30 January 2010

Friday Bullets, because all the cool kids do it

Since others have been doing bullets weekly, I thought I'd jump on the bandwagon. 

*  It stinks to work late on the last day of the month, especially when it falls on a Friday.  Even stinkier: to inadvertently do something to take the entire computer system down at 5:45pm when everyone is busy trying to get things finished for the day.  When the crashing culprit and the computer fixer are one and the same, things don't get any better.  

* You can call me a loser.  Recently lost:  a glove, a set of keys, my favorite hat (oh really cool NYC hat, please come back to me!  Please!), lens cap to my telephoto lens, and my Rx sunglasses.   Probably a lot of other things that I don't even realize yet that I have misplaced.  In addition to the thousand of thoughts that I meant to say, do, or write down before they slipped through the gray matter. 

* Including the thought I was going to write here....

* The month goes really fast at work when you've been on vacation for most of it.   Easy task when weekly status and monthly status reports covered the same time span.   Having to add that you were the root cause of the only downtime this month because of  something stupid:  priceless.  See first bullet point. 

*  Funniest thing I've seen this week:  Tracy Ullman as Rachel Maddow & Ariana Huffington, w/ Meghan McCain and Barney Frank.  Can't decide which character Ullman is best at impersonating.  It's hard not to think that it is Huffington, but the other characters are nearly perfect as well.  Makes me want to subscribe to Showtime so that I could watch all of Ullman's shows.


* Have made progress on Emily's TBR challenge.  At least on the reading part.  Not so much for the posting part. 

* Even if you think you hate opera, you should make an attempt to see the Met HD rebroadcast of Carmen at a theater near you this Wednesday, 2/3 @ 6:30.  I saw it when it aired live a few weeks ago.  It was wonderful.  Elana Garanca & Roberta Alagna spark and sparkle in this production.   Olivier Award-winning director Richard Eyre about his new production of Bizet's drama says: "It is one of the inalienably great works of art. It's sexy, in every sense. And I think it should be shocking."  I have a friend whose Indian-born husband says he will go to the opera because it reminds him of Bollywood.  Productions like this one of Carmen make me understand that comparison -- song, dance, passion, humor, tragedy; it has it all.   This video is from the London production last year.  

*  At the beginning of December, I thought it was silly that the neighbors decorated a very tall tree with lights in the shape of a palm tree.  Now that it is 8 degrees, I see it differently.   I hope they leave it up until warm weather has arrived.  

* I made up a new cocktail this evening.  I didn't have the ingredients for what I wanted, so it was a little of this, a little of that, from the licquer cabinet.   Hmmm...if I can recreate it, perhaps I'll think of a name and publish the receipe.  Unfortunately, too much whiskey tends to make one forget the details. 

* This is pretty cool.  The history of the world told through 100 objects from the British Museum, produced by BBC 4.   10 episodes have been produced thus far.   So interesting that if all 100 were currently available, I'd have a hard time tearing my weary body away from the computer for a 25 hr period until I had watched them all.

26 January 2010

Raymond Carver: What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

I was intrigued by the choice for this month's selection of my book club, Raymond Carver's What We Talk About When We Talk about Love. My book club has been meeting for eight years, but in recent months we've had some major changes in the makeup of the group, which have changed the dynamic. Not necessarily as a result of that change, but recently, our book choices have been pretty rotten. When my good friend, and trusted bookgroup member, S. sends me an email to informing me that I don't want to be bothered with picking up a copy, I know to take that advice.  At one point a few months ago, I decided that if we didn't start reading "decent things" --which I defined vaguely as "not crap"--, I would consider dropping out. Every once in a while, reading something light and irrelevant can be good escapist reading, but when it is a constant diet of pap, well, I just don't have time.

So, when A. suggested Carver's first book of stories, I was intrigued and looked forward to interesting reading in the month ahead. This is an especially interesting choice since short story collections historically have not been very good discussions for this particular group. But, since the dynamic has changed, I'm glad that we are trying a collection again. I was also looking forward to this because I had not read Carver, which has seemed like a deficit in my reading. The only work that I know of his is the poem What The Doctor Said, which is a poem that has stuck with me since I first read it five years ago. Such persistence is surely a sign, if not of a good writer, at least of a good poem, and is certainly enough to merit reading more of his work, even if I had never heard any thing else about him (which, of course, I have).

When I went to the bookstore over the weekend to pick up the book, I was disappointed that they did not have this particular volume of short stories. But, they did have The Collected Stories of Raymond Carver. Since this included all of the stories from What We Talk About, I decided it was a good choice. What I realized later was that this volume also included all of the original, unedited, versions of the stories in What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.  Knowing that Carver's editor, Gordon Lish, had done extensive edits, I couldn't wait to begin to read these works side by side.

Thus far, I've read the first three stories in the collection. I had intended to read all of them, as published in the original 1981 volume, before reading the earlier drafts. But, after reading "Mr Coffee and Mr Fixit", I couldn't wait to read the original.  Because the original was so much longer there had to be a big difference in the versions and I couldn't wait to see what that was. 

I found "Mr Coffee and Mr Fixit" to be a bit sparse, too sparse to be much of a story.  It sets a mood of regret, resignation about the realities of one's life, dissatisfaction with one's spouse and children. But, the original story "Where is Everyone", while it addresses the same situations and circumstances,  has so much more detail. I realized that I knew the characters from the first story, but found that I liked learning more about them in the second one. Did I need to know that his wife relapsed into alcoholism for the story to work? The narrator tells of his battle with alcoholism, but does it make a difference to know that his wife is struggling to remain sober too -- something that isn't obvious in the first story.  Do I need to know that his mother knows about his wife's affair? How does it change the story that the last lines in the published version are spoken by his wife and not his mother? Is this really the same story?  Can I go back to the published version and read it again without feeling that my perspective has been tampered with?

It is an interesting exercise to look at the stories side by side, but I have to wonder - which really represents the author? Does it really matter that they were edited so extensively?  Does the extensiveness of the edits suggest more than editing, perhaps a co-authorship.  Do the edits make the stories by Carver and Lish, rather than just Carver?  Are they somehow different to the extent that they deserve an asterisk beside them -- something to denote that they aren't "real" Carver stories?   Just reading one of the stories in both versions raised these questions.  

Perhaps I need to read more of the works as originally published before I go back to reading those earlier drafts.   What does one even call those -- early drafts? unedited manuscripts? I'm not sure what would be appropriate if they are all as different as these two stories.  These stories don't seem like similar beings but completely different species. I don't know if I can compare them. Or that I want to. I do, however, want to read more of Carver's stories and will later read more of the earlier, unedited versions for comparison.  I may though only have more questions, not answers.

17 January 2010

Not sure why in the middle of winter I would decide to read something with summer in it's title, other than to warm me.   Of course A Midsummer  Night's Dream has little to do with summer, but much to do with merriment.   The opening lines always bring a smile: 
(Theseus) Now fair Hippolyta, our nuptial hour
draws on apace; four happy days bring in
Another moon:  but, O, methinks, how slow
This old moon wanes! she lingers my desires,
Like to a step-dame, or a dowager,
Long withering out a youn man's revenue.

(Hippolyta) Four days will quickly steep themselves in night'
Four nights will quickly dream away the time;
And then the moon, like to a silver bow
New-bent in heaven, shall behold the night
Of our solemnities.

   (Theseus) Go, Philostrate,
Stir up the Athenian youth to merriments;
Awake the pert and nimble spirit of mirth:
Turn melancholy forth to funerals;
The pale companion is not for our pomp.
Hippolyata, I woo'd thee with my sword,
And won the love, doing thee injuries;
But i will wed thee in another key,
With pomp, with triumph and with revelling. 

The back & forth between Theseus and Hippolyta -- "It's four long days". "Four days is not long at all!" -- is the kind of repartee that occurs between each of the couples throughout the play and, while representative, is not at all the best example from the work. But, what merriment there is throughout for the audience. It is fun to read (or re-read) this play -- in midwinter January or midsummer June. I could write lots about this play, but my purpose today was not to critique. Reading Shakespeare was such a burden when I was a student, but what a pleasure it is now to read for no other reason than the sheer joy of it.

14 January 2010

And then the sun shone warm upon the sands

As some of you may have surmised from the pictures I've posted recently, I've been at the shore since the beginning of the month.  And, as those of you who follow such things know, most of the country has been experiencing colder than normal temperatures.  As I stood in line at the airport a few weeks ago, I realized that I had not left my hat and scarf in the car.  It seemed such a silly thing to bring with me to Florida.   It hadn't occurred to me that I might have to wear them, as I did last weekend when I was photographing birds at low tide.  Temperatures in the low 30's are extremely rare in Southwest Florida, and while unpleasant for the vacationer or winter inhabitants, have caused serious issues for the growers whose crops cannot take sustained freezing temperatures.   There were even a few days when I shuddered as I looked at the sky and thought "snow sky".   I didn't see any flurries, although I heard a news report that some were seen about 30 miles south of where I am. 

Two days ago, it began to warm, although the mercury struggled to reach 60 degrees.   There were some sun-seekers who,  unwilling to be thwarted by capricious weather, decided to work on their tans.  The running joke has been where they are from:  Russia, Norway, Minnesota, Alaska, Siberia, North Dakota, Patagonia.  Even with the benefit of windbreaks constructed of beach towels and chaises, one must have a sturdy, winterized constitution to sit on a beach in a swimsuit at 55 degrees. 

Something is different today though.  It is in the 70's.  There isn't a cloud in the sky and air is still.  As I sit on my balcony reading, I inhale an intoxicating mix of cocoa butter, charcoal grills, beer, boat engines and the sea.  Yes, there is something about warmer weather to lift one's spirit, as if the sun were capable of performing some sort of psychic photosynthesis on humans.   It is so much better to share the beach with the warmth of the sun, the salty smell of the sea, and the gleeful mix of surf, music, and child-like laughter as people gather to recreate. 

12 January 2010

Photo: Noon

Cold weather has been banished!  It's beginning to feel like Florida. 

11 January 2010

10 January 2010

Morning, Noon, Night

One of the things that I want to explore this year is taking photos in different types of light.   Here is the first in this series which I am dubbing "Morning, Noon, Night". 

09 January 2010

TBR Challenge

How many books did you bring?, my husband asked the other day.

Eight, I replied. I didn't need to look up to know the expression on his face. I packed eight. This, I said holding up the book in my hands, is the longest and I'm reading it first.

A few months earlier, during the long, hot, dog-days of a boring summer -- the sort of boredom that only occurs when stranded sans car at one's parents' home during the university's summer break when no friends are in town -- my son said, pointing to an overflowing bookcase:

I'm bored. Would you recommend any of these books? You know, for me?

I don't know if you'd like any of those books. I haven't read any of them. There are lots in that bookcase you might like. But this bookcase, it's my TBR pile.

None? he said, astonished by the bibliographic largess in the corner of my living room.  Is there a meeting for that?

Then, sometime later, Emily created her TBR challenge, validation that I am not alone in my hording of unread books.   Despite the four bookstore gift cards in my wallet calling my name repeatedly, cards presented by well-meaning gift givers who certainly did not have prior insight into the towering piles of unread volumes in every room of my house, I have decided to participate and read 20 books before I purchase another new book. 

As the first of December, the start date for Em's challenge approached, I tried to choose 20 unread books, but soon I had more than the 20 required. I tried to organize into categories - fiction, non-fiction, poetry, drama; contemporary, classic; topical categories like theology/philosophy, politics, ecology, art. The stacks grew and diminished as I tried to strike a balance. Finally, I gave up, leaving a pile of about 30 books on the floor, immediately in front of the bookcase. There they remained until last week when I hurriedly packed for a two-week vacation. Those that I chose were selected on a basis of weight and page length, after I estimated that I could read about 600 -700 pages a week.

Here is what I chose:
Abraham, Bruce Feiler
A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf, John Muir
The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare
A Midsummer Night's Dream, Shakespeare
In Our Time, Ernest Hemingway
Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson
The Gathering, Anne Enright
Grace (Eventually), Anne Lamott
Case Histories, Kate Atkinson
Arthur and George, Julian Barnes
The Omnivore's Dilemma, Michael Pollan

In Our Time is a re-read; The Omnivore's Dilemma is the lengthiest of the bunch and one that I should finish today or tomorrow.

My first book for this challenge, Florence of Arabia, Christopher Buckley, never made it to the plane as I finished it shortly before we left for the airport.

If you have grave concerns that I cannot count, I confess that eight was something of a ballpark estimate. Two of the books were in my computer bag, though I had intended them for this challenge. The two Shakespeare plays, I considered as one book, although by that logic, I should include the others in the set in my bookcase as part of one work, but I don't think that I will.

What about the other books to complete this challenge? Let's see how far I progress with these. It's been a cold and windy week in a beach condo not meant for near freezing weather. I've seen all of the movies I care to see right now, so it looks like there may be quite a bit of reading in the next six days, in between occasional daydreaming bouts of looking at the grey seas, and short walks along the windy shore.