Saturday, January 02, 2010

Fifteen in 2010

The first of the Fifteen in 2010 I am choosing to read is A Poet’s Work: The Other Side of Poetry by Sam Hamill. The choice is intentional, meant to fuel my enthusiasm for a poetry workshop I will be taking on 13 February with Chelsea Rathburn. I also will be reading Rathburn’s Shifting Line, the 2005 recipient of the Richard Wilbur Award. The choice is obvious and hopefully I won’t read my way into an emotional corner of “oh shit what was I thinking when I signed on for this poetry workshop because my poetry sucks and I should just stay home and not go to the workshop at all.” Of course, I could read myself into a different corner, one in which I don’t like Rathburn’s poetry and how impolitic it would be to write a less than glowing review before going into her workshop. But them’s the breaks, as my mother would say. Needless to say, I’ll be reading these books along with several others including 2 memoirs, 2 novels, 1 graphic novel, and 1 book on yoga.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Pretty Dead by Francesca Lia Block

Pretty Dead by Francesca Lia Block is another of the many novels from this prolific writer that blurs poetic imagery with flowery prose to create a story that is both surreal and seductive. This novel about vampires and relationship, the need to connect and be connected, unfolds in unsurprising ways. Lacking from this novel are the archetypical metaphors that usually underlie her narrative themes. A more jaded reader would assume that Block and/or the publisher were trying to bleed the Twilight inspired vampire mania for all its worth. I have a feeling that Block had this story in mind for a while and the publisher was happy to release it in hopes that some Meyers fan would be lured into reading Block’s book. Meyers fans will be disappointed. This is not easy romance with the typical plot twists. Unfortunately, Block fans will be disappointed as well. Full of the usual cultural allusions, luscious descriptions of clothing and décor, and populated with pretty albeit complicated characters, the book doesn’t live up to the ethos of past novels. With that said, Block still writes novels that are less insulting to a young adult readership than most and although this is not her best, even her less than stellar novels outshine other young adult novels if for no other reason than she early writes books she herself would love to read and then invites other to read what she has to say. Most remarkable is her ability to lavish beautiful language on the page while still writing a thorough story that leaves the reader both satiated and aching for more. Will this become as iconic as the Twilight series, another cultural phenomenon? No. But I don’t think that Block aspires to such things. Rather, she has her cult-like fan base with which she is quite content and is able to provide literary content that leaves her readers contented. (Mental note: Writing book reviews while on cold medicine is not necessarily easy nor is it a good idea.)

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Ten Years Ago

In November, I wrote 43 pages of blog posts, albeit some of that was poetry. In December, I wrote 89 pages of blog posts. On December 1st I wrote a bit about my falling out with Christianity, the difficulties I had after my separation and divorce with friends who were no longer comfortable with me. Somehow I managed to segue to the following about Tori Amos:
I am listening to Tori Amos in my car now. Little Earthquakes. I especially love the song "Silent All These Years." My daughter gave me the CD because I love that song so much. But I didn't listen to it for months. When I first got it I played it a few times then didn't listen to it anymore. I couldn't even tell you what songs were on the CD besides that one song. Why was that? I didn't know at the time. I pulled it out of the collection and listened to it. *lights come on* She sings a song called "Me and a Gun" about her rape experience. I listened to this song and realized that I had chosen not to listen to the CD because of the memories this song stirred in me. Interesting realization. Since then I have listened to the CD many times. I pulled it out again, today, because of the song "China" which keeps running through my mind.
Later that same day, I shared another incident.
I haven't been to a reading since Sept and there was a reader there last time who read some really remarkable poetry was there again. He absolutely had me in awe of his poetry and I knew I didn't want to read after he did because I don't think my poetry can stand up after his. I was sitting at a table, surrounded by my former students (from my student teaching experience) and their friends when this man approached me. He: I want to ask you a question and if you answer no, you may be horribly offended but are you the girl who reads the sex poems? Me: Yes! And no! I write poems which are not about sex but yes . . . I write poems about sex. He: I remember your poetry. It is very good. Me: *speechless* He: It is good to see you back again. By this time, I finally find my tongue again and say something complimentary in return about his use of mythological allusions and such. But here I am being complimented by someone I truly and sincerely admire so that was just wonderful! When he read later I was again thrilled as he wove Shakespearean quotes in and out of his own work.
Had I not written about this experience, I would have forgotten it altogether because, even now, I cannot recall the moment although I remember the poet very well. However, I can’t help but confess that I think much of my success at the open mic was more about my personal charisma than my writing because, in the same post, I say he complimented me on a particular poem and, having recently re-read this same poem I have to say that it is not good and absolutely not worthy of praise. Hmmmm . . . Here’s another moment I had forgotten.
I was saying that I had not posted about Josh . . . well there is a great story/lesson in this so I want to make a point of writing about this. I logged into his webcam and he puts little messages across the screen for those of us who actually log in. Yesterday I log in and there is the message: I'm going to be in the Superbowl half time show, so watch it! Well here I am thinking that this is great news and how exciting for him! I get all hyped up and then realize how stinky it is that I had to find out by logging into his cam. After all, he and I are friends. We have slept side by side in the same bed. We even say we love one another! So why should I hear this great news as if I were some anonymous web surfer who logged into his cam? Why didn't he call me? Or tell me over aol/im? Or email me, for crying out loud?!?!? So there I am pouting, waiting for him to wake up and when he finally does I tell him I am mad at him and why. He says, "Oh that. No big deal." And it wasn't a big deal to him. So why should he call me or email me or do anything else? It isn't a big deal! Perspective. My reality was that this was a big deal. For him it was nothing.
Although I think it is interesting, how one person’s significant moment can be another person’s no biggy, the part of this that most intrigues me is that way back on 9 December 1999 I was already struggling with how real life people will use messages shared online, meant to reach an “anyone and everyone” audience, as a means to keep in touch. Now, I can probably think of quite a few people I have known in real life with whom I would be perfectly content communicating through facebook or other social networking type means. However, I can think of a few people who are too near and dear to my heart for me to settle for so shallow. It is a curious thing that I am still struggling with this and I suspect my journal will continue to be a place for me to express my confusion and concern.
(BTW, I didn't watch the show let alone the game. If he had any camera time, I didn't witness it.) I wrote about the office party. I had a date cancel on me, a friend. So I asked another friend but he also said he wasn’t feeling up to it, had been sick for two days and then two days later when the office holiday party took place, I ended up going as the date of one of my coworker’s friends who was in town. I met him at her place, met her husband, and her dogs, etc. We went to the party where I had a mediocre time.
On the way back in the car, the other couple we were with started talking and, the more the three of them talked, the more racist and narrow-minded they all became in my mind. I even tested before we got back in the car and mentioned that I saw a woman who had a tat on her leg. The setup responded negatively. Guess he hadn't noticed mine on my ankle . . .
(As an aside, the coworker was actually one of the most negative people I have known, a whiner by nature. She also drank to excess and one of the other employees accused her of sexually harassing him at the party. I don’t think that last event occurred so much as she was too drunk to filter herself properly but she wasn’t fired because the event occurred outside of the office and there was some doubt as to just how sober he was or wasn’t, as the case may be.) That was on the 18th, one week before Christmas. The next few posts are about my weight loss, about how Josh and Schuyler were going to have a New Year’s Eve party but canceled it, and mostly about shopping, wrapping gifts, and other fun stuff. I even wrote a brief background about my mother, her relationships and how they informed my own life. On the 21st, I shared this:
Did I ever tell you about the paper cranes I made for Craig? I made 1000 paper cranes in all different sizes. All different colors as well. Large to small, bright to pastel, metallic and patterns. It was amazing. I filled a box 16" x 16" x 16" . . . (a little less than half a meter if I am correct, which I probably am not . . . sorry). Anyway, I sent them to Craig because in Asian society it is believed that if you make or give someone 1000 paper cranes you will get/give a wish . . . and our wishes were so many, being apart as we were. When he received the box, he was living w/ the roommate and they spread out most of them along the wall in the living room. When he moved to his own place, he didn't even take them out of the box. I asked Jason what he would have done with them. He sat back and thought about it for a moment then looked at me and said, "I would have hung them from my ceiling."
That was truly a perfect answer! I think that is what I had hoped Craig would do with them. But he didn't. Instead, they stayed in a box. At this time, my ex-husband was involved with some woman who claimed that they were married but I found out that they were only dating. Later, she would claim to be pregnant with his child. This would also turn out to be false—she was pregnant but not with his child. But all of this didn’t come out until later so I digress. Here is what I wrote about his situation:
I guess what frightened me is the evidence that history repeats itself. Not in my life, I hope. But here he is reliving his mistakes only with an older woman. Not older than he. I was only 17 when we met. I was pregnant by 19 and a mother by 20. She is 34. They met 18 months ago and her child is 4 months old, which means they were not even together 6 months before she was pregnant. Why is it that I find it shocking that a woman that age would be living like this, making these choices? I guess I do not find it surprising that Jerome is doing this. In fact, I really do not know what I find shocking or surprising about any of it. And what about me? I am so quick to recognize patterns in others. Am I unable to see them in myself or do I focus on the evolution so much, the increasing honesty, etc.? Am I blind to my own faults, pointing out a splinter when I am walking around w/ a beam? Or am I over analyzing myself and my life?
Jennifer and I finally managed to catch up with one another, long enough to exchange gifts. Josh and I were bickering. Jason was telling me about his new job, which required a suit and tie (which, if you knew him, you would appreciate how surprising this is). And I’m just realizing how many people I knew back then whose names begin with the letter J. Even my ex husband’s name begins with a J. On Christmas Eve, I wrote nearly 900 words but here is the highlight:
So today is Christmas eve. At 10:30 we will order pizza. By 12ish we will be ready to leave for the movie. Toy Story 2. . . I saw a commercial yesterday and they are going to be showing some of the out-takes from the movie starting tomorrow. My first thought was to say maybe we should just go see TS2 some other time and go to a different movie today. But then I know that our finances are pretty tight right now and there is no way that we can afford to go to a second movie so I don’t need to put myself through that. Just go see the movie and hope that the out-takes are on the video, I guess. Because we are ordering three large pizzas (cheese, pepperoni, mushroom), we should have enough for dinner as well. I have enough to buy some popcorn. I will probably grab snacks from here before we go into the movie so I don’t have to buy the expensive stuff at the theater. I know that the popcorn there is expensive as well but I am a sucker for movie theater popcorn. I am a sucker for popcorn any time. And chocolate. And pizza. And ice cream. I find them all irresistible. All of them perfectly irresistible. Oooh . . . add a really good cup of coffee to the list. The movie theater we are going to has a café and I intend on having a cup of coffee. Yummmmmm . . . .
You cannot imagine how much I wrote on Christmas day! I wrote about the gifts we exchanged, rambled about the collage on my closet door, shared about my own confusion regarding my ambivalence regarding dating, and mostly about my children. I write about the past, about books I’m reading. I mean, seriously, it goes on for pages and pages. I even write about my son having in school suspension.
For instance, I called the school requesting that my son’s teachers call me. Of the four, only two called and the second one called only after I had put in a second request for a call. The other day I received a request from my son’s teacher, one of the two who chose not to call me, for a teacher’s conference. My son explained to me that he was given detention, either before or after school, for something he says he did not do. Now I realize that children will lie about such things. I am not saying whether my son is telling me the truth or not. But he refused to serve the detention, preferring to take the harsher discipline of "in school suspension." He told me about this. I explained to him that if he was going to make this choice then he would have to write a formal letter of complaint to his teacher explaining his choice and the motivation behind it. I read the letter. It was polite and straight-forward, explaining that the punishment was unjust. I am assuming that the teacher wishes to speak with me because of this response from my son. Ahhhh . . . don’t you wish you could sit in on the conversation when I ask this teacher why she did not call me when I requested a conference over a month ago? And why she punished my son for something he may not have done. (I suspect my son is telling the truth because he is so adamant about not serving detention and is prepared to take a full day of discipline over a few minutes of detention. Remarkable, isn’t it? And that is exactly what I shall ask this teacher . . . if my son is guilty, why would he not choose the less harsh of the two disciplines? Why choose a whole day of isolation from his friends and classmates when he could just as easily have me drive him to school one day, which I offered to do, and serve the twenty-five minutes of time before school began?)
I finished writing about Christmas before a college friend of mine, Jim (another J!) called, drunk and wanting to hang out. He came to my place and suggested we go out to a club or something but I was not the least bit interested so he called a cab and went out on his own. On the 28th I opened the post with the following:
Okay. Either the cat dies or my daughter dies. I haven't decided which it will be yet, but one of them has to go!!!
Rei had a habit of closing her door at night and, hours after we were all asleep, he would start meowing at the door, wanting her to let him in. I suggested she should sleep with her bedroom door slightly ajar so he could move in and out as he wanted but she wouldn’t do it. So I told her that if she wouldn’t do that then she had to leave the cat outside her room. Eventually, maybe after a few nights of meowing, he would figure out that she wouldn’t open the door. But she kept opening the damn door. This is the same cat that died earlier this year. He was a sweetie. In other words, I didn’t kill either one of them. On the 30th, I summarized my concert experiences for the year while waiting to hear back from Jennifer about whether or not we were going to go out with two of her friends.
I went to the following concerts in 1999: Alanis Morrisette, Music Midtown (a music festival where I saw jazz, bluegrass, country, pop and rock musicians so I won’t list them all here . . . just imagine how many performers one can see in three days and you will get an idea of what that was like), Dave Matthews Band, the Acoustic Café (a bluegrass one day music-fest), Tori Amos and Alanis Morrisette’s 5 ½ week tour concert, and Goo Goo Dolls. There were other concerts I wanted to attend but I didn’t have the money or the time. This year I expect that I shall see DMB, if they tour, which I assume they shall, and Tori. Otherwise, there is no one in particular I would like to see. Alanis gives an amazing show. She has more energy than I can even imagine. Watching her is exhausting. Hopefully I will get better seats this time around for DMB. That is my only regret . . . that my seats for that concert were terrible.
On New Year’s Eve, I wrote about going out with Jennifer although I nearly didn’t make it. A tire blew on my way to her place but I had AAA so all I had to do was make a call and there was someone there to replace the tire with the spare. We went out to Masquerade to dance but the three of them wanted to come home earlier than I did, too tired to dance much past midnight. Weird. I was the oldest one there and not even close to ready to stop dancing. The next day, I woke up feeling sad and lonely, spent over $100 on a new tire, and my ex husband called, wanting to talk to the children. Here are the last words I wrote in my blog for 1999:
I took a nap and the phone woke me up. I must have been more than napping because I struggled to come back to wakefulness. He finally wanted to talk to his children. He didn't make any promises or anything. When I hung up the phone I realized something pretty wonderful. I may envy him the fact that he is in a relationship with a woman who loves him enough to give birth to his child. Then I was thinking about how this relationship is just a repeat of our relationship, although I was too young to know any better so at least I had an excuse for being so destructive. However much I may envy him his relationship, it doesn't take much for me to realize that I am doing much better even if I am not in a committed relationship. I would rather be alone in the morning, even this morning, than to be in a relationship as unhealthy and self-destructive as our marriage used to be. And not a one of my relationships since my divorce has been anywhere nearly as insane as my marriage had been. All I can do is keep hoping that whatever man there is in my future, he is not in my distant future. Eventually, I will be right, after all. A year ago I hoped he would be here this year. I can hope the same thing for this year. Any year now he will show up and then all the waiting . . . well, it is better than giving up or despairing, isn't it?
And that is some of what I wrote in December of 1999.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Announcing the New Blog

New blog.
I went ahead and created the new blog for tracking my diet, exercise, etc. I really didn't want to clutter up this blog with those posts which I doubt anyone will want to read regularly. However, you may want to check in on me every now and again, offer a word of encouragement or whatever. I'll be adding and taking some before shots soon. Dreading it but I will do it. In the sidebar, it is my hope to share links to useful websites and resources.
So it will all officially begin on the 1st but for now I have the foundation established.
See you there, maybe.

The Best Life Guide to Managing Diabetes and Pre-Diabetes by Bob Greene

The Best Life Guide to Managing Diabetes and Pre-Diabetes by Bob Greene is the latest in many books on diabetes and given the author’s affiliation with Oprah Winfrey there is no doubt that this book will be a huge seller, probably even have a lovely life on the best-seller list. This is unfortunate. In chapter one, the author discusses insulin as a medicine. Insulin is not a medicine. It is a hormone the body naturally produces. For diabetics and pre-diabetics either their pancreas is not producing enough or any insulin or the organs are not properly absorbing the insulin the body is producing which results in high glucose levels. Of course, this could be considered a syntactical oversight and something one could overlook. I am obviously not the one to overlook it and, psychologically, the impact of calling insulin a medicine is not to be underestimated. In chapter two, the author erroneously suggests that a glucose level of 180 two hours after a meal is acceptable. This was true, once upon a time, but the American Diabetes Association has modified this number and lowered it to 150. If this book were a few years old, such a mistake could, and one could even argue should, be overlooked. So given that the book is pretty much off to a poorly researched start, in spite of the collaborative efforts of John J Merendino, MD and Janis Jibrin, MS, RD, is there any merit in reading further? During the chapter on Phase One, Greene (and/or one of his “experts”) says that it is safe to exercise unless your glucose level is 300 or higher. According to the American Diabetes Association, it is safe to exercise if your level is 250 or lower. That is a 50 point difference which anyone with diabetes can tell you is not an insignificant mistake. I commend Greene for outlining a conservative approach to increasing the daily exercise. Adding two minutes of aerobic/cardio exercise per week while adding one or two strength training exercises per activity level is gradual enough that most people following his suggestion are not only likely to experience success but unlikely to cause themselves injury. (for the record, Rob's diabetes team--including certified diabetes practitioners, nutritionists, etc.--recommend adding one minute per day to his cardio exercise which is obviously a faster increase than Greene is suggesting.) But really . . . as I was reading I kept jumping back to how messed up it is the book says 300 is the upper limit when it is actually only 250. Any one of the mistakes I have pointed out would be merely a nuisance or a slight carelessness. Perhaps even a publisher’s oversight. However, this is already one too many and we have more than one erroneous piece of information being presented as professional advice. I can only pray that anyone who reads this book has the sense to listen to their diabetes team, to the American Diabetes Association, and to their own common sense and the messages of their own body. This book should not be the “go to” resource for anyone with diabetes and/or pre-diabetes. The Mayo Clinic has released a wonderful book that has superior medical advice than this book has. It does not, however, have recipes or online charts and resources for you to use, which Bob Greene’s book offers. Of course, all of these free resources are also available through the ADA and do not come with an offer to get additional help from Oprah’s personal trainer for less than $3 per week. And this is what worries me the most because this is Oprah’s personal trainer and so many people will immediately think that because Greene works with Oprah that somehow anything and everything he says is accurate. Given the complications that come with diabetes if it is not properly managed, this book and its inevitable best-selling popularity frankly scares me. However, I digress. Phase One focuses on how carbohydrates impact glucose levels, on increasing your activity level, and on a few other essential details including possible medications (once again mistakenly saying that insulin is a medication!) someone with diabetes may have. In Phase Two the dietary focus shifts over to proteins and fats. The fact that beans are often considered a protein is mentioned but the truth is somewhat buried in the content and I was surprised that the author did not take the time to highlight more clearly that although beans are a protein they impact the body the way a carbohydrate does. In other words, for a diabetic or pre-diabetic person, beans are not a protein but should be counted as a carbohydrate; more specifically beans are considered starch exchange rather than a meat exchange. Given how unhappy I already was (am) with the book at this point in the reading, let me state for the record that although this very important information is not given the focus it requires and frankly deserves, I am not going to begrudge Greene and/or the publishers for not choosing to emphasize this point. Phase Two also addresses the introduction/use of dietary supplements like multi-vitamins. The information is not unlike what can be found on the ADA website or in most other nutrition/diet books. Ie. The best offense is a well-balanced diet; supplements may help but are not the answer nor will they make up for unhealthy eating habits, etc. Phase Three builds upon the suggestions made in Parts One and Two and there is good practical advice for the reader on how to avoid discouragement and offering a list of healthcare professionals that the diabetic will need including some that might be needed. The next chapter, “Drugs Used to Treat Diabetes and Prevent Complications,” unfortunately lumps insulin as a medication. At this point, I was neither surprised nor disappointed by this nonsense. Early in the chapter Greene states “people tend to lump diabetes medicines into two categories, pills or insulin” and never does he correct this statement. Forget altogether the argument that insulin is a naturally produced hormone in the body (like estrogen and testosterone), diabetes medicine is usually “lumped” in two ways: medicines that help the body produce insulin and medicines that help the body absorb insulin. So let’s add this to the increasing list of mistakes this book makes and move on. Last but not least, the book concludes with meal plans and some recipes. I want to commend Greene for not focusing solely on the diabetic who is trying to lose weight. Too many diabetes resource focus so much on losing weight which makes it difficult and frustrating for the diabetic who is trying to lose weight to find the necessary information that will support the individual’s individual needs. Soy milk seems to be the dairy choice for Greene and the fact that Silk Soy Milk carries the Best Life seal I suppose explains this emphasis. There are arguments for drinking soy milk, obviously, but there are also reasons why some people, especially some women, might prefer to avoid soy milk. That this is never mentioned in the book is unfortunate. Greene explains how grilling meats releases carcinogens back in Phase Two so I don’t know why the same concern isn’t expressed regarding the consumption of soy milk. It behooves the reader to be educated but, given that this book is supposed to be a trusted resource for the reader, it would be nice to see the author being as forthcoming about products with his company’s stamp of approval as he is with those products that don’t have it. The recipes are good. I tried a few and didn’t hate them, didn’t love them, didn’t feel the need to share them in my blog. I was disappointed that the soup recipes all included beans. I would have liked a recipe that was free from starches (a hearty vegetable soup perhaps) or even high in protein (egg-drop soup). Of course, the book is not trying to present an exhaustive collection of possible recipes. There is just enough for someone to make gradual changes to their daily fair. No need to completely overhaul the diet although the reader can choose to follow the proscribed menu plan to begin the necessary lifestyle changes. I realize that some people may think I am being nit-picky about a few mistakes but when there are resources available that do not have these mistakes, resources that offer the same advice, I don’t understand why this book contains any mistakes nor why it should become a resource upon which anyone would rely. For anyone considering buying this book, please reconsider. Read resources that will not compromise your health or well-being. Living with diabetes is hard enough without thinking something is safe when it is not or thinking you are doing the right thing when you are not. This book . . . it could have been better and it should have been better and, although there is some merit in the content, there is not enough for me to say this book is a better choice than any of the others I have already read. For a basic overview of diabetes, how glucose and insulin work in the body, and the complications of diabetes if it is not well managed, I highly recommend the Mayo-Clinic book. For the most up-to-date information on diabetes and diabetes research, you can’t go wrong reading the ADA website. If you want delicious recipes that will help you maintain healthy glucose levels and possibly help you lose weight if that is your goal, check out DLife, a weekly program that airs on CNBC Sundays at 7pm; the website offers the videos so those without cable can enjoy the educational resources. Like I said, there are other, better, resources out there. Like I also said, odds are that because Bob Greene is Oprah Winfrey’s personal trainer, this book will inevitably be a best-seller. It’s unfortunate. I hope that those who are newly diagnosed with diabetes will not choose this book as a primary resource. Anyone who has had the disease and is already educated about the disease, the debatable merit of this book will be too quickly apparent and the book just as quickly tossed aside. Full Disclosure: Following is a list of what I learned from reading this book in no particular order.
1) What to do when blood glucose drops too low—how to respond responsibly without overshooting and pushing the too low glucose into the too high range. 2) Neuropathy may be caused by a vitamin B12 deficiency.
Now, this either suggests that I have done a good job educating myself about this disease or it suggests that this book doesn’t offer much in the way of necessary information. I think it is more the former than the latter, especially in light of my finding any mistakes, let alone more than one. I hope that more people will be able to see through the glamour of endorsement through to the truth of this resource’s so-called merit. Thank goodness, there are other far more reliable resources available.
For my review of Mayo-Clinic on Managing Diabetes click here.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Abbott and Costello: Buying a Computer

No doubt this has been making the rounds via email for a while but I have never seen it before and I remember watching Abbott and Costello movies on Sundays. In any event, I hope this brings a smile to someone's face. If Bud Abbott and Lou Costello were alive today, their infamous sketch, 'Who's on First?' might have turned out something like this: COSTELLO CALLS TO BUY A COMPUTER FROM ABBOTT ABBOTT: Super Duper computer store. Can I help you? COSTELLO: Thanks I'm setting up an office in my den and I'm thinking about buying a computer. ABBOTT: Mac? COSTELLO: No, the name's Lou. ABBOTT: Your computer? COSTELLO: I don't own a computer. I want to buy one. ABBOTT: Mac? COSTELLO: I told you, my name's Lou. ABBOTT: What about Windows? COSTELLO: Why? Will it get stuffy in here? ABBOTT: Do you want a computer with Windows? COSTELLO: I don't know. What will I see when I look at the windows? ABBOTT: Wallpaper. COSTELLO: Never mind the windows. I need a computer and software. ABBOTT: Software for Windows? COSTELLO: No. On the computer! I need something I can use to write proposals, track expenses and run my business. What do you have? ABBOTT: Office. COSTELLO: Yeah, for my office. Can you recommend anything? ABBOTT: I just did. COSTELLO: You just did what? ABBOTT: Recommend something. COSTELLO: You recommended something? ABBOTT: Yes. COSTELLO: For my office? ABBOTT: Yes. COSTELLO: OK, what did you recommend for my office? ABBOTT: Office. COSTELLO: Yes, for my office! ABBOTT: I recommend Office with Windows. COSTELLO: I already have an office with windows! OK, let's just say I'm sitting at my computer and I want to type a proposal. What do I need? ABBOTT: Word. COSTELLO: What word? ABBOTT: Word in Office. COSTELLO: The only word in office is office. ABBOTT: The Word in Office for Windows. COSTELLO: Which word in office for windows? ABBOTT: The Word you get when you click the blue 'W'. COSTELLO: I'm going to click your blue 'W' if you don't start with some straight answers. What about financial bookkeeping? You have anything I can track my money with? ABBOTT: Money. COSTELLO: That's right. What do you have? ABBOTT: Money. COSTELLO: I need money to track my money? ABBOTT: It comes bundled with your computer. COSTELLO: What's bundled with my computer? ABBOTT: Money. COSTELLO: Money comes with my computer? ABBOTT: Yes. No extra charge. COSTELLO: I get a bundle of money with my computer? How much? ABBOTT: One copy. COSTELLO: Isn't it illegal to copy money? ABBOTT: Microsoft gave us a license to copy Money. COSTELLO: They can give you a license to copy money? ABBOTT: Why not? THEY OWN IT! (A few days later) ABBOTT: Super Duper computer store. Can I help you? COSTELLO: How do I turn my computer off? ABBOTT: Click on 'START'...

What is Tai Chi? by Peter A Gilligan

What is Tai Chi? by Peter A Gilligan is an ambitious attempt by the author to explain Eastern esoteric principles that under gird the essence of taijiquan. Gilligan goes to great lengths to contextualize a culture with which most Western readers will be completely unfamiliar by comparing the fundamental ideas with more familiar stories. Ultimately, this book is not for the beginner, someone who is new to taijiquan who may only be exploring the martial art as a physical practice. For the student who has been exploring taiji, taijiquan, and/or qigong, the ideas presented in this book prove to be an invitation to take the discipline deeper than the purely physical. Reading this book, it quickly become apparent that the discipline of taijiquan is more than a physical exercise; there is a philosophical ideal that infuses every principle within the practice. For someone completely ignorant of Daoism, this book will either inspire the reader to learn more or leave the reader somewhat baffled. This is not a failing on Gilligan’s part; he does remarkably well. I cannot say for certain whether someone who is completely new to taijiquan will appreciate the more subtle details of the text. After reading the book, one would assume this to be true simply because it is so obvious—the gross is always more easily adopted than the subtle. Presenting the more obscure intentions of the art of taijiquan while putting it into words that are both familiar and challenging for the western reader is a challenge few can embrace and Gilligan does an adequate job. Nevertheless, I doubt that a novice will love this book and it would probably be best for those who are truly new to the practice to reach a point of commitment to taijiquan as a lifestyle before tackling this book.

Monday, December 28, 2009

DVD Review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is darker than the previous Harry Potter movies which is not unlike the books which likewise become more intense with each volume. The actors are so well cast, something upon which my son and I often remark, and the special effects continue to surprise, working so well within the context of the film that they don’t seem intrusive or obvious. It is all so seamless. Of course, some details are lost in translation and one of the pivotal scenes in the book has been modified for film. No, it is not the final confrontation but a previous scene. I’d say which one but I don’t want to risk any spoilers. I am honestly impressed by how well they have managed to translate these books to film. I am surprised that I have enjoyed both equally. This movie is probably not my favorite in the series but then the book wasn’t either. I wiped a few tears when the movie ended; when I read the book I had to close it because I couldn’t read through the tears that were coming to my eyes. The books have a stronger impact on me emotionally and I don’t know if it’s because I know what’s coming by the time I see the movie or not. Emotionally, this movie didn’t hit me as hard as the fourth and fifth. I’m looking forward to seeing the seventh . . . when it comes out on dvd . . . a long, long time from now. (insert pouty face here) The most remarkable thing about the movie is that Rob neither knows the climactic moment of the film nor how it ends. Those of us who have read the books (me and Marc) or have learned the big reveal from the internet (Rei and Joe) have gone to great lengths to say nothing that would spoil the surprise for him. Let us not forget, this is the man who bought me the fourth book in the series not realizing that there was an entire phenomenon surrounding the books and oblivious to the fact that the book he had given to me was the fourth one. How he has managed to remain so clueless is beyond me but maybe that’s why he can put up with my lack of awareness.

Journaling Prompts from The Writing Diet

Although I didn't give The Writing Diet by Julia Cameron the best review, I did find one quote I liked and four journaling prompts I thought I would share. If you consider how many exercises the book includes and that these are honestly the only four I found interesting (and only one of these three actually resulted in my writing anything provocative), I stand by my less than thrilled review.
Quotation from The Writing Diet by Julia Cameron

Treat yourself the way you would treat a new lover (101).

Task: You Take a Sedative Because . . .

Take pen in hand and number from one to five. Finish the following phrase:

If I let myself admit it, I feel sad that . . .

Take pen in hand again. Number from one to five. Finish the following phrase:

If I let myself admit it, I feel mad that . . .

Take pen in hand a third time. Number from one to five. Finish the following phrase:

If I let myself admit it, I feel bad that . . .
(113)

Task: Count Your Assets

Take pen in hand, number from one to ten, and list ten positive ways to describe yourself. For example:

  1. I am kind.
  2. I am thoughtful.
  3. I am funny.
  4. I am enthusiastic.
  5. I am thorough
  6. I am energetic.
  7. I am adventurous.
  8. I am loyal.
  9. I am visionary.
  10. I am practical.

Now take pen in hand again and, referring to your list, write out one example for each trait. For example:

Kind: I called my sister daily when she was sick.

  1. Thoughtful: I remembered to send birthday cards and gifts to my siblings.

(162-163)

Task: Writing Things Right

Set up a safe and nurturing environment for yourself—a familiar chair, some soothing music. Now take pen in hand and gently scan your own psyche. Finish this phrase, “If I let myself admit it, I feel traumatized that _____.” Use the phrase ten times. All sorts of unexpected answers may spring to mind. “I feel traumatized that I was sent away to boarding school.” “I feel traumatized by Dan’s date rape my senior year.” “I feel traumatized that my mother had twins and had no more time for me.”

Even if you consider yourself to be quite well adjusted, don’t be surprised if you are able to come up with a list of traumas. If you find the word “trauma” overly dramatic, try using a milder phrase. “It still bothers me that ______.” Your list may turn out to be longer than you think (194)

Task: Try the Spiritual Solution

Take pen in hand. Setting aside skepticism, write God a letter asking for help with your weight problem. Be detailed and specific about how bad your overeating makes you feel. Ask for guidance and grace. Ask for strength and courage. Ask for good humor as well. (213)

Task: Write Yourself a Happy Ending

  1. What do I need to know?
  2. What do I need to accept?
  3. What do I need to change? (229)

The Writing Diet: Write Yourself to the Right-Size by Julia Cameron

The Writing Diet: Write Yourself to the Right-Size by Julia Cameron was not at all what I thought it would be. I had thought it would be more about writing than diet and in some ways it is. It really depends upon how you perceive the content, I suppose. The first part of the book offers the “tools” Cameron recommends to the reader who is trying to lose weight. (The fact that it was so clearly focused on food and weight should have been my first clue that this book was not what I had anticipated—and it was. I got it. I still read on but at that point I shifted my expectations in a more complementary direction.) The tools are not too different from the ones that Cameron suggests in her other books—morning pages (writing!), daily walks, weekly “artist” dates—although this time the dates are about eating a lovely meal rather than immersing your creative spirit in an art gallery or antique shop or whatever. She also recommends keeping a food journal (who doesn’t?) and eating clean. The truth is, before the past couple of years I would have thought that most of this advice was common sense and unnecessary but I have since come to learn that many people do not understand portion control, that there are people who actually think grabbing a super-sized meal at the fast food place on the drive home is a snack, and that some people don’t understand that pre-packaged is not a healthy alternative to fast food. Some people absolutely need to learn these things and what Cameron has affectively managed to do is write a book that will work alongside any other diet plan. Are you trying Weight Watchers? Cameron’s book would work well as a supplement. Trying South Beach or Atkins? Again, Cameron’s book can be read and applied alongside whatever lifestyle changes you are trying to make in your life. The second part of the book is a collection of short essays that offer further writing exercises. She shares her own story but mostly the story of other men and women who are trying to lose weight. Most of the stories she shares are for moderately overweight people. You won’t read stories about how someone who was a size 22 wrote their way to a size 6. Instead, you will read about a lot of size 12 women who are now a size 6 and so encouraged with their success they are still committed to getting down to a size 4 or lower. Cameron shares about how people use food to self-medicate, to avoid their deeper needs or their more complicated emotions. She takes the time to describe the various temptations in detail—chocolate cakes that are rich, cheesecakes and raspberries, ice cream and smothered fries, pies, etc. Frankly, the second part is where the book fell apart for me. Reading about size 6 women fighting to get rid of the last bit of cellulite or pooch in the tummy made me feel fat and loathsome. Reading the food descriptions made me hungry. I literally had to time when I read the chapters around when I had eaten so that I wouldn’t be triggered to get a snack. And I can only imagine how these things would have affected me if I had ever been bulimic or anorexic or addicted to exercise. Another problem I had with the book is how she describes the addiction of morning pages or exercise as if any addiction were a good thing. Of course, this is simply a poor choice of word, a very poor choice of wording given Cameron’s own history with alcoholism. There is no such thing as a healthy addiction. If someone literally cannot get through their day without writing their morning pages then there is something wrong. A tool should never become a necessity and when a person cannot live without doing something then that “something” is no longer a useful tool. The same is true for exercise which is a very useful tool but which can also degenerate into an addiction, a compulsion beyond a person’s control. Setting aside my expectation that this book would be about writing, about the craft of putting words on the page, I still found this book a disappointment. Forget that it does not live up to the wonderful content of The Artist’s Way and you are still left with a peculiar book, a good idea that somehow turns in on itself until even the best of intentions becomes a perversion. What I would recommend are the tools in part one; they are good, mostly common sense but sometimes common sense is invaluable. I would then recommend that the reader stop there. Don’t read past part one. Apply the principles presented in the first part and leave the rest to those readers who like their weight loss resources sprinkled with a “healthy” dose of codependency. Also, I should say that I rushed through the second half of the second part. Working through it slowly, applying the suggestions with all due diligence, I gained enough weight for my knees to begin hurting. I still see great merit in the tools but, as I said, I found too much of the content potentially triggering and although I don’t suggest that I gained weight because the book made me do so, I will say that the second part of the book did not make it easy for me to apply those very useful tools. Like I said above, read the first part, skip the rest, and you’ll be able to use the best of this book’s content with anything else you are going to try, whether it’s Jenny Craig or GI Diet or what have you.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Dearly Devoted Dexter by Jeff Lindsay

Dearly Devoted Dexter by Jeff Lindsay is the second book in the series that inspired the television show, Dexter. I already knew that the second book would be a sharp departure from the second season of the television show. In fact, the first season was already a departure, adding certain subplots that were not a part of the novel, fleshing out the characters in different ways and directions. With all of this said, I have to say that I enjoyed this novel more than the first. I read it without comparison, consciously choosing not to relate the book to the show. Instead, I wanted to measure the text on its own merit, divorced from the show. This book Dexter is different from the television Dexter and the subplots of the book, not nearly as many as in the television show, are quite a change. This Dexter is also less violent. I can’t remember how many people Dexter consciously kills in the television show but he doesn’t kill many at all in this one book. Unless I mis-remember the season altogether, which is quite possible. The book Dexter is a well crafted anti-hero, a character not meant to be admired or even liked. Instead, the reader lives inside of Dexter’s head. Unlike the television show, where the viewer can see how Dexter charms those around him, the reader knows that Dexter has everyone fooled but, like Dexter himself, is not sure how he does it. Because Lindsay chooses to limit the reader’s perception of Dexter by writing the novels in the first person, the reader only knows and thinks, feels and experiences those things that Dexter does. That he does so to good effect is remarkable because the book Dexter is less charming than the television one. The deprecating dark humor that undercuts Dexter’s narrative is sharp—if you don’t like sarcasm and darkness then do not read these books! And I am on the fence about whether Lindsay is ingenious or indifferent. I will have to read more books to determine one way or the other which it is because there is something that is revealed in this book, something that is not part of the television show at all, that casts Dexter in an even more horrifying and less sympathetic light. I hesitate to say more because to do so would be to include spoilers. Ultimately, this book, like its predecessor, is a well written novel that comfortably fits within the limitations of its genre. Where it breaks new territory is in allowing the protagonist to be unlikable and even loathsome, a risky choice that, in the hands of a less skillful author, would have ended the series before it even began. Now I need to read the third book to see if Lindsay had the courage of his conviction as implied in book two.