Sunday, December 05, 2010

RIP babblebook (2001-2010)

Much as I love you, it's time to leave you, babblebook, blog whose name I came up with as a freshman in college. My future lies in the all new & pretty spiffy, where the blog will have its own room ( but it will no longer have the run of the whole house. It will cohabit and ideally play nice with my essays, poems, & feature pieces, which, for the first time, will be collected in one place.

Thanks for everything.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Things I Loved and Forgot

It can be such a thrill to rediscover something one lost sight of, for whatever reason. The Film Experience blog, for example, provides an oh-so-useful list of the films of 2010 grouped into categories like "Don't Miss," "Recommended with Reservations," and "Make It Stop."

According to Rogers's list, cross-checked against the Indie Spirit Awards results, the most important films I haven't seen yet are Black Swan, Blue Valentine, and Rabbit Hole. And I don't have to feel bad about missing Alice in Wonderland and Iron Man 2! What a relief.

Still, get set for a tear-soaked holiday season, y'all! Maybe I'll blow off all those movies and just re-watch Babies, which is basically one long YouTube video capturing the cuteness that transpires when small people with big eyes and no motor skills play with things (rocks; cats; goats; their siblings).

Not listed, presumably because Rogers hasn't seen them yet: True Grit and Love and Other Drugs, both of which I'm curious about if only for the glimpses of little Gyllenhaal.

Speaking of films, a site called Jon's Ego printed an argument against the Bechdel test (which I call "the Ms. Test for Movies"). It's simply explained this way:
all credit belongs to A. Bechdel, friends, for this brilliant 3-part movie test:

1) Is there more than one female character? If so,
2) do the female characters talk, and if so,
3) about anything other than men?

You would be amazed at how many movies don't pass this test. Good movies. Great movies, even -- go ahead, count. 

I don't think you need to self-flagellate over this, for what it's worth. A movie can flunk the Ms. Test -- I mean, the Liz Wallace via DTWOF and Ms. Test -- and still be quality. But for what it's worth, one of the reasons I've never been crazy about Scorsese is that virtually none of his movies pass the LWVDTWOFAMT Test. It's all-macho-all-the-time with Marty, with the glorious exception of Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, which you could say is the only Scorsese movie he's only made once and which almost no one talks about. 

Is it so hard to have women be real people in good movies? I mean, even master-of-macho, Russell-Crowe-worshipping Ridley Scott hasThelma and Louise AND Alien on his resume.
But Jon's Ego has a problem:
I hate the Bechdel Test. It seriously annoys me every time I see it brought up and used as proof of sexism in movies (Even when they’re used by esteemed coworkers of mine. Sorry, Rachel!). Hollywood is clearly filled with sexism but the Bechdel Test proves nothing. ...

let’s try something else. Think of a movie that has a female main character. I’m not talking ensemble piece here. This has to be a clearly defined main character who is a woman. Now do an inverse Bechdel Test about the male characters. Does it pass? I’m gonna guess it doesn’t. Does that mean that that movie is sexist against men? Of course not. 
Jon seems like a good guy, and I don't mean to get all patriarchy-blaming on his ass, but he's pulling a total Limbaugh here. First of all, his main evidence is that he's "gonna guess" that if flipped on its head the rule will still apply -- i.e., in a movie featuring a clearly-defined female lead, there will not be a substantive conversation between two male characters. I'm gonna guess he didn't spend five minutes thinking that through. There are always prominent men in movies, even female-driven ones. And they always talk.

Check out IMDB's Top 250 list. You may notice that you have to scroll before you find a film that even fits Jon's criteria, which to his credit he acknowledges is a problem. Depending on your point of view, the first entry is either Psycho (#24, which, btw, is bullshit -- that should be in the top 10) or Silence of the Lambs (#27). Either way, both of those films also feature very prominent male characters, characters who have, in fact, arguably juicier roles than the ostensible female leads.

If you want to be more orthodox about his rules, we can keep going til we get to Amelie (#45) which is beyond debate a movie centered around a woman. Even there, the male characters have conversations with each other about things other than women. In French, sure, but that still counts. Or Pan's Labyrinth (#74 -- also bullshit; that movie is amazing), where the only thing dudes are gossiping about is fascism.

He can't be thinking of "Sex and the City," since he specifically says he doesn't mean ensemble pieces. Even if you were to consider "Sex and the City" as a counter-point, though, I'd argue that, as a 25-minute TV show starring four women or a movie based on same, it's a very different kettle of fish. Men are shortchanged in the show and the movies alike, sure, but sitcoms involve time and narrative constraints unimaginable to most filmmakers.

No, Jon's "guess" is plain wrong. The fact that, in the entire top 100 list, there are maybe five films where it's arguable a woman is THE lead character -- and male characters outnumber female characters in just about every film by about four to one -- is all the information you need to call Hollywood sexist. The Bechdel/ Ms. test helps make that clear in a straight-forward, accessible way. It's not an indictment, but it's a fair and a useful tool.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Men in the Family

My uncle, who has made the same Thanksgiving dinner since 1987, died last year, suddenly. The word “suddenly” doesn’t even do justice to the speed with which he was there and then wasn’t. No one has planned the menu for the holiday this year. It’s like how if you call my grandmother, my uncle’s voice still greets you from the answering machine—he recorded over my grandfather’s voice when my grandfather died. No one has had the guts to go next.

My grandmother is still in shock. She is almost 98 years old and she never expected to outlive her husband, her son-in-law, and her son. Will she be able to churn out her annual tart apple pie? My father would kill for that pie. He used to elbow me after tasting it and say, “When are you going to ask your grandma to teach you to bake that pie?” I’d retort, “You want pie, ask her to teach you to bake.” Then we’d both settle down comfortably on the couch and read something.

The men in my family were taken down one by one and now, as the smoke clears, I wonder who is going to carve the turkey. My older brother Adam and I led the seder last year for Passover, but we did it from the kids’ table. Will Adam be able to take a stab at the bird? A thirty year old without a wife or children makes a pretty half-assed patriarch. I would be worse: I’m female, and a vegetarian. The turkey would laugh at me. I don’t even like pie.

To make matters worse, the day after Thanksgiving we'll gather at the cemetery for my father's unveiling. Gives a new meaning to "Black Friday," doesn't it?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Brooklyn, you’re bleeding me dry: What $450K would buy me in 7 other cities : Bundle

An extended, amended version of my recent blog post is now a slideshow on the financial website Bundle (run by the fabulous Chipper McCheerful)! Check it out and think wistfully with me of what you could afford if you were willing to leave New York.

Brooklyn, you’re bleeding me dry: What $450K would buy me in 7 other cities : Bundle

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Cheating on the Turkey

What is the point of Thanksgiving? Is it a stuck-in-there holiday to make November more bearable and give us all a long weekend? Is it to juice the travel industry? To remind us all to feel vaguely guilty about Native Americans (although not so much that it puts us off our food)?

Was it an early attempt by enviro-conscious, earnest, lefty, do-gooding, Farmer's Market types to get us all to eat seasonally and -- perhaps -- locally?

Is it a family dysfunction dress rehearsal, the main event of which is Christmas?

Is it about eating, or cooking AND eating, or cooking AND eating AND being with family?

I ask because the question arose at lunch today: Is it cheating to have Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant?

My instinct is that it is. The point of the holiday isn't to partake of cranberry sauce, which is possibly the best straight-out-of-the-can food there is, but to partake of cranberry sauce across the table from someone you might not ordinarily see or (heaven forbid) even like all that much. And somebody you know and possibly love -- not some line cook paid $5.50 an hour -- has to scrape that cranberry sauce out of the can and into a bowl. Otherwise, so help me, it just doesn't count.

My Thanksgivings, you will perhaps not be surprised to learn, have met these rabbinic requirements. There is traveling involved; there is stress; there is extended family for extended periods of time. Yes, there is turkey, though I haven't eaten it since I was 18, and seasonally-appropriate vegetables, and apple and pumpkin pies, but the point isn't the turkey. The point is the entire celebration, sun-up to sun-down, of America's favorite secular holiday, one for which, yes, we all have to sacrifice a little bit.

Am I wrong? Am I *wrong*? Or, like Walter, am I not wrong, but just an asshole?


Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Jonathan Franzen and Lorrie Moore were beyond charming last night at 92Y -- where I had never actually been before. My darling Aunts Marjy & Jane took me to that hallowed ground, which Jon Stewart described as the third holiest site to Judaism, after Jerusalem and Zabar's.

On stage, Moore and Franzen giggled like old friends. They also each had great answers to an audience question: When do you know you've arrived at the right ending?

Lorrie Moore talked about the difference between novels and short stories in this respect. Short stories demand endings that shine light backwards on everything that has come before, she said. Novels, by contrast, shine light outwards on what could come next.

Jonathan Franzen said that you know you've hit on a good ending (if not the "right" one) when the paralyzing anxiety occasioned by all the worse endings you've thought of begins to fall away.

The audience sort of mooed happily, the way groups do when someone says something that makes perfect sense.

Walking out, I told my aunts that Franzen is one of my literary boyfriends. (Adorable Brit David Mitchell, who I saw read at BookCourt, is another, because I am not so monogamous in my literary life: I also go on crazy dates with Jonathan Ames, talk politics with hot grandma Anne Lamott, and have passionate Southern evenings with Ann Patchett.)

Imagine my surprise when I went to sleep that night and dreamed Franzen had become my *actual* boyfriend. Which led to this exchange over GChat:

Logan: um, did you do it?
Me: no!
Logan: just checking
Me: we walked around swarthmore arm in arm
Logan: !!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Me: isn't that kind of even better??
Logan: that is even better. amazing, amazing dream.
Me: i also dreamt that i had to pee in a suitcase for some reason. like, everyone else got to use a toilet and i had to pee in a suitcase. but that was a separate dream.

Friday, November 12, 2010

New essay up!

The good people at PANK have published my horror story, "Not an English Person." It begins,
To lose one job may be regarded as a misfortune but, as Oscar Wilde might say, to lose two looks like carelessness. I am on my fifth in five years.
Go read the whole thing! Then try to sleep tonight. I dare you.

Friday, November 05, 2010

"Missouri," Meet "Cop's Wife"

"We can have animus and not be enemies," sayeth Jon Stewart. I can't say I'm there yet, but it gives me something to aim for.

Carolyn Hax perfectly expresses the feeling I had at the Rally to Restore Sanity, the one I'm trying to feel again, especially after Tuesday's results:
Missouri: Hi Carolyn,

I guess my husband and I are what the liberal East Coast would call conservative bigots. My question isn't about that, so I won't get into it. We are raising two kids our way, while being constantly told by the liberal media that it's the wrong way. Sorry, but we just don't agree, and neither do most of the people in our community.

The issue is that my husband's job is taking him to a liberal East Coast city, and we're now faced with the question of whether to uproot everyone and follow him there. If we go, I worry my kids will be exposed to a lot of hooey I have worked hard to keep out of their lives. If we don't, we're looking at at least two years' separation during which my husband will miss the last of his daughters' little kid years. It's well-established around here that you can't bubble-wrap kids, so basically I'm looking for suggestions on how to keep our values strong in our kids even if we choose to move them out east.

Carolyn Hax: You're right to worry--we liberal East Coast dwellers have two heads, learn a secret language at Ivy League schools so we can mock real hard-working Americans, make our preschoolers watch gay porn, and scream like pod people when we see someone going to church.

The exposure-to-a-lot-of-hooey ship has already sailed, I'm afraid--you've bought wholesale the whole idea that there's an "Us" and a "Them" in this country.

Here's a little welcome brochure for you in the form of my daily life, in case you decide to tough it out in the Eastern time zone:

I'm married, and we have three little boys.

We love them, work hard to teach them manners, values, civic responsibility, respect for adults, respect for themselves.

We care about the schooling they get, the food they eat, the bedtimes they keep, the community that surrounds them, the families that take them in for play dates. We care about setting an example of strong partnership in our marriage.

We have a hard time containing our frustration when we see even the slightest glimmer of entitlement in them, even though we know intellectually that all small kids see themselves as the center of the earth. We also know that it's up to us to teach them the value of hard work, of delayed gratification, of gratitude, of giving back as much as they take, if not more.

We also give them as much room as we can to be themselves, which means, at various times, letting them explore in stick and rocks and mud, and make play weapons, and fall off their bikes, and they've done target shooting and archery. (I hear a lot about attempts to "feminize" boys, and all I can say is, good luck. If it's in them to be house kids, then they'll gravitate that way whether they're pushed to or not, and if it's not in them, then they won't. Cultural norming works better in theory than in practice.)

We encourage them to play with neighborhood kids; these neighbors include four families with their kids in faith-based schools--one believes firmly in single-sex education--and four others with kids in public schools. (My kids go private because the classes are small, much better for their temperaments.)

Have you read anything yet that makes you tremble in fear for your children?

To be fair, I'll also say that I worship no higher power. However, I am also never in anyone's face about that, not even when someone of faith gets into mine, which does happen. I not only respect people's right to live as they see fit, but I also hope my kids will look to others as an example, compare other parents' choices to ours, and choose a path based on that exploration.

Which brings me to the point I could have opened with and quit (but then I wouldn't have been able to bring in the Pod People): If you are as assured as you suggest in the correctness--and righteousness--of the way you've chosen to raise your children, then there should be no reason it couldn't withstand the challenge of other points of view. Truth likes light, doesn't it?

Trust your choices, and trust your neighbors to be human--really, I swear they will bear an uncanny resemblance to you.

As as for Us vs. Them, may I please humbly ask of you to declare with me that enough is enough is enough?
Staying ovation for Carolyn! Full points.

Then of course there's the adorable five-year-old child whose mother allowed him to dress up as Daphne from "Scooby Doo" and defended everything from his neon wig to his go-go boots to judgmental mommies IRL and on the web in a post called "My Son is Gay."

SPOILER ALERT: The child in question is not actually gay. The writer is employing a rhetorical device to make the point that it wouldn't matter to her if he becomes gay at some point but that letting him dress up as a girl if he wants on a costume-oriented holiday will not affect his sexual preferences later in life. (As she puts it, brilliantly, "I am not worried that your son will grow up to be an actual ninja so back off.")

In case Mrs. Missouri is wondering, this gender-bending Halloween is brought to you by a Stay At Home Mom who calls herself "Cop's Wife," sends her kids to church pre-school, and lives in the Midwest. Teh gays! Teh cross-dressers! They are EVERYWHERE. If you think you can avoid their pernicious influence by staying where you are, Mrs. Missouri, you've got another think coming.

Missouri, meet Cop's Wife. Bring the kids! I think you will get along smashingly, at least until / unless Mrs. Missouri does have to transplant to some godforsaken eastern urban hellhole. ("Don't you see the rest of the country looks upon New York like we're left-wing, communist, Jewish, homosexual pornographers? I think of us that way sometimes and I live here." --Alvy Singer)

But: breathe deeply, Ester. Abide. ("Calmer than you are." --Walter Sobchak) I don't need to resort to snark just because Mrs. Missouri did in her letter. Perhaps she is an open-minded person waiting to happen! After all, how Jesus Camp-y could Mrs. Missouri really be if she's writing into my favorite (and East Coast based) advice columnist? Perhaps there is hope for her yet.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Remember Two Years Ago?

I do:
On Nov. 4, 2008, as on every morning during that fall's presidential campaign, I began my workday by reviewing the latest battleground-state polls at Pollster and RealClearPolitics, checking up on the pundits at Politico and Wonkette, and seeing what the establishment had to say at the New York Times and the Washington Post. In contrast to the recent Election Days I had known, the news was more than encouraging. My co-workers planned parties. The experts were hopeful. Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight predicted a landslide.

Still, concern spread through me until I was possessed: By the end of the day I resembled something out of The Exorcist: trembling and mumbling, with green-tinged skin. My husband, Ben, showed up at my office, took one look at me, and knew that I would never make it to our results-viewing parties; even if I did, I would scare the revelers. "Let’s go home," he said, worried enough that he suggested taking a cab back to Brooklyn. I was worried enough that I agreed.

We made it only to Union Square before I threw up, splashing my fear on the inside of the car door and my beloved new suede boots. I got out and sat shivering on the curb as the cab driver muttered curses and Ben ran into stores, begging for cleaning supplies. Two Manhattanites walked by me on spiked shoes and laughed, but I barely heard them. I was thinking about Pennsylvania. ...
The entirety of my oh-so-timely piece, entitled "Hope Over Experience," has been on The Morning News for about a week now.

The funny thing is, I'm still thinking about Pennsylvania. And Nevada. And Wisconsin. (Poor Russ Feingold!) The point is, if you need me, I'll be online shopping all day to distract myself, and pondering who I detest more: David "Pink Shirt" Brooks or Maureen "Fires of Mordor" Dowd? In fact, let's make it a poll!

Who Is a More Worthless Human Being / Pundit?

Monday, November 01, 2010

My Family Wins the Internet

On BNReview, my father-in-law, a Russian doctor, teaches all you Americans how to drink vodka. I don't need teaching because I have plenty of opportunities to watch the pros.

Meanwhile, my cousins of It's the Real do it up OK Go-style with their new music video, "My Girl's a Republican."

My Girl's a Republican from jeff on Vimeo.

Now I have their song competing for floorspace in my head with the Rally to Restore Sanity's mash-up of "the Peace/Love/Crazy Train."

Pictures of my favorite handwritten signs from the rally TK. It was pretty amazing, I have to say, to see hundreds of signs and not one typo. That should go down in history.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The ABCs of Places You Could Buy a House If You Didn't Live in NY

A is for Asheville!

Asheville, North Carolina, is the San Francisco of the South. It is run by hippies and retirees in equal numbers and offers plenty of NYT-sanctioned activities.

Huge Queen Anne Victorian in the historic neighborhood of Montford, a short walk from downtown Asheville. Built in 1900. Almost 4,500 square feet. Sky blue with gingerbread-house-like trim. Fireplace, wraparound porch, and turrets included. 

Property is zoned "RM8," which presumably means something to somebody.

B is for Bisbee!

Bisbee, Arizona, is the San Francisco of the Southwest. It's an artsy town in the mountains near the Mexico-America border, so lots of Weeds-like hijinks ensue! At least in my imagination. A guy there makes killer Killer Bee Honey.

Click Image to View SlideshowMmmmmmm ... pool. Also four bedrooms to house all the jealous friends from New York who insist on flying out to use your pool.

Outside features include "Rv Hookup, Rv Parking, Sprinkler/drip," while landscape includes "Fruit Trees, Shrubs, Desert, Grass, Gravel, Trees." Can't argue with that diversity! Plus your kids get to go to school in a district called Tombstone.

C is for Copenhagen!

Copenhagen is in Denmark, which is the San Francisco of southern Scandinavia and has abolished poverty and injustice. Well, almost.

I have no idea how easy it is to buy property over there, but apparently a 3-BR townhouse can be had for the equivalent of $350,000 US. Do you know what $350,000 US will buy you in Brooklyn? A garage in Bay Ridge next to an open sewer. (I'm guessing.)

D through F coming soon!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Two Weddings, One Ass

There is a terrific Yiddish expression that currently sums up a large part of what Juan Williams did wrong: "You can't dance in two weddings with one ass."

Fox News and National Public Radio are two very different weddings, playing very different music and enjoying very different food. Trying to please the machers at both was bound to be an exercise in futility, if not self-destruction.

Besides, wasn't this so far over-the-top as to be almost passive-aggressive? (After all, he got to be the news story for a change, and he got a hefty raise too.) Telling O'Reilly "you're right"? Using the words "I'm not a bigot" and then NOT STOPPING THERE?

Here's the full quote:
"I mean, look, Bill, I'm not a bigot. You know the kind of books I've written about the civil rights movement in this country," Williams said Monday. "But when I get on a plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous."
For those who are saying that Williams was fired in violation of his 1st Amendment rights, an anonymous NPR exec rolls his eyes in the Washington Post: "Williams's comments on Monday were the last straw, the executive said. He dismissed suggestions that NPR was suppressing Williams's freedom of speech, saying, "Juan has a First Amendment right to say whatever he wants. He does not have a First Amendment right to be paid by NPR for saying whatever he wants." And there's the rub. Though we are all free to talk, we are not free to escape the consequences. Not even if a lot of loudmouths agree with us.

Besides, considering that Tea Party senatorial candidate Christine O'Donnell just publicly revealed she doesn't know what the 1st Amendment entails, the Republicans probably shouldn't be drawing too much attention to the Bill of Rights.

As TNC points out, what Williams said was a problem. What Williams CONTINUES to say leeches out any potential sympathy I'd have for him. From today's NYT:
Mr. Williams said in an essay published Thursday on that he was fired "for telling the truth."

He continued in the essay: "Now that I no longer work for NPR let me give you my opinion. This is an outrageous violation of journalistic standards and ethics by management that has no use for a diversity of opinion, ideas or a diversity of staff (I was the only black male on the air). This is evidence of one-party rule and one-sided thinking at NPR that leads to enforced ideology, speech and writing. It leads to people, especially journalists, being sent to the gulag for raising the wrong questions and displaying independence of thought."
Sent to the gulag! Somewhere, Solzhenitsyn is groaning in his grave and stuffing dirt in his ears. If Williams is really that convinced that he is a victim of severe, historical injustice, then he belong at Fox News. Let me be the first to say, Welcome home.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Because men hunted buffalo ...

On the way to Los Angeles for a whirlwind business trip, I caught sight of this newsstand at JFK Airport. On one side, a sign says "men's interests," and on the other side, a sign says "women's interests."

What, pray tell, are men's interests as opposed to women's interests?

I'm so glad you asked!

On the male side of the mechitzah, we discover that dudes are into:

Smart Money
The Economist
Men's Fitness

On the women's side, we discover that ladies like:

O (Oprah)
Home & Garden
Health & Fitness
Family Circle

Thank God men and women both care about Fitness! Otherwise, what else would they talk about?

PS: Apparently I missed "Love Your Body Day"! I would have liked to celebrate it because all my parts, euphemistically-noted in previous blog entries and non-, are in good working order once again. Bless you, teeth (and "foot")! I promise I'll never take you for granted again!

Thursday, October 07, 2010

"Foot" and Mouth Disease

I've spent this past week trying to determine which is worse: a mouth full of teeth that can handle food no tougher than avocado, or a disturbance in a region private enough that you don't want to mention it on a blog. (There can only be one Dooce.) I'll call it my "foot."

I played around with the idea of mentioning it anyway, since apparently it's a relatively common, though disgusting, problem, and one you could probably relate to. Then I saw The Social Network & was reminded, via one of those patented Wise Movie Characters often played by Morgan Freeman, "The Internet is written in ink." Note: That girl was so smart I couldn't believe she went to BU!

Ha ha ... ha.

I really enjoyed the Social Network, though I've enjoyed anything recently that distracted me from my mouth and my "foot." The list also includes Seasons 2 and 3 of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," sleep, Ethiopian food, homemade applesauce, word games, lying on the couch for hours at a time, a peanut-butter smoothie from Netcar, getting a Diane von Furstenberg dress from a clothing swap, making muffinloaf, and reading recaps of TV shows.

But that's not to say the film wasn't quality. Well done, Aaron Sorkin & David Fincher -- you made a movie with no surprises in it somehow feel suspenseful and dramatic. Likewise, though almost nothing happens. Here is basically all the action in the film:
  • a bed almost gets lit on fire
  • a student runs through the snow in inappropriate footwear
  • a chimney breaks
  • Asian women are slandered (Jewish guys come off only slightly better)
  • Justin Timberlake does coke with some under-dressed, under-aged girls
  • a more or less unrepentant asshole becomes the youngest billionaire in history.
Still, the momentum of the thing feels inescapable. That's impressive.

Aaron Sorkin is on record saying he's not a fan of Facebook. Even if he weren't, the "Lemon Lyman" episode of "the West Wing" makes his views on Internet social-subcultures pretty clear. The thing is, we don't need an Aaron Sorkin Facebook page to know an awful lot about Aaron Sorkin. More than most auteurs, he expresses himself through his art.

SEX: Definitely male. His clubhouse door still says, "No girls allowed."
BIRTHDAY: Whatever makes him old enough to be cranky about kids these days but not so old that he can't entertain kids these days. Probably early 60s.


HOMETOWN: Somewhere on the East Coast where the Jewish intelligensia reign. Probably New York City suburbs.
POLITICAL VIEWS: Cranky liberal.
RELIGIOUS VIEWS: Culturally & identifiably Jewish, but not observant.

BIO: I like young, smart, arrogant, usually sexist, male outsiders who occasionally get their comeuppance but for the most part get to rise to the top, defeating even super-star bad guys like Jack Nicholson and Republican House sub-committees.


"Lewis, we've had Presidents who were beloved who couldn't find a coherent sentence with two hands and a flashlight. People don't drink the sand 'cause they're thirsty. They drink the sand 'cause they don't know the difference." -- President Andrew Shepherd

Joanne Herring: Why is Congress saying one thing and doing nothing?
Charlie Wilson: Well, tradition mostly.

"There is nothing on this earth sexier, believe me, gentlemen, than a woman you have to salute in the morning. Promote 'em all, I say, because this is true - if you haven't gotten a blow-job from a superior officer, well, you're just letting the best in life pass you by. 'Course, my problem is, I'm a colonel, so I guess I'll just have to keep taking cold showers until they elect some gal president." -- Colonel Nathan Jessup

Flight Attendant: Sir, I'm going to have to ask that you turn off your cellular phone.
Toby: We're flying in a Lockheed Eagle Series L-1011. Came off the line twenty months ago. Carries a Sim-5 transponder tracking system. And you're telling me I can still flummox this thing with something I bought at Radio Shack?

LIKES AND INTERESTS: Latin, musical theater in general and Gilbert & Sullivan in particular, women named Amy, being the smartest kid in the class, being insolent to authority figures, Yiddish, minutiae, space exploration, using the same clean-cut white actors over and over again, fast talking, big words, grand gestures, speechifying, Maureen Dowd, recreational drug use, and baseball.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Making Love to an Ice Pack

Here's a lesson I have now learned that I am sharing with you: Before you are scheduled to have surgery at a place, check that place out. Meet the doctor, if possible. And make sure you're not going to be outnumbered by people in Ed Hardy shirts.

I arrived at my oral surgeon's office yesterday at 12:20 for an appointment at 12:30. After two hours of waiting in a crowd that would have been equally comfortable at an OTB parlor, I was finally taken to the back and put in one of a room's two dentist's chairs. The other was occupied.

The guy in the other chair and I waited for another half an hour or so as moans came through the walls from other rooms and hygienists walked in and out changing their gloves. Hip hop blasted from a Panasonic boom box on the floor, circa 1991, so retro that it didn't even have a CD player, only a tape deck and a radio.

At some point I started to shake -- a normal enough response to perpetual anticipation, especially when you're waiting to get all four wisdom teeth out to the soothing sounds of Jay-Z. Hygienists shot me amused looks and talked to each other in Spanish. I tried to calm myself down by silently reciting the Kipling poem "If," which my dad had me memorize ages ago:
If you can keep your head / when all about you are losing theirs / And blaming it on you / If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you / Yet make allowance for their doubting too / If you can wait and not be tired by waiting --
Then the surgeon and a fleet of hygienists came in to start working on my roommate. They wasted no time: within five minutes, he was gasping and twitching; within ten, he had arched his entire back off the table like Cary Elwes in the Princess Bride when his life is being sucked from him by the Machine.

I'm not a brave person. There's a reason I carry small, dissolving tablets of Klonopin around with me in my change purse. I don't like pain, I hide from danger, and I am not even that crazy about excitement. I am CERTAINLY not crazy about watching dental patients reduced to begging for their lives.

Roommate #1 was restored to a sitting position, stuffed with cotton, and released. Then the hygienists ushered in Roommate #2.
If you can dream and not make dreams your master / If you can think and not make thoughts your aim ...
You've got to be joking, I thought to myself. But the same team went to work, and again I had to watch. There wasn't so much as a curtain dividing my side of the room from theirs.

The surgeon approached me and I asked to be knocked out. Retroactively, if possible. Wake me up when it's over.

Sorry, said the surgeon. We don't do that here. We don't have the equipment to monitor if your heart stops.

I don't care if my heart stops, I said, glancing across the room.

He laughed, and then shot me in the mouth from all angles.
If you can meet with triumph and disaster / and treat those two impostors just the same. ...
I was left to grow increasingly numb as they finished with Roommate #2. By the time Roommate #3 had come and gone, I was ready to give up. If this were war, I would have been ready to tell them anything -- name, rank, serial number, state secrets, battle plans, you name it. I didn't sign up to be a soldier. I work in a Jewish non-profit, for God's sake!

But they didn't want secrets. They wanted my teeth.

They switched me from my chair -- where I'd been sitting, by that point, for an hour and a half, feeling much like I had when a film prof put on the Texas Chainsaw Massacre in class -- to the other chair. The one that had been wiped down three times already.

New York ... trilled the voice from the boom box. These streets will make you feel brand new, these lights will inspire you ...

Ready? asked the surgeon.

I whimpered, and he went to work.
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew / to serve their turn long after they're gone / and so hold on til there is nothing in you / except the will that says to them "Hold on." / If you can fill the unforgiving minute / with 60 seconds worth of distance run ...
Thankfully, compared to the agonies of waiting and watching, the pain of the procedure itself was not too bad. I mean, it didn't feel GOOD -- it felt like someone was tearing my teeth from their sockets, which is more or less what was happening. But the surgeon was done in ten minutes. I was stuffed with cotton and returned to a sitting position, given two prescriptions and a pack full of sterile pads, and proclaimed a champ.
Yours is the earth / and everything that's in it. / And, what is more, you'll be a man, my son.
In my case, a man who eats lots of applesauce and watches episode after episode of Buffy. But Rudyard helped me through it, for which I am grateful. More, I am grateful to Charrow, who spent her whole afternoon in the dentist's office and then helped get me home, ignoring all emissions of bloody drool. That is true friendship.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

On 'Franzenfreude,' gender, and genre

ETA: This has been cross-posted on

Having finally released three different but related books back into the wild of the Brooklyn Public Library system -- Freedom, Catching Fire, and The Passage -- I feel the time is right to weigh in on the literary meme of the moment, Franzenfreude, a term that, loosely defined, indicates that Jonathan Franzen represents all that is wrong with the contemporary high-brow book world.

Is that stupid? Quite! Except there's a caveat. The phenomenon referred to by "Franzenfreude," that the high-brow book world restricts its highest praise and most fawning attention for the works of men, is absolutely true. It just happens that Jonathan Franzen is a terrible poster boy for that problem.

Franzen writes gorgeous women. Fleshed-out, interesting, three-dimensional, vivid women, women with brains. He writes for them, too, and perhaps most importantly of all, he READS THEM. When, at a Brooklyn Book Festival panel, someone asked him what he was reading, he replied, "Edith Wharton." To the follow-up question of what should we, his audience, be reading, he listed several books, all by female authors, including the Ms. Hempel Chronicles, of which, up to that point, I hadn't even heard. (Then I read it. It was good!)

A friend and I cornered him after the panel to ask whether he'd realized he'd been promoting work by ladies. He blinked for a moment, then laughed and said it honestly hadn't occurred to him.

Thus: "Franzenfreude" is the wrong label for this particular can of worms. (As a language nerd points out, it's also stupid for other reasons.)

That said, let's address the can of worms itself. Yes! Fiction by women is customarily and routinely dismissed by the intelligentsia in favor of fiction by men. Because why should fiction be any different than anything else? The most exalted spaces in any pantheon are reserved for men. So it has been, so it will be. This is because women can have babies, whereas men can only have egos, and also testicles, or something.

However! The less important the pantheon, the more likely it is that you can find a woman at the top of it.

The high-brow book world also dismisses almost all genre fiction. Genre fiction is where women reign supreme or, at the very least, hold their own: romance, mystery, young adult, sci fi, fantasy. Having just ingested the Hunger Games trilogy, a sci-fi YA extravaganza that took not just me but America by storm, I feel particularly drawn to this point right now.

Even in most genre fiction, there remains an idea that boys won't read books about girls. Hence the sad-but-true fact that J.K. Rowling couldn't publish under the name "Joanne" for fear of frightening off huge numbers of young male readers. But this to me feels wrong. Step on the NYC subway right now and look around -- I guarantee you that someone on that car is reading, not Freedom, but the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. About, as you've perhaps heard, Lisbeth Salander, one of the most kick-ass female characters in any book of any genre. The Golden Compass books didn't suffer for focusing on Lyra, another quite impressive young woman. Even Dan Brown's idiot bestseller the Da Vinci Code was a FEMINIST conspiracy theory.

Best of all, perhaps, is Suzanne Collins, whose hugely popular Hunger Games books center around Katniss, who doesn't want to get married and doesn't understand why having leg hair is bad. Written by a lady! Starring a lady! Yet everyone's reading them. Hopefully the next J.K. Rowling can be inspired by this and publish under her full name.

This doesn't, of course, solve the problem of the white male taste-makers -- and the sufficient numbers of female taste-makers who concur -- giving all the plaudits that matter to white male authors. As Adam Gopnik, a New Yorker author I admire, put it just this year in his tribute to Salinger: "In American writing, there are three perfect books, which seem to speak to every reader and condition: 'Huckleberry Finn,' 'The Great Gatsby,' and 'The Catcher in the Rye.'"

What Gopnik meant to say, no doubt, was, "Here are three books I really dig!" He's hardly the first intellectual to fall into the tar pit of generalizing from his own experiences. But it's a disturbingly prevalent trend among white male taste-makers: assuming that what they relate to and find meaning in, the rest of us must as well, AND that those books must be "the best."

It's bullshit, and I'm glad people are finally beginning to realize that. But leave Jonathan Franzen out of it, would you? He's one of the good ones.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Recap of recaps, Mad Men edition

You like Internet black holes, right? Who doesn't? And I take it for granted that you, educated, affluent, and intelligent reader, also like Mad Men, the best television show ever that is on basic cable right now.

Bearing all of that in mind, here is a round-up of every Mad Men recap I read, or have read, or is worth reading. You can thank me in the comments.
You're welcome! Let me know if I missed a good one.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Kiss me, I voted!

Voting in the primaries is so exciting. You know your vote is going to count, since almost no one turns out. You know it matters, since local politicians, unlike state or national ones, often manage to get things done.

So, bright and early this morning, I popped into my polling place, got my fancy new optical scan ballot, and went to a booth to fill it out. Progressives down the line, check, check, check. That much was easy. Then I got to a long list of names I'd never heard of all running for Judicial Convention Delegate. The instructions said, "Pick any eleven."

My pen poised in the air, I decided to do what I always do when I'm faced with a choice of strangers: Start with ladies and Jews and then, when I run out of those, pick the best names. (This is how I landed with my first doctor in New York, the unforgettable Democleia Gottesman.)

However, this morning though I found myself gripped by a crisis of confidence. What if "Benjamin Abelman" couldn't live up to the name? What if "Mercedes Neira" rode more like a Kia? As much as I loved the idea of "John Longo" marrying "Karen Johnson" for the sake of their future hyphenated children, how could I base my vote on a giggle?

In the end I didn't vote for anyone. A step forward for representational democracy? Who knows.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Other Ester lives!

Dude, there are plenty of reasons life Does Not Meet Expectations right now, and I don't care about any of them. My essay, "The Other Ester," is above the fold on The Morning News, a website I've been reading since college.

What a perfect way to usher in New Year #5771.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A Dirty but Important Question

Internets! Help me out. I've sold another essay (yay) to some very nice folks and, in the editing process, a question was raised:

To what does "second base" refer?

In my essay, I reflect on an encounter in summer camp where my boyfriend continually tried and failed to get me excited about him. I should never have dated him; I wasn't attracted to him, and I couldn't make myself pretend. This meant our relationship had an antebellum quality: we held hands, we took walks, he kissed me and I allowed it. It was all very proper and chaste.

Sure, we were 13. But this was a guy whose exploits with his previous girlfriend were legendary. In fact, I think he rather fancied himself a Barney (in the "How I Met Your Mother" sense, not the "Flintstones" sense).

On the last day of camp, he made a desperate move. While his mother waited outside in the minivan, he brought me back into his empty bunk, looked into my eyes, and told me that he loved me.

I knew what he meant. I was a pretty savvy -- and somewhat cynical -- middle-schooler. His "I love you" was a grand gesture, one that was meant to sweep me off my feet and, most importantly, out of my shirt.

Thinking fast, I ran through my options. (What would Scarlet O'Hara do?) I couldn't lie and say I loved him too. All the same, I couldn't be honest and confess I didn't love him, that I didn't even like him. Not on the last day of camp!

His was, indeed, a very clever gambit. As I saw it, I had one course of action, and I followed it: I cried. Thus I was spared from having to give any answer and from having to engage in any hanky-panky.

Ah, the love lives of teenagers. Very well. In the essay, I refer to boob-related hanky-panky as "second base." My editor flagged that. Her husband, she said, recalled a different definition of the term. This stupid t-shirt seems to agree with me. Wikipedia has opinions, of course, but my editor specifically asked me to survey my friends, who are more reliable.

Friends, what say you? 2nd base = boobs? Or something else altogether?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Post 1,500!

In honor of this momentous occasion, we're having ribs.

We're also having contradictions. Perhaps this is the Walt Whitman problem ("I am large, I contain multitudes"). Perhaps it's just a 4th Cold Rainy Day in a Row problem (I am sulky, I am dissatisfied). Just for example:

I want to buy an apartment
I want to move to Taiwan

I want to lose weight
I want to love myself

I bought these shoes cuz they were cute
I bought these shoes cuz they were on sale
(These shoes give me blisters and I'm still wearing them)

This makes it all better:

{via DailyPuppy}

Monday, August 16, 2010

The More You Know ...

PSA of the week, courtesy of my having time to kill. You're welcome.

 Men more likely to cheat on women with bigger paychecks, study says - Like MUCH more likely: "Men who are completely economically dependent on their female partners are five times more likely to cheat than men in relationships with women who earned similar amounts."

Thanks, CNN! I needed an excuse to hop off the career ladder and focus on my writing which, in the past six months, has netted me a total of $100.00. It does seem to me, though, that a man who is completely economically dependent on his female partner is a unicorn. Could anyone really gather enough unicorns to make a statistically-significant sample?

Mythology aside, I can't resign myself to a happy, faithful, penurious marriage just yet, because, as we know from the Sopranos, Mad Men, and the entire history of EVERYTHING since we got down from the trees, "A man who makes significantly more money than his girlfriend or wife is also more likely to cheat."

Hmmm, it's wet and salty in here. Where are we again, exactly? Oh yes: we're in a pickle. By "we," of course, I mean ladies. We're damned if we support a guy and damned if we are supported by him. Is there any hope in sight, CNN-cited pseudo-scientists?

"Men in relationships with women who made about 75 percent of the men's income were the least likely to cheat."

Well! There it is. Make exactly 3/4 of whatever your resident male rakes in and you'll be set. Or go lez. I know which I think would be less of a hassle.

There are fun facts aplenty in this article about How Not to Die While Walking from the NYT. Don't cross in the crosswalk, for example. Avoid "crosstown thoroughfares like 125th Street or Canal Street," where half of all pedestrian deaths occur. (Yikes!)

You want more? Of course you do:
Do not go anywhere between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m., stick to the side streets and skip Manhattan entirely. ... cabs accounted for far fewer pedestrian accidents in Manhattan than privately owned vehicles. Jaywalkers, surely the city’s most numerous scofflaws, were involved in fewer collisions than their law-abiding counterparts who waited for the "walk" sign — although accidents involving jaywalkers are more likely to result in death.

And one discovery could permanently upend one of the uglier stereotypes of the motoring world: in 80 percent of city accidents that resulted in a pedestrian's death or serious injury, a male driver was behind the wheel. (Fifty-seven percent of New York City vehicles are registered to men.)
This edition of "the More You Know" is brought to you by my latent anti-man bias, apparently. Some of my closest friends are guys, I swear!

One last tidbit: "Pedestrians would be well advised to favor sidewalks to the right of moving traffic — left-hand turns were three times as likely to cause a deadly crash as right-hand turns." Left-hand turns: sinister & deadly. Got it.

By the way, feeling good about America these days? You shouldn't be.

Lastly, this just in: Power corrupts! No word yet on "absolute power," but I have a working hypothesis.

Friday, August 13, 2010

How to Offend Midwesterners in 3 Easy Steps

First, accidentally insult their taste in literature, like so:

SETTING: Airport bookstore.
PERSONAE: Two middle-aged blonde ladies, nicely blow-dried and made-up, browsing the mass-market paperbacks, and me, a compulsive know-it-all.

LADY 1: Is this any good? [holds up Girl with the Dragon Tattoo]
LADY 2: Oh, I don't know! I was wondering that too!
ME: Yes! It's great. I read all of them. They're good! And I don't even usually read that stuff!


LADY 1: Oh! ... What do you read?

Next, get really flustered, look blank, and when you finally begin speaking again, use the lord's name in vain.

ME [flailing pathetically]: Oh! ... God, everything ... books ...

Finally, exacerbate the problem by continuing to babble and then running away. 

ME: I'm sorry, that sounded so snobby! I didn't mean -- uh --  I mean -- bye! 

I am officially almost as bad as Sarah "Um, all of them" Palin

Otherwise, my first visit to the hot, beating heart of America, St. Louis, MO, went smoothly. Except for the fact that, five minutes into the first big group meeting, I dropped a pretzel down my shirt and couldn't find it. I didn't want to be caught staring into my own cleavage, but come on! A chunk of wheaty goodness covered in salt doesn't just disappear.

Being that it was 100 degrees out there in flyover country, I had to worry what kind of radioactive effect my bosom would have on that pretzel -- would it turn into Spider Man? or the delicious mutant equivalent? Worse, would it decide to stage a re-entrance by falling out of my clothes at an inopportune moment? 

Even went I ducked into a bathroom to fiddle around with my bra, I couldn't find the offender, so I had to give up and live in fear. Luckily, the pretzel and I both emerged unscathed from the experience: it showed up later, looking all innocent, on my hotel room floor, and I managed to give away every business card I'd brought with me without being overtaken by a monstrous sweaty monster bursting out of my shirt. Win-win! 

Friday, August 06, 2010

The Best American Writing of 2010

Poetry by people who hate Elena Kagan and, most likely, all recent developments since Fluoridated water:
"The first thing wrong with this appointment; it is wrong according to the bible. Second she is againist the military which would place her in an unamerician position, therefore should have been rejected. Every senator who voted yes should be impeached for lack of mental ability to ascertain right from wrong"

"This is a sad day for God fearing,Jesus loving strate people in the US.As long as obama is in office he knows he has one sure voteon the court hopefully his will be a short stay."

"Jews make up less than 3 percent of the US population. Jews now make up 33.33 percent of the US Supreme Court. Something is WRONG with this picture. Only a handful of Bolshevik Jews took control of Russia in 1917 and eventually slaughtered tens of millions of Orthodox Christians. America, BEWARE."

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

The Gun on the Wall

When I picked up an unabridged (though yes, translated) version of the the Canterbury Tales a couple of weeks ago, I'm not sure what I was expecting. Stories, of course. So many novels lately successfully weave together loosely-related stories: A Visit from the Goon Squad, which was so exciting it had me up at 3:00 AM thinking about narrative; The Imperfectionists, which is not quite as good as I hoped it would be, but still worth reading; Olive Kitteridge; and the Ms. Hempel Chronicles, off the top of my head. I wanted to see how the master, and perhaps originator, of the genre pulled it off.

I knew some of the stories would be a little bawdy, others would be religious, and many, if not most, would have morals. But I was not prepared for what I found. In fact I was so unprepared that, reading it on the subway one morning across from an Orthodox mother and daughter, I got so flustered I had to turn the book over on my lap.

Friends, Chaucer likes the word "cunt."

Sure, he's not the only one. Characters on the Sopranos made liberal use of the word, usually as a prelude to or an excuse for murder. Henry Miller sprinkles it on his prose like salt. But everyone knows that Henry Miller is rated R, or NC-17. I had no idea the Canterbury Tales were. They seem so staid simply by virtue of being old.

That's the real shock here. It's not just that Chaucer enjoys an edgy, monosyllabic word that perhaps carried less weight in England 700 years ago than it does in the US today. (Seems possible, according to one etymological history.) It's that these pilgrims, Chaucer's characters, have such gleefully filthy imaginations. Wives cheat on husbands with students, lodgers, cousins, monks, anyone available, really. Virgins are hardly immune from the lust that seems to overtake married women: when they are surprised by amorous fellas, they give as good as they get. And men? Men will leap on anything with two legs and a hole.

That, in short, is the venerable, aged, enduring classic the Canterbury Tales: smut, smut, more smut, some boring moralizing, a dash of out-of-the-blue Jew hate, followed by smut, smut, smut, and smut. Okay! Now the naked Chaucer from A Knight's Tale makes more sense to me.

Also shocking: I discovered this weekend, when I went home to join my family in picking out a headstone, that my father had a gun. True story. The man who, as far as I know, only ever shot off his mouth, bought a Smith & Wesson in New Mexico and brought it to DC shortly after moving there. The same Wild West instincts that were guiding him told him not to bother with a permit, apparently.

My mother bound the gun up in a kerchief inside an Anne Klein shoebox, which she taped shut and kept in her closet. And that's where it stayed. I never heard about, nor saw, the gun. Until now.


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

An Exciting Summer

Now that he has recovered and once again looks as pretty as Betty Draper, I can show you this. Ready? This is the Before shot. It's a little gruesome but, let's be honest, also a little bit of a turn on, am I right? Mr. Ben, post-trauma:

Aftermath of the accident

Now I can look at it without cringing (in fact I keep a copy on my iPhone, the way men used to carry photos of their spouse and kids in their wallets). At the time, I walked in the door, saw him, and burst into tears. I may have said, like Amy in "Little Women" did when Jo cut her hair, "How could you! Your one beauty!" But only for effect.

To add to the drama of this hottest-July-on-record, I went to my very first NYT-sanctioned, gay, Jewish wedding in a Friends Meeting House this past weekend. The lovely Mr. Ben scraped himself off the floor of his office, where he has been spending all of his time since he finished recovering from head trauma, to accompany me. Also lovely: hanging out with lots of Swatties in floral dresses and sneaking downstairs to play ping pong in Tarble with Little Eva.

Less lovely, and more in keeping with the themes of Summer 2010: One of the brides collapsed under the chuppah. It was about 110 degrees outside, where we had all spent a lemonade-infused cocktail hour, and the FMH, where the wedding was held, had no air-conditioning. The Quakers, bless their well-lit, self-abnegating souls, nearly had blood on their hands.

It being a Jewish wedding, about ten doctors immediately rushed forward. Everything about me was paralyzed except my heart, which sounded like a popcorn popper -- I couldn't help but remember what happened the last time I saw someone collapse at a wedding.* In this case, the bride was revived and she and her co-bride finished out the ceremony sitting on the floor hand-in-hand. They rose to stomp on one glass each to a shout of "Mazel tov!" from the very-relieved crowd.

I also chipped my toenail polish. A lesser tragedy, I guess. Could the rest of this summer manage to be a little calmer, please? Or, for your own sakes, would you all promise not to ride bikes or get married until this cloud has passed. Thank you.

*Not to give the story away but it was the priest officiating my babysitter's nuptials and he, um, died. Just like that. (He was old; I was only 10. Those sorts of things leave a mark.)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Angelina Jolie and Lisbeth Salander

This is like the third article I've seen about Angelina Jolie in Salt, in a role originally written for Tom Cruise: Angelina Jolie embodies today's action heroine, in life and on-screen. Yet again, someone manages to string together 500-or-so breathless words about Women in Action without mentioning Lisbeth Salander or her onscreen representation, Noomi Rapace.

Granted, the Swedish film version of the Milennium movies has not reached the heights of popularity scaled by Stieg Larsson's books, or at least not in America. But it struck me how much of what is true about Jolie is true about Larsson's femme fatale. For example:
Di Bonaventura compares Jolie to Steve McQueen in the way she combines her athleticism and acting ability: "Steve McQueen wasn't a big guy. She's not a big girl. He wasn't pumped up. She's not pumped up. But you believed Steve McQueen was going to kick whoever's ass it was. And you believe she can kick whoever's ass it is. And that's attitude, not physicality."
Exactly. And it's attitude that makes Lisbeth Salander one of the most compelling characters in popular literature. Cooler than Alice, hotter than Dorothy (and with no home to get back to), Salander -- antisocial, bisexual, moody, brainy, and rough around the edges -- represents an important shift of how we think about heroines, and women in general.

The fact that Americans can not only stomach a protagonist who could not be less interested in pleasing men, but, in fact, clamor for more is telling. Her popularity means that we shouldn't be so shocked that Angelina Jolie can play a Russian spy; we should be shocked when people try to give us limited and dated notions of what audiences will and won't accept.

The most-repeated anecdote about the making of Salt is that after the character Edwin became Evelyn, not much changed in the script -- except that where Edwin was supposed to save his wife and children, director Phillip Noyce made Evelyn's husband escape on his own so as not be emasculated. After he caught flak for that, Noyce claimed the original ending was changed because it was too "conventional." I think the idea that no man's pride can survive a woman's helping him is too conventional, not to mention insulting.

One of the things I love about the Millenium trilogy is that various people do the saving: No one person is the hero. Lisbeth Salander is saved, saves herself, and saves her older male lover. His balls do not fall off in shame over his having been rescued by a girl. Perhaps this is because he is Swedish, but I choose to believe it's because he is awesome.

In the same vein, anyone who is strong enough to play Angelina Jolie's husband convincingly is strong enough to withstand being rescued by her.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

I'm Not Surprised

President Obama got front row seats to hear Elaine Stritch perform in his own living room. But his experience, as it turns out, was much like mine:

With Broadway at the White House, Elaine Stritch Is at Liberty (to Forget Her Lyrics) - ArtsBeat Blog -

Saturday night, Mr. Ben and I saw A Little Night Music, which is a favorite of mine from way back, starring the ineffable, ageless Bernadette Peters and the ineffable but visibly aged Elaine Stritch. (Reminding me of a classic Sondheim song "I'm Still Here" about women on stage: "First you're another sloe-eyed vamp, then someone's mother, then you're camp ...")

The show was wonderful -- the chorus especially good, the music lovely -- but hilarious Ms. Stritch could not, for the life of her, remember her lines. Most of the time she covered for herself well, and a fellow in the first row prompted her when necessary. Still, at one point, I shrunk back in my seat feeling awful for her. Even if it is true that she has not seen a sunrise sober in longer than I've been alive, she is a professional, and for a professional to lose face in front of a Broadway audience must be devastating.

Worse, though, is losing face in front of a President. Even if he's gracious about it, as apparently the Obamas were. Regardless, I thought the ad placement on the NYT article about the event was unintentionally hilarious and ironic:

As was the choice of song. The words she forgot while singing in the White House? From "I'm Still Here." Though she is, of course, and thank God. I'm thrilled I got to see her live, even in somewhat fumbling form, and I'm sure the Obamas are too.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Today's WTF? moment is brought to you by ...

Apparently, in at least one paragraph of one story, I Write Like Leo Tolstoy:

I write like
Leo Tolstoy
I Write Like by M�moires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

Also like Stephen King (?) and Daniel Defoe (??). Do these guys write at all like each other?

Subsequent paragraphs produced comparisons to Dan Brown (ew!), Charles Dickens (how?), and finally Kurt Vonnegut (okay, that one kind of makes sense). Do I not write like any women, or are there no women in their "famous author" database? Should I make anything of the fact that I apparently I change styles six times over the course of one piece?

Thanks to Tablet for the befuddlement.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Bishops, Bishops Everywhere

The depression that gets to one after reading this article -- Abuse Took Years to Ignite Belgian Clergy Inquiry -- is at least somewhat relieved by reading this one, Church of England Paves the Way for Women Bishops. So I recommend engaging with them in that order, and then taking deep, restorative breaths.

Or avoid thinking about how religion often makes people's lives worse instead of better altogether by getting away from the computer. Go to PortSide in Red Hook, Brooklyn (near to which, on August 3rd, you can watch Jaws on the water.) Read a strikingly good book, or several.

Play pinochle. Eat something delicious. See Bernadette Peters & Elaine Stritch together on Broadway.

Plan a drunken Popsicle party in Prospect Park. See writer-who'll-change-your-world David Mitchell live at BookCourt. Watch pretty, joyous people kissing or a hot, dangerous woman kick ass.

Jon Hamm is helpful, in Mad Men and in person:
W: Rebecca, in stories earlier this year about the breakup of Sam Mendes and Kate Winslet—
Hall: Oh, you’re going to do that, are you?
W: —your name was mentioned in a way that implicated you in the breakup of their marriage. Is there any accuracy to that perception?
Hall: No.
Hamm: The reality is that I broke them up.
Hall: Jon Hamm was sleeping with Sam Mendes.
W: Wow. Does a sex tape exist?
Hamm: Does it? He directed it. It’s beautiful.
Oh Jon. You can Hamm me anytime.

At any rate, that's how I'm getting by.