Tuesday, December 25, 2007

And so we are moved

It's been a long couple of weeks. Everything is here, except for husband's albums. It's a long story. We had more stuff than would fit in a moving truck. So, one moving truck, two minivan loads (borrowed from Red Queen) and assorted trips in the Yaris hatchback.

We had to go out for lunch today because we couldn't find our saucepans, and I'm wearing purple socks to work tomorrow with a red sweater because it was the pair that I found rummaging in the trash bag that contains all my underwear.

We did grab a tiny tree picking up the van and ate stuffed pork chops for dinner because we found a baking tray.

The bedroom is arranged, but nothing is hung up or sorted (they promised they could wrap the drawers and then couldn't. Very annoying).
These are pictures of some of the packing in the old apt.--too many books. This is without cd's or dishes:
Added to the fun is this:
This is my car in the work parking lot where I had to leave it two weeks ago. And then we had another blizzard, and then another. Slushy and icy alternately.
Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Heh, heh

Men are from the Post Office/Women are from UPS. (see comments below).

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Atonement (the movie)

And then I won tickets to see a preview of the film last Wednesday.

I don't usually read the novel that close to seeing the film--to go in with the book so completely in my head--and to wonder how they were going to be able to make a film of this book. It was the same director who directed Keira in Pride and Prejudice, and I had liked his direction there.

How to convert a book so completely of the mind--the minds of multiple characters--into a visual medium. It is a book with little external dialogue, but a lot of internal dialogue. It is also (the middle part) an enormous novel describing the chaos of Dunkirk and the horrors of war as seen from a military hospital. It is one character's story throughout her life. And it is a story seen simultaneously from several different points of view.

For the most part I will say that it succeeded. There was a little reliance on close up to show "the internal." But my husband, who had not read the book, said he had little trouble understanding the different viewpoints conceits after the first one. It was fascinating to see how he had managed to find a visual for invisible things, and to make subtle horrors large enough to be seen by the whole audience, as well as keeping some things intimate enough to not cheapen them. Clearly many others in the audience had read the novel because I would hear indrawn breaths before tragic moments.

There were a few moments which I found were slightly better in the film. One is a pedantic one. In the book Briony's sister, Cecilia (played by Keira Knightly), strips down to what McEwan describes as bra and panties. In 1935 the bra was a fairly new invention, certainly not one worn by a woman as bustless as Keira or Cecilia and panties were known as "step-ins," more like boxer shorts. My grandmother who would have been in her 30's in the 1930's never got used to a bra. My mother only had one because she was very busty in her teens. In the movie she wears a sort of teddy which is much more likely. The other is a moment when James McAvoy's character writes a dirty word in a note to Cecelia, a note he has no intention of giving her, an anatomical word (female anatomy). After he writes it he spins in his chair and laughs. He wrote it from tension and the writing and the laugh are the release--very believable and real.

Forget Keira's name on this--this is McAvoy's film. He ages believably and is changed by all he experiences. His short body of work is astounding in it's range--from Bright Young Things, to Mr. Tumnus, to The Last King of Scotland. Wow.

One trope that the director seems to like is to focus on hands. There were at least three moments in P&P where he zoomed in on Mr. Darcy's hand, clenching, flexing, and tenderly rubbing the spot that touched Lizzie's. Here too we see the character's true emotion through their hand.

And the sex scene here is perfect as well--just like the absence of one in P&P. Clumsy and awkward and desperate and real.

This is a gritty war film as well--as gritty as Band of Brothers or Black Hawk Down. We do not cut away or focus somewhere else.

The repeated motif of the typewriter--of Briony's typewriter--is sometimes perfect, sometimes overdone, but a bold choice. It is woven into the soundtrack and crescendos at crucial moments.

And then, finally there is Vanessa Redgrave as the old Briony, confessing her changes. This is the biggest change from the book. In the book the story is dying with her because key players are alive and might sue. She is heading towards dementia--and for her, at last, the blessed release of forgetfulness. In the movie too, she believes her changes do make up for what she did--that the fictional world is equal to the real world, and I don't know if that is true in the book. It seems to let her off, and that is not satisfying at all. So McEwan has robbed us of what Briony tried to offer--a happy ending. Interesting to consider.

Atonement (the book)

When I realized that I didn't own Pride and Prejudice I also realized that I did not own Atonement by Ian McEwan, now a film with Keira Knightly. I remember in the beginning of summer when I first heard advertisements for it I thought, "But there aren't any good female parts in Atonement." There aren't any good female parts in Amsterdam, McEwan's book before Atonement. This made me realize that I didn't own and hadn't read Atonement.

So, since I now work a few blocks from a Barnes & Noble, a terribly dangerous thing for me--I went an bought them (I also bought The Maltese Falcon and Cakes and Ale by Somerset Maugham--that's why I don't go to bookstores--it's hard for me to stop).

I don't want to give the story away. I had wondered where the transition between the McEwan of Amsterdam and the McEwan of Saturday had happened. This would be the book. I reviewed On Chesil Beach (and I believe Saturday before I started doing labels). McEwan's early work is fascinating and disturbing, but his characters were too distant. In Saturday he had overcome that, and here too, in Atonement. There is an understanding of all the characters--most especially Briony--the catalyst. The 11 year old who's vision of the world is so rigid that she cannot entertain the idea that what she has witnessed does not fit into her (11 year old) experience. I could not help wondering if Briony was a sort of stand in for McEwan himself. In one of his subtle moments of foreshadowing, he talks of Briony's future books, for she is already a writer at 11, and says that they were considered amoral. It has often been said of McEwan's writing as well.

And too it is a novel (at least the last part) about writing--the power of the writer on the reader, on the perception of what is real. Briony tells us, the reader, that what we have read is both true and not true. That she has started with truth--that we have been reading her novel up until this last part, her autobiography--but that a vital piece of it has been changed by her, the omnipotent writer. This is a dangerous line to tread--for McEwan, the real writer. To remind us that what we are reading is not in fact, fact. Is a story, and that the writer will alter what he needs to alter for the sake of the story.

In 2004 I had a subscription to The American Scholar which had an essay by Ben Yagoda called Heavy Meta, about the moment as puts it, "that I responded powerfully in estimable works of art to moments when the artist...winks: acknowledges, implicitly or explicitly, that what we are experiencing is after all a piece of human handiwork and he or she is the creator of it. It is gesture simultaneously of humility and of majesty, in both cases honoring the potency of art." I too grab the moments of reflexivity in art and find them fascinating. AND the magic moment when works refer to other works--"intertextuality," sometimes called meta. His essay is fantastic and if I had time I would try to see if it's online. Amongst his thoughts is the conundrum of Hoagy Carmichael's Stardust. The song is about a melody that haunts the singer's reverie. So is Stardust that song, or another song?

So, McEwan's pointing out that Briony (not he) has written this story and altered the facts for her own...sanity, while we know, of course, that McEwan wrote the story? And she has written for atonement, atonement she could not achieve without her alteration of the facts. So, is McEwan seeking atonement as well or is this just a well written novel from a man who gets really good ideas?

And, on the effect of the personal, what do I do with my recognition of my own self in the 11 year old Briony. Not in her crime but in her outlook?

I find I have annotated little in this book, so caught up was I in the narrative. It is a hard novel, and a heartbreaking one.

Know what I hate?

Secret Santas.

Know what I hate more?

Yankee Swaps.

At least with the Secret Santas you have sort of a chance to actually have the spirit--buy something specifically for someone. But with a Yankee Swap you're buying blind--could be mail/female, geeky, sportsy.

For those who don't know what it is:

Everyone brings a present. Everyone draws a number out of a hat. Number 1 picks a present. Number two picks a present and so on, BUT any later number can SWAP for an earlier gift and the earlier person has no choice in the mater. So it should be called Yankee Steal. So much for the spirit of gifting.

And you know that everyone is just regifting something that they got the year before. Probably true in Secret Santas--I for instance got a set of Margarita glasses last year. Not exactly my ideal, but the buyer thought of me as cosmopolitan and hip and so probably thought it was perfect.

Gift cards are the best. We should just agree to all buy each other gift cards. Much easier. I hate to say that since I used to believe in careful gift giving.

I'd rather get a $1 gift card to Starbucks from everybody (obviously wouldn't work for a company that had 200 people, but in all likelihood it would be department by department. My office has 12 people total. We could even do $2 gift cards for the same price as the swap sum. Everybody could draw a different place--Starbucks, Duncan Donuts, etc. If you didn't like a certain place you could swap with someone who did.

This is what I like--tiny, thoughtful gifts. I like to buy cheap mugs and several bags of candy, fill the mugs and give one to everybody. Or even just the candy if it's too many. In other years I've made cookies. Then you can slip slightly better gifts to your closer friends. Or something clever.

Since I didn't know about the swap until the invitations went out I had already bought a box of buttons with quotes from Office Space since several of the guys in the office had expressed a fondness for it. I was going to put the pins on the candy bags and do something equally silly for the women. Now I can't because people will act all funny that I did it in addition to the swap. I've done it anyway in other offices, and there's always some resentment. Like I'm doing it to be superior.

So much for the Christmas spirit.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

So we are moving

To a bigger, brighter, prettier, safer, much more expensive apartment.

Worried about the money, but I think in some ways it will jump start us, recharge us.

We have been here for nearly 11 years.

That in and of itself seems amazing and sad. This is the longest I've ever lived in one building, and I feel sad to go--more to leave our very nice landlord.

And yet, it's not as if we are friends with them. We can barely understand them. In the first few years when our dog, Fedora, was alive we would exchange gifts. I would bake them something and they would give us dog biscuits and Bailey's, but it never progressed to anything like a friendship.

But change is always hard. We have a moving truck booked for the 23rd. So I this may be another missed month. Christmas among boxes.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

The message and the meaning

We had our first snowfall and I was driving cautiously home from a dinner with a friend. Not 40 miles an hour but certainly close to the speed limit. I was being tailgated by a car which always annoys me. They finally passed and I saw they had a "We vote Pro-Life" license plate. Apparently endangering the already here doesn't bother them. It's like being cut off by someone with the fish tag or a WWJD bumper sticker--I'm thinking not drive recklessly in traffic, but I could be wrong.

Don't get me wrong--I'm equally or possibly even more ticked being cut off by cars bearing Praise the Goddess stickers or Practice Random Acts of Kindness.

Pride and Prejudice

The Keira Knightly version. While I was sick and lounging on the couch I watched Pride and Prejudice. I had avoided it assiduously because a) who needs another P&P and b)I had just caught Vanity Fair with Reece before going away. The VF had annoyed me quite a lot. I don't think that Becky Sharp should be excused as merely an intelligent woman in a time when being an intelligent woman was not a desired trait. Nor do I think that all her problems could have been solved by just going to India as director Mira Nair seems to suggest. I will agree that the lowest of Englishmen (or women) could go to India and be lords and ladies by virtue of being white, but that was not the gist of the film.

At any rate, I decided it would pass the time to watch P&P and I'm glad I did. It captured for me the romance of the first time I read the novel. And I will say that a large portion of this was because of Miss Knightly herself.

How old is Lizzie? IMDB says that she's 27 but I can't think that. Her youngest sister is 15. At the general rate of a child every two years (and barring deaths--certainly not unheard of but not mentioned or alluded to in the novel), we'd have Kitty at 17, Mary at 19, Liz at 21 and Jane at a old and desperate 23. At the youngest (one year apart) she'd be 18. Keira captured this fragile time perfectly--her identity is in flux, despite her intelligence. Her vanity is wounded and it takes her a long time to recover.

Having Matthew Macfadyen as Mr. Darcy certainly helped. His own insecurities and fears were on display as is his desperate attraction--the scene in the rain, the first proposal is so beautiful and brilliant--well, I watched it again when it repeated. And I think (unlike many adaptations), while their desire makes them "almost" kiss, there is never a breaking of the propriety of the time. Many IMDBers don't like the almost kiss, but I do--attraction can overwhelm even intellectual dislike.

Also helpful was the supporting cast. All too often Mr. & Mrs. Bennett are regulated to minor characters--with barely any development. Having such luminaries as Donald Sutherland and Brenda Blethyn really gave the film a complete shape. Oh, Donald is wonderful! Both in the Your mother will never speak to you if you do not marry Mr. Collins and I will never speak to you if you do, and in the end--when he cried to give away his daughter. I finally understood how Lizzie and Jane managed to rise above their sisters and I managed to have a little sympathy for Mrs. Bennett as well.

On the trivia side, Mr. Collins (Tom Hollander) was in Pirates 2 and The Libertine. Jane (Rosamund Pike) was also in The Libertine.

I also realized that I didn't own a copy of P&P. I have Emma and Mansfield Park, not my favorites, but not P&P or S&S. That had to be rectified.

London Revenant

By Conrad Williams. An intriguing alternate London story. Is it just London, or is it just that my husband and I are drawn to London writers? Neil Gaiman visits this area repeatedly, as does his friend China Mievielle. Is it the age of the city--the Roman architecture beneath it all, the vast tunnels of sewer and tube? Are there equally stories of Paris that I do not know of, because I don't read in French?

It's a frustrating story--the protagonist is unaware that he is slipping between worlds, and so it takes a bit for us to catch up. It also has the most intriguing discovery of beauty in the grotesque that I've seen since Clive Barker was good. It was hard to eat and read. (Of course, according to my husband I shouldn't have been reading and eating anyway because it's a limited edition, signed copy.)

Strangest of all is the ending--there seems to be an extra chapter of another story after the end, and try as I might, I can't resolve the last chapter with the story. Is this just an error?

Brave Story

When I returned I read Brave Story by Miyuki Miyabe. I had started a few chapters before I left, but as the book is an 816 page hardback I decided I didn't need to take it on the plane. It's also my husband's book and I don't annotate his books, only ones that are specifically mine.

I can't quite decide if Brave Story is a children's/young adult book or an adult book. Being a Japanese novel (no, I did not read it in Japanese) it had more adult themes than you might find in a young adult novel in the US or Britain, but at the same time, they weren't SO adult that they would be out of the realm of possibility that they were for young adults. Sort of Judy Blume meets Harry Potter. Perhaps it was the collision of realistic themes with a fantasy story. The first third of the book is a pretty straightforward description of being an 11 year old (what is it with 11--Aang in Avatar is 11, Harry Potter was 11 when it began) in Japan with a fairly strict, traditional family.

Then Wataru's home life collapses and he gets the opportunity to go to Vision, an alternate world to find the gemstones, meet the Goddess and change his destiny. He is racing against another boy from his school, one who is faster and smarter than he is. He makes friends, has adventures and staggers through. And he faces deep ethical dilemma's that all heroes have to face. Do we stop and help those around us because it's the good thing to do, even though it will mean possibly sacrificing our own quest. It's fairly obvious early on that Wataru is going to make good decisions and his opponent is going to be ruthless in his pursuit, and that it will seem that Wataru must loose because he isn't as determined. And he will realize that his destiny is his destiny--what makes him who he is--all the bad things shape our character and without them, we'd face other bad things. Nobody makes it through unscathed, yet that's who we are, battle scarred and still standing. So in the end he does not change his own destiny, he uses his gift from the Goddess to help his friends.

Like I said, all of this is fairly predictable in the genre, and yet despite the flat translation (a condition of all Japanese to English, I believe, not a lapse on the part of the translators), I found myself deeply compelled to keep reading all 800 pages. Whether this is just to see how the Japanese mindset might wrap it up in contrast to Rowling or because it was good, I'm not actually sure. Along the way there was much to be said about fanaticism and blind faith and good intentions.

I am always intrigued by the Japanese approach to these subjects in light of their history. I also caught the FMA movie recently and it came down squarely against the Nazi's. Of course, but I am intrigued by it.

Saturday, December 01, 2007


Coming out of work the other day I saw about 5 sad moths, desperately struggling, confused (as are we all) by a day that began near 60 F and ended near 30 F.

Good deed

I don't do enough charity, and I do regret it. I sponsor a child. But when I find something fun and easy like this that Writing Life mentioned I get excited. I donated 900 and got to level 43. I will have to try harder.