Sunday, November 30, 2008

Poem for Sunday

By Marie Howe

The rules, once again applied
One loaf = one loaf. One fish = one fish.
The so-called three kings were dead.

And the woman who had been healed grew tired of telling
     her story,
and sometimes asked her daughter to tell it.

People generally worshiped where their parents had
The men who'd hijacked the airplane prayed where the dead
     pilots had been sitting,
and the passengers prayed from their seats
—so many songs went up and out into the thinning air...

People, listening and watching, nodded and wept, and,
     leaving the theater,
one turned to the other and said, What do you want to
     do now?
And the other one said, I don't know. What do you want
     to do?

It was the Coming of Ordinary Time. First Sunday,
     second Sunday.
And then (for who knows how long) it was here.


From Poet's Choice by Mary Karr in The Washington Post Book World. "In Marie Howe's new collection, The Kingdom of Ordinary Time, we delve into the connection between regular life and the intensified life inspired by revelation," writes Karr, who once wrote an essay describing her own journey from agnostic alcoholic to fervent Catholic. "'Prologue' starts in the dreary quotidian but then catapults to the least ordinary event in America's recent history: Sept. 11, 2001."

We made one more attempt on Saturday to go on the National Treasure tour at Mount Vernon, since the tours are apparently really truly ending this month, but when we arrived at 10:30, they told us they had sold out an hour earlier. Even so, we had a lovely afternoon there -- the house and grounds are decorated for the holidays as they would have been when the Washingtons lived there, with greenery hanging in the front parlor and a Christmas camel in honor of the one George Washington had brought to the estate for Christmas 1787. There were also decorated trees and a Mount Vernon gingerbread house in the visitor center. And since it's now winter and the upstairs is much cooler, the third floor was open, where there are lovely views of the grounds, a china storage closet, and several bedrooms including the one where Martha Washington slept after George's death.

This 250-pound gingerbread Mount Vernon was made by former White House executive pastry chef Roland Mesnier, who spent 300 hours working on it.

George Washington paid 18 shillings to have a camel at Mount Vernon over the 1787 winter holidays. This is the first time in 221 years that a Christmas camel has visited the estate.

The camel, Aladdin, is a very friendly one-year-old who was eager to have guests pet him and tried to suck their fingers.

In an outdoor tent, costumed cooks made chocolate using a Colonial recipe. (Chocolate was not given to children then based on a belief that it would make them excitable, though they were regularly served alcohol.)

In the visitor center, a dozen trees were decorated with ornaments celebrating different aspects of George Washington's life, such as his library, his family, and his farm.

However, the trees around the mansion were looking very bare compared with their color during our visit a few weeks ago.

No photos were allowed in the decorated mansion, where the dining table was set with Martha Washington's butter-rich cream cake and a "hedgehog cake" for luck, but photos were permitted in the outer buildings such as this kitchen which also featured seasonal produce.

Even the estate's entrance sign had been changed for the winter holidays.

After touring the mansion, we walked down to the river and through part of the farm to see the sheep, cattle, pigs, and chickens, plus the slave cabin and the sixteen-sided barn. We ate lunch in the food court near the gift shops (not to be confused with the excellent inn on the grounds, but still, pretty good sandwiches, cheese and peanuts). Then we came home and started watching the Terps play Boston College, but when things did not go terribly well, we put on National Treasure 2 to get our tour vicariously. Those movies remain very silly but enjoyable -- is there any other fluff film franchise with so many Oscar winners? And then we watched the Oklahoma/Oklahoma State game, in which we rooted for the latter largely out of dislike for the former.

Belated Fannish5: Name the 5 fannish things for which you are most grateful.
My husband and I started dating because we were both fans.
2. I met three of my best friends because of fandom, and a fourth and I have always had it in common.
3. I got the best job of my life because of fandom.
4. I started using the internet because of fandom.
5. My one academic publication is on a subject that was of interest to me initially because of fandom.

Belated TheFridayFive: Ear worms are those annoying little songs that get stuck in your head. Sometimes they are the last song you hear on the radio before you go into the office, sometimes they just randomly pop in.
1. What is a common ear worm that you get?
"Born in the USA," "Amanda," "Owls" from, and the absolute worst, "El Shaddai" by Amy Grant
2. How long do they last? Way too long OMG sometimes hours
3. What do you do to get rid of them? Listen to disco
4. What is the worst ear worm you've ever had? "Barbara Manatee" from Veggie Tales
5. Do you get some guilty pleasure in passing the ear worm along? Only to my kids because they usually give them to me in the first place.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Poem for Saturday

A Map of the City
By Thom Gunn

I stand upon a hill and see
A luminous country under me,
Through which at two the drunk sailor must weave;
The transient's pause, the sailor's leave.

I notice, looking down the hill,
Arms braced upon a window sill;
And on the web of fire escapes
Move the potential, the grey shapes.

I hold the city here, complete;
And every shape defined by light
Is mine, or corresponds to mine,
Some flickering or some steady shine.

This map is ground of my delight.
Between the limits, night by night,
I watch a malady's advance,
I recognize my love of chance.

By the recurrent lights I see
Endless potentiality,
The crowded, broken, and unfinished!
I would not have the risk diminished.


Even though we were all on vacation, we got up early Friday to go downtown to the National Zoo. Adam is very fond of the kiwis -- he was bitterly resentful when the baby panda got so much more publicity than the baby kiwi born at the zoo -- and he has wanted to return to the Meet a Kiwi program since we went in 2006 but because the zoo only holds it on weekdays, it's been hard to find a time to take him when he didn't have school. So we went to the kiwi program, then we visited most of the zoo that we didn't see when we were there in September (Amazonia, invertebrates, the North American valley, the gorillas, the farm) and some places that we did (the bird house, the reptile house, the Asia trail). It was a beautiful day, chilly but not really cold, and not insanely crowded though we thought there might be a lot of other people on vacation visiting.

Manaia, the young kiwi born at the National Zoo two years ago, greets visitors each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 11 a.m.

We were lucky to get in on this holiday, since the Bird Resource Center filled up very quickly.

Manaia is a North Island brown kiwi, the child of the National Zoo's bird Nessus. His name is Maori.

During the talk he spent most of his time digging around for worms in the mulch.

He looked a bit sleepy, which isn't surprising since kiwis are nocturnal.

Manaia has a brother, Koa, also hatched at the zoo. The New Zealand ambassador came to visit each of them as babies.

The egg behind Manaia is a full-size kiwi egg -- they're enormous compared to the size of the mother who lays them. This was an infertile egg that the zoo preserved.

On the bottom of this sign are some photos of the egg, hatching, and growth of the young kiwi.

In the late afternoon, two of the cousins stopped by to visit our cats. An hour later we went to my parents' for Shabbat dinner and leftovers. Then we came home so the kids could shower, clean their rooms, etc., and we all ended up watching The Spy Who Loved Me, which is pretty much as goofy as I remember it but still awesome fun -- supervillain trying to destroy the world, hot Russians, cool tech, and I had forgotten the awesome aquariums and underwater shots. Roger Moore is my Bond; I like him much better than Connery or Brosnan and I haven't the writing for the others.

Hope no one got trampled while shopping and hope everyone has a nice weekend.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Poem for Friday

November Sunday Morning
By Alvin Feinman

And the light, a wakened heyday of air
Tuned low and clear and wide,
A radiance now that would emblaze
And veil the most golden horn
Or any entering of a sudden clearing
To a standing, astonished, revealed…

That the actual streets I loitered in
Lay lit like fields, or narrow channels
About to open to a burning river;
All brick and window vivid and calm
As though composed in a rigid water
No random traffic would dispel…

As now through the park, and across
The chill nailed colors of the roofs,
And on near trees stripped bare,
Corrected in the scant remaining leaf
To their severe essential elegance,
Light is the all-exacting good,

That dry, forever virile stream
That wipes each thing to what it is,
The whole, collage and stone, cleansed
To its proper pastoral…
I sit
And smoke, and linger out desire.


I spent a quiet Thanksgiving morning shifting my summer and winter clothes in my closet and putting together a giveaway pile from my stuff and Adam's overstuffed drawers. We had a small lunch -- soup and cheese crackers -- then Paul's parents arrived and we spent much of the afternoon looking at their trip photos and working on cropping those photos for their holiday letter. My sister Nicole's oldest daughter, Isabel, came over to play with her cousins; Sabrina, the middle daughter, was at the movies with my father, and the youngest, Molly, was helping (or perhaps that should be "helping") my mother cook. Dinner was delicious, and I had a nice time catching up with Nicole, so I have lots to be thankful for.

My kids and my sister's kids around the table this evening.

This is the stuffed turkey on the buffet table in the kitchen...

...and the centerpiece on the dining room table.

The kids played down the basement for much of the evening.

My mother got them a SpongeBob pinata...

...which Sabrina gleefully tore to shreds after all the candy was out.

Molly helped make this chocolate card for my parents.

And Paul made this cookie cake for the kids, as he does every year, while the adults had German chocolate cake.

The Cowboys won, boo, though I only saw about fifteen minutes of the game and fled from the room when the Jonas Brothers showed up at halftime. We had the Detroit game on while we were looking at photos earlier but I stopped paying attention once the Titans were up more than 20 points. And the Eagles were winning (guess getting benched woke McNabb up) when I was at my parents' but we didn't pay for the NFL Channel so I guess I won't be seeing the end of that game. Hope everyone who celebrated had a lovely day and everyone else had a peaceful one. The news here is too obsessed with Black Friday shopping to cover what's going on in India properly, but I'm thinking of people there.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Poem for Thursday

Signing Ceremony
By Clive James

Hotel Timeo, Taormina

The lilac peak of Etna dribbles pink,
Visibly seething in the politest way.
The shallow vodka cocktails that we sink
Here on the terrace at the close of day

Are spreading numb delight as they go down.
Their syrup mirrors the way lava flows:
It's just a show, it might take over town,
Sometimes the Cyclops, from his foxhole, throws

Rocks at Ulysses. But regard the lake
Of moonlight on the water, stretching east
Almost to Italy. The love we make
Tonight might be our last, but this, at least,

Is one romantic setting, am I right?
Cypresses draped in bougainvillea,
The massed petunias, the soft, warm night,
That streak of candy floss. And you, my star,

Still walking the stone alleys with the grace
Of forty years ago. Don't laugh at me
For saying dumb things. Just look at this place.
Time was more friend to us than enemy,

And soon enough this backdrop will go dark
Again. The spill of neon cream will cool,
The crater waiting years for the next spark
Of inspiration, since the only rule

Governing history is that it goes on:
There is no rhythm of events, they just
Succeed each other. Soon, we will be gone,
And that volcano, if and when it must,

Will flood the slope with lip gloss brought to boil
For other lovers who come here to spend
One last, late, slap-up week in suntan oil,
Their years together winding to an end.

With any luck, they'll see what we have seen:
Not just the picture postcard, but the splash
Of fire, and know this flowering soil has been
Made rich by an inheritance of ash.

Only because it's violent to the core
The world grows gardens. Out of earth we came,
To earth we shall return. But first, one more
Of these, delicious echoes of the flame

That drives the long life all should have, yet few
Are granted as we were. It wasn't fair?
Of course it wasn't. But which of us knew,
To start with, that the other would be there,

One step away, for all the time it took
To come this far and see a mountain cry
Hot tears, as if our names, signed in the book
Of marriage, were still burning in the sky?


Another from this week's quite good New Yorker.

It was mostly a chore day involving things like having our gutters cleaned and some branches cut off our neighbor's tree that had been scratching our windows. I had to pick Adam up from school before 11 to take him to the orthodontist, who put long-anticipated braces on his lower teeth. Adam was not happy about this, but he did receive confirmation that because his upper left incisor has broken through the gum, he won't need oral surgery, which is good news for everyone! To celebrate I took him to Borders and bought him the new Erin Hunter cat book, Long Shadows. Borders was having a one-day sale for people on their mailing list, so I also bought the first two seasons of Futurama for Daniel for Chanukah -- they've long been on his wish list and they were half-price.

I was not deprived, because I got three awesome things in the mail. The first was my long-anticipated CD from Girlyman of their concert at the Birchmere where I went with PSU Jedi last month -- two CDs, actually, containing all their banter and tuning songs, with really good sound quality. Plus I'd met a woman online who had seen my Barbie Tarot and wrote to tell me that she'd created her own Barbie Tarot, using posed dolls and Photoshop so her images are much more creative than mine, and she sent me a CD of them! And speaking of Tarot, the wonderful Venturous sent me a package with the Gill Tarot deck given to her by her mentor -- my favorite sorts of Tarot decks are those that have been used and loved already -- and an original watercolor painting of Mount Vernon!

A puppy dreams of being a sheepdog at Mount Vernon's harvest festival last month.

Chickens sit on the fence behind the slave cabin.

A pair of musicians perform 18th century music.

The upper level of the sixteen-sided barn...

...and the lower level, with grain falling through the slats as it is threshed.

A blacksmith at work (wearing the now-requisite safety goggles, not a luxury of Washington's era).

Yoked oxen at work in the fields.

And a pig at work trying to keep out of the sun.

Pushing Daisies is already feeling sad and nostalgic for me, knowing it isn't coming back and they didn't film any sort of series finale because they weren't sure when they wrapped the last episode. Oh, how I will miss supporting characters like Bilbo the Python! And Akbar the Bunny! And Ethan Phillips as an uptight, outraged lawyer, and the jibber-jabber judge from Boston Legal as a murder victim trapped in a chandelier, and Aunt Vivian on why she revealed to Lily that she has a boyfriend: "Sneaking around is for politicians in bathroom stalls." And Lily's rebuttal, "I love you!" and an insistence that she doesn't want to see Vivian's fetish for bad men (a fetish she apparently once shared) hurt Vivian. I don't like the Chuck-in-danger theme that keeps emerging, but I guess that won't ever be resolved.

There's been a lot of hand-wringing on my friends list about Twilight, falling into two categories: people who love it but feel guilty about that (or feel like they have to claim to feel guilty), and people who despise everything it stands for. I can't tell what percentage of the latter have actually read any or all of the books, but I'm in no position to judge anyone, because I read one chapter of the original Twilight and lost interest. (NB: I was relatively bored by the Harry Potter books, too, and certainly not fannish about them until Alan Rickman and Jason Isaacs showed up in the movies.) I can't contribute to any discussion about what I've seen described as the misogyny of the most recent installment in the Stephenie Meyer series -- the hatred of women and childbirth and justification of rape and other things I've heard are in Breaking Dawn. But I am curious about the perception that the series itself represents some big setback for feminism and am trying to get some perspective on that.

When I was in junior high school, Stephenie Meyer was V.C. Andrews and Twilight was Flowers in the Attic. I devoured the three books that came out in quick succession when I was in junior high and high school; I gather that the series went on after that, and even after Andrews' death, but I had lost interest (much as I suspect the tweens devouring Twilight now will do by the time there's a sixth or seventh book). At the time I read them, I didn't have any feminist vocabulary to discuss then what was wrong with the Dollanganger books, but I did know that they were over-the-top bad. The heroine gets raped by her brother in the first book, decides she's in love with him in the second, and wants to spend the rest of her life with him taking care of her in the third, when she isn't brushing her beautiful blonde hair. There's a grotesque birth scene in these books, too, and there's perverse Christianity all over them; I think one of the younger generation Dollangangers becomes a TV preacher. Like I said, I haven't read more than cursory summaries of the Meyer books, but I can't imagine they could be any more anti-feminist than Andrews.

I read the Andrews books in the late 70s-early 80s -- before AIDS, growing up in a public school system where we were systematically taught birth control and it was assumed that we'd probably have sex before marriage no matter our religious backgrounds. I don't ever remember my parents or teachers trying to scare me into celibacy; until I was out of my early teens, sure, but not till marriage or till death. Ronald Reagan wasn't president yet; the Moral Majority and its successors had not begun widespread efforts to demonize adolescent sexuality and in particular the girls who engaged in it, though most girls my age got varying degrees of pressure from their parents to abstain lest they should get pregnant or get herpes. So why were we reading books about a teenage girl raised in conditions of enforced celibacy with her hot blond sibling, who eventually assaulted her, and then she fell in love with him? And did it affect who we became as women or whether we became feminists?

I strongly doubt the latter; some of us became passionate feminists and some of us, annoyingly, became "I'm not a feminist but I believe in equal rights and equal pay for equal work" (before you start yelling, you may as well know that I was one of the latter until college -- in the house where I grew up, "feminist" had connections to "lesbian," and "lesbian" meant "pervert," and "pervert" meant psychotherapy and not being allowed to see my friends, and fuck that shit, it was easier to go along with what my parents I didn't directly question any of that attitude until I had a bit of distance and education). Under any circumstances, I don't think loving V.C. Andrews books affected either how I thought about the role of women in society or what kind of people I wanted to date. The insidious anti-feminist influences to which I was exposed were much closer to home.

You all probably know that I'm a fan of Barbie dolls, even though we all know that Barbie has an unrealistic body and suggests that being a fashion model is just as important a career as being a doctor, and Barbie once came with a string you could pull that made her say, "Math is hard!" Something no teenage girl ever said before Barbie, surely -- as if Barbie wasn't a reflection of a system in which boys are called on more often and tutored more diligently, but pointed at as a cause of the problem? I've always believed that little girls are smart enough to figure out that Barbie is no more a real woman than a plastic baby doll is a real baby, and I'd make the same argument about Twilight. It's mass-produced plastic popular entertainment, and marketed as fantasy at that.

I don't think Twilight is disempowering young women so much as pointing out all the ways in which they feel disempowered in the first place. Take the fact that Twilight is being scorned, even criticized, for its emphasis on abstinence. I think everyone reading this knows that I am a hundred percent opposed to abstinence-only education, yet how is it a bad thing for a fictional girl to consider the ways in which sex seems dangerous and life-altering? How many of us reading this have had birth control fail? (*raises hand*) How many of us have gotten pregnant not at a time of our choosing, no matter how careful we thought we were being? (*raises hand again*) How many of us, despite being pro-choice, loathe the idea of having to choose among raising a child for which we aren't prepared, giving up that child for adoption, or terminating a pregnancy? I can't speak for anyone but me, but I sure as hell was not ready to make such a choice in high school. Not having sex till I was 18 was a small sacrifice to make sure I wouldn't have to.

As a feminist, I have no problem with a writer producing an abstinence allegory for teens. I don't think it demonizes female sexuality to acknowledge that in every age, including our own, women have suffered more negative consequences from sex. I don't think it's patronizing to suggest that there are times when a boy should say no even if a girl says yes. Now, since I haven't read the books, it's quite possible that Meyer brings all sorts of other baggage into play and what's going on is much more heavily misogynistic, but of the Twilight movie itself, I just wanted to say: I don't think it's particularly well-written, I didn't find myself at all emotionally engaged, but it sure isn't worse than a lot of Anne Rice or even some of the storylines on the fairly progressive Buffy (love your rapist? lose your virginity and turn your man into an uncontrolled brute? check and check).

And I want to wish everyone a happy Thanksgiving, whether you're celebrating in the US or having an ordinary day elsewhere. I hope everyone with loved ones in or near Mumbai has made contact -- what a horrific tragedy.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Poem for Wednesday

By Stanley Moss

The trade of war is over, there are no more battles,
but simple murder is still in.
The No God, Time, creeps his way,
universe after universe, like a great snapping turtle
opening its mouth wagging its tongue
to look like a worm or leech
so deceived hungry fish, every living thing
swims in to feed. Quarks long for dark holes,
atoms butter up molecules, protons do unto neutrons
what they would have neutrons do unto them.
The trade of war has been over so long,
the meaning of war in the O.E.D. is now "nonsense."
In the Russian Efron Encyclopedia,
war, voina, means "dog shit";
in the Littré, guerre is "a verse form, obsolete";
in Germany, Krieg has become "a whipped-cream pastry";
Sea of Words, the Chinese dictionary,
has war, zhan zheng, as "making love in public,"
while war in Arabic and Hebrew, with the same
Semitic throat, harb and milchamah, is defined
as "anything our distant grandfathers ate
we no longer find tempting—like the eyes of sheep."
And lions eat grass.


From this week's New Yorker.

After doing some work in the morning, I went out to lunch with Perkypaduan at the mall, where we had Qdoba pesto burrito bowls and acted like teenage girls (meaning, we went to Sephora and Hot Topic, and I actually bought Sugar Hooker body spray, which smells like Aquolina's Pink Sugar but only costs $9.95). Then I came home, downloaded a bunch of free music from iTunes,, and various holiday giveaways (Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney on their web sites, Sheryl Crow from Hallmark), discovered that older son was watching Armageddon since they were talking about meteors in science class and briefly got sucked in. Plus I read a delightful interview with Joanne Linville, the Romulan Commander from real Star Trek. Here are some photos of Don Juan and Miguel from the RenFaire last summer just because I was in the mood:

Miguel showed off his precious pickle before Don Juan whipped it during the Weird Show at the Maryland Renaissance Festival.

Later in the show, Don Juan prepared to whip Miguel's fingers, err, hot dogs...

...and to stab and break Miguel's balloons while blindfolded.

During the earlier show, Miguel showed off his nipples while Don Juan showed off his whip.

Then Don Juan whipped strands of spaghetti out of Miguel's hand...

...and from Miguel's lips.

Then they challenged each other to a duel...


Your rainbow is shaded violet.


What is says about you: You are a creative person. You appreciate beauty and craftsmanship. You are patient and will keep trying to understand something until you've mastered it.

Find the colors of your rainbow at

In the evening we watched this week's Sarah Jane Adventures, which I am delighted to see is returning to the BBC for a third season! Part two of "The Temptation Of Sarah Jane Smith" was very nicely done, had my favorite Rani moments so far, and though it wasn't as hilarious in parts as its predecessor, it did have its moments. Spoilers: I don't blame Sarah Jane in the least for not being able to kill the parents she never knew -- after all, the Doctor couldn't kill Rose in "Dalek" and he only knew her slightly better at that point than Sarah Jane ever knew her mother. So although I didn't love Sarah Jane hoping for rescue by the Doctor so much, I didn't mind the explicit connection being drawn between the characters, particularly since the Doctor wasn't there (and Sarah Jane ranting, "Where is he when you need him?" then shouting at the wrong police box did make me laugh).

I liked Clyde, too, announcing that he's going to do things the way Sarah Jane would, then demanding an audience with the Graske so that Rani can accuse the alien of being the Trickster's slave. And announcing after Rani kisses him that he needs to be heroic more often, heh. I wish Rani's distress at seeing her mother as a slave had been more sharply written and performed -- compared to Sarah Jane's distress over her parents' long-ago death, Rani didn't seem nearly frantic enough about her father's absence and her mother's not knowing her. I appreciated, though, that she wasn't intimidated by the odd looks she got ("Ethnic person in the 50s, hi"), and the look on her face when Eddie asked if she was looking for Victoria Beckham was hilarious.

And there were many lovely, touching lines in the end. Luke: "They didn't abandon you, they saved you." Sarah Jane to the Trickster: "That was my mum and dad saving the mum and dad defeated you." And especially Barbara: "Sometimes the heart knows things the mind can't explain." That ought to be the Doctor's motto; it would spare him a lot of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey explanations. More than makes up for the old-school TV sci-fi swirly picture special effect that switches from the distorted timeline to the proper one. At which point Clyde says that Sarah Jane is the man, and Sarah Jane says this is the life they lead -- sometimes it brings you joy and sometimes it brings you face to face with the worst things in the world. How could the Doctor have been silly enough to abandon this woman in Aberdeen?

After the kids went to bed, we watched this week's Brotherhood, which was mostly focused on relationships this week, all of which appear headed to bad places. Spoilers: Eileen fretted about wanting to be a suburban mom while her husband clung to his political ties, Cassie admitted to a single instance of cheating on Declan who proceeded to act like a complete asshole about it considering the things that he's done, and Kath and Colin spent enough time not having sex that Michael is probably going to kill them both even if they don't do anything. Yet again, great acting, but I don't know why I let myself care about what happens to these people even for the few minutes each week that I watch!

Travel safely if you're going away for Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Poem for Tuesday

Author's Bio
By Brooks Haxton

Son of a Maori priestess and a Tasmanian pirate,
Brooks Haxton at two was thrown as a human sacrifice
from the gunwale of a careening brig into a typhoon.
Becalmed for forty days, the ship, with all his kin
on board, burst into sudden flame when struck
by an exploding meteorite. The poet, raised
by porpoises and marsupial wolves, grew to serve
as a young man at Gallipoli, where in a detachment
taking ninety-nine percent casualties he discovered the sestina
with its repeated end-words was especially suited
to his small vocabulary. For his Sestinas Under Fire
Haxton was awarded the Prix de Rome, the Croix de Guerre,
and Nobel Prizes in Literature, Physics, Medicine,
and several of the lesser categories. After brief stints
dancing for Diaghilev in Paris and acting under Stanislavski
in Moscow, he was sought out as a blues musician
by Charley Patton. Sick with fame and riches, he chose
anonymity as author of many of the great blues lyrics.
He was last seen over the Yazoo River east of Itta Bena,
borne in a silken hammock aloft by thousands
of ivory-billed woodpeckers. His poems now surface
through the mail with indecipherable postmarks,
in their folds fresh moultings of young ivory bills,
saffron dust, and legs of golden grasshoppers and bees.


I have nothing of interest to report from my morning -- worked on holiday card stuff, looked up a whole bunch of hacks for T-Mobile phones of which I ended up using only a couple, cleaned up after a cat with a very upset stomach -- I suspect she got into her friend's food -- read my camera manual. Nothing to put on the calendar. Here are photos from the College Park Aviation Museum from the weekend:

We watched our usual Monday night lineup, most of which will be gone in a matter of weeks but only one show that I actually care about. Sarah Connor is irritating me. Spoilers: Lots of potentially interesting female characters but they can't seem to decide what to do with any of them, and lots of suggestions that the Wrong Kind of female influence could turn John from the man we all know he's supposed to be into the Wrong Kind of leader, though whether that's the fault of his mother, his girlfriend or one of the psycho time travelers, they haven't decided yet. Plus Ellison is still on about how Jesus saves -- "You want to start with commands, start with the first ten," he says of attempts to teach the mechanical John Henry morality, after discussing the Bible with one of his fellow duped Terminator-builders, because of course Christianity is the only moral system worth discussing, and historically has done so well avoiding wars and persecution.

Then there's Heroes...I was talking to an old friend yesterday, a professional science fiction writer, and was glad to hear him say that he could no longer keep track of who could take away powers or absorb other people's powers or how, because I'm more and more confused. Spoilers: I get that Mohinder has altered himself so much that his first thoughts are always selfish -- if Claire dies, he whines, there will be no hope for curing him, and this is the guy who once wanted the betterment of the human race and to save Molly at the cost of his own life if necessary. Mohinder should be the catalyst, it would make so much more sense in terms of what we know about his father's involvement and the attempts to save his sister, but it has to be all about a blonde, doesn't it? Though all the blondes end up working for Pa Petrelli in the end, aren't they? So even delightful surprises like Seth Green working in a comic store doesn't really redeem an episode for me. I howled when Hiro said, "The corn will keep on coming!" That could be the slogan of this episode, and this season!

As for Boston made me cry. In a good way. Though I suspect the finale will be really, really hard to watch. Spoilers: At the start of the Thanksgiving episode, Edwin Poole's foster son tries to hold Shirley up at knifepoint, leading to a confrontation at Crane, Poole & Schmidt in which Schmidt tells Poole that the firm is bankrupt. Meanwhile Crane is telling Shore that he's having Thanksgiving with a friend whom Alan wouldn't like: "Technically, it would be Melvin Palmer." Alan doesn't think this is a hoot at all, but Denny says that he has no place else to go. Carl tries to comfort Shirley, telling her that they may not be canceled yet. When Edwin invites Shirley to his house for Thanksgiving, only to learn that she's hosting "a little thing at my house," he invites himself and his son...after which Shirley invites Katie, whose flight to London is a no-go, and Katie invites Jerry, and Alan and Denny invite themselves, and Denny invites Melvin.

The feast does not begin well. Alan offers to say grace, only to have Denny object because Alan doesn't believe in a Christian God and Denny won't have him praying to a Muslim God, which leads to an argument in which Edwin calls Denny a Jew-hater and Shirley has to beg everyone to stop fighting. Then Denny asks Edwin what little black kids like to eat, which sets Alan off about the racism not only at the table but in the firm, and when Alan cuts off Shirley's note of hope about Obama by citing the lack of black Senators, Shirley orders him to leave the house. The boy announces that he was thinking of taking a dump and asks where the bathroom is. "I love the holidays, that's what I love!" announces Melvin, though a moment later when Jerry makes a popping noise and Melvin threatens him, Shirley leaves the table, followed by Carl who consoles her in the kitchen and kisses her just as Denny walks in.

The afternoon gets worse. Edwin asks Jerry if he sucked face with Shirley, Melvin mocks him, Jerry shoves him, Alan tells Jerry that such behavior is not acceptable, Jerry admits privately to Alan that he thought he'd feel better about everything when he made partner but even Katie treats him like a chia pet. Overhearing, Katie says she feels belittled, to which Jerry retorts that he'll throw up if he gets one more maternal lecture from her. Meanwhile, in another room, Denny accuses Shirley of humiliating him on his birthday, which simply irritates Shirley -- Denny's birthday is in January -- until she realizes that Denny seriously doesn't know what day it is. Denny admits to Shirley and Alan that he's been getting confused, particularly when he gets upset. In the parlor, Edwin and Melvin are singing off-key at the piano.

Jerry sees Katie sitting outside and goes out to apologize, saying he never meant to trivialize their relationship or her feelings but he can't be objective because he's in love with her -- she's "the most incredible, generous, charitable, beautiful woman I have ever met." Katie can't decide how to respond to this and suggests couples therapy, which Jerry thinks is silly since they're not a couple, but Katie says they are, albeit a complicated one. They go inside for another attempt at dinner, where Denny asks Edwin why child services allowed him to take in a child when Edwin is mentally unbalanced? When Shirley requests that they change the subject, Edwin suggests bankruptcy, and amidst the ensuing shouts, as Carl is forced to admit to Denny and Alan that the firm is broke, Shirley confesses that she wanted a big, noisy dinner to distract her from thinking about the fact that this is her first Thanksgiving without her father, and it's hard to face the quiet. She goes off to be alone.

Two things have made Denny unhappy at that moment: that he wasn't told of the firm's financial troubles even though his name is on the door, and that Carl and Shirley are dating again. He asks Carl how serious they are, and when Alan says they all want to know, Carl shows them the engagement ring he bought and intended to present to Shirley during their intimate Thanksgiving dinner for two. Alan tells Carl that he should still propose -- "You obviously love her, you must feel confident that Shirley loves you" -- though it puts a damper on Alan's own conjugal prospects with Shirley, not to mention Denny's. When Shirley comes in and wants to know why everyone is standing around talking instead of eating, Denny says, "I'll do it," picks up the ring and says, "Will you marry Carl? He loves you. He wants to spend the rest of his life with you." Denny even offers to give her away. Once she understands that this isn't a bizarre prank, when Carl explains that he has never loved a woman the way he loves Shirley, she accepts the ring and pushes Denny aside to kiss Carl, saying she would love to marry him. Everyone applauds.

Though Shirley declares the day saved, insults still fly over dessert until Alan explains (in a speech that Denny compares to a closing) that he grew up in an estranged, unhappy family, and during the Thanksgivings he spent alone in his room, he imagined big noisy family dinners like this one. "Look what we've covered today: race, politics, God, marriage, love, death. What fun." He thanks Shirley for having them: "This is some family." They raise their glasses and Jerry suggests that everyone put something in his or her mouth so they can't talk any more. Yet they do make small talk, as "Our Love Is Here To Stay" plays nondiegetically.

On the balcony, Alan asks Denny if he's okay with Shirley marrying Carl and jokes that Shirley could be the love he never knew. "I'll tell it to you," promises Denny, "unless I forget it." He admits to being terrified of dying the way Shirley's father did, mindless in a hospital. "You won't, because I'll shoot you," says Alan. "I already bought the gun." Denny is touched, but Alan isn't really expecting to have to use it: "You have defied the odds your entire life, you'll continue to defy the odds," he assures Denny, saying that when everyone else is dead and buried, "you'll still be out there doing Priceline commercials." Denny wonders about the afterlife -- whether they'll get a bigger balcony, whether they'll be naked, and whether they'll be as they were in youth or as they were when they died -- to which Alan says that Denny will be as he was in the best of times here on Earth. Like right now, they agree, and each raises his glass to God: "Thanks." Oh man, I'm going to miss this show.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Poem for Monday

If I May
By Brooks Haxton

I would like to thank (besides my family, you,
my teachers, friends, and readers) hydrogen
for fueling the stars without which poetry
would not exist. The sun has been the star
most crucial to my work, but distant stars
have been there for me, too, and planets, meteors,
the moon. About the moon, I'm grateful
that our boys left flags up there, and brought back
rocks and dust. I'd like to thank the dust.
The oceans may or may not have put
molecules together that first time
to form a living cell, but I would like
to thank the oceans for that dreamy look
they give us when the cameras turn toward Earth
from outer space. . . .
                       . . . God I want to thank
especially, if He exists, which I believe
He does. He may not. Probably not.
But I would like to thank Him. Thanks.


"In 'If I May,' Mississippi poet Brooks Haxton drolly springs from the worldly occasion of receiving a poetry prize to a God whose existence is -- though scientifically dubious -- praiseworthy," writes Mary Karr in another poem from Poet's Choice in Sunday's Washington Post Book World. "In this season of store-bought pies and ho-hum prayers, take genuine appetizers." The poem is from Haxton's book They Lift Their Wings To Cry.

Daniel's high school chamber choir performed at a local Barnes & Noble for a fundraiser on Sunday afternoon, so after Adam got home from Hebrew school, that was our major activity for the day -- we met my parents at the bookstore and watched the concert together. This year the guitar ensemble joined the singers, which made the space rather crowded, since the PTSA was also there with a table of books requested for the media center and all the families were attempting to pack in near the small stage in the children's book section. Despite the tight fit, it was a nice show -- a mix of secular and religious holiday music ("Angels We Have Heard on High," a Latin chant, the "Hallelujah" chorus from Handel's Messiah, two songs in Hebrew) and a bunch of popular songs, including the Beatles' "Yesterday" and Seals & Crofts' "Summer Breeze." (You can see a photo of the same fundraiser from last year.)

The chamber choir and guitar ensemble performing together at Barnes & Noble.

The choir director introduced the groups.

A fiddle accompanied a rendition of the Scottish song "Over the Hills."

The guitar students had to sit and wait while the chorus sang "Angels We Have Heard on High."

Some of the audience got a bit restless.

Including my own younger son, who went to get something to read -- convenient that we were in a bookstore, huh?

Daniel and his fellow singers seemed to be enjoying themselves, though.

All the kids posed for a photo. Probably they all knew their parents would buy them peppermint hot chocolate at the Starbucks upstairs when they were finished, or Dunkin' Donuts across the street...or, in the case of my kids, both!

Snicked from several people, finished with several minutes to spare, though Ohio was the last one I remembered...I wonder what that says about me, or about Ohio:

I named 50 US states in 10 minutes How many US states can you name in 10 minutes?

In the evening we half-watched National Geographic's Egypt Unwrapped: The Scorpion King while working with kids on homework, then paid more attention to Herod's Lost Tomb, which was very interesting since I remember the discovery was dismissed as a fraud or a mistake for a while. Then we all watched A Colbert Christmas, which was not entirely age-appropriate but we were all laughing too hard to cover anyone's ears. And I'm very glad we were recording it, because otherwise we'd be out buying that DVD on Tuesday. I was snickering from the time Colbert said, "I'm so excited right now, I'm sporting a Yule log," and it only got worse when he had a goat dressed as a reindeer and a mouse, and then I totally lost it when Jon Stewart showed up and asked Colbert to tell the Pontiff "Gut Yontif." And then Colbert wound up playing dreidel against a latke and losing! And God put him on hold! I don't suppose anyone knows where I can find the lyrics to that completely pornographic nutmeg song?

And in the best news of the season, Adam's impacted incisor, which has cost thousands of dollars in orthodontics and was anticipated to require another thousand for oral surgery, has broken through his gums! Hopefully this means it is finally moving into place! So the fact that the Redskins won is just a minor cause for celebration.