Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Conservatives Against Conservation Association takes on Earth Hour!

1. Earth Hour is a global demonstration where people turn off their lights and appliances for an hour to raise awareness about global warming and plant the idea of energy conservation in people's heads.

2. Conservatives come back with Human Achievement Hour, in which people turn all their lights and appliances ON, to show how stupid liberals are.

3. Twitter channel #tcot becomes flooded with gleeful reports of "My block is lighted up like a Christmas tree!" and "I even have my car and motorcycle running in my driveway!"

4. I become aware of this, and start tweeting sassy tweets like "#earthhour #tcot Liberals are saving money tonight. Conservatives are spending money. Who's dumb?" and "Join us in bright lights! We're the Conservatives Against Conservation Association! #caca #earthhour #tcot"

5. Somebody RETWEETS my thing about Conservatives Against Conservation, as if it was a serious post.

6. People start actually using the hashtag #caca which was created by me to be funny and stupid.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Would You Friend Your Kids on Facebook?

Some of us parents lead a double life. Not the exciting kind where you end up in Ankara with no recollection of how you got there or why you're wearing only one stiletto, but a double life of the mind. We make our mom faces, wear our mom clothes, and use our mom vocabulary. Even those of us who are "cool moms" create a mom persona -- it doesn't have to be all braided hair and cookie dough. My mom persona is constructed out of different parts: part is my own personality, part is what I think mothers should look and sound like, part is how my mother was, and another part is a new creation -- something that came out of me after my kids came along, that wasn't there before. I like being a mom.

However, I do have a separate piece of my brain that's entirely personal. This piece is a survivor from a time before my children; maybe part single girl, part newlywed, maybe even part teenager. I try to let it change and grow apart from my "mom" self, so that I don't just become the mom and abandon the real me. So that I don't look around when my kids leave for college and realize I have nothing to do but wait for grandchildren. Writing novels is part of that separate piece, and blogging is part of the separate piece (peace?) and recently Facebook, for me and a lot of moms I know, has become part of it.

Yes, we've always had our email lists and phone calls, but there's something about posting OMFG, I need them to be asleep. Must. have. quiet. as one of my friends did recently, that provides instant gratification. You wouldn't write an email to say "Why is it that my children think they need to physically help me open a pack of gum?" But if you Facebook it or Twitter it, you'll have five or six amusing answers within a few minutes, and nowadays really that's all you want. Email has become the new snail mail -- it feels cumbersome, antiquated, and formal, like you need a really good reason to do it, especially to a whole group. Facebook and Twitter is where you go for instant luv now. To shout out to your mom homies, and hear a "hellz yeah" back. Of course, you can't shout out to your mom homies with the children in the room.

But it's not just about complaining about your kids. As more people find and use Facebook, your friend list becomes a synthesis of your entire life. You have high school friends, college friends, ex-boyfriends, professional acquaintances, people who only knew you when you played in a rock band, people who only knew you when you were a cool writer chick, etc. Putting all these people in one place is perplexing enough, without introducing them en masse to your children, who may not know that Mommy wrote a kind of edgy experimental book back in the 90s, who may not see Mom as a rocker, who have no concept of any previous life that Mom may have led, or really anything that existed before they, the children, came into the world.

Which is why you get posts like this, from another friend: I need to post something funny but don't want any speshul snowflaks to see. To which I responded: Whisper it in groanupps langwadj. And another mom added: We must find a way around this... Well, don't we still have email? Don't we still have the telephone? Yeah, we do. But since we've tasted the sweet, sweet nectar of Facebook and Twitter, we can't go back to the old way of doing things. Anyone want to run out and register

To recap, there are three reasons to NOT friend your kids on Facebook:

1. No more bitching about the kids or reporting the funny things they do/say.
2. Kids get to meet Ralph the pierced stoner and experience all his video posts, then ask me how I know this Ralph guy and what those people are doing with that garden hose.
3. Now I have to edit everything I say to make sure it's safe for the dinner table.

But some of us have kids old enough to have their own Facebook accounts. High schoolers, even. So, are there any reasons TO friend your kids?

1. Know what your kids are up to. This was actually the reason I joined Facebook in the first place, and my first two friends were my two teenaged stepchildren. See -- it works both ways. Maybe someplace on LiveJournal there's a post called "Would You Friend Your Mom on Facebook?"
2. If they ask you to friend them, and you don't friend them, then that feels mean. And it is mean. There's just no way around it. You don't want to say "I won't be your friend" to your child, even if you explain it in the kindest possible way.
3. Maybe, just maybe, it's a good thing for the kids to see their moms in this context.

For example: Yes, Mom has friends. Yes, Mom makes snarky comments about politics to people I've never met. No, I don't get all the inside jokes on her Flair corkboard. No, I didn't know she went to college in three different places. Seeing mom in the context of other adults, in the context of the great big world, and witnessing some interactions that have nothing to do with children, nothing to do with them, might just be good for our kids, especially the older ones. I have no solution to the privacy problem or our need for an "Adults Only" zone that's just as fun and immediate as Facebook, but until we figure it out, I am pretty sure that friending your kid is the only thing you can do.

What do you think?

Delicious Related post: Twitter, Tumblr, and Tags: You Are Still All Alone

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Surviving The Quincunx by Charles Palliser

Yesterday, watching CNN, I saw a feature piece about a man who has been feeding the homeless daily out of the back of his truck in a Queens neighborhood for ten years. I found myself astonished that such a man could exist, that such selfless charity could be going on. Surely he must have some hidden motive, some personal failing out of which this commitment has arisen. He can't be just a NICE GUY doing a NICE THING for people in NEED. Of course, he can. He does. Nice people do nice things all the time with no hope of personal gain, no secret, devious agenda. I just had a hard time believing it.

I blame Charles Palliser, and his novel, The Quincunx, which I have been reading for about a month. This 800 page behemoth of a Victorian novel (neo-Victorian? 1989) drags its readers and main character through every milieu of horror, every site of human want and degradation, through the most wretched poverty, the most abject misery the 19th century had to offer. And of course, the 19th century offers plenty. Feel like you've been there, done that? After all, you've read Dickens, right? Seriously, this is Dickens on crystal meth. Imagine the nightmares of Dickens, but without the comfortable distance of Dickens' hyperformal language. And imagine that everyone, everywhere, is purely selfish, purely wicked, and does nothing for any reason but blunt personal gain. The protagonist of this novel, who starts out a boy and ends up a much thinner, much more suspicious boy, lives through every possible awfulness of the time, from agricultural slavery to being a knife-and-boot boy, to various murder attempts, and many, many, many betrayals. Everyone who appears to be trustworthy is false. Everyone who offers love is immediately killed or destroyed.

It is BAD. It is bad in early 19th century England. Very very bad.

However, I am glad I read it for two reasons.

First, if I'm ever tempted to be one of these people who says, "How dare the government take my money to give it to poor people? Leave that to the churches and to my personal charity!" I have only to recall what the churches and individuals of the time were able to do for the working class when the industrial revolution was just beginning, when common lands were being fenced and sold, when there were no legal protections for children, no laws governing labor, no laws governing housing standards, etc. Individuals and churches I'm sure did a lot for a lot of people, but it wasn't enough, given the grinding, irresistable motivation of people to get more money, more power, more property. You could read this book and come away saying, "Wow, the poor in this country really have it made." And I say that's a good thing. I don't want to have to step over dying people and starving orphans. Paying taxes will be just fine, thanks. The thing is, and this is what became clearer to me while reading this book, that without public education, school lunch programs, health care, and other entitlements, there truly is a caste system from which there is no escape. Without money, you can't get money, and you are just trapped. Palliser is a scholar, and he researched the book for 14 years. He's truly captured the period, and seeing it played out before you in such lurid and exacting detail is so much more compelling than reading about it in facts and figures.

The other reason I'm glad I read it is that it was a great read! I was completely fascinated by the time I was ten pages in, and the story just grabbed me by the collar and railroaded me right through to the end. It was almost un-put-downable and I spent many sleepy mornings having stayed up way too late the night before. It is *not* a morality book, although I've spent time talking about that aspect of it. I haven't talked about the plot at all, but much has been made of the mystery in the extremely elaborate, very intelligently wrought story that drives the book. Go here if you've read it and want to ponder all its intricacies. It involves an inheritance, a murder, and a whole lot of family tree.

If you do decide to read The Quincunx, make sure you have some time set aside to cope with obsessive reading. And it might be good to take this one on in the summer months, when you can go outside periodically and remember that life is good, that people can love, and that redemption is possible.

Jack Pendarvis is One of Those Guys

I just can't hang. I don't know what happened to me. I want to say that when I was 23 I could tolerate or even enjoy these books organized on the principle of "what the hell." These novels that challenge what it means to be a novel, characters who defy the idea of a character, whose authors seem to make decisions because they're the ones holding the pen, and tee-hee who's going to stop them?

I know I dated guys who wrote books like this when I was in my 20s. But I also remember putting down The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy as a child, and only part of the reason was because I thought the sacrilege would send me to hell. I have a feeling that if the narrative truly compelled me, I would have dared to face the consequences.

The first book I read by Jack Pendarvis was Your Body is Changing, a collection of short stories. At first, I was really digging it. Yes, it tended a little toward the type of story collection that holds up one character after another saying, "Look at this idiot! Okay, now look at this idiot! Isn't he a tool? Now check out this guy -- what a tool!" But it was really imaginative and interesting. I particularly liked the story "Outsiders" about a woman who announces constantly that she's really someone who will "call you on your shit." Then I got to the title story, about an adolescent zealot who comes into age and cynicism in various har-har ways. And I started to wonder, is Jack Pendarvis one of those guys? One of those guys who produces desultory idylls revolving around randomness, irony, and a wry, intellectual detachment? One of those McSweeney's type guys? When the main character set off on a cross country journey in a goat cart, I had to face the truth: Jack Pendarvis is one of those guys.

Then I read his novel, Awesome, which is about a giant and his robot friend. Pendarvis' giant (named "Awesome") is as inaccessible as the prose itself, and unfortunately he tells his own story mixing low and high discourse like it's 1999. I couldn't finish Your Body is Changing, but I will admit I read to the end of Awesome, to see if penises are really like guns. You know the old plotting rule: If you show a gun in Act I, it has to go off in Act III, right? So, if you cut off your penis on a whim in Act I, does it have to return to you when you least expect it, in Act III? Answer: yes. Penises are just like guns in this respect.

Right after I had finished reading Awesome, a friend loaned me The Thirteen and a Half Lives of Captain Bluebear. It was through realizing the proximity of the latter to The Hitchhiker's Guide that I realized the proximity of Awesome to this iconic work, and so I have to admit: There may be people out there who will find this book to be gorgeous, revelatory, and profound. I am not one of them. However, I salute MacAdam Cage for publishing it, I salute Pendarvis for writing it, and I'm glad it's out there on the bookshelves, in all its weirdness, in all its belligerent quirkiness, because the world doesn't need another mild romance, and Jack Pendarvis ain't no Nicholas Sparks.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Twitter, Tumblr, Tags: You Are Still All Alone

In spite of the flurry of social media that surrounds me, I am still all alone in the space between my ears. In the moment of any creative act, there is nothing outside my own brain that can help me, no synergy, no immediacy of connection can save me. All the networking in the world is a noise and a dissipation when it comes to my book and the words that I have to put together, to get the book done.

I was standing in my kitchen when it hit me. It was one o'clock in the morning, and I had been writing my novel. Frustration drove me away from the keyboard and into the other room. I stood there with one hand on the phone, but at 1am, I couldn't call anyone here in Virginia. My family was asleep. Even west coast friends would need a reason to pick up the phone this late. There was no noise in the house. I was truly completely alone with my book and a couple of really tough scenes. If I were going to phrase the problem as a Tweet... if I were going to tell my writing group about it... if I were telling someone in an email... but it didn't matter how I could phrase it or present it or package the problem. I was only having it, not reporting it at all.

Of course, there were lots of people I could have "called" online. With a Twitter search, I could find people writing novels just like me and talking about it at that very moment. I could find blogs, message boards, email lists. I could shoot out a Facebook status update and within minutes have people tell me how it would get better, how they had been there, how I could fix it. But I realized, standing there in my physical form in the middle of the night -- tired, cold, close to a breakthrough -- that it wouldn't help.

I couldn't get what I needed from the vast amorphous "them" out there, the support, the network, the like minds. I stood there gripping the counter, facing the idea that I might just have to give up on writing this difficult book, doing this difficult thing. And I realized, it's not that I don't have the right support, the right help and connections. It's that support cannot help. Connections cannot write this miserable book. I have to write it. Word by word, wrenched straight out of my own brain, going straight down into my book -- not offered for critique on a message board, or discussed in Twitter, or announced in a blog.

This is me. Just this physical form and the electricity in my head, all online appendages amputated, all connections severed. This is you, alone, thinking. Making something up in your brain. Directing it onto the page. This is the only thing that ultimately matters.

Connections are addictive. I live online. My Twitter feeds my Facebook. My YouTube feeds my Tumblr. There's a camera in my laptop lid, a camera in my phone, and then there's my actual camera and my Flickr. On web sites and blogs, with hashtags and Digg, I find people who are watching the same show I'm watching, eating the same food I'm eating, shopping for the same kitchen appliance, etc. etc. In the interest of full disclosure, I am linking out to all my social media, but this isn't all. There are forums, games, elists, and more. If I have a question, or need to say something, I can push it out to hundreds of people who are the same as I am in some way: writers, readers, homeschoolers, people from the neighborhood here, people from my hometown. I can find people who think the same, look the same, live the same, and I can access them immediately. I have their ears.

Maybe you can push your message out to thousands who are just like you in some way. But are they just like you in that one crucial way? I cannot find anyone who is writing the same book. No one can talk to me about that. And if they did? Sound and dissipation.

It's me. It's 1 AM. There's a book not getting written. For this I have to be all alone. And when it comes down to getting alone, I can see that in this way, for this purpose, I have been alone all the while, with bees buzzing around my head, and a radio playing in the background, and a train passing by outside, and a fan blowing, rasping away. And yes, I get the irony: I am telling you this in a blog. I have found the way in which we are exactly alike. But for this purpose, in this one instance, let's not talk about it at all.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Hamlet 2: Sometimes Even Catherine Keener Cannot Save You

Okay, I didn't like "Dogma" either. It's not that I'm prudish or can't appreciate a good satire, but "Hamlet 2" bored me, literally to sleep. That's the same way I felt about "Dogma," I realize. Bored. Steve Coogan (he was the little tiny Roman guy in "Night at the Museum") plays a failed actor who is now a drama teacher. But, OH NO! The drama program is in trouble. It's going to be eliminated from the school! Just when a bunch more kids have signed up for drama class, as shop and computer classes have also been eliminated!

So what do we do in a movie, if the drama program is in trouble? That's right. We put on a show to save it! Do we all have to pull together, and overcome our differences, and in the process do we all learn a little bit about ourselves?

I don't know, because right at that point I turned to Dan and said, "I didn't know this was going to be a movie about saving the community center." And then I fell asleep. I also didn't know the movie was going to be about children, or rather 26-year-olds pretending to be children. I also didn't know that Catherine Keener was going to be given such slim material to work on, not that she can't work with less, but still. A little brutal.

Good points in the movie: Elizabeth Shue plays herself, having given up Hollywood to become a nurse. Catherine Keener counts as a good point. She is always hilarious and perfect. Steve Coogan manages to be likeable in spite of the overwrought situation.

To me, it played like a Monty Python skit writ American and writ about a hundred times too long. Coogan definitely seemed to be channeling Terry Gilliam at times, but the character couldn't bear the weight of the entire movie. But then, I didn't watch the whole thing. Maybe I'm letting my bias against movies in which the community center must be saved hold me back from watching a great comedy. What do you think. Should I watch the rest of it?