Monday, July 30, 2007
*Really, it's good that we had St. George the Pathfinder as our patron saint, because we got lost as lost can be on some of those hikes, borderline Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon lost; our equipment was ancient and decrepit; and the lessons we got in first aid and other theoretically useful classes were at least 50 years out of date. Later in my life, I was stunned to find that camping could be and usually was fun, comfortable, and safe. I also now know that a flask of very good scotch is a key bit of camping equipment, because nothing cuts the wet miseries quite like a wee nip of peat-flavored firewater.
Saturday, July 28, 2007
RockNinja and I have been going back and forth about several of the major plot themes in Deathly Hallows, and in my efforts to defend my POV (which, of course, is Right and True and
Cleolinda also recently posted her opinion of why the books are so unbelievably madness-of-crowds successful, and I think that she nails it:
...I really think the reason the Potter books have succeeded is because Rowling wrote them from her heart and, on some primary level, for herself. She probably needed these books as much or more so than anyone else who's read them. She's mentioned in the spate of interviews this week that her own mother died fairly soon after she began writing the series (at age twenty-four!), and that her own parents are what she'd want to see in a real Mirror of Erised. And there she was on public assistance, writing about a lonely, hungry, neglected, unappreciated boy who wakes up one day to find someone telling him, "You're actually a wizard, and a really good wizard, and we're going to take you away to a place where you'll flourish and excel and make friends and find a family of your own. Here, have some cake."The Harry Potter books are absolutely about that wish fulfillment, but if that were all, then they wouldn't have sold as well as they did; a book about someone who gets everything his or her own way would be insanely dull. Instead, they're about what you can face if you've got that one basic need filled, that base from which to work. Harry can have his mano a mano faceoffs with Voldemort because his friends—a substitute family, really—are as much a reason to fight as they are allies. If he didn't have something to lose, the battles wouldn't be worth much to the reader or to Harry himself. Then too, like Joss Whedon (Joss you bastard!), JKR is willing to ice sympathetic characters, upping the ante and creating a greater sense of reality, and personal struggles that might seem clearcut (he's the protagonist, of course he's gonna make the right decision in Book 3) are nonetheless left in some doubt until they're resolved.
There's a pretty good counterexample in some of Orson Scott Card's recent work. In Ender's Game, the stakes felt high: Ender got some of what he needed, in the form of escape from his older brother and a place to do what he was good at, but he still had to struggle to win as a commander, to reach other students, to save the world, to live with the aftermath. Over time, though, Card has slipped into creating either impervious supermen (summary of the Alvin Maker books: Alvin faced his greatest challenge. Surely he could not win. He drew on a well of strength he hadn't known he had. He won. Lather rinse repeat) or situations in which nobody is actually at risk, because they're being watched over or manipulated or it's a holodeck or some damn thing. It speaks well of Card as a person that he's uncomfortable with the idea of children in real danger, but for a writer it's a tremendous Achilles heel. Plus there's the part where he's turned into a raving fruitcake, but that's an ad hominem issue that doesn't necessarily carry over into his writing (although it does affect the odds that I'll buy his books).
Now I have to release my copy into the wild, the better to loan it out to the people who held off on buying it, and move on to the rest of the birthday haul. Pat Parelli training techniques! I hope Doc's up for some games.
Thursday, July 26, 2007
The person who described JKR's prose as "sturdy" was right on the money, but this book had fewer clunkers, overall, and I enjoyed certain scenes immensely. I've bitched in the past about JKR's reliance on punctuation to inject drama, what with the endless exposition broken up by em-dashes or ellipses, and there's certainly some careless copyediting, as there was in the previous book's first edition. I hope that "comprised of," which started a short-lived spasm in my left proofreading muscle, will be corrected in the next edition, as "the site of [person]" was in Order of the Phoenix.
But the truth is that I inhaled the book in one glomph, as I did each of the preceding books. The story caught me up, so part of my mind was thinking twitchy editing thoughts but the majority was actively irritated if I had to stop reading for any reason. I hope that Rowling follows through on her promise to create some sort of appendix to the books to explain what happened to all the surviving characters, as Tolkien did for LoTR (Rings spoiler: rocks don't fall, but nearly everyone dies). There was too much to fit into one book. Maybe that's cheating, but who cares?
Monday, July 23, 2007
1. Open the book you're currently reading to page 133.
2. Read the fourth line on the page.
3. Put the book back where it had been resting.
4. Tell no one of what it was you just did.
5. Think of five friends to tag with this meme.
6. Do not actually tag them. They are busy and have lives.
7. Go about your life as if nothing has happened.
8. Carry the secret of this meme to your grave.
Sunday, July 22, 2007
"Once More With Feeling" is only about an hour long, so the show is padded with music videos, assembly of prop kits (poppers, fangs, little monsters, cue cards, bubbles), Buffy-oke, and a trivia contest for extremely trivial prizes; I won an Atomic Fireball for knowing Mister Trick's favorite comic strip but biffed Spike's favorite snack (not Weetabix?) and the moment when Anya became a capitalist (the Game of Life--huh). Eventually, on superfan Clinton McClung's mark, we grr-arghed our way into the show. Very few people danced in the aisles, DC being a staid city, but everyone sang--there were even harmonies! divisions of the audience to sing the Tara/Giles duet!--and used the props enthusiastically. The Post would have you believe that there were no extemporaneous lines, but at least at the Saturday show there were a lot of unprintable suggestions thrown out for Spike and Giles, not to mention the usual excessive Dawn hating. I find "The Sound of Music" terrifying in all its incarnations, but this show was the opposite of scary, even with such, er, highly motivated fans.
The downside of the evening was dinner at nearby Arucola. It took forever to get served, the manager was driving his staff frantic, and not long after our food arrived, a waiter who was literally running out of the kitchen tripped and dropped his entire tray, whanging it into my shoulder and sending vinaigrette splattering everywhere. The manager's reaction was to rush over and, once he realized that nobody was hurt, snap, "Accidents happen." His promise to cover the cleaning bill (new shirt, dammit) would have been enough had his first reaction not been so unpleasant, and of course not sending his staff into a tizzy over an average Saturday night crowd would have been good too.
But did I mention that there was Buffy? Because everything else was details.
Saturday, July 21, 2007
I did, however, visit the local Diagon Alley last night. Holy Fizzing Whizbees, it was grand. The downtown area was packed with people listening to the live music ("Ron Weasley is my best friend/ Even though nobody calls him The Weasel"), getting balloon broomsticks from a wizard in black and gold robes, and photographing one another's costumes--which were, by and large, awesome. There were bewigged Tonkses, Ministry officials identifiable by their top or bowler hats, students in some combination of school kilt/black skirt/white shirt/house tie/V-necked sweater/cape or robe (the few Slytherins looked particularly elegant), house elves resplendent in prosthetic noses or ears and socks pinned to their hats or shirts, dignified professors stroking long false beards, a tall lanky Draco with his dark hair sprayed silver and slicked back, a Death Eater with a glittery "The End Is Near" sign adorned with a Dark Mark, and many groups wearing custom t-shirts, my favorites of which read, in flowery script, "I solemnly swear I am up to no good" on the front and "Mischief managed" on the back.
The stores were in on the fun, too: Marimekko became Madame Malkin's, with a pair of mannequins modeling the latest in cloak fashions. McGinty's became Ye Leake [sic] Cauldron, its revised menu offering firewhisky, butterbeer, dragon bangers and mash, and elderflower wine. Potbelly's turned into the Three Broomsticks, Ben & Jerry's into Florean Fortescue's, and Borders into Flourish and Blott's. Places like the Austin Grill that didn't bother changing identities became havens for people feeling a little overwhelmed by all the crowds outside.
Borders itself, of course, was ground zero for all the parties, offering a Snape debate, costume party, and other events for the evening. I'm sure that all that stuff was tremendous, but by 9 PM there was not a chance in hell of actually getting into the store. They had given out line numbers starting at 10 in the morning, so the line snaked around the TV vans parked to capture the scene, and every inch of floorspace inside the store was crammed with costumed book fans. I left before midnight, the better to miss the surge as the books came out, doubtless an image that would haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights. This morning, the store windows are covered with signs advising that only people will reserved copies can pick them up; "walk-ins accepted after 4 PM." Maybe we could demand socialize book care rather than this literary HMO?
Good fun all around. To everyone who dressed up, worked late, or came up with a silly idea to make the evening memorable, here's to ya. It was a grand show.
Thursday, July 19, 2007
Riding classes resumed this week, at least for dressage, and an evening of trying to bring my leg to bear on a contrary Morgan has left me limping again. We eventually ironed out most of our differences, although I'm convinced that Cappi belongs in Western tack, and the hip should be fine after a bit of stretching and wiggling.
Should said contortions not do the trick, it's back to the folks at Healthy Self Massage. A bit of backstory: When I was first looking for a place to get a massage, I hit up Google (as you do) and tried to come up with the search string least likely to land me at links for Black Orchid Flowers Happiness Relief Massage to Gentlemen--All Discreets, Lovely Woman, Discounts for Legislators. Fortunately, Gene Weingarten, investigative reporter par excellence, was there to reassure me that even the sketchiest-looking parlors are in full compliance with the law. Phew! Healthy Self sounds positively puritan by comparison; I can't remember the last time one of the Bulgarian guys showed up in a sequined dress.
Monday, July 16, 2007
But then things look up a bit, because in this corner, your obligatory British Isles RSC-trained hottie representing the forces o' darkness: CHRISTOPHER ECCLESTON, snarling threats from the back of a rearing horse. Good heavens, y'all, moral relativism is suddenly so magnetic that I may have the vapors.
Speaking of the dark side, though, join me in a long slow eyeroll at the latest limp attempt at a pop culture critical backlash: the WaPo's Ron Charles whines that Harry Potter is symptomatic of the death of reading. Yes, whenever you see lines forming around the block for the release of a novel, or people waiting four hours to get an author's autograph, or an explosion of decent suburban bookstores (I can't be the only one with dire memories of Crown Books), it's a dead giveaway that everyone hates reading.
I have limited tolerance for the gadfly school of criticism at the best of times; I have even less patience when it comes from someone who works on the same paper as Michael Dirda, an erudite, humane, elegant writer and a sterling example of how a critic can be both enthusiastic and expressive enough to encourage other people to explore the field.* Charles, on the other hand, wails that no Harry Potter fans read Jonathan Strange and Mister Norrell (news to me, Susannah Clarke, and Bloomsbury) or His Dark Materials (because small underappreciated novels are forever getting made into huge movies), then he sneers at adults who enjoy children's books, people who read mainly nonfiction (somewhere Jane Austen is clutching the manuscript of Northanger Abbey and dabbing away a genteel tear of laughter), and anybody who cracks a heavyweight like Anna Karenina after Oprah has the gall to suggest that suburban moms give it a try. He wraps up with a paragraph so magnificently prat-tastic that it qualifies for its own Threadless "I listen to bands that don't even exist yet" shirt. To paraphrase Dorothy Parker, this is not criticism to be tossed aside lightly; it should be hurled away with great force.
Most of us know that the Harry Potter books aren't great art. There's nothing wrong with not liking them or not finding them engaging or in rolling your eyes a bit at people who get really invested in them. But the problem with arguing that they're bad for cultural literacy as a whole is that the books are getting a reaction, generating sales of other genre books and spinoffs (as did Lord of the Rings, which many critics whined about at exactly the same pitch), and getting more people involved in Rowling's world. If you don't like the enthusiasm and bad dancing at the party, Mr. Charles, either invite people to a better one or keep your mouth shut; peeing in the lemonade and stomping off in a haze of critical acumen (mm, smells like Axe!) will never make you cool.
*Yes I have a litcrush on Dirda. Don't make me papercut anybody.
Thursday, July 12, 2007
I mean, who wants to hear this guy go on all night?
Oh right. A whoooole lot of people.
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
Robert Graves, the author of I, Claudius, was one of the friends responsible for getting Sassoon medical leave, and that's almost all I knew about him. Graves' memoir, Good-Bye to All That, casts a little more light on him--quite a lot more in terms of dates and events, but rather less when it comes to personal matters. After a pleasant childhood, he ended up at Charterhouse, a public school that he reports loathing beyond measure but which was also where he met his first love, a younger male student. He does not describe their relationship in much depth, although he does mention that the other boy's letters were a comfort to him throughout the war and that he was devastated when the young man was arrested for soliciting, and he's not forthcoming about his first marriage, which ended unhappily, or his second, which seemed to go better. Was he gay or bi and unable to pursue that openly, or straight but conforming to social norms of the school and his social class? It's difficult to tell.
I had expected to see more about the war, given the title of the book, but there's almost as much about Graves's early family life and, after 1918, Ralph Vaughan Williams, T.E. Lawrence, and other famous figures Graves met or knew well. The descriptions of the war itself are wry and slightly dispassionate, touched with black humor and admiration for the men he commanded (he reserves his spleen for his commanders and politicians). Graves survived a number of "shows," the pushes toward enemy lines, and after receiving several minor wounds was shot through the lung; he was hurt so severely and field hospitals were so overwhelmed that his parents were officially notified that he had died. He later returned to the trenches, but not to the front lines. Graves's tone stays light throughout, even as he describes living in freezing mud and being surrounded by horror, but he admits that he suffered from nightmares and residual shell shock until 1928. Considering that he was also raising four children and struggling to get by as an untenured teacher and poet, it's hard not to think that he's drastically understating the case.
This review has stopped being desultory and is verging on verbose, so I'll give the short version: Good-Bye to All That is touching more for what is omitted than for what is shown, and it's sort of endearing in how open it is about working for sales (Graves admits to sitting down to figure out what would sell: sex, war, famous people), but it's worth reading. It's great at humanizing people we now think of as dustily famous figures, making the reader feel a part of the era, and painting a picture of what was lost with the Great War. It has also made me want to read Sassoon's memoirs and more of Wilfred Owen's poetry. If I need to be fished out of the slough of despond after too much WWI lit, hang a copy of the forthcoming Terry Pratchett book on founding a currency on a line. I'll grab.
Monday, July 9, 2007
ANYway, the stars are aligned for big supernatural geek news for the weekend of July 21: Not only will the Buffy musical be in town, the pedestrian area near my place is being converted into Diagon Alley on Friday night, leading up to the midnight release of the last 'Arry Pottah book. Even the midblock pub will get into the act, so adults can steel themselves for the midnight shrieking (or get loosened up enough to enjoy the silliness) at a one-night-only Leaky Cauldron. And but of course I will be attending, although the question of a costume has arisen. Should I go as a disapproving member of the illiterate hyper-Christian right-wing book-banning crew (who as a group haven't yet noticed that Philip Pullman shot by under their radar with a hydrogen payload, and boy howdy will it be a hootenany if they ever do) or as a peevish writer disgruntled by her own lack of Rowling-esque success? Would either one hide the fact that I'm tickled pink by the idea of a must-be-there book cultural event?
One peculiar note about the whole thing is that the area was recently declared off-limits to private photographers; after quite a bit of negative publicity, the management rescinded its declaration. Pretty generous, considering that the mall is on a public street and that the development was supported by public funds. The company failed to explain what loss they would suffer if people took shots there, as far as I can see, so they come across as cowards hiding behind underpaid security guards. Not cool, Peterson Company. You got the fountain back in working order, you've gotten a funky mix of tenants (a ballet school, a pho place, a salon that offers drinks!), you host some fun events (although I am always tempted to edit the slogan "Silver Spring Swings!" by adding "not THAT way"); it would be stupid to blow your community credit by being ridiculous. And Lord Voldemort might snack on your sinews if you did, too, so, you know, don't mess about.
Friday, July 6, 2007
For anyone else in the DC area interested in getting tickets, call or visit the Avalon Theatre's box office. Their hours are 2 to 8 PM, and since their system closes out right at 8, any requests after that will go nowhere, wheedle how you will. Um, from a friend I heard this.
ALSO, should you have a ridiculous amount of spare cash burning its way out of your 7 For All Mankinds, damn well give it to me and don't stake it on the eBay auction for dinner with Whedon during the San Diego Comic-Con. Sure, Equality Now could use the scratch and everyone would appreciate the chance to drop a little "Well, as Joss said to me the other night..." shock and awe into daily conversation, but the bidding is already around $5,000 for each of the five seats. To reiterate: EACH. SEAT. Is five large and climbing. And you're sharing the experience with four randoms. Hell with the Season Eight prints and autographs they're offering to sweeten the deal; I would hold out for...I can't even think what. Nathan Fillion's cell number? Style tips from Gina Torres? ("Start by being born hot and ass-kicking, and after that it's just finding the right conditioner!") Anthony Stewart Head playing "Behind Blue Eyes" during the brandy and cigars? Vera? The imagination wibbles. But should you find yourself possessed of said crazy money and unwilling to let me buy a genuine pony with it, you've got until July 12 to place a bid. Godspeed.
Wednesday, July 4, 2007
Enjoy the day. Grill something. Put up the flag, turn up the 1812 (but try not to laugh if it's one of the arrangements that uses a choir, who are--fun fact! not making this up at all!--singing "God save the czar" as the cannons roar), and cheer for the fireworks. Then tomorrow, remember that independence only lasts when you work for it.
Tuesday, July 3, 2007
The most recent ad suffers from the same problem, but who cares? High explosives + paint + buildings = art, 100% and beautiful. The rainbow detonation of the high rise is one of the most stunning images on film.
Good news first: Teacherwoman is home and recovering well. She says she still gets some bad headaches and can't remember much of the accident, but she's improving steadily and hopes to be back in DC in a few weeks. Hurrah!
Bad news: Last night as I was cleaning out Doc's feet before tacking him up, the pick broke right through the hoof bed, exposing an area that's been badly damaged by thrush. He didn't seem to be in any discomfort, but if he were to lose a shoe--which he has done in the past, because he oversteps--it would be almost impossible to pare the nail down to a healthy area of the hoof bed. Thrush is a pernicious infection among stalled horses; standing in sawdust or hay that they've widdled in creates an ideal breeding ground for the equine equivalent of trench foot. In itself thrush isn't fatal, but left untreated it can cause a horse to go lame. No foot, no horse.
I got one of the barn staff to show me how to make up an Epsom salts bath, which Doc tolerated for a while before carefully stepping on the edge of the pan and sending the water sloshing everywhere. He put up with a second bath for another 10 minutes, then made it clear he was about to pull the same stunt, so I snapped a lead rope on him and took him out for a long grazing session. (Many trainers recommend spending nonriding time with horses as a matter of course, because you want the horse to associate you with good times as well as with work.) After Doc had denuded patches of the lawn to his own satisfaction, I put some dessicant solution in the damaged area of the hoof and left him to his feed bucket. The kids in the riding camp this week should get a chance to work on their mad vet skillz by repeating the treatment on him.
I just hope they've got a lot of apples and some spare pairs of boots.
Sunday, July 1, 2007
So apparently macros are this year's All Your Base, which also made me laugh to the point of tears. Further joy awaits at LOLGaimans.
Yesterday, I got together with Seesterperson, the Pinchloafs, La Mere, and some other friends (sorrow: Rock Ninja was off moving house) at the Dulles Sportsplex, a featureless box of indoor recreation, for a double-header between the DC Rollergirls' four teams: Secretaries of Hate versus the Cherryblossom Bombshells (Bombshells victorious) and Scare Force One versus the DC Demoncats (SFO FTW). Apart from having the advantage of not being located in Newark, Das Plex der Sport has upper-level seating and no walls between the skaters and the floor seats, so you can choose a safer view with a chance to observe strategery on the part of the skaters, or you can have the chance that a miniskirted, padded rollergirl will fly into your lap wheels first and cursing past her mouthguard. Age brings caution, so we picked the safer space, where we shared the bleachers with an awesome group of bikers from a US military vets group (I chatted to the guy who had a particularly tricked-out bike, the glory of which mere words do not suffice to tell, and found out that he used to be part of Reagan's Secret Service detail). They cheered especially loudly for Scare Force One's Harley Quinn, who rewarded their efforts by kicking major ass. I was sad to see that Maul Flanders, who has the best name in the history of wheel-based competitive recreation, got handed some bad falls, but all in all it was a great pair of games.
Pictures to come when my phone decides to cooperate. Here's a handy tip for everyone even less tech than I am: If you get an unlocked phone, make sure that English is its first language. Mine keeps trying to convince me to type in Chinese, which is Jossian of it but not meeting with success with any real speed.