Saturday, March 28, 2009

That's Life. Dammit.

Saturdays I have a standing date with Ira Glass and the folks at This American Life (1).

I clean...I do laundry...pay bills...and realize how much I still have to learn about the art of storytelling (2).

Today's program looked at the recession. A condo building that the developer abandoned. A bank that the FDIC took over. And, the story that's had an unexpected effect on me, the closing of Circuit City as recorded by employees of a single store.

While I was struck by how horribly people treated the employees (3), I'm sitting here unable to get the voices of those employees out of my head. The bank employees too. It was the sound of heartbreak. People in a kind of mourning.

But I was less surprised to hear this from the members of the small bank that was closed down. If you've ever banked with a locally-run institution (4) you recognize how closely it is tied to the community.
But Circuit City. They're supposed to be a Goliath. An anonymous giant that comes to a city and stomps the mom-and-pops into the dust. They were Wal*Mart. Best Buy. Bank of America.

But listening to the story I realized that that doesn't actually matter. Regardless of the name on the letterhead, the number of layers between the person at the cash register and the store owner...someone there loves their job. Even the jobs we're taught from junior high to work really hard so that we don't end up having to do them.

Even the jobs that some politicians love to cast as "work Americans won't do."

1. I look forward to my Saturday NPR the way I used to look forward to Saturday morning cartoons.
2.
A small section of my book stacks are occupied by the audio Algonquin Roundtable of Vowell, Rakoff and Sedaris who, though they have done a good deal more than this "so-crazy-it-just-might-work" radio show out of Chicago, I will always think of as part of This American Life.
3. "This is why you're going out of business," was the apparent mantra of many folks. You know, instead of saying, "I'm sorry your losing your job."
4. When I lived on the Eastern Shore my bank wasn't actually part of a national ATM network. That's right. My bank was off-the-fiscal-grid.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Eat, Drink, Punch Him

The Book Ninja is holding a contest and I am in awe.

Apparently, that study that came out not long ago that mapped out the differences between how men read and women read got someone thinking about the feminization of the novel (1). So, in response, the Ninja is holding a contest for folks to re-masculate literature.

The title of this post was one reader's take on Eat, Pray, Love (2). Which is pretty good.

But better was this gem:

"Classic Charlotte’s Web becomes Charlotte’s Web of Death, by E. B. White

'When Wilbur befriends his neighbour Charlotte he has no idea that he will be sucked in a web of intrigue, deceit and mayhem, leading him as far as Frankfurt and Milan before returning to his humble farm for the chilling conclusion that will leave you breathless.'"

Did I say gem? I meant to say genius.

Visit the Ninja to learn how to enter the re-masculating literature contest.

1. This is hardly surprising when you think about all the book villagers flooding from their homes singing and dancing about "chick lit" not all that long ago. Bridget Jones was the gal pal of letters. A new generation of Jane Eyres were proclaiming, "Reader I married him..." only now they said it while drinking cosmos and running up the balance on their Platinum Visa. Strangely, most were still questing for that room with a view...of the park.
2. Yes. I read it. I liked it. So sue me.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Hey baby, new in town?

I'm in that period known as the book break.

It's not that there aren't a stack of books waiting for me to pay them some attention (1), but this is when the siren call of the bookstore reaches out to me and says, "Hey Sailor, are you looking for a good time?"

It's at times like these a pretty young thing like Patrick deWitt's Ablutions catches my eye. It's also one of those times where I think, again (3), how could we ever trade hardcovers for e-books and paperless literature?

1. And so it's noted, I've just started my bedtime book. The bedtime book is the shut-in of literature. On a good day she might make it down to the sofa but, for the most part, she's bed bound. Ironically, that book is currently Frida Kahlo: Song of Herself. Because, really, nothing says, "Welcome Spring!" like a psychological study of an iconic female artist (2) who lived a painful physical and emotional life.
2. Yeah, that's right. I footnoted a footnote. I'm a crazy person. It just bears mention that I actually liked Frida Kahlo before liking Frida was mainstream cool. My first thoughts of grad school involved the idea that I would specialize in modern female Mexican artists...Frida and Lola Alvarez Bravo for two. But then I learned about German. The art history programs I was interested in required passing minimum aptitude tests in German--one of the prime languages of the field. Despite the hours spent watching Hogan's Heroes I did not believe this was something I could accomplish.
3. And again, and again, and again...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Eenie, Meanie, Cherry Beanie...

Imagine my surprise when I learned that the Anglican Book of Common Prayer includes a prayer for the unemployed.

The Catholic in me is used to those sort of things being handled by Saints. That's kind of our thing.

Bernardine of Siena is the patron saint of advertising. Saint Francis de Sales takes care or writers. Genofeva handles rain, Our Lady of Lourdes is keeping an eye on Tennessee and Maria Goretti is hanging with the teenagers.

(Though, so it's noted, there is actually a Catholic prayer for the unemployed (1). But I think I prefer the Anglican prayer when all is said and done.)

"Heavenly Father, we remember before you those who suffer want and anxiety from lack of work. Guide the people of this land so to use our public and private wealth that all may find suitable and fulfilling employment, and receive just payment for their labor; through Jesus Christ our Lord."

It mentions anxiety, offers a stronger recovery plan than the Republicans have come up with, and doesn't ask for any old kind of job...but something "suitable and fulfilling."

Amen.

1. Though very true to form, its kind of "if you do this for me I totally owe you one."

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

If You Seek Viola

I had no freaking idea.

I mean, wow.

Um...oh yeah...if you aren't able to read silently...like in your head...than you shouldn't click on that hyperlinked sentence above. It will take you to a Slate magazine article about Britney Spears' new song and what she's actually singing (1) .

Which I totally didn't get.

And then they go and drag Shakespeare into it.

When this gets out high school librarians everywhere are going to be wondering, "Where the heck did that copy of Twelfth Night go?"

1. It includes a word that is, as the kids who like to acronymize things to keep The Man off their back say, NSFW.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Juggling.

I'm starting to work on what I hope will be a new literary project.

I've also started to speak about said project in cryptic terms using words like "potential," "possible" and "maybe."

You know, to avoid the jinx (1).

As Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is so fresh in my mind I find myself continually wondering how Barbara Kingsolver pulls it all off. Mother. Writer. Farmer. Whatever one calls someone able to pickle string beans and make sundried tomatoes and butcher poultry.

Considering I've managed to lock myself out of the house not once but twice in the last four days, I'm going to say that I won't try adding poultry butchering to my current to do list.

It would only end in tears.

1. Andrew Holleran always told me that the book you talk about is the book you never write. I've talked about a lot of books.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sunday School.

In the beginning was the Word. And then there was another word. And then some more. And some more. And some more. And then, somewhat ironically, a bunch of these words were put together to make up the book of Numbers.

No. Not Numb3rs (1).

Numbers. As in the book in the Bible...which is not so much the greatest story ever told but more the strangest collection of short stories to ever make the global and historical bestseller list (2).

Numbers tells the story of the Israelites post-Exodus wandering, after the Jewish people flee their slavery in Egypt only to roam the desert for far longer than they planned to do. Really. No one packed anywhere near appropriately for the trip.

Take the following passage from Numbers 21: "The people spoke against God and against Moses, 'Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food (3).'"

Now, if these folks had been paying attention they would know, you do NOT mess with the Old Testament God. He is not the big friendly guy with a beard who occassionally does comic panel appearances in The New Yorker.

He's kind of a bad ass.

A bad ass who, when you complain about the menu, sends poisonous snakes to bite and kill you. Which, in Numbers 21...he does.

Which causes all the Israelites to go to Moses and say, and I'm paraphrasing here, "We still hate the food...but the snakes aren't so much doing it for us either. Could you maybe get God to do us a solid?"

Moses consults with God (4) and, at his direction, "made a serpent out of bronze and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone the person would look at the serpent of bronze and live."

Which led me to wonder, how long before publishers have to print "Do Not Attempt at Home" in the front pages of the Bible?

1. Nerd. No, I didn't mean you. It's not like you wrote it there.
2. And before you get all freaked out...I'm not saying whether these short stories belong in the fiction or nonfiction section. Simply saying that I take exception to the idea that there is a central narrative to the Bible. Perhaps one in the broadest, most expansive sense of the word...but that makes the whole 'central' thing more difficult to make a case for now doesn't it.
3. Soooooo...you don't have food, or you don't like the food you have? Because one is desperate, the other is whining.
4. Which, when I play the conversation out in my head, involves Moses saying, "God, I need to ask if you could do something about these snakes." And God responding, "Oh no you di-int.I know you're not asking me about the snakes." And then Moses rolls his eyes and says, "I know, I know..."

Awk-ward.

For those of you who were wondering, last night's event was lovely but I did manage to score that very awkward moment I had anticipated.

Strangely, it involved none of the players I suspected.

Seated at my table was an actor. An actor whose last play I completely panned.

Now, as I am hardly a widely-known or recognized individual this might have gone unnoticed. Except that his wife introduced me as, "Artboy, he's a theater critic." The Actor smiled and greeted me warmly and then, while it may have had nothing to do with me whatsoever, turned to his wife and executed the difficult but always effective full eye roll.

Really, it might have had nothing to do with me at all until another tablemate asked what he was working on. His play had just closed he replied and--I might have imagined this--he looked right at me.

Now, don't get me wrong. I do not have the power to close a play. Even a school play. Even an elementary school production of Auntie Mame. Even a pre-school production of RENT.

But I could swear he looked right at me when he said it.

So now I can't decide what was more awkward.

Being seated with The Actor who may or may not have known that I had reviewed the show or spending the evening completely preoccupied by the idea that he may or may not have known I reviewed his show.