Thursday, May 22, 2008

Here's A Story

A few weeks ago my children were watching an episode of "Life With Derek," the Disney channel's half hour comedy about a blended family. It was the last time they'll ever watch it, not because of something particularly offensive in that episode,* but because we've found something better.

The opening credits of LWD feature members of the family in boxes with a blue background. "Oh, this is an homage to 'The Brady Bunch,' I said to the kids."

"What's 'The Brady Bunch'?" they asked. I felt sort of like my mother must have when I was reading a review of "What's Love Got To Do With It?" and asked her "What's Banlon?" She laughed hysterically, and said it sounded like the beginning of an earnest article: "The other day, my daughter asked me, 'What is polio?' and I reflected on the changes in the world since my youth..."

But I digress. And I must continue to digress in another direction to note that as a child I loved "The Brady Bunch" very, very much. As I've mentioned before, I spent a portion of my childhood (a few months? a year?) eating dinner on a tray in front of the television because TBB was on at 6 o'clock, and this being pre-DVR, pre-VHS, I was not about to miss it.

Now, thank goodness, we have the DVR. So I taped an episode of TBB at 4:30 am for my children's edification, and we all watched it together a few days later.

I have been burned trying to share my childhood TV and movie faves before. Some succeed, but others fail miserably. This one was a home run. All three children were riveted, laughing hysterically, clutching each other, gasping, sighing. They were completely drawn into the problem of Cindy's only having one ticket to the class play.

Meanwhile, I enjoyed watching the portrayal of a happy family that speaks to each other in loving kindness and respect. "Our Cindy doesn't need wings for her costume," Greg says to his siblings at one point, "She always looks like a fairy princess." Unrealistic? Perhaps. Although my children are kind to each other in that innocent and earnest way, more often than not. Yes, they fight--so do the Bradys. I'm having a hard time putting my finger on it, but there's something ugly about the attempts at realism in today's TV for children.** I think I prefer this candy-coated version. And, miracle of miracles, so do R, S and M. So we are loading up on Brady Bunches.

*Although there are vaguely offensive things in every episode of that show. There's always a moral, and it pays lip service to doing the right thing, but here's a throwaway line: Casey tells Derek, "Girls and boys are not the same," and he says, "I know. I learned that on our old couch." I glanced at my kids with alarm when I heard that, but they were in the usual Disney Channel open-mouthed stupor and it didn't seem to register.

**In relatively recent memory, "Arthur" on PBS also portrayed a kind of family that I recognize. Is "Arthur" still on, I wonder?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Wednesday Poetry Podcast: In Praise Of Limestone

It is my fourteenth anniversary today. This poem is, as Johnny Rotten says, not a love song; but I already read "our poem" to my love on Valentine's Day (apparently if you enlarge the picture you can see granola on the tablecloth). This one is such a good poem, with so many brilliant lines, that it is a fitting tribute to such a good husband, with so many brilliant lines. Besides, although it's been absolute ages since he went fly-fishing, I know he still loves a limestone landscape.

In Praise of Limestone MP3 (about five minutes)

In Praise of Limestone at Wikipedia
W.H. Auden at Wikipedia

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Aristotle, Saint Augustine and Thomas Aquinas

Jay has been blogging about drinking during pregnancy, and zero tolerance policies toward said drinking as a way to control women. I've blogged lightly about this before, when Melissa of Suburban Bliss was appearing on the Today show to defend cocktails at playdates. I think Jay has done a good job talking about puritanism and moderation; I don't need to add anything on those topics. But here are my not-very-well-organized thoughts on drinking in pregnancy:

This website (which Jay made me aware of in another context) has a very good rundown on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and research evidence. I'd particularly like to highlight the point made towards the bottom of the page: that the role of alcohol in FAS can be hard to separate from the other risk-taking behaviors that tend to cluster with alcohol abuse--smoking, drug use, poor nutrition, lack of prenatal care.

But here's another thing about pregnancy, alcohol use, and research: I'm pretty sure the data is tainted, because of this anecdote from a friend:

Setting: L&D ward. A nurse is filling out the admitting questionnaire.
Nurse: And did you drink during this pregnancy?
My friend: Yes.
Nurse: raises eyebrows You did?
My friend: Yes, I had a glass of wine from time to time.
Nurse: Oh, that's all. Well, I'm just going to write "no" here.

Great. So if all the moderate yeses get recorded as noes, what kind of answers are we going to get about safe levels of drinking in pregnancy? This isn't just a case of "everybody lies" as Dr. House famously says; this is a case of "health professional lies for you."

When I was pregnant with R., my first, we were having dinner with a wise priest friend at an Italian restaurant. I held my hand over the glass to keep him from pouring me some red wine, and he sighed, "I'm sure the mothers of Aristotle, Saint Augustine and Thomas Aquinas drank wine every day when they were pregnant." I'm sure they did, too--watered wine, granted. And I know the health practices of our centuries-ago forbears, with their shorter life spans and sometimes mysterious ailments, are not necessarily a model for today's healthy behavior. I also know just because, closer to our time, the author of Thank You, Dr. Lamaze was knocking back scotches on the rocks while she practiced her breathing techniques--and her kids turned out okay--is no reason to pour a scotch on the rocks when you're expecting.

But it's food--or drink--for thought.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

TED in Half | Ken Robinson - Creativity in Education

Watch this! And if you like it, go watch the 20 minute version.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Up My Alley

The instructions: Bold the ones you’ve read, underline the ones you read for school, italicize the ones you started but didn’t finish. Meme via Jay. I can't figure out how to underline either, so I asterisked the school ones.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Anna Karenina
*Crime and Punishment
One Hundred Years of Solitude
Wuthering Heights (actually, I may have eventually finished this, but only after so many stops and starts that I really can't remember)
The Silmarillion
Life of Pi : a novel
The Name of the Rose
Don Quixote
*Moby Dick
Madame Bovary
The Odyssey
Pride and Prejudice
Jane Eyre

*A Tale of Two Cities

The Brothers Karamazov
Guns, Germs, and Steel
War and Peace
Vanity Fair

The Time Traveler’s Wife
The Iliad
The Blind Assassin
The Kite Runner
*Mrs. Dalloway
*Great Expectations

American Gods
(I think it's fascinating there are three Neil Gaiman books on this list, given that he's a contemporary genre [fantasy/sf] writer. I haven't read Anansi Boys, but I love American Gods and Neverwhere.)
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
Atlas Shrugged
Reading Lolita in Tehran : a Memoir in Books
Memoirs of a Geisha

Wicked : The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West (but I have read the Geoffrey Maguire retellings of Cinderella and Snow White)
*The Canterbury Tales (I was only assigned some of the tales!)
The Historian : a Novel (I hated this book a lot.)
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Love in the Time of Cholera

Brave New World
The Fountainhead
Foucault’s Pendulum
The Count of Monte Cristo
A Clockwork Orange
Anansi Boys
The Once and Future King
The Grapes of Wrath
The Poisonwood Bible
Angels & Demons
The Satanic Verses
Sense and Sensibility
The Picture of Dorian Gray

Mansfield Park
(my favorite Austen)
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
To the Lighthouse
Tess of the D’Urbervilles
Oliver Twist

*Gulliver’s Travels

Les Misérables

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
The Prince
The Sound and the Fury
Angela’s Ashes : a Memoir
The God of Small Things
A People’s History of the United States : 1492-Present
A Confederacy of Dunces
A Short History of Nearly Everything

The Unbearable Lightness of Being
*The Scarlet Letter
Eats, Shoots & Leaves
The Mists of Avalon
Oryx and Crake
Collapse : How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed
Cloud Atlas
The Confusion
Northanger Abbey

The Catcher in the Rye

On the Road
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Freakonomics : a Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance : an inquiry into values
The Aeneid
Watership Down
Gravity’s Rainbow
The Hobbit
In Cold Blood : a True Account of a Multiple Murder and its Consequences (I picked a pristine, with-dust jacket copy of this out of the mixed-paper recycling dumpster a few months ago, but I can't pull the trigger and read it. I love Capote, but I'm not big on murder or, frankly, true stories)
White Teeth
Treasure Island
David Copperfield

I'm surprised In Search of Lost Time/Swann's Way isn't on the list. I would have thought that's the most started, least finished book of all time. I keep getting stuck around page 80, and at least two people have told me they bogged down in the same place.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Friday Poetry Podcast: A Child's Garden of Verses

I can't find any good poems about mothers, so I read some poems that I heard very often from my mother:

A Child's Garden of Verses

Robert Louis Stevenson

I did try a little bit to find the bizarre lenticular edition of the poems that I remember--so seventies--and had greater success than I expected. I found no mention of that particular book, but plenty of the genre, at this fascinating site: Stump the Bookseller.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Notes From All Over

Line of the day
With regard to the slump-busting diorama of inflatable dolls in the White Sox locker room, Kevin Hench writes: "But when the White Sox say their déclassé diorama was intended merely as a slumpbuster, we should take them at their word. Not because ballplayers aren't capable of demeaning women, but because they are incapable of subtext."

Gee, I hope they're not mad, but I'll be at my cousin's wedding that day!
An ad in the New York Times made me aware of free iced coffee day at Dunkin' Donuts. I clicked on it to make sure that my local DD was participating, because I love coffee, iced coffee and free things. The DD home page had a link that read "RSVP at Facebook," which I clicked because I was curious. Over one hundred thousand people have indicated that they will be attending. Almost two thousand have written on the wall. Almost 14,000 may be attending, and over 32,000 have declined. I am aware that even viewing the page, not to mention breaking down the numbers on my blog, greatly lessens any distinction between me and the respondents. But still.

New (To Me) Fruit
A bin of apriums caught my eye at Whole Foods yesterday. I wasn't big on the pluot, but I have to say so far I am loving the aprium. So much for trying to buy more local, in-season produce.

Do You Want To Tell Him, Or Shall I?
"A source" says that Tom Cruise was inspired by his wife's participation in the New York Marathon last fall and wants to run one himself "possibly in Boston." The source is also quoted as saying that Tom is "keen to 'crush' Katie's time of 5 hours, 29 minutes." Putting aside the question of what kind of jerk feels the need to compete with his wife like that, someone needs to introduce Tom to the concept of qualifying times: since a man of his age needs to run a 3.5 hour marathon to even get into the Boston, the "crushing" will be a side benefit.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Disturbing Evidence That My Son Is A Changeling

R. is finishing up his first-ever term paper this weekend, on Scotland. Standard operating procedure is for one's parents to type up this paper, which I find irksome but ultimately not worth fighting. "Double-spaced, Times New Roman 12 point," R. specified as he handed me his final draft. "Ah, so teachers have finally caught on to that whole situation," I said. I told him with what great genius we used to employ font size in the dark early days of word processing, and that I once used a ten-page Times 12 paper to calculate conversion factors, which I then wrote on an index card affixed to my carrel: Palatino 1.4, New Century Schoolbook 1.6, Courier 1.8.

"I think I'd rather just do the work," he observed.

Friday, May 02, 2008

New Place To Drink

I'm adding Spiked Online to the links at the right. I get a weekly email from Spiked and there's usually at least one good article in it; this week there are three:

Brendan O'Neill sadly reports that the horrifying story of Josef Fritzl is being used as an excuse to attack Austrian culture and private family life: "As the freed Fritzl children discover the joys of sunlight and take their first steps on the road to recovery, it would be a shame if they grew up in an Austria and a Europe made even more uptight by the one-off horror that they endured."

Nancy McDermott interviews Lenore Skenazy, the New Yorker who let her nine-year-old son ride the subway alone and found herself labeled the "world's worst mom." We try to practice a little free range parenting, too, and find ourselves thwarted at every turn, like when S.'s choir director walked her the block and a half to the YMCA after school despite my note giving her permission to do so by herself.

Frank Furedo reflects on My 1968.

Expectation becomes an expectation becomes an expectation

Perhaps you have heard something about the latest academic flap: a Dartmouth professor is threatening to sue her students for criticizing her. Or something. It's hard to tell because this writing professor is a shockingly bad writer, and not such a hot thinker either. In describing the specific class in question, Professor Venkatesan not only is unable to reconstruct the argument she was presenting, but also disowns it.

Moving on to the excerpt from the Dartmouth Review interview: even considering that this a transcription of an oral interview, the professor's remarks are really a masterpiece of inarticulation, followed by a masterpiece of paranoid fantasy. I have a Dartmouthian friend who expressed the hope that Venkatesan would turn out to be a comic performance artist, and it seems good to proceed on that assumption, but now I'm interested in working out her influences. Do you think she owes more to Gertrude Stein or Samuel Beckett?

There must be some explanation.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

It's "Short Post Day" at Watering Place

Here's the Annie Leibovitz shot of 15-year-old Miley Cyrus that caused all the trouble.

Quite apart from the provocative nature of the photograph, is anyone concerned that she seems to be in an advanced state of decomposition? Is this the zombie issue of Vanity Fair?

Jacob Clifton Says It All For Us

Why I feel sad, but also kind of relieved and unsurprised, that Brooke White is off of American Idol: last paragraph of the TWOP weecap.

They had a problem with women just standing on the corner, waiting, waiting...

If you're offended by the presumably male "walk" figure, does the new Donna Reed-like image really make you feel any better?

Thursday Poetry Podcast: Hopkins, Hardy and Heaney

Hopkins, Hardy and Heaney
For May, Mary and love...and chalices, picnics, and cold water.

The May Magnificat, Gerard Manley Hopkins
Under The Waterfall, Thomas Hardy
Sunlight, Seamus Heaney