Saturday, April 30, 2011

Who's playing at my nasty grandstand?

Add one more concert to this year's list. First it was Lady Gaga in March. May brings Kylie Minogue in Dallas. And today, we scored tickets to Janet Jackson performing at...believe it or not...the Iowa State Fair.

As has been the common refrain around here in response to the news that Janet Jackson would be playing the State Fair - how the mighty have fallen. Heidi and I were talking about it tonight and she said "I always feel bad for people that have to play the State Fair because that kind of means they're over." I pointed out a couple of other acts that were playing the State Fair - both country acts - and she said "yeah, well country is kind of its own thing." It is true though. Most of the time when someone's playing the Iowa State Fair Grandstand, they are way WAY past their prime. Jeff and I always used to say that we would only see Madonna when she was playing the State Fair, a prediction that decidedly did not come true. And yes, I haven't been interested in much of anything Janet has done in probably 10 years (2001's All For You was the last Janet album I bought) but when I found out she was coming to the State Fair at a fairly reasonable price, I couldn't resist.

Back before she was the punchline in a wardrobe malfunction joke, Janet had an amazingly good run. Between 1986 and 1996, she had hit single after hit single and, despite having a less-than-stellar voice, she made many memorable songs and a few classic albums. Arguably, her high point was 1993's janet. from which the photo that accompanies this post has its origins. I was always a little bit ho-hum on that album. I found it to be a bit too dependent on samples but over time, I've come to recognize it as being a good album with a few misses. Her best album, for my money, is still Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814, or as we always called it Janet Jackson's Urination 1814. That album and Control were part of the soundtrack of my high school years and, in the case of Rhythm Nation, the first part of my college years as well. What do you expect when you spin 7 (or 8) singles off of an album? Talk about something that would never happen now.

The last few albums have not been my cup of tea, mostly because she has been releasing more or less the same stuff over and over again. I did like the song "Rock With U" from the Discipline album a couple years back, but mostly, I haven't been that interested. Judging from the set list from her most recent concert, it doesn't sound like familiarity with the newer songs will be essential. It looks more like a hit parade.

Since I had to work today, it fell to Heidi to get the tickets. We're going with Jeff, Caryle, Mary and Mike. Six tickets ended up costing $427, which is the price of one HELL of a Madonna ticket. Apparently, Ticketmaster was being its normal bitchy self, but Heidi managed to not only score us tickets, but she scored EIGHTH ROW seats. They are seriously rock star seats. Now why can't I get tickets like that for Madonna? (Answer: Fan club presale.)

So it'll be a fun show. And in the spirit of xolondon, here's my Top Ten (plus 1) Janet songs.

1) Love Will Never Do (Without You)
2) Because Of Love
3) When I Think of You
4) What Have You Done For Me Lately?
5) If (Brothers In Rhythm House Mix) - the original I can take or leave.
6) Nasty
7) Free Xone
8) Escapade
9) You Can Be Mine
10) Come Back To Me

+1 = Throb (I can't help it. Hearing her mutter "DJ make me wet" just cracks me up. Every. Single. Time.)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Moby Duck

Last night I wrote about Moby Dick, tonight it's Moby Duck's turn.

I can safely say that this is the first book that I read thanks to QRANK, the trivia game for your iPhone or iPad. Moby Duck was the subject of one of the 1,000 point questions and after hearing about its subject matter, I knew I had to read it. I have always been a sucker for everyday things that spill out of trucks or trains or, in this case, boats. I can trace that back to one April 1st when I was in college and reading in The Daily Iowan about a train derailment over the Iowa River in the middle of campus that left the river filled with rubber duckies. I remember thinking, "I need to walk down past the river today to see that." And then I remembered the date. April Fools' Day. There were no rubber duckies in the Iowa River. And I was the fool.

But there were rubber ducks - and beavers, frogs and turtles - in the North Pacific in 1992 when a freighter transporting them from China to the U.S. hit rough weather and they went overboard. 28,800 of them, to be precise. And this got the attention of Donovan Hohn, who went on the adventure that became the book Moby Duck. He went beachcombing in Alaska, sailed through the Garbage Patch of the Pacific, toured a toy factory in China's Pearl River Delta and then travels on an icebreaker through Northwest Territories. It's truly an out-of-this-world, once in a lifetime adventure.

If only it were more interesting. But alas, it really wasn't.

I wanted to like this book - believe me, I really did. And there were parts of it that I did enjoy. But as a whole, the entire thing rubbed me the wrong way. Maybe it was because Hohn was running of to have what basically amounted to a juvenile "find-myself" adventure while his wife was pregnant and then at home with a newborn baby. This seemed to weigh on his mind, but let me tell you, there's no way I would have missed the early days of my daughter's life no matter how sleep deprived and crazy making it was. In addition to this, there was something very inauthentic about the adventure. The best books like this are written based on adventures that happen to turn out to be good enough to turn into books. In this case, it felt very much like he went on the adventure with the book in fully in mind. So in addition to being navel-gazing and self-indulgent, it all felt like a conversation that someone sat at home in front of the mirror before they went out and actually had the conversation.

But perhaps the worst offense was making this book out to be about the toys that had gone overboard. They were the ploy to get you in, but really, they were nothing more than that. They got mentioned every now and then, when it had been long enough since the last mention that he felt like they should be mentioned again. I just didn't buy into the adventure at all and really, I wanted more spilled toys.

That's not to say that it was all bad. The one thing that I've learned is that I really do enjoy stories that involve people being on a boat. Those were the best parts of the books - when Hohn was on a boat. Between this and In The Heart of the Sea, it makes me want to take a crack at more books that involve sea voyages.

So I guess I did get something out of Moby Duck, but I was expecting so much more - maybe at least a scratch and dent rubber duck sale.

Enjoy The Silence

Doctor Who's new monster, The Silence, looked oddly familiar to me when they made their debut appearance in The Impossible Astronaut on Easter weekend. It got me to thinking that really, if the Silence were the answer to a math problem, it'd probably look something like this.

One part Cantina Band members

...times 2 parts The Gentlemen from Buffy... 1.5 Voldemort...

...equals The Silence.

Regardless, they are kickass.

Now what was I talking about again? (geeky Doctor Who reference.)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Thar, she blows

My family hit the sack early tonight and I don't work tomorrow so I decided to stay up and watch a little TV. I had seen that Netflix had added 2010: Moby Dick to the instant line-up a couple weeks back and despite the hideous reviews on the web site and the cheesiness of the trailer, I knew that it was only a matter of time before I watched it. Tonight was the night. I was totally in the mood for an unstoppable 500 foot whale wreaking general havoc.

I have a mixed history with Moby Dick. I have tried to read it several times - twice in high school and twice as an adult - and have failed on every attempt. I have always been intrigued by the story of the white whale Moby Dick and how Captain Ahab relentlessly and insanely pursues him aboard the whaling ship Pequod. I read the plot synopsis on Wikipedia just a little bit ago and it made me think that I needed to give it another try. No frickin' way. The book is held up as a classic but in my mind it is, at best, a slog and at worst, completely unreadable. If I go to my grave not having read that book, I won't care one whit.

That's why I'm so grateful for movies like 2010: Moby Dick. Trust me, it helps to not be romantically attached to the source material. Don't get me wrong, this movie is not good. The special effects are incredibly cheesy, the performances by the C-list cast (save Barry Bostwick who is the only person that I even remotely recognize) forgettable and the dialogue completely throwaway. In many ways, it was kind of a waste of an hour and a half. But for some reason, even though I wouldn't call this movie good, I kind of ended up liking it in spite of myself. As is my common refrain for films like this, it was so much better than any movie named 2010: Moby Dick had any business being. I also realize that's also not saying much.

The movie is surprisingly faithful to the book, only instead of being a 19th century whaling vessel, the Pequod is now a nuclear submarine. The captain is still Ahab, but Ishmael is now Michelle Herman (she even says to her friend prior to the Pequod's arrival "Call me Michelle." UGH), a marine biologist who specializes in "talking to whales." Captain Ahab is still missing a leg thanks to Moby Dick after an attack he attacked the submarine he was on in 1969. Since then, he has hunted the whale without stopping. Moby Dick has been on a global rampage and since the Pequod has been in hot pursuit, the brass at the Navy think that Ahab has gone rogue and is sinking all these ships that have actually run afoul of Moby Dick. From the amount of boats (and even planes!) that Moby Dick has ingested over the years, it's amazing that he hasn't succumbed to heavy metal poisoning.

I'm not going to give away much else, although I will note that I was glad to see one of the submarines named Essex (presumably after the whale ship Essex that really WAS rammed by a whale.) Yes, everything about this movie is pure sliced Velveeta and no, it wasn't very good. Moby Dick himself was pretty passable, but even he had moments where his CG was showing. On one hand, I like that CG effects have gotten so cheap that pretty much anyone can do them now, but I also don't like how cheap CG still looks like cheap CG. Granted, sometimes even expensive CG looks bad (see I Am Legend, for example) so I sometimes give movies like this a pass when it comes to that.

For all its faults, this is the kind of movie that we would have watched on Saturday afternoon cable as kids a million times. And for that, even though it wasn't very good, it gets points. Yes it sucks, but in that good way. Cut from the same cloth as last year's Piranha remake only not as scary or bloody, it's brainless entertainment and a fun way to view a complete dirge of a book through the eyes of modern day sci-fi.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Where the subconscious meets the conscious

I woke up before 7AM this morning and because it was Saturday, I REALLY wanted to go back to sleep. I knew it wouldn't be hard. Anna's old enough now that she just gets up and watches TV or whatever till we get up. Still, I was afraid I wouldn't be able to fall back to sleep so I grabbed my iPod from my bedside table and decided to put something on. Only trouble is, I don't have many playlists that are suited for sleeping. It really doesn't matter - I've gone to sleep with the sound of 90s Eurodance pumping into my ears, but this morning I put on my playlist based on the little known Dolly Parton song "Livin' A Lie" from her film Straight Talk. It plays out like a list of the who's-who-of-90s-female-country (with a couple of exceptions.) You'll have to click on the image to be able to read it.

I kinda like how Genius picked the Almighty Definitive dance mix of Faith Hill's "This Kiss" instead of the original.

One of my favorite things to happen when I listen to music as I sleep is when the songs I'm listening to end up in my dreams. This morning was one of those mornings. Here I was listening to this playlist while I slept in the early morning hours and I had this dream that I was a pharmacist at a nursing home and was walking around with a nurse who was making sure that the residents were all in bed. We went in this large circle through the hallways of the facility and as we came around to the front, a little old lady was escaping out the front door. As she ran away, she was singing Shania Twain's "Any Man Of Mine." The juxtaposition of this little old lady and sexy Shania is still kind of cracking me up.

For the record, I really never got into Shania Twain apart from her hits. I was also put off by her overuse of exclamation marks in song titles. If you doubt me, just look at the track listing for her album Up!

I remember several other songs in various dreams I had this morning - I must not have been sleeping very soundly. The Dolly song "Thought I Couldn't Dance" was in a dream where I was driving a car in Carroll and was driving so fast that the car took off and was flying over bumps in the road. Very strange. The subconscious mind can be a very confusing place.

Celebrity eggs

We colored eggs this morning which, for the record, I don't really like doing a terrible lot. I dislike most of the stuff associated with Easter. Easter candy kind of annoys me. I've never been one for egg hunts or anything like that - probably because I was always too old for them at our church growing up while my younger brother and sister were not. I'm kind of dreading having to fill plastic eggs after Anna goes to sleep tonight because yes, Virginia, she still believes in the Easter Bunny and who am I to crush that? After a bit of obligatory bitching, I kind of got into the spirit of it though. It was kind of fun to blow out the eggs yolks (every time we try to hard boil them, they crack plus no one here eats hard boiled eggs) and I got to go around annoyingly saying the word "PAAS" over and over again until my wife and daughter were ready to hit me with a brick.

It got me to thinking about the time when I was probably in the 5th grade and for whatever reason, we decorated eggs in my Lutheran Sunday School class. We didn't do the dyes as that would have been far too messy for our Sunday best. Instead, there were crayons and markers and little bits of discarded fabric and other crafty items that we could glue onto our eggs.

Amidst all the crap that they had for us to decorate our eggs with was a small scrap of fabric that was a golden band with a little fringe on the edge. To me, it looked just like a sweat band, with hair going over the top of it. Those of you who know me well know where this is going. Yep, that's right... was OLIVIA NEWTON-EGG.

I remember drawing the face on it and putting a little cartoon balloon down by the mouth and it was saying "Let's Get Physical." Oh my God, I took so much grief from my Sunday School classmates. And oddly, I had almost completely forgotten about it until this morning. That's how deeply buried in my subconscious it was.

Of course, I told this story to Heidi and she laughed uproariously. And, as is her standard retort when I tell stories like this, she said "And yet, somehow, you turned out straight." She added "Seriously, Dan, that's the type of story a gay man of our age would tell!" followed by "I fucking love you SO MUCH." It worked out best for everybody involved that I did turn out straight - especially Anna who wouldn't be here otherwise. I chalk it up to having only one functioning copy of the gay gene. It gets to the part where it codes for the sexual orientation bit and it just spits out a nonsense protein. And if that is not geeky humor, I don't know what is.

Now that I've completely humiliated myself, I think I'll just leave everyone with a Happy Easter if you are celebrating it. May you not eat your weight in chocolate eggs.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Admit One

About a year ago, I remember Heidi telling me that I simply HAD to read Admit One by Jenna Hilary Sinclair. She wrote a pretty glowing review of it on Goodreads but for one reason or another, it slipped off my radar. I hadn't read any m/m fiction for awhile, having gotten too busy with my real life to do any kind of proofing for Dreamspinner and when I remembered this book, I thought why not? It turned out to be one of the best m/m books I've ever read.

Tom Smith is a high school history teacher in a small town in west Texas. He is gay but closeted to everyone around him. He chooses to live a largely asexual life, mostly, he feels, out of necessity. His only break from this comes from weekend trips to Dallas where he engages in a series of one-night stands before heading back to his self-inflicted prison. On one of these weekends, he meets Kevin Bannerman who he sleeps with and tosses off like all his other encounters. But unlike his other encounters, he can't seem to forget about Kevin.

Kevin reappears in his life a bit improbably but why not as the parent of one of the cast members in the high school's production of Rent, of which Tom is serving as the assistant director. Feelings rush back but their relationship is complicated not only by the narrow mindedness of the small town in which Tom lives, but also by Tom's own fears. He's afraid to be so much as seen with Kevin in town for fear that their fledgling relationship will be questioned. He is a classic case of "he doth protest too much." And as if that wasn't bad enough, the parents and the surrounding community start complaining about the subject matter of Rent - specifically the drug use and the homosexuality therein.

I think I enjoyed this book so much because the plot lent itself so well to comparison to the plot of Rent. It was cleverly done but not heavy-handedly so which could have been a real temptation that I'm glad Sinclair avoided. As the finale of Rent says, "no day but today." That's something that I think Tom grows to realize over the course of the novel. Sure all the standard plot points are there but Sinclair manages to make them fresh and it helps that I really cared about the characters, rather than wanting to slug them because they were TSTL (too stupid to live.)

The reason I read these books isn't for the sexual content. It's also not just because my wife writes them - although I'll admit that probably is a factor. I've said before in other posts I've done on m/m books that what lures me in is the emotional porn. I'm always there for the relationship - to see how two people wind up together against all odds. I've also said before that referring to it as "emotional porn" tragically oversimplifies it. Sometimes I wish we lived in a world where homosexuality was so accepted and "normal" that two platonic male friends together didn't automatically arouse the suspicion that they must be lovers, and if they aren't, they will be eventually. Men don't really have the freedom to feel truly connected to each other like women do. We feel the need to take every meaningful social interaction we might have and do the equivalent of popping the balloon and making it funny, lest it be misinterpreted. This is done to our detriment. Carefully chosen books like these are one of the few places you can see it, although I suppose the presence of the sex argues against my point. In any event, men in our society are screwed over when it comes to that, especially after marriage. We can't have close female friends because, well that's awkward and what would our wives say and we can't have close male friends because that's been socialized out of us. What's left to do?

Tell the world to screw off, that's what.

Oh, and read Admit One. It's a keeper.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The sun is bursting right out of a Paper Bag

Madonna covers are such a mixed bag as I've discussed before. Part of the trouble is that Madonna really OWNS her songs - especially her biggest hits - and anyone else trying to sing them usually comes off as bad celebrity karaoke. So I was equal parts intrigued and worried when I heard about the Paper Bag Records release of a True Blue covers album in celebration of their 8th anniversary and True Blue's *gulp* TWENTY FIFTH anniversary. While True Blue is no Like A Prayer or Ray of Light in terms of being beyond criticism, the 1986 album is home to some of her biggest hits of the 80s. Over half the album was released as singles, and three of the five singles hit number one. So some of the songs they were going to attempt to cover were going to be tough to do.

This is certainly not the first attempt at a Madonna covers album. There are the dreadful Virgin Voices albums and the better but still underwhelming Through The Wilderness. No one could really separate Madonna from her songs. Up until now, no one has attempted to cover a whole album a la Camper Van Beethoven's cover of Fleetwood Mac's Tusk album. Much like on that album, the results of covering True Blue are mixed, but overall a worthwhile endeavor.

I listened to the whole thing today and imagine my surprise when there is really only one God-awful unlistenable track on the whole thing - that being PS I Love You's cover of "Where's The Party?" (or as it's known around our house, "Where's The Potty?") "Where's The Party?" kind of falls in between the cracks with Madonna songs - it's fairly well known, but since it was not a single, it's been largely forgotten. It really deserved to be a single and would have done well, but this version should be buried deep within the earth.

But getting 8 out of 9 tracks mostly right is pretty impressive. Many blog posts have been singling out Woodhands' version of "Papa Don't Preach" as a misfire. Apart from having the honor of being a cover of a huge Madonna hit that has arguably aged the least gracefully, I enjoyed their take on it. The more straight forward tactic taken on songs like "La Isla Bonita" and "Live To Tell" were less impressive. In my book, there are two rules to a successful cover - 1) put your own stamp on it and 2) be respectful to the original. "LIB" and "LTT" got the second part right, almost to a fault, while ignoring the first rule. Oddly enough, the cover of "Open Your Heart" which, by rights, should not work, ends up working out better than most of the tracks.

But my far and away favorite of all the songs is Born Ruffians' version of the much maligned Madonna album track "Jimmy Jimmy." Poor "Jimmy Jimmy." All it ever did was be produced in the 80s. It's Madonna fluff, to be sure. But as is the case with most of Madonna's fluff during that time period, it was pretty awesome fluff. Hear for yourself.

Well, Born Ruffians took all the 80s production out of it and I don't know how to describe it, but really you have to hear it. It's all dressed up for a new generation. Listen here - it's track #8. Although I have to say that I was ticked that they did not include the "oop shoo boop oop boop shoo la la la" part (about 3:17 in the above video) that made the original so endearing as well as ridiculous. It's like if they decided to cover Madonna's "Stay" and left out the "then we can scoop scoop scoop scoodlye bee bop." Blasphemy. Oh well, nothing's perfect.

The best part is you can download the whole shootin' match for free at Paper Bag Records web site. If this bunch of Madonna covers gets my stamp of approval, you know it must be worthy.

Now excuse me while I go shake my head in disbelief at True Blue being 25 this year.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Thank you

I just wanted to take a minute to express my gratitude for all the comments and messages here on this blog, on Facebook and Twitter and in private e-mail that I have received from people in the wake of Blair's death. Support of family and friends makes things like this easier. Life is slowly returning to normal around here and while his absence is still rather acute, I know for a fact that Heidi and Anna are going to the Story County Animal Shelter tomorrow to look at kittens - just to LOOK. We can't and won't get anything until after Kylie (which is in 29 days!!) and after the three remaining cats have been to the vet and are all updated on their shots and what not.

Thanks again to family and friends both near and far.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Black cat, nine lives

I'm going to try to write this even though I am completely wiped. Putting it off a day seems wrong. Today was the day that the end came for our cat Blair, the second of our cats to be diagnosed with terminal cancer last year and the second to shuffle off the mortal coil.

This was a lot harder for me on so many more levels than when we had to let Mia go last November. The biggest reason for this is because Blair was really my baby boy cat. From the minute I heard him meowing in a neighbor's flower garden across a busy street in Washington, IA, I knew that he and I were going to have a special relationship. Up until that time, I had not really been a cat person. I became a pseudo-cat person mostly because I realized that if I wanted to spend my life with Heidi, that was going to involve cats. Blair (who was named after The Blair Witch Project, which was a popular movie that summer) really got to me though. He was the first cat of ours that I bonded with as a kitten and in many ways, we tricked him into thinking I was his mother. In the first days that we had him, he would get in bed with me every morning and would always fall for the "moving finger under the blanket" trick. He pounced every time. He would nip at you and bite which led to his early nickname of "Black Bite-y."

He was hell on wheels - I'd never seen a kitten get into so much trouble. He crawled up in the arms of the couch, pulled an entire box of Stove-Top stuffing out of a cupboard and walked around with it in his mouth. He hijacked a package of English muffins and squirreled them away in our bedroom closet, where we uncovered them six months later, moldy and gross. Even though we had two other cats in the house, we knew it was him. No one else would have taken the time or the effort. As he grew, he got into more trouble, jumping from the floor to the top of the refrigerator and even ending up inside the refrigerator once after sneaking in there all stealth-like when we had opened it. Only his meowing led us to find him, sitting on the second shelf as if he belonged there.

He grew quickly - a friend of ours always asked me if we were feeding him Miracle-Gro. He was always a handsome cat and I swear that he had to have had Siamese in him. He grew fond of crawling up on my chest in the morning before I woke up. When you wake up with a 14 pound cat on your chest, it becomes difficult to differentiate between that and "the big one." When he wasn't sitting on my chest, he was crawling under the blanket and laying next to me all stretched out like a human would. None of our cats before or since have done that. He kind of grew out of that for a while, but in the last 6 months, he started doing that again. It was almost as if he knew that his time was limited and wanted to remind me of what it was like before he was sick.

The thing about Blair was that he had neuroses that had neuroses. We first noticed this when we discovered that he was losing all the hair on his legs - a consequence of over-grooming, a nervous habit among cats who are stressed out. We tried to medicate him for this, but it proved nearly impossible without getting an arm taken off. We managed it as best we could, but when we moved and Sidney showed up on our back deck and became the 5th cat in our house (never again), his anxiety went into the stratosphere. He started peeing outside of the litter box - his favorite places being on the front door and on the floor in Heidi's office closet. Because of this, we spent $600 on a full work-up on him to make sure that there wasn't something physically wrong with him that was causing him to pee all over the place or if it truly was just a behavioral problem. As I suspected, there wasn't anything wrong with him physically. The stress brought on by Sidney basically pushed him over the edge.

My dad built a cage for him so that we could isolate him and basically retrain him to use the litter box. It worked for the most part, although he still had his lapses. We started him on Prozac which we would rub on his ear and that also seemed to help some. His peeing continued and we just kept on cleaning it up. I sanded down the wood floors where he had peed and resealed them. There were points during that time that I'm not proud of. I was so tired of cleaning up pee, with him wrecking floors and not knowing what was wrong with him that I seriously entertained the notion of euthanizing him then. After euthanizing him today, I know now that I was all talk. There was no way on God's green earth that I could have killed him for his behavior.

When he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma last fall, he had wasted away and had hardly any fat on him. The vet said that his prognosis was quite poor. He was so sick with a respiratory tract infection last fall when Heidi was gone to Texas to visit her sister that my only goal was to keep him alive until she got back. He rallied like no one's business, kicked his infection and started gaining weight once we put him on steroids and antibiotics. His mouth, which had been full of sores, healed up. He was on the mend and he lulled us into a false sense of security. Maybe the diagnosis had been wrong...maybe he was going to be around for years to come.

The honeymoon was short-lived. He went through countless rounds of antibiotics. He knew the sound of me grinding the tablet in the mortar and pestle I bought so that we could more easily administer it to him - when he heard it, he would hide. Last week, we found a lump on his belly. Thinking it was a sign of his cancer advancing, we took him to the vet. They aspirated it and found it to be only a cyst, but to keep an eye on it. Three days later, he was sneezing and wheezing and not responding to the antibiotic. We switched antibiotics and despite the fact that it should have killed just about everything, he still got no better. Over the weekend, he stopped eating and drinking. The last time we know that he peed was Friday. He was vomiting up snot and phlegm and despite my attempts to keep him clean, the snot crusted on his nose and face. Yesterday, sensing that his end was near, I went up and sat with him in Heidi's office. He laid down next to me and snuggled up to my leg. By the evening hours, he had curled up into a ball under Heidi's desk, and got all quiet and still. I was sure that I would be gone this morning. He was still alive, but miserable.

In many ways, I felt bonded to Blair because of our similar struggles with anxiety. I always felt a little bit like giving up on him was giving up on me. That was why it was so hard to make the call this morning which was his death sentence. I hated the responsibility of saying "you die now." Once we had the appointment set up, I kept thinking "Blair only has x amount of time to live." He was a little more alert at the time than I would have liked, although he was calm because of the sedative we gave him at home. He twitched his tail and growled one last time at the vet while she found the vein. He laid his head down and was twitching his tail. After the injection was about half done, his tail stopped twitching. I like to think that he fell asleep and didn't feel the pain anymore, because not long after, he was gone. It's not cool to say so, but I was heartbroken. My little black cat was no more and I haven't been that sad in a long time.

Cancer won, like it so often does despite our best efforts. But he didn't have to suffer. That's the gift we can give to our pets. As he died, Madonna's "Crazy For You" played on the radio. It seemed appropriate.

But as someone said to me, whenever we lose anyone, it's not the ending but the time before that matters. Sure I'm sad. Sure I'll miss him. I was eating supper tonight and swore that I saw his little black head walk by, only to realize that wasn't possible. But I will remember all the times, good and bad, that we gave him and that he gave us. We gave him a good life. So many people would have given up on Blair but we didn't. And we loved him through it all, even at the worst. Even when I was talking crazy about euthanizing him for peeing, I still loved that cat. In many ways, he was the bitchiest cat that ever lived, but we saw the side of him that so few saw. Whatever the cat version of love is, he had it for us. He snuggled up on my lap almost without fail every time I sat down to watch TV. He hung out with Heidi in her office during the day. He very frequently laid on Anna's bed while she fell asleep. He left pieces of himself around - and not just the bits of hair we shaved from his body today. When Anna was an infant, he inadvertently scratched her head and eyelid, leaving a faint scar that is mostly hidden by her hairline. She said to me last night "Dad, I'm glad Blair scratched me, because now I have a piece of him forever." Way to make lemonade out of lemons, kid.

What a difference a week makes!

He was a good cat, even when he was a shit cat, because he was MY cat. He was my baby boy cat and now he's gone. He's not hurting anymore, but I sure do miss him.

One Christmas, we made CDs for people - one for each of the four cats we had at the time. Blair's contribution was "Blair's Bad-Ass Tunes." And naturally, the last track was Janet Jackson's "Black Cat." If any cat really had nine lives, it was Blair. He lived way past his prognosis, but it still wasn't easy to let him go.

RIP, buddy. This one's for you. If she sings it at the State Fair, you know I'll think of you and smile.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

It opened up my eyes

For no particular reason, Ace of Base's "The Sign" has been showing up more and more in my listening habits. I think it's because it is on the genius playlist that I mentioned in my last post. On my way back from taking a friend out to dinner for his birthday on Friday night, it shuffled up and listening to it got me to thinking about how well it holds up, nearly 20 years after its initial release.

I bought The Sign (the album) based on the strength of the initial single "All That She Wants." It was inescapable on the radio in the fall of 1993. Looking back now, it was kind of an anomaly amongst what was getting played on the radio back then. I had all but abandoned most Hot 100 fare for country-pop as the Nirvana/Pearl Jam/grunge that was played ad nauseum back then was just not my thing. I certainly wasn't expecting Swedish pop to take hold again. I mean, this was NOT Roxette or ABBA and this was the early 90s. But to no one's surprise, I lapped up the sound of "All That She Wants." My sister, who was in junior high at the time, also got into the song, buying the cassingle if memory serves.

However, the purchase of The Sign was a bit of a let down. It just didn't click with me. Some of that might have been because the instant I bought it, my sister commandeered it and I barely got to listen to it all of Christmas break. In any event, I was resigned to Ace of Base being a one-hit wonder. I heard of the impending release of "The Sign" as a single and figured it would peak at #83 and that would be the end of it. I couldn't have been more wrong. "The Sign" spent 6 weeks at #1 and was the freaking best selling single of 1994! The Sign sold 9 million copies (many of which, no doubt, as in used CD stores.) I still own mine, having warmed up to it substantially. Once I got back to school after Christmas break, I couldn't stop listening to it.

So here's my question - which single holds up better? "All That She Wants" or "The Sign"? My money is on "The Sign" if for no other reason than it contains my oft-quoted line "life is demanding, without understanding."

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The case against reflexive Gaga hating

The blogosphere is abuzz this morning with everyone and their pet rock weighing in on the relative worth (or lack thereof) of Lady Gaga's new single "Judas" and her recently unveiled cover for her album forthcoming album Born This Way. Maybe it's just me, but could people be any more negative?

I get where they're coming from. I, too, was once a reflexive Gaga hater. I don't know what made me dislike and resist her, but I did. I found her persona simple and her music lacking and I felt very much that she was nothing more than a Madonna rip-off - another in a long line of pretenders to the throne of her Madgesty. I think that, as a long time Madonna fan, I felt that giving in to Gaga would be akin to cheating on the icon I've followed for decades. But eventually, I gave in. I can't quite pinpoint where I started to come around to Gaga. It might have been in the San Rio store in L.A. in 2009 when I finally paid attention to "Poker Face." It might have been when Heidi used a lot of Gaga on her story soundtrack for Double Blind. Or maybe it was with "Bad Romance" and The Fame Monster - a point at which she really did "level up" a la Madonna with True Blue. Whatever it was, it happened. As my sister pointed out to me, it was only a matter of time.

Even though I know where they're coming from, I really don't understand it now and frankly, it's starting to really piss me off. Everything that Gaga does now is somehow dismissed out of hand by most people that should, by rights, be giving her the biggest chance. Instead, they seem to be steering clear of her almost out of some principle, dismissing every new song or look or piece of artwork out of hand and not giving it any sort of chance. I don't know that Gaga cares much, but I think that hating something on principle is not all that different (or misguided) than the opposite reaction - declaring a blinding love for when an artist really does turn out shit.

In many ways, this is where the Madonna comparison is most apt. The reflexive hatred of Madonna in the 80s and 90s is legendary. So little of it had to do with the music - most of it was based on perception and image. Admittedly, Madonna courted the controversy in much the same way that Gaga is. I think what bothers me the most about Gaga hatred is I feel like, in hating on Gaga, we're all turning into the worst version of our parents. You know what I'm talking about - the "would you turn that noise down?" and the "back in my day, there was REAL music." I was lucky in the fact that my folks really didn't do that too much - they're worst version of that was disliking remakes of 60s songs - but I feel like the sentiment against Gaga really seems to stem from that source a lot, especially amongst people my age. I feel like if we react like that, we're no better than the Madonna haters of yesteryear.

The thing is, good pop music is in short supply these days. I was listening to a genius playlist that I made based off of Belinda Carlisle's "Heaven Is A Place On Earth" and on that 50 song playlist were so many classic pop songs from the late 80s and even from the 90s. I feel like pop fell out of favor with the advent of grunge and while it had a bit of a renaissance with Britney Spears and the boy bands of the late 90s, it has never made a true and full comeback.

I was reading the Billboard Hot 100 the other day and, as has been true for nearly a decade now, every other song was "featuring" some rapper. Yes, we have Britney and Katy Perry charting in the upper echelons. But is anyone turning out pop music in its truest form like Gaga is? Is it a crime for something new to have something borrowed as well? So quickly we forget how Madonna co-opted other parts of the pop culture and brazenly made them her own. Sure, she might have been better and subtler about it than Gaga, but every time someone accuses Gaga of stealing something I just can't help but think that. With Gaga, I feel like there's a future for pure pop music. I don't feel like the future of pop music is in the hands of Britney Spears of Katy Perry. Each Britney album feels more and more forced and Katy Perry still has to prove herself to me. I'm man enough to admit that I like songs by both Spears and Perry and I'm also man enough to admit that Gaga is the one carrying the torch forward.

I'm used to the music I love being put down and hated on by most people - specifically, most men in our society. That doesn't bother me nearly as much as it used to. What does bother me is hating something on principle when, by rights, it's filling the void left by a Madonna that doesn't care about music anymore or a Whitney Houston whose voice has been trashed by drugs. Insert any other example you like, but for me, the fact remains that Gaga is making music that remains true to that which I have loved my whole life. She doesn't always succeed, but she comes closer than most.

The one point I will concede to the Gaga haters is that she is dreadfully overexposed at this point, and I do feel like she's bungling this album release a bit. But who really knows? The rules for releasing an album and singles are as clear as mud these days, so perhaps she really knows what she's doing? What she does need to do is disappear for a while, a la Madonna in 1988 and release NOTHING so that we don't gorge ourselves on Gaga and then puke it all back up.

I know this is not a popular opinion and I fully expect to be skewered for it. However, I stand by it. Gaga is imperfect and flawed. She's been controversial for controversy's sake, pushed buttons and stood up for herself and others that can't or that society has marginalized. She's also produced some amazing music. In these respects I find the comparison to Madonna to be most valid and why I feel like there's room enough for both in my life.

Perhaps Tori Amos is right when she said “She’s what I call a meteor — singers who entertain people for a while. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with that… She wants to entertain people. Right now, half the world is depressed and they need to be entertained. So her timing’s perfect.” Maybe Gaga will flame out in a year, but I will guarantee you that when I'm in the nursing home, they'll be asking me to turn her music down.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Pants and plans

I gave in this morning and bought four new pairs of pants. It mostly makes me feel like a failure, but oddly enough, it also feels like a call to arms.

Over the last few weeks, I've noticed that my pants had not been fitting as well as I would like them to. Mornings have been a struggle because the combination of my pants not fitting and having the worst case of closet malaise in recent memory usually had me getting out at least five different things to wear, only to reject them all and wind up wearing what I started with. But that hasn't changed the fact that they have been uncomfortable to wear.

This is frustrating on many levels as I really have been eating better this year. French fries are an infrequent treat and I do try to watch how much I'm eating. It's hard at work where the selections are not the healthiest but you can always eat off the salad bar. But the fact remains that I have gained some weight this year - probably not so much that you can notice it unless you're invading my personal space - but I notice it, primarily because of my previously mentioned ill fitting pants. I also battle a less-than-desirable blood lipid profile that is at least 60% genetic. Whenever I vocalize that I would like to lose weight, I'm usually met with a chorus of WHAT??? I may not look it, but alas, according to the highly-flawed-but-still-best-measure-we-have BMI, I am overweight.

I know that the key component that I'm missing is exercise. I used to walk to work all the time, but this, that or the other thing always comes up at the last minute and half the time, I end up driving. I always feel like there's no time in my already packed life for exercise when clearly, it's something I just need to make time for. Part of my trouble is that I'm constantly tired and trying to muster up the ambition to do anything that's remotely like exercise seems like it takes a Herculean amount of energy. I had grand plans earlier this year when I vowed to make some small changes slowly over time so as to lessen the impact. While my attempts at eating better have been mostly a success, I have still caved to emotional eating on many occasions (especially recently) and my efforts to work even mild activity in have met with complete failure.

The purchasing of new pants was met with a lot of resistance. As I said, I equated it with failure. When I was out with Heidi buying them this morning I said "I don't want to buy many because I'll be back in my old pants soon." Who knows if that'll happen or not. I'm realistic enough to know that unless I change careers and become a male escort, I have to have pants to wear to work.

A lot of people I know are trying to increase their activity. I'm still not sure how I'm going to do it, but I do know that it'll involve baby steps. I am not going to announce a bold new initiative to create a new me that runs a marathon daily because for me that's just an invitation to failure. But hopefully I can find something that holds my feet to the fire a little bit better than an interventional cardiac cath procedure. Ultimately, fitness is a solitary journey and I'm not usually the best when left to my own devices. We shall see.

(Note: the pants pictured are NOT the pants I bought.)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Savage City

A couple weeks back, Heidi and I were watching The Daily Show and the guest that night was author T.J. English. I had never heard of him and figured it would probably be a forgettable Daily Show interview. But then he and Jon Stewart started talking about his new book and they mentioned New York City in the 1960s. Heidi looked over at me and was amazed that I wasn't already looking it up on the internet. If there was ever a book with my name on it, it's T.J. English's The Savage City.

I consume late 20th century history. I have read so many books on the 70s that you would think there's nothing left for me to read. Yet amazingly, there always seems to be angle or nuance that I hadn't thought of before and I take it in like a starving man at a banquet table. I don't know what it is about that time period that's so interesting to me - I've postulated that it is a time period that I grew up in yet was kind of "unaware of" as well. Regardless of the reason, there seems to be an infinite number of stories to tell.

The Savage City tells the story of New York City between the years of 1963 and 1973. During the time, New York was about as far from the relatively safe tourist destination we know today. This is the New York of Travis Bickle and Taxi Driver. Crime was rampant, race relations were reaching a boiling point, and those who had pledged to serve and protect - the NYPD - were mired in what basically came down to institutionalized corruption. This is a big story to tell, and English smartly chooses to tell it from the vantage point of three different people who lived through the period. These people are:
  • George Whitmore - a young black man who was confessed to three different crimes, including a double murder. Only trouble was he didn't actually commit any of those crimes.
  • Bill Phillips - a cop on the take who eventually exposed the corruption within the NYPD
  • Dhoruba bin Wahad - a former gang member who became the voice of the New York Black Panther Party.
English very adeptly tells these individual stories as well as not scrimping on details of the larger picture. Familiar events of the time period are mentioned and put in context of the events occurring in NYC, but I also learned a ton by reading this book. I knew virtually nothing about the Black Panther Party and had no idea how the it virtually imploded due to the efforts of the FBI and the CIA, as well as philosophical differences between those on the East coast and West coast.

Despite its length, the book was a pretty quick read. Only rarely did it get mired down in minute details. As I approached the end of the book, I was so invested in the three characters we had gotten to know over the course of 400 pages. English writes in a highly readable style and I enjoyed it so much that I want to pick up his book about the Mafia in Cuba, Havana Nocturne.

The Savage City tells a story of a New York City that has pretty much disappeared. However, I couldn't help but wonder how much of it is still there, hidden by a cleaned-up Times Square.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Frozen Nazi zombies

Is it possible to make zombies even less sympathetic than they already are? Well, by golly, the makers of the Norwegian horror film Dead Snow found a way - turn them into undead Nazis. If the Indiana Jones films taught us nothing else, it's that Nazis are the perfect bad guys. I mean, how can you sympathize with them? It's not possible. So with zombie Nazis, you have what is quite possible a beyond perfect bad guy.

The set up of Dead Snow is one horror fans have seen a million times before. College students, a secluded cabin (this time on the Norwegian fjord), hormones in overdrive and no cell phone service. One of the characters even mentions "how many movies start out with friends going to a cabin in the woods with no cell phone service?" At least what's about to happen doesn't take them by complete surprise.

Soon, a mysterious stranger shows up to infodump the back story. The area where they are staying was, during WWII, occupied by a particularly nasty group of Nazis. They tortured and stole from the villagers until one night, toward the end of the war, the Nazis and their leader were chased into the woods, never to be seen again. An evil lurks in these mountains, the stranger says, and you won't like it when you're holding your own intestines.

It doesn't take long for zombie mayhem to ensue, although I will say that for about the first half, until the first really good zombie attack, the movie felt more like a slasher film. I chalk that up to the fact that we don't get a good look at the zombies - they hide in the trees and under the cover of darkness. But once they attack a la Night of the Living Dead, with zombie hands coming through the windows, it feels every little bit like a zombie movie.

These are fast zombies and don't seem to subscribe to the "kill the brain, kill the ghoul" law of zombies, but the movie more than makes up for it. I didn't find it so much scary as I did gory and as I so frequently say, the scariness of the movie for me is so often inversely proportional to the amount of gore. There are some pretty gruesome deaths, one of which was followed by a line that made me laugh out loud.

This movie owes a huge debt to other movies, most specifically Evil Dead. Apart from the obvious cabin in the woods, there's even a chainsaw and an amputation. But more than that, it pays homage to zombie movies that came before it, mostly a little bit tongue in cheek. There's even a cockamamie secondary storyline that wasn't really referenced all that much until toward the end that seemed lifted straight out of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.

One final note about this movie - it contains the least likely sex scene I have ever witnessed in all my years of watching movies. It took place in an outhouse, on the seat, after the guy had just taken care of business. The woman came in all hot and horny and even though he hadn't even wiped, he was ready to go. I'm sorry, if that were me, I don't care how good looking you are. No. OUTHOUSES STINK and are decidedly unsexy.

Dead Snow is cheesy and gory and was a very enjoyable way to spend 90 minutes on my day off. Beware - it is the first zombie movie that I have ever seen that had subtitles. It did not detract from the experience so don't let it deter you from watching..

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Any old music will do

I blew the virtual dust off of Tina Turner's 1984 comeback album Private Dancer this week. Private Dancer was the first of three albums Tina released in the 80s that I really love - the others being Break Every Rule - my sentimental favorite of the three - and Foreign Affair, which is noticeably inferior but still contains some kick-ass songs. What blew me away listening to to the album almost 30 (!) years is how on this album, they really captured lightning in a bottle. Bucking the trend at the time - and now, for that matter - that women over 40 couldn't have a chart hit, Turner knocked everyone's socks off and then some.

Private Dancer came into my life in much the same way it might have come into many people's lives in the mid 80s - via the Columbia House Record Club. Who in their right mind could resist 12 albums for one lousy penny? It was not one of our initial 12 albums. Rather, we were well into the bait-and-switch portion of the agreement, where you pay twice as much for an album than you would at the store. And who could forget all the selections-of-the-month that you would get that you didn't want because you forgot to return the card declining it? I recall a MAD Magazine article that referred to them as slightly more difficult to get out of than an Iranian jail. I think I was still a member of some form of Columbia House or BMG club well into the 90s. The other notable thing about Private Dancer is that it arrived from Columbia House in the same shipment as Madonna's debut album. Yes, Virginia, there was a time I didn't own everything that woman had produced.

Tina's gravelly voice is not for everybody, but it really did it for me. I didn't care much for "What's Love Got To Do With It" and Tina's mountain of hair. But in the summer of 86 I really dove into the pop music pool, and at the end of that summer, Tina put out her first single from the Break Every Rule album, "Typical Male," and I was very fond of that song. So retroactively, I ordered Private Dancer. Turner's voice is so well suited for the material. The amazing thing about the album is that it is a pop album that is also an R&B album AND a rock album. Turner was not about to be confined by genre. The album was a huge smash hit and spun off a shitload of singles and also fueled other Tina songs on other people's albums and soundtracks.

The song I love most on Private Dancer is "I Might Have Been Queen" - one of the few that was not a single. It's a perfect amalgam of pop and rock and I was glad when it was resurrected for the Tina Turner biopic What's Love Got To Do With It.

Like Stevie Nicks' "Stand Back" it has this energy that comes out of nowhere and just propels the song forward.

The last Tina Turner album I bought was the soundtrack to the previously mentioned What's Love Got To Do With It which featured re-recordings of the old Ike & Tina hits as well as a few new songs. After that, I really kind of tuned out. Even her attempt to Believe herself a la Cher really didn't interest me all that much, although I liked the single "When The Heartache Is Over." I admire the fact that Tina is still out there performing, even though she likely doesn't have to. But for me, I'm happy to remember Tina from the 10 year period in which I really enjoyed her music.

The mention of MAD Magazine made me think of this Tina related item from MAD. I believe the title of the article was "Badly Needed Warning Labels For Rock Albums."

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Butts, farts and bad days: a report from the front lines of parenting

I've had some interesting discussions with my daughter over the last few days. Well, discussions might be the wrong word. Judge for yourself.

1) I have recently taught Anna about the hilarity that ensues by replacing the last word of any song title with the word "ass." (except in her case, I chose the more kid-friendly "butt") She, of course, finds it boundlessly funny. One of her favorites is a song from Kate Bush's Aerial album "The Architect's Dream" which becomes, naturally, "The Architect's Butt." She's probably the only 9 year-old that knows ANY Kate Bush song. Anyway, on the way to her piano lesson the other night, she was applying 9 year-old logic to the game - that is, changing the last word of EVERY song to "butt" whether it made sense or not. I was about to bring this up when she said to me "Dad, everything is just a little bit funnier when you add the word 'butt.' It doesn't even have to make sense!" Now, who am I to argue with that?

2) On that same trip to her piano lesson, we carried on a long Cullinan tradition of changing the words of songs and making them about something gross, funny or both. Our victim this time was Madonna's "Sorry" from Confessions on a Dance Floor. The chorus of the song went from "I don't wanna hear/I don't wanna know/Please don't say you're sorry." to "I don't wanna smell/Your stinky farts/You'd better say you're sorry." It's not Shakespeare, but we sure laughed our asses butts off.

3) On a more serious note, Anna and I have a saying between the two of us that goes something like "don't let one bad thing ruin your whole day." We certainly didn't come up with it, but since we both deal with varying degrees of anxiety, it's a helpful thing to remember when the turkeys try to get you down. On the way to school this morning, she said "Dad, remember that 'don't let one bad thing ruin your whole day' thing we say? Well, I think I figured out what it means. It means that there's going to be bad things every day and you shouldn't let them ruin your life." Indeed. Sometimes you're the windshield, sometimes you're the bug.

I swear I won the kid lottery.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Glasses or bust

Yesterday started out on rather a bad note. I picked up my glasses from my bedside table and the left temple completely and utterly fell off. You would have thought that I had thrown them across the room - honestly, all I did was pick them up! I am notoriously hell on glasses, and these frames, having been a little more of the wiry type than I had been accustomed to had suffered unduly. As I held the broken glasses in my hands, trying to put them back together again which is no small feat when you can't see, Heidi woke up and wondered what I was cussing at. "My glasses just broke!" I said. Ever the resourceful one, she pulled out the iPad and looked up Lenscrafters and saw they had 50% off lenses. Plus we had our AAA discount which would buy us 30% off - whichever was the better deal. We had already been planning on heading down to Ankeny to go eat at IHOP just for the fun of it, so we decided to head down to Des Moines as well. So I found my old glasses from 2 years ago and off we went. It was around 9AM.

After getting sufficiently full on pancakes we set out for Merle Hay Mall. Merle Hay Mall was the site of many after-Christmas mall trips for my family when I was in college so we could spend our Christmas cash. It is, like many malls, a shadow of its former self, but it's trying hard in the changing economy. We arrived at Lenscrafters and it didn't take me long to pick out a frame that I really liked. I had always been partial to my Dr. Who glasses that I wore from 2006-2009 and the only reason I gave them up is because they were so broken that I couldn't repair them anymore. Not surprisingly, I picked out a frame that looked a lot like them but was yet new and exciting at the same time. They were Ray Ban 5169 2383 frames, black plastic frames with a hint of green as well. All I had to do was have them get my prescription from Pearle in Ames and we'd be set to go.

Only Pearle couldn't find my prescription. And when they did, it was expired. At first, I thought, well, why can't they just use it anyway? And then I thought about it in terms of a prescription I might get in my work. There's no way on God's green Earth I would take a 2 year old prescription. Not only is it not in the best interest of the patient as people's health can and does change over the course of 2 years, it's also illegal. So I set about trying to figure out how to remedy this. The easiest option would be to just get an eye exam right there. The only trouble was, they were double booked. So was the Valley West Mall location and the Jordan Creek location. Heidi pulled up "Des Moines optometrists" on her Palm Pre and started calling around while I headed down to the Merle Hay Mall Pearle Vision. They had no one on site that day AND it just so happened that the Iowa Optometric Association was holding their spring meeting that day, so not many doctors would be around. Just my luck. I need an eye doctor and they're all at a meeting! They did, however, call out to the Pearle Vision Express at Southridge Mall and they did have an opening. So we piled in the car again and headed across town to the south side of Des Moines. By now, it was about 1PM, and my appointment was for 2:15PM.

The exam was uneventful and pretty much like every other eye exam I've had in the past. When I got there, I was immediately taken aback by all the Christian imagery - they had the Ten Commandments posted at the reception desk. I wondered if I qualified to be seen since I'm a heathen, gay-people loving, barely-church-going kind of guy, but I must have looked the part. The office staff was very nice and the doctor pleasant and competent. They even took my insurance which was nice. A $25 copay and an hour later, we were out the door and headed back to Merle Hay Mall so they could get started on my glasses. Heidi was going to wait for me in the car but came in because Anna was getting crabby and complaining about the lack of internet in the parking lot. Privileged child. Time at the tone: around 4:30PM.

We went to supper at Applebee's and had supper. After supper, I go back to Lenscrafters. It's now 5:45 PM and I'm told that one of the lenses was made wrong, so they had to redo it, which added another 30 minutes to our wait. At this point, everyone's edges were fraying so we just sat at the play lot while Anna, the tallest kid there, tore around and burned off all the energy that Heidi and I both seemed to be lacking. At 6:30, I headed back in and, at long last, my new glasses were on my face.

We stopped in Ankeny on the way home at a park (we had promised to take Anna to a park in Des Moines but it just never worked out.) While we were there, Heidi snapped this picture of me with my phone.

So I'm back to looking like a NASA scientist in the 60s, but hey, I really like it. And again, there's something Whovian about them.

Lenscrafters. Glasses in about an hour. Or eight.

Postscript: Even though we blew the whole day getting me glasses, my only regret of the day is patronizing an establishment that felt the need to shove its Christianity down my throat. For all the screaming of the right wing and how the "liberal agenda" is being forced on them (especially the nefarious "gay agenda"), I really felt like this was as bad as what they complain about. No, they never mentioned God once, but for all the Christian imagery and literature in the office, they might as well have. The doctor did ask me if I listened to Jan Mickelson in the morning. Mickelson, for those that don't know, is our own sort of homegrown Rush Limbaugh and is virulently homophobic. Also, checking out the office's web site, I noticed that they link to Exodus International, the famous "pray the gay away" group. In the light of day today, I find myself thinking, what if I had been a gay man, there with my partner and this had been my only avenue in a day long effort to be able to see? I find it unlikely that the office would have refused to see me, but would I have been able to swallow it and be seen - which I did yesterday and only to be left with a bitter aftertaste. The fact that my money might be going to further this kind of homophobic bullshit sickens me, but I'm going to count this as balancing out his karma and to never forget that this stuff is out there. It doesn't affect me directly, but man, there are so many people I know and love that it does affect. So to them, I am sorry. But I really really needed to see.

Friday, April 01, 2011

His and hers blogging?

When I was doing NaBloPoMo back in November, I added a column to Tweetdeck that searched for the hashtag #NaBloPoMo. I did this because I wondered how many other people out there were participating in some semi-official capacity. I figured, if nothing else, it would be kind of fun to see the other types of blogs out there as finding quality blogs seems to be getting harder and harder these days. But what has really stood out like a sore thumb to me is how nearly all of the blogs that I found in that search were written by women. This led me to ponder - are women more likely to blog than men?

I'm sure this is something that doesn't have an easy answer. I was recently told that blogging is "ancient history" and I'm sure, for most of the upcoming generation, it really is. Why write something with paragraphs when you can abuse the English language in a tweet or post a TMI Facebook status update? I have my own personal reasons for soldiering on, as I'm sure many people that still blog do. As I've said before, as much as I enjoy Twitter and its immediate nature, 140 characters is just not enough for me. But is there something inherent in blogging that would make it more attractive to women than to men? I really don't know.

I would be interested in knowing what the gender distribution amongst active blogs out there is right now. Perhaps the gender disparity isn't as predominant as I'm suspecting it is. Take my blogroll, for instance. I link to 17 different blogs and of those, only 4 of them are written by women. All of these women are women with whom I am acquainted in the so-called "real world" - one of them is my spouse. All of these women write personal blogs with a variety of posts as opposed to being focused on a single topic (politics, music, books, whatever.) The remaining 13 are all written by men, a large number of which are "subject" blogs (mostly music blogs) which are updated rather frequently. The more personal blogs seem to not be updated as often.

With 13 blogs by men and only four by women in my blogroll, my assertion that blogging feels like a more female-oriented activity seems to not hold much water. But when I was following the NaBloPoMo hashtag, it was overwhelming female. And then, just this last week, I got a spam e-mail from the NaBloPoMo web site saying that it will be "slowly merged" with the BlogHer site. BlogHer is what the name implies - a blogging site for women. It just solidifies in my brain that women are more likely to take blogging seriously, although there are certainly exceptions to that rule. For certain, there is no equivalent site for male bloggers.

Perhaps what I'm actually observing is the idea that women are more likely to keep a blog that is a "personal journal" of sorts, whereas men are less inclined to do so. While one of my rules of blogging is "Blogging is blogging and journaling is journaling -- know the difference" I will admit that I probably delve more into personal topics than a lot of other guys that keep blogs out there. Again, there are some notable exceptions to the rule and honestly, those are some of my favorite blogs. I always admire men that aren't afraid to tell stories from their lives - even and especially the ones that might make them mildly vulnerable. I also really enjoy getting to know a person a little bit through their blog. It's as if you're being given little pieces slowly over time vs. being able to go look at all their pictures on a Facebook page. I sometimes feel strange when I refer to someone I know via blogging as a friend beings I chances are good that I haven't met them, but the world is what it is and yeah, I will say that I've made some pretty good friends through blogging, even though I have not actually met upwards of 90% of them.

In the end, it's more idle curiosity that got me to wondering about the gender spread in blogging. I have massive amounts of respect for anyone - male or female - that can write in such a way that keeps me coming back day after day, regardless of how frequently the content is actually updated. The blogosphere is littered with blogs that have been abandoned and that's ok - it's certainly not for everyone. It takes a certain dedication that many people just simply don't have time for. But those that continue to do it, even in the face of decreasing relevance, have my admiration.

The poster below kind of sums up my feelings on blogging - even my own blog.

But that certainly doesn't mean I'll stop. Nor should anyone else if they're enjoying it. Perhaps I need to think about it less and just sit back and enjoy the ride - words that could apply to many many situations.