Monday, November 30, 2009

30 posts in 30 days

I started out on November 1st with a solemn vow to do a post a day for 30 days. For the most part, I have been successful. There are two days without posts, but there were a couple days with two posts. So there were 30 posts in 30 days and I'm calling that a win.

Heidi posted what she learned from her month long NaNoWriMo experience (remember that Hero is available from Dreamspinner Press on Friday!!) and I'd love to say that I could write a post about what I learned from a month of daily blogging.

Really, I didn't learn that much.

I guess the biggest thing I learned is that I have more to say than I thought I did. Those of you who know me personally know that I am not this talkative under normal circumstances. So in a way, this has been a good thing. It's also allowed me to do some posts that have been ramming around in draft form (i.e. inside my head) for a long time. The ISCABBS post is one of those (update: the lost has been found) as was the Michael W. Smith post. Others were very random, like the neurological closeness post and Ouija board post.

It didn't gain me a ton of new readers despite how bloggers everywhere tout daily posting as the way to get new readers. I got at least one new reader for certain (and a new blog to read) but really, I'm comfortable in my obscurity.

Trust me, I'll still be here in December but I will not be this prolific. So I hope everyone enjoyed it. I know I did. I always refer to this blog as a labor of love, and sometimes the emphasis is on the "labor" part, other times the "love" part.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Holiday preparations

As is pretty much custom around these parts, we put the Christmas tree up today. I lugged all of it up from the basement and to the porch yesterday afternoon and then this afternoon, while Heidi was at the gym, Anna and I pulled it all inside. Every year we laugh at how big the tree is. We bought it when we moved into our first house in 1999, after years of apartment living and having to settle for the scrawniest artificial tree you have ever seen. We got it home and immediately it was too big for any space in our house. But it's still around and it fits better in this house than it ever did in the other one.

We came to the rather startling conclusion that we had not a single strand of lights in the house, so we had to run out to Target to buy some. We are now comfortably outfitted for Christmas lights until next year when I plug them in and half of them don't work. This is always balanced out by the plethora of ornaments, some going back to both Heidi's and my childhoods, but most just ones we have accumulated in our 14 years together. Amidst all this, Anna and I did our annual dividing of the Christmas music into "booty shaking Christmas songs" and "non-booty shaking Christmas songs." We added one other category - "party-pooper songs" - of which we decided "Hard Candy Christmas" is one even though it is Dolly.

So here's a shot of the finished tree - it looks pretty good this year. Actually, it looks about like it does every year, but that's probably part of what is so comfortable about it. It's also hard to take a picture of a lit Christmas tree, so this is as good as it gets.

One other thing that got pulled out of storage are the holiday mugs. People give us mugs all the time - which is great as one can never have too many mugs. (although we really are starting to test that theory) Holiday mugs are always dicey because they only get used for about 6 weeks out of the year. Anyway, there's one mug that I particularly like. I don't even remember where it came from or who gave it to us, but it's one of my most-favored holiday mugs.


What I like about it is how it seems to depict such a worry-free existence. They don't have to worry that the 4-day weekend ends today or that they'll inevitably spend too much on Christmas. All he has to worry about is riding in that open sleigh and making sure the dog follows you home when you're bringing back firewood. But the more I thought about it, that's all an illusion. They have to worry about tuberculosis and diphtheria. They have to worry about the baby having a good chance of not seeing its first birthday. So it helps me put things in perspective. I'll keep my first-world problems (as a friend of mine refers to them) and let the people in this scene worry about vaccine-preventable diseases.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Chalk drawings

This is what I saw on the driveway today when I got done cleaning out all the gutters.

She told me she added "for my dad" in case anyone was wondering.

The nature of the beast

We take the connectivity the internet provides us for granted nowadays, but I can still remember my first foray online. Like many other pharmacy students at the University of Iowa, it was at the green-screen CRT in the Learning Resource Center of the pharmacy building. A classmate of mine told me about something called ISCABBS that she used. An electronic bulletin board? What would I want with that? But I let her talk me into it.

As you might expect, I was hooked from the get go. For those that don't know, ISCABBS was one of the largest bulletin board systems in the world at that time. It still is, for that matter, but that's not really saying much. During the 90s, it was THE go-to bulletin board, especially for those of us on the U of I campus (because it was affiliated with the University of Iowa), but also for users throughout the country. You could log on and instantly be amongst hundreds upon hundreds of other users. It was so popular that very frequently, users would have to wait in a queue for an open slot, although U of I users were given priority and I never once waited in a queue. Once inside, there were about a hundred different forums covering a wide array of topics.

In addition to this, it allowed you to eXpress message (or simply "x") other users. It was a rather primitive version of instant messaging, limited to 5 lines of text (a fact I would not have remembered without the help of the Wikipedia article on ISCABBS.) Using this functionality, users could interact in real time. And it was in this environment that I made my first online acquaintance.

We met through the much-dreaded "random x" but I was a newbie so I didn't mind it so much. He was from northern California and a computer science major. He contacted me because of some long-forgotten detail in my profile that he liked. He was also, incidentally, the first gay guy that I ever met - or at least the first one that who was out about his sexuality. Looking back on my life, there were MANY gay people in my life, they just weren't out of the closet. Despite that, his orientation was a non-issue even then and I think, in a small way, meeting him and becoming friends with him helped cement my interest in LGBT issues and my eventual transformation into a straight ally.

Anyway, we struck up quite a good online friendship. It survived many years of me changing handles on ISCABBS, my undergraduate graduation and the gradual decline of ISCABBS as the web became more and more prominent. After that we lost touch and I never really knew what became of him although I always kind of wondered. While I figured losing touch was the nature of the beast - people change and move on - it never set all that well with me and I always felt a little bit bad about it.

Over the years, I've made sporadic attempts to find him on the internet, using my best Googling abilities. This proved less than successful as his name is a very common one and he also shares it with a celebrity, so trying to pin him down just never seemed to work out. But the other day I decided to try Facebook, which can limit a name search to a school (I remembered where he went to school) and lo and behold, I got a match. I figured what the hell and I sent him a message. Time will tell if he actually IS that person and even if he is, if he'd even remember me.

In the 15 or so years since the internet and the World Wide Web have come to be a part of everyday life, I've had the great fortune of meeting a lot of really cool people whose paths I would have not otherwise crossed. For this I am very grateful. As I so frequently say, this is not our parents' generation and the places we find friends is not going to be as simple as the Elks club or the progressive supper at church. Online friendships can be very ephemeral, disappearing as quickly as they appear, but sometimes that is half the draw. Heidi and I always liken a new e-mail friend to a crush - all the rush of emotions are there - but it's what happens after the glitter fades (as Stevie Nicks says) that determines where it goes. I've had my share of flame outs and false starts, but I've also managed to cultivate a fair number of what I would consider close friends across not just the country but around the world. In so many ways, online friends are a mirror of all our relationships, especially as more and more real life relationships are being maintained across the series of tubes thanks to Facebook.

All the green screen CRTs are but a memory at the U of I and ISCABBS, now no longer associated with the university, is a shadow of its former self (I logged in today as a guest and there were 16 users online). But I will always have a soft spot for it. And Steve, if you're out there, this post was for you.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

No need to ask

I would not qualify myself as a Sade fan - like many artists, she has always kind of existed on the edges of my musical taste. Her music is pleasant enough but I never bought any of her studio albums. Rather, I was satisfied with her hits collection The Best of Sade, even though I flirted with her debut album Diamond Life rather intensely via the Iowa City Public Library when I was in pharmacy school. I finally purchased Diamond Life tonight from eMusic. Buying from eMusic always feels a little bit like stealing, but hey, it's their business model.

Sade has a new album coming out in February, a fact I know only because of my friend XO who has done a great post on Sade. I, sadly, only have two Sade stories worth telling. The first involves, as you might expect, her best known song "Smooth Operator." That song is definitely of the 80s but doesn't sound like an 80s song. My father always used to tell us that it was his "theme song" - mostly because of the line "We move in space with minimum waste/Maximum joy." We always kind of rolled our eyes at that, but it was my dad all over. I can't help but think of my dad when I listen to that song.

My second Sade story comes from 1995, and it was what ultimately led me to purchase The Best of Sade. I was at a the house of a friend of my roommates, and one of the guys that lived there had this most amazing CD collection. In it was The Best of Sade, and he played some of it for us. As I mentioned previously, I had already had Diamond Life out of the ICPL on a semi-permanent basis, and knew some of her other singles, but this was the first time I had ever heard "Never As Good As The First Time." I was hooked in the first few notes, and by the time she got to the lyrics "it's like the weather/one day chicken/Next day feathers" I knew that I was going to buy the album. "Never As Good As The First Time" is still probably my favorite Sade song.



That guy's CD collection was oddly influential to me as it also prompted me to go out and purchase a Level 42 best-of and also exposed me to the Tina Turner's "Nutbush City Limits (The 90s Version)" from her Simply the Best collection and the Prince song "Pope" (which I could not stop thinking about when they were choosing the new pope after John Paul II died.) For as musically influential as he was, you'd think I'd remember his name, but alas, it is lost to history.

(and yes, I realize Sade is a band, but I'm too tired to go back and fix it.)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

She's on a roll

Heidi got the cover art today for her second novel, Special Delivery, which is due in February of 2010 from Dreamspinner Press. She sent me the photo in my email today to show me and I have to admit that it's pretty much EXACTLY like I pictured it, only in my mind's eye, they were looking in the other direction.

I don't want to steal any of Heidi's thunder, but this is one of my favorite stories she has ever written. The fact that it's a gay romance and that I am not exactly the target audience for this book is really beside the point. I know that many think that I like everything that she writes and, well, they would be right. The fallacy that many people fall for is that me liking all her stuff is in the fine print of the marriage license. Nothing could be further from the truth. Naturally, I'm going to be biased, but there's no guarantee that whatever comes out of her iMac is going to appeal to me.

But Special Delivery is a little bit special to me, because it's the only thing that I'm aware of that I really and truly encouraged her to finish. I don't remember the origin of the story exactly, although I think it started out as a short piece that quickly outgrew the short story format and graduated to novel length. She had an early draft that featured Sam and Mitch, but the set up was completely different and, as will frequently happen in first drafts, she wrote herself into a corner she couldn't find the way out of. But I always liked it, even though it didn't really have any conflict to speak of and the characters were quickly running out of things to do. But it had Kylie references and an iPod named after someone from one of my all-time favorite movies and well, I was sold. But she had hit the wall and couldn't find the way out, so that seemed to be the end of Sam & Mitch.

Not if I had anything to say about it.

No sooner had she given up on it than I was on her case to pick it back up again. My refrain was always "I wanna know what happens next!" And so she picked it back up again. Aided in no small part by our trip out west in June, she has crafted what is not just a romance, but also a physical and emotional journey. In many senses, it's a road book. I told her this early on and I stand by my assertion.

See, here's the thing. The fact that the sexuality of these characters is not the same as mine doesn't matter one bit. I end up relating to them anyway because Heidi does this incredible job of making the characters so REAL. There are conflicts and motivations and crazy risks taken. She manages to bring you along every step of the way. I feel for these characters, through every twist and turn and up and down. So much of what is experienced is part of the human condition, regardless of orientation.

I always say that I like her contemporaries more than her historicals because I like the soundtrack for the contemporaries better. She always borrows liberally from my iTunes collection - something she did quite extensively during the writing and revisions of Special Delivery, as well as her NaNoWriMo novel, Double Blind. Our musical tastes are overall compatible, but have only thin areas of overlap. So when she's coming down to my computer with the flash drive asking for Olivia Newton-John songs, somewhere in my youth or childhood I must have done something good.

For all the communities and groups that Heidi's a part of that center around writing, I think that if you asked her, she'd agree that writing is ultimately a very solitary activity. Even as her husband, I have only been able to be involved in it insomuch as I read everything she writes, do copy edits on early drafts, and the itsy bitsy detail that I earn the salary that has made her pursuit of this dream just that much easier. But as far as being directly involved, as a rule I'm not. But with Special Delivery, I was. In my own small, but direct way, I helped make this story come to life.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Paranoia

This little sticker is on the inside of the cabinet in the downstairs bathroom in our house. It has been there since we moved in 5 years ago and for God-only-knows how long before that. Heidi and I refer to it as "our daily dose of paranoia."

It really speaks for itself. I see it every morning as I get ready for work.

But really, indigestion = cancer? If that's the case, we're all doomed.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

There's a spy

From one of my favorite out of print albums, Animal Logic. "There's A Spy (In The House Of Love)"



I have blogged about Animal Logic (both the group and the album) before, which makes this quite possibly the only blog in the entire blogosphere with two posts devoted to the now-disbanded group. They were supergroup-ish, as they had the drummer from the Police and Stanley Clarke who is farily well known. Vocalist Deborah Holland was new to the scene, but hell, she could sing. Anyway, they are a "supergroup" much more in the vein of what I am likely to listen to compared to most supergroups even though the use of that moniker is, admittedly, a stretch.

"There's A Spy (In The House Of Love)" was their only hit - I remember it being on the radio quite a lot in the spring of 1990 although I had never seen the video until now. My favorite story about that album is how my friend Kelly gave me a "for promotional use only - not for sale" copy of the cassette because she thought I might like it. She was right, even though it took me several years to realize just how much I liked it. I played the hell out of this in the spring of 1995. If you saw me walking campus during that time period, chances were high that I had this cassette in my Walkman.

Sadly, you can't get it digitally anywhere, but you can get their not-as-good second album from iTunes now. They are very October Project-ish in that they have such a finite number of songs that you just appreciate what you have.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

I wear boots all summer long

I was thinking today about how much Stevie Nicks' The Wild Heart needs a remaster. The version that I have is so soft and muted. While turning up the volume of the individual tracks inside iTunes has helped some, it just doesn't sound as crisp as her later recordings. Even Bella Donna sounds better!

I've always maintained that The Wild Heart is the bridge between the acoustic/classic rock of Bella Donna and the full-on synthesized sound of Rock A Little, blending both elements with great success. I appreciate both of these aspects of Stevie's solo career and so, as you might imagine, have a great deal of fondness for The Wild Heart. I have purchased it three times - twice in high school (once to replace my lost first copy) and then eventually on CD when I was in college. I also, many years later, managed to acquire a copy of the vinyl, so I suppose I've actually purchased it four times.

I always loved "Nightbird" which rounded out side one. A loving tribute to her friend Robin who died from leukemia, it is classic Stevie in that it is part poetry and part head-scratcher. It was one of the first places where I noticed a recycled lyric ("just like the white-winged dove") and while many could interpret that as lazy, I prefer to look at it as hooking the songs together.

Anyway, here's "Nightbird" from the early 80s. I love the comment on the YouTube site that says that Stevie manages to mix the serenity of an angel with the challenging expression of a porn star - a comment that could apply to so much of her career and not just this isolated video.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The -ize have it

In so many respects, it's hard to specifically identify why one song is appealing and why another isn't. One of my rules for living is as follows: There is no such thing as a bad song - rather those songs that I dislike just don't appeal to me. I say this because so much of what I listen to could be characterized by so many people as "bad music" or "fluff music" or simply inconsequential. However, they don't know how good it makes me feel when I listen to it. So I'm always a bit loath to judge someone else's taste, knowing full well that there's a good chance that their "bad music" makes them feel just like the music I listen to makes me feel.

The function of all that nonsense above was really for me to state that I have identified a key characteristic in some of the music that I really love. For me, it's all in the rhyme.

The best song on Hard Candy is "Devil Wouldn't Recognize You." Madonna deserves to be proud of that song. It has eked its way into my top 20 Madonna songs which is truly a feat considering it's a song from Hard Candy. Anyway, the rhyming structure in this song just kills me. Look at this part:

I barely couldn't, I barely couldn't recognize
I still played right into it
Who am I to criticize?
Somehow I'll get through it
And you won't even realize
Falling through your own disguise.

Now, let's forgive Madonna her rather questionable grammar (I barely couldn't recognize? Please.) and focus on the brilliance of all those "-ize" rhymes. The only way it could have been better is if she had found a way to use "tantalize" or "cauterize" (or any of the zillion words ending in -ize.) Certainly the music it the words are set to helps immeasurably - the minor key is another immediate hook for me, but it's that little part of the song that gets me every single time.


(The performance of "Devil" on the tour was almost worth the entire $160 admission price. I also want the sheet music so I can play the piano part.)

And don't even get me started on -tion rhymes, which "Celebration" does well, as does Pat Benatar's "Sex As A Weapon" - although I do take issue with rhyming "weapon" with "obsession" and "reflection." But it still works. Also do not get me started on the version of "Celebration" now featuring Akon. Dear Madonna, you do not need to rent rappers. They won't help anyway.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Not quite non-fiction

I just finished reading Bringing Down The House, the story of how a bunch of students from M.I.T. who, working as a team, counted cards and learned how to beat blackjack, taking Vegas for millions over the course of a few years. It's all Heidi's fault that I picked it up in the first place - we've been watching more Vegas movies than you can shake a stick at. We just finished a 10 episode series that we picked up at Wal-Mart for 5 bucks called Vegas: The City The Mob Made which taught us more about Vegas than we ever thought there was to know. The other thing we learned from this series is that there is more than one way to interview people rather than just having them look at the camera. One guy was photographed from below, focusing on his jowls, and another guy was always shot in a Streisand-esque profile, hiding the other side of his face. As near as I can tell, he is disfigured on that side from a nasty chemical burn.

So all this Vegas stuff has really piqued my own interest in it. I picked up Bringing Down The House because the movie based on the book (21) is in the watch-instantly Netflix queue. I know one thing for certain, it was a fast read. It started out a bit on the slow side, but wasted no time in getting to the action. After that, it read so quickly that it took me less than a week to finish it. And what was even better was that it was all true.

Or was it?

As it turns out, great literary license has been taken with the story. While it is based on "true events," the story told in the book is not strictly true, with some parts heavily embellished and other parts completely fabricated. Much like The Amityville Horror, a book debunking THAT supposedly true story I just finished reading, Bringing Down The House would not pass a polygraph test.

I don't have a problem with a little bit of literary license. Who among us is not guilty of adding little bits to a story to make it better? I've done it many times, but the difference is that when I have done it, I have not completely made up whole sections of the story and then tried to pass it off as true. To do this and then proceed to market it as non-fiction is misrepresentation at best and outright deception at worst. I suppose the reasoning behind the embellishment is to improve the narrative flow or to make the story more interesting, but if you're going to do that, please label it as a novel or other work of fiction. A similar argument was used in the marketing of The Amityville Horror ("who wants to read a book about a non-haunted house?") But if you make shit up or combine characters or change the order of things, you can no longer call it a "true story."

While I enjoyed the book, I found myself a bit mad at it for its dishonesty. Hidden in Bringing Down The House is an intriguing story, but you just don't know what to believe. That was distracting and made the book less than recommendable. I'm curious to see what is changed in the movie version - perhaps that version will be more accurate and true-to-life, but I'm not holding my breath.

A neanderthal thrust

I tweeted this a couple days ago, but I have recently rediscovered the Trouser Enthusiasts remix of Gloria Estefan's "Heaven's What I Feel", lovingly and very oddly named the "Neanderthal Thrust Mix."

On first listen, it should be everything I hate about remixes. It is over 10 minutes long, uses very little of the original vocal, and has a thumping beat specifically designed to give you a headache. But for some reason, it is one of my all time favorite remixes. It is not available for purchase anywhere that I can locate, and can only be found on the discontinued "Heaven's What I Feel" CD maxi-single.(although apparently you can still buy that for little or nothing.) As I recall, it was the ONLY good remix on the CD, even though I remember saying that this was the way to do remix singles - as in pack them full of remixes rather than going skimpy. Alas, in the never ending battle between quality and quantity, quality frequently suffers at the hand of quantity.

This song came from what is still my favorite Gloria Estefan album, gloria!, a statement that makes me wonder if it's okay for a 37 year old guy to have a "favorite Gloria Estefan album." What I loved about gloria! was how it forced her out of her interchangeable ballad mode and kicked her into more uptempo songs. Really, songs like "Can't Stay Away From You", "Anything For You", "Don't Wanna Lose You", and "Coming Out of the Dark" are really all the same song. So disillusioned was I with Gloria Estefan that my sister and I changed the lyric to Laura Branigan's "Gloria" from "feel your innocence slipping away/Don't believe it's coming back soon" to "originality slipping away/don't believe it's coming back soon." Gloria! functions well as a non-stop dance album, even though there are still a couple songs I could live without.

But the Trouser Enthusiasts Neanderthal Thrust Mix of "Heaven's What I Feel" REALLY took the album to the clubs. When I listen to it, I see one of two things. I see driving into a large city at late at night but not feeling the least bit tired. I also see it in the setting of a dance club where the strobe lights are so intense everyone's seizure threshold has been dangerously lowered. For me, the definition of a good remix is that it takes an already good song, being respectful to the original all the while steering it in a bold new direction. This remix does exactly that. How I wish they had gotten their hands on some of Madonna's songs. We could have been spared the repetitive hand claps of Junior Vasquez (be honest, every remix of his after "Secret" just turned the song into "Secret") and we might have actually gotten a good remix of "Nothing Really Matters."

Anyway, listen and enjoy.



(and yes, I just successfully turned a tweet into a blog post)

Monday, November 16, 2009

Hero

This is the first of many chances I have to pimp my wife's brand spanking new novel, Hero, available from Dreamspinner Press as of 12/4/2009. It now has a completely finished cover and is in the "coming soon" section of the web site.

Here's the cover art, done by talented artist Paul Richmond.

As I said, it will be available in paperback and eBook form on 12/4/09. The link to buy will be here. You can bet I'll be back on 12/4/09 with another post. In the meantime, if you're interested, you can read an excerpt here.

And don't worry, Mariah Carey's "Hero" will not be playing over the credits of the LOGO made-for-tv movie. (not actually in the works, but one can dream!)

As bad as they said it was

Against my better judgment, but because I just had to see it for myself, I Netflixed Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen over the weekend. This movie was eviscerated by reviewers during its theatrical release, but that didn't stop moviegoers from making it the most successful film of not just the summer but of all of 2009. I guess there's no accounting for taste.

So it was with these expectations that I watched it, most of it yesterday and finishing it up this morning. What can I say about this movie that has not already been said? At nearly 2.5 hours in length, it is certainly a lot of movie. But the funny thing is that I just got done watching it and it has completely evaporated from my brain. I can't recall a single point at which the plot moved forward. Mostly, I just recall the grinding of metal, robot characters I couldn't identify and human characters I couldn't be bothered to care about.

This is one of those instances where the reviewers were right on the money. This movie is not recommendable, not even in a so-bad-it's-good way. There was a point earlier this fall that I entertained spending a buck and a half and going to see it in the dollar theater, but after having seen this monstrosity, I'm so glad that I didn't. Without the ability to fast-forward through the atrocious dialogue and interminable battle scenes, I'm not sure I would have made it through the movie.

For me, the most damning thing about the movie was my inability to stay awake during the final battle scene last night. There I was, watching what was supposed to be the the most exciting (and probably most expensive) robot-vs.-robot scene in the movie and I couldn't keep my eyes open. It was with 15 minutes left in the movie that I turned it off and went to bed, saying to myself that I'd just finish it up in the morning. I'll forgive a lot of things in the name of seeing something cool on the screen, but this was more than even I could take. In so many ways, it was like watching a cartoon - even more so than the middle third of King Kong (the Skull Island part). I never believed that the robots were really there.

But perhaps the largest source of disappointment is that, no matter how much they may have co-opted the name and the image, these are NOT the Transformers of my youth. I was probably just a little bit too old for Transformers by the time they really hit, but I still liked them enough and I did watch the cartoon series after school. But the Transformers shown in the movie resemble the classic toys only in passing. They are ridiculously complex and (as has been stated by many a reviewer) it is almost completely impossible to differentiate one from another. During the battle scenes, it's just flying metal and you have no idea who to root for besides no one so that they will all die and the pain will end swiftly.

The biggest discrepancy between toy and movie comes in Devastator, the combination form of the Constructicons. I have a nearly complete Devastator on a shelf in my office - the only Transformer that truly remains from my youth. The movie version of Devastator vomits all over that, turning this:


into this:

I mean, seriously! We can put anything on the screen these days and this is what we get? Shameful.

I've learned my lesson. No way will the inevitable Transformers 3 reel me in.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Eight

My daughter turned eight today. I have told the story of her birth more times than I care to think about, perhaps best told in this very space 3 years ago on her fifth birthday. Her entrance into the world was not without the requisite drama but eventually she made it and, dang it all, she's still here eight years later. This is still my favorite picture of a minutes-old Anna, one that she will come to despise but is iconic in the my eyes.

It's hard to believe that she was ever that little, even though she was still "tall" for her age, even at birth. It's also hard to believe that her head ever gained a normal shape.

Every year she sheds some more "kid-ness" and grows up just a bit more. More and more frequently, I get a glimpse of the teenager she is bound to become. And as a result of being not only the only child, but the only grandchild with nary a cousin around to play with or compete with, I sometimes feel like her childhood has been a bit co-opted. But it is what it is, and I really wouldn't have her any other way.

We had a birthday party yesterday at Cardinal Gymnastics Academy here in Ames and then today, the grandparents came to visit and brought presents galore. One of the things that Heidi's mom brought was an old desk that Heidi used when she was a young girl, and now it sits in Anna's room. I took this picture of her working at it and I thought of my young self, sitting at my little desk doing math problems and science workbooks when the rest of the kids were probably out playing kickball.

Talk about being able to glimpse the teenager they will become.

As I have said before, being a parent has taught me the true meaning of the word sacrifice, both in terms of what you do for you kids and what you would do for your kids. I don't feel like being a parent is my entire life's work - if I had thought that, there would have been 3 or 4 more after her. But I do feel its my job to be there for her, not necessarily to shield her from life's injustices, but to provide that soft place to land when they become too much. Additionally, it's my job to help motivate her and realize her potential, knowing that the actual realization of that potential is entirely in her hands.

I love you kiddo, more than you know.

(And as always, happy birthday to Confessions on a Dance Floor - another thing that changed my life, although on a much smaller scale!)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Leaf triumph

Remember this insanity?

Well, on Thursday morning, Heidi and I turned it into this:

And then, this morning, I turned it into this:

It took 31 lawn & leaf bags and three trips out to the yard waste place here in town (which is free every Saturday in November), but they are no longer in the back of my pickup, no longer in the garage. Oh, sure, there's still some leaves on the ground, but as my dad says, it's not about getting everyone, no matter what the perfectly manicured lawns around town try to tell you.

It threatened rain all morning and the wait was minimal each time. According to one of the guys out there working, last weekend was horribly busy and the wait time was atrocious. It was also about 30 degrees warmer last weekend so I imagine that a lot of people were taking advantage of it.

I always cuss and moan and groan, but having it done is an undeniably good feeling. I've actually accomplished something today and it's not eve 10AM.

Now its on to the 8-year-old's birthday party.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The mister's Vegas mug

Heidi recently did a post on the coffee mug that is seeing her through NaNoWriMo. It's a Las Vegas mug with her name on it that my folks bought for her on one of their many trips to Vegas. I remember asking them to bring a couple back in 2006 after I had the epic fail of not buying one on my first trip to Vegas in May of 06 to see Madonna (seriously, we just barely made our flight as it was without me hemming and hawing over which mug to buy.) So over the years, they've purchased us several different Las Vegas mugs - my favorite being one that condensed the Las Vegas Strip onto one mug, highlighting the most famous hotels and landmarks on the Strip.

This summer, during our very brief stopover in Vegas, I found one that I liked better.

Here's the thing. When we went on our trip out west this summer, I knew that I was going to buy several mugs. It's kind of my thing - I buy one from just about every place I go. I still miss the mammoth mug of the U.S. Capitol that we bought when we went to D.C. in 2000. (I accidentally dropped it on a cement floor and watched it break. Jesus wept.) But what I knew we did not need were more Vegas mugs so if we were to stop there, I would not be buying one. We already have to cycle mugs out of the cupboard to keep them from overflowing.

However, I saw this and could not pass it up.

As you might expect, I hemmed and hawed over it even though it was fantastically cheap (it was certainly no more than 4 bucks.) What eventually tipped the scales in favor of purchasing it was how fabulously retro it is, down to the red dice and iconic Vegas sign. So many of the mugs in Vegas are trashy and gaudy and gross, this one was kind of cute. It was like the little mug that could.

So I purchased it. And it has slowly found its way into my most favored mugs. It's small which necessitates more frequent trips to the kitchen, but I kind of like its smallness. So many mugs are just monstrous nowadays and it's nice to see ones that don't take half the pot of coffee when you fill them.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Neurological closeness

It's kind of amazing to me sometimes the things that are adjacent to each other in one's brain.

A good example happened to me at work tonight. I was in the IV room making something, and rather than get up and go over to grab something off the counter, I rolled over to the counter while still sitting on the chair. This immediately made me think of Barbra Streisand. The reason for this is because it was her show-stopping performance of "Miss Marmelstein" in her very first Broadway show I Can Get It For You Wholesale, performed completely while rolling around the stage in an office chair, that put her on the map. I think the song is way too clever for its own good, but that is 90% of its appeal as well. The song was so stuck in my head I was obliged to play it on my iPod on the way home. (it resides in a playlist called "Highlights From Just For The Record...")

I wonder how many other people on the planet would associate these two things so closely. I would venture to say not many. Welcome to my brain. It's a fun place to visit.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

This year's RENT

We were watching Glee tonight and saw the obligatory ad for RENT: The Broadway Tour playing at the Civic Center in Des Moines tonight through the end of the week. Once upon a time, I was convinced that I would be going. But here we are and I'm not. It was a conscious choice - mostly I decided it was too expensive and at a bad time of year money-wise and schedule-wise (a certain 7 year old is turning 8 this weekend.) Also, I could not get anyone to go with me as Heidi's not a big musical person and spending 50 bucks on a ticket would be akin to flushing it down the toilet.

So I am missing it. And in the end, I'm not all that upset about it. Sure it would have been fun to go, especially with Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal reprising their roles as Mark and Roger from the original Broadway production. But the more I thought about it, helped in no small part by the ads on TV, I started to wonder if maybe RENT is best just remembered as it was. Perhaps Rapp and Pascal's return to RENT is not all that different than a 30 year-old coming back to perform in a revival of a high school play for which he received great accolades. Is it pathetic? Is it cool? The answer is it probably carefully straddles the line between the two because I felt both excitement and a bit of derision when I saw the ads featuring Rapp and Pascal.

My only real exposure to RENT is through the movie, which got fair-to-middling reviews. From what I understand, it was a fairly faithful adaptation of the Broadway show, with the inevitable changes that the jump to the screen requires. Probably the biggest problem with RENT the movie was that it came out way too late. By the time that the movie finally got around to coming out, RENT fever had abated significantly. But I kind of like it for its cheesiness and even its pretentiousness and the songs are mostly excellent. One thing is for certain - it certainly beat the heck out of the film version of The Phantom of the Opera which I liked mostly for its camp value and unintentional comedic moments.

I walked past the Nederlander Theater in Manhattan when we were in New York in the spring of 2008. RENT was on its way out by then, with a final performance planned for June 1st (eventually delayed till September). I still have a bit of regret that I did not see it on Broadway when I had the chance, but who even knows if I would have been able to score tickets. I remember seeing the lime-green theater which had been defaced by thousands of fans scrawling on their sentiments on the outside wall. It was kind of amazing the impact it had on people, and the impact that the closing of the show had. The show had an impact on me and I didn't even discover it until well after most of the rest of the civilized world had already moved on.

I think it's time to pull out the movie version of RENT again. I have it on my iPod, but I might have to watch it on the TV. Sometimes, the two inch screen on an iPod just doesn't do a film justice.

(Nederlander theater photo credit)

Leaves everywhere

Every fall it is a race to get all the leaves picked up before the snow flies. October was so cold and wet I figured that we missed our window for certain and that this would be the year that the snow just piles up on top of an inch of leaves. Fortunately, November has been milder and I've been able to get out there and get the leaves picked up. They're not all done, but I made a serious dent in them the other day.

I have found that the winning combination is a lawn mower and a leaf vacuum. Getting them chopped up before they go into the vacuum is essential as the bag on the leaf vac is the size of a sandwich bag and you're emptying it every 5 minutes as it is. This has mostly been my domain - Monday I spent probably 3 hours out there by myself with my iPod (probably damaging my hearing) while I mowed and vacuumed. We've filled 13 lawn and leaf bags already.

Today Heidi went out with a rake and tried to consolidate what was left. Have a look.

It may not look like much, but that's probably at least another 6-7 bags, probably more. I have to try to get some done tomorrow morning before work as we're really heading into the time of year when there's precious little light after work to get the job done.

After this is done, the only thing left is cleaning out the gutters again, but this will be the LAST year for that as we are getting Leaf Guard next year which is pricey but so worth it because of the tree-filled neighborhood we live in.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Love me good

As I have talked about on countless occasions, I usually hate the term "guilty pleasure." For something to be a guilty pleasure requires there to be a component of embarrassment to go along with the enjoyment of the pleasure, and I'm here to tell you, I'm over all that. When it comes to the things I like, love me of leave me, baby, I'm not apologizing. Or am I? Because the other day on my way to work, something shuffled up on my iPod that really DOES qualify as a guilty pleasure.

Once upon a time (well, more like about 6 years ago), I had a brief but intense flirtation with the music of Michael W. Smith. For those of you that don't know, Michael W. Smith is one of the biggest names in contemporary Christian music. He is frequently mentioned in the same breath as Amy Grant as both had some pop crossover success, although Amy Grant's crossover was much more successful as well as much more deleterious to her CCM career. Outside of the realm of CCM, Michael W. Smith is best known as the guy who gave us "Place In This World" which became a high school graduation song favorite throughout the 90s. He also had another minor hit in 1992, "I Will Be Here For You" which I remember kind of liking in spite of myself. Despite these dabblings, I never really liked him all that much because the nasal quality of his voice really turned me off (says the Stevie Nicks fan).

I don't really remember what it was exactly, but in 2002, I really started to consume his music. This was weird for me because really, even I can see that 99.9% of CCM is not all that good. Most of it is too earnest, too over-the-top and just plain too much for me. I have always preferred my religion more subtle than that, but Michael W. Smith was the big exception to this. My re-discovery of his music came at a time when I was taking a lot of comfort in religion and prayer. I was a new dad, just turned 30 and doing the obligatory "what the hell am I doing with my life?" Some of this had to do with the fact that I was participating in an online men's group which, while not explicitly religious in tone, definitely had underpinnings of Christian spirituality. Looking back, there were many times that it was almost fundamentalist in its discussions, but there was enough talk about relationships and sex and what not that I ignored the worst of it, taking what I needed and leaving the rest. I also had read up a bit on Smith's backstory, which is replete with stories of drug and alcohol addiction before the eventual (and very literal in this case) come-to-Jesus moment. I found this inspiring and felt like this was someone who was doing more than just talking the talk and someone who, I felt, had more than a bit in common with me (minus the drug and alcohol addiction.)

So why is this a guilty pleasure aside from the fact that I am probably would classify myself as agnostic? The reason this is a guilty pleasure is because of Smith's political beliefs. I find his fundamentalist, very conservative beliefs to be reprehensible and anathema to everything I believe in and stand for. I scoured the net trying to find an example of just a softening of his conservative ideology but I was unable to find it. What I did find is that he has associated himself with Sean Hannity. I'm sure that Smith is a very nice person who truly believes what he believes, but in the words of that classic 70s song, we just disagree. I just feel like someone who went through what he did should know better. I expected better. So whenever I listen to his music, I do feel a little bit guilty.

I do not listen to his music often - I think that Sunday was the first time I've listened to him in at least a couple of years. After he played at the 2004 Republican National Convention, it was pretty much over for us. But the song that came around quite by accident on my iPod, "Love Me Good" from his 1998 CD Live The Life still manages to strike a chord in me. It is, not surprisingly, one of his more secular songs with only a brief allusion to anything religious.



Look at Smith being all metro and cool at 40. I will admit to hoping that I look as good as that at 40, even without the team of stylists and assistants. I love how positive this song is and how it addresses the feeling of being on a hamster wheel. The line I love the most is "I conquer the world for a moment/Then the moment is gone." That could be a tag line for this blog - THAT'S how much I relate to that lyric.

There are days that I do miss the comfort that I got from organized religion and especially prayer. I kind of ride a sine wave when it comes to religious feelings, cycling back around and through all levels of it which is why UU is such a good fit for me. Perhaps Carl Sagan is right when he argues that science loses out to pseudo-science because of the comfort that the latter gives. I know that I can't follow a blind faith like I once did. Heidi mentioned the other day that we live in a world where we have our kids believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and then tell them it's all a lie, but then we still expect them to believe in something like God which is equally fantastic.

But I still have a soft spot for Michael W. Smith and especially "Love Me Good", even though I can't stand his politics.

(I'll admit to being more than a bit nervous about posting this because Smith's fans are rather Lamb-like in their devotion. No offense was intended. Live and let live.)

Monday, November 09, 2009

Don't mess with Texas

I was out raking leaves the other day, and God help me if this song wasn't going through my head. It's not often that one can legitimately claim to having a Dom DeLuise song stuck in their head, but it's true. (and now our own Melvin P. Thorpe singers!)



The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas was probably one of the first R-rated movies that I was allowed to watch as a kid, and it was almost certainly the first that I was allowed to watch that had nudity in it. Oh, I had seen breasts before both on TV (we did have HBO after all) and in print as my dad had a stash of Playboy magazines in the basement that he had confiscated from high school students over the years. (They brought PLAYBOY to school?) But Whorehouse was the first movie with nudity that had the parental seal of approval. Looking back, I probably begged because of the Dolly factor, and my folks more than likely just threw up their hands and caved rather than listen to me go on about how I had to watch a Dolly Parton movie. After all, it's not like it's a hardcore porn or anything!

Dolly has spoken in the past about how hard the filming of Whorehouse was for her. A lot of bickering, constant script rewrites and a revolving door of directors only compounded the physical and emotional problems she was having at the time. However, you'd never know that by watching the movie, which is either a testament to her ability as an actress or her dedication to getting the job done and done right, regardless of what's going on with her personally.

The movie is certainly not great - it's passable musical-comedy - although we watched it like crazy as kids, and not just the "boobs flashing" parts (as Dolly referred to them). Perhaps my favorite part of the whole movie comes after the eventual closure of the Chicken Ranch - the name of the whorehouse of which Dolly's Miss Mona Stangley was madam. The ladies are all packing up and getting ready to move on with their lives when (because this is a musical) they feel the need to spontaneously break out into song. What results is the song "Hard Candy Christmas". The version of the song on the soundtrack was a Dolly solo, omitting the rest of the female voices, and it just doesn't work as well. The death of the Chicken Ranch affected them all, not just Miss Mona who you knew was going to get married to Burt Reynolds anyway.



I'm pretty sure I recorded that song onto a cassette by holding the cassette recorder up to the TV. THAT version of the song probably had my mom talking in the background.

RuPaul actually did a version of "Hard Candy Christmas" for his Ho Ho Ho! album about 10 years ago, but it was eclipsed by the excellence that was his cover of a Dolly Parton holiday original, "With Bells On." (horrible quality recording, but you get what you pay for.)

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Placeholder

I had amazingly good intentions of doing a post tonight. One is half written, and the other has been writing itself in my head for part of the day.

Then, I worked from 7AM till 6:30PM and I carried my brain home in my hands and the rest was history.

The reason for the post about why I'm not posting? It's pretty simple actually. I'm doing my own version of NaNoWriMo but instead of trying to write 50,000 words of a novel, I'm trying to do a blog post a day for a month. I wasn't talking about it at all on the blog and I won't make a big deal out of it. I almost didn't mention it at all because were I to fail, I would (as the unnamed narrator in Bright Lights, Big City says) have the shabby nobility of failing all by myself.

Failure averted. It may not be much, but it's more than I thought I would have after nearly 12 hours of work.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Maniacs and Merchant

For as much as I loved 10,000 Maniacs in their Natalie Merchant incarnation, I really never much cared for Natalie Merchant's solo material. There was a song here and there that I really liked, but nothing she did solo-wise ever connected with me like her best work with 10,000 Maniacs. I think some of it had to do with what I perceived as a huge ego driving her toward a solo career, especially as 10,000 Maniacs were having their first ever Top 10 hit with "Because the Night." I couldn't believe that she was leaving the band that really made her who she was just as they were starting to break out into the mainstream. I can't help but think that the remaining Maniacs were more than a little bit ticked at her solo success.

My friends looked at me puzzled when I said I wasn't sure if I could listen to Natalie's solo material. After all, it was just like listening to 10,000 Maniacs wasn't it? She was the voice of 10,000 Maniacs, so their response to me was to chill and close my eyes and pretend I was listening to the band and not just the singer. This works sometimes, but as it turns out, listening to solo Natalie Merchant is NOT like listening to the band. It seems like something that was essential to the success of her music with 10,000 Maniacs is missing in her solo music. I imagine it's how many people feel about Stevie Nicks' solo career. Without Lindsey Buckingham around to rein her in, Stevie kind of goes batshit crazy. For me, that's batshit crazy in a good way. But without the Maniacs, Natalie goes so internal that no one can break down the door. She's like a friend that you know can cut loose, but insists on being stoic and serious all the time.

For all my supposed dislike of her solo music, I will say that there are a few songs that I really like - mostly from her solo debut Tigerlily. I really liked the song "Wonder" mostly because it sounded like a long lost Maniacs track, and I did like "Carnival" some, with its "Secret"-ish video.



Her solo music really fell off my radar after Tigerlily. I knew the song "Kind & Generous". It mostly annoyed me, but listening to it again today (I picked up the album it is on, Ophelia, from the library yesterday) it's not as grating as I remember. And as far as anything after that, what I have heard is not listenable. Her voice is gone, stripped of its once distinctive quality and reduced to (sorry to say it) bleating. One need only listen to the song "Just Can't Last" to know that her glory days as a vocalist are likely behind her.

But I will always have the Maniacs. When I watch live concert footage of 10,000 Maniacs on YouTube, I always wish I could have seen them during their 1988-1992 heyday, back when they were singing the happiest song in the world about seasonal affective disorder. Not surprisingly, "Like The Weather" is one of my all time faves.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Sleeping or not

So yesterday I finally decided that I had just about had enough of this not being able to fall asleep bit and made an appointment to see my doctor. I don't frequently go to the doctor - mostly just once a year for the physical that my insurance pays for and the random time or two when I am so sick that I can't get well without some form of antibiotic. But this not sleeping well thing, well, it finally pushed me over the edge.

I pretty much live my life (as do many people) on a chronic sleep deficit. I go to bed too late, get up too early - sometimes by choice, sometimes out of necessity. The last month has been especially bad with me working a string of three overnight shifts and then a whole shitload of evenings, which resulted in one messed up sleep cycle. I don't mind working evenings - it's not a bad shift and there are about a third as many people there, but what I really need to do is sleep in till 9:30AM or so before I go in. That doesn't happen very often as those mornings are among the few mornings that I can actually take Anna to school. So what happens is I get up at 6:30. And then I wonder why I hit the wall at 9PM with 90 minutes left to work.

But then, without fail, I get home from that shift and I'm not tired. So I'm up till midnight or 1AM and then have to be at work at 8 the next day. It just sets me up. I should be tired, and I am, but I'm not. All of this leads to needing caffeine the first thing in the morning and liberal doses throughout the day, just to prop myself up enough to be able to function like a normal human being. Of course, all this caffeine leads to disruptions in the sleep cycle, which starts the whole dirty process all over again.

And then, you throw in my own personal wrinkle. I lay in bed at night trying to sleep, and the worry turns the volume up to 10. I think about things I might have left undone at work, things that might happen either tomorrow or in the near (or even distant) future, other people, other things so far out of my sphere of control it's not even funny...the list could literally go on forever. And it's not just that I think about it, it's that I pick it up and run with it as if I'm trying to make the winning touchdown. The other night I had to come back downstairs and was up till nearly 2AM when I had to be up at 5AM the next day. It wasn't pretty.

So because of all this, I went to the doctor. I was not looking for a quick fix - I know that there are many things that are buried beneath this, things that only I can unpack, things that no pill can fix. I got a lot of advice - things I already knew - like cutting out caffeine, exercising more regularly, melatonin, Benadryl, meditation, etc., etc., etc. And all those things I am willing to try. I complain constantly that I don't have time in my life for exercise which is bullshit because if I cut back my internet time even by an hour a day, I would have the time necessary. If it's important, you make time.

But the root of all of this is the worry. The nagging feeling that something is undone or that something horrible is in the offing. It relates back to my anticipation post. Heidi always tells me not to invite that kind of energy in which is her way of saying not to borrow trouble. She is, of course, right. It's not quite that simple. You can't rationalize with that part of your brain. It is chock full of emotions and all the types of reactions that go along with them, so calmly telling them to shut the fuck up doesn't really work all that well. But I know there is a way to short circuit the cycle and to stop it from feeding on itself.

I left the doctor's office with a bunch of literature and a prescription for Ativan. We'll see how it goes. I don't anticipate having to use much of the medication - I got a prescription for 20 of those last March at my physical and still have a fair number left. But to get over the hump, I'm not afraid of a little help. Better living through chemicals as my doctor friend always says.

So a few days of that to get myself back to normal and then after that, I'm crackin' skulls. (well, not really, but you get my meaning.)

(photo credit)

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Bend and break

I've been enjoying the hell out of the video contest over on Keane's website promoting the release of the deluxe edition of Keane's debut Hopes & Fears in which the band has asked fans to make videos for songs from the album. Some are certainly better than others, but really the whole thing has a very Madonna "True Blue" make-my-video feel to it.

But this one, for "Bend and Break", which is probably one of my favorite Keane songs is really good and worth a quick blog post. As described on the site:

This one is from Liouba Zhiltsova in Moscow, Russia. As Liouba says, "It's about friendship, making mistakes and gaining forgiveness. I always thought of the song Bend And Break as a song about overcoming hard times and eventually getting to the bright side of life." It's a great effort for a first-time video - with a really nice storyline.




Watch it - it's worth it.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

There's something about marriage

I got home from work last night just in time to watch the initial results trickle in from Maine. Although many issues were on the ballot last night, the one we were all watching was the referendum on marriage equality - the so-called "people's veto." The state legislature in Maine approved marriage equality last summer, and the governor signed it into law, making Maine the 5th state in the US to grant marriage rights to all its citizens, not just its heterosexual ones. No sooner did this happen than those opposing it started rallying the troops and put the rights of a minority to an up/down vote.

We all know how it turned out, even though it was a real nail-biter for awhile. 52% of those voting chose to strip Maine's gay and lesbian residents of the right to marry, and in so doing, ripped away the privileges that all those in heterosexual marriages take for granted. Although these results make me sick, the fact that the majority was allowed to vote on whether or not a minority gets to have certain rights makes me even sicker. It is safe to say that most of those who voted yesterday in Maine's election were not gay or lesbian, yet here they are, determining what gays and lesbians should or should not be able to do, many (but not all) driven by fear, misinformation and religion which honestly have no place in making policy decisions.

One of the most frequent arguments I hear against marriage equality is that "it's against God's law!" I'm always amazed to hear that. I do not currently identify as a Christian, so that argument holds not one drop of water for me and the millions of others who do not subscribe to either an institutionalized religion or even to the simple concept of a God. Talk about forcing your beliefs on others. That's not to say that all Christians are against marriage equality - quite the contrary. There are many examples of that in Maine and elsewhere. What I would remind those that would be so quick to judge based on what their religion tells them to do is to remember the Great Commandment: LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF. And yes, that includes your gay or lesbian neighbor whether you like it or not.

It is not until people who enjoy the invisible privilege of being in the majority are prevented from deciding that other people are second class citizens or not worthy of the same rights that they currently enjoy that this nonsense will finally stop. I think that will eventually require some kind of US Supreme Court decision which is certainly a long ways off. There was no up/down vote to abolish slavery, nor was there a ballot initiative asking that women's right to vote be rejected after it was granted. Were we to propose either of those, I'm sure it would elicit gasps of incredulousness from those who voted to reject Maine's marriage equality law. But there is no difference. Civil rights issues are civil rights issues.

I hope that the No on 1 people take this through the courts now. It is certainly an option, and one that will likely be heard. It is the job of the judicial system to protect a minority from the tyranny of the majority. While my choice of words may seem overdrawn, you may want to ask a same-sex couple in Maine if they feel that I'm being dramatic in my word choice. Chances are high that they'd feel exactly the same way. And in case you're wondering why I give a shit, as I'm neither a resident of Maine nor gay, and I currently enjoy all the benefits of a legally recognized marriage, it's about being empathetic for your fellow humans, especially those that may be experiencing a different life experience than you. Just because the system is working fine for you doesn't mean that it's working well for everyone.

Maybe it's time to get rid of marriage altogether, to chuck that word on the scrap heap of history so that those that oppose equal rights for gay and lesbian couples can stop being hung up on it. I'll gladly redefine my relationship with my wife so that my gay and lesbian friends can enjoy the same rights I have. But if we did that, those that oppose marriage equality would be forced to look at the real reasons that they oppose equality, which I bet are 100 times uglier than the religious beliefs they hide them behind.

There's no doubt that this will fade from the news cycle by the end of the week, but remember that here in Iowa, we're gearing up for a new legislative session and those that oppose the marriage equality we have here in Iowa will have a new target in their sites. To those of you reading that live within the state, I encourage you to donate time or money (or both) to One Iowa. Hell, do it even if you don't live here. The fight in Iowa is going to look a lot like the one in Maine. Outside money will pour into the state (admittedly, on both sides), and unless our Democratic leadership in the statehouse hold fast, opponents of marriage equality will demand a vote on a Constitutional Amendment here in Iowa, which is a much bigger deal than what was passed in Maine.

Time is ultimately on our side. Opposition to marriage equality will look antiquated in 50 years. But that doesn't mean we have to wait for it. And I will continue to do my small part to make sure that all citizens will be equally protected under the law.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Ouija

Watching Paranormal Activity last night did have one rather unintentional effect on me - it got me to thinking about Ouija boards. As I mentioned in the previous post, the Ouija board scene in Paranormal Activity was one of the most genuinely creepy scenes in the movie and would have also been the point at which I threw all skepticism out the window had I been either of the two people in the movie.

I grew up surrounded by Ouija boards. There were no less than five boards in our house when I was a kid. With that number of boards around, you'd think that I grew up in a coven of witches and we spent our Friday nights communicating with the Great Beyond. You would also be wrong. We were much more likely to spend our Friday nights in front of the TV watching The Incredible Hulk with popcorn and ice water. Our use of Ouija boards was much less supernatural and much more humdrum.

We used them for lap boards.

I remember my mom and dad sitting on the couch or in the easy chair doing everything from grading papers to balancing the checkbook on top of Ouija boards that were balanced on their laps. I also remember my brother and sister being taught the alphabet and numbers with the help of the Ouija board. We kept the boards under the living room couch. It was not an uncommon thing to hear in our house "Hey, has anyone seen the Ouija board? I need to use it." and never communicate with any sort of ghostly or, God forbid, demonic presence.

Although there are many different styles of Ouija boards, all of our Ouija boards were of this variety. Its image is burned into my brain.

My parents always either discarded or hid the planchette, so I never saw one. Consequently, I always thought the woman in the bottom corners was being handed a steak. I swear, that's what it looks like! One of our boards had part of the top layer pulled back, and I spent one rainy Saturday afternoon with a pencil redrawing the letters in the places where it had been ripped. It wasn't until I saw The Exorcist that I truly learned of the supernatural use of Ouija boards. I would be lying if I said we never tried to use it. Mostly we would ask it who so-and-so liked and stuff like that, but honestly, it never worked for me.

I don't know if my parents still have Ouija boards in their house - it wouldn't surprise me if they did. Heidi will not allow them in our house, which I'll admit makes me a bit sad. But I will respect her wishes because she feels more strongly about their absence in our house than I do their presence.

Like most things of this ilk, my inner Fox Mulder is at odds with my inner scientist. I want to believe - desperately - but I just can't. It's a piece of wood or plastic and I can't imagine that the dead would really have anything to say to us. The fact that so much of the mystery was stripped away from Ouija boards before I even got a chance to learn about their purported occult uses also killed my belief just a bit. But I reserve the right to think that maybe, just maybe, they can provide a conduit to something that science can't explain. Just because science can't explain it does not mean that there isn't some element of truth to it. Rather, it may just mean that we haven't yet developed the tool to measure it with.

But it also might be so much bullshit. Who knows. But to me, Ouija boards will always be synonymous with homework.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Bump in the night

(Probable Paranormal Activity spoilers ahead)

After fits and starts that saw us postponing our first attempt, my buddy Matt and I finally managed to see this fall's must-see scary movie, Paranormal Activity. I have to admit that from the moment I heard about it, I wanted to see it, and I knew that Heidi would have no part of it. However, as the movie gathered steam and transformed into an unstoppable internet juggernaut, I became more and more skeptical about it. Did I really want to see it? Was this movie more hype than actual substance? Would I even be scared?

The answers to each of these questions, oddly enough, is yes and no. For those who have somehow kept themselves out of the loop, this is another faux documentary style horror film consisting of "found footage" in which a young couple, Kate & Micah, find themselves plagued by a demonic presence - one that seems to have followed Kate through most of her life. Micah buys a video camera all in an attempt to capture whatever-it-is on tape. All this really succeeds in doing is seriously pissing it off.

What I found surprising about the movie is how really not scary it was - it didn't deliver a genuine honest-to-God scare until the final five minutes. Instead of being out-and-out scary, it settled for being creepy, which was actually a smart move. With a budget of $11,000, it was clear they were going to have to go the Jaws route - the less seen, the better. In this day and age of being able to put anything on the screen (which we saw in spades before the movie during the trailer for 2012), I admire the fact that you never actually see what's stalking Kate & Micah. Instead, it's inferred, alluded to - so much so that you start to doubt your own eyes. This is a movie that somehow manages to make something as innocuous as the turning on and off of lights certifiably creepy. It shouldn't be, but yet, you can't help but be creeped out by it.

I didn't really buy the whole "found footage" concept of the movie. What we saw on the screen was far too edited to be raw video. I felt that the footage from The Blair Witch Project felt more authentic, like it could have actually been found in the woods. Also, let it be said here and now that Micah was pretty insufferable. First it was his name - not pronounced "my-kah" but instead "mee-ka" which had me thinking he was going to break out into "Grace Kelly" at any moment. He was also horribly insensitive to Kate - it's a wonder he ever got laid, although it certainly wasn't for lack of trying on his part. Additionally, he was too-stupid-to-live for bringing the Ouija board in even after he had been cautioned not to attempt to communicate with the demon. But God help me if that Ouija board scene wasn't one of the creepiest in the movie.

I am hardcore when it comes to horror films - it takes a lot to truly scare me. I think the last movie that really scared me was probably The Grudge. Laugh if you will, but I had to turn the lights on when I was watching that one. As I mentioned before, Paranormal Activity did not scare me so much as it intrigued me. The ending packed a wallop that I wasn't entirely expecting, but even that scare has dissipated in the couple of hours since I got home.

It was worth probably half of what we paid for it - as Matt said, it would have been a better dollar theater movie. But you live and learn - unless you're the stupid person behind us who thought she was watching an ACTUAL documentary. At the end of the movie, she says, "I want to know RIGHT NOW if that's a true story or not." Matt and I didn't have the heart to shatter her illusion.

(A word of caution: the use of shaky cam in this movie has the potential to turn even the strongest stomach. I made it all the way through Quarantine without feeling sick, but this one even got to me after a while.)