Friday, December 30, 2005

I Am a Sheep, Part Four

In the year 2006 I resolve to:

Not strip for free anymore.

Get your resolution here

Sorry to disappoint y'all.

I Am a Sheep, Part Three: I Am a Bear

Your soul is bound to the Ninth Totem, Titan:
The Bear

Titan appears as an umber colored bear. He
embodies strength, might, flair, and
. He is associated with the color
umber, the season of autumn, and the element of
earth. His downfall is overbearance.

You are most compatible with Cockroaches and

Which Animal Spirit Totem Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

Totem? WTF?

Thursday, December 29, 2005

I Am a Sheep, Part Two

Fifteen Things About Books (Why Fifteen, Incidentally? Why Not Twelve, or Six, or Three Hundred and Sixty-Five? Why Not a Thing-a-Day Meme? OK, Not Really. I'm Just Asking Questions. Don't Give Me That Look. I'm Turning Off the Bolding Now.)

1. I like to own books, at least, I like to own books that I like. Lately I'm beginning to question this insistence, as they pile up around me. But usually I justify the book-buying habit in one of four ways. A) The book might go out of print--which is valid because I have somewhat quirky tastes. B) I might need to refer to the book in the future--particularly if it's nonfiction. C) I might want to lend the book to someone. Which I do fairly regularly, as I am a book evangelist. D) This book is my friend. I want my friends to stay close by.

2. I have OCD habits when it comes to reading. It's kind of embarrassing. I habitually check page numbers, even if I'm completely absorbed in what I'm reading. I also count lines of text for no good reason. I like it when paragraphs or groupings of paragraphs work out to be squares, but only certain squares. Sigh. OK, I've gone this far; 64 is a crappy square, because it's also a cube. It's just lame, all right? So is 144, because there are two 2's in twelve. Squares of squares are ideal. 1296, for example, or 2401. Um, not that I ever get that far in counting lines of text. I usually lose count after a page or two and start over. Yes, I'm a Rainman wannabe. Yes, I am weird.

3. I read many books which I enjoy, but I am constantly looking for books that will blow off the top of my head and force me to reconstruct my brain. This rarely happens. A few books which have done this in various ways include One Hundred Years of Solitude, The Sound and the Fury, Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, On Stranger Tides, Hunger, Lone Wolf and Cub, Seven Gothic Tales, No Man's Land, Don Quixote, Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life, We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families, Hopscotch and Vellum. This doesn't necessarily mean these are the best books ever, but they were the best books for me at the moment I read them. Some years I don't read any books like this, and this makes me sad.

4. One of the reasons I love my iPod (Its name is "Cash Is My Copilot," in case you're wondering) is because it allows me to read on trains and planes without distraction.

5. I am generally of the "If You Can't Say Something Nice" school of book talk. If a book genuinely insults or offends me, I will complain about it, yes. And if a book should have been good but isn't, it will bother me and I will talk about it. I get frustrated by things that fall short, probably because there is always the "why" to think about. But I don't see any point in flinging vitriol or contempt around. Just because you can be rude and funny at the same time doesn't mean you should. I'd just rather put my energy into other things.

6. If Piers Anthony is dissed in my presence, I may launch into my lecture about how maybe the Xanth books aren't great literature or anything (although the first two books, in particular, have a lot of crazy-cool stuff going on in them) but they kept me reading at a time when I could very easily have gone off books altogether. It was junior high and I was finally sick of Tolkien and I wanted something light and silly. I read books like The Unbeheaded King and pretty much everything by Douglas Adams, and those were great, but the Xanth books were the perfect blend of adolescent fantastical nonsense and I loved them. Yes, they got progressively sillier. Yes, the puns became a bit too much. (Yours truly was responsible for a couple of those that appeared in later books; maybe I'll tell you which ones someday.) I still love Piers, because the strangeness of Xanth and the general cluelessness of his protagonists reflected the strangeness of the world around me and the general cluelessness of me. Also because of the way in which he talked about being a writer, and made it seem like something anyone could do. Finally, because I sent Piers two fan letters and got two very kind letters back. It's true I haven't read him in a long time, but I can't help but be influenced by him--by Xanth, by Phaze/Proton, by the Incarnations of Immortality and by the various other series I read by him back in the day, many of which were never meant for impressionable young people. Anyway, that's my lecture. Don't diss Piers and you'll be spared it in person.

7. I have, for reasons I cannot fully explain, read more books by comedians than anyone I know; books by Jerry Seinfeld, Bill Murray, Merrill Markoe, Laura Kightlinger, and others. I have not, however, read Couplehood, nor will I.

8. Less than ten years ago I read novels all the time and hardly ever read short stories; now it's almost completely flipped. I also never intended to write short stories, and didn't really know how they worked. What changed that? Attending Odyssey, and reading the Dozois and Datlow/Windling Year's Best's. That started me on the form, and now I read short story collections and anthologies (as well as magazines) far more than I read novels. I wouldn't have believed it, myself.

9. I don't collect books in the sense of seeking out signed first editions and that sort of thing; I have a few of those, but mostly I don't care much about the condition as long as it's readable and not falling apart in my hands. I have some used books that have been written in, but I won't write in books myself. I wouldn't feel right doing that.

10. I have wanted since I was 10, at least, to have a book with my name on the cover. I want, eventually, to have many. A hundred or more.

11. If I have kids I will read to them. Maybe not every night--although that would be the ideal scenario--but as often as possible. When the oldest is old enough to read, we will take turns reading to the younger ones. Also, they will read comics. I look forward to arguing with seven-year-olds about whether Spider-Man could take Batman. (He totally could, by the way.)

12. I don't re-read much. The last book I re-read was probably One Hundred Years of Solitude, I'd guess. Mainly this is because there are many books I want to read, and not enough time to read them all. Even without all the reading I have to do for school, there are too many books for me to spend time re-reading old faves. If I was re-reading, I'd probably re-read Salinger and Vonnegut and Heller and Friedman and Lardner. Those are my boys.

13. I read the classics not because I feel like it's my responsibility as a writer to learn the foundations of the craft (although I feel this strongly) or because I want to impress people with my bookishness (while I'm probably somewhat guilty of this, it's not something I think much about). I read them because I like them. Homer rocks. Sappho rules. Ovid is da bomb. Virgil, well, I was never that impressed. Dante's Inferno is spectacular, but it goes downhill from there. So yeah, some of it is overrated, but my tastes have changed since I was forced to read Great Expectations in high school. I've only read one Dickens as an adult thus far, but I think Nicholas Nickleby is one of the greatest novels ever written. The greatest, of course, is Don Quixote. Even the classics that have done nothing for me--I've tried to read both Proust and Austen and given up--I'll come back to at some point and try again. The canon wasn't just slapped together by a bunch of drunk white male English professors, you know? There's some good stuff in there. (And BTW, I'm enjoying War and Peace. It's, you know, long. But so was The Lord of the Rings.) Genre classics are part of this, too. Sturgeon and Bester and Cordwainer Smith. Peake and Lord Dunsany and Walsh's Mabinogion. You don't know where you're going if you don't know where you've been, it's true, and that's reason enough to go back. But it's also the shiznit.

14. I read a lot less genre fiction than I used to. Most of the genre fiction I do read is in the short form, and a lot of that isn't what I'd call mainstream SF or fantasy. I don't really think that the mainstream of the genre has changed very much, despite the grumbles we hear from time to time. I think my interests and tastes have changed. This is not to say that I no longer like genre, because I do. I love it. But I like to see it do something new, and not just sprinkle sensawunda (I believe it comes from the Latin) over new science/magic. Yawn.

15. I like to get books as presents. Just sayin'.

The Weekend

Thursday: I stayed up all night because I hadn't packed and I had to leave at 5:15 to get to the Blue Line train and take it to O'Hare to be there in time to catch my plane at 7:00. Spent flight in very last row, squeezed between two very large men. Slept, mainly, which luckily staved off complete claustrophobic breakdown. Dad picked me up at the airport and took me home, where I said hello to Mom and the dogs before crashing for about eight hours. Got up and watched the Wild with parents, dogs, and brother, then slept for eight hours more. Cold still annoying.

Friday: Make it to sister's place--she's the only one in the family with an Internet connection--to finish my Christmas presents. Am poor, so make cards with individual stories for parents, uncle, roommate. Also read 300+ email messages and update Project. Back home, watch A Christmas Story and Letterman and Jay Thomas knock meatball off Christmas tree. (We have traditions.) Later, set out bread to dry and watch TV in guest room until eyes fall out. (I have no cable here.)

Saturday: Should probably mention that Mom is insane with the Christmas spirit. Or at least the Christmas decor. My brother said something to the effect that the house looked like Santa threw up in it. To be fair, it's my Dad that puts the electric candles in every window, each with timers; and it's him that strung the big pine tree in the backyard. But the house, particularly the first floor, is drunk on Christmas. Snowmen congregate on the shelves. Christmas mugs and plates appropriate the racks. Christmas villages dot the dining room and family room. Santabears huddle together atop an entertainment unit. In truth, it's all very tasteful, if overwhelming. My mom knows the difference between festive and trashy. But I think it's understandable that we have to tease her incessantly about this. I mean, she has Christmas moose. Moose, plural. I'm just saying. Anyway--it's Christmas Eve. I make the bread pudding for later, and help Mom as much as she'll let me. Dinner is Swedish meatballs with a tomato cream sauce, boiled potatoes, lutefisk (it really isn't so bad as all that), lefse (yummy), strawberry bread brought by my uncle's friend Betty (also yummy), and Jell-O salad (hey, this is Minnesota). We eat and then we go to the church where my dad sings in the choir. (Mass is long.) When we get back we have presents and bread pudding. At midnight we sing Happy Birthday to my dad. The dogs are exhausted. Bedtime.

Sunday: Brunch (more good food) with parents and brother, then lots of sitting around. Do some editing (take that, Anonymous!), read some War and Peace. At dinner (my favorite stuffed chicken thingy, and also-my-favorite broccoli/rice/cheese dish) we celebrate Dad's birthday. My sister and my mother joke that he thinks he's Jesus Christ. (I refrain from joking that he thinks he's Christopher Rowe.) Then there is football. I read about hippos in the Smithsonian, then do some more editing while first the Packers and then the Vikings lose.

Monday: I do very little during the day. In the evening, I make my appearance at the home of the lovely and talented Haddayr. Her boys--Arie, Éiden, husband Jan, and big sweet puppy Frodo--all make me feel welcome in their various ways; Jan by cooking up a tasty Polish meal, Frodo by sniffing all traces of Eddie the Beagle and Grace the Golden Retriever out of my jeans, Éiden by gifting me with magnets off the refrigerator (and his big goofy grin), and Arie by trying very hard to set the mood with lighting and music. We eat and drink wine and tea and talk about life and books and probably you, if you're reading this. (Don't worry, it wasn't bad.) Jan and I bond over Green Arrow and Watchmen and Hüsker Dü, Haddayr and I bond over writing geekery. The two of them tag-team telling stories about--or by--her Dad, which really should be in a book. (Ahem.) Haddayr and Jan are one of those cool couples that make single people think that maybe this marriage thing actually works. Well, at least me. Anyway, I keep them up far too late and go home tired but happy.

Tuesday: Mom and Dad and I go to the MegaMallPlex to see Syriana. (I liked it, even though it wasn't very nuanced. I mean, I have my prejudices against big business and big money and big government, but if you play into those prejudices too much I'm going to take you with a grain of salt. Give your characters some dimensions, how about? Acting-wise, while George Clooney was awesome and Dr. Bashir AKA Alexander Siddig was surprisingly sympathetic, Matt Damon was on autopilot and Christopher Plummer was cartoony. Which, OK, sounds like I didn't like it, but it was actually quite a gut punch that had a few problems.) Later, dinner and flight delays, and a long walk from the train in the rain. But Yay Christmas, Yay Family, and Yay Good Food!

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Headlines (Mostly Elephants)

Via the lovely and talented Gwenda, the Washington Post covers the growing zoo elephant debate. It strikes me that the reason zoo administrators are so wary of this subject is that, by extension, it calls into question the entire philosophy of modern zoos. I'm not anti-zoo, but I am increasingly of the opinion that elephant captivity needs to be seriously rethought. The zoos, of course, don't want to hear it. Mark C. Reed of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association has this stunningly insightful quote: "What people forget is that sooner or later, every animal in every zoo is going to die, no matter how well we treat them." Nice all-purpose justification there, Mark. Also, this: "Just because elephants can walk 50 miles a day, it doesn't mean they do--or even want to." He said that just like humans, elephants would rather stay put, and they do if they can find water, shelter and food. The truth is that during the rainy season elephants actually travel more than during times of scarcity. Stationary conditions lead to ingrown nails, and concrete pens lead to footsores which become infected. This needs to be taken seriously.

A reminder: the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee--mentioned in the above article--has a webcam, and accepts donations.

In other pachyderm news, the WWF is tracking pygmy elephants in Borneo. There are estimated to be less than 1500 of the species remaining, all of whom live in forests on the northeastern tip of the island. More info at the WWF's website here.

A new children's book talks about an art class for elephants.

The science of musth.

You probably haven't heard about it, but there's a serious drought-leading-to-famine going on in the northeastern part of Kenya. At least twenty people have died so far, and Kibaki's administration has been slow to respond. Funny how these things don't make the papers over here . . .

I Am a Sheep, Part One

Four jobs you've had in your life:

1. Bartender
2. Factory worker
3. Teacher's aide
4. Administrative assistant

Four movies you could watch over and over:

1. Rushmore
2. Swordsman II
3. King of New York
4. Lost in Translation

Four places you've lived:

1. St. Paul, MN
2. Madison, WI
3. Chicago, IL
4. The inside of my head

Four TV shows you love to watch:

1. Veronica Mars
2. Arrested Development
3. Lost
4. The Amazing Race, assuming that the next go-round is better than the ill-conceived Family Edition

Four places you've been on vacation:

1. Norway (mainly Bergen area)
2. Germany (south, mainly Bavaria)
3. Graceland/Mammoth Cave/Nashville
4. London, England

Four websites you visit daily:

1. Shaken & Stirred
2. My LJ f-list
3. The ED SF Project
4. Unshelved

Four of your favorite foods:

1. Red wine
2. Blackened salmon
3. M&Ms
4. Black beans and rice

Four places you'd rather be:

1. WisCon
2. My favorite writing/reading/homework spot
3. Hiking in the mountains
4. Someplace warm, on a blanket, in the country, looking up at the stars

First the Lights, Then the Collar Goes Up, and the Wind Begins to Blow

Back, after an hour's delay last night and a long trek from the train with bags grown heavier with gifts. The weather, here and in the Twin Cities, is more late-February than year's end; I'd enjoy it more if I didn't know we were in for a cold slap sooner or later.

This time of the holidays is always tinged with a bit of loneliness; as I told Eddie the Beagle that he was in charge of my parents' house once more, I felt as though I was always leaving home, never staying long enough. Home is here now, it's true--still, the office is nearly empty, people are traveling, everything feels adrift. It's the Christmas hangover. New Year's is coming, but it's never been a favorite holiday of mine. In many ways it's the loneliest holiday there is; the parties almost always feel forced to me (as so many parties do), the crowds desperate for exuberance. But perhaps that's just cynicism brought on by bartending on one too many New Year's Eve's.

Lest you think I am determined to undermine your holiday cheer, I hasten to add that this is still, in many ways, my favorite time of year. The giving is nice--I like it even better than the receiving--but it's the coming together that matters most. I'm glad I have a home to go back to, and parents and siblings and dogs who welcome me. I'm glad to have smart and talented and witty friends, near and far, who make every day better. I'm glad to have had some success at this thing I love doing, and I'm glad at the prospect of still more success. There are plenty of things I'm not very happy about, but for now I'm going to put all that aside. What I hope for us all is that the future is better than the past has been. And with that said, enough mushy stuff and on to the memes.