Saturday, March 21, 2009

Rolling, Rolling, Rolling on the Cover

The public relations blitz that surrounded The Curious Case of Benjamin Button did a better job than most lit flicks of letting people know that it was based on a piece of literature. A short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald to be exact.

I was particularly pleased when killing time in a bricks-and-mortar bookstore to see a good-sized display of Penguin Classics paperback editions of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button & Other Jazz Age Stories NOT sporting an immaculately airbrushed Brad Pitt.

I have nothing witty at all to say about this cover except I really, really like it.


And so, thank you for the bookstore smile creepy-1960s-film-title-animation-meets-Kara-Walker-silhouette-of-man-in-baby-carriage book cover. I salute you.

Reading is Grim-damental

Dear Grumpy-Looking-Older-Man-in-Cat-in-the-Hat-Hat-Manning-the-Promotional-Children's-Book-Table,

I know, I know. You were there and the kids weren't. You were spending a gorgeous Saturday morning sitting at a lonely corner table in an otherwise bustling bookstore.

Slumped down, your suit out-of-sorts and off-kilter enough to call to mind John Belushi's drunken SNL Santa Claus. An expression on your face that made me want to stand by your table screaming, "Attention must be paid!"

So many images came to my mind. So many thoughts and backstories and emotions.

None of them, however, was, "Reading is fun! Come right up and take a chair! I'll read a story here or there! I'll read a story anywhere!"

Instead I thought, "Be careful what you volunteer for."

And, "Lose the hat."

Friday, March 20, 2009

Animal, Vegetable, Maybe There's Something To This

Let's get this out of the way right from the top: I eat like crap.

Or, I would, if left to my own devices. Leopold is the one that prevents me from living on pizza and McDonald's. During the year before I met him I lived on take-out and a handful of cheap eat restaurant favorites. My refrigerator was filled with beer and Jarrito freezer had vodka keeping a few sleeves of bagels company.

Make no mistake. It's not that I couldn't cook (1). I just elected not to.

Now though, our meals at home follow the same kind of table mathematics as the dinners my mother served. A starch, a vegetable or two, salad and the main event. If I'm home alone I will often default to pasta with butter and garlic (2) or pizza...but Leopold keeps me honest.

With that in mind it's little surprise that I read Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle with equal parts fascination and "would-you-give-me-a-freaking-break" bafflement (3). Some of this is because of Kingsolver's impulse to separate the city dweller from the country farmer (4). And some of this is because I knew most everything she was saying was absolutely, positively correct.

While reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle we signed up for a local CSA and will soon be getting weekly farm care packages left on the front porch. We'll be periodically adding milk from the group's creamery. As Flyboy and the Baker (5) live on a farm not far from us we were already excited when we knew the meat on the table once had a name (6) and brought home a dozen eggs from our last visit that looked like they fell out of an Easter basket (7).

I would like to learn how to make cheese (8).

As irked as I would occassionally find myself getting with Kingsolver (and her daughter's) smug satisfaction and superiority about their healthy, carbon/petroleum-reductive lifestyle, I have to admit that there was something inspirational going on.

Of course...according to the New York Times...those whoopie pies I mentioned are the new cupcake.

1. I'm actually a pretty good cook. No. Really.
2. Which is a really good excuse to eat a fist-and-a-half full of asiago cheese.
3. Ok, mostly that.
4. Because some of us are actually both. While there were no cows in our backyard, the New Yorker was not weekly reading. We had a butter and egg man when I was growing up, but Chinese take-out was also religion.
5. Our nearest family members who take us in like orphans for most holidays.
6. Seriously. If it has a name it means someone loved it. If someone loved it they took care of it. If they took care of it it had a good life. Kingsolver states a different opinion on this but, if we're going to play the "honor your food" card...I feel like naming something admits its individuality.
7. They don't taste different but it makes me want to place them in a bowl like a Food Network chef. Their chickens are all equally beautiful...not something I ever considered when I thought of chickens.
8. Yeah. We'll see. Though I will say that in that barren kitchen of mine a bottle of homemade wine from my friend the Accountant's father held a place of honor. So, I was trying.

Almost Famous

Admittedly, I have a very different hierarchy of cool than most folks.

Once, at an event, I was introduced to Ted Allen. Where some would have chatted about food and wine or his part in the then-very popular Queer Eye, I quizzed him on the logistics of Iron Chef. Is it really an hour? What about the plating? Is the food hot by the time you get it?

Upon being asked a question on a conference exhibit hall I blurted out, "You're Mandalit del Barco (1)!" The look on her face indicated that yes, she was, and (simultaneously) are you on drugs?

At an opening for new stained glass works by Judith Schaecter I coaxed the same look from the author Darcey Steinke, I once lost my ability to form coherent sentences in front of Michel Martin and bailed on the chance to meet Ira Glass for fear of making a total fool out of myself (2) (3)

Tomorrow I will be at an event where Alan Cumming will be a featured guest.

Alan. Cumming (4).

A Broadway actor & a superhero (5).

This has the potential of awkward written all over it.

1. If you don't know who this is this story resonates even more.
2. Which I would have.
3. It should be noted that it wasn't like someone said, "Hey Artboy, come say hello to Ira Glass!" Meeting him would have meant a "post-speaking-engagement" crowd surf. So, that's reasonable, right?
4. I know.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

What If...I Was Cool?

So, continuing with the whole existential angst...who am I? What is my future? Where am I headed? Blah, blah, blah...

Something interesting came up or, more accurately, came up again.

During one of those "what if" kind of discussions Leopold wondered aloud about what it would be like to have a more "corporate" kind of job. Like an office gig (1).

A job where, in theory at least, the day occurs between 8am & 6pm, calls can go to voicemail and the possibility of relative anonymity exists. All the things he doesn't really have.

I, on the other hand, pray like a fanatical nun for the chance to ditch the office and the voicemail and all the rest (2).

When I have a "what if" daydream I run a small bakery or a tiny but respected gallery or funky t-shirt shop. I make a living writing quirky magazine articles and my bio announces that I have a book coming out in December (3).

It's funny how green the grass on the other side of the fence can look.

Funnier that I've been clipping the grass at the edges of that other lawn for a while now but just can't figure out how to learn the trick the chicken already did.

How the heck do I get to the other side?

1. Or, again more accurately, an office gig where folks acknowledge that there is an office portion to your job even though they prefer to think of you as the wacky creative who spends their day making art, sipping herbal tea and thinking deep thoughts about Proust.
2. See yesterday's post.
3. True, I could include that now...but it would be a big, fat lie.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Bothered & Bewildered.

Growing up my grandmother would tell us that she was a witch. Overall it made sense. We lived in New England. She was from Salem. My favorite reason to stay home sick from school was to watch reruns of Bewitched (1).

What the heck, right (2)?

On days like this I find myself wishing that at least some of my grandmother's powers worked their way down to me. Looking out the window of my office, seeing all the other people sitting in their offices despite how late it was, I wondered, "When did I become one of these Derwoods (3)?"

1. Way, way superior to I Dream of Jeannie. The theory has been posed that Bewitched was for little gay boys and I Dream of Jeannie and her naked belly and "Master" complex was for the future straight men of America. I don't know if I entirely buy it as a theory...but I have to admire someone putting all that television to good use.
2. So it's grandmother wasn't a nut job.
3. I know...I promised not to do the whole whiny personal post but...well...what can I say. It's been one of those days. When I found myself wishing I was a witch.
Yep. Gramma wasn't crazy...but I might be.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Makes Sense (& Sensibility)

If I was a different kind of person I would hop up on the library table and yell, “GIRL FIGHT!!!” But that would be crude.

According to an article in The Telegraph (1) an academic in Oxford is in a “row” with a former student over that student’s new biography of Jane Austen. It seems that Professor Kathryn Sutherland feels that author Claire Harman (2) borrowed a little too much from Sutherlands' previous work on Austen without giving proper credit.

As reported in the article by Jon Swain (3): “I have never accused anyone of using my material before,” Prof Sutherland said, “but it feels a bit like identity theft.”

Which, personally, I think is a bit like a melodramatic overstatement but, to each her own.

But then I got to this (4): “Claire's book is commercial, of course, and there are plenty of things in it that are new to me," she told The Observer, "but several sections are terribly close to my work. It's a question of basic courtesy.

“My book was hailed as ground-breaking, but not many people outside the circle of Austen scholars have seen it.”


Some might suggest that this might be a bit more about professional jealousy than being a bit like identity theft.

But what’s more interesting to me about this is the fact that—if you look at the big picture—Austen only wrote six novels in total (5), two of which weren’t actually published until after her death at the age of 41.

Six books. Four decades. One author.

When you think about it, how could researchers and writers not trip over one another? Maybe, instead of a credit, Sutherland did deserve that courtesy she mentioned. Something to the effect of, “Oh, I’m sorry. Was that your foot?”

1. That would be a newspaper in the UK…where they still have wacky things like book sections.
2. An award-winning biographer herself.
3. So that there’s no confusion as to whose ideas are whose.
4. Again, Swain…I’m not taking any chances here.
5. I know. Right?

Sunday, March 15, 2009


This morning (1) I had the chance to hear a priest/educator who I admire very much give a lecture on Christian ethics. Much like the lecture I attended a few weeks ago on "Slavery, Sexuality, and the Future of the Anglican Communion," (2) at the end of the day it seems the greatest commitment people of faith should be making is not to feign slavish adherence to a text few have actually read (3), but to being open and willing to engage in dialogue with those whose opinions we do not share.

Interesting that ideas should come my way at the same time planning for my 2oth high school reunion has begun in earnest. Twenty years ago I would have greeted the suggestion that I would attend this event with an expression that would have led you to believe you had sprouted a second head (4).

It's not that I was friendless in high school. I was not the unstable loner kid that some suspected would one day arrive in with an automatic weapon tucked into his book bag. But I was not wildly popular. Actually, I was not mildly popular.

I was just kind of there to be a happy supporting cast member for some and a target for others.

Now however, now that this reunion plan is in the works, my Facebook page is increasingly being visited by "friends" from high school wanting to reconnect.

I do not remember who some of these people I'm going to say that we weren't so much friends 20 years ago.

But maybe this is how it starts. Maybe the discussion that will save the world and start putting an end to hate and bigotry and stupid meaningless divisions supposedly based on being a good Christian or Muslim or Jew will begin in our own backyards.

Maybe Facebook is the key to world peace (5).

1. This was after laundy and dishes and the rest. There is no such thing as a lazy Sunday around here.
. Oh yeah...I know how to party.
3. Or else they'd realize - when going on about the whole Adam & Steve thing - that the Bible sports two, very different Creation stories.
4. And a tail. And a tiny trapeze complete with tiny trapeze artist from the tip of your nose.
5. Too much?

What If?

Marvel's What If comics was a chance for writers to re-invent the characters and history of the books readers had come to know and love.

What if the Fantastic Four battled Doctor Doom before they got their powers?

What if Daredevil killed the Kingpin?

What if Invisible Girl of the Fantastic Four married the Sub-Mariner?

I thought of those comics this morning when I was folding laundry. In some ways I'm feeling at the edge of a personal "What If..." scenario. As is my usual situation though, I'm particularly terrified at the great unknown at the end of those three dots.

I'm not alone in this. I know too many people who are keeping the desk tchotchkees down to a minimum to ease the move that might be requested at the end of any given day.

Some of these people are good friends. So, despite the all-American logic that says I should be putting myself and my own professional security at the head of the line, I worry about them. And I worry that about the failure of some to realize what losing these people might mean.

You see, these friends are journalists who work for newspapers--that charming vestige of our pre-Internet world that some feel we could lose with less inconvenience than the removal of that useless appendix.

They don't anticipate that there would even be a scar.

But the "who-cares-if-we-lose-newspapers-we-have-the-Internet" mentality ignores a host of related issues...most of which are human.

Because you're not just losing a thing - a newspaper. You're losing a place - a newsroom. And you're losing the skills and talents and knowledge of people - journalists (1).

Sure, I take all this a little personally. If I didn't I wouldn't yell at the radio when I hear a smart person who should no better tossing out survey results about the public's supposed ho-hum opinion of dying newspapers without having asked the crucial questions (2).

But most of all, I'm tired of folks treating so many people's "what if" futures like it's a comic book scenario (3).

1. People snark about the business model of newspapers and the failure to embrace technology and evolve. But the folks losing their jobs and losing the ability to pay mortgages and do the job that they do not because it's making them wealthy but because it's all they've ever wanted to do had as much control over the business model as that 16-year old girl sewing designer bags for sweatshop wages. And beyond that, the work done by a good reporter doesn't change because the platform does. Unfortunately, some have stuck with simply learning new platforms.
2. Fortunately, there was a journalist there to point out the flaw in his data.
3. Allowing that some of those showing the least regard for my situation and the situation of their peers have been, in fact, journalists.