Oscars!

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I unabashedly love the Academy Awards. Yes, I know they are full of shit and bad movies get recognized and good movies go unnoticed and it's all about who you know and what studio makes your film and all that. Don't care. Love them anyway. With the heat of 1,000 suns. So, of course, I'm stoked about the nominees coming out. And I'm going to tell you, lucky readers, all about it.

These are the nominees in the categories that I know anything about, as well as my (brilliant and insightful, I'm sure) commentary.

Performance by an actor in a leading role

  • Philip Seymour Hoffman in Capote (UA/Sony Pictures Classics)
  • Terrence Howard in Hustle & Flow (Paramount Classics, MTV Films and New Deal Entertainment)
  • Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain (Focus Features)
  • Joaquin Phoenix in Walk the Line (20th Century Fox)
  • David Strathairn in Good Night, and Good Luck. (Warner Independent Pictures)
This is a tough one. I've seen all of the performances except for Terrence Howards, and they are all top-notch. Straithairn, Phoenix, and especially Phillip Seymour Hoffman all deserve amazing props for having played people who could have been caricatures as if they were real people, with the respect they deserved (or, in Capote's case, didn't particularly deserve). However, I'd have to give this to Heath Ledger. What he did in Brokeback Mountain blew my mind. I went in with all the skepticism in the world and I could not have been more surprised. He turned a beautiful, understated performance the likes of which I haven't seen since...I don't even know when.

Performance by an actor in a supporting role

  • George Clooney in Syriana (Warner Bros.)
  • Matt Dillon in Crash (Lions Gate)
  • Paul Giamatti in Cinderella Man (Universal and Miramax)
  • Jake Gyllenhaal in Brokeback Mountain (Focus Features)
  • William Hurt in A History of Violence (New Line)
My judgement in this category is a bit shakier, since I haven't seen Crash or Cinderella Man. However, based on the three films I have seen, there's no real contest--Jake Gyllenhaal is leagues ahead of George Clooney (who I really like) and William Hurt (who I mostly don't, and I thought A History of Violence was just a bad movie all around). I can't really imagine Paul Giamatti being all that impressive in Cinderella Man, but you never know (after all, Heath Ledger--who'd have thunk it?). Matt Dillon is probably quite good in Crash. I need to see both of those.

Performance by an actress in a leading role

  • Judi Dench in Mrs. Henderson Presents (The Weinstein Company)
  • Felicity Huffman in Transamerica (The Weinstein Company and IFC Films)
  • Keira Knightley in Pride & Prejudice (Focus Features)
  • Charlize Theron in North Country (Warner Bros.)
  • Reese Witherspoon in Walk the Line (20th Century Fox)
This is another one where I'm really not well-versed enough to make a good choice. I really, really need to see Transamerica, and hope to very soon. I'm also excited about Mrs. Henderson Presents. North Country doesn't much excite me--I plan to see it on DVD--but since Charlize got an Oscar I didn't think she deserved last year, hopefully she'll be out of the running this year. I thought Keira Knightley was good in Pride & Prejudice, but not Oscar worthy. Witherspoon is my best bet for this category, but not because she turned in a better performance than Joaquin Phoenix (far from it)--he just has stiffer competition this year.

Performance by an actress in a supporting role

  • Amy Adams in Junebug (Sony Pictures Classics)
  • Catherine Keener in Capote (UA/Sony Pictures Classics)
  • Frances McDormand in North Country (Warner Bros.)
  • Rachel Weisz in The Constant Gardener (Focus Features)
  • Michelle Williams in Brokeback Mountain (Focus Features
I am SO happy to see Amy Adams get recongized for June Bug. She was fantastic and I hope she wins. Don't think she will, but it would be nice. Again, I haven't seen North Country or The Constant Gardener, so I can't be sure who is best here, but between Adams and Caroline Keener (nothing special in Capote, I didn't think) and Michelle Williams (good, but not great in Brokeback Mountain), Adams definitely gets my vote.

Achievement in art direction

  • Good Night, and Good Luck. (Warner Independent Pictures) Art Direction: Jim Bissell Set Decoration: Jan Pascale
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Warner Bros.) Art Direction: Stuart Craig Set Decoration: Stephenie McMillan
  • King Kong (Universal) Art Direction: Grant Major Set Decoration: Dan Hennah and Simon Bright
  • Memoirs of a Geisha (Sony Pictures Releasing) Art Direction: John Myhre Set Decoration: Gretchen Rau
  • Pride & Prejudice (Focus Features) Art Direction: Sarah Greenwood Set Decoration: Katie Spencer
I haven't seen King Kong or Memoirs, so this is probably not a good category for me to weigh in on. However, Good Night, and Good Luck. was an fantastically shot movie, with no dependance on frills or scenery, and I have to admire that.

Achievement in cinematography

  • Batman Begins (Warner Bros.) Wally Pfister
  • Brokeback Mountain (Focus Features) Rodrigo Prieto
  • Good Night, and Good Luck. (Warner Independent Pictures) Robert Elswit
  • Memoirs of a Geisha (Sony Pictures Releasing) Dion Beebe
  • The New World (New Line) Emmanuel Lubezki
From the films I've seen (saw Batman, didn't see The New World), this is really between Good Night, and Good Luck. and Brokeback Mountain. Slightly begrudingly, I'd give it to Good Night, and Good Luck., again because their task was harder, not having any mountain ranges to depend on.

Achievement in costume design

  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Warner Bros.) Gabriella Pescucci
  • Memoirs of a Geisha (Sony Pictures Releasing) Colleen Atwood
  • Mrs. Henderson Presents (The Weinstein Company) Sandy Powell
  • Pride & Prejudice (Focus Features) Jacqueline Durran
  • Walk the Line (20th Century Fox) Arianne Phillips
Walk the Line had great costumes, but I can't see this going to anything that...normal and recent. Pride & Prejudice's costumes were good as well, but that's been done over and over again in my book. I though the costumes in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory were just ridiculous and over the top, so I hope it isn't rewarded. I haven't seen in yet, but Mrs. Henderson Presents looks to be interesting in the costume department...so I dunno.

Achievement in directing

  • Brokeback Mountain (Focus Features) Ang Lee
  • Capote (UA/Sony Pictures Classics) Bennett Miller
  • Crash (Lions Gate) Paul Haggis
  • Good Night, and Good Luck. (Warner Independent Pictures) George Clooney
  • Munich (Universal and DreamWorks) Steven Spielberg
I don't see how this can not go to Ang Lee. Brokeback Mountain was just that good. However, I think George Clooney did an amazing job with not overdoing Good Night, and Good Luck., so it would be OK with me to see that honored. Anybody but Spielberg, really.

Best documentary feature

  • Darwins Nightmare (International Film Circuit) A Mille et Une Production Hubert Sauper
  • Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (Magnolia Pictures) An HDNet Films Production Alex Gibney and Jason Kliot
  • March of the Penguins (Warner Independent Pictures) A Bonne Pioche Production Luc Jacquet and Yves Darondeau
  • Murderball (THINKFilm) An Eat Films Production Henry-Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro
  • Street Fight A Marshall Curry Production Marshall Curry
The only one of these I've seen so far is the Enron one, and it was OK, but not great. I at least want to see Murderball soon. If I can avoid that penguin movie forever, that will be fine with me. It will probably win, though.

Achievement in makeup

  • The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Buena Vista) Howard Berger and Tami Lane
  • Cinderella Man (Universal and Miramax) David Leroy Anderson and Lance Anderson
  • Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith (20th Century Fox) Dave Elsey and Nikki Gooley
The only one of these I've seen is Narnia, and it had some pretty amazing makeup. Tilda Swinton's makeup alone is worth an Oscar.

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original score)

  • Brokeback Mountain (Focus Features) Gustavo Santaolalla
  • The Constant Gardener (Focus Features) Alberto Iglesias
  • Memoirs of a Geisha (Sony Pictures Releasing) John Williams
  • Munich (Universal and DreamWorks) John Williams
  • Pride & Prejudice (Focus Features) Dario Marianelli
Again, I have to go with Brokeback Mountain. Great music.

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original song)

  • "In the Deep" from Crash (Lions Gate) Music by Kathleen Bird York and Michael Becker Lyric by Kathleen Bird York
  • "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" from Hustle & Flow (Paramount Classics, MTV Films and New Deal Entertainment) Music and Lyric by Jordan Houston, Cedric Coleman and Paul Beauregard
  • "Travelin' Thru" from Transamerica (The Weinstein Company and IFC Films) Music and Lyric by Dolly Parton
Haven't heard any of these, to my knowledge, but since Dolly Parton does no wrong...

Best motion picture of the year

  • Brokeback Mountain (Focus Features) A River Road Entertainment Production Diana Ossana and James Schamus, Producers
  • Capote (UA/Sony Pictures Classics) An A-Line Pictures/Cooper's Town/ Infinity Media Production Caroline Baron, William Vince and Michael Ohoven, Producers
  • Crash (Lions Gate) A Bob Yari/DEJ/Blackfriar's Bridge/ Harris Company/ApolloProscreen GmbH & Co./Bull's Eye Entertainment Production Paul Haggis and Cathy Schulman, Producers
  • Good Night, and Good Luck. (Warner Independent Pictures) A Good Night Good Luck LLC Production Grant Heslov, Producer
  • Munich (Universal and DreamWorks) A Universal Pictures/DreamWorks Pictures Production Kathleen Kennedy, Steven Spielberg and Barry Mendel, Producers
I'd be OK with Capote orGood Night as well, as they're both wonderful films, but Brokeback Mountain blew me the fuck away.

Adapted Screenplay

  • Brokeback Mountain (Focus Features) Screenplay by Larry McMurtry & Diana Ossana
  • Capote (UA/Sony Pictures Classics) Screenplay by Dan Futterman
  • The Constant Gardener (Focus Features) Screenplay by Jeffrey Caine
  • A History of Violence (New Line) Screenplay by Josh Olson
  • Munich (Universal and DreamWorks) Screenplay by Tony Kushner and Eric Roth
Gee, guess what I'm gonna say here? Yep.

Original screenplay

  • Crash (Lions Gate) Screenplay by Paul Haggis & Bobby Moresco Story by Paul Haggis
  • Good Night, and Good Luck. (Warner Independent Pictures) Screenplay by George Clooney & Grant Heslov
  • Match Point (DreamWorks) Written by Woody Allen
  • The Squid and the Whale (Samuel Goldwyn Films and Sony Pictures Releasing) Written by Noah Baumbach
  • Syriana (Warner Bros.) Written by Stephen Gaghan
I'm not totally sure about this one, but I'd be happy to see Syriana or Good Night, and Good Luck. get it.

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Upwardly mobile

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A long time ago, when I first started listening to the indie-folk-womyn's music I love so much, I listened to one particular album until I about wore it out. The album was Eugene band Babes with Axes' W.O.W. Live Babes. I highly recommend it to interested parties, it's a great CD. One of my favorite songs on it was one by T.R. Kelley called "Downwardly Mobile (aka Government Cheese)". In the song, Kelley warns of the lures of a materially-based life and preaches the value of a life based on doing what you love, rather than on money. At 16, I listened to this song and thought that there had to be another way, a way where you didn't have to choose between doing something you loved and having enough money. I grew up poor enough to think her romanticization of "living in a shack with a bike out back/eating Top Ramen and goverment cheese" was a bit ridiculous, but I also understood the appeal of dropping out of material society and making your own way.

What I didn't get a 16, though; what I didn't get until just recently, was the warning about getting trapped up in your money-driven life. There is one refrain that repeats "you gotta pay somebody money to do things you ain't got time to do because you are too busy earning money" over and over again. The point she was making, I now realize, is not that people miss out on making all their food from scratch when they're too busy earning money, but that earning money traps you in a cycle where you pay for things you didn't used to pay for, and then you can't stop earning money, because you can't stop paying for those things. Once you're caught up like that, dependent on all of the things your money can buy, you lose the option of dropping out, or quitting your job, or even of staying employed, but taking something with a lower pay rate and a higher satisfaction quotient.

And, sadly, that's where I seem to be. Over the course of the last year, I have managed to trap myself in a lifestyle that's expensive enough that quitting my current mindnumbing in job in favor of taking something with more intellectual vigor and more possibility, but smaller paychecks, doesn't seem like an option.

And it's not a situation where I can just stop drinking lattes and getting my hair cut at Aveda and then have enough extra to take a lower paying job. That would all help, of course, but the constraints aren't all that elastic. I have a mortgage now. I will soon have a car payment. I have significant medical expenses, both for myself and for my dog. I have finances that are inextricably linked to those of someone else, and I can't just not do my share because I don't feel like working here anymore.

I still, deep down, believe T.R. Kelley is wrong and there is a way to do both, to make enough money to meet the obligations you set for yourself and still do something that you find fufilling. I'm not talking about having a job that is your passion--like many people my age, I'm more and more convinced that jobs and passions come seperately more often than they come together. What I'm talking about is something that doesn't feel like it's making you dumber every day. Something with some room to grow and move. Something that doesn't build walls so close around you that you can't breathe. There has to be a way to find a job like that and still keep your house and keep yourself and your dog healthy. I'm ready to give up the lattes and expensive haircuts. They aren't worth the price I'm paying. But where's the middle ground?

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In which my love of roller derby is cemented

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I previously mentioned that I've been watching Rollergirls on TV and was interested in seeing it for myself, since the league that they made the show about is local. Last night, Mark and I, along with The Princess and C-Man, went to check out the Texas Roller Derby Lonestar Rollergirls. (The name, I have learned, is important, because the TXRD Lonestar Rollergirls are not the only roller derby game in town--there is another league, with a disconcerningly similar name, the Texas Rollergirls Rock N' Roller Derby. Why there are two leagues instead of one bigger league is a mystery I have yet to unravel.)

It was so. fucking. cool.

The bout was between the Holy Rollers and the Putas del Fuego. As anyone who has been watching the show knows, the bout between these two teams last year was a nailbiter, coming down to a one-point Holy Roller victory in the last seconds. So this was a bit of a grudge match, I guess. Between that and the publicity generated by the show, the place was packed packed packed. We got there about 20 minutes before the doors opened and the line was around the building. We ended up getting in by virtue of having pre-purchased tickets online, but the venue sold out and I'd guess there were 500-1000 people there. It was crowded enough that we couldn't get sufficient seats on the bleachers and I had to stand most of the evening. In two-hour hold cowboy boots. But it ruled so much that I don't care how badly my feet hurt today.

It took quite a long time for things to get started, so I had a while to scope out the crowd. It's a really interesting mix. There are the requisite young Lonestar-drinking hipsters, as would be expected, but also enough middle-aged people that they can't all be participants' parents, and a fair number of average looking folks, people with kids, etc. I'd been kind of worried that the vibe could be either hipsterer-than-thou or intimidating-drunk-WWF, or, worse, a strip club kind of thing, but none of these worries proved true. In general, the crowd seemed very respectful (though less so as the night wore on and people got drunker), excited, and in to having a good time. People had obvious awe for the women skating, and not in an exploitative way.

When things finally did get started, it became clear that TXRD has found the perfect balance between a really fun good time and serious competition. These girls are not fucking around; this isn't Jello wrestling. They are impressive on their skates, and they would be no matter how they dressed. While part of it is definitely about theater and spectacle, there's also an honest athleticism that I really wasn't expecting. Puta Chingona didn't just trash talk the crowd and wear a backless shirt, she also skated circles around her opponents and scored probably 30 points by herself. It was nothing but amazing to see this super-thin, very pretty, quite young woman kicking ass and taking names like that. Puta captain Chola is a similar case. She's hot. Hot hot hot. Looks like Salma Hayek hot. She wears pleather pants with her name embroidered on the ass. She also fucking rocks the rink, and is obviously way more concerned about how her team is doing than she is about how many fans are drooling over her. That's what I mean. On the surface, it all looks very sex-positive and post-feminist, but in truth, TXRD was one of the most feminist things I've seen in a long while. Women run the show, and they are obviously doing it not for the sake of being on display, but for the love of doing it. And it's not just the skaters in the rink, either--the whole thing seems to be run by the players. They're taking tickets, they're selling t-shirts, they're running around keeping things organized. They're making the rules and I hope they're making a profit (given the crowd, they have to be). It's fantastic.

But back to the bout. It was very much not a repeat of last year's close battle. This year, the Putas outclass the Holy Rollers by quite a lot. Part of this must be due to injury. Holy Roller star Miss Conduct (left--and she seriously is a star; people were having their picture taken with her all over the place) is out with an injury, as is co-captain Punky Bruiser. The Holy Rollers were very dependant on their amazing captain, Smarty Pants and what seemed to be a bunch of newbies. And it showed. As bad-ass a skater as Smarty Pants is, the Holy Rollers still lost by like 30+ points.

So let's talk about how they dress. Yep, they are sexified. The Holy Rollers schtick is that they are Catholic school girls, and they all wear tiny plaid skirts and white shirts, modified as the players see fit with garters, fishnets, visable bras, whatever. The Putas tend towards black and flame logos, but they're similarly tarted up. They show their briefs often, and tend to have things written on them. And, given the propensity in this group for piercings and tattoos, yeah, they look a little bit like the Suicide Girls. But they're not. For one thing, this is sport, not porn, and it's clear when you watch it that the sport comes before the tarting. Secondly, the tarting isn't mandatory. The Putas have a new team member, Bones, who chooses not to play the tart game and skates in pants and a tank top, and nobody stopped cheering because they couldn't see her ass. I also have to love that all bodies really do seem to be accepted here. There's a wide variance, from very small girls to girls by size and above, and nobody, teams or crowd, seems to differentiate between the two. It's not hard for me to see that as empowering.

What I saw last night wasn't alterna-girls parading in front of a male crowd for shallow accolades, dressed in uncomfortable clothing they didn't choose and trying to fit someone else's standard of beauty. What I saw were women who have created and are keeping control of their own thing, dressing in a way that amuses them and makes them feel attractive, and focusing more than anything on their sport and on their support of each other. And I feel damn good about that.

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Rant: International adoption

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It has become acceptable recently, from what I'm reading, to accuse Angelina Jolie of adopting her two kids, Maddox and Zahara, as "accessories." As if becoming the mother of these two kids was a stunt to make her cooler and more multicultural. In the same vein, there are the claims that these children are commodities that she "bought," that maybe they are not orphans but were kidnapped, etc. These claims aren't just leveled at Jolie, of course, but at adoptive parents of international kids all over the U.S.

And it pisses me right off.

I obviously don't know Angelina Jolie personally. However, from what I've seen of the role she has played as a Goodwill Ambassador, and how much of her time and money she has dedicated to international poverty alleviation and healthcare issues, especially those pertaining to children, it seems ridiculous to me to think the worst possible thing about her adoptions without knowing any facts. Why in the world would we choose to assume she adopted these kids for the kids of base and selfish reasons that are being ascribed to her? What evidence is there for that? As far as I can see, the only evidence is that the kids have a different skin color than she does. And that, y'all, is racism.

Though I know Angelina only in my dreams (heh), I do have the great fortune of knowing some other international adoptive families personally (both IRL and online), and knowing them only strengthens my sense of there being a whole host of right reasons to do this, and that those right reasons are probably a whole lot more common than the wrong ones, are attributed to my girl Angie. It's not about accesssorizing, or about being PC, or about buying babies. It's also not about rescuing, or fetishizing, or being taking babies from their native cultures and Americanizing them. It's about creating a family. It's about finding a match between people who want to be parents and a child who needs parents. It's about negotiating the delicate balance between preserving the birth culture of your child and making sure she doesn't feel objectified or out of place in the culture in which she'll be raised. It's about staying up at night worrying about how you will explain to your little girl that even though her birth mother left her, that doesn't mean she wasn't wanted--it just means her birth mother was a woman in a misogynist society who didn't have all of the options she should have. It's about love. The people I know are parents, and their little girl is their child, and calling that something like "fetishizing" or "baby buying" or "commodifying" does a great disservice to their family, especially by those people who think they have open minds about what constitutes a family. So they should shut the fuck up.

That is all.

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Reading Oprah book coverby Cecilia Konchar Farr
State University of New York Press, November 4, 2004

This is an interesting little book. Even though it's written by a full professor (at St. Catherine's College in St. Paul, Minnesota), it seems almost like a dissertation. A really good dissertation, but a dissertation. I think the short length is part of the reason, but part of it is also Farr's willingness to take up a topic that, as she admits, more "serious" scholars have avoided.

And, she thinks (and so do I), avoided to their detriment. Oprah's Book Club has been an amazing force, and one worth studying. Farr does a great job of it, too, associating the Book Club not only within contemporary American consumer and talk show culture, but within the history of the novel and the book group as well. She's obviously done her homework, making insightful comments both on the books that have been chosen and on the shows that were dedicated to them, and I agree with 99% of the insights she provides.

She also provides, as an appendix, a complete list of the books Oprah took on in the first six years (her "regular" book club, before she started with the classic stuff she's doing now). She analyzes the choices and argues that many of them are good books, no matter what any book club critic says. She goes into the Jonathan Franzen incident as well, and unsurprisingly comes out on Oprah's side.

One criticism I do have is that Farr didn't spend as much time as I'd have liked answering the book club's critics. When she did, she rightly pointed out the classism in their criticism, and touched on the racism, but shyed away from the gendered element, at least more than I thought she should have. She does point out how many of the books Oprah chose are from female authors, previously unknown authors, and minority authors, though, which is good.

For anyone who is interested in Oprah's Book Club, the history of the novel, or just reading a short, well-done cultural study, I'd recommend this one.

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Grace's feminist canon

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My friend T. recently asked me for a list of my favorite feminist books, to use for a book review website project he's putting together. Unable to contain myself with the joy of this task, I put together a fairly comprehensive list (though I edited it down quite a bit). It was so much fun, I thought I'd share it here. Disagree with my picks? Think I left something essential out? Comment--I'd love to hear what you think!

Foundations

vindication of the rights of women1. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft (W.W. Norton and Company, 1987)
2. The Second Sex by Simone DeBeauvoir (Everyman's Library, 1993)
3. The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan (W.W. Norton and Company, 1963)

It's tempting to me to skip these books altogether, because I don't like any of them, but I think they are necessary as foundation if you really want to get into this stuff.

Histories

the world split open4. The World Split Open: How the Modern Women's Movement Changed America by Ruth Rosen (Penguin, 2001)
5. Personal Politics: The Roots of Women's Liberation in the Civil Rights Movement & the New Left by Sara Evans (Vintage, 1980)
6. Tidal Wave: How Women Changed at Century's End by Sara Evans (Free Press, 2003)
7. No Turning Back: The History of Feminism and the Future of Women by Estelle Freidman (Ballantine Books, 2003).

If you only read one book about feminism, the Ruth Rosen book gets my vote. It's very comprehensive, yet easy to read, and it has an amazing bibliography, sorted by subject. It's a great place to start. Personal Politics is also important, as it situates 2nd wave feminism in the other social movements of the time, which is something people are likely to miss. I haven't read Tidal Wave, but given what a good historian Sara Evans is, I can't imagine it's anything but good. Freedman is also a top-notch historian, and her book is excellent. It does a better job than the others with feminism before the 1960s.

2nd Wave
Dear Sisters8. Sisterhood is Powerful: An Anthology of Writings from the Women's Liberation Movement edited by Robin Morgan (Random House, 1970)
9. Dear Sisters: Dispatches from the Women's Liberation Movement edited by Rosalyn Baxandall and Linda Gordon (Basic Books, 2001)
10. Sexual Politics by Kate Millett (Doubleday, 1970)
11. The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution by Shulamith Firestone (Vintage, 1971)
12. The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer (McGraw Hill, 1971).

Of the first two, which are both document/essay collections, I'd say Sisterhood is Powerful is probably the better book, but Dear Sisters is a lot easier on the eyes and more reader-friendly. Both are definitely worth reading. The other three are all books written by activist women during the late 60s and early 70s. Kate Millett's has to do with sexism in literature, while Greer's and Firestone's are more broad-reaching.

3rd Wave

manifesta13. To Be Real: Telling the Truth and Changing the Face of Feminism by Rebecca Edby Walker (Anchor, 1995)
14. Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future by Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000)
15. Listen Up! Voices from the Next Feminist Generation edited by Barbara Findlen (Seal Press, 1995)
16. Cunt: A Declaration of Independence by Inga Muscio (Seal Press, 2002)

I'm not a huge fan of most of the 3rd wave writing, but I think Manifesta gives a nice overview, and I am a big fan of nearly everything Rebecca Walker has written. Listen Up! is also a primer of sorts--short, easy-read essays. There is actually a newer version of it as well, Listen Up 2 Edition, which was published in 2001, but I haven't read it. Cunt is a must-read.

Radical Feminism

gynecology17. Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism by Mary Daly (Beacon Press, 1990)
18. Pornography: Men Possessing Women by Andrea Dworkin (E.P. Dutton, 1989)
19. Feminism Unmodified: Discourses on Life and Law by Catharine A. MacKinnon (Harvard University Press, 1988)

This is a category I am not all that well-versed in, but I've read Pornography, and got quite a lot out of it, and the other two books seem to be standards.

Women of Color

feminism is for everybody20. Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics by bell hooks (South End Press, 2000)
21. Ain't I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism by bell hooks (South End Press, 1981)
22. Women, Race, and Class by Angela Y. Davis (Vintage, 1983)
23. Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lord (Crossing Press, 1984)
24. Colonize This! Young Women of Color on Today's Feminism edited by Daisy Hernandez and Bushra Rehman (Seal Press, 2002)

I am ashamed to say that I don't know nearly as much as I should about this category. However, I can vouch for both the Davis book and Feminism is for Everybody, and I have heard nothing but good things about Ain't I a Woman. Sister Outsider is mostly short stuff, and I have read most of it and loved all I've read. Colonize This! is anther one I haven't read, but since the rest of these are older writings/writings by older women, I think it's good to include a younger perspective as well.

Sexual Minority Feminism

stone butch blues25. Tales of the Lavender Menace: A Memoir of Liberation by Karla Jay (Basic Books, 1999)
26. Stone Butch Blues: A Novel by Leslie Feinberg (Firebrand Books, 1993)
27. Female Masculinity by Judith Halberstam (Duke University Press, 1998)
28. Amazon to Zami: Towards a Global Lesbian Feminism edited by Monika Reinfelder (Continuum International Publishing Group, 1996)

Again I haven't read all of these, but have heard good things about all of them. I can personally vouch for Tales of the Lavender Menace and Stone Butch Blues, and neither should be missed, in my opinion.

Beauty/Body Image

the beauty myth29. The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty are Used Against Women by Naomi Wolf (Anchor, 1992)
30. Body Outlaws: Rewriting the Rules of Beauty and Body Image edited by Ophira Edut (Seal Press, 2003) (Formerly Adios, Barbie! Young Women Write About Body Image and Identity, Seal Press, 1998)
31. Girl Culture by Lauren Greenfield and Joan Jacobs Brumberg (Chronicle Books, 2002)

The Beauty Myth is an all-time favorite of mine, and I think it holds up well over time. Body Outlaws is more fun to read, however, and is also quite good. Girl Culture is a photo essay book, and it's amazing.

Memoirs/Autobiographies

in our time32. In Our Time: Memoir of a Revolution by Susan Brownmiller (Delta, 2000)
33. Heartbreak: The Political Memoir of a Feminist Militant by Andrea Dworkin (Basic Books, 2002)
34. Saturday's Child: A Memoir by Robin Morgan (W.W. Norton and Company, 2000)
35. Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions by Gloria Steinem (New American Library, 1992)

For my money, memoirs are the best way to get into reading feminist writers, especially someone like Andrea Dworkin. The Brownmiller and Morgan memoirs are both excellent, and Steinem's is a bit too wishy-washy for my taste, but you can't argue with her selling power or her staying power.

Misc

backlash36. Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape by Susan Brownmiller (Ballantine Books, 1993)
37. Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women by Susan Faludi (Crown, 1991)
38. Promiscuities: The Secret Struggle for Womanhood by Naomi Wolf (Random House, 1997)
39. Femininity by Susan Brownmiller (Ballantine Books, 1985)

These are about a variety of topics, obviously, but they are books I think are important and beneficial that don't fit in elsewhere.

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Nine Lives

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Nine Lives movie posterRemember how I said I don't much like short stories? Well, I don't generally much like vignette-style films, either. In general, a short piece of a story isn't enough to get me involved in the characters and caring about what happens to them. But this film is the exception that proves the rule.

Written and directed by a man, Rodrigo Garcia (most notable for TV direction and cinematography, including Gia and several episodes of Six Feet Under and Carnivale), Nine Lives is nine short (10-15 minute) films, each done in a continuous shot. Each one centers around some element in the life of one women. There are some intersecting characters between the films, but their intersections are more incidental than important, and each piece stands on its own.

1. The first of the stories is about an inmate, Sandra, played by Elpidia Carrillo (Bread and Roses, Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her). She seems calm and collected until she is unable to talk to her visiting daughter due to a faulty phone; then she loses it. Later, in another vignette, we see her get arrested, but we never know what crime she has committed.

2. The second story is the one that seems to be getting the most press. In it, Robin Wright Penn's (White Oleander, Forrest Gump) Diana runs into an ex-lover, Damian (played by Jason Isaacs , who plays Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter movies but looks very different here), in a supermarket. Both of them are married, Diana is pregnant, and yet the tension between them is palpable and it is easy to see how they could fall back into their old relationship. The scene is incredibly well-played and Wright Penn shows off her acting chops with an understated performance that is hard to watch and easy to identify with.

3. The third tale is the most heart-wrenching. It is a scene between a woman, Holly (brilliantly portrayed by Lisa Gay Hamilton from The Practice) and her sister (a nice supporting turn by the very lovely Sydney Tamiaa Poitier--yep, daughter of that Sydney Poitier). Holly has returned to the house where she grew up, ostensibly to "make amends" with her abusive father, but rather than showing their conversation, the focus is on the discussion between Holly and her sister before her father's arrival. It's sparsely and painfully done, leaving detail to the viewer's imagination, and is carried perfectly by both good dialogue and the strength of Hamilton's acting.

4. The fourth vignette indirectly refers the viewer back to Diana's story, as it co-stars Damian, from the grocery store, and his wife, Lisa, played by Molly Parker (Iron Jawed Angels, Waking the Dead). They are in a new apartment, and are visited by Sonia, played by Holly Hunter (Thirteen, The Incredibles, O Brother Where Art Thou?) and her boyfriend, Martin (Stephen Dillane, seen before in The Hours and The Gathering). The focus of the story is the fucked-up relationship between Sonia and Martin. This was probably the least compelling of the vignettes for me, even though Holly Hunter was as fantastic as always.

5. Next, in the story that was the most moving of the film for me, we meet Samantha, played by Amanda Seyfried (Mean Girls, Veronica Mars). The power of this scene doesn't come from Seyfried, however, but from the brilliant Ian McShane (Deadwood, Sexy Beast), who plays her disabled father. The scene follows Samantha as she is pulled back and forth between her father, with whom she seems to have a good relationship, though he is obviously quite ill with what seems to be a degenerative disease of some sort, and her mother (played by Sissy Spacek), who comes off as cold and tired. We see how dedicated young Samantha is to her father, and how resentful the situation makes her mother, and how terrible the whole situation is. The best part, though, is the dark comedy in the banter between Samantha and her dad, and I attribute that both to good writing and to McShane's immense talent.

6. We next see Lorna, played by Amy Brennemann (Judging Amy, Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her), on her way to a funeral with her parents. As it turns out, the funeral is for the wife of Lorna's ex-husband, Andrew (William Fichtner, best known for his war movies, and recently seen in The Longest Yard). When Lorna and Andrew have sex at the funeral home, during the viewing of the body, it is unclear whether their affair has been ongoing or whether it has been sparked by the events underway, but the viewer is once again asked to think about relationships and whether or not they are ever really over.

7. The seventh vignette takes the viewer back to Samantha's story, but this time it centers around Sissy Spacek's (If These Walls Could Talk, In the Bedroom) character, Samantha's mother, Ruth. The scene takes place in a hotel, where Ruth seems to be about to embark on an affair with her daughter's school counselor, played by the unusually goofy Aidan Quinn (Legends of the Fall, Practical Magic). Though Ruth's behavior in this scene is less traditionally sympathetic than it was in her prior scene, where she was at home taking care of her family, I still felt more towards her character here, where you could see how very tired and starved for fun she is. The scene twists when Ruth witnesses another woman being arrested (Sandra from the first vignette), and it ends with her leaving the hotel without having consummated the affair.

8. The second-to-last scene is also quite moving. It is fairly straightforward, showing a conversation between Camille (played by Kathy Baker from Boston Public) and her husband, Richard (portrayed by a very well-cast Joe Mantegna from Joan of Arcadia). Camille is lying in a hospital bed, waiting to go into a masectomy. Scared, angry, and belligerent, Kathy Baker knocks the role of Camille out of the park, and the story leaves you both hopeful for how things will turn out for Camille and furious at hospital system that is treating her like a piece of meat when she's in this frightening position. Characters from other scenes show up here as well, with Holly as Camille's nurse and Lorna's mother as her anesthesiologist.

9. There has been some criticism of the film's final scene, but it was one of my favorites. It shows a visit to the cemetery by Maggie (the always incredible Glenn Close, whom I most recently enjoyed in last season's The Shield) and her daughter, Maria, played by Dakota Fanning (Man on Fire, War of the Worlds). While you watch the scene, it is unclear who the two are visiting, and the film's surprising final shot shows this vignette, too, to be about a woman-specific type of grief.

Each one of the nine scenes is beautifully shot, nearly perfectly acted, and tightly written and directed. Even the stories I cared less about (specifically Lorna) are extremely well-done, and those I cared more about are heart-wrenchingly beautiful. The actresses are all top tier, and the movie is blessedly free of oversexualization (with the single exception of an obnoxious focus on Amanda Seyfried's breasts in Samantha's story). Instead, it focuses on telling simple stories of women's lives, with humor, sadness, wistfulness, longing, and a subtle intelligence that is very difficult to find in contemporary movies. This is a film I will think about and remember for a long time to come, and I highly recommend it. I will certainly be on the lookout for Garcia's next offering.

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Resolution No. 4

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I am happy to report that one of my New Year's resolutions has already been accomplished, and the year is not yet 1/12 over!

I have a piece in the first edition of Indigo Leaf Magazine. Indigo Leaf is the work of Chookooloonks' Karen, who saw a need for a place for as-yet undiscovered writers and artists to have their work published and did something about it. I can't thank Karen enough for this opportunity, or for introducing me to the other fantastic work in the magazine. She rocks.

To check out my piece, as well as the rest of Indigo Leaf, go here.

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Art may imitate life, but life imitates TV

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(Title courtesy of Ani.)

I just watched the other day's episode of Rollergirls. And suddenly I understand why I feel so terrible.

The espisode centered around Clownsnack. Clownsnack was a founder of the Lonestar Roller Derby, but she quit last season because her mom was sick. This season, she wanted to come back. Rather than welcoming her back, some of the current roller derby members (in positions of power) put her through the audition and hazing process of a new member, then they told her she didn't make a team. Ultimately, some of the TXRD's other members protest about Clownsnack's treatment and she's granted another audition and gets back on to her team.

The reasoning given for not wanting Clownsnack back by the women who are keeping her out varies, but it basically centers around her expecting special treatment because she's been in the league before, her being "flaky" for having quit (even though her reasons for quitting seemed very good to me), and the league being something different now than the it was when she was involved. Basically, they seemed to argue that they'd outgrown her and that they wanted their league to be something different than the one she was familiar with, so she wasn't welcome.

Ding ding ding.

It is incredibly painful to watch something you put your time and heart into be taken away from you, and that's how this had to feel. To have people for whom you have worked and to whom you have given decide they are beyond you, or they want different things than you do, so you should just go away quietly, please. On the show, Clownsnack and her supporters refuse to let her be shut out, and she ends up back on the team, but I can't help but think it must be a pretty hollow victory. After being humiliated and insulted like that, I don't see how she could go back at all. On the other hand, though, why let something she loves be taken from her just because a vocal minority are big assholes?

That is the question.

The bigger question, though, is why is it so impossible for a group of women to get together and do anything without these types of battles? Why does someone always have to be "out" in order for everyone else to feel secure being "in"? And why is the cruelty with which we perpetuate these crimes against each other necessary?

Honestly, it makes me want to give up. It makes me want to give up on the entire idea of a community of women. It makes me want to give up on believing that we deserve better than the treatment we give each other. It makes me want to give up and hide in my house and never try to be a part of anything again.

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Rednecks and Bluenecks: The Politics of Country Music

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Rednecks and Bluenecks cover.jpgby Chris Willman
New Press, November 17, 2005

This book is a fascinating look at the political makeup of the stars and establishment of country music. Working both forward and backward from the Dixie Chicks' scandal, Willman interviews a whole host of musicians, songwriters, and other country music types to get their takes on where the country music establishment falls on the political spectrum.

Unsurprisingly, most everyone agrees that the majority of mainstream country acts are conservative, while the majority of alt-country/Americana acts are liberal. What's interesting, though, are the nuances to these positions that the interviewees themselves articulate, as well as the ways they have found to put their political differences aside and work and play together, as shown in the cover photo of the very liberal Willie Nelson and the conservative (and, IMO, war-mongering and obnoxious) Toby Keith.

Some of the interviews are surprising, some are typical, some are just frightening. Willman's goal is to let the interviewees speak for themselves, with minimal editorializing, and he does that, although it's clear in his choice of who to talk to and what he quotes them as saying where his loyalties lie. Toby Keith is irritating. Uber-Christian Sara Evans both typical and grinding, as is Ricky Scaggs (who proves the exception to the alt-country rule as a bluegrass musician who is also very conservative). Ronnie Dunn is just plain frightening. To my mind, though, Steve Earle, Roseanne Cash, Nanci Griffith, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, and especially Rodney Crowell (i.e. the liberals) come off in a much better light. Of course, that could just be because I agree with them. It isn't coincidental, however, that most of the people making sucky mainstream country are conservatives while the ones making music that is interesting and worth listening to are liberal. As someone (I think Alison Moorer) finally points out, a lot of "star" performers are just plain dumb.

For me, the book's highlight is one of the final chapters, when Willman takes on the political postions of Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard. He points out that everyone from right to left claims both of these men as one of their own, but they aren't so easy to pin down. For a take on Cash's positions, he talks to daughter Roseanne Cash, former son-in-law Rodney Crowell, friends Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson, etc. The picture that comes out is one of a man who considered his individual positions carefully, who never stopped caring about the "common man," and whose Christian faith did temper his politics. Kris Kristofferson related an anecdote of opening for Cash and riling up the conservative audience with a lot of his own liberal banter. When he went to apologize, Cash wouldn't hear it, saying that Kris had every right to his opinions. I admire that.

Being still alive, Haggard mostly spoke for himself, and was one of the more articulate and admirable folks interviewed. He admitted to being mercurial and having positions that changed over time, but basically came off as another man who thinks his positions out for himself and doesn't subscribe to a particular idealogy. As far as his voting record, I laughed outloud when Haggard pointed out that as an ex-con, he couldn't vote, so he never got used to doing it and never has. That puts a bit of a different spin on things, doesn't it?

All in all, this is definitely a book worth reading, particularly for a country music junkie. Having read it, I was forced to order a few new CDs from BMG, and I've been spinning the Dixie Chicks' Home in the car since the first chapter. Though not much in here is revolutionary, it's interesting to see it all pulled together, and Willman (a writer for Entertainment Weekly) does a good job with the material.

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Death with Dignity

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Today, the Supreme Court ruled to uphold the assisted suicide law that has been in place in my home state for the last several years. With a 6-3 ruling, the outcome would have been the same even if Alito were already on the bench. This gives me some small glimmer of hope, though Anthony Kennedy is not the type of justice I want to be reliant on. And the glimmer may be misleading anyway, with the conflation of state jurisdiction issues and the substantive issues of the Death with Dignity amendment itself.

This has made me think about the whole subject of assisted suicide. I remember when this was on the ballot in Oregon, and what a fight it was. It's one of those situations where even though I do have a strong opinion, I can understand where the other side is coming from as well. In fact, this is an issue that I had trouble making up my mind about at one point. While I absolutely believe in a person's right to die with dignity, in the manner than he or she chooses, I also questioned the necessity of a doctor's involvement. Then I read an article by Peter Reagan, an Oregon doctor who also happens to be the father of a doctor I worked with during my stint in medical education. The article, "Helen," appears in the April 1999 issue of Lancet, and was, to my knowledge, the first widely published account of a doctor assisting a patient in ending her life. It's not online, as far as I know, but it's worth looking up if you have access to Lancet. It was and remains one of the most moving articles on any topic I've ever read, and I know I am a more informed person for having read it.

By the time I read the Lancet article, though, my opinions were already starting to form. See, it's not an intellectual issue to me anymore. I have an uncle, my father's youngest brother, who is fighting Parkinson's. He's been fighting it for nearly 10 years, since before his 40th birthday. Having been diagnosed so young, and given the progression of the disease so far, his prognosis is not good. With a disease like Parkinson's, though, as with so many others, death is, after some time, the best thing that happens to you. Death is a blessing. Before you are set free, though, your body and then your mind are stolen from you. If that can be kept from happening, to my uncle or to anyone else, I have to support it.

A lot of people think this is a barbaric topic. They think it's something better left without discussion, for doctors and family members to, at great personal risk, "take care of" themselves, without the law entering into it. That's not fair to anyone, and it's especially not fair to the patients themselves, who may not even have anyone to ask for help. As has long been pointed out, we honor our pets with dignified deaths, legally and humanely and in the quickest and most painless ways we know. It is completely unreasonable to think that our friends and family members do not deserve that same dignity. And as uncomfortable as it is to discuss, discuss it we must in order to make that a reality.

So let's hear it for the Supreme Court for not fucking things up for once. And especially let's hear it for the doctors and family members at home, people like Peter Reagan, who have been keeping this issue alive and doing what is best by their patients for years. God bless them.

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Rollergirls

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I'll admit it, I'm in love.

Let's go back a bit. A few months ago, there was an Austin Real World. It sucked ass. One of the many reasons it sucked so much ass was that the Austin portrayed on it resembled the Austin in which I live in only the most vague terms. Another reason was that everyone on it was lame. Now, there is a new Austin-based reality show, Rollergirls.

And, having watched two episodes so far, I concur that Rollergirls is the bomb.

The show follows the players in Austin's locally grown Lonestar Roller Derby. It touches on their "real" lives (though so far not as much as I'd like), but is mainly focused on their involvement in roller derby and their matches, called "bouts." The show is over-the-top, resembling mockumentary as much as documentary, but it's in good fun and I'm an instant addict. So much so that I've already talked Mark into going to see a real bout in a couple of weeks.

As a feminist, there are lots of criticisms I could make about the show. There is definitely an oversexed element, woman-on-woman violence is par for the course, etc. But I'm not going to make them, because from what I see so far, the good outweighs the bad. The woman involved seem to honestly be having a good time, there is a comraderie in the sport along with the grudges and violence, and the league is player-owned and operated, which rocks. Also, I don't necessarily think women excercising some aggression for once is a bad thing. As for the sexiness part, it doesn't come off as demeaning, at least not to me. In part, this is likely because the women don't fit a narrow beauty stereotype. In part it's because it's not being forced on them from outside, at least not in any way I can see so far. They really honestly do seem to be doing it for themselves. I know that's what they always say, but in this case, I tentatively believe it.

My love for the show may wane as the season progresses--we'll see. For now, though, I am super jazzed about it. And if I could roller skate, I think I'd try out myself.

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Nine Steps to Financial Freedom book coverby Suze Orman
Random House, Inc., December 2000

While I was feeling sick and depressed last week, I decided thinking about finances probably wouldn't make things any worse, so I picked up this book. Suze Orman has been recommended to me before, though I think the book I was actually supposed to read was The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous, and Broke. However, that one was not available at the Goodwill for $1.99, and this one was, so this is the one I picked up.

And, freakish pictures of the author aside, I'm not sorry I picked it up. As far as financial books go, this is about the best one I've read. The first 3/4 of it are basic financial advice: investing, wills and trusts, credit cards, etc. A lot of it was review, some of it was new, and all of it is useful. It gave me a much needed butt kicking as far as putting steps in place to work towards my 2006 financial goals, and it wasn't nearly so preachy and holier-than-thou as it could have been. I felt like the audience Orman was speaking to was a bit older and a bit wealthier than I am, but it was still helpful.

The really interesting part of the book, though, is the last quarter. Here, Orman talks less about the nuts and bolts of good financial planning and more about her philosophies of money. The part that really got me was the chapter where she advocates for generous charitable giving. She doesn't argue for it on the basis of your tax refund, or any sort of PR, but says that in her view, being generous gives you a kind of good money karma, and the more generous you are, the better money will come back to you. I was reminded of the Girl Scout song about love being like a magic penny, hold it close and you won't have any, spend it, lend it, you'll have so many, they'll roll all over the floor. Anyway, this is a philosophy I can get behind. Orman goes on to say that the best way she's found to get herself out of a financial slump or depression is to give. I don't know how typical that is in the realm of financial advice, but I'm guessing not very, and I admire that. And agree with it.

My biggest criticism of the book is Orman's anti-tax rhetoric. I know it's par for the course, but it still irritates me. We pay taxes for a reason, it's not just some evil system to part you from your money, and while I agree that there is no need to pay more than your fair share, I'm irked by the idea of trying to manipulate what that fair share is, particularly when it is major wealth you're protecting. Still, given the genre, this is a fairly minor component of Orman's overall philosophy, so it wasn't that hard to stomach.

All in all, I found this book fairly compelling and not near so bad to read as it could have been, given that reading financial instruction is not my idea of a good time. Orman advocates an involved, hands-on approach to financial planning, which makes good sense to me. I'll take much of her advice, and I didn't find the rest of it, or the parts that just don't apply to me at this point, to be too self-aggrandizing. Good stuff.

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Meme of Fours

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Having been tagged by the fabulous Hybrid of World of Finches, here is my meme of fours.

Four Jobs I've Had

  1. Busperson/dishwasher/waitress: I did a lot of restuarant work in high school. I hated nearly every minute of it, was never all that good at it, and am very thankful not to be doing it anymore.
  2. Lifeguard: I got my lifeguarding certification over the summer between my freshman and sophomore year in college, and spent the next year lifeguard adult lap swims at the college pool. A snore of a job, but I listed to the majority of the Clinton impeachment hearings on NPR while at work.
  3. Summer conference coordinator: The summer between my junior and senior year in college, I worked on campus coordinating all of the summer events that the campus was rented out for. It's interesting to see that side of things, but mostly it made me want to stay the hell out of the hospitality business.
  4. Research vagina: Just out of college, I rented my body out to science for an HPV vaccine research study. At the time I did it because I was broke, but now I'm proud to have been involved in the study, as well as happy to have so much Pap smear experience. I'm a Pap smear professional.

Four Movies I Can Watch Over and Over
  1. The Princess Bride
  2. Dazed and Confused
  3. Edward Scissorhands
  4. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Four Places I've Lived
  1. My parents' house
  2. Reed dorms
  3. Various SE Portland residences
  4. My very own house

Four TV Shows I Love to Watch
  1. Miami Ink
  2. What Not to Wear
  3. Roseanne reruns
  4. Joan of Arcadia on DVD

Four Places I've Been on Vacation
  1. British Columbia
  2. Boston
  3. Montana
  4. Disneyland

Four Blogs/Websites You Visit Daily
  1. The Phoenix
  2. Gmail
  3. Most of the blogs to the right -->
  4. My allergy count website

Four of Your Favorite Foods
  1. Pepsi
  2. Any sugar+white flour combo, recently Little Debbie's Zebra Cakes
  3. Plain pasta
  4. Apples

Four Places You'd Rather Be
  1. Back in bed
  2. Somewhere without a ridiculously high pollen count. Anywhere.
  3. In front of a crackling fire, on a cushy couch, with a good book.
  4. Traversing Europe.

Four Albums You Can't Live Without
  1. Mary Prankster, Tell Your Friends
  2. Ani DiFranco, Living in Clip
  3. Kris Kristofferson, Songs of Kristofferson
  4. Eliza Gilkyson, Land of Milk and Honey

Four Vehicles I've Owned
  1. 1984 Ford Tempo, named "Buck-as-in-naked"
  2. 1991 Dodge Dynasty, unnamed
  3. 1999 Mazda Protege, unnamed
  4. Hopefully very soon...

Four Taggees
I'm not going to tag anyone. If this appeals to you, run with it. :)

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Resolution Redux

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I thought I'd check in on myself with my 12 New Year's Resolutions and see how I'm doing.

  • Get back on a 4-5 day a week gym schedule
So far no progress on this one. I've been sick and allergic for weeks. As soon as I can breathe semi-normally again, though, I'm going back to the gym.
  • Get back on a 2 shots a week allergy shot schedule.
I got two shots last week, but only one this week, due to my cold. Still, I'd say I'm doing fine on this one.
  • Get my finances under control, including upping my savings percentage and IRA contributions.
This is going to take some long-term work, since I'm in a bit more of a hole than I originally thought, but my plan is underway and my spending has been good so far in 2006 (and I'm sure having my purse stolen and no access to money had very little to do with that...really...).


  • Get some writing published.
I submitted something!

  • Read for pleasure during the school semester.
The semester hasn't started yet, so I can't say much about this one, but I am establishing a better reading habit lately, and I have a ton of stuff lined up I'm excited about reading, so hopefully this will happen.
  • Learn enough calculus to finish my graduation requirements.
My plan for this one is to take a summer business calc class at the community college. Need to look into that.
  • Start writing letters on paper again, rather than just emails.
So far I haven't done this, except for my post-Christmas thank you notes. Maybe I'll try to write a couple of notes this weekend.
  • Divest myself of unnecessary posessions, and don't replace them.
I haven't made much of an effort in this arena yet, due mainly to time constraint, but I plan on doing a big book and CD purge this weekend. Maybe clothes and random junk as well.
  • Commit myself to finding a more challenging job.
This is stalled, currently. I'm not feeling very positively about it, to tell the truth. I'm thinking maybe I ought to just be thankful for what I've got. I did send out a couple of resumes this week, but nothing I have a particularly good feeling about.


  • Volunteer.
Also stalled. Things are going to have to stabilize schedulewise first, and I'm going to have to get healthy again.

  • Think about writing less; write more.
Haven't done this yet either, although I am catching up on my blog mini-reviews. Not a lot of substance in my snot-filled brain.
  • Remember birthdays.
I get a gold star for this one. I emailed my contact list and asked for birthday info, I'm entering them into my calendar, and I've sent out four cards already this month, with only one January birthday left to go. I feel pretty good about that.

All in all progess seems slow but steady. Go me!

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Brokeback Mountain

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Brokeback Mountain movie posterI had really mixed thoughts going into this movie. On one hand, the previews made it look fantastic, and it's based on an amazing short story. Also, the screenplay was done by the short story's author, the brilliant E. Annie Proulx, and western author extraordinaire Larry McMurtry. On the other hand, no matter how many good films he has lucked into and how brilliant everyone else says he is, I've never been a fan of Jake Gyllenhaal (Donnie Darko, The Good Girl). And Heath Ledger has never been, to my mind, anything more than a putz (A Knight's Tale, The Brothers Grimm). And then there was Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) - great director, sure, but for an American western love story? I was really, really trepidatious about both the direction and the acting.

I was so, so wrong.

Ang Lee's direction is spot-on. Nothing is wasted, nothing is overdone. Jake Gyllenhaal is great. But the real gem, the thing that takes this from an incredible movie to a best ever movie, is Heath Ledger. Who knew he was hiding all this talent?

From my study of movies, it is damn difficult to play a decent cowboy. Almost inevitably you end up some dumbass Clint Eastwood movie cowboy bullshit, with barely any resemblance to the real thing. Even people who are actually from the American west can't do it. So how is it that an Australian pretty boy and an L.A. pretty boy played the best cowboys I've seen on screen in forever? They just got it right, especially Ledger. The quietness, the speech patterns, the posture. I watched this movie and it felt like home.

Another high point was the scenery. Though it was filmed largely in Canada, the film looked like the west to me, and it was beautifully shot, with no scenery overkill. Ang Lee and cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto (Frida, 21 Grams) let the scenery play it's own role, another quiet character in the film, and it worked beautifully.

So far we've got excellent script, excellent acting, excellent direction, and excellent cinematography. What are we missing? Oh, music? Well, the soundtrack is to die for, including original music by Gustavo Santaolalla (21 Grams, The Motorcycle Diaries) and a fantastic country cross-section (the use of Willie Nelson's "He Was a Friend of Mine" during the closing credits just about did me in). I'll likely buy the soundtrack.

Even the costumes (done by Marit Allen, who also worked on Dead Man and Eyes Wide Shut) are perfect. Like the actors faces and pickup trucks, the trace the path from early 1960s cowboys to early 1980s cowboys without you realizing they're doing it. It's a beautiful thing.


Brokeback Mountain is, quite honestly, the best movie I've seen in several years. In the past few months I've seen a number of films that were quite good (Walk the Line, Capote, Good Night and Good Luck.), but Brokeback Mountain blows them all away. I hope it sweeps the awards ceremonies and I hope it's the beginning of more real roles for Heath Ledger. Even if he never makes another film, though, he should be proud of what he did in this one.

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Farewell to Arms

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farewell to armsby Ernest Hemingway
Scribner; Reprint edition, June 1, 1995
336 pages

For those who, like me, are new to the audiobook world, I have a tip to share: skip the classics. If you are going to read classic literature, pick it up and read it. Listening to it is no good.

At least that was the case with me and Farewell to Arms. I like Ernest Hemingway a lot, perhaps more as a character than as a writer, but as a writer as well. I've read most of his other work, and am a particular fan of The Sun Also Rises. So I was happy when, upon finding myself with several hours alone in a car over my Christmas break, I thought of taking along the old CDs of Farewell to Arms I've been hanging on to since we made the Portland-Austin trip.

And it started off well enough, with the somewhat baudry (in that early 20th century way) tales of a muddled displaced American man, working as an ambulance driver for the Italian army during World War I. But then the love story came in. Ug, ug, ug. I really, really disliked Catherine Barkley. The outcome of the story was clear from the point of her pregnancy announcement on, but still, I couldn't wait for it to just happen and get over with so I wouldn't have to listen to her stupid, stilted dialogue one more time. Every other word was "darling." Every other word! And Henry, who was minorly interesting in the non-Catherine elements of the story, turned into a simpering idiot when she was part of the scene, replying with a similarly unnecessary barage of "darlings." It was enough to make one puke.

It occured to me, towards the end of the final disc, that I would probably be having a lot less harsh reaction to the bad dialogue if I were reading the book, rather than listening to it. I probably still wouldn't like Catherine Barkley, but she wouldn't make me want to claw my ears out. So no more classic lit on CD for me. Some things are definitely best left on the page.

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A Million Little Pieces

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A MIllion Little Pieces book coverby James Frey
Anchor, September 22, 2005

I really wish I'd gotten my shit together to review this before all of the news about how much of it might be fiction started swirling around. But since I didn't, I feel some responsibility to talk about that, as well as about the book itself. Oh well.

The drama, in case you live under a rock, is that the truth of a number of the claims Frey makes in this book, a memoir, is being contested. You can take a look at this article if you'd like more information. My thoughts are that Frey probably did exaggerate or simply make up some of the things he writes in A Million Little Pieces. Mostly, though, I don't care.

My not caring is twofold. First, this is a great book, and it would be a great book if it were fiction, so why should it matter how much of it actually happened? Secondly, I think it's naive to expect a memoir to be 100% factual (if 100% factual even exists). People write with an agenda, people even remember with an agenda, and that's always going to come across, to some extent. That being said, if it's true that Frey exaggerated or invented a lot of what is in this book, then a disclaimer to that effect should have been printed at the front of the book. Tim O'Brien, one of my favorite writers of all time, wrote several partially-factual/partially-fiction works dealing with Vietnam. His response to critics of his not being 100% accurate was that he was writing the truth about what being there felt like, about what being there was, and sometimes the actual facts fit into that and sometimes they don't. I can accept that, and I even admire the perspective. But it's not fair to the reader not to lay it out at the beginning if that is what you are doing. O'Brien does lay it out, and Frey probably should have.

That all being said, I thought this was a very high quality book. The plot is, in many ways, predictable. Frey is a young, well-off, white alcoholic, drug addict, and criminal. The book is the story of his six-week "last chance" rehab, during which time he comes off his addictions and begins his path of sobriety. Nothing revolutionary there. However, Frey's writing is top notch, which makes the story interesting to read, and his take on addiction and recovery is much less that you find in most people who write about it and much more like that I've found in the real life addicts I know. Frey has little respect for AA or 12 stepping in general, and he insists throughout the book on taking responsibility for his own actions and for his addictions. He even finds fault with the untouchable tenant that addiction is a disease. To me, at least, these things are interesting. And whether Frey the human being ever really held them or to what extent matters very little to me. What I'm interested in is what Frey the writer has to say about them.

I like this book because it was interesting to read, it didn't remind me of every other addiction book I've ever read, and it made me think. None of those things require a single word of it to have been true. So I recommend you read it. However, if there is a sharp and important delineation in your mind between fiction and memoir, you'd probably better read this one as fiction.

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BoBs!!

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>The Best of Blog Awards voting is finally up! And two of my favorite blogs are in the running! So go vote! And then I'll stop using exclaimation points!

Seriously. Emily and Brooke over at Name that Mama were nominated by yours truly in the Best LGBT Blog category, and I think they deserve your vote for their ass-kicking tales of conception, pregnancy, and soon-to-be mamahood. If nothing else, you should at least check them out. And the amazing, fantastic, funny-as-hell Flea, of One Good Thing is up for Best Mommy Blogger (I nominated her as well, but so did a few other folks). I know you already read her and know how great she is, so get on over there and vote for her, too.

Then you can go through the other categories and find some new gems for your blogroll. That's what I'm gonna do. Wheee!

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Blog for Choice

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As it turns out, the blogging for choice to which I referred in my last post is not a month, but a day. January 22, which is, in an eerie coincidence, considering what I wrote, my mom's birthday. So here's what I am doing, and what you should do, too:

1. Go here and sign up to commit to blog about choice on January 22.
2. When January 22 rolls around, write at least one blog entry having to do with choice issues.
3. On January 22, go check out some of your fellow bloggers' words on the same subject.

That's it! Easy-peasy!

Oh, you could also add the Blog for Choice sticker to your sidebar, like I'm about to do. That'd be cool, too.

Thanks to my e-friend Bomb for straightening me out on all of this.

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Weekend update

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We had a big weekend at my house this weekend. Friday night was the usual laze about, but Saturday was jam packed with activity. First, Mark and I took Atty and Leo to the vet, Atty to get microchipped and Leo to get blood work down. Atty screamed like he was being killed while they were inserting the chip, but was otherwise fine. Leo was a trooper, but we're under strict orders to reduce his food intake, as he's up to 135 lbs, when he'd be healthier at closer to 110. Which is totally my fault, I'll admit it. I just couldn't see how fat he was getting.

Post-vet visit, we went mattress shopping. What a nightmare that was. Went to Sears and saw 6 twin sized floor models of extremely expensive mattresses and nobody helped us. Went to another Sears and found the entire store overrun with people in UT apparel lining up to have their pictures taken with the Rose Bowl trophy (no, I'm not joking). Then we went to the Mattress Firm Clearance Center, which was horrible in that slimy salesperson way, but at least had choices and full sized models. Still found things to be very expensive, but we finally ended up with a nice pillowtop with a 10 year warranty, delivered, for a bit over $700. Seems like a ton of money to me, but when I went home and took the allergy cover off our old mattress to find that the tag was definitely 70s style and that it was once "extra firm," it reconfirmed that it has long since been time for something new.

After we were done mattress shopping, we headed out to the Humane Society in the next county over, to check out a dog I found online. The plan was to go and meet him, then go meet another dog on Sunday, then see how we felt about a second dog adoption. Things didn't go as planned. We got there and the place was horrible. Lines of kennels of barking dogs, none of whom had been bathed, none of whom had any toys or beds or anything, and none of whom have long to live if someone doesn't rescue them.

So, unsurprisingly, the dog we'd gone to see came home with us, and I'm sorry I couldn't take most of the rest of them as well. He's an Anatolian Shepherd/Great Pyrennes, as far as we can tell. They were calling him Zeus, but we've renamed him Atakan (ah-tah-kan), which is Turkish for "ancestral blood." We chose the name for its meaning, since Anatolians are such an old breed, and for the sound of it. We're calling him Ata (a-TA). He is a beautiful, well-mannered dog, and he's getting along with us, Leo, and Atticus swimmingly. We are going to the vet to get that all checked out this afternoon, but the only obvious health issue he has is his weight. He's approximately a year old, and he's at least 30 lbs underweight. He's so skinny you can see his ribs, backbone, hipbones, etc. It's really sad. We shouldn't have any trouble fattening him up now that he doesn't have to fight for food, though--his appetite seems very good.

Ata was really filthy from being a stray and being at the shelter, so our first stop after picking him up was the self-service dog wash. Bad move on a couple of counts. He obviously has no experience in the car and is terrified of it, so the drive was very trying, and he's also terrified of water, so washing him was even more so. After spending an hour at the dog wash, we had a marginally cleaner dog, but Mark and I were covered in head to foot fur, dirt, and water. It was really gross. The car was also a complete disaster and I had to take it to be cleaned yesterday.

After we got home, things went well. Ata and Leo sorted themselves out right away and seem to be developing a good friendship. Leo was the most active we'd ever seen Saturday night, running and jumping and playing like a young dog. You could tell his hips didn't thank him for it, and he definitely had a hitch in his get along later, but I think it was worth it. He'll figure out how to moderate it (and the activity should help with the recommended weight loss, too).

Sunday was more mellow, mostly just hanging out at home, supervising the dogs and playing with them and seeing how things are going to shake out. Seems to be going almost weirdly well. If it continues to go so well, this will be the fourth (or tenth, depending whether you could the puppies seperately or together) time I've made a completely rash decision about taking in a dog, Mark has questioned it but agreed to do it, and I've been completely right.

Makes me wonder if there is any wrong.

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In/Out

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Over at Frog's place, she has a People style list of what is "In" and what is "Out" for her in 2006. I like the idea so much, I'm stealing it.


OUT
: Plastic: plastic crap, plastic food, plastic emotions.
IN: Healthy, natural food; less general accumulation; more time to process real feelings.

OUT: Getting wrapped up in other people's drama, especially online.
IN: Spending more time in communication with my friends and family.

OUT:
Spending too much time in idle pursuits, especially TV and excessive Internet use.
IN: Making time to read, excercise, play with my pets, and generally take care of the mental and physical health.

OUT: Target.
IN: Local stores, secondhand shopping.

OUT: Complaining about my job.
IN: Putting the time to good use.

OUT: Coffee.
IN: Tea.

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Explication

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I thought I already wrote a post about this, but I can't find it, so perhaps it was in my head. Anyway, aside from the 12 New Year's resolutions I posted the other day, I also have one more. This one was actually made way back in September, after Katrina hit, but it's one I plan to keep for 2006.

I resolved at that time to give a set amount of money each month to charity. After giving it some thought, I decided that the way I'd do this was to pick one or two or three charities each month and give to those. In order to spread the word, I started posting buttons to link to the charities I'd chosen over there -->, changing them when I gave to something new (ideally each month, but the Katrina Relief Fund was up for several months, for obvious reasons). So that's what those are there for. Thanks to the reader who asked!

This month's highlighted organizations are the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and the National Women's Law Center. Both are great organizations and I encourage you to check them out.

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Shoot the Moon

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Shoot the Moon book coverby Billie Letts
Warner Books, July 1, 2005

Billie Letts' newest book, Shoot the Moon, is a lot better than her first, the saccharine Where the Heart Is. Though the characters Letts follows through Shoot the Moon are from similar geographic and socioeconomic situations as those in Where the Heart Is, they are much better fleshed out and much easier to identify with, even if the plotline is similarly unusual. Whereas I spent most of Where the Heart Is irritated with the characters' and plotline's sillyness, I was cautiously enamored with both in Shoot the Moon.

The basic premise of the novel is the return of a man, Nicky Jack Harjo, to the small Oklahoma town of his birth. The twist is that Harjo has no idea he was born there, and knows nothing about the circumstances of his disappearance from the town at the age of 10 months. What unfolds is the reopening of the nearly 30 year-old murder case of Harjo's mother. While unravelling the mystery, Harjo befriends several townspeople, including some of his long-lost family.

This is not great literature. It's a sweet and strange story, kept exciting by the element of mystery. It's a good airplane read, which is where I read it. Go into it with those expectations, and you shouldn't be disappointed.

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The Stone Diaries

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The Stone Diaries book coverby Carol Shields
Penguin (Non-Classics), April 1, 1995

This book won a Pulitizer Prize in 1995, and it was an honor well deserved. I'd never even heard of it, I just picked up up at the Goodwill because the description on the back cover intrigued me, but once I picked it up, I couldn't put it down.

The story is a fictionalized autobiography of one Daisy Goodwill Flett. Born around the turn of the 20th century and living until the 1980s, Shield's Flett reflects simultaneously on her own tragic life and the life of a North American century. The mix and overlap between these two subjects is fascinating, and Shields' writing is first rate, making this a pleasure to read.

Though it is written as if it's an autiobiography, The Stone Diaries does not limit itself to subject matter that its protagonist could have known. Starting on the day of Daisy's birth, with her mother, Mercy, and moving both backward and forward through time, the book gives perspectives and experiences of many of the supporting characters as well, including Daisy's father, the woman who raises her, her husband, and her children. Though the speaker is sometimes not clearly identified, the moves between perspectives are far less confusing than would be expected (don't worry, it doesn't read like As I Lay Dying or anything like that). The story is actually told in a way I don't think I've ever seen before, with a mix of omniscent and present narration, and constantly moving time and perspective. Shields deserves her award just for being able to pull that off successfully, nevermind the story!

But the story is compelling. Daisy's life is hard and full of tragedy (the childbearing death of her mother, twice widowhood, etc.), but the tragedy takes backseat the both Daisy's and the other characters' knack for reinvention of themselves when circumstances change. Both as a human story and as a parable for the countries in which the novel takes place (the U.S. and Canada), these reinventions work very well.

I was impressed enough by this book that I passed it on to my mother, and I will be on the lookout for more of Carol Shields' work. I'd definitely recommend it.

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Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood

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smashed book coverby Koren Zailckas
Viking Adult, February 7, 2005
368 pages

This is another one I didn't read, but listened to. And there was a big gap in my listening, as I didn't make it to the gym for the whole month of December, for various and sundry reasons.

During the time when I wasn't listening to it, though, I was still thinking about it. And when I put my iPod headphones back on during my flight to Oregon for Christmas, it took only a minute for me to be right back in Zailckas' story.

Whether you agree with Zailckas' conclusions or not (I haven't totally decided yet, myself), this is a great book. It is part memoir, with Zailckas chronicling her drinking life from her first drink as a young teenager to quitting in her early twenties; part treatise on the fucked up nature of America's relationship to alcohol, with a specific emphasis on the relationship between booze and young women. These two threads meld together very nicely, with the author making it clear that she's after more than a retelling of her story, which is, in most ways, pretty average. Zailckas says that she is not an alcoholic, but that she has a dysfunctional relationship with alcohol. This dysfunctional relationship, however, is both shared by many of her peers and condoned by society, and the places in which she points this out are the most thought-provoking in her book.

The stories Zailckas tells about her drinking, particularly in college, are very like those I and my friends experience, and very like those experienced by college students across the country. Very little about them is exceptional, and on the whole they aren't even all that extreme. Zailkcas experiences alcohol poisoning, blackouts, and even possible date rape, but none of these stories are all that unique. One fear I have about this book is that people will misread it as a worse-case scenario cautionary tale. It's not. Koren Zailckas mostly did what was expected of her, mostly succeeded in the ways in which she was supposed to (being a cheerleader, joining a sorority, graduating from college, getting a job), and mostly got off easy. However, the normalcy of her experiences, and of the emotional retardation she attributes to them, doesn't make them any less of a problem. Hopefully readers of this book realize that.

Zailckas' conclusions about alcohol may lean on the side of teetolating a bit too much for some readers. She is not a believer in moderation, and does not seem to think most people are even willing or capable of drinking moderately. This may strike some readers as overly dramatic, but given the strong argument Zailckas makes between the "typical" use of alcohol among young people and a whole host of other issues, I can see how she gets there. While I never abused alcohol to the extent she did in college, many of the people I know did, and I can definitely see an argument for this abuse being a detriment not only to their lives at that time, but to the growing up they were supposed to be doing.

A final thing about this book I find striking is the short retrospect with which Zailckas writes. It is my understanding that she quit drinking at 22 or 23 and published Smashed at 24. Normally, memoirs having to do with things about which an individual is not proud, such as substance abuse, take longer to come to the surface, and I admire Zailckas' willingness to write about these issues without further distance from them. In some ways, it means more coming from someone who isn't far removed from it than it does coming from someone who is writing about his/her more distant past. It's more authentic, even if it does also have the prosletizing smack of the newly converted.

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Pride & Prejudice

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Pride and Prejudice movie posterLet me start by saying this is a story to which I have no attachment. I've never read Pride & Prejudice, never read anything else by Jane Austen, and never seen another version of the film. I watched this without the benefit (or handicap, depending on how you see it) of comparison to the novel or to the much-loved A&E version. I didn't compare Keira Knightley and Matthew MacFayden to Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth. So you'll get none of that here. There's lots of it elsewhere, so if that's what you are looking for, it won't be hard to find.

I didn't love this film, but I didn't hate it. This whole genre bugs the shit out of me, which is why I've never bothered with Austen's books (confession: I've never read most of the Bronte sisters' work, either, with the exception of the incredible Jane Eyre). And the things that always bug me bugged me in this film. Characters are less people and more caricatures, the commentary on social class lacks sublety, and the language makes me itch. However, there was some unexpected redemption here. Chiefly, that redemption came in the form of Keira Knightley (Bend it Like Beckham, Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl). The wit and spirit and fantastic smile Knightley shows in Pride & Prejudice far outstripped what I had expected, and turned her Lizzie Bennett into a character about whom I actually gave a damn. Without that, I'm not sure I could have stood the film.

The supporting acting was well done as well. Donald Sutherland was endearing as Lizzie's constantly bemused father, and Judi Dench was nothing short of fantastic as the horrific Lady Catherine. I was less impressed with Blenda Blethyn as Mrs. Bennett, thinking she was overacting, but I have been told that was far less the actress and far more the role. I also really liked the mostly-unknown Simon Woods as Mr. Bingley, and enjoyed Kelly Reilly (The Libertine, Mrs. Henderson Presents) as the nasty Caroline Bingley.

I am still unsure as to how I feel about Matthew MacFayden's Darcy. While MacFayden certainly has the seriousness and brooding down, he didn't totally convince me in the scenes where he finally admits his feelings for Lizzie. Without Colin Firth as a comparison, I am not as critical of MacFayden as some other viewers have been, but I can definitely see how the role could have been played to a fuller extent.

The non-acting elements of the film (cinematography, costume design, etc.) were all satisfactory, although the music got to be a little much at points. Most of my major complaints have to do with story line, and there's nobody but Jane Austen to blame for that.

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Myriad Memes

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A trio of year end/beginning memes from Frog.

Number 1:

1. When you looked at yourself in the mirror today, what was the first thing you thought?
I need more sleep. I should definitely not go to work today.

2. How much cash do you have on you?
Less than $5.

3. What's a word that rhymes with "TEST"?
confessed

4. Favorite planet?
My selfish preference is for the one I'm on.

5. Who is the 4th person on your missed call list on your cell?
Mark

6. What is your favorite ring on your phone?
I have been using a dog barking one I downloaded for months. I'm OK with anything that's not going to get stuck in my head and doesn't go on for too long, though.

7. What kind of shirt are you wearing?
Lucky Mutts Rescue t-shirt.

8. Do you "label" yourself?
No more than I have to, but when necessary, yes.

9. Name the brand of your shoes you're currently wearing?
Old Navy flipflops.

10. Bright or dark room?
Bright.

11. What do you think about the person who took this survey before you?
She's firm in her convictions.

13. what happened to number 12?
Why would I care?

14. What were you doing at midnight last night?
Trying to sleep.

15. What did your last text message you received on your cell say?
It was some sales bs from T-Mobile, I'm sure. Nobody else ever text messages me.

16. Where is your nearest 7-11?
I don't even know if we have 7-11 down here.

17. What's a saying that you say a lot?
Dammit, Atticus!

18.Who told you they loved you last?

Mark

19. Last furry thing you touched?
Atticus

20. How Many Drugs Have You Done In The Past three Days?
Um...caffeine, Lexapro, Zyrtec, Apri, alcohol. Five.

21. How many rolls of film do you need to get developed?
None.

22. Favorite age you have been so far?
Gets better every year.

23. Your worst enemy?
Animal abusers.

24. What is your current desktop picture?


25. What was the last thing you said to someone?
"Thank you."

26. If you had to choose between a million bucks or to be able to change a major regret?
The million. I don't have any regrets worth a million dollars.

27. Do you like or love somebody right now?
Of course. Many people, in fact.

Number 2, The Year in Review:

1. What did you do in 2005 that you'd never done before?

Bought a house.

2. Did you keep your new year's resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I already went over this, but I kept 3/4 of them from last year, and made 12 new ones for this year.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Nope, though some e-friends are closing in on their due date.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
Yes.

5. What countries did you visit?
None.

6. What would you like to have in 2006 that you lacked in 2005?
Fufilling work.

7. What dates from 2005 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
Early July--Chance died.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Buying the house.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Failing to lose any substantial weight.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
No more than usual.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
Again, the house.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
My fellow Texans post-Katrina.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
Where should I begin?

14. Where did most of your money go?

Target and The Goodwill.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Going to Boston, going to Ann Arbor, cutting my hair.

16. What song will always remind you of 2005?
Nothing comes to mind.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
a) happier or sadder?
About the same, I think.

b) thinner or fatter?
A bit fatter.

c) richer or poorer?
Definitely poorer.

18. What do you wish you'd done more of?
Saving.

19. What do you wish you'd done less of?
Spending.

20. How will you be spending Christmas?
I spent it with various and sundry family members.

21. Did you fall in love in 2005?
Yes, with Leo.

22. How many one-night stands?
Nada.

23. What was your favorite TV program?
Hrm...probably Entourage or The Wire.

24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?
Yeah.

25. What was the best book you read?
Pack of Two by Caroline Knapp.

26. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Lyle Lovett.

27. What did you want and get?
Leo and Atticus

28. What did you want and not get?
Chance to live; a new job.

29. What was your favorite film of this year?
Good Night, and Good Luck, Capote, Walk the Line.

30. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
We had a small dinner party at our house. I turned 26.

31. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
A different job.

32. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2005?
"The same clothes as last year, only tighter."

33. What kept you sane?
Mark, my pets.

34. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

Viscerally, Angelina Jolie and Adrian Grenier. Emotionally, Johnny Cash.

35. What political issue stirred you the most?
capital punishment

36. Who did you miss?
Chance.

37. Who was the best new person you met?
Hrm...lots of people, but my two sistercousin's fabulous boyfriends, Jeff and Eric, come to mind right now, since I just saw them.

38. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2005:
Never underestimate the power of dog.

39. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:
"This is home/it's where I want to be/this is home/let's make a family."

And finally, Number 3:

1. What is the best gift you received this year? (Tangible gifts only, please!)
I've got to go with my Superhero necklace.

2. What is the best gift you gave this year?
The Poppet sketch of Mark and Chance.

3. When did you do most of your shopping/creating?
Between Thanksgiving and December 15 or so. And I think it was 100% shopping this year. Hopefully more creating next year.

4. Did you go shopping the day after Thanksgiving (U.S.)?
No.
Day after Christmas?
No.

5. What stands out already about Christmas 2005?
The ease of my trip to Oregon and back and lack of conflict with my family. It was just a really, really nice holiday.

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My triumphant and resolute return

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Didja miss me?

The trip to Oregon was wall-to-wall fantastic. The marathon Christmas was exhausting, but it was still great. I got in no political spats with relations, I saw just about everyone I was supposed to see, and I had a great and mostly relaxing time. The travel aspect was a pain, especially when I had to drivetoPortlandsitintheairportflytoDallassitintheairportflytoAustin on Saturday, on about 2 hours of sleep, but all in all I can't complain.

Except.

Except that I lost my purse in the Dallas airport, and they Lost&Found is closed until tomorrow, for the pretend holiday (y'all, it's the 2nd--get back to work!). So that's stressing me out. But I got all the plastic money cancelled and there was no cash money in there (though I will lose a bunch of gift cards if they don't have it), so it could be much worse.

Being home is actually similarly good. Very laid back New Year's Eve, just hanging out with Mark and the pets, and that's the best possible way to spend it, in my opinion. Then a mellow day yesterday, and I was supposed to go back to work today, but woke with feeling like ass, so decided to take another day off. When I look at the pollen count and saw how high the cedar is, it became clear why I feel like this. Goddamn allergies.

I've been giving some thought to New Year's resolutions. I always make them, nearly never keep them. So this year I have decided to make 12, in the hope of keeping at least a couple.

  1. Get back on a 4-5 day a week gym schedule.
  2. Get back on a 2 shots a week allergy shot schedule.
  3. Get my finances under control, including upping my savings percentage and IRA contributions.
  4. Get some writing published.
  5. Read for pleasure during the school semester.
  6. Learn enough calculus to finish my graduation requirements.
  7. Start writing letters on paper again, rather than just emails.
  8. Divest myself of unnecessary posessions, and don't replace them.
  9. Commit myself to finding a more challenging job.
  10. Volunteer.
  11. Think about writing less; write more.
  12. Remember birthdays.

Out of curiosity, I looked up last year's resolutions to see how I've progressed. This is what I found:

  • Buy a house

  • Mark and I put in our application for financing preapproval last night. As soon as we know how much we are preapproved for, we're going to get in touch with a realtor and start looking. In the meantime, we're both working on lists of house must-haves and prioritized nice-to-haves.
  • Stop biting my nails

  • So far no progress, as I just decided last night that this is a priority. I am promising myself a ritzy manicure when they get to a suitable length, though. I've done this before, under more stressful circumstances, I'd like to think I could manage it again.
  • Lose the extra weight

  • Fact of the matter is that I am heavier than I feel comfortable with, and I want the extra weight gone. I have decided to try a combination of my previous two approaches to weight loss: watching what I eat using Fitday and getting back to the gym. I've started with Fitday today, but I'm not going to try to get back to the gym until I get my allergies taken care of enough to breathe regularly.
  • Get my allergies taken care of

  • I am going to go get allergy blood work done as soon as I get the referral from my doctor, and I'll talk to her from there about what course of action is best--if it is shots, then I'll do shots. There is no reason to live like this.

    I'm actually pretty proud of my progress on these. #1 is done. #2 is 90% true (I bit them all off yesterday while trying to find my purse, but that was the first time in months). #3 is still being worked, and I am doing everything I can with #4. Go me! Hopefully I will do as well this year.

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