports. Though I'd love it if the shops there weren't huge chains, except for those last three, I've bought stuff at all the new places.

On the one hand, all the new development is great; people are coming to the Westside! There are places to hang out! The cops, in their new and very oddly artsy Westside precinct, seem friendlier! On the other hand, it's not like the new places are small locally-owned businesses, even if they might be locally-owned franchises. And the housing being torn down and replaced by the townhouses really is driving out old residents. Even with the mixed-income facilities being built in some of the places (half subsidized housing, half businesses or home owners), it won't be the same residents moving back in; those people have already been displaced.

The place hasn't entirely changed, though. Spanish is still the language you'll most likely hear on the bus in the morning; Vietnamese is still the language most likely to be seen on business signs in the not-yet-redeveloped part, especially all the really inexpensive nail and hair salons and pho shops. Because it's historically been cheap to live in the 'Ridge, there are still over 20 registered sex offenders within 8 blocks of the house I grew up in, including 9 Level IIIs (it took me until I was in college to realize this, and figure out why my parents were sometimes overly paranoid about me and my sisters closing the blinds in our room...)

All cities grow and change, that's the nature of urban life. It's one of the cool things I love about cities: they're like a living things in and of themselves. Until you study the policy trends and the economic and social shifts, that is, to de-mystify them. But it's all still cool when de-mystified, and I love to hear other people talk about their home 'hoods and cities. A fellow history nerd, whose hometown is Pittsburgh, can rattle on for hours about Pittsburgh if prompted. And though the social and political trends and the excitement in people's eyes are similar, there are still unique qualities to the changes each city undergoes.

(Yes, I love my hometown and home 'hood can talk about it forever.)

Land-wise, West Seattle makes up about a fourth of the City of Seattle, but only about 10% of the population. Every now and then there are secessionist murmurings, but it never goes anywhere; the City actually began on the Westside (fleeting though that founding was), and people are actually very proud of that. Similarly, though he's a big dork, the current mayor is still a Westsider, and I think some people still have weird loyalties simply because he represented us so well when he was on the County Council.

One thing I find really fascinating is the sudden interest in White Center, an unincorporated area between Delridge (in Seattle) and Burien, an adjacent small city. People who grow up in the Delridge corridor or White Center sometimes interchangeably use Delridge, White Center, and West Seattle to describe their home turf, depending on what they're talking about or (more likely) who they're talking to. At any rate, until all this recent development, nobody really cared about White Center. It used to be largely low-income (and still is), have a large Latino and Asian immigrant population (and still does), and have a tough image (which it still can't shake). But suddenly, with all the new development efforts, there are now draft ordinances proposing to annex White Center to one of its adjacent cities. No more buffer zone.

I guess this is a confused and long-winded way of waying I'm moving "home" but having to re-explore and rediscover everything, because it's so different and only bears a little resemblance to the home I grew up in. It's beginning to resemble the more apartment, young-single-resident neighborhoods I've chosen to live in for the past six year, which can be both a good and bad thing.

It's both exciting and depressing.