Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Losing Hope

I had a gallows humor moment, a gallows giggle if you will as I typed the title to this post.

But don't worry.

This isn't one of those posts where I talk about anything sad. No one is giving up, throwing in the word-soggy towel or any other cleaning implement for that matter.

In fact, it's exactly the opposite.

Losing Hope is Book Two in the Persephone Campbell series (you know, the one I write, but to the annoyance of all my friends in PR, almost never talk about on this blog). It's the follow up to Losing Beauty and will be followed by the third and, as yet unnamed, final book in the series.

This is aspirational art month and to include my own books feels a little like cheating, like stretching or massaging the truth, as I learned to say in law school. Not because I don't like my books. To the contrary, I love them. It's just they aren't exactly aspirational. They're more chocolate Pop Tarts in book form, written to be devoured by all my seriously smart, pop culture loving friends and fans.

The initial reviews are calling Losing Hope dark, carnal, smart and yummy.

But, here's the thing. It's not entirely ready for public consumption. It still has some last minute marinating to do. The days need to get a little shorter before Losing Hope is set loose, joining the rank and file of other books waiting on shelves, both electronic and wooden, anxious to be picked up and read.

In the meantime I have something for you.

A little gift.

Except I'm kind of nervous for you to open it!

What if you don't like it!?!

I really hope you do!

Okay *deep breath* go ahead.

Just rip it open.








Monday, September 24, 2012

Beautiful Things

This month started out as my aspirational art month, but as you know my plans took a sharp left turn. I stood in the shower this morning and thought about what I was going to write and realized maybe I wasn't as far off track as I feared.

Maybe I'd just been using too narrow a definition for aspirational art. Opera and Oscar-nominated films are all very well, but there are different kinds of art that have the capacity to lift us up.

Up and down the halls of the hospital where I spent too much time last week, the walls are covered with art. And sometimes, when I was leaving or arriving or just searching for a bathroom, I stopped and gazed at those pictures. Something as basic as beauty has the power to pull me out of the moment and take me somewhere else.

Vistas, rooms with views and flowers can be transformative. Words, both the kind ones I've received from my friends close at hand and the well wishes from people all over the world, my ghostly internet and blogger friends who feel more and more real; those words can be a thing of beauty too, another art form.

Child #1 attended Montessori preschool and one of the things I learned during her sejour there (aside from the fact I was paying WAY too much for her to explore her tactile love of rolling on the carpet) is people thrive in beautiful surroundings.

So this is my thank you to everyone who's helped to make my environment more beautiful, with your words, flowers, smiles and hugs (both virtual and real).

This weekend, in the moments in between, I've been climbing into the attic and pillaging my fall box in search of things to make my home look beautiful. Fall flower arrangements and mantles decorated with gourds may not seem important, but like good friends, paintings on walls and lovely music, they make our environment a little more joyous.

And maybe, each of those things is its own special form of aspirational art, helping us thrive in its own particular way.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Optimism

I didn't blog on Wednesday, which is unlike me. Usually I don't take unannounced breaks, but this week has been full of unanticipated challenges.

There are things I could write about, light-hearted things in the vein I usually write, but my heart isn't in them. My heart and mind are occupied with other things at the moment. Words like biopsy and phrases like transfer by emergency vehicle are the fog shrouding my sunnier thoughts.

Instead of writing until my fingers go numb I've been sitting next to my father's hospital bed. There are moments when everything feels familiar; the conversations with doctors, the indignity of hospital food, the constant interruptions to record vital signs. It's a Lifetime movie we've all seen, the sad one with a happy ending.

And that's what I tell myself, even as the person I love is having a hole drilled and redrilled in his skull. Tears will be shed, but this story will have a happy ending too.

Soccer practices, piano lessons, homework, back-to-school nights, blogging, working on my WIP and a chocolate birthday cake for my husband's birthday were all scheduled this week.

The chocolate cake will still happen. Some things shouldn't go uncelebrated. And I'm enough of an optimist to believe there will be a light soon, even if it's as small and flickering as candles on a cake.


Monday, September 17, 2012

La Donna e Mobile

Art doesn't get much more aspirational than opera; sitting in a darkened theater, watching costumed divas parade through jewel box sets as their voices reach crescendo in a language many of us don't understand.

Opera makes for good drama in a book or in a movie, but the actual practice of attending, well, maybe it's like this.

When I was a kid I thought mushrooms were disgusting little bits of fungi, but now I adore them. In theory, I just need to sample more opera in order to make the taste bud palate in my brain more receptive to operatic charms.

There are the opera songs I like, but they're the more accessible ones. I never get tired of listening to Pavarotti sing La Donna e Mobile in Rigoletto. My husband, who does speak Italian, filled me in on the translation one afternoon after I'd put the song on repeat and turned up the volume, "You understand he's saying women are fickle or flighty, right?"

Me: "Oh, but it's still a really good song."

Him: "Yes it is. Would you like me to translate the rest for you."

Me: "No, thank you."

Sometimes it's better not to know.

I considered dragging my whole family to the opera for purposes of this blog, but between soccer games, birthday parties and piano practice that seemed like an impractical, if not impossible, proposition to complete by Monday.

Instead I smuggled CDs of La Boheme into the car.

"I've got new music for the trip to Grandma's house," I announced. The kids were understandably excited.

After all, based on my previous playlists an argument could be made that I'm really thirteen; a little Katy Perry, followed by Adele and this summer just wouldn't have been complete without our 'Call Me Maybe' sing-a-longs.

It was a rude awakening. After they got done making fun of the undeniable talent streaming forth from the car speakers, the backseat crowd began to beg for Z100. And I did exactly what anyone else trapped in a car with two children, ages eight and ten, would have done. I caved.

But I think I'll start playing opera during Sunday night dinner. Who knows, maybe it'll sink into our brains and some morning we'll awake with unaccountable cravings for Puccini and Rossini. Or mushrooms. I would definitely take mushrooms as an acceptable answer.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Frosty the Nixon

Remember that movie I mentioned on Monday? The one that made me roll my eyes and drop it in Netflix purgatory aka my living room coffee table. It was Frost/Nixon. In case you don't understand why this movie elicited such a strong reaction here's how it's described.

This Oscar-nominated adaptation of Peter Morgan's popular Broadway play, a drama centering on a series of revelatory television interviews between British talk show host David Frost and former President Richard Nixon. Frank Langella reprises his Tony Award-winning stage role as Nixon.
See what I mean about aspirational art. I was holding an Oscar nominated, Tony Award winning chunk of American history. This is the kind of thing a thinking person should feel compelled to watch. And many of them do relish watching these kinds of movies. Namely, my husband.

"Really?" he asked when I announced I wanted to watch the movie on a Monday night. His excitement was tinged with a hint of suspicion. "Were you planning on falling asleep on the couch?"

It's a little awkward when someone knows your proclivities so well. When I told one of my movie loving BFF's that Frost/Nixon had made the dubious cut for aspirational art she was horrified. "Do you realize I watched that movie five times?" she asked. "And the first three times I saw it were in the theater. And I watched all nine hours of the original interviews."

But isn't this Nixon?!?
Duly chastised I sat down to watch the movie. The first twenty minutes I spent multi-tasking. "Who's that guy in the chair?" I asked at one point.

"That's Nixon," said my husband, giving me the evil eye.

I decided I needed to make a better effort and focus. And to my surprise it was entertaining and *gasp* engaging. But here's the more important question. Did I learn anything?

I did! I learned I am happy 1970s style sideburns are no longer popular for the male population at large (hipsters being the obvious exception).

Okay, I also learned that sometimes there is a reason why Oscar nominated, Tony Award winning productions receive accolades. I'd probably learn a lot more if I sat down and watched the full nine hours of original interviews, but really, what's the point of having amazingly smart, slightly obsessive friends if you can't count on them to fill you in on certain details.

P.S. No snowmen were harmed in the writing of this post.

P.S.S. However, I might be when my Frost/Nixon obsessed friend reads the post title.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Flame Alphabet and Guilt

The premise of The Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus doesn't make it sound like it's going to force you to do brain yoga. Language of children has become toxic and is slowly killing the adults. Cool, dystopian vibe, right!?!

I picked this book up thinking it would be the last of my fun summer reads, another serving of Pop Rocks with a poolside helping of Diet Coke. Something to be read while licking orange cheeto dust off my fingers.

By the time I hit page 50 I realized I had underestimated it. Things were happening in the book that seemed well outside of the premise I'd been sold.

 Forest Jews were receiving religious instruction through listening devices connected to orange wires and somehow this was ground zero of the language toxicity epidemic. My complete lack of knowledge on the subjects of Jewish mysticism and Kabbalah became evident, which brought on a full scale Jewish-style guilt trip because this seems like information a good non-Jewish mommy would investigate for the benefit of her half-Jewish kids who, according to Orthodox principles, aren't technically Jewish.

I got over my guilt and soldiered through the chapters of pseudo-science which explained the roots of langauge toxicity, how it came into being and how it took hold. I wish I could explain it here, but I won't. For one thing, I'd hate to spoil it for you. For another thing, I'm really hoping someone else will take it upon themselves to read this book and explain it to me. You can see why, after these chapters, I decided I needed some guidance.

On Goodreads people either hated or loved this book. The positive reviews didn't just love it, they were passionate about it and used words like genius, masterpiece, ground-breaking. The negative reviews claimed it was boring and couldn't see what the fuss was about.

The negative reviews made a compelling argument to keep reading. I became determined I WOULD see what the fuss was about and so I pushed on. Instead of poolside with Cheetos, I read it in the evening when it was quiet, before bed.

Halfway through the book I began to have Flame Alphabet nightmares, dreams where I searched for ways to speak to my children without reliance on words (written or spoken), gesture or facial expression. The main character's search for alternative alphabets made me think about creating my own with equal lack of success.

I realized the book was easier to read and more comprehensible in small doses and so that's what I did; just one or two chapters a night. Even so, reaching the end just made me feel like I needed to go back and start at the beginning. Maybe if I did that I'd understand it better. Maybe the first reading was like the primer and the second reading would make everything clear. Or maybe the fuss is because this is a book with the capacity to engage both subconscious and imagination.

Given the odd nature of this book review, I'll understand if you don't feel compelled to rush out and buy it. But if you do, please let me know. I'm suffering from my own case of The Flame Alphabet induced language toxicity, in that I'm dying to talk about it with someone.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Aspirational Art

The other day I received, what I refer to as an aspirational movie, from Netflix.
 
I'm not sure what your aspirations are, but when it comes to movies mine tend to be the ones with the words 'critically acclaimed' in their blurb. I'm also unsure how you react when you get your aspirational movies, but this is what I do. I wrinkle up my nose and drop the movie in one of those rooms in the house that no-one ever enters. In short, I practice avoidance.

The problem is that, when given a choice, my taste runs more towards sordid depictions of vampires or violent ones of zombies. And just so I can be really clear about my movie/tv viewing preferences I should confess I have a hard time walking away from an episode of Gossip Girls...erm and maybe the rest of the CW line-up.

I realize my zombie, vampire, Park Avenue princess viewing habits have all the sustenance of Pop Rocks (which I recently tried for the first time ever and now that I think about it True Blood mixed with Pop Rocks sounds like a perfect combo), but I'm digressing.

There's a simple reason I force myself to watch aspirational movies and read books.

I think they're healthy, like vegetables. I'm convinced they're chock full of brain vitamins, ideas I wouldn't think of on my own, knowledge that might click and add to knowledge I already have, points that will make me seek out expertise in person and on-line. They're like yoga for my brain, making me stretch and contort into positions that aren't necessarily comfortable and often make me grit my teeth and wonder how much more I can take.

Okay, I'm not making this sound very enjoyable. And sometimes aspirational art isn't. Some of it is dreadful.

Every so often a movie is so bad I can't help but think poking myself with needles would have been a more productive use of my time. There are books I have literally thrown at the wall because they are just that annoying.

But I also learn things. Now that it's September and my children are off to school doing their own brain yoga I thought it only fitting I take a break from my Pop Rocks cultural consumption habits for a month or so and give aspirational art my full attention.

Who knows, maybe I'll inspire you to pick up something new too. We can groan or rejoice at aspirational art together. At the very least you can cheer me on from the safety of your couch where you're comfortably enjoying all my favorite shows. Umm, now that I think about it would anyone mind volunteering to fill me in on The Carrie Diaries...pretty, pretty please! I'll pay you in these!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Back-to-School Primer for Adults: Part Two

As promised, today is part two of my back-to-school primer for adults. On Wednesday I covered some of the top things to avoid when talking to your working parent friends. Today I'm going to list the conversational pitfalls to avoid with your stay-at-home friends.

1. "So, what do you all day when the kids are at school?"

You might be genuinely curious about where your stay- at-home friends go and what they do between the hours of 8:30 and 3:00. You might have a vision of coffee shops, followed by leisurely lunches and early afternoons spent strolling through boutiques.

 I can almost guarantee this is not how most stay-at- home parents spend their days. In fact, it's much more probable their days include things like frantic laundry (currently under consideration for Olympic sport status) and grocery shopping.

2. "Do you mind picking up/dropping off/hosting a playdate?"

Remember how you get annoyed when your stay-at-home friends try to make unauthorized use of your nanny? They feel the same way. Just because they are at home doesn't mean they are a dumping ground, errand running resource or alternative childcare option.

3. "I almost didn't recognize you."

It's true. There are the days when your stay-at-home friends might wear the same pair of coffee-stained sweatpants three days in a row. It's hard to get motivated to dress nicely when little people are treating your thighs like their own personal painting canvas (smear of ketchup here, or is it blood, dab of mustard there).

That they've become 'almost unrecognizable' isn't going to put anyone in a good mood. As I mentioned on Wednesday, general, unspecific comments about people's appearance can go downhill in a hurry.  

4. Your status as a working parent is not a get-out-of-volunteering card.

If this statement tempts you to enter into a comparison of who works harder, you're missing the point. There is always a need for volunteers and the beneficiaries of all that volunteerism are some pretty important people, namely your children.

True, many of the hands-on opportunties are during the school day, but most schools have numerous weekend and evening events that need to be staffed. The other thing to remember is any form of help is appreciated, from offering to provide the Saturday soccer game snacks to using your working parent expertise to create organizational spreadsheets for the school carnival.

5. Play nice.

I know. It's the same rule I gave the stay-at-home parents. As I was writing today's post I realized most of these tips are just the flip side of the ones for working parents.

I've been a stay-at-home parent, a working parent and a work-from-home parent and this rule has served equally well in all those capacities. It's important to remember you have something in common with almost EVERY parent you meet, in that (excepting the child abusers) everyone is trying to do the absolute best for their children.

When you think about it, that's a pretty big thing to have in common. Chances are, if you can avoid the conversational no-nos outlined in my last two blog posts, you might find out you have even more in common.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Back-to-School Primer for Adults.

With the kids back in school, this feels like the perfect time to write a back-to-school primer. Not the kind that lists cool new school supplies, anticipated curriculum or fall fashion. Nope, this is a back-to-school primer for the parents. 

In my experience there are two categories of parents. Those who work and those who don't.

No matter which camp you fall into there are certain unintentional statements which function as the verbal equivalant of rubbing salt in someone's eyes.

In the interest of preserving eyes and avoiding rants from some of my close friends, today's blog will focus on the verbal minefields to avoid if you happen to be talking to a working parent. On Friday, the viewpoint will be flipped for the stay at home parents.

1. I know you wish you could see your working parent friends more, but please whatever you do, don't ask, "How come we never see you around school?"

There's a reason you never see them at school. They're working. Doing that thing required to pay bills, buy food and insure the general survival of their family. By asking them why you never see them around you are a.) making them feel guilty and b.) making them happy they aren't around school more so they can avoid seeing you.

2. If you're not paying the nanny, hands off.

I know it's tempting to ask your working parent friends if their nanny can pick your kids up from school/take them to a soccer game/piano lessons/host a play date but unless you're planning on full reciprocation you need to fight that temptation.

The purpose of a nanny is so children of working parents can go about their routines, not so they can accomodate yours. However, if you find yourself in desperate need of childcare and your best working friend's nanny is the only option, offer to split the cost, play babysitter on a weekend night or anything you can think of to show your genuine appreciation.

3. Schedule meetings in the evening.

Here's the thing. Most parents want to be involved with their children's education. If you're in a position to set the time of volunteer based meetings, make an effort to schedule them in the evening. You might be surprised how many new faces pop out of the woodwork.

4. "Look at you, all dressed up."

If you're dressed for your morning yoga class while your friend is sporting a suit with heels there's a good chance this statement is going to make her imagine tackling you to the floor and teaching you a whole new series of yoga poses you don't want to learn. She's dressed up because, as discussed in #1, she's going to work. There's no need to comment.


5. Play nice.

Follow the golden rule of human interaction. Don't make assumptions, treat people the way you'd want to be treated and if you find yourself questioning whether you should say something, err on the side of caution. Otherwise you may find yourself on the receiving end of intense glares, or if you live in Oregon, extremely tight-lipped smiles.

Don't forget, Friday is the second part of my back-to-school primer with a focus on the worst things to say to your stay at home friends.