Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Long Climb Upward

Greetings, readers! According to my refrigerator calendar, today is the Winter Solstice, a day which marks both the beginning of actual winter and the shortest day of the year. As Terry Pratchett has pointed out, it's a day to be careful of people who claim to be honest as the day is long.

I like Solstice. It's a lovely way to escape the growing clamor of Christmas v. Hanukkah v. Eid al-Adha v. Kwanzaa. I think Solstice slips under the radar a bit, which is nice. After today, the days begin to grow longer again. There are a couple of ways of looking at this. If you want to be confrontational about it, the bleak, cold darkness has been beaten back for another year and we as a species have survived to claw our way back into the sunlight. (I suppose we could say surviving the final trip to the shopping mall symbolically commemorates this event.)

I prefer to look at it a little differently, though. A long time ago, people were more attuned to the turning of the seasons - before the advent of electric light, there was a distinct difference between day and night that just had to be acknowledged. And it was understood that seeds, fields, and yes, people, needed to rest in order to store the energy necessary to grow when the time was right. Solstice marks the end of the dormant period - it's time to stretch towards the light and get ready to grow. It may take a while to see the results, but after all, flowers do a lot of work before we see the blooms.

So why wait until the calendar New Year to make some resolutions? (Yeah, I know. I'm not modifying my lousy eating habits until Epiphany, but that's beside the point. You plan on finishing that pecan bar?) Fresh starts require some effort; it's true, but you don't have to carry all that junk you've been carting around into the New Year with you. So maybe dig out your holiday cards one last time and send one to someone you've been on the outs with. Send it anonymously if you want. Or write down what you consider to be your bad habits and burn the paper in a Yule fire. Resolve to be the light this year; not the shadow. Climb up toward the light - it's where we all belong.

This is my last entry for 2007 - but I'll be back during the first week of January for musings and commentary from the holidays. Have a Merry New Year and remember - it's a brand-new set of three-hundred-and-sixty-six days in which to get things right. Just go a little easy on yourself and keep in mind that no one really has things figured out. While some folks are better at looking calm and collected, we're all just doing the best we can with what we have. So be a little kinder to someone who you don't think deserves it, even if that person is you.

Peace to you.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Joys of a Small Town!

The title of this post is a phrase that my mother is fond of saying when people are a smidge nicer than is strictly necessary for no apparent reason. (Then again, my mother is one of the most honorable people I know, so it's easy to be nice to her.) Anyway - I started thinking about it and I realized that there are quite a few things I really enjoy about living in a small (strike that, "itsy" is a more accurate word) town. I was born and raised in a small town and at different times of my life, I've lived in college towns, small towns, cities, and metropoli (that's the plural of "metropolis," right?).

So what is there to recommend small (I mean "itsy") town living? After all, it's not all apple pies cooling on windowsills and kids whitewashing the fence. (Thank heavens!) You tend to find what you're looking for, and overall, I'd have to say small towns have a certain tolerance for, nay, celebration of eccentricity. I don't just mean knowing who the local kook is - I mean honoring the oddities among us. Personally, I think this is more pronounced in the South, but I'll cheerfully admit to being biased. So, in no particular order, here are a dozen "joys of a small town."

1. Knowing that if you skid your car off into a ditch in an ice storm (we don't really get snow), just stay put. In less than twenty minutes, some guys will come along in a pickup truck with a logging chain. Don't offer to help - they live for this stuff.
2. Gardening in the back yard. (We still reserve the front yard for company; the back yard's for family.) Your burning ambition is to grow the world's largest pumpkin? Not gonna do that in a New York City walk-up. And yes, tomatoes taste better from your own patch. Just stay away from zucchini. Someone else will grow it and, trust me, they'll have plenty to give away.
3. Watching Christmas parades that feature baton-twirlers, cloggers, large Shriners in very small go-carts, as well as a horse-drawn hearse. Guess that's for the "scary ghost stories" lyric of "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year." And, on one memorable year, the Christmas Goat.
4. Understanding that the river has room for swimmers, turtles, and conversion experiences. Simultaneously.
5. Experiencing the traffic jam that follows a high school football game and marveling that it's much larger than any "rush hour" the town has to offer.
6. Driving around to see displays of Christmas lights, secretly hoping to find at least a couple of houses that make you ask, "What were they thinking?" but kind of liking it anyway, because you know that tasteful restraint has its place and Christmas isn't necessarily it.
7. Going out on Election Night to watch the volunteers climb up a ladder to post the precinct results on the world's largest whiteboard at the local fire station. People actually bring coffee and lawn chairs and treat it as a reality TV show.
8. Having a neighbor who keeps two horses in his back yard. In the city limits. In the winter, it's fine, but I don't want to be next door when the summer heat rolls in.
9. Strolling through the city cemetery to find the gravestone of the circus fat lady who died here. While sad to think she had no other family, well, she wasn't the first stray to be taken in and given a final, dignified rest.
10. Speaking of cemeteries, knowing that every well-bred woman has a "death casserole" that is either already in the freezer or can be whipped up in less than half an hour because viewings and funerals are social occasions and food must be provided.
11. Realizing that the original name of the town referenced the high degree of naturally-occurring lithium in the water. And having to consider that might explain a few things.
12. Knowing that adding "bless his/her heart" is the conversational equivalent of waving magical pixie dust. It's a universal balm that allows you to say the most vicious, backbiting things about someone, but still come off sounding friendly and sympathetic. For example: "Well, he can't really help it. His whole family have never been anything but shiftless chicken thieves, bless his heart." I've often wondered if that can be used as a defense as a slander trial - "But Your Honor, she said, 'Bless his heart!'" "Case dismissed!"

I like it here.

But I'm still going to Los Angeles in about two weeks. Home seems more like home when you're coming back to it.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

"I-Really-Liked-This-Movie" Pie

Last night, after experiencing what I can best describe as a "beige day" (you know, the type where nothing really bad happens, but nothing really good or lively or "well, that was cool" happens either), I needed something uplifting. And not Christmas carols - I'm overdosed on those at the moment. Love 'em; don't get me wrong, but sometimes you need the less-treacly ones - "Fairytale of New York" by the Pogues comes to mind, and that just gets you a lot of very strange looks.

So Stacked Librarian, who's always good at cheering me up when I'm on a downhill slide, stuffed me with pizza and we watched Waitress. Now, this is a movie I'd been meaning to see since it came out in the spring but, what with one thing and another, I never had managed. I wasn't sure about it - okay, Nathan Fillion, always good; one of my strengths is admitting my weaknesses. And a story about a waitress who pours her emotions into her strangely-named pies certainly has the curiosity factor going for it. But the story behind the movie is such a sad one. I don't want to go into gritty details, but the writer and director of the film, Adrienne Shelly, was murdered before the film was picked up for distribution, so she never got to revel in the well-deserved accolades the film received. She also had a starring role in the movie - it's hard to juggle those three jobs and often the results are overly self-indulgent, but not this time. Following her death, a non-profit organization was established to encourage other female filmmakers. No doubt a worthy goal, but I daresay her family, friends and fans would much rather have her among the rest of us.

Enough with the sad. It's a great movie. Really. Strong story, well-developed characters, funny, touching, and leaves you with that warm, fuzzy feeling without a nasty saccharine aftertaste. No need for a plot synopsis beyond telling you that I started thinking afterward about the term "happy enough" and being sure that I want more than that, even if it makes me unhappy along the way.

I think I need a piece of pie now.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Chuchundra No More!

I've always enjoyed Kipling's tale of Rikki-tikki-tavi, the mongoose who saves his Anglo family from Indian cobras. (Yeah, yeah, I know - Kipling's work smacks of patronizing colonialism - I like the mongoose, okay? Sheesh. Go organize Santa's elves, why don't you?) Anyway, among the animal characters in the story is a muskrat named Chuchundra, who always skitters around the edges of the room, too scared to dart out into the middle. Despite this, he is able to provide Our Hero with useful advice that helps enable Rikki to kill the murderous Nagiana.

When it comes to technology, I've always been a bit of a Chuchundra, too frightened to really dive into all that digital pixels, binary code, and things that go "ping!" have to offer. But I was reflecting on this just the other night and darned if I didn't discover that I'm a lot further away from the wall than I was a year ago. Let's see . . .

1. I have a shiny computer with a flat-screen monitor. Mind you, my television is non high-def, non TiVo, I don't have a fancy satellite-style package (which means no BBC America - blast!) and the TV itself has more depth than many of my postings - but my computer monitor is slimmer than an anorexic's hips.
2. As I write this, I'm having to pause to switch out holiday CDs that are being imported into iTunes. From there, I'll synch my iPod so I can belt out Christmas carols in my car.
3. I created not only this blog, but one for the BtVS class, which I've maintained regularly. I even learned how to add links to Websites (didn't know that back in May) and pictures.
4. Speaking of which, I've learned how to upload photos from trips (Istanbul, anyone?) and become an active member of a couple of online communities.
5. Thanks to my friend and partner-in-crime rainbowcipher, I received assurance that yes, I had in fact defragmented my computer properly to improve its digestion. Further, I think it counts that I can use the term "defrag" in casual conversation.

Hmm. Where's that wall again? I can barely see it from here. But I still think I'll steer clear of hooded serpents.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Huzzah!

Well, it had to happen. Purely in the interest of research and the lofty goal of attaining knowledge, Stacked Librarian and I attended a Renaissance Fair. I'd like to think we went in with the proper attitude, which was (for us) one of willing amusement. I mean, it's hard to maintain a sense of cool detachment when people in wimples are attempting to entice you by waving giant turkey legs in your direction.

Now, I'm all for playacting. In fact, I have degrees in that area. However, it's important to remember that Ye Olde Ren Faire is hardly historically accurate. And thank the stars above that's the case! Oh, look, Rufus, there's a plague rat! Mabel, I think that woman is in the stocks for being a sharp-tongued scold! (Medieval times would not have been kind to Mockingbird, as you can see.) Not to mention horrible food, a greatly diminished life expectancy, and a (to put it delicately) lack of attention to personal hygiene.

Still, it's great fun to walk around, once you buy into the slight absurdity of it all. We stopped to jeer at the victim of "Vegetable Justice" who was taunting two small children. In turn, they were allowed to step closer with their tomatoes. (Shades of Jackson's "The Lottery," now that I think about it!) We cruised through a maze that was really meant for much smaller participants and crowed delightedly when we found "gold" coins on the edges of the path. We missed the jousting (darn!), but did compliment one performer who was clearly a master of the nose flute. Nope, that's not a typo. Nose flute. We also splurged and bought clothing that is reinforced with steel. Practical? Not in the least. But certainly no crazier than standing in line outside Wal-Mart at 4 a.m. on the Friday after Thanksgiving.

Aside: As a fully-spurred Discount Knight, you may think that I'm sharpening my lance for Black Friday. And you'd be wrong. No way, no how. Yes, you can find fantastic deals, no doubt about it. But - the glory of being a Knight is finding deals that other people don't find. Black Friday is the retail equivalent of a canned hunt where beaters shoo the game out toward a clearing and the hunters blast away from their tree stands.

And I don't care for salivating crowds. No offense meant; other people love it. Just not my hunt.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

When One Door Closes . . .

. . . have the hatches battened down, matey, because it's going to stay that way for three flippin' months!

Being a homeowner has many advantages, including some nifty tax ones. However - mine is an older house with all sorts of hidden delights in the plumbing and electrical systems (ooh, look - fuses!) and very little of anything here is square or plumb. (Then again, I'm a bit off-center myself, so perhaps Ithaka and I are well suited for one another. Yes, the house is named "Ithaka," at least to me. Don't laugh before you've re-read The Odyssey. We're all looking for our own Ithakas. But I digress.)

The project of replacing an old door snowballed into a much larger project and then the fun really began as miscommunication and pilot error turned the whole snarled mess into a real-life version of the kids' game Telephone. Remember that one? Someone would whisper a sentence to the first kid, who would whisper whatever they heard to the next kid and so on and so on until it got all the way around the room, by which time the resulting sentence was mangled like my temper after the fifth visit to straighten out yet another kink in the project. I talked to employees, independent contractors, installation managers, store managers, district managers, and corporate personnel. I put my woes in writing and still wound up wondering if duct tape could serve as weatherstripping.

Long story short (trust me, this is short) - three months and several fits of temper and pique later, I'm marveling at the door (which was provided to me at an extremely discounted rate, due to - oh, everything. Very nice, but I still would much rather have had the door two-plus months ago). Mind you, it's just an ordinary steel exterior door - nothing custom-made or beveled or carved. I should be filled with righteous indignation - "Well, I gave them a piece of my mind!" or "I showed them just who they were messing with!"

You have any idea how ridiculous that sounds? To begin with (and at the risk of sounding extremely hug-a-tree-ish), there really isn't a "them." There's just "us" in this world and people usually are about as good as you expect them to be. I've yet to find the person who responds positively to being screamed at and/or treated as if he/she is a cretinous pinhead. Further, one of the greatest gifts I've been given in the last five or so years is the realization that the universe isn't out to get me; that I'm just not that important. (Don't get me wrong - my ego often tells me that I'm not only important; I'm cool enough to store meat in, but the universe isn't out to get me because of it!) So I stayed as polite as I could throughout the process, although I tried mightily to point out what efforts I was taking to retain my temper. I couldn't stay for the whole installation - some unexpected tilework added some time to the project - so I left for work, hoping for the best.

I got home from my night class tonight and - well. A solid door is firmly in place, nicely trimmed out with tight miter joints (and those aren't easy, me bucko!), primed and ready to paint. The locks are of excellent quality and turn smoothly. I have a new tiled entryway and old pieces to use under plants. My carport was swept clean and the crew even cut up a nasty-big tree limb that I hadn't been able to chop into manageable pieces. Heck, they even changed the bulbs in my porch light and quite literally left a light on for me!

Now, you might say that that's the least they could do, after inconveniencing me for 90 days.

And I'd call you a lousy cynic.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Taking It Outside!

No, the title doesn't refer to your intrepid correspondent getting rowdy in a honky-tonk. Rather, yesterday I took a brief break from piled-up responsibilities and headed West. Not too far, just enough to be in the mountains for the afternoon. It's full autumn here and while the colors aren't the best (drought, don't you know), the air has turned crisp enough to make you dig out gloves and a jacket. Stacked Librarian ditched her weekend chores to go with me and I acted as Ping-the-Sherpa, toting the water and trail mix.

It was a little hike, really. Nothing off-trail, nothing involving ropes and carabiners. But it was so nice to get outside for a while - to drive just far enough to justify saying (should the cell phone ring - always carry one for emergencies), "Sorry, can't. See, I'm out in the mountains . . ."

And it was a beautiful day for a hike. Bright, clear blue sky; maples and oaks changing their clothes for the winter dance; enough of Shinny Creek still flowing despite the drought to gurgle and splash; and enough of an upward climb to feel like I hadn't just taken a prolonged walk in the neighborhood.

I feel better for it. Or maybe that was the result of the ice cream on the way back.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Back Home!

I've returned from the BUFFY HEREAFTER conference in Istanbul. While I posted entries on what was going on during that time over on the class blog (which you can reach here), let me say that the trip was great! I met Buffy scholars (no, that's not an oxymoron) from 7 different countries and had the opportunity to showcase my own work to a critical, yet supportive, audience. Good times. By the way, the symbol to the right of the post is supposed to act as protection against the evil eye. Plus, it's pretty, which I suppose is always a nice thing in the fight of good against evil.

And no, I didn't have to buy a monkey. But there was some sightseeing, which meant a chance let my inner Discount Knight run rampant in the bazaars of Turkey. A highlight had to be haggling over a rosary (yeah, I know - dickering over the price of a holy object is probably not exactly the best thing to do, but I refuse to fight my nature), which included this exchange:

ME: This is pretty. How much?
SELLER: Oh, you have excellent taste. 24.
ME: How much?
SELLER: For you, 18.
ME: 18, huh?
SELLER: Your eyes; so pretty.
ME: Really?
SELLER: Like the ocean when I look into them.
ME: Like the ocean?
SELLER: Yes. 15.
ME: Look a little deeper, call it 12, and we've got a deal.

Hee, hee, hee!

It's good to be home. Thanks for all your thoughts and prayers during my time so far away.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Bon Voyage and Cheerio!

So in a little while, it's off to the airport with me. Your faithful correspondent is about to become a roving correspondent, as I leave for the BUFFY HEREAFTER conference in Istanbul later today. There's still a list of things to get done, but it'll all happen. As a friend memorably put it last night when I was fretting about how much there was to do and how much I couldn't really plan for, "You've done everything to get ready that you can. Now go and do your best to enjoy the ride. Who knows? Maybe they've just put in a requirement that you have to buy a monkey to enter the country. Do you want to go? (quick nod from me.) Thought so - go buy the monkey!"

It's just that I've never traveled to a place that's offended enough at my country that they just recalled their ambassador. Diplomatically speaking, that's more than just being miffed. It's even beyond being irked.

However, when the lovely and telepathic Spooky was taking her walk through the neighborhood with me this morning, we noticed two majestic wild turkeys posing for us on one of the lawns. Just - there. Maybe that's a sign. Of what, I have no idea.

Maybe I'm going to have to buy a monkey.

Time to quit spinning like a dervish and go watch the professionals.

In the meantime, I hope to post updates and at least a few pictures during the trip. Those will be over at unfetteredbrilliance, the blog I set up for the BUFFY class. Please visit often! Back in a week!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Back and Ready to Rumble!

Well, not in any literal sense. I don't think I've actually "rumbled" in my life and I'm okay keeping it that way. But the feeling is there. I'm back from the quickie vacation, in which I spent far too much time watching old Doctor Who material and marveling at how far the BBC has come (and also marveling at the exaggerated use of the Delsarte technique in early 1960s television. Yes, that was meant to be snarky; it's my blog and I get to do that from time to time). There were also intensive seminars in Advanced Beach Walking and Active Napping 2.

But now I'm back and no longer looking to behave like a Dalek towards those unfortunate enough to be around me. In fact, I think I'm ready for the next few weeks.

Let's see . . . next week the Buffy class begins. The blog for that class is in existence and doing its stretches to be properly limbered up for students. Please check it out if you have a chance. It's basic at this point; I'd love comments.

Also, in slightly less than two weeks, I leave for Istanbul for the Buffy Hereafter conference to present on Whedon's futuristic Slayer, Melaka Fray. Just got the hotel sorted out - my reservation somehow got lost, but one of the conference organizers leapt in to save the day, even offering me the comfort of her home if it turned out there was no room at the inn. I think I'm going to like Turkey . . . a place where they may not know your name, but your fez is familiar. (Rimshot!)

And classes progress and Spooky's looking to lay in her winter supply of pig ears (it IS harvest time after all, although I've tried to explain that it's not really the same thing) and the community theatre group is involved in more projects than you could shake a stick at in the next four weeks. But, with the benefit of a few days away, it all looks like opportunities instead of chores and that's a pleasant change.

No update on the book yet. I'll let you know something when I know something. Which will (hopefully) be soon and optimistic!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Loosening the Screws

Yeah, I know - the title could be read as somewhat risque, but how am I to blame for what goes on in the dark recesses of your mind?

At any rate, I'm taking a few days off. Really off. No Internet (although I bet I break down on that. Probably show up at the local library begging for access. I'm such an e-tramp - c'mon, baby, just one hit. Please, baby. Sigh.). But I'm trying for no e-mail chat, no peeking at comments, no checking electronic headlines or any of that other stuff. I'm wound way too tight and I'm getting out of Dodge before the fellows with the large butterfly nets start sashaying my way. It stands to reason - I haven't really slowed down since way before the book project was turned in. Although D*C was a fantastic whirligig of fun, it was still a whirligig.

Not even telling you where I'm going - I'm just going there. Calm blue ocean . . .calm blue ocean . . . calm blue ocean . . .

It's important to know when you've had enough. For me, the fact that I've started forgetting appointments and snapping at people for my own doofus-y actions is a big ol' celestial sign that Mockingbird needs to hunker down in a borrowed nest for a bit and let the winds of Fate howl outside without her intervention. I know (from painful personal experience) that when this happens, I can do one of two things. One: Obey the flashing neon lights and take a few days to regroup. Two: Ignore it, claiming that I'm just too gosh-darned important to take the necessary time to take care of myself. When I take that approach, my body tends to take more drastic action to get my attention, like straining a shoulder muscle or getting a bug that I just can't shake. Either way, I wind up slowing down, so I prefer to take the easier route that doesn't involve taking a breather due to physical harm. I've got new songs to listen to, old movies to watch, and a patch of sand with my name on it. (Well, not yet, but give me a day. I'll stake it out.)

Hey - it's cheaper than most other forms of therapy.

So, I'll be back soon. In the meantime, how do you know when you're close to the edge? And what do you do when you find yourself there?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Ahoy, Me Hearties!

It's been an - interesting - week. "Interesting" is such a useful word, as it can convey so very many shades of meaning. In this case, the meaning is "weird, leaning toward the good, but with a lot of supremely curious 'huh-what?' stuff thrown in, along with a goodly dash of the sort of news that makes you despair about whether humans are useful additions to the ecosystem."

And all of that communicated with a single word. Isn't English an amazing language?

There's no need to go into gritty detail. It'll suffice to say that the last week has seen the 6th commemoration of the loss of our collective innocence; there were a few oddities at work; and the news had more than the usual amount of stories which dealt with humans being monstrous to the smaller and weaker among us. Adding to the bizarre, I actually got drawn into a conversation yesterday about the views of Karl Barth, which I was busily relating to elements of Doctor Who. (As Mal would say, "Still working the details.") Based on the available evidence, it seems abundantly safe to say that I could use a break from being a responsible grown-up. And I bet we could all benefit from such a break.

And just in time is today. September 19 - International Talk Like a Pirate Day! This site is chock-full of vocabulary tips and fashion advice. What? You say you fear your "pirate-speak" skills aren't up to public display? No fear, ye spineless bilge rat - if you're able to cut and paste this - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fqMu6e5Dgtg - you'll be treated to a useful (and HI-larious!) language lesson! What? You expect me to know how to link that? Arrr - away wi' ye, scurvy dog! I got plunderin' on me mind; I've no time fer such t'ings!

Remember - to err is human, but to "arrr!" is Pirate!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Returning to Earth

So I'm back home for the time being, having finished the eight-states-in-ten-days tour. I know you couldn't come with me, but fear not! There are pictures galore from Dragon*Con for you to examine, quite likely while saying, "What is that he/she/to be determined is wearing, exactly?" I organized the photos into some rough semblance of categories, with Whedon-stuff first. Enjoy and remember - these are your neighbors, your dentists, your teachers, your plumbers and so forth. My, my, but we're complicated people, aren't we? And yes, this post begins with a picture of the 30+ marching members of the 76th Independent Battalion, which is a very elaborate homage to Firefly. These people, who I am proud to call comrades (no, not that kind - don't let the red fool you), may be a little nutty, but I have pecan-like tendencies myself. And trust me - these are the sort of folk you want watching over you, whether you need a strong back or a soft couch.

Back on Earth, school continues. I have technical issues - a mutant talent of mine seems to be the uncanny talent to make all things electronic go wonky at my approach - but they seem to get resolved while also providing computer techs with both job security and funny stories to tell.

Speaking of both technical issues and funny stories, a new blog will soon be linked to this one. I'll be starting a separate blog for the upcoming Buffy class that I'll be teaching as a six-week continuing education class. The class will be interrupted for a week due to the Turkey trip, but I had the idea for the blog before that puzzle piece fell into place. The blog will give students (and non-students, too) a place to comment, along with some nifty links to information about the episodes we'll be concentrating on, essays that have been published on the material and so forth. Oh, regarding the comments - don't get overly excited; I'm going to serve as moderator, just in case people get irrelevant in their statements. See, there was an article about another cont. ed. course in which the instructor justified his class by saying something along the lines of, "Last year, they had a course on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, so there's room for everything." Maybe I was just in a snarky mood, but that stuck in my craw to a degree. It was a bloody good class, focusing on depicitons of morality and values. Pffffffbt, I say! Anyway, back to the post, already in progress . . .

. . . and I'm nearly caught up on laundry and most of the papers that piled up on my desk during my absence have been conquered! Honestly, the pile was so high I wasn't sure if I should grade it or climb it.

I'm going to enjoy just sitting still with a dusty dog (we really need rain around here) and look through my pictures, reliving the glory days of otherwise normal people dressed up as Monty Python characters.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Dragon*Con


The deal was this - finish the book on time, and get to go to Dragon*Con in Atlanta as a reward. I bought my pass in anticipation of reaching my goal and getting that tasty carrot. This was wise, since as you know, I got the manuscript in to the publisher about ten days early. I frantically prepped lessons for my classes in my absence (I hated missing class - really. I like teaching and I think I'm indispensable, so I don't like not being there) and off I went. While I didn't get to do everything or meet everybody (sorry Lissa and Rhonda), it was - noteworthy.

I'd been to cons before - Akin and I met at the infamous "canned flan" in Burbank back in December, after all - but this was just . . . other. Something like 45,000 attendees with interests ranging from computer gaming to Star Trek to anime to science fiction to Doctor Who to (of course) Whedon. Costumes are the norm and I'm sure any poor Muggle who booked a room at any of the three host hotels without knowing what was happening came out shocked and stunned. I saw stormtroopers and Doctors and Sailor Moons and Batman but I also saw the Death Star Construction Crew (complete with blueprints), the Tick (complete with spoon) and Delirium (complete with fish).

I loved it all.

After all, in so-called "real life," most of us (not just con-goers) are mundane. We fret about paying the bills, whether the car will last through the winter, how much overtime we're putting in at work that takes us away from those we love and so forth. But we are so very much more. Whether your passion is anime or football, passions are good and having people to share those passions with is even better.

I'm already planning for next year. Without the pressure of writing a book.

Who knows? Maybe the geeks will inherit the earth. When we do, it'll be an earth worth living on, I feel sure.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

It's in the Mail!

Yes, sports fans, the book is in the mail! My baby is winging her way to the publisher, hopefully even as we speak. (Only we're not speaking. Hmm. Problematical, that is.)

Anyway, I polished stacked librarian's edits while under the influence of way too much coffee to be prudent and must now take full responsibility to what results. From a cold, harsh, practical viewpoint, I know that the larger world won't know (and wouldn't care if they did) how much hard work went into this project. Even more difficult to accept is that most people don't "get" this project - they get excited when I tell them I wrote a book (I wrote a book! Sorry - it's still sinking in and it's real tonight, since the book is in the mail and all), then they visibly deflate when I explain that it's about faith and belief in the works of Joss Whedon. Buffy the Vampire Slayer with footnotes. I swear, it's as if they're mentally patting me on the head like a kindergartner who's showing off finger-painting.

Well, pooh on them, I say! It's solid work (mighty fine finger-painting, to my way of thinking) and I have to believe it'll find the audience it's meant to find. And I wish I had the energy to celebrate in some outrageous way - preferably involving drizzled chocolate - but I'm just too bloody tired.

And what else is in Mockingbird's mail? Oh, look - the Collector's Edition of Serenity!! Well, isn't that rather like kismet, considering everything with this started back with that? (Although I'm too bushed to watch it tonight - classes stop for no author.) But it is a pleasant coincidence. Serendipitous and Serenity - I like that. The Little Movie That Could. I'm sure that, somewhere, there's a Fox executive sobbing at his desk: "I don't understand it! We did our best to kill it, and it just keeps coming back!" I must say, this is shiny packaging - miles better than the first DVD, the packaging of which was just a dismal mess.

Happy now. Also tired, but mostly happy. And a little hungry. But still mostly happy.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Online Classes and Other Musings

The goal line for the manuscript is in sight, but I've yet to cross it. The whole honkin' doorstop-sized draft is in the tender hands of stacked librarian these days, who is looking over it with the flinty eyes of Ilsa the Editing She-Wolf. (No, she's not quite like that, but it's a fun image, isn't it? "Mockingbird, you dummkopf! Ze comma is meant to go here!" [thwack of riding crop on page]) I'm hoping to have the entire, whistle-clean package in the mail to the publisher by the end of next week. Check back for updates.

In the meantime, I've been dealing with the fact that my house is an old one, with old-house problems. Nothing is totally square, or plumb, or standard-sized and we shall speak not of the pink tile. This has caused a small-to-middling sized project to balloon to a "Hmmm - let's put this off six months" size. At least I reached that conclusion before I started the project in any meaningful way - I must be getting smarter.

I'm also teaching my first ever "pure" online class - I've done hybrids before (some computer-based, some in-class), but this one is set up so I never actually see my students. Think of it as a Internet-abled correspondence course. (Actually, we will have one face-to-face meeting when we have our courthouse "field trip." [It's a business law class.] Wonder how we'll know each other? Maybe a rose in our lapel or something equally film noir-ish.) So far, so good. Most of my students seem eager and able and are champing at the bit to work ahead. (There will be none of that. I'm still figuring out a few things about how all of this actually fits together.)

With all of this going on, it's safe to say that I'm busy enough to stay out of pool halls.

But that finish line is so close . . .

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Gobble-gobble-gobble!!

Yes, that's right, sports fans - Mockingbird is flying to Turkey!

I'm sure there's a bird-based joke that should go there - birdbrain, perhaps?? At any rate, I have been approved to travel to the BUFFY HEREAFTER conference in Istanbul which is being held in mid-October. That gives me about two months to learn all the lyrics to that song. You know, the one that goes:

Istanbul was Constantinople
Now it's Istanbul, not Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Now it's Turkish delight on a moonlit night . . .

You'll have to forgive me - I'm a little giddy. From my perspective, this is a huge deal. The fact that the conference is happening shows that the academic study of Whedon is continuing to gain steam. The conference organizers are showing confidence in my work by selecting my proposal for inclusion in the event. The school is showing me a great deal of support in my interests and area of developing expertise by financially backing the trip. Oh, and Cambridge Scholars Press has indicated interest in publishing a collection of the polished papers from the conference. Probably won't affect me since my paper is based on a chapter of the book that McFarland has under contract, but hey! it's still cool.

As to that, give me another ten days-two weeks and I think the behemoth will be in the mail. I'm not sure if I'm ready to send my baby out into the cold, cruel world, but you gotta let go sometime.

A book, a chance to have the ol' passport stamped, and a successful encore of a very funny play - not too shabby for a girl who grew up out so far out in the country there wasn't a stoplight!

Pass the stuffing - I'm going to Turkey!

Saturday, August 4, 2007

End with the Beginning

Don't you just love it when things come together? I know I do.

The encore of COMPLETE WORKS is chugging along nicely. Houses have been small, but enthusiastic. The actors are comfortable enough to improvise and play off of each other in ways that make the show sparkle each night and my backstage crew makes it all look easy. It's not, but they make you believe that it is.

The part of the show that never fails to bring down the house is the last four minutes or so when the actors finish HAMLET ("the rest is silence"), then do it again. Then faster! Then - backwards!! Oh, the effort and labor that went into nailing down those last few minutes, for not just the lines but also the blocking is run backwards, like a film - only it's live. And it's wonderful to see that hard, hard work rewarded. So the show finishes with the beginning ("Oh, that this too, too solid flesh would melt . . . "), which ties in with my next point.

Thank you and pass the chocolate, I finished the first edits on the manuscript today. With (yep, you guessed it) the introduction. Maybe you have to see everything before you can accurately point out the way in the intro. At least that's the way it seems to me.

This means the book is yet another step towards completion on my end. Once my editor-fiends (umm, I meant "friends." Yeah.) have finished their reviews of the text, there will be one more round of edits to cut our duplications that I missed the first time. This is an occupational hazard of writing so much - you don't write in order, so points get made and then re-made. There's no way I caught them all. But I don't want it to go out like that - it'll seem like I made my points with anvils: "Lookit, Chumley! She thinks Whedon is all about forming relationships with people who aren't like you are! She must think that - she says so over and over and over again! Geez, couldn't she have just said it twice and trusted us to figure it out from there?" So more edits.

If it's a performance, it's all in the rehearsals, folks. If it's a book, it's all in the re-writes, for hardly anything that's truly worthwhile sparkles the first go-round. Diamonds have to be cut and so do manuscripts. Then, and only then, do you get shine and fire.

And it really is all about having a good beginning!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Back By Popular Demand!

Two things that are going on right now fit this title. First, Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) is being prepped for a second performance; this time over in Cherryville (that's "chur-vul" in local-speak). We had the first brush-up rehearsal tonight, we load in on Saturday, and open next Thursday. Now THAT'll make you take up nail-biting! But it's a funny show, I have solid actors and a backstage crew that could run a catwalk in Milan with a day's notice. I just want to make sure the word gets out - it's a show that needs people. So - August 2, 3, 4 at 7:30; August 5 at 2:30 at the Cherryville Municipal Auditorium. Adults $10; students/seniors $8. There will be refreshments for sale and we'll take straight donations.

Second, as you may have heard, the final installment of Harry Potter is out. Don't worry - this blog is 100% spoiler-free. But I have finished the book and I can say without fear of contradiction, I really, really enjoyed this book. Rowling has a true talent for naming her characters and setting up little bits far in advance that then come back big much later. She's got a strong grasp of story structure and knows how a myth fits together and what makes a tale resonate with readers. You know a story is solid when you dread reaching the ending because you know you'll never again read it for the first time.

And, as my lovely Doctor Who said before the book was out (Time Lords can do that, you know), "Wait 'til you read Book 7! I cried."

Her book's out. Mine's in process. Hardly the same print run, but hey! I'm willing to work my way up. I'm on the home stretch in editing, but of course, I'm going to lose most of next week due to Shakespeare. So let me burn that midnight oil for a few nights . . .

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Drops of Grace


Our local indy film festival began last night. It started right after I moved to town, and I've gone to at least a night of it every year since the beginning. It's a little festival, so we don't get the swells like Sundance or Tribeca (or heavens above, Cannes), but thanks to the Internet's ability to publicize, entries come from far and wide. Some are magnificent, some a lot less so. (Note to filmmakers: don't sacrifice your story for a tight, great shot of whatever-it-is to show off your camera trickery. And in the name of Popcornus, the god of cinema, do your research! Details matter and if you ignore them, thereby yanking me out of the world of the film, don't expect me to thank you for the jolt.)

But.

I really don't go to snark. I go to find films like Darius Goes West. Follow the link. Really. I'll wait. Darius and several members of the crew, including director Logan Smalley were in attendance. If you see this film and don't have an urge to slash the tires of able-bodied people who park in handicapped spaces and/or a bone-deep desire to demand curb cuts and ramps at all buildings - well, I don't want to know you. Honestly. Get thee gone. I consort not with the soulless.

Simply put, Darius Weems is living with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy; the same disease that killed his brother at age 19. Darius grew up in Athens, Georgia and had never seen an ocean, a mountain or even a state line. This is a film about his journey west with a band of friends (who, by the way, are extraordinary young men), ostensibly to talk MTV into tricking out his wheelchair on the popular show "Pimp My Ride," but really about seeing the world and experiencing it - mixing with people (and praying Chihuahuas), dealing with mechanical breakdowns, and seeing how much of this country is accessible to those who can't walk. (That's a shocker - Carlsbad Cavern, yes; the St. Louis Arch, no.) It's uplifting, heartbreaking, and anger-provoking in ways that Unca Jerry's telethon isn't.

See it. Donate to Charley's Fund. Then demand change.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Joys of Household Drudgery

Funny title, maybe, but hopefully it'll make sense in the end.

Lately, the big chore is editing the book. It seems to be going well, but it's hard to tell. Five chapters are edited, which puts me on (or even just a touch ahead of) schedule. As I've said before, it's a project that matters so much to me that I get dry-mouthed at the prospect of screwing it up. It can be a tough balance to strike - I want the pure fans to look a little deeper within the text and I want the ivory tower residents to respect the text in the first place. I guess what I'm really trying to do is increase the number of us who can walk with pleasure on both sides of the fence.

On top of that, life in general continues. Some things just pile up no matter what else is on the plate, so the trick is to find ways to enjoy those chores. Spooky always needs to be walked (and told repeatedly what a pretty, pretty girl she is!), bills have to be paid, laundry needs to be done, et repetitive cetera. And today was one of those odd days where a lot of little things came together, which is always nice, probably because it happens so seldom. Sort of like a planetary alignment - there's a lot of work behind the scenes for a neat, cool, keen little blaze of lights in the sky that lasts for just a brief period of time.

So what kinds of things are we talking about here? Well, I've been buying books lately (not work related; fun stuff like How to Be a Villain, which a few people would claim I don't need to read, but we shall speak no more of these individuals) and finally got things shelved. I did some cleaning to keep the Board of Health at bay for another few weeks. I also got my ironing basket empty (an event that truly takes effort, but I've discovered pressing cuffs and collars is much easier with Doctor Who playing in the background). Further, a celebratory Indian dinner is simmering away on the stove, filling the air with the scent of curry and jasmine rice.

Sniffff. Hmmmm. I think I need to go now - dinner won't eat itself. And it certainly won't enjoy it; that's only in Douglas Adams.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Turkey - It's Not Just for Thanksgiving Anymore

Good news to share! This morning, I got the news that my proposal for the conference had been accepted! This means that, provided I can arrange the details, I will be presenting on Joss Whedon's Fray in October. Oh, did I mention the conference takes place in Istanbul, Turkey? That's the flag over there.

Here's the link with details and so forth.

Now, the two main concerns I've already heard from people are:
1. A conference on what? Are you serious?
2. Turkey - hmmm. Is that safe?

Let me address both of these concerns.

1. A international conference on Buffy the Vampire Slayer with a wider emphasis on the works of Joss Whedon. Yes, I'm serious. I've had this question a lot, so I can give a thumbnail answer to this - I can also rattle on at great length, but I'll spare you that. In general, look - popular culture ("popcult" to be trendy and short) is well worth studying. Why wait sixty years for someone else to tell you what was important today? And, face it, where we put our attention indicates in no small part what we value as a society. Further, television is a big part of our society. Is most of it near-worthless trash? Sure. But a small fragment of it not only isn't trash, but is something lovely and transcendent - and that's ALWAYS worth a closer look, regardless of the medium.

More specifically, Whedon took some very traditional ideas and turned them inside-out. Was he the first person to do this? Heck, no. Does he do it very, very well? The answer is a resounding "yes"! Strong female characters who fight hard and still retain their femininity; families that never let go of each other, even though their bonds are seldom of blood (it's a post-modern thing - the notion that we create our own, quite legitimate, families); the idea that we have to look out for each other and create meaning out of a life which often seems random and cruel unless and until we assign meaning to it - all of this is in Whedon's work. The dialogue is also quick and quippy and delightful to watch.

So yes, I'm serious.

2. Turkey is the most Western of the so-called Islamic countries. They are almost aggressively secular and have, for the most part, avoided the radical elements that are found in most other countries (including ours). I'm not packing a burqa, although I promise as a matter of simple respect to cover my head if I sightsee in a mosque.

See the link. I know it's to Wikipedia, which isn't the best academic source, but for a quick overview, it'll do nicely.

So hey - Turkish Delight, here I come!

Friday, June 29, 2007

Woo-Hoo!

Say it along with me, brothers and sisters: "WOO-HOO!"

(Scornful look) Well, that was just pathetic. Not even sorry - just pathetic. You're telling me that's the best you can do? How do you expect anyone to hear you with that sort of limp, half-hearted "woohoo" - a statement of exuberance that should be made with exclamation points, rather than measly question marks??

For you see, brothers and sisters, the last chapter is done! Well - okay. It's not so much "finished" as it is "drafted" but from where I sit, that is certainly an event worthy of a "WOO-HOO!" So give it another try, please. From the diaphragm this time.

Much better.

Now, there's much work to do in the next two months. Everything has to be edited and stitched together and my MLA citation knowledge is, well - "lacking" would be a polite term. But I have help lined up with that and fortunately, everything (with the exceptions of this chapter and the conclusion) has gone through the editing mill twice, so hopefully, putting the final draft together won't be something out of Dante. This project has just been such a huge part of my life for the last eighteen months and now it's a big ol' step closer to completion. I think I'm entitled to a few moments of "gee willikers, I wrote a book that they want to publish" to offset the sheer bloody terror of how the whole thing will be received by fans and scholars alike.

But that's for later. If you'll pardon me, I have to dance around my living room. I may not even draw the blinds first, I'm that giddy.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Midsummer Revelry

It's the summer solstice today, meaning that it's the longest day of the entire year and the official beginning of summer. Having taught MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM in the last few weeks, I've been on the lookout for fairies. It's also the last day of my summer school session. Taken together, the combination has put me in a somewhat frivolous mood and I'm going to borrow an idea a couple of my friends are working with for this entry in hopes that we get to know one another a little better. The idea is to list ten quirky things that may not be readily apparent from a first impression of me. Now, this is difficult as I am, at least according to some, the uncrowned Queen of Quirk. But let's see.

1. I'm a biological mutant. Honest and for true. Has to do with the thumbs - no gills or webbed toes. As a mutant, I suppose that qualifies me for at least a try out with the X-Men and yes, I have my code name already picked out.
2. Yes, I'm a comic geek. And no, I don't "collect for value" - toys are meant to be played with. In fact, one of my proudest moments came when I was watching one of the X-Men movies with a couple of nephews and my brother-in-law and I tried to settle a point of contention between my quarreling nephews. My b-i-l settled the matter by saying, "Boys, she's forgotten more about the X-Men than you know. Hush now."
3. I tried very hard to be a grown-up for several years, going so far as to become a member of the Bar. Don't tell me "not to make a Federal case out of it;" I know how. And I have a license to do it.
4. I was a miserably unhappy lawyer. I'm quite a joyous comic geek. I may be so broke I re-use tin foil, but by crickey! I wouldn't switch places with anyone in a bank-wall-grey suit.
5. I once rode an elephant. No, I didn't use spurs.
6. As a child, I was very confused about just how cardinals elected the Pope. I mean, they're just those little red birds and just how did they all get to Rome, anyway?
7. I am physically incapable of not making my bed in the morning. I think this stems from a very small apartment I lived in for a few years. At any rate, I usually even make the bed in a hotel. Twisted, I know.
8. I like museums and often seek them out, even on vacation. Modern art, especially. Yet the work of my favorite artist is hard to find.
9. I sing when I drive, but only when I drive alone. But then it's loud and horribly off-key. I know this and don't care a whit. If you catch me at a stop light, just smile and wave.
10. I'm convinced that (a) there is a God, (b) that She (or He, or It - whatever) is benevolent, (c) that God looks after fools and madmen (along with a couple of other groups), and lastly (d) that's no reason for me to act like a moron and expect Divine intervention.

Hmmm. Yeah, that'll do for a start.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Family Mottoes and Heritage

I enjoy collecting quotations - so much so, that I have a banner of sticky notes adorning a doorway in my house. That got me to thinking about family mottoes, coats of arms and so forth. You know, some visual representation of how wealthy, mighty, clever, bloodthirsty, etc. a family was.

Now, my family does not have an official coat of arms. You won't find us in Burke's Peerage or the Social Register or any of that ilk. However, if we WERE to have a battle cry to strike fear and terror into the hearts of our enemies on the battlefield, I'm pretty sure it would be "Never pay retail!" (C'mon, I'm pretty sure that if you translate that into Latin, it'd sound darned impressive. I'm willing to offer a shiny nickel to the first Gentle Reader to properly translate that for me. Graphic artists should also feel free to submit suggestions for a coat of arms to go along with the fierce battle cry. A raven holding something shiny in her sharp talons would be a good start.)

At any rate, today I cantered onto the field of battle to test my mettle by jousting against hapless retail clerks. My goal - to complete my Whedon collection of DVDs by obtaining the middle three seasons of ANGEL. Somehow, I had the first and fifth, but nothing in between - it was high time this injustice was addressed and rectified. Besides, Best Buy was running a sale.

Now, I have to buy on sale. It's in my blood; don't blame me. But yes, I'll agree that it's a little like hunting the wounded. Then again, if I buy it, I'm putting it out of its misery, and that's a kindness, right? Heaven knows, I display my best kills along the walls of the living room. "Yes, quite right, Quigley, old chap. Bagged that one on a journey down the Amazon. (Amazon dot com, that is.) Fierce fight he put up, too. They do that while protecting their young, don't you know. Thought I'd have to walk away at one point when he refused to give me the discount, but finally he was made to see reason. Field-dressed him before he could change his mind and he's been there on the second shelf ever since."

The rain was slashing down, just like in a good post-noir film. Perhaps I was to be the femme fatale of the piece, utilizing my feminine wiles to get my way with a wink and a wiggle. No - that image won't hold. I neither heard smoky saxophones playing as I slid my legs from the car to the Ridley Scott-wet pavement nor was I wearing a trench coat and calmly smoking a cigarette as I awaited the arrival of my feckless accomplice.

Best to stick with the jousting image. My trusty steed was sure-footed and got me to a prime parking spot. He's been loyal to me, but the final retail battle must be mano a mano. He knows this and even nickered softly, wishing me well, as I strode onto the field. I was able to swiftly spot two of my three targets, but the third was well concealed and it looked as if I would have to leave without full satisfaction. A few minutes of steely negotiation tempered with humor then ensued. My efforts were greatly aided by the magic shield of an Internet coupon, which they really shouldn't have honored, but this is where the other weapons of a true Knight can be brought into play. A Discount Knight worth her spurs has quite an arsenal at her disposal and her sense of what blade to use at what time has been carefully honed through many years of training at swap meets, yard sales, auctions and so forth before even considering tackling the Goliath of a national chain. (Let us not speak at this time of the Great Beast known only by the whispered name of "Day After Thanksgiving." To say his name is to grant him power.) My third target was located, hiding away back in the stockroom, no doubt hoping to avoid detection. Realizing the hopelessness of their situation, all three targets were subdued and bagged.

With a swipe of a credit card and a (hopefully dazzling) smile, the transaction was completed and my blood lust satisfied. As I swaggered towards the automated double doors, I think I heard this exchange in my wake.

"Just what exactly was she?"
"That - that was a Discount Knight, son. And be glad there was only one of her; if they'd been hungry enough to travel in a pack, you wouldn't have this story to tell your grandchildren. She was feeling generous - she only cut our prices."

I think I heard my spurs jingle-jangle.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Similar to the Truth, Good Things Are Out There

That's something I need to remember from time to time. The last ten days or so have been mostly defined by stress, worry and incredulity that humans treat each other the way they do (see previous post).

But, as I have so often tried to remind myself, woe is not me.

I thought it might be a good idea to concentrate on some of the "good stuff" that's going on. Most of it is tiny, but I've heard it said that the wise never confuse "small" with "insignificant." So think of this as a list of Ten Things That Make Mockingbird Smile, even if she's tired and aggravated.

1. Foam on cappuccino. Why, oh why, do the English get this right while we do not? Any (and I mean any) corner pub has better coffee/milk concoctions than I can get here, unless I go to a shop that specifically "does" coffee.
2. Friends who know me well enough to stay away at certain times and to drag me out into the sunshine at others. And who loan me books that make me snort because the laughs sneak up on me so fast.
3. Feeling that, while the world just may be going to hell without the benefit of a handbasket, I'm not helpless about that. Go to www.blackmarketbeagles.com and order a Dua Khalil T-shirt. When the curious ask you what it means, tell them about the atrocity of "honor killings" and then tell them that you remember her. Maybe it's only an itsy ripple in the pool, but it's a start. And everything needs a start.
4. Walking through my neighborhood with Spooky in the cool of morning.
5. Eating home-grown tomatoes - not from the straw bale garden yet, but from the porch containers. The experience of picking your own food, briefly rinsing it, then eating it when it's still warm from the sun shining outside - well, it borders on decadent.
6. Television that takes the slant that humans (at least some of us) often choose to do the right thing, instead of the easy thing. I owe Joss Whedon and Russell Davies fruit baskets.
7. Knowing that it's now instead of five (or worse, six) years back. Even typing that made me smile.
8. Getting postcards from exotic places. It's always nice when the mail contains something other than bills and coupons for carpet cleaning services or gutter coverings. And Hong Kong harbor at night looks like some sort of set in a futuristic movie.
9. Sunglasses and Southern rock on the radio. "Green Grass and High Tides" for the good times and whoa, boy! "Whipping Post" for the bad. So I guess I should add The Outlaws and the Allman Brothers to the list, although I never thought that would happen. Then again, I tend to be a musical mutt. Right now, Mozart's playing and last night, I was blasting Black 47 and imagining myself plotting revolution. But in the sparkling June sunshine - yeah, Southern rock. Now if I could just get my hands on a ragtop . . .
10. Knowing that I have people who care enough about me to get concerned when my cell phone dies when I'm in mid-sentence. Gotta keep that thing charged!


Well, I feel better now. How 'bout you?

Monday, May 21, 2007

She Is Always Seventeen

Now, I'm a sucker for storytelling, which is one of the reasons I adore Joss Whedon. But I find my life at a very strange intersection today. One storyteller I always enjoyed was the late Harry Chapin, who provided the title of this post. In one of my favorite songs about hope and optimism and doggone-it-the-world-can-get-better, he reminds us that:

Oh, she is always seventeen;
she has a dream that she will lend us and a love that we can borrow.
There is so much joy inside her she will even share her sorrow;
she's our past, our present, and our promise of tomorrow.
Oh, truly she's the only hope I've seen,
and she is always seventeen.

Joss Whedon is another of my favorite storytellers. His fiction has inspired me; made me laugh, and cry and think. His non-fiction demands that I act. Please contrast Chapin's 17 year old with this one:

Last month seventeen year old Dua Khalil was pulled into a crowd of young men, some of them (the instigators) family, who then kicked and stoned her to death. This is an example of the breath-taking oxymoron “honor killing”, in which a family member (almost always female) is murdered for some religious or ethical transgression. Dua Khalil, who was of the Yazidi faith, had been seen in the company of a Sunni Muslim, and possibly suspected of having married him or converted. That she was torturously murdered for this is not, in fact, a particularly uncommon story. But now you can watch the action up close on CNN. Because as the girl was on the ground trying to get up, her face nothing but red, the few in the group of more than twenty men who were not busy kicking her and hurling stones at her were filming the event with their camera-phones.

It’s no longer enough to shake our heads and make concerned grimaces at the news. True enlightened activism is the only thing that can save humanity from itself. I’ve always had a bent towards apocalyptic fiction, and I’m beginning to understand why. I look and I see the earth in flames. Her face was nothing but red. . . .

All I ask is this: Do something. Try something. Speaking out, showing up, writing a letter, a check, a strongly worded e-mail. . . . Even just learning enough about a subject so you can speak against an opponent eloquently makes you an unusual personage. Start with that. Any one of you would have cried out, would have intervened, had you been in that crowd in Bashiqa. Well thanks to digital technology, you’re all in it now.

Dua Khalil's voice was taken from her. I am certain that the jackals in the crowd who were filming her murder never thought anybody would care.

Well, I care. I'm part of Dua's voice. And I beg you to be part of it, too. This kind of terror isn't relegated to the Old Testament. It happens in our world, today, and in places with enough technological sophistication to have vidphones.

Please, it's harsh to think about, I know. But evil counts on good people to turn away, so please - stare it down. Follow the links and show the world that you're part of Dua's voice, too. It's not half a world away - thanks to vidphones, it's here; right here. On behalf of every 17 year old girl - whether that's you now, or you back when, or you to come - stare it down. If you have ever had a mother, or a sister, or dated a woman who ever has been 17 - stare it down.

Because that wasn't just Dua. That was all of us.

http://www.blackmarketbeagles.com/dua.html
http://www.equalitynow.org/

Saturday, May 19, 2007

A Little "Whelmed"

I've got too much to do. Now, that in and of itself can hardly be considered news. But something just had to give. I'm feeling stressed by pressures coming from work, from writing (the manuscript is due in a hundred days and that scares the bejeezus out of me right now), from trying to keep a house at a level above "slovenly," and a dozen more besides. It's at this point that I've learned to look for signs of being "whelmed." (That's a level just before "overwhelmed" which is scary territory indeed - Overwhelmedland is the home of the headless chicken. Having been in that country a time or two, I can assure you I have no desire to have my passport stamped again.) At any rate, I'm displaying most of the signs of heading nowhere good, mentally speaking.

I had just enough sense to take a deep breath, a hot shower and then meditate a little while. Now, not everyone's comfortable with the idea of meditation - call it whatever you want. Prayer, alone time, anything will do. The weird thing is that I've often heard it said that prayer is talking to God and meditation is listening to God. I happen to believe that God talks to us all the time - often through the mouths of friends and loved ones, occasionally through strangers, and very seldom through burning shrubbery. We just aren't usually listening - I know I'm usually not; my mind has a tendency to keep spinning madly about.

Believe what you will. I just know that I suddenly knew what to do. While I didn't hear an actual voice (I think the Divine knows I'm not quite ready for that level of interaction), there was a sense of deep calm and I knew that today, my job was set out before me. It was as if I had been told, "Don't just do something. Sit there."

Wise advice indeed. The speech evaluations on my coffee table can wait, the outlined chapter can wait to be turned into paragraphs, and the dust bunnies can have another day to evolve into a democratic society.

My life is not "Woe is me" and I'm going to play in the sunshine to remember that.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Feeling Hopeful

I like the title of this post, especially considering that lately I have been feeling rather the opposite regarding my fellow humans. Without going into too much icky detail, suffice it to say that the last few days have been grimy, full of events that make you think that the human race isn't exactly a credit to Planet Earth. For me, this has been doubly true for humans who haven't yet attained the age of majority. While I know intellectually that not all teenagers and tweens are self-centered, spoiled little brats - well . . . let's just say I've spent a lot of time lately grumbling and feeling old about doing it.

Kids - nasty little buggers.

Now, I've often heard that, when you feel sorry for yourself, one of the best things you can do is pick yourself up and go help somebody else. Try that, and Life'll surprise you. Always.

So, today I kept a promise I didn't especially want to keep (tons of work to do, don't you know) and I helped out a friend who was taking some kids to a horse show. Ever gone to a horse show? Especially an "open" show? It's - interesting. Glitzy Western tops that would make Dolly Parton blink are worn next to kids competing in saddle seat attire with long tailored jackets and prim hats and a whole lot in between. And horse shows are not an inexpensive hobby - many of these horses cost more than I paid for my car and quite a few cost more than I paid for my house! And it's hot and dusty and things run late and I don't really remember what to do, and, and, and.

Keep in mind that the kids we were helping were not your typical "horsey" kids. These children are all developmentally delayed due to things such as Downs syndrome, cerebral palsy and the like. They compete while mounted, but there is also a person leading the horse and someone like me, who's a "sidewalker" in case the horse spooks suddenly and the child needs an extra hand to balance.

In the ring, I was overwhelmed by a sense of gratitude, for it hit me all at once what a special thing I was able to be a part of. These kids have to face so much crap every single day for no reason that's their fault. And, to be brutally honest, there's a lot these kids aren't going to be able to do, including just walk around a horse show without people talking about them as if they aren't there.

But (and here's where the story gets beautiful, to my way of thinking), you put these kids on a horse and everything changes. They're the equal of any other human. (At least the equal - plenty of so-called "normal" people are scared to death of horses. Too big, too many teeth and too many stamping hooves.) These kids, who most people treat as invisible and oblivious, are suddenly tall. They're balanced on a half-ton-plus of horseflesh and, for once in the seemingly-crummy hand they've been dealt, they're in control and they know it. They're proud and they're beautiful in their own skins. And a third-place ribbon can mean as much as any Olympic medal.

And maybe I was just walking alongside a horse in a dusty ring, but you know what? I felt pretty damned proud and beautiful, too. Even without a ribbon.

Kids? Best thing on God's green earth.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Brains . . . brains . . .

The other day, I joked with a friend that I was beginning to feel like the "academic undead." (Hence the pic of the cute li'l zombie doll.) The more I thought about it, the more truth I saw in the comment.

Let's make it clear that I'm not exactly complaining here. I teach under a 12-month contract, which at my school means 5 classes in each of the fall and spring semesters and 2 in the abbreviated summer semester. ("Abbreviated" in terms of a shorter time period; I cover the same amount of material, with longer class sessions. Sigh. I actually had a student drop my class last summer, citing as the reason "unreasonable amount of work for a summer class." Boo-yah!) So we finished the term Tuesday, had graduation yesterday evening, summer starts on May 21 and my high school classes (they get college credit - I am not a high school teacher, may God bless them, especially in May!) finish June 8. I'm no Time Lord - the living room closet is not a TARDIS, no matter how much I may will it differently - but I wish I could manipulate the space-time continuum just a teensy bit right now to allow a week at the beach before summer starts.

That said, job security is a very nice thing (12 month contract means 12 months of pay - contrary to popular belief, teachers do not "get the summer off" in any usual sense of the term) and I have to admit that I really, really enjoy teaching. Primarily, I teach public speaking and it warms my heart like a controlled burn to see my timid students grow and stretch and realize that I really do have things to say that are worth listening to, by golly! Now, if I take that idea and put it - let's see - there and I show 'em the picture there . . . well, it's a kick. And I've had students shake my hand at the end of a semester; I've had students tell me that the class gave them the confidence to ask for (demand) a promotion at work or the wherewithal to apply for a new job - I'm not kidding, that's one of the main reasons I do this sort of work.

Another reason is the supportive atmosphere of my school. Community colleges don't have tenure (boo!), so we don't live by the "publish or perish" rule (well, sort of yay, I guess). When I started going to conferences, I was shocked at how many associate/assistant professors at four-year schools (oh, you'd know the names of the institutions if I told them to you) were paying part, or even all, of their expenses from their own pockets. Meanwhile, my school's attitude was, "What? You're presenting? Here - get out there! Fly coach and be sure to tell 'em who sent you!" Since people in my position don't have to write, propose, and present, we get more support when we do.

Which is good, since I'm hoping to go to a handful of conferences in the next year that are in addition to my "usuals." There are two international Whedon conferences that I'm hoping to attend as a presenter - especially with the book coming out. I'm trying to only cross one bridge at a time and I'm trying to remember that we don't usually get everything we want.

But sometimes we do. Seems the Rolling Stones might have gotten that one wrong.

So I keep shuffling forward, teaching, grading, writing, lather, rinse, repeat, research, propose, write. I'm especially fortunate in that I have friends who remind me gently from time to time that it's not good to spend so much time inside hunched over a keyboard that I squint when I go outside and see the large yellow ball in the sky. Somebody take me to a movie, already!

Thursday, May 3, 2007

The Wheel Keeps Turning


This week, two things occurred that, taken in conjunction, got me to thinking. First, May Day arrived. It's a rather weird day - the Soviets used it as an occasion to parade heavy weaponry throughout city streets, while attorneys briefly acknowledge it as "Law Day" and try to celebrate the contributions lawyers have made to our society. (Keep your snickers to yourself - yeah, yeah, there are plenty of jokes, but I believe that law can be one of the highest callings a person can receive. Of course, I was on the other line when the call came, but that's another post altogether.) Anyway - back to May Day. To the Celts, it was Beltane and signified the start of the summer season. To me, it means it's time to go grub in the dirt and plant things. Second, we had a full moon. Always a time of "hmmmm," regardless of the studies that say that, statistically speaking, nothing that much off the tracks actually happens during the full moon.

As to the grubbing in the dirt, this year, I'm trying straw bale gardening - a little one, just big enough for a few tomatoes, a couple of peppers, and maybe a cuke or two. I've already learned a good deal - including that four bales of straw will fit into a Ford Escort, but you need a pitchfork to clean the car afterward. No one with allergies should ride with me for a few more days, I guess.

Once I had that done, I started looking around and one thing led to another (as it so often does). I ran across the idea of a "bottle tree" a few years back and I finally decided to create one - that's the picture at the top of this post. A bottle tree is a Deep South tradition - usually it's cobalt-blue glass, but I've seen other colors as well. It may just be a coincidence, but the Mediterranean "evil eyes" that are said to ward off evil also feature cobalt blue. Anyway, the idea is that the bottle tree shields the property and residents from the effects of bad spirits and the protective effect is increased if every bottle is attached to the tree with a prayer. I went with nine bottles - a significant number, as nine is three threes, and three is a number that has all manner of mystical associations. Therefore, nine trebles the effect.

Is it true, or mere superstition? Maybe just the power of suggestion? Who knows? But I do think it's pretty, which is good enough for me most days. And in the unsettled days in which we live, I'll take the occasional rabbit's foot as well. Figuratively speaking, that is.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd

OK, so it's not my line, but the title of a 1960s Brit musical - it still fits.

The show is done, the applause faded, the costumes ready for cleaning, the props tucked lovingly away (okay, it's more appropriate to say "flung with great force") into boxes, and last hugs exchanged. I took a minute or so to just sit in my favorite seat in the house and look out at the empty stage once everything was packed away. That may be a touch maudlin, but I don't think so. Magical things need to be remembered and acknowledged before we return to the rush and bother of everyday life.

To me, theatre's a funny thing. It's like a soap bubble - fragile, beautiful and, well, rather vulgar in this case. But even vulgarity can have a sort of loveliness to it. (Ever hear someone truly creative mad enough to cuss? It's not to be missed. But I digress.) Theatre's not the same from night to night. It's happening right THERE, look now you, or you miss it, and you can't rewind it or TiVo it. The show is done. Period. You either saw it, or you didn't. And it was different every night. It's there and then - well, then it's not. Now, don't misunderstand me - I love film, but one of the weaknesses (and strengths, to be truthful about it) of that medium is that it's always the same. Indy's crooked smile as he faces certain death will always be just so, the light will always cling to Ingrid Bergman's face at that angle that makes you catch your breath, and the cross-hatched shadows will always fall across the crags of Mal's face in that way that makes you think fleetingly of jail bars trapping him. And you can show it to other people and point it out and say, "See? That's what I mean!"

And that's great. But it's not live.

One of the things I loved so completely about this show is that it's ever-so-slightly dangerous. You really DON'T know what's going to happen. And I have nothing but warmth for everyone who made it come off the page and dance for all of us. When even reality shows are scripted, it's good to be reminded that art doesn't need clean edges nearly so much as it needs messy interaction.

I know it's not exactly cricket to praise your own work, but I've also learned that the smart don't wait for someone else to decide to crown them. So even though it's going to lose some force because I'm the one saying it, it was a solidly funny show. Glad you were there, or sorry you missed it, as the case may be.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Turns Out This IS My Kind of Party!

I just adore serendipity, which has been described as the art of finding things you didn't know were lost. While Scott was visiting from the glittering lights of the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area (and experiencing a certain level of culture shock in the way we do things in a little ol' NC town where you can't go to Starbucks but where people you don't know say "Good morning" to you), the Charlotte Browncoats were throwing a shindig.

Now, for those of you who don't already know, a vocabulary lesson. "Browncoats" are fans of Joss Whedon's FIREFLY and SERENITY 'verses and are a rather rabid fanbase. (It's a long story, but a gripping tale, full of thwarted love and high adventure.) Browncoats get together on a somewhat regular basis for parties, known as "shindigs."

With that in mind, I'd gotten tickets in advance and yesterday, off we went from the Rim world of Shelby to the slightly-closer-to-the-Core world of Charlotte. (I think Charlotte's the equivalent of Persephone, but that's just me. Again, if you don't get the reference, go back and watch your box set of FIREFLY again. It'll come to you eventually.) Great fun! The Bedlam Bards provided music that was both poignant and bawdy (not in the same song, thank heavens - it's hard to switch gears that quickly!) and I even won a prize at the raffle. It's always nice to be reminded that you're not the lone voice howling in the wilderness about the things you have a passion for. Sports fans understand this - they can get together, wear goofy clothes and even adorn themselves with bright (and quite possibly toxic) body paint and no one says much. It's harder for the rest of us, so when we find one another, we tend to hang on tightly. It's almost like knowing a code or a secret handshake.

So I'm off to practice my gosling-juggling.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Up and Running!

I thought about including my two cents' worth on the tragic events at Virginia Tech, but have elected not to chime in much on that. I went to college in Roanoke, which is fairly close by to Blacksburg, and the thought of that lovely, soft and green part of the country being so shattered by hatred, violence and terror just sickens me. Suffice it to say that I grieve and that I have hope that something good and useful will arise from this, although I'd be hard-pressed to identiy what it could possibly be. But I must believe that there is more good in this world than there is evil (I believe in both, mind you) and that good wins. Always.

The show I've been working so long and hard on is open now. My actors are zipping along with chunks of hard dialogue falling trippingly from the tongue and my backstage crew could show Hercules a thing or two about accomplishing nearly impossible tasks. Seriously - the show has a good number of very quick costume changes and if you have lazy, sloppy dressers, everything falls apart. Humor doesn't wait for zippers! I have to admit that, on Friday night, I was too nervous to take my seat in the house; I had to pace in the light booth. But last night I sat with the audience and watched them enjoy the show and (I must say) I laughed a few times as well, and I knew the jokes were coming!

It's good when hard work has tangible payoffs.

There's much more to talk about, but I need coffee and Spooky is utilizing her telepathic abilities to inform me that it's far past time for her walk. Then Ping and I need to plan our upcoming assault on Mount Mitchell, the highest American peak east of the Mississippi. So, as you can see, it's a busy day.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Re-Emerging Into the Sunlight!

The self-imposed media blackout is over and, speaking for myself, I don't feel that I missed all that much. I DID plan my blackout so I could be entertained by the premiere of Drive last night. A little mind candy in the intellectual diet is a good thing and the show has strong ties to Joss Whedon, so I was more than willing to give it a chance, despite it airing on Fox, against whom I still harbor a smoldering resentment for its treatment of Firefly. (I'm Southern; we know how to hold a grudge professionally.) Not to mention that I live in the very heart of NASCAR country, so I figured a show about an illegal, cross-country road race would be right up my alley.

It was also a nice break from working on the show, which opens this Friday. That means I'm in the midst of the "ohmigod, ohmigod" phase where I'm fretting about - well, everything. I'm trying to be all calm and existentialist about it (you know, "It'll come together or it won't, and either way, we're all going to die one day and it won't matter"), but I'm a lousy existentialist. (Yeah, I know that's a gross oversimplification of the philosophy, but it's my blog, so go away.)

Also, just this morning I finished the first draft of the most recent chapter of the book I'm drafting. I need to review it, then turn it over for editing. As you know from this blog, I'm a big ol' honking Whedonian and I was fascinated by the idea that a hard-line atheist could write characters who were so often wrestling with issues raised by faith, both the religious and the not-so-much variety. (Just my thought - always stick with the folks who are wrestling with these issues and steer clear of the ones who think they've got it all figured out. They're smug about things and quite possibly wrong, especially if they begin talking about smiting.) Anyway, I finally got off my speculative duff and sought out like-minded people. I started presenting my work at conferences and one thing led to another. I now have a contract for a book that focuses on issues of faith and belief in Whedon's work, with the manuscript to be turned in at the end of the summer. I'm simultaneously thrilled by the prospect of having this sort of work published, humbled by the publisher's willingness to take a risk on me, and scared to death that I'll muff this opportunity. Then again, I have people who ought to know telling me that I'm doing just fine, so who am I to contradict them? You'll hear more about the manuscript as things progress, but there's plenty else to discuss as well, and quite frankly, some days I just don't want to talk about it.

So what are YOU up to these days? Ostrich polo? Teaching a dog to peform on the trapeze? Learning to eat fire? I'd like to know.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Take a Media Break - The World Isn't That Bad


It's a radical idea, I know, but just hear me out. Sometimes it really can seem as if the world's going to hell without even the benefit of a handbasket. The news is dominated by stories such as Duke lacrosse players being framed; a radio talk show host who finds insulting a basketball team fodder for morning drive jokes; and an ex-Playboy bunny who lost everything, including the dignity of knowing the identity of her infant daughter's father. And those stories provide relief from the other horrors, including an ongoing war that looks more grim with each passing day.

I'm a fan of the long-defunct comic strip "Bloom County" and when things got to this point, the gentle and wise Opus would take what he termed a "dandelion break." I think Opus had the right idea. Now, I'm not advocating being an ostrich and putting on blinders to the very serious problems the world faces on a daily basis. (And yeah, I know I'm mixing my metaphors, but c'mon - doesn't the image of an ostrich wearing blinders make you chuckle just a little bit? Okay, then.) I'm just suggesting a three-day fast from the media. Don't watch the news (it's horrible and it'll be horrible when you turn it back on), don't read the newspaper, don't even check out the online versions. Listen to music on the radio rather than talk shows. When an actor playing a lawyer suggests that you're sick and it's somebody else's fault and you should call immediately, change the channel. Spend that chunk of time engaged in activities that make you see the good side of things. It really doesn't take any more time; we're just not used to it, having become addicted to swallowing the prepackaged mayhem the media tells us we're to be concerned about.

Start small. Take a walk in your own neighborhood. In mine, the dogwoods are blooming, tulips and irises are competing for the title of "most likely to be picked," and gardens are beginning to be cultivated in anticipation of the coming months - always a sure sign that people are planning for a future that's better than war and custody battles. Here, it's spring break for the schoolkids. Talk to one - they're not all the amoral, self-centered little jerks that all too often the papers would have you think. Smile at people - where I'm from, this is common; in other parts of the country, it'll make 'em wonder what you're up to. When you're waiting in line, strike up a conversation that doesn't include speculating on the educational level and/or parentage of the cashier.

We're often told that "God doesn't give you more than you can handle," the idea being that God (or Spirit, or however you like to think of it) gave you what you have because you can shoulder it. Funny how most of us think that only applies to the nasty, sharp-edged circumstances of our lives, like the loss of a job, a serious illness, or a marriage whose center can no longer hold. I don't know about you, but I always found that pretty cold comfort. But just imagine what might happen if you applied that same adage to the good stuff in your life. Maybe you're ready to handle good fortune without going off the deep end and becoming a world-class wingnut. And maybe you already have good fortune and you just haven't noticed for a while.

So seek and see what ye shall find. Give up (just for three days) reports of misery and despair and look for the dandelions. I bet you find a couple.

Oh, and a picture from the play rehearsals. That might jump-start your smiles.