Friday, September 25, 2009

The Story Hook

It's TV week, the week of premieres for the fall's scripted dramas.

Television as entertainment is frequently dismissed as having no intellectual value. "The Idiot Box" and "The Great Wasteland" are just two nicknames for our TVs, and let's face it, for much of what is on TV, that's fitting. However, the role fiction plays in our lives can be an important one. For most adults the thing most likely to introduce a new interest into their lives, the thing that is most likely to expand their views on societal ills, introduce them to new cultures, or new ideas, seems to be what they choose to view in fiction.

Clearly not everything on TV has the possibility to achieve anything that lofty. Most of it is dreck and rightly termed so. Some of it truly isn't and the difference lies in things beyond fiction or reality TV. Some scripted dramas rise above the level of mediocrity and present characters viewers end up caring about deeply. To craft a story that contains characters who are nearly interchangeable with people takes a tremendous amount of skill and not a little bit of luck.

Most of the people I know seem to watch Mad Men now. My husband and I have been watching since the first season, and to say the show is well written is an understatement. However, it isn't just that it is well written, that's just one of the challenges scripted dramas must meet to deliver a good product, the key difference for Mad Men is that it pulled off a casting miracle. Every actor cast on that show is a bang-on perfect fit for their character. Jon Hamm leads that pack playing the morally ambiguous Don Draper (aka Dick Whitman). Hamm delivers a riveting performance playing a character who is not strictly likable.

James Gandolfini pulled off the same trick playing Tony Soprano for years, although I was never able to get into The Sopranos. It was never my cup of tea, but a lot of people cared deeply about the fate of Tony Soprano.

For years I was told to watch The Wire and since I am an HBO subscriber, I did give it a try. The story failed to grab me and I abandoned the series. Still, friends kept telling me I was missing out and recently my husband and I sat down to give the series another try. Four episodes in my opinion was still the same, I wasn't invested. The drug world, and the cops battling it in Baltimore was failing to hook me. The material was interesting, but the characters were slow to make me invest. Plus, the drug kingpin bears the amusing name of Avon Barksdale, which sounds like the name of the Lacrosse team's captain at a particularly snooty prep school. Also, he's played by Wood Harris and he's this very pleasant looking man. At first I thought the main villain lacked menace. Something about Wood Harris's face just says, "Really, you'd be safe letting me pet-sit for you."

Until the sixth episode when Avon Barksdale becomes a truly frightening figure. In fact, a lot of characters begin to gel in that sixth episode which was not incidentally given the same title as the series. The episode opens with a terrifying image, fully indicating of what Barksdale is capable, but more importantly in the background of the story Lance Reddick's character slowly begins to commit career suicide and as a viewer, you don't quite get why. Harris is an actor with the kind of face that could, and does blend in with a crowd. Nothing about Reddick blends in. He's tall, elegant, imposing, ominous sounding, his face is startlingly beautiful. You probably don't know his name, but once you've seen his face, you will never forget it. No way on this green and verdant Earth could Lance Reddick have ever pulled off a life of crime. You have to look at him whenever he's on screen, no matter who he is playing, Lance Reddick has incredible physical presence.

That story hook. Either a drama has it or it doesn't. By the end of that episode the show does very quietly reveal why the rather mysterious, possibly power hungry, secondary character has risked everything he ever wanted to keep the wire case alive. There aren't any big speeches, it's a very quiet revelation but at that moment the fictional world came to full life and I wanted to know everything about all of the characters. Where there had been character constructs I was trying to get into, there suddenly stood a fully fleshed human being. Not entirely good, but possibly good enough.

All fiction seeks to make us feel. Really good fiction makes us feel when we aren't even sure we're comfortable doing so. The Wire had a five year run, and it never garnered an Emmy. A fact which critics still bemoan as being wildly unfair.

I don't know what's going to emerge this season as being a great show, filled with characters people can care about, but the reason people watch TV is not simply to have something on in the background. Or a way to kill an hour. People look for reasons to feel. To have emotions about things beyond their daily lives. To expand their personal universes.

Most of the shows being launched will come and go without much fanfare. Mostly because they will lack the ability to deliver that story hook, or they won't be given the time to do so.

But I like the true reason behind watching TV, going to the movies, or reading. People do want to feel for characters outside of their immediate lives.

It's always made me hopeful that what that truly indicates is that people are far more caring than the evidence of the news would sometimes indicate.

Friday, September 18, 2009

A Post About Garbage

What I thought I would write about next was garbage, actual literal refuse. Just another thing I've discovered about living in the suburbs is that since our trash is collected weekly now, instead of being taken directly to the dumpsters run by the city in our back alley, we have to put some time and thought into garbage management. The hobby I least wanted to adopt. Or, one the hobbies. Taxidermy would be another.

This became quite the issue of relevance when some chicken bones didn't make it into the trash in time for our Monday trash collection. As a result, this week our garage smells like a morgue that has suffered a power failure. Good lord, the stench. When my husband mentioned this to colleagues he found out it was a common problem, and that the list of solutions was both vast and amusing. Including more than one person who freezes their perishable garbage.

"No, no. Not that container! That's the remains of Tuesday's dinner! The frozen pot roast is to the left. Yes, in between the Breyers and the melon rinds."

Woo hoo. Fun Suburban living.

Instead of a wacky post about the ways of managing our trash, I find myself addressing an entirely different sort of garbage thanks to my friend Jo's post over on A Majority of Two today.

Her ire was understandably directed towards misinformation and ignorance about Canada. My fury has a different target and it is the sorry state of affairs our media.

Most of the people I know roll their eyes heavenwards when Fox News is brought up. That isn't news, that's the realm of slanted opinion. To call it journalism is a joke. It sports rhetoric as a matter of course, and would be laughable if it wasn't for the fact that some people take it as gospel fact. It's not. It's propaganda, and I've always believed that intelligent people understand that. MSNBC is often little better, CNN also commits crimes against fact and information. Most of our print media does little to obscure their favored political slant, also.

Opinion Editorials, referred to as Op-Ed pieces in most circles, have long been pieces of interest but please do not mistake them for sources of reliable information. The inherent downfall of the Op-Ed piece is in its actual title. It is opinion, not fact.

In this instance, the post I linked to leads back to a piece in Time magazine in which an opinion piece pretends to have fact at its disposal by using outdated data as a means of providing the appearance of containing fact. To say that I'm angry about the fact that Time clearly abandoned all standards of proof for journalism by allowing data to be put forth as fact without even a cursory fact check, would be to understate the matter at hand. I'm livid. It took me less than six minutes to thoroughly debunk those "facts" and "data" from three different sources, and not "my friend, the blogger" sources, but maintained and supervised organizations for the reporting of medical data.

Six minutes of my time to find out how much credence that list of supposed facts contained. I'm not going to provide the links on my search for the simple reason that we are participants in democracy. We, each of us, has a responsibility and a grave one at that, to keep ourselves as informed as possible. Each individual has been tasked with this in the United States of America, and each individual, if they wish to participate, must do so on their own.

Our media lies in that it contains a decided slant. It is up to us to find our level ground. To sort through the garbage and find the actual facts. It should not have come to such a pass, but it has. Even someone with the barest understanding of journalism can grasp the standard of proof that needs to be applied: No less than three independent sources.

Should we have to work this hard to be informed? No. It is shameful, but it is the current state of affairs.

To put this in context, the data about Canada's treatment of colon cancer is now so outdated as to be blatantly false. Want an example of how that might translate? It is no different from my saying, "In the United States of America people of color are not allowed to eat at the same counter as white people." and then backing that up with material from that time period. Horrifying, isn't it? Hey, in the past it was true, right? Presenting the past as the current state of affairs is not only fraught with peril, it is frequently so untrue as to be an outright lie. The piece in Time is even more shameful than that, it marries irrelevant data from the past with current data from our country to try and prove a point.

If someone has to lie, and manipulate data in order to provide a foundation for their opinion, I cannot think of a more obvious sign that their argument is without any kind of merit. That man might as well be telling me a story about Kah, the speaking snake, for all the real world validity it has.

Clearly I've got a head of steam going, and I do believe that most people are much, much better than this. That they do say, "Whoa. Is that true?" and then find out the truth.

The sole reason I'm putting this up here is because something needs to exist to encourage people to do their own legwork on issues this important. Multiple sources must be consulted. We must not react and make up our minds on issues of national importance based solely on Opinion Editorials.

Also, eating chicken in the suburbs the day before garbage collection and then forgetting to take that garbage out is tremendously problematic. I'd tell you to trust me on this, but I highly encourage people to do their own research.

Okay, maybe on the chicken bones = stench issue you'd be safe just taking my word for it.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Be On the Lookout for Sean Bean's Face

In a not particularly interesting turn of events I didn't get around to watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy until this summer. I read the books as a kid, and liked them well enough. As an adult I find I'm not fond of the style in which they are written, but as twelve-year-old, those were some engrossing tales. Still, I wasn't so interested that I rushed to the theaters with seemingly the rest of the world when the stories hit the big screen. I thought I would wait until all the movies were out, the hype had died down, and make my way through them. That's exactly what I did, although my husband and son both saw them long before I did.

It turned out I remembered a fair amount of the story in a vague sort of way, but I didn't remember character names so much as I remembered the odd thing, here or there, about plot progression. So my husband was slightly surprised when I piped up with:

"Oh, you can't trust him. I hope they don't trust him."

"How do you know?" My husband asked.

"Because that's Sean Bean. He's either the morally questionable character, or the straight-up villain, pretty much always. When you see Sean Bean's face it's a signal to be on your guard."

"Well, in this he's playing a man, but you're more or less right. He does redeem himself, though."

"Oh! He's that character." I nodded remembering the books. "What's even odder is that Sean Bean is almost always the actor I have to look up to remember his name. I'm forever mistaking him for someone else. Rutger Hauer, sometimes Stellan SkarsgÄrd. It took me forever to commit his name to memory. Maybe he really is perfect to play the morally ambiguous character, after all."

Wouldn't it be nice if the people we need to be on our guard with came with that sense of familiarity? Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't. Most of the time, harmful people don't look the part. Sean Bean doesn't. He's got that sort of everyday handsome quality and the truth is he's frequently cast as villainous, or weak-willed simply because he's a good actor. Christopher Lee is in the same movie, and there's a fellow with a face just begging to be typecast. Really, Christopher Lee is so villainous looking that he ought to come with his own nefarious soundtrack.

Sean Bean ended up playing the same sort of role over and over simply because he has a good face. The sort of good face that might otherwise inspire trust.

Admittedly, true villains, people without redeeming characteristics of any kind, are exceptionally rare. There are a few figures throughout history that truly, no matter from what angle they are viewed, the only word that comes to mind to describe he or she is evil.

But it is exceptionally rare, thank goodness. People are truly complex creatures. Some people just aren't in the least good, but most have more to them than we understand. A man I know is someone I would have deemed very cold-blooded, but when it turned out I knew someone who also knew this man, I got a very different picture of him. He knew this same man through a charity in which they both worked. I knew that man through a business context. It was almost impossible to believe we both knew the same individual, but both of our experiences with this individual were actual, and true. We just knew different sides of the same man. More than one thing can be true at once.

Another man I knew, a truly delightful human being, the sort of person you would immediately like, once told me something I considered rather profound; that he didn't actually like being someone who everyone deemed a very nice person upon meeting him because he had nowhere to go but down in their estimation. That the moment he had a bad day, was in a sour mood, or in anyway displayed the sort of failings we are all prone to, it would be met with a look of such disappointment. As if he'd betrayed something. Let them down. He said he'd rather be thought a jerk at first, and have his better attributes shine through over the course of time, rather than the other way around. That it might be better to climb in the estimation of others, rather than be set up to fall.

That's what it is about Sean Bean's face. He has the sort of handsome quality you could encounter anywhere, and the roles he tends to play aren't generally about villainy, but about human failings. He believably portrays those. When I looked through the list of movies he's been in, I realized something, I've seen him play the romantic lead, and the hero, too. Why is it that I associate him with a threat of evil to come?

I guess because Sean Bean reminds me of nearly everyone I've ever known. Like my kind friend, who didn't like being deemed the perpetual good-guy when he knew himself to be flawed, just as we all are. Don't failings make the good that much more remarkable, though? That a person could display such wonderful things, not because of some innate goodness, some all defining characteristic, but because, although flawed, he still had such good?

I never did stop liking my kind friend, although he did have his very occasional crabby moments. For one thing, he taught me that people are a mix of things, and that when we judge solely by the bad -- which we all possess -- we end up missing, or tainting the good in them.

There are times when we all wear Sean Bean's face. The good up front, the bad always lurking. How we see people is not simply about our interactions with them. There is a whole to everyone, and it can never be completely glorious.

The funny thing was that my husband was right. Sean Bean's character redeemed himself in the end. His character dies protecting others, very courageously, in fact. Yet he's remembered as playing the weak character. Failings tend to weigh more heavily in our judgment, which is ironic, since we all possess them to different degrees.

My husband was right. Sean Bean was playing a human being, plain and simple. Glorious but flawed.

Maybe that explains my reaction whenever I see Sean Bean's face in a film.

You see, I've always liked Sean Bean's face even though I have trouble recalling his name. I'm attracted to his everyman quality.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A Killjoy Villain Defeated

I’ve been awaiting an email for the last week or so. Hopefully peering into my inbox rather impatiently. I’ve had a friend for nearly a decade who had been on an adventure, and I was awaiting news of it.

I’ll call her Lydia. Lydia and I met up on a message board about a TV show long ago, and in this internet age it is not unusual to have friends across the globe for long periods of time. Lydia lives in Australia but a click of a mouse is all it takes to conquer distance these days. There have been gaps in our correspondence from time to time, but in nearly ten years we’ve discussed all manner of subjects. Work, family, food, love, pets, houses, decorating. There are hardly any areas untouched over the course of that much time. Like friends everywhere, we talk – or rather read, and write – about the triumphs in life and the troubles too. In the days of yore, I would have called her a pen pal.

Lydia wanted to take a trip from Australia to tour some sights in the U.S. and Canada, but the friend who was going to go with her was unable to gather the necessary funds. We talked that over, and as friends do, I encouraged her to take the trip by herself. To simply go for it, and form memories that would last a lifetime. Shored up by my, and others, encouragement, Lydia decided to do just that. Until an old foe of mine, and a new one of hers nearly derailed the plan.

If my life was a comic book with all the attendant heroes and villains, my arch nemesis would be named Seizure. Many years ago I had one following a brief illness, they’re quite frightening. I never had another. That isn’t why Seizure started lurking in my personal shadows. Six years ago, in a state where epileptics are allowed to drive, a man had a break through seizure that would take his life, and along with his, my father-in-law’s. I don’t blame the man, he didn’t set out to hurt a soul. I blame Seizure.

In the six years since that accident, my husband’s family has been through so much following the loss of their father. There are seven children in that family, and that one seizure had ripples that carried with them tremendous sadness, and pain. More lives than one were hurt, and it’s been hard to watch.

So when Lydia, who had never had one prior, wrote to me that she’d had a seizure that was put down to dehydration, combined with a glass of wine, and being overheated, I cursed the ripple once more. The trip of a lifetime, the one she would always carry memories of from that day forward, would be crushed under the heel of that bastard Seizure. Even though it was extremely unlikely to happen again, I knew, and so did Lydia that traveling alone in a foreign country with the possibility of Seizure poking his loathsome head out was a risk too large to take.

Do you remember when you thought your parents were essentially super heroes? That there was nothing that they would fail to handle. No way that they would be unable to keep you safe and happy? I don’t remember feeling that way, but I remember when my son thought that about me.

Years ago, when he was four, I undertook one of the prescribed measures to keep him safe; educating him about Stranger Danger. It seems that most children, when told not to talk to strangers, think that strangers wear masks, or are easily identified. Like a villain in a comic book. As we talked about it, talked about how he had to be careful, because a stranger could take him away, he answered with heartbreaking trust, “But you or daddy would just come and get me, mommy.”

He completely believed it. I had to turn away for a moment to hide the fact that my eyes had filled with tears. How could I live up to that kind of trust from someone who thought I could defeat anything? I’m still trying to do my best. He probably doesn’t remember that moment, and I will never forget it.

After Seizure, that rotter, made an appearance in my friend’s life, I waited for the email that would tell me she’d decided not to go. It made sense. It was the safe thing to do. I was prepared to be supportive of Lydia, to tell her that someday she’d still be able to go. Truthfully, I hated that brain malfunction Seizure so much, killing whatever joy he touched.

That email never arrived. Instead one containing a different message did. One that made me think back to that day, when my son expressed complete faith in abilities I wasn’t even sure I had. Lydia’s mother had offered to go on the trip with her rather than see her cancel it.

Parents. Protectors of safety, saviors of dreams. Makers of memories.

The other email I was waiting for arrived today, full of tales about grand vistas, beautiful mountains, glistening harbors, and helicopter rides over the Grand Canyon. My friend had celebrated a birthday in what was to her a foreign land. It was over-brimming with exclamation points and impossible to read without wanting to cheer. The memories of a lifetime made, fortune had indeed favored the brave.

I don’t remember thinking of my parents as super heroes, able to provide rescue in any situation. At some point we lose that belief. We know our parents are people, laid low by life’s problems at times.

But today as the proof that my arch nemesis had not been able to kill my friend’s dream arrived in my inbox, I couldn’t help but think of one mom in such terms.

And she got a couple of really cool helicopter rides out of the deal, too.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

An Open-Concept Cacophony

I opened one bleary eye and tried squinting to bring the clock into focus. My other eye was gummed shut thanks to a terrific cold that made me feel as if my nickname should be Lumby. Every word I said sounded as if it was struggling up through a pound of wet cement.

The clock read 2:17 a.m. I groaned and turned over, only to encounter my husband, staring intently at me.

"It woke you, too." He quietly observed. "What is he doing down there?"

It sounded as if my son was busily conducting a dish circus in the kitchen below.

"He's getting cereal, honey. He can't help it, he gets hungry. Growing boy and all that." I was trying to sound more cheerful than I felt. After all, my husband had to be up in four hours, it was his night's rest that was being disrupted.

"Are you sure he's not juggling dishes? It sounds like he's juggling dishes."

I had to concede that point, "For all I know he is. Or maybe he's fending off an intruder with a cereal bowl." Either way, the reverberating sounds had a more frantic quality than one might associate with snack-time. "It's the acoustics, you know it's the acoustics."

"Guh." My husband said eloquently, and rolled over.

Moving from our solidly constructed, 1912 brick bungalow had brought a lot of changes into our lives, not the least of which was the open-concept din. It wasn't just in the dead of night that sounds were magnified ten-fold by lack of room definition, and vaulted ceilings, it was just less likely to disrupt anything. At least, after the first week. When we first moved in we all had to adjust to the fact that sounds were magnified throughout the house, particularly if they came from the hall, the kitchen, or living-room.

I found this out when I set down a carton of books in the hall outside of my office. The most gentle of thuds may have resulted, but my husband and son came tearing into view from opposite corners of the house.

"Is everything all right?!?" My husband asked, clearly startled.

"Uh...? Yes. Yup, I'm going to go with yes, everything is all right. Why?"

Evidently from two separate areas in the house what I had interpreted as a small thud, had sounded to both of them as if I was busily pitching adolescents elephants about the place. We soon found this to be true with anything we did, from closing a door, to muffling a sneeze, to unloading the dishwasher. It didn't matter how carefully we moved, or that we put felt pads on the interior frames for the doors. Elsewhere in the house it always sounded as if we were midway through wrecking the joint with great fervor.

In all of the real estate shows I watch every would-be buyer is mad keen for "open-concept living". A defined kitchen means they will be shunted off into cooking Siberia. A family room with a door is not welcoming enough. A living-room with only one story's worth of ceiling is suffocating. Open it up, open it up they say!

I now wonder how these buyers feel two weeks after moving in, when they've discovered that sound carries, and it carries spectacularly when it doesn't have any walls to bump into.

I never cared one way or the other about open-concept. Well, that's not true. I don't like open-concept homes particularly. However, when we bought this house we assumed that we'd eventually have to redo the kitchen, and I fully intended to close it off anyway. Siberian cooking, it's the way for me. Now I wonder if I'll be so deaf by the time our remodeling projects get underway next year, that it will cease to matter.

Besides, any trend will pass. Particularly in decorating. The craze for open-concept has only one direction in which to go; the wave of the future will have to be closing things up. Defined-space is the most likely next trend, in part because the current one has removed so many walls, the only option is to start putting them back. That or pry off the roof, but even the most trend conscious designer might balk at beginning to actually eliminate shelter. I hope.

Vessel sinks look lovely until you actually spend some time cleaning around them. I once saw a decorating show in which the designer proudly installed a clear glass, vessel sink. I'm sure the homeowner quietly weeps while brushing her teeth to this day. I've got clear glass shower doors aplenty, and the only thing worse than trying to keep those clean, would be trying to keep presentable a sink used constantly throughout the day.

Those vast, echoing master bathrooms? Yes, I've now got one of those too, and I'm likely to be discovered, frozen solid in my shower stall come January. A bathroom that big is only suited to a hot, humid climate where steam and heat not building up are good things. Somewhere is South Dakota there is a home owner who has decided to eschew bathing in the winter months, rather than risk the exposure afforded by their master suite. In Colorado, we still bathe, but we swear more frequently while doing so, in our cavernous, drafty, expensive chambers.

Under-mount sinks are also a craze, and I have to admit, in a bathroom, they are wonderful. They are also wonderful in a kitchen. Until the first time you have to thaw a turkey, or plop a stockpot full of liquid into one, at which point you will discover that what holds them up, often just caulking, is not equal to the task of facing gravity plus mass. However, a brace or two underneath helps. Almost every owner of an under-mount kitchen sink also has a suspiciously short-handled broom to go with it.

In decorating we all cast an appraising eye towards how something presents. In living, how it functions is far more important.

Of course, the last time the cat tossed his cookies, the resulting sound made me wonder if we were in the middle of a home invasion, conducted by ravenous space creatures. It's the only time in my life cat vomit was the better outcome.

I'm fairly certain that isn't a ringing endorsement of an architectural feature.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Pigeon Housing Authority

"Sorry, you feathered moron, we let you raise your young, but now it's war." My husband declared, standing in my home office, staring out through the window with a steely glint in his eye.

I barely noticed because this has become a regular vignette in my life. My husband, and my cat spend a lot of time staring out of my office windows, keeping watch against the feathered invaders. The cat, hunkered down, intent, staring upward. My husband by his side, trying to look menacing. I'm sure the poor woman next door wonders why my husband seems to start, and end each day, looking upwards between our two house, and like he's in the mood to pluck something.

This is because Fwup, our deranged pigeon, a bird with a brain the size of a hefty sunflower seed, has stunning object permanence. This is the same creature who repeatedly batters himself/herself against our windows, despite the fact that we have plantation shutters on most. Fwup could never be accused of possessing the gifts of a scholar, but Fwup is nonetheless the most tenacious of all the flying creatures on this verdant earth, and giving up is against his little bird soul.

When we first moved in here, as mentioned before, there was a caucus of pigeons dwelling on the rooftops, staring down into the space between our house, and our hard-of-hearing neighbor. I've never envied anyone a hearing deficiency before I met Fwup and his cooing compatriots. Then, oh how I longed for selective deafness.

We had a problem with evicting the Pigeon Posse, not only were the pigeons in question surprisingly territorial -- I have now been dive-bombed, Alfred Hitchcock style -- they had a nest of eggs when we arrived. None of us could quite bring ourselves to order the Mafia style hit that would be required to rid ourselves of the Cooing Cooperative. Evidently, it takes a village of city chickens to raise three eggs.

We waited, and were seemingly rewarded. Fwup and his -- or her, I know about thismuch about bird gender identification, and Fwup seemed to guard the nest, and make noise as opposed to hatching anything -- took off when the last of the tiny, and ugly, baby pigeons grew to the point they could fly off. Mercifully, that's just what they did. Learning how to take flight also involved a lot of loud, parental pigeon encouragement, and a good number of collisions with my windows. I had bird smudges galore but finally, off they went to make their way in the world.

Outside my husband trouped, ladder at the ready, trowel in hand. His trusty bottle of disinfectant and a good supply of window cleaner. Not to mention a hose and what seemed 300 gallons worth of blasting out the gutters. They were clogged you see. Turns out that when you let a bunch of pigeons perch on your gutters they leave behind trace evidence that is not so trace in the impact.

We ended up closing up the garage, and having him strip naked, pitching his clothes before he went sprinting, in a state of undress, through the house yelling "Ew! Ew! Ew, ew, ew!" all the way to the hottest shower he's ever taken. When he emerged there was ample reason for me to believe I was married to a 6'4" ,recently cooked, crustacean.

But it was over. My husband hadn't seemed to have contracted any lethal, pigeon-born virus, and the nest was gone.

Fwup's relatives bugged off into the beyond, and all was silent for about a month. About the lifespan I would have attributed to a bird of Fwup's intelligence, actually. Then he came back another fiend in tow, and began to rebuild in exactly the same spot.

We were willing to risk the karma hit by taking on the role of Pigeon Home-Wreckers. We knocked the few meager twigs down and squirted the area down with more 409. For good measure, we stuffed a commercially produced eave-blocking device up in Fwup's favored homestead.

He began to build around it. We knocked it down. Lather, rinse, repeat. I pretty much mean that literally.

Now Fwup perches outside and coos for hours at a time in an agitated manner. He puts up a twig, we poke it down. He spends another day singing his sorrows to the heavens, and tries again.

I'm telling you, if we could harness Fwup's ability to focus for the power of good? We could solve some serious problems.

As it is, we just spend a lot of time addressing the eaves, saying things like, "Trust me, you feathered bum, this will be your last stand!"

And I wear headphones in my office a great deal.

Saturday, September 5, 2009


I don't read many graphic novels. Even as a child comic books never were my thing. In recent years the graphic novel has become a respected genre, and some truly talented writers have made use of the medium to convey their stories on both the visual, and written levels. I'm willing to give stories told via graphic novel a shot, and sometimes I click with them, sometimes not.

Persepolis is the first animated film I've watched based on a graphic novel. It is the deeply personal story of an Iranian woman, growing up in Iran. Her memories of the revolution, the war, being sent to Vienna as a teen, and eventually returning to her country. The story is told in French, with English subtitles and fittingly enough the animated story, told in panels similar to a graphic novel, truly suits subtitles. If anything, watching with subtitles draws you into the story more.

My husband and I watched it this evening, and it was a very engaging story. Sometimes tragic, and sometimes daring to be funny, the most surprising thing about Persepolis is what it concentrates upon. It manages to be both large in scope, and extremely focused on personal details.

Also, as an American I'm used to processing Iran through the American experience with Iran, particularly when it comes to the revolution there. It was fascinating to see this viewpoint, in which the U.S. is barely mentioned, and never by name. This isn't a story about the revolution, or the war, or even a woman's reaction to diminished freedoms. It is all of that, but it is also simply a story of living, the small details we all have in common, regardless of our surroundings.

It was amazing to see both how little, and how much I have in common with this woman in terms of the simple experience of growing up, harnessing personal power, becoming comfortable with self, and even risking happiness.

If you haven't seen the movie, it is available on DVD and I'd highly recommend it. As my husband said afterward, it was entertaining, but it also gave him a sense of having learned something. It's often a stirring experience, and even if you have absolutely nothing in common with the protagonist, chances are you will discover a small piece of commonality.

It also reminded me of something, and this does tie into a theme in the movie. During the Iran Hostage Crisis, my father, who taught history at the college level, had several Iranian students. He would invite them to our home for coffee during that long period. These young men weren't part of the revolution, they were quietly displaced students, living in an area of the country not best known for being diverse. It wasn't until I was an adult that I understood my father's gesture, making the students welcome in his home at a time when it was not a popular thing to do. It was simply the right thing.

The movie Persepolis celebrates small acts of bravery in challenging times. Including the courage it takes to leave a place you love, and never return.

In a way, it is how we all look back at our childhoods, regardless of the different circumstances.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


Isn't this a beautiful image?

Today I'm going to try and value some escapism. I've already been watching some goofy TV -- BtVS, funny and touching all at once, for any of you Whedon fans out there.

As important as it is to keep abreast of important developments, to stay well informed, and to participate in the process of our government, it's also important to give a brain a break every now and then.

Escapism isn't just what we do to run away from reality, it is one of the things we engage in to make us strong enough for reality.

Mostly, I just really liked the picture and wanted to share it. It really does look like a daydream brought to life. I found it years ago, it's Fagaras Citadel in Romania.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Owning the Emperor's New Clothes

For a variety of reasons I ended up having several personal exchanges yesterday, both written and verbal, regarding what has become something of an obsession of mine, health care. The biggest difference in the conversations and I was having is that every last one of them was with someone who has health care insurance.

Meanwhile back in D.C. Republicans vowed to up the pressure to defeat "Obamacare".

This morning, in an email exchange with another friend who reads here, I found myself comparing the situation to owning stock in the Emperor's New Clothes. The truth of that statement hit me, and I decided to continue here.

In the various discussions I had yesterday, one thing kept coming to the fore: the struggle to get actual care even with health insurance. If it wasn't having to research treatments and then suggesting them to doctors, then it was a case of trying to scramble to get treatment before the insurance company could succeed in dropping a patient. One woman I know was talking to me about a condition her three-year-old suffered from that was a genetic predisposition, and her two year battle to try and force the insurance company to reinstate coverage after her family had been dropped, baldly being told it was for cost issues.

Right now I focus on health care to an almost unhealthy degree. That's for a limited time period, but it seems necessary to me. The last time health care reform was focused upon, back in Bill Clinton's presidency, I did not pay enough attention to it. It made so much sense to me that I assumed it would be put into place for the greater good. This time out I've written to every type of representative out there. Not form letters, carefully composed ones in which I actually took the time to edit in order to be concise.

Yes, my son has a particular concern, and I would be lying if I said that wasn't part of what drives me, but it is a small part. The fact is that I will figure out this situation for my son, regardless of when his preexisting condition begins to truly have an impact on his health insurance. I'm fortunate, I know it. I still worry, but I understand why and how I have fewer worries than someone without as many avenues to pursue.

Having exchanges with people who are currently threatened with being dropped, and will be dropped from their insurance companies really brought home to me what a fictional construct health insurance is. You may have it, and if something goes wrong, you may be covered but it seems just as likely that an insurance company will twist and turn until they've figured out the way to shake someone making a claim. We have health insurance until we need it. It is like ordering, paying for, and then wearing the Emperor's New Clothes for everything they are worth.

When the coverage that had been diligently paid for was needed, the customer was left entirely naked, exposed, and vulnerable.

Politicians vowing to defeat attempts to reform the health care industries strike me as the nefarious tailors.

Not everyone who has had a health crisis has been let down by their insurance company. Some have received wonderful care, and treatment. The point is, the stories where people find themselves dropped should not be allowed to exist. When you pay for something, it is with the expectation that it will be there when needed, not yanked away at a crucial moment. It might as well not exist when that is the case.

It's like health care overseen by Bernie Madoff. He was very rightfully sent to jail, but word from D.C. is that they are going to do everything to protect the insurance company equivalents. It seems we have better standards of accountability for our money, than we do for our health maintenance.

From the article I linked to above:

But former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean believes that the American people are tired of the high-volume town hall attacks — and ready for a return to serious legislative efforts.

“Republicans will keep trying,” says Dean, “but I think we’re done with this. The American people are pretty clear they want a civil debate. As soon as people get back to work in Washington, they are going to work on a bill.”

Now is the time to write letters, if you are so inclined. The sometimes raucous Town Hall Meetings wore us all down. Reading that piece I was particularly struck by how individuals opposed to any kind of reform are counting on fatigue to breed apathy and having that win the day. It's deeply ironic that both are indicative of illness.