My 2009 music picks.

As I said, I'll be doing this a bit differently this year. Last time around I heralded my list as the best music of 2008, and as I've been making a new list I realized, how could I ever think I would have heard so much music as to have a handle on the best? I'm sure there are tons of artists I've never heard of, with albums sublime, who deserve to be called the best.

So, I'm just going to offer up a list of the music I personally enjoyed the most this year. There are several artists from AI on the list, so please go into this knowing that though you may not watch the show or agree with it's methodology, some great singers have come from it and deserve a chance.

1. "Wonderful," Gary Go

This up-and-coming British singer does remind one of Coldplay, whom you all know I hate, and so I like to say that he does Coldplay better than they do. This song has a seriously killer hook, and is bolstered by a solid backing piano and an awesome beat that propels every verse and chorus with ridiculously infectious momentum. There's also a positive vibe in the song's message that isn't a new sentiment but I love the way it's stated: "The person that you were has died/you've lost the sparkle in your eyes/You fell for life into its cracks/now you want to bridge the gap..." So what do you do? You gotta look yourself in the eye and say I am...wonderful.

2. "Fireflies," Owl City

This is another song I told you guys about as soon as I heard it. Remember, cartoon clouds? Since then it of course exploded onto the scene and into people's iPods and I heralded myself as a great seer. While I'm not a huge fan of his West Coast accent, I do like the happy-go-lucky vibe and its contrasting undercurrents; I always think that this song is so upbeat but I never imagine the singer himself being at all naive. Plus, it's just good electronica, something with a real melody and creative beats and that tinkling opening that will make your mother say, 'Hmm, that's nice.'

3. "Gimme What You Got," Amanda Blank

I don't like rap and I make no bones about it. But, when this lady rapper was featured briefly on iTunes I checked her out just for novelty's sake (she's white) and ended up liking what I heard. This is one of the most fun songs I have heard in years. Yeah, it's explicit. The chorus is just her saying "Hottest mothaf**** on the whole damn block" over and over. But it's just so feisty and shameless and the beats are insane. There is, of course, a guest rapper, which she doesn't even need. She's got the flow, the swagger, the talent. And she makes me like rap for 2:46.

4. "Number With No Name," Ben Harper

When you talk about a musician being prolific, you talk about Ben Harper. He has like eighty-six albums. Seriously, at least one a year. With White Lies For Dark Times he got back to that funky, cigarettes-and-liquor 70s sound that I love, and this song is one of those gritty sonic experiences that makes you wish you were making out with some shaggy-haired guy in bell-bottoms in someone's basement while the Stones (or this song) spins on a record console from Sears.

5. "Pray," Amanda Overmyer

I already did a whole post about the greatness of this song, so I'll keep it brief. It's deceptively simple and as beautiful as a sunrise in the heartland. The contrast, almost the anachronicity, of Amanda's smoky voice over the Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two bass line lulls you into thinking you've just been listening to a song, when actually, it's your soul you're hearing.

6. "Let It Rain," Kris Allen

One of those songs that gets better every time. Just a solid track from a solid album, but one that sounds familiar in a strange way, as if perhaps it's a cover from an obscure song I once heard in childhood. Or maybe all music is from the same big pot of joy and Kris just knows that better than the rest of us.

7. "If I Had You," Adam Lambert

I'm not a huge fan of the guy, but I am a huge fan of music so that fortunately lets me listen to whatever I want. For those who were for some reason expecting an album of Smokey Robinson and Rat Pack covers, the out-and-out glam-disco-electronica-80s audacity of For Your Entertainment strains their puzzler. Not I. I just like to wallow in all the pink and yellow of this song, the club beat, the heavenly Giorgio Moroder harmonies, and pretty snappy lyrics like "There's a thin line/'tween a wild time/and a flat line..." Honestly, I don't know how Katy Perry didn't write this song. Sing it, girl!

8. "Halo," Beyonce

Hard to believe there was actually a time when I thought there was no such thing as too much Ryan Tedder. The man behind Leona Lewis' "Bleeding Love," Kelly Clarkson's "Already Gone," and Jordin Sparks' "Battlefield" lent his heavy percussion and repetitive choruses to a song that's actually from a 2008 album, but didn't become a single till this year. "Halo" really is addictive, and while the operatic aspirations of Mrs. Jay-Z are a little jarring at first, you gotta love her for sticking to a theme.

9. "Street Lights," Kanye West

From another 2008 album, but it's my list so I can do what I want. I did a whole post on this song also, about its postmodern greatness, so I've got nothing new to offer except to say that it reinforces what I said earlier, that the best music isn't always the most-heard, the most popular, the most rewarded. Such is life.

10. "Paparazzi," Lady GaGa

What I like about her is that though her music is for the club, it is still inherently melodic. A lot of music isn't, a lot of it is completely uninspired in terms of aesthetics (cough*U2*cough). So I am able to enjoy a song like "Paparazzi" because it, very simply, has a pretty melody and good harmonies (technically, I really like the harmonic progression but all that talk will get us nowhere). Same for "Pokerface." And this is a good thing; aspiring wannabes take note.

Honorable mentions: "Let It Rain," Jordin Sparks; "Manhattan," Kings of Leon; "I Do Not Hook Up," Kelly Clarkson


So this is Christmas.

O holy night, the stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior's birth

Long lay the world in sin and error, pining
Till He appeared, and the soul felt its worth

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!...

My favorite Christmas song. It wasn't until just a few years ago that I for once really listened to the words, and was surprised at how there is such meaning in them, and how profound it is.


I may have done this last year, but here are the lyrics to one of the loveliest and saddest songs ever, found in of all things Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol. As a musical cartoon, Belle sings this to Ebenezer.

Winter was warm
Summer soft that year
The winter was warm

Without a sign of frost
Like winter lost
Its way that year

It seems as I recall
No blossoms fell that fall
May didn't leave at all

Or did love paint an illusion?

Now trees with a sigh
Stand and shiver
While their dreams fall and die

And all my dreams are there
Wrapped up somewhere
In summer leaves

Oh, what I'd give to be
To be in love again

This year the winter is cold
Will it ever be warm
As it was then?


Top 10 movies of the decade.

1. Children of Men, 2006

(Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, directed by Alfonso Cuaron)

The number one movie of the decade. It's so good I haven't been able to watch it a second time. Because I'm scared.

The movie is set in the year 2027. All of humanity has been infertile for nearly two decades, and we are introduced to a world (immediate setting: the UK) overrun with despair, anger, and violence. Immigration is a gigantic issue, as floods of people try to find sanctuary in Britain but are summarily rounded up and kept in cages and suffer desperate situations. Theo Faron (Owen) is forced into helping the Fishes, an underground group that is transporting, of all things, a young, pregnant African woman.

It is an unbelievably bleak two-plus hours, enhanced by extended single-shot scenes that dramatically heighten their suspense. What is most frightening, and life-changing, about Children of Men is that it looks and feels almost just like present day. There are a few futuristic touches--advanced video games, ugly postmodern rock, holographic screens on the job--but largely the movie arrests you and forces you to understand that many of the terrible things in the movie are happening right now, today. The broken lives of immigrants can be no different than those suffering in the Sudan or Rwanda; the dirty, bullet-ridden showdown only mirrors war-torn areas around the world.

A must-see for anyone who cares to truly open their eyes to the reality of a world outside their own. Even if you can barely stand to watch it again.

2. Finding Nemo, 2003

(Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres, directed by Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich)

Of all the Disney and Pixar animated movies to come out this decade, this one tops them all, which is saying a lot. Where do I begin, truly? With Dory's (DeGeneres) short-term memory loss, an absolutely brilliant stroke of genius? With the perfect-from-beginning-to-end sea turtle scene (and that adorable little Squirt!)? With the insane notion of fish-tank dwellers and pelicans knowing dental terminology forward and backward? Or with the stunning scene inside of the whale, when Marlin (Brooks) asks Dory how she knows they'll be okay, and she answers simply, "I don't!"

For me, a comedy isn't truly a comedy unless I laugh the entire way through (Friday, Ace Ventura, Clue, The Grinch), and Finding Nemo is killer in that regard. And while I'm laughing, I get to bask in the beautiful animation, an entire cast of ocean-dwelling creatures, and a perfectly-rendered plot that reminds me every single time that even those things which seem terrible may just be part of a path that leads me right to where I want to go.

3. Gladiator, 2000

(Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, directed by Ridley Scott)

The decade began with a triumph. Although Russell Crowe had been previously nominated for an Oscar, he did not become a household name until donning the toga and sandals of Maximus, the general-turned-slave-turned-gladiator. And don't forget would-be Caesar. This movie is an epic on all scales, from the locations to the costumes to the music to the inspired acting that catapulted Phoenix into the spotlight and won Crowe his first acting Oscar. "Big" movies are always a gamble in that if one portion of the filmmaking formula goes awry, it far diminishes the overall product. Gladiator suffers no such ill-effects. And in case you forgot, it did win a little something called Best Picture.

4. The New World, 2003

(Colin Ferrell, Q'orianka Kilcher, directed by Terrence Malick)

The beauty of this movie is how quiet it is, and how utterly organic. When Captain Newport (Christopher Plummer) and his men land on native American soil in 1620, it is a paradise of tall grasses, fresh waters, endless skies, and a new people. And you not only see the grass—you hear the blades rubbing against each other in the wind. You not only see the water—you hear it lapping against the shore, splashing gently against rocks, again and again, until your senses are overwhelmed and the images and sounds become a part of you. This was a most brilliant feat for a moviemaker (Terrence Malick) attempting to bring the New World to the modern world. The romance between John Smith (Colin Ferrell) and Pocahontas (Q’orianka Kilcher), whose name is never mentioned, is breathtaking simply for the fact that, as the actress was underage, Ferrell could not kiss her or touch her in any suggestive way. And so their love is suggested, and played out in beautiful, innocent images that are far more powerful than anything overt.

The attention to detail in every aspect of the movie is stunning, from the gray, cold desperation of the English fort to the communal native village with their corn stalks, body paint, and prayerful dancing. It is a very long movie, and there is minimal dialogue, and if you can stand that, you will be part of an experience, and you will understand that not everything a society leaves behind should have been left behind.

5. The Prestige, 2006

(Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, directed by Christopher Nolan)

Forget that Jackman and Bale are superstars. Forget that Chris Nolan is the mastermind behind the Batman franchise reboot. The Prestige is a head-trip of a movie in its own right, bolstered by jumps through time and perspective that keep you engaged and guessing till the end, when a stunning twist of sizeable proportions is revealed.

Robert Angier (Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Bale) are competitive magicians in turn-of-the-century London, their rivalry bolstered by the accidental death of Angier's wife during a trick. As they constantly try to outdo each other, Angier enlists the help of none other than Nikola Tesla (played brilliantly by David Bowie) to stage the "Transported Man" trick that is garnering Borden attention. This is one movie where you simply cannot have the end spoiled for you, and once you do understand what has happened--you have to watch the movie all over again. That is a gift to a movie fan.

6. Dreamgirls, 2006

(Jennifer Hudson, Beyonce Knowles, Jamie Foxx, directed by Bill Condon)

Believe it or not, there's more to this movie musical than just Jennifer Hudson's performance. Although she is spectacular and the best singer to come from American Idol. The film starts right away with a performance by the Dreamettes at an amateur talent competition in Detroit, and the momentum literally never lets up. They become backup singers for James "Thunder" Early (Eddie Murphy) and with the help of manager Curtis Taylor, Jr. (Foxx) rise up to become The Dreams, and megastars in their own right. The lead singer Effie (Hudson) is replaced, however, by Deena (Knowles) in order to achieve this, and when Deena also steals Curtis away romantically, Effie is fired. And that's just the first act.

The musical is an excellent history of African-American music in the sixties and seventies, moving from soul to the famed Motown Sound to the infamous disco. The songs themselves are ridiculously catchy and always energetically performed, and on top of that, Eddie Murphy gives the dramatic performance of his career. (He. was. ROBBED. at the Oscars) If you haven't seen Dreamgirls and need a good movie to watch while you gorge yourself on Christmas cookies, then you know what you need to do.

7. Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, 2003

(Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Ian McKellen, directed by Peter Jackson)

My mom and I went to see all three movies at the theater, but this is the only one for which I bought the DVD. The first two really only set the stage, anyway. I haven't read any of Tolkien's books and didn't know anything about The Lord of the Rings prior to watching the movies. And still, Return of the King affected me in much the same way as I'm sure it did the hardcore devoted.

What I love most about it is Frodo (Wood) and Sam's (Sean Astin) seemingly eternal struggle to get rid of the ring, and how all that is important in life became clear as they struggled up the side of Mount Doom. Struggle--human or hobbit--is universal, and these scenes served as a reminder (just as with Marlin and Dory in the mouth of the whale) that no matter how difficult the cirumstances, no matter how unsure the outcome, you still must try. Pair that bit of timeless wisdom with the obvious, triumphant effort of the filmmakers, the gorgeous landscapes, the epic music, and the perfect ending, and you've got yourself what many say is the best film of the decade.

8. How the Grinch Stole Christmas, 2000

(Jim Carrey, Taylor Momsen, directed by Ron Howard)

Jim Carrey is a national treasure. I'll just get that out of the way right now. He made The Grinch as fabulous as it is. It is a crime to overlook his performance, which might as well be the dictionary definition of "comic gold," because the movie is kid-friendly or because there's such a heavy depiction of commercialism. (Which, I suspect, was kind of the point! The Who's had forgotten the real meaning of Christmas in favor of toys, toys, toys) Besides, the famous conversion scene was wonderfully done and should remind anyone that Carrey is perfectly capable of doing more than just telling a joke. (See: The Truman Show)

The Departed, 2006

(Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, directed by Martin Scorcese)

I don't watch many movies like this; in fact, I haven't seen one single Godfather. But anytime you have not one but two characters pretending to be someone they're not, and getting the plot jumbled up into all sorts of twists and turns, you just may have the formula for something riveting. Set in Boston, pretty much everyone is Irish, and the leader of the Irish Mafia, Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson), has Colin Sullivan (Damon) infiltrate the state police; he actually becomes a police officer. Also, the state police choose Billy Costigan (DiCaprio) to go undercover and infiltrate the Irish Mafia.

It's a tough movie, violent, lots of cursing. And at the same time it's genius. I really can't say a whole lot else about the plot without giving it away, so I'll just say that the whole thing is suspenseful and captivating right up to the very last second, literally; and the cast is phenomenal: DiCaprio, Damon, Nicholson, Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin, Mark Whalberg. This movie deserved to win Best Picture that year, and it did.

10. The Mothman Prophecies, 2002

(Richard Gere, Debra Messing, Laura Linney, directed by Mark Pellington)

Supernatural fiction done very, very right. (It is based on a true story, though) The somber tone and cold winter days are the perfect backdrop for John Klein (Gere) to investigate sightings of the so-called Mothman in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, and figure out why he was mysteriously drawn to such a place after the death of his wife (Messing). This is the best X-Files movie that was never made, and in an era of increasingly un-scary movies (like The Haunting) due to seeing everything, this is perfectly calibrated; in fact, we never even see the actual Mothman. We simply feel its effect, time and again, pressing close to us, speaking of things it shouldn't know into our ear.

Runners-up: War of the Worlds (2005), Identity (2003), Walk the Line (2005), The Devil Wears Prada (2006)


Or, a box of chocolates.

Life is like a game of solitaire.

Skill will only get you so far. In the end, it's about the hand you're dealt. If it's a crappy hand, you'll lose. If it's not so crappy, you have a chance at winning. It's not your fault what hand you're dealt; it's purely chance. And you do with it what you can.

You can play as many hands of solitaire as you like, of course, quitting those crappy ones as soon as you run out of options.

In life, however, there are some pretty serious consequences if you choose to end the game.

So you sit, out of options, with your crappy hand, until, I guess, the battery runs out.


A contemporary application of the categorical imperative.

It's times like these that I wish I had just a few more followers, so maybe something I said could reach a large portion of eyes.

About three years ago when I first joined Blogger, my blog was just a place to get really, really pissed off and say how I really felt about things. I have curbed that instinct here.

Anyway, one day I wrote a post about Immanuel Kant's idea of the categorical imperative. There had been a recent news story about some lame teen outfitter selling shirts that said very inappropriate things on them, mostly things degrading women/girls, and as I read the comments on the story I was saddened and pissed off that so many people were saying, "If you don't like it, don't buy the shirts."

So I asked my readership of zero, what if that was how everyone handled things they found inappropriate/offensive/wrong/immoral?

- don't like war? Don't fight in one.
- don't like rape? Don't go out at night.
- don't like child abuse? Don't be friends with the parent(s).
- don't like the death sentence? Turn off the news.
- don't like the lyrics to songs these days? Turn off the radio.
- don't like corruption in business? Don't buy anything.

The categorical imperative is "an absolute requirement that asserts itself in all circumstances." So if you apply a thought or statement to multiple situations and it still seems "right" (makes sense), then there's a greater likelihood that it is.

Clearly, applying it in this instance reveals that if we shouldn't ignore war, rape, child abuse, and so many other things that are wrong in this world, then we shouldn't ignore anything that's wrong. Conversely if we should ignore apparel that urges young men to treat their counterparts as objects, then we should ignore everything negative.

This does not mean that every single individual has to take up a flag for something. But when someone does, it should be recognized as illogical when another person tells them not to worry about it.

Because again, logically, ignoring a problem does not make it go away. It does not suddenly, magically make the problem a good thing. It does not make someone forget that there's a problem.

The only people who say "don't like it? Ignore it" are people who are not only okay with the problem, but are allowing for that problem to be universally accepted, for it to become mainstream, and hoping for all opposition to the problem to vanish and quite passively so. People like this are also parrots, who say things they hear without ever thinking about what those things actually mean. Enter the prevelance of the ridiculous slogan I've been picking apart.

I mean, really? Do none of these people ever stop to consider if someone said the same thing to them about something of which they disapproved? No, because they assume the world is exactly like them, that their viewpoint is the only one that matters, and so they have little experience seeing more than one side to an issue, let alone the weighty task of walking in someone else's shoes.

If you couldn't tell, I find a slogan like this to be utterly repulsive because of how totally and inherently illogical it is. And the fact that it is so obviously illogical, and so obviously harmful when put in practice, makes it worse.

Now, I know that at some point someone could say, "There's a big difference between war or rape, and silly shirts with questionable sayings on them."

And I'd say that's true. There is a difference. However, consider the criminal justice system. There are crimes that in some states draw a death penalty; some crimes that garner a life sentence; some that result in twenty years, some that result in paying a hefty fine, some that result in probation, some in just a five-dollar ticket.

But you wouldn't say, "There's a big difference between raping and murdering eighteen women, and robbing a corner drugstore of fifty dollars. Therefore, the latter is not a crime."

So you would not say to ignore the impact of teens walking around with sexist comments on their shirts just because it's not war or child pornography. The underlying principle remains the same.

However, I'm also not saying that any one person has to be affected by any of these things. But what's crucial to remember is that a person's indifference to something does not affect its actual right or wrong quality. Now, if you want to pull out the old yarn of "don't tell me what to believe," that's fine, but just realize that it takes a badass to stand in public and say that murder is moral, or rape is moral. No matter how advanced your liberal ideology, there are still some things that you'd have to be crazy to think are okay.

In the end, indifference to something looks almost just like acceptance of it. So I'm tired of people playing the indifference card. And in the end, telling someone else to be indifferent to a problem which they've already decided bothers them, is mind-bogglingly arrogant.

As someone once said, it's a free country. People can, for the most part, do and think what they want. I agree with this.

I also, however, understand the nature of cause and effect, and the nature of consequence. If we continue to breed a nation, or a world, of indifferent people, then it will be those few left who remained passionate who have all the power.

And it starts by ignoring something as "silly" as sexist T-shirts.


From a Children's Tale.

When I was little, there was a series on Showtime called "Faerie Tale Theater," created and hosted by the actress Shelly Duvall. Some of the best, most popular actors and directors working at that time (the 80s) helped create hour-long stories that we're all familiar with, sometimes with a little twist, a lot of times with a bit of innuendo that went right over my head.

My favorite is the tale of Thumbelina, with Carrie Fisher and Burgess Meredith. The story itself is very wistful and sad, and it was not portrayed comically as some of the other fairy tales were. As you may know, the little girl is born of a magic flower, and is soon taken from her mother by a toad who wants to marry Thumbelina to her ugly toad son. Thumbelina escapes them only to face a harsh winter alone; she is rescued by a field mouse who takes her in and becomes a sort of father figure. The mouse's friend, Mr. Mole, soon asks for Thumbelina's hand in marriage, and the field mouse grants it. Thumbelina escapes, once again, just before her wedding with the help of a friendly swallow who flies her away to a fairy kingdom. And so on and so forth.

Anyway, the short film itself potrays adult concepts simply enough that I understood the poignancy as a child, but deeply enough that it resonates even more all these years later. And one of the wonderful things about Thumbelina is the music.

In college, one of my required courses was Orchestration. I had a great teacher, Dr. Freund, a young guy who'd been to the major music schools and has his own modern music group (Alarm Will Sound) that performs in cool places like New York. Anyway, after arranging pieces for string quartet, woodwind quintet, and brass quintet, we had to arrange for orchestra. I chose the themes from the music of Thumbelina.

It can be, obviously, very difficult to accurately portray the sound of a piece; it's much easier to hear it. And since I can't give some easy link to it, I will just describe what I arranged. It was titled, appropriately, "From a Children's Tale."

It began with pizzicato (or plucking) in the strings, with staggered rhythms between each section. Five measures in a flute solo introduced the first of the two main themes, with the oboe and clarinet easing in on harmony lines. The entire woodwind section then finished the simple melody, and as we progressed toward the "chorus," the strings abandoned their pizz and played a scalar run toward the fully orchestrated chorus (for lack of using a more complicated term). As is often the case, the flutes/clarinets and violins carried the melody, while the violas, cellos, and lower woodwinds offered harmonies and countermelodies.

Then began the second main theme, an absolutely gorgeous section of long tones gently but inevitably leading higher and higher to the upper register of the violins and flutes. Then, because the poor brass had had little to do (and I had to use them to get a good grade), I turned the theme over to them, and the melodies, countermelodies, and harmonies mirrored that which had been heard previously in the woodwinds and strings.

In hindsight, if I were to reconstruct this arrangement, I would rewrite the brass's interpretation of the second theme. Although, if I must say, I did love having the horns take the melody and just soar, the way all good French horn players are wont to do.

Then there was a tiny bit of a bridge, a transition to get us back to the delicacy of the beginning. The strings took us downward, to the middle and lower registers, and employed simple long tones. Then the woodwinds returned with the first main theme. This time, however, I gave the solo to the clarinet, and one by one the other instruments dropped out until the clarinet was alone, finishing on a beautiful rubato passage.

Though the bulk of my conducting career was spent in front of bands, it was such a thrill and such a wonderful opportunity to be able to conduct our university's philharmonic (the top orchestra), which graciously agreed to play my class's orchestral arrangements. As the composers we were expected to conduct our pieces, and I was quite up to the task. I even got a bit of conducting instruction from the philharmonic conductor himself, the esteemed Edward Dolbashian (a native New Yorker - love that place). We had a particularly excellent string bass player from Brazil, and I loved watching her take total control of the crucial bass line. Another Brazilian student and excellent musician named Marcos was the clarinet player who interpreted the end of my piece so perfectly. I felt so, so honored in that moment.

And just being there, hearing achingly beautiful music come forth at the behest of my humble baton - I would hope that it's an experience every single person could appreciate, given the opportunity. A melody I'd loved all my life, vibrating in the air around me. Brought to life, even if only briefly. This is a music experience that not only will I never forget, but that I will treasure as long as I have my wits about me.

Addendum: I'm forgetting myself. The first theme has words, beautiful, beautiful words that never age, that the Thumbelina character sings:

One day in spring she heard him sing
A song to her delight
And back again came then her friend
To warm her summer nights

Don't cry for me while I be gone
Though it an eternity seems
Though we are apart, I'll follow my heart
And come to you in your dreams


When the heartache ends.

Last night I dreamt
my mother was a blade of grass
swaying in the shade of a willow tree

I would sit beside her and talk
of things she would want to know
She would bend her head and
graze my hand

Winter came and she grew brittle

An icy wind broke her and
she went away forever

When I returned in spring
and found that she was gone
I sat in the shade of the willow tree
and cried


(photo courtesy of www.trekearth.com )


Interestings facts.

Did you know that the average person carries 1.5 ounces of wax in each ear?

Did you know that, due to blue shift and interstellar gasses, neutron star J743K0 once blinked 'S.O.S.' for fifteen minutes?

Did you know that salt is impervious to heat? And that if a dry roasted peanut could survive a nuclear blast, it would still taste salty?

Did you know that 1 in 3 adults still suck their thumb and hide it from their partner?

Did you know that if you ate a rose for dinner every day (minus the stem and thorns), your skin would take on a reddish hue after one month?

Did you know King Henry VIII could belch "God Save the King"? In two different octaves?


Gotcha again.


On Beethoven and artistic determinism.

"Beethoven...turned out pieces of breath-taking rightness. Rightness - that's the word! When you get that feeling that whatever note succeeds the last is the only possible note that can rightly happen at that instant, in that context, then chances are you're listening to Beethoven. Melodies, fugues, rhythms - leave them to the Tchaikovskys and Hindemiths and Ravels. Our boy has the real goods, the stuff from Heaven, the power to make you feel at the finish: Something is right in the world. There is something that checks throughout, that follows its own law consistently: something we can trust, that will never let us down."

From Leonard Bernstein's "The Joy of Music" (Simon and Schuster, 2004)

*Feel free to substitute the name Beethoven with Zimmer, Goldsmith, Doyle, Fenton...



A brief history of perfect music.

In 1999 the movie Anna and the King, starring Jodie Foster and Chow-Yun Fat, was released in theaters, and while it only grossed several million dollars domestically, it is a fine movie, an epic really, and I recommend it to everyone.

I've always thought the soundtrack was so beautiful, but never really felt an urgency to purchase it until I saw that the manufacturer had discontinued its production. So I went to Amazon and ordered a used CD for very cheap, and it came in the mail a few days ago.

The history of music in movies is a good one. It actually begins in the era of music history known as Romanticism, when "program music" burst onto the scene thanks to Berlioz and his Symphonie Fantastique, which premiered accompanied by a paper program for audience members detailing the story behind the work. Music had been set to a story before, of course, in the form of opera, but this was something new. Whereas before, the music of Haydn and Bach and Mozart and Beethoven found its purpose in perfecting the classical composition, program music tells a story.

So even though in the grand scheme music has moved from Romanticism to Modernism, movie music, as it tells a story, still clings to that old tradition of taking the listener through an experience by setting a mood and highlighting action.

What truly made music in the post-Beethoven era Romantic, however, was its obvious beauty. And some of the best movie music today still gives us that. John Williams was once the master of the form, though his recent works have declined in creativity, in my opinion. Jerry Goldsmith passed away several years ago but left absolute gems, including his work on First Knight. Hans Zimmer should be heralded as the current master, beautifying everything from The Lion King and Crimson Tide to Gladiator and Kung Fu Panda.

The soundtrack to Anna and the King is another perfect example of how "program music" both elevates a cinematic work of art, and stands alone as a composition worthy of high praise. Unfortunately there's no way to post snippets, but trust me when I say that the themes George Fenton created are among the absolute best (and most beautiful) I've ever heard.

How can something like this not be nominated for an Oscar for Best Score? I know the Oscars aren't truly the be-all end-all, but I watch like a fan every year and it's still an immense honor to be nominated. In the same vein it's ridiculous for Patrick Doyle's incredible score for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire not to have been nominated, or a certain Harlequin-haired crooner's work on one of the best movie songs of the last few decades ("Remember" from Troy). But, this isn't the time to air grievances. *grr*

I think, at the end of the day, what makes music so fulfilling and universal is its ability to convey the profound. Whether you're listening to a movie soundtrack or a jazz piece or a classic rock tune, every now and then you're just struck with the overwhelming notion that not only is this what music was meant to be, but that it's trying to tell you something, and no matter how hard a wordsmith may try, the message is still best conveyed in the mind and heart; felt, rather than uttered.

And that's how I felt listening to the soundtrack to Anna and the King; that the music meant something beyond the theme of the movie, that it relayed truths and ideas that lie too deep for mere mortals...try as we may to unlock the secrets.


Dammit, Jim!

I'm not a science writer so this may not make any sense at all. But I think it's fun to ponder these little conundrums.

Okay. Time travel. Still impossible. And when you think about it, if it were possible, someone should already have come back from the future by now.

But! I'm reading Chaos and Harmony by Trinh Xuan Thuan, and it's all about the cosmos and Einstein and things of that nature. And he's talking about how time appears to slow down as you near the speed of light. He gives a scenario with Jules and Jim; Jules is piloting a starship at 80% the speed of light and Jim is chillaxin' back on earth. Jim decides, about an hour into Jules' trip, to send him a message using tachyons. (Bear with me; tachyons are theoretical particles that can travel faster than the speed of light)

Okay, here's the conundrum. Once Jim sends the message, Jules receives it a half-hour before Jim has actually sent it. So when he sends the reply message, Jim receives it approximately 52 minutes before he sent his original message.

So I'm thinking....if Jim receives a reply before he even sends a message, thus making sending a message unnecessary, he wouldn't send it, and therefore would not receive a reply in the first place.


It reminds me of Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey, where they need to leave the keys to the jail cell somewhere so they can retrieve them without having been given them in the first place, so they have to go back in the past and leave them behind a bush. Once Bill and Ted think of this idea, they go behind the bush and - voila! - there the keys are. But then, Bill reminds his friend that they have to remember to actually go back in time and leave the keys.

But what if they forgot? Then the keys would not be there in that moment when they went to go get them. And what if they then committed absolutely to going back in time and leaving the keys? Would they abruptly appear?

Ahhh, such speculation is almost fruitless. But I love it.

I now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.


Revising the aughts.

Thanks to a couple of savvy friends and a revelation of my own, I have added to my list of the defining characteristics of this decade and now present to you the full list (though subject to revision yet again). Here we go:

1) The War on Terror
2) American Idol
3) Reality TV
4) Celebrity mania
5) Blogs
6) Harry Potter
7) The election of the first Black President
8) The recession
9) Social networking
10) The iPod
11) Going green
12) Internet fame

I left off anything from fashion because at any given time there are several major trends and I like to keep my lists looking tidy. Also I didn't want a number thirteen...but I would have chosen huge sunglasses, just so you know. ;-)


Becoming...a better photog?

I'm excited. I'm about to share with you all some photographs I took during college. These actually were also a part of an art exhibit I did sophomore year (don't be fooled, I lived in a fine arts dorm and they had a little room...)

I've been thinking recently about if and how my camera skills have gotten better over the years. The pictures below are those I considered some of the best I'd ever taken--by the time I was 20. I had a Kodak Advantix camera, which, if you'll recall, was a big deal because of the "drop and load" function for film canisters. (Easier to load - harder to develop, trust me!) It could do crazy things like turn black and white photography into a study in history. But, as basically the point-and-shoot of yesteryear, it had its limitations also.

Now, they have a slightly grainy quality (which you may or may not be able to see) because they're actually scans of the real thing that I had put on a CD so that I could work with them online. But that kind of makes them even cooler, because there's an age attached to them, unlike purely digital photography. I did adjust the color saturation a bit since you always lose something in the transfer.











I upgraded in 2005 to a 35mm Minolta, getting it for about $170 on overstock.com instead of at its regular price of almost $450. I got a digital Canon Powershot in 2006 (on a whim, as I was out of town and without my Minolta), and as you all know just purchased my latest one, a Fujifilm Finepix that I love to death. I ordered prints online at Walgreens yesterday for about fifty of my favorite photos from my NC vacation, and could not be more thrilled. The quality is sublime, and the detail, especially around edges, is ridiculous.

Anyway, I decided that I've always had a pretty good eye for photography. There were a few clunkers in that long-ago exhibit that I can only see now as "not that great." But mostly for me, it's just a matter of progressing in terms of camera quality and really cracking the whip and learning the fundamentals.

Thank God for Jesus.


There's a book coming out this Wednesday called The Sartorialist, and it's by a man named Scott Schuman who goes by the book's titular moniker. He's a street-style photographer, snapping hip adults in major cities all over the world, and I didn't realize how much I liked his stuff until I found out about the book. (Don't you love it when you find out that something awesome is coming out like two days before it does? No wait period!)

I've wondered each time I've seen a subject of his, what these people are really thinking when they get dressed. Are they the sort of person who's so effortlessly individualist and creative that a quirky outfit seems perfectly normal to them? Are they making an effort to stand out quirkily? If so, can the Sartorialist spot such artifice a mile away, and does he reject it or accept it's inevitability?


I think I'm going to take a nap. Late night last night.

(photo courtesy of this post by Joanna over at A Cup of Jo)


The aughts.

Every decade has defining characteristics. The 20s - jazz. The 30s - the Depression. The 40s - WWII. The 50s - perfection. The 60s - postmodern freedoms. The 70s - disco! The 80s - big hair. The 90s - errgh...um...sigh...really crappy alternative music. (Except for Alanis)

And of course, there's much more that can be said about each of those decades; sub-characteristics, if you will, people and events and styles and landmarks that are instantly identifiable in their place in time.

And when you think about it, it takes a while for the new decade to shake off the old. For example, when I was born, the world was still living by those wonderful 70s standards of bell-bottoms, discotheques, disaster movies, orange shag carpet (though my mom claims it was 'rust colored,' it was my room so I should know), and Three's Company. God, I love the seventies. *moment of silence*

So I've been thinking, now that this decade is gently drawing to a close, what are those defining characteristics we will look back on in twenty or so years and nod our heads and say, 'Yes. Those were the aughts, all right'?

I've compiled a list.

1) I'd say the biggest one is the War on Terror. Or, the War in Iraq. Or, whatever we choose to call it whenever we figure out what's actually going on. September 11th was extremely early in this decade and so the proceeding events have had plenty of time to play out across the aughts; not to mention the fact that the War is as hotly contested and debated and reviled as Vietnam (though Nam, interestingly, spanned two decades).

2) The next biggest is American Idol. Whether or not you like it, it's the truth. It also came into existence very early, in summer of '02, and is still going very strong and has been incredibly successful both in ratings and in the commercial viability of its winners and finalists. Simon Cowell is an icon, although a strange one, and Seacrest inhabits a plane all his own. It is very difficult to imagine the aughts without this show.

3) Reality TV in general. There have always been reality shows, but it wasn't until the aughts that it became a phenomenon, and networks began developing reality over aging formulas of the past like situation comedies. We have seen more highs (AI, Biggest Loser, Survivor), lows (Paradise Hotel, Beauty and the Geek), awesomeness (What Not To Wear, America's Next Top Model, Real Housewives), unnecessariness (Run's House, Hey Paula!)and outright inappropriateness (Flava of Love and it's many spinoffs) than we ever imagined could exist in the universe.

4) Celebrity mania. I hate it. I can't go into it or I'll break something.

5) Blogs. Huh. Whodathunkit. And remember when they were called 'weblogs'? And all new and frightening? Good times.

6) Harry Potter. Even though the series was first published in the late nineties, the movies began coming to theaters in '01 and the hype as the fifth, sixth, and finally seventh books came out was unreal. Kids loved reading again. Parents loved reading with their kids. J.K. loved cashing her checks--err, I mean...writing. And every now and then, on warm summer midnights, the country--nay, the world--felt united by a boy in glasses who became really good at acting like a bitchy teenager.

7) Admittedly I'm not too taken with the world of high fashion, but notable styles that have come and perhaps already gone are huge sunglasses, Ugg boots, anything peasant (meaning ugly), graphic tees, and hurrah! Skinny jeans are back and hips are allowed once more. And if you happen to be wearing an outfit consisting of each of those things, you are either Mary Kate or Ashley. Who probably belong on this list too. Although way down.

So that's my take on it. Anything major that you think should have been on my list?

Here, at the end of things.

At this point

all I dare dream of

is a chance to slip away


into a moment

that never ends.


(photo taken on the E.B. Jeffress trail along the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina)


You can't beat a flying dream.

Last night I dreamed I could fly.

In the past, the very few flying dreams I've had have been large disappointments, with me trying and failing over and over to lift off.

But last night I did it, I took a running leap and soared. And there were witnesses, and they were awed, and I went higher to prove that I could, and then dipped lower to let my fingers skip over the tops of trees.

There was someone else in my dream who could fly as well, a very nice young man just about my age, but he was content not to show off, just waiting until I was done so that we could fly together.

It was nice.


Preach it, farm boy!

To quote Wesley from The Princess Bride:

"Life is pain, Princess. Anyone who says differently is selling something."

There are those who would say this is too cynical, but to do so would risk a blog post of lengthy quotes from Eric Wilson's book Against Happiness and we wouldn't want that, now, would we.



Interview #4: Jonny Lang.

Jonny Lang began his career at the tender age of fourteen, catapulted into the world of blues with his preternatural guitar skills and grizzled voice a few decades older than he was. At twenty-eight years old he has offered up four studio albums - Lie to Me, Wander This World, Long Time Coming, and Turn Around - and infused a gospel sensibility into his latest work, one testament to a life that has been way more than just interesting.

1. From the point that you first picked up a guitar, how long was it before you were what we would call "proficient?"

2. How were you discovered? The music industry is full of tales of luck and connections; tell me yours.

3. Your voice changed in between your first two albums; how cool was it to be able to add even more grizzle and unearned life experience into a fresh set of lyrics? Did you try to overdo it a little, the way my brother would answer the phone in a deep voice in case it was a girl?

4. What is your assessment of the blues market today? What do you think it would take to attract more listeners to the genre?

5. How has your musical expression changed/evolved as you have grown up?

6. Describe your voice using one word. (Can't use 'grizzled'!)

7. Any time an artist goes in a different direction, they know they will alienate a portion of their fans. What kind of response did you perceive to Turn Around, especially concertwise?

8. When I saw you in concert last, you changed the lyrics to "Wander This World" a bit to reflect your conversion to Christianity. Are there any songs on your albums you would leave off now if you could?

9. With so much life still ahead of you, where do you want to ultimately end up?

10. Will you sign my arm and be a guest mentor on American Idol next season? :D



Interview #2: Alanis Morissette

Alanis Morissette helped define the nineties, a decade already awash in combat boots, tragically hip alternative musicians, and female empowerment. Her first album, Jagged Little Pill, sold over 30 million copies worlwide and helped her win four Grammys, including Album of the Year. Subsequently she released Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, Under Rug Swept, Feast On Scraps, So-Called Chaos, and Flavors of Entanglement, among other things.

1. What I found refreshing was learning that you went to India, as many celebrities were doing at the time, in search of something - enlightenment, whatever - and yet you were disillusioned by what you found. Describe what that was and how you interpreted it.

2. You have referenced 'God,' 'Spirit,' and other ways of naming a higher power. How would you describe yourself religiously?

3. In my opinion, SFIJ is one of those albums that young people will discover decades from now and absolutely adore. With it being the follow-up to your massive hit of a debut, how do you think of SFIJ now, in retrospect? Did you accomplish what you set out to do with a follow-up?

4. My personal favorite album of yours is Feast on Scraps. (It's comprised of songs left off of Under Rug Swept) Not only is it some of your best work, period, but the songs are much more edgy and haunting than the album on which they didn't make it. Why did you feel compelled to keep them off the original?

5. In the same vein, Under Rug Swept is probably your most 'pop' album. Describe the decision-making process in selecting the songs that made the final cut; and did they accurately portray the kind of sound you wanted for a follow-up to SFIJ?

6. With an Alanis album, I can always expect the quiet, haunting songs as well as the hardcore, in-your-face dark stuff. What parts of your personality help to create each of those disparate sounds? Which type of song do you prefer more?

7. The paradox of the music industry is: stick with a tried-and-true formula and be criticized for not trying new things; try new things and be criticized for veering away from your fans. Have you felt that you personally experienced this in your career?

8. With your latest album, Flavors of Entanglement (which has gorgeous album art, by the way), you introduced a more synthesized production. What are your thoughts about how it turned out? Do you feel in some ways the synthesizer is better equipped to provide the sounds you hear in your head?

9. Where do you see yourself headed next?

10. Be honest, now - what exactly did you see in Dave Coullier?!



Interview #1: Jay Clifford

For the uninitiated, Jay Clifford is the former leader of South Carolina band Jump, Little Children, which disbanded several years ago. They released three official studio albums, Magazine, Vertigo, and Between the Dim and the Dark, along with some demo tapes and EPs and live albums.

1. JLC spent some time in Ireland learning the musical traditions there, and it influenced quite a few of your melodies and lyrics. Why the Irish tradition in particular, and not something else?

2. Vertigo is probably the most experimental and ornate of the three studio albums. What influenced the new ideas?

3. With BTDATD, did the band feel the need, as a sort of last-ditch effort at broad commercial success, to "mainstream" their sound and if so, how was that decision reached?

4. Talk about the song Pidgeon and its inspiration. Did you have to research all the flora you name-dropped, or is gardening a secret hobby of yours?

5. The piano opening of Mother's Eyes is gorgeous. Have you ever composed classically, or ever thought about doing so?

6. Cathedral, from your first album, is perhaps your biggest hit. What do you think made it so popular?

7. For my sake, for once and for all...what is Say Goodnight really about?

8. Music has of course evolved since 1998 when you guys formally debuted. If the band were to put an album out today, what kind of sound do you think it would have?

9. Who are some of the musicians and bands today who you feel are most similar to the JLC catalogue?

10. Will you sign my arm? :-)


Encyclopedia Brown!

I've been realizing recently that I have an almost encyclopedic memory for all things American Idol. (Yeah, I know...that again. What can I say, it's my favorite show) If a contestant during the current season sings a particular song I know if it has ever been done before on Idol, and by whom, and when (and what they were wearing, and what the judges thought...)

For example, Matt Giraud sang 'My Funny Valentine' this season for Top 5 week, which had the Rat Pack theme. Melinda Doolittle also sang it during the semifinals in season 6, as did Constantine Maroulis for Broadway week back in season 4.

Adam Lambert's scintillating performance of 'Satisfaction' during the seminfinals this year? Bo Bice also sang it during season 4, Top 3 week, and it was Paula's "Judge's Pick" for him. (He wore a yellow shirt, I believe)

How about Heart's 'Alone'? Carrie Underwood claimed it as hers the second week of the finals in season 4 (the theme was Billboard #1 hits); Ramiel Mulaby attempted it season 7 the week before she was finally eliminated, and Allison Iraheta did just as awesome with it as Carrie, if not better, this year for her semifinal performance.

The ubiquitous 'All By Myself'? LaToya London tackled it during the semis in season 3 to great acclaim (though I thought it was just so-so) and wearing all white; Gina Glockson did alright with it during the semis in season 6, and Asia'h Epperson tried it during the season 7 semis (again, wearing white). My advice? Stop singing the song during the semifinals!

Bon Jovi, you ask? There was a Bon Jovi week during season 6 in which Bon Jovi was also the mentor; Blake Lewis pulled ahead of the pack, for a minute anyway, with his reinvention of 'You Give Love a Bad Name;' Jordin Sparks, the eventual winner, sang 'Livin' on a Prayer,' which the judges roundly dismissed; David Cook, season 7's winner, later auditioned with the song.

Whitney Houston? Who hasn't done Whitney? Jasmine Trias made it to the top 12 (sadly) season 3 by singing 'Run to You;' Kat McPhee sang 'I Have Nothing' during Love Song week (top 6) in season 5, wearing a gorgeous yellow dress with a dangerously high slit; Asia'h Epperson sang 'I Wanna Dance With Somebody' during the season 7 semis (her last performance, which the judges hated and I loved); Syesha Mercado, later that season, sang 'I Will Always Love You' during Dolly Parton week, and - same season - Chikezie Eze sang 'All the (Woman) That I Need' not once, but twice (as an audition song as as his final semifinal performance, which got him into the Top 12).

It goes beyond that weird feat, though. There have been four female and four male winners; three African-American and five Caucasian (although I qualify it usually by reminding people that Jordin is mixed); all of them were single when they won except Kris and all of those singles are still single except for Ruben who was married last year. The only winner with children was Fantasia, and when people seemed to have a problem with that I reminded them that all the way at the beginning, in season 1, Nikki McKibbin had a four-year-old son and made it to top 3. The oldest winner was Taylor Hicks at 29; the youngest, Jordin Sparks at just barely 17.

There have been 4 male-female Top 2s, 3 male-male, and 1 female-female. Only once has there been an all-male Top 3 and that was this year. It would have been last year but Syesha outlasted Jason Castro; it would have been season 5 but Kat oulasted Chris Daughtry. There have been 3 female-female-male Top 3s - seasons 1, 4, and 6, and only one all-female Top 3 - season 3 (and they actually had the only all-female Top 4, also)

I could go into guest mentors and Bottom 3 statistics and audition cities but you may effectively want to kill yourself, so I'll stop. I just wanted to mention my cool and totally worthless talent. :-)


'Rain can douse even the worst fire,' said the child.


"Who can argue with a man who has the voice of the Unnamed God speaking exclusively in his ear? Not I. I have never heard such a voice. I have only heard the echo that still reverberates, once the Unnamed God stopped speaking and the world took up with itself."

~ Mother Maunt, Son of a Witch

(photo courtesy of foxnews.com)


'Ask and ye shall receive,' the child cried.


"I do believe it is possible to create, even without ever writing a word or painting a picture, by simply molding one's inner life. And that too is a deed."

~ Etty Hillesum

(photo of autumn clematis courtesy of www.outbacknurseries.com)


A small wish.

I was thinking today, while cleaning, how much there is in me that needs to be written. Should I not have any commitments at all, I could write for weeks, months, and there would still be more. But because of the world outside it all has to stay inside, until the moments when I'm not tired, not hassled, not burnt out.

Perhaps it's wishful thinking, but sometimes I wonder if all humble human creation does live somewhere else, another place to which we will one day be privvy. I want to make things live.

And if human artistic creation is not giving life, then perhaps it goes toward the meaning of everything, the tying up of every loose end so that we will have contributed to the lasting order of things, to the obliteration of chaos.

And sometimes, I just want to write.


It's a problem I have.

So, I'm still pondering Wicked.

(Pondering = overanalyzing, picking to shreds, tearing leaf by leaf till there's nothing left)

I've gotten caught up reading like every single review of it on Amazon, and by far I'm not the only one wondering why so many hanging plot threads. (I especially enjoyed this review and this one, but again, read at your own risk if you plan on reading Wicked in the future)

I think Maguire was caught up in some kind of postmodern experiment. Two reasons why:

1) Art imitating life. When, in anyone's life, do we get all the answers? When do we ever have it all figured out? To leave so many questions - to have minor characters overstay their welcome and major figures vanish forever - to never grasp the meaning of life, the nature of good and evil - to die a pointless death - that, Maguire is saying, is life. Many readers will hate his depiction because we don't want chaos from a story, we want order. We want a major life that makes sense in the end, with a well-written denoument. We don't, in the end, truly want reality.

2) It would be quite a postmodern thing, simply, to wait and see the reaction of readers to a plot that continually dies, continually jumps in time, continually leaves resolution unrealized. Not unlike the artist who puts a black dot on a white canvas and says 'Art!' It's more about the participant's reaction than anything else.

I find myself defending Maguire because I still remember my reaction to his flawed novel, and I found many of the characters and setting fascinating. However, I still hate the unanswered.

Okay, break's over.


An appeal for universal canine healthcare.

Scene outside of a gym. Two people with dogs. One dog tries to play with the other.

Woman with dog: Um, I don't think...

Man with dog: Oh, it's alright, he's perfectly harmless.

Woman with dog: Sir, your dog has blood dripping from its eyes.


Dream myself awake.

On Thursday night I dreamt that I was in my car with a coworker, and she was in the driver's seat. It was nighttime and we sat parked at the edge of a forest, watching the sky above the trees. The moon was full, and it began to rise and set out of synch with real time; rising and setting, rising and setting, though the night itself never changed. It moved so fast that eventually there were two moons in the sky. It was like the old quantum physics visual, where you leave a room and see yourself entering the same room, but from behind.

Then lightning began, above the moon's arc, flashing in an endless, raging storm of bolts. Then a blue shower of fireworks exploded. The sky was out of control. The moon then took over, swelling to such an immense size that it blotted out nearly everything else. (I've had other dreams about the moon doing this, so enormous that the city below it is bathed in white)

Then I woke up.

As I was driving to work, though no rain was forecast, I looked above the trees and saw a bolt of lightning streak down.

A student told me about a nest she found, not snug in the cradling branches of a tree but resting against the side of her family's house, three baby birds inside, shiny and new, no mother in sight.

I came to an intersection and found a blind man crossing, slowly, tentatively. In every direction sat a waiting car, yet I was the only one who could turn and go on my way.

Dreaming, waking, seek and ye shall find.


Any questions? Comments? Concerns? Requests?

By far, the best comedic quote from the X-Files series:

"Alright, so we're looking for a white male, age seventeen to thirty-four, with or without a beard, maybe a tattoo, who's impotent."


Mirror, Mirror.

Another two days, another Gregory Maguire book accomplished.

What is happening to me?!?! I'm devouring fiction.

Mirror, Mirror is a retelling of the Snow White lore, so meticulously and beautifully conceived that losing oneself in a book becomes a real act, not merely a cliche.

In exquisite Renaissance Italy, Bianca de Nevada resides in a village atop a paradise of hills with her widowed father, Vicente, and a colorful cast of local characters. The cook, Primavera, is blasphemous and wise; Fra Ludovico is pious and meek but brave in his own way. The details of not only setting but time are so lovingly rendered, so masterfully conceived that the plot itself drags a bit in several places; but for myself, I was so enthralled at entering this world, wonky pacing didn't matter much.

Again, all the essential elements of the fairy tale are here - dwarves, poisoned apples, glass coffins; this time, Maguire relents and draws upon a bit of magic here and there to achieve his ends. Additionally we have not a wicked stepmother but Lucrezia Borgia herself as the jealous in power, as well as a quest for eternal fruit plucked long ago from the Tree of Knowledge.

And you'll know way more about early sixteenth-century Italian politcs than you ever wanted to by the end. ;)

This book is quite different than Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister; Maguire used a different type of prose, and the heavy use of themes present in the Cinderella tale were edged out here, I believe, in favor of plot and detail. But even for its imperfections (Maguire tends to lavish in fabulous prose for too long of a stretch, and likes to plant a startling word in the most innocent of places), I was still fascinated. Enchanted. Bewitched. I recommend it, but only for adults.

Next stop: Wicked.


They might have used their mirror as an escape hatch, to ask it the single correct question, the only question a mirror ever cares about: not who did I used to be, nor who am I now, but who am I to become?


Wow! Ugly people have value, too!

You've probably heard of (and heard) the newest singing sensation, Susan Boyle from Britain's Got Talent. She's in her late forties, has never been kissed, and is decidedly un-pretty by contemporary standards. But she sings - forgive the cliche - like an angel.

I'm always amused, in a kind of ticked-off way, when people's mouths turn into O's and they point in wordless shock at someone who has more than a fair share of talent but is not 'beautiful.' Clearly, women bear the brunt of this surprise, since men are usually more vaunted for what they can do, and what kind of person they are, than what they look like.

Why is it that we still equate beauty with virtue, talent, morality, and ugliness with corruption and worthlessness? We will never be the 'enlightened' world we assume we should be in the 21st century, as long as we can't wrap our tiny brains around the fact that people are not objects. It is impossible for our facades, our appearances, our decaying bodies to accurately represent the maturity of our souls, the many trials we are set to, the endless moments in which we change for the better or the worse and then back again.

(Why do we retain this malfunction? Is it survivalist prejudice, sexual attraction, lower-order thinking? Or - for more adventurous minds - do we keep the memory of another time and place in the deepst parts of ourselves, a time and place in which what one saw was what one got, and we can't shake this memory, to our own misfortune?)

Nobody lays awake at night because an ugly couch is neglected. And far too often, no one cares when someone is judged, withheld, robbed of opportunity because they don't supernaturally embody holiness and light.

Susan Boyle is decidedly un-pretty by standards put in place when humanity on this earth first sprang. That her voice is such a shock to the masses says to me that those standards may very well be our legacy until the last of us takes their final breath.


Can't make this stuff up.

Overheard in an undisclosed sector of my workplace yesterday:

Co-worker #1: Hey, you know what I've found really works with 3-year-olds??

Co-worker #2: Beating them?


How to fail good.

"The goal of life becomes individual glory and greatness. The failure to achieve these aspirations, to be who we should be, seems to diminish us. As we age, as life deals its blows of fortune and bad luck, as we face the harsh reality of human limitations, our own limitations, we become resentful. We hate ourselves for failing."

~ Chris Hedges, Losing Moses on the Freeway

I relate to this perhaps a bit too much, LOL. Living in America, perhaps we're fed the lie too much, that anything is possible, when it's not. I wanted to be published fourteen years ago. I never dreamed I'd be this age and still unaccomplished. But it seems the lie exists apart from any type of reality, especially individual realities with so many bumps in the road that keep us from realizing this gilded dream. And feeling like a failure sucks.

He goes on:

"All lives, at their deepest level, are failures. We fail to be the person we want to be; this is inevitable for we are human. We will fail to achieve all we want to achieve. We fail those who love us in small and large ways. We are failed by them. We suffer betrayal and feel unappreciated. We are never as good as our expectations. We never overcome all our faults. We act in ways that are foolish, inconsistent, mean or thoughtless. This is part of our ordinariness, part of the failures inherent in human life.

"But only if we can accept this failure and our ordinariness, only if we can have the courage to face this wounding pain, can we find sustaining joy and happiness."


Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Oh come! oh teach me nature to subdue,
Renounce my love, my life, myself — and you.
Fill my fond heart with God alone, for he
Alone can rival, can succeed to thee.

How happy is the blameless vestal's lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each pray'r accepted, and each wish resign'd...

(from a reeeeeeaaaaallllllyyyyyy long poem by Alexander Pope entitled "Eloisa to Abelard")
(image courtesy of www.sodahead.com )


It ain't that time.

Of the month, that is. And yet I find myself awwwwwing over this perfect little quote:

Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. "Pooh!" he whispered.
"Yes, Piglet?"
"Nothing," said Piglet, taking Pooh's paw. "I just wanted to be sure of you."

~A.A. Milne

I've been feeling weird today. The planets must be all wrong. Too quiet, too dreamy, too wistful, too Piscean. Nothing I can do about it.


Happy birthday, K-Dawg.

Y'all don't know how happy this makes me.


Oh Moms, you so crazy.

So, I was visiting my mom the other day, and I'm pretty sure she was trying to burn the house down.

We were just talking, chilling, and I looked over and saw a cloth on the stove. A cloth. On the stove. And the burner to the left of it was on. So I said, "Mom, there's a cloth on the stove!"

And she was all, "So? It's no big deal. It's wet, it's not like it's gonna catch fire..."

"But you have a cloth on the stove."

I mean...isn't that self-explanatory?

Less than twenty minutes later I looked over, and there was a skillet on the stove with bubbles in it! Bubbles! So I said, "Mom, why are there bubbles in that skillet?!"

"Because they'll help clean it better, I wanted to get all the oil out..."

"But they're bubbles!! You're cooking bubbles, you can't do that!"

"Why not?"

"Because I said so!"

She grudgingly took the skillet off the stove.

You know, there's a lot about the house I'm going to miss when she finally succeeds in burning it down.


Get lifted.

Last night I attended the surprise birthday dinner of one of my good friends. She's the kind of person you don't have to know very long to count among the best. We met when I worked at the corner drugstore for several months last year. Whenever she was in photo and I was at register 1, we talked (and laughed) about anything and everything.

At the dinner (which was at an aMAzing Italian restaurant - the lasagna was divine!), quite a few of the partygoers stood up to say their piece about why they find her so special. Tears leaked. But probably the most moving, inspiring, and maybe even life-changing things that were said were by Ebony herself, her boyfriend, and her father.

You know, a lot of people have given up on believing, in anything. I myself am hanging by a thread some days. But last night I realized (or, maybe, remembered) that if you fail to believe in what you truly want, then you certainly are doomed never to find it. Ebony and Joe both expressed that plenty of "friends" had told them through the years that the girl/guy they were hoping and praying for, just didn't exist. That someone whose soul already lines up perfectly with your own when you meet them, is just a pipe dream.

It was really, really fascinating, and even profound, to see literal, living witnesses to not only belief and faith, but the power of God. Both my friend and her future husband turned a deaf ear to those who would have them settle for something less, and found each other in due time. Both ignored those who are fully entrenched in a world that now trusts only irony, cynicism, sad endings, and the power of themselves - and what are we but ants in the greater universe?

Ebony's dad, you can tell just by looking at him that he's been a very wise person for a long time. You can always see it in their eyes. Anyway, I will quote the closing words of his speech and never alter or add anything to them in all the years I am sure to repeat them.

"If God is in you, then you will see God in others. If love is in you, then you will see love in others. Don't go looking for love. Love will find you."



Ghosts are real. Stop fighting it!

It's official. My place of employment is haunted.

My very first day here, at closing time, I went from room to room making sure all the outside doors were closed. I entered the baby room, which had been empty for nearly half an hour, to find the rocking chair rocking all on its own.

Months later, in October, I was here all by myself on a Saturday, fixing up my classroom for a very important visit the coming week. I didn't leave till almost ten-thirty that night. What really spurred me on to leave was that I had just thrown something away, and we have that type of tall trashcan with the swivel top. As I was walking away from the can and gathering some things, I heard a loud Thunk! and looked back to see the swivel top swaying back and forth very fast, as though something very heavy had been dropped into it. Trust me. Nothing had.

Two days ago the school-age kids had a snow day. I was standing in the classroom talking with my co-teacher, and I felt something touch my back, like a finger scraping at my shirt, and what disconcerted me was that I could feel this under my shirt as well. A poor guy was coming in the room at the same time to get his kid, and I whirled around all accusatory...but it wasn't him. My co-teacher confirmed that he hadn't come anywhere near me.

One evening last summer, at the pre-K graduation, I took what might be photographic evidence of the...phenomenon. (There are other pictures, as mentioned in a minute) I was snapping a photo of one of the pre-K teachers giving her speech, and as I was using a digital camera I could see right away something was wrong. It was still light outside - and the lights were on in the room - but the picture was almost completely dark, and covering the still of the teacher was what looks very, very much like silken cobwebs.

So, the employees who have been here a long time will tell you in a heartbeat we have a ghost, and they for no good reason call it Shanaynay (yeah, like the silly character off the old sitcom Martin). Not everyone has experienced Shanaynay. But I sure have.

Probably the weirdest part of this is that one of our nearby centers seems to have a ghost as well. In the school-age room, whenever it would rain, condensation would appear on a certain window in the shape of a girl clearly wearing a bonnet and a shawl. (I've seen the picture. You have to believe me!) Sometimes she'd be facing the opposite direction. After a while her hair had noticeably grown longer.

She stopped appearing when they put screens on the windows for added child safety.

Now, I'm the kind of person who does believe there are ghosts but is skeptical of just about every account I've ever heard. All those shows on TV, while fun to watch (I do love to get spooked), I'm pretty sure are way overhyped and on the 'reality' ones, do any ghosts actually show up? Nope. At least, not ones that aren't completely staged by the crew.

So, while I still think that ghosts aren't that common (or manevolant), I can't deny what I've experienced. It makes one think.



A short exchange overhead the other day by two fourth-grade girls:

First Girl (in desperation): Aaaaaugh! She's drowning me in Legos!!!

Second Girl (unemotional): You can swim, can't you?


Vouchsafe me speak a word!


My cool cousin wanted magnetic poetry for Christmas, and I ended up getting a version for my parents also. And, clearly, a Shakespeare one for myself.