Monday, October 31, 2005

Charles Addams or Edward Gorey?

Are you an Addams aficianado, or do your tastes run more to the Gorey?

Westfield, NJ-born illustrator Charles "Chill" Addams (1912 - 1988) is best known for his New Yorker cartoons, which included the very successful Addams Family series. You can read more about him at the Tee & Charles Addams Foundation website. An Addams bibliography can be found here.

Chicago-born/Cape Cod resident, Edward Gorey (1925-2000) is famous for his wonderfully macabre pen-and-ink drawings, though he considered himself first and foremost a writer. He, like Addams, had his work showcased on a regular basis in the New Yorker. Gorey-trivia: the Gorey-like credits for PBS's Mystery! were actually done by animator Derek Lamb. You can find a list of his works at the aptly-names Goreyography website.

Be-whatever-you-want-to-be Day, plus eat candy

All brides should look so glamorous. That Frankenstein was one lucky monster.

Light the candles in the jack o'lanterns, dress up as your alter-ego, beg candy from strangers (but have your mama check it before you eat), and settle in with a couple of fright flicks. After work, of course.

Happy Halloween 2005.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

All Hallow's Eve Eve

A 1950's Halloween Parade

When I was a little girl, I could never get to sleep the night before Halloween. It was a couple of notches down from the keyed-up restlessness of Christmas Eve - after all, I didn't have to listen for reindeer on the roof or a big ol' red-suited elf falling down the chimney into my living room - but the butterflies-in-stomach excitement was there all the same.

What kept me awake, I wonder? Was candy such a big deal? Was dressing up as someone or something else worth losing sleep over? I really can't remember what had me in such a dither the night before Halloween.

My mother - my Southern Baptist, right-of-Attila-the-Hun mother - loved Halloween. (This is how I know that all the anti-Halloween right-wing stuff is pure crap.) She dangled the shiny idea of "tricks-and-treats" over our heads the entire month of October. She enjoyed helping us with our costumes and had fun giving out candy to the kids who came to the door.

My costume was usually homemade - seems like I was always a gypsy - except for when I was 8 and 9 years old. One year for some reason Daddy sprung for a Siam Princess costume from the dime store. I think it cost a whopping $2.98, and I remember choosing it. Siam Princess? I liked the mask and the shiny yellow and bright pink coverall with some sort of intricate (to an 8-year-old) sparkly design. Notice I chose a princess who could wear pants, not a fluffy skirt. I got two Halloweens'-worth of wear out of it, so when you amortorize the cost, well - practically free. (Yes, it was a little big the first year and a little small the second.)

The mask was one of those molded plastic jobs with the thin elastic strap to keep it over my face. And I'm sure if anyone had struck a match within 20 yards of me, I would have gone up in a flash. But nobody worried about such things then. (Which make ya' wonder how all of us made it through such dangerous childhoods to a place where folks have their diapers in a wad wondering how they'll take care of us in our old age. Well, just dress me as a Siam Princess and set me on fire, I say!)

I think one thing that kept me awake was the anticipation of being allowed to go door to door, never knowing who'd give you what, trying to set a goal of how many houses you could get to or how big a paper sack you'd be able to fill. We always took paper bags to collect candy - no plastic pumpkins or trendy little totes - except for the big kids (and you really weren't supposed to trick-or-treat over the age of 12 - but some boys pushed it to 14), who carried pillowcases.

The idea of collecting candy, or whatever - because you were just as likely to get apples or homemade cookies - was exciting. That stuff just wasn't as readily available to us on a day to day basis. Candy, cookies, Coca-Cola - those were all for special occasions. Like Halloween. I don't remember getting much chocolate; it was mostly hard candy or wax lips or bubble gum. I well remember the excitement of getting home and dumping it all in the middle of the floor, pooling our resources, trading this or that, with big brother David coming in at the end with a bulging pillowcase (or two) to add to the loot.

As we got too old for trick-or-treating, there were usually parties or the coming-of-age thrill of getting to answer the door and hand out candy.

I tried to provide the same good Halloween memories for Kate when she was growing up, and I think I did. Her costumes were more elaborate, though we did have several rag-bag homemade ones, and the decorations grew well beyond a simple carved pumpkin, though not to the level of many houses today. I don't know whether or not Kate could sleep the night before Halloween - I'll have to ask her.

And tonight? Well, I think I'll sleep tonight without difficulty. The jack o'lantern's carved, the house decorated inside and out, the treats are over-flowing the special Halloween tray. I won't dress up tomorrow night - I have done on occasion, but I will love seeing the little cuties come to the door - some in awe of the whole thing, standing there dumb-founded, some shouting "trick or treat!" so loud they blow out all the candles in the house, the princesses and the clowns and the Batmen and the Harry Potters.

Still, if I lie in bed tonight and try to dredge up the feeling of being an 8-year-old Siam Princess again, who knows? Maybe I won't get much sleep after all.

Out of focus

I am really struggling with my writing right now, and I don't know why. I've been given a great story to tell, thanks to dear Walter, so all I have to do is create more depth for events and characters than I was given. It sounded easy when I started. Creating is what I do best. With a framework of real people and events, plus knowing Walter as I did, parts of the story should have fallen into place better than they have so far. I think I'm overwhelmed by the whole thing, often feeling unworthy of the whole project.

In my mind, it boils down to two main hurdles, one having to do with the friendship I had with Walter, and the other having to do with my own life at this place in time.

Regarding the friendship, I feel that whatever I write - whatever I create to fill in gaps or make the story more readable - needs to be true to Walter, to the way he lived his life and the times in which he lived. I have too much angst about this, I know. If I wanted to be absolutely true to Walter's story, I'd just publish his letters and be done with it. Let whoever reads them fill in whatever he/she wants. That may come later, but what I feel should be done (and I think Walter would've liked this idea better) is to create a fictional story loosely based on his life.

Again, that sounds so easy - especially since some of the very best parts of the tale are true, and all I have to do is beef them up a bit. I was given a great framework, but whenever I go off on a writing tangent, creating characters and situations, I get caught up in what Walter would've thought about the whole thing.

Now that I see my problem written down, it makes it seem even sillier. I'm writing fiction based on fact, so I can do whatever I damn well please, go off on as many tangents as I want. What's holding me back?

The second problem stems from my own scattered thought patterns at the moment. I'm very busy at work, there's a big fund-raiser coming up for a local theatre of which I'm a board member, I have got to get my living room and dining room painted before Thanksgiving (it's a goal and I mean to keep it - bought the paint yesterday), and - well - the list goes on. I've started getting up at 5am and writing until 6:30, and that works well for me. Unless I'm on the road (last week Vancouver, this week Raleigh).

Yes, scattered is the only way to describe it. I have at least 7 potential stories and one play rattling around in my head right now, in addition to Walter's story. I flit a little here, I flit a little there - feeling that I need to write what I feel I need to write at the moment. Well, as you can imagine, that's getting me nowhere on any of it. I used to laugh about adult ADD, but that's the only way I can describe my life and motivation right now.

So what I need is focus for my imagination (thanks, Mark Twain). I need to move everything to the side (at least between 5-6:30am) and stick to Walter's story. Even when I'm in Raleigh. Or wherever. Wish I could use my nose like a camera lense and twist it until my brain became sharp and clear. Arrgh!

Saturday, October 29, 2005

What I remember about Vancouver

Yes, Garth and I met the Queen. Did I forget to mention that?
(Though my incredulity seems to be showing . . .)

Dentists, pea soup, showers, proms, and a too-good-to-be-true apartment in New York

A couple of days ago I posted on a survey of phobias, and snakes came out on top. But the snake-thing is so obvious. The whole mythology surrounding these slithery creatures is evil. But what happens when some nice, normal, everyday thing becomes fraught with terror? Ah, yes. That's what film-makers banked on for these jump-outta-your-seat, creepy performances that turned the run-of-the-mill into the forever-scary.

1. Laurence Olivier as the sadistic Nazi dentist baddie in The Marathon Man. Folks are already terrified of a trip to their own lovable dentist, but who hasn't thought while lying back in the dentist's chair - completely at his/her mercy - that you saw just a glint of Sir Larry in the pick-and-drill wielder's eye? Hmm? However, I do have some advice for you - don't even mention The Marathon Man to your dentist, even in jest. I made that mistake once. No sense of humor, these guys.

2. Janet Leigh as the shredded shower-taker in Psycho. Now I know you're wondering why I chose Janet instead of Tony's Norman as the most terrifying performance in the movie. Well, Tony's obviously crazy-evil, but Janet is everywoman. Just taking a shower (OK after taking Mr. Arbogast's bucks), minding her own business, completely clueless to the danger lurking outside her opaque shower curtin (she wasn't privy to hearing the creepy music and stuff, remember) - then, wee-wee-wee-wee!, knife-blade comes ripping away at her. Why, that could be you! Or more importantly, me! And dear Hitchcock knew that - the terror of the everyday stuff.

3. Ruth Gordon in Rosemary's Baby. I loved funny, quirky Ruth Gordon - didn't you? She had that goofy way of talking and an outrageous sense of humor. She was a part of that smart, creative Algonquin-Garden of Allah crowd that traveled back and forth between NY and LA just being brilliant and under-appreciated. So to see this lovable nut draw poor unsuspecting Mia Farrow and hubby into this big, gorgeous, cheap Manhattan apartment and worm her way into the couple's life just to ensure a breeder for satan-baby - well! As Ruth herself woulda said, "What a character!" Ruthie won both Oscar and Golden Globe for her supporting - and terrifying - role. Funny people playing scary people is the creepiest thing ever. That fine line, you see.

4. Linda Blair in The Exocist. Again with the unexpected. A beautiful young girl who loves her mama, then - yowser! Head-spinning, pea-soup-spewing, bed-rising, priest-quaking - and a face only the devil himself can love. C'mon admit it - it still crawls all over you after all these years. And, like Psycho's wee-wee-wee! theme, the minute you hear the tinkly music from The Exorcist you want to grab your blankie and suck your thumb. Was simple pea soup ever the same after it came spewing from the mouth of Satan? (No, but I still like it on a cold winter's day, regardless of the spinning head.)

5. Sissy Spacek in Carrie. OK, proms are always scary, whether or not you have pig's blood dumped on you and blow everyone to smithereens with your incredible mind-power. Still, sweet little Sissy with her wierd, religious Piper Laurie mother, having to face the traumas of high school. Aww. Thing is, we could all relate (except for the head cheerleaders) to the horrors of clawing and clutching our way through the teen years. Sissy covered in blood? Iconic!

See? Snakes don't hold a bell, book, or candle to proms, dentists, pea soup, showers and a low-rent New York apartment. Now go watch Frankenstein and calm down.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Time to get a new hair-do and party-down for the weekend

That's it, girls (and guys, if you're so inclined).

Fluff yo' hair, put on your dancin' shoes, and transform yourself into Sparkle Plenty (or at the very least Reese Witherspoon).

I'm calling it a (very, very long) week and suggest you do the same. Sleep, eat, love, read - all those wonderful weekendy things. AND we get an extra hour's sleep Saturday night, so you can indulge in some guilt-free boogie time. Enjoy your weekend!

The REAL news story of the day

Forget ol' Harriet, Scooter (I ask you, "Scooter"???), and Karl. The big story of the day is that the famous flying car in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets has - yes, I'm going with this tired old phrase - flown the coop. Or coupe. Or gar-age, as the folks on that island across the pond say. According the The Times, the baby blue Ford Anglia has disappeared from its parking space at the studio.

The article says that the car couldn't be driven so it must've been "spirited away" by some other means. Well, duh. It can fly, ya' know. I bet Ron and Harry are missing, as well. If I were a bettin' woman, I'd look up into the skies of Vegas.

The Times provides police contact numbers in case we see it. Alas, it doesn't give us the license tag number. I mean, we can't go turning in every flying blue Anglia we see now, can we?

(But really - Scooter? He should be indicted just for havin' that name. )

Before my first cuppa tea

Yeah, I know it's late in the day for my first swallow of the amber elixer, but my flight was an hour and a half late getting into Atlanta from Vancouver last night and I'm taking it slow this morning. The kettle's on, so it won't be long. I'll get in to the office, later. Honest.

Speaking of tea, some enterprising feller sold a nice cup of tea on eBay recently for £12.50, can you believe. That's, what - not up on my exchange rate today - around $18-20 maybe? Anyway, the guy got 11 bids and is trying to figure out a way to deliver the goods.

Newspaper peeves: A month or so ago the New York Times put some of its features behind a subscription-paying wall, including its editorial writers. It's called TimesSelect, and what's in there is exactly the stuff I wouldn't pay for! I did get an email yesterday offering a free-trial of TS. So, Dowd and Brooks and Friedman, et. al. how's that workin' for ya' - having your bean-counters cut you off from a sizable portion of your readership? (Of course, most of the editorial writers are syndicated in other papers for free, so the point . . .?)

Also - and this has to be said - the Washington Post has the worst Letters to the Editor of any newspaper. Ever. Period. It's as though the paper's readers are completely oblivious to what's happening in the world. There are never any letters about major national and international goings-on (rarely, anyway). Now, this may be because they're fed up with news since they live in the nation's capital, I just don't know. But the LTTE writers in WDC only comment on things from the Food section or Metro section or crossword puzzle page. Maybe the paper's blow-hard editorial writers put the kabosh on anything meaningful outta the pens of the masses. Hmm.

Kettle's boiling. I'm home, people! Home!

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Job-hunting and snakes - the Halloween horrors continue


Looking for a new job is horror enough in itself, but there are job-hunter nightmares that leave you in a cold sweat in the middle of a cold, dark night. According to CareerBuilder, the number one terror tale involves being offered a new position, quitting your old job, then having the new job offer rescinded. The very thought of having to crawl back and beg for your old job is a life-screwing situation. The whole list of job-hunting horrors is here.

Job-search crap aside, it doesn't rank as number one on the fears and phobias list, so sez MSN. Seems snakes hold the top spot as the ultimate fear factor for most folks. Snakes have close competition from number 2 - having to give a speech. Good old fashioned fear is in our DNA - for good reason.

Off I fly - mo' later from 'Lanta.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Orange you curious about white pumpkins?

This is just wrong. White pumpkins? I mean, I appreciate Caucasianism as much as the next honky, but pumpkins are orange. Period. I'd write a poem about it, but nothing rhymes with the color a pumpkin's supposed to be. Is the inside meat white, too? Gag. I think Jack Pumpkinhead would be very, very disappointed in this even-greater-freak of nature.

On a more natural-order-of-things note, The Simpson's Mr. Burns topped MSNBC's Top Scariest TV Characters. Eeeeexxcellent. Find out who else made the list here.

My last night in Vancouver. Time to head back to the Southland and home sweet home. It's been fun and productive but I want to be surrounded by my own thangs. I'll leave you with my favorite sight so far (in addition to the gorgeous bay and mountains): a button in the elevator says "Exit when doors open."

As opposed to . . . ?

The REALLY scary Halloween stuff

Forget bird flu or anthrax or even waking up next to Dick Cheney. (Well, OK, maybe you'd better keep that one on the front burner.) Health professionals tell us that what's really terrorizing us is diabetes, high blood pressure, emphysema, and something that doesn't get any glam-media, the Klebsiella germ.

Seems everyone's running around like chickens with their heads cut off, pestering hard-working doctors about whatever health scare is at the top of the Trendy Ways to Die list, when it's the run-of-the-mill stuff that's more'n likely gonna do us in.

Oh, and the Klebsiella germ that hasn't cracked the Katie Couric panic poll yet? It's a drug-resistant little bugger that runs rampant throughout hospitals - it laughs in the face of antibiotics. Ha. Ha. (Are you scared yet?)

I guess we need to turn off the TV yammering, put down the newspapers, and just get on with life. It reminds me of my favorite part of one of my favorite books, Three Men in a Boat (to Say Nothing of the Dog) by Jerome K. Jerome. The story opens with the main character reading the label of a bottle of liver pills and having convinced himself that he, indeed, has a liver complaint that he heretofore didn't know he had. He then relates a hilarious tale of having sat down, quite by chance, with a medical book in the British Library and discovering that he has every disease in the book except one:

. . . I plodded conscientiously through the twenty-six letters, and the only malady I could conclude I had not got was housemaid's knee.

I felt rather hurt about this at first; it seemed somehow to be a sort of slight. Why hadn't I got housemaid's knee? Why this invidious reservation? After a while, however, less grasping feelings prevailed. I reflected that I had every other known malady in the pharmacology, and I grew less selfish, and determined to do without housemaid's knee.

(I know I push this book every other month, but if you haven't read it, find a copy quick!) At any rate, I think it well points up the problem with listening to every symptom of every malady and convincing yourself that you are in the very throes of death. I mean, you probably are in the throes of death (we're all terminal, after all), but you probably won't die of one of the cool things.

However, do let me know if housemaid's knee catches up with you .


Luckovich cartoon in this morning's Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Good question.

Just ignore it, guys

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

PJs sans Winchester

First you need to know that the picture at the left has nothing to do with this post - I just needed a little laugh. Thank you Little Britain.

I just remembered that I didn't give an update on the Vancouver Writers' Festival that I was so excited about last week. I was really looking forward to hearing Simon Winchester because I love his books.

Well, the chain of events was forged against me Saturday. My plane landed a little early - right at noon, but it took almost an hour to get through customs in Vancouver and wait for luggage that didn't arrive (until 10pm that night). And then the shuttle bus to the hotel took almost an hour to get to the hotel. So it was knocking on 2pm when I dragged my butt (but not my luggage) into the Westin Bayshore. Simon Winchester's lecture was scheduled from 2-3:30, so - shoot - I missed it.

The good news is that Garth got down to Granville Island and wormed his way in to hear Winchester, so I can report second-hand on this. Impressions - really smart, approachable - terrific anecdotes, especially one involving the Queen and Friank Rizzo, former mayor of Philadelphia. (Hint: the Queen told Winchester that she knew Rizzo must be a former policeman because he carried his night stick in his pocket!! You figure it out.)

So, no Winchester for me, but I did get to live vicariously through Garth's experience.

Back to the exhibit floor -

Blog tapas

Little samplings to nourish you between blog-gorges - because some of us have day-jobs.

Our favorite arrow-through-head-banjo-playin' comedian, Steve Martin won this year's Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, doled out Sunday night at the Kennedy Center (but we peons can't see it on TV until November). Read about it here, here, and here. He's so smart and so cute - why ain't he married?, I was wonderin' just today.

The Battle of the Darwins is taking place between two bio-rivals, James D. Watson and Edward O. Wilson - both eminent biologists. Seems they're editors - for different publishers - of the same book, an anthology of Darwin's writings on evolution. Get the scoop of poo on the personal rivalry here.

A school district in Washington state is cancelling it's Halloween celebrations because the holiday disses witches. Sheeeesh. The right-wingers say Halloween puts witches on a pedestal and witches say it's disrespectful. Why don't you guys go off in the woods somewhere and settle it amongst yerselves and let the rest of us dress up any way we damn well please and beg door-to-door for candy one measly night of the year. A spell on both yo' houses!

A kinda creepy story last week in The Guardian about choreographer Michael Rooney - son o' Mickey. Seems his mother was murdered by a pissed-off boyfriend during a time of estrangement with Andy Hardy (Michael's mom was Rooney's #5) back in the 1960s. My favorite part of the story is where they herd the children off to see Mary Poppins while the gore is still upstairs in the bedroom. For a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down . . .

Speaking of fabulous tapas (as opposed to upstairs-gore and flying nannies), El Patio in Vancouver is the place to go, my little chicaritas. You will eat well, laugh hard, and Mama will take care of you. Go. I mean it.

As for me, I'm tapas-ed out and ready for the bedarino. Buenos whatever from the Land of the Northern Maple Leaf.

Monday, October 24, 2005

And the ladies . . .

Yesterday, classic spooky men. Today, the scary dames. Problem is, though, I couldn't come up with many super-bonafide horror leading ladies, so you'll have to help me with this one. The three that come to mind only did true horror films late in their careers.

I'm not sure what that means. Sexism? Once women reach a certain age (at least in the past) they can only play monsters? Or, had they finally reached the stage - after very successful screen careers - where they were free to play horror? Well, that's a thesis for someone besides PJs.

At any rate, here are my scary ladies of the silver screen:

Supa-stah Bette Davis. She certainly played scary women throughout her career, but most of them were scary in a kick-ass way, not a Baby Jane way. I love her young, I love her old. She just chewed up the scenery and spit it back at 'ya. My personal horror fav, as you well know, is Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte, but I can take a dose of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane or The Nanny (and not the Fran Drescher kind, either) anytime. Bette, I hope you're still kickin' ass wherever you are!

The other supa-stah and Davis' bitter rival, Joan Crawford. Now, she is just scary anyway you look at her. And she was the sweet one in Baby Jane. She gives me nightmares even when she's not in a horror film. Strait Jacket, Berserk!, and her appearance on Night Gallery add to her creep factor.

Not so supa-stah (except on Bewitched) Agnes Moorehead. Another alum of Sweet Charlotte. And did you catch her in The Bat or the string of scary made-for-TV movies late in her career? Of course Endora wasn't scary (unless you're Darren Stevens), but Aggie could be a real fright when she put her mind to it.

OK - I need more. Help me out.

Now it's out to dinner in 'Couver-ville.

Scary men of the silver screen

Another Halloween-themed post. Who's the star of your Nightmare Before Halloween dreams? I'm talking about famous horror stars as opposed to specific horror performances (we'll save that one for later). Just the men - we'll get to the scary chicks another time. All suggestions welcome (but as always, I have the last word . . . ).

Boris Karloff. My vote is for his role in The Mummy. Frankenstein was sort of lovable, so he never really scared me. But the mummy-guy, whoa!

Vincent Price. Boy, he could churn 'em out. The one that scared me most as a kid was The Fall of the House of Usher, but I can be a creeped-out sucker for House of Wax, as well.

Peter Lorre. Those eyes! That voice! Mr. Moto!

(Can you believe I found a picture with Vincent Price and Peter Lorre?)

Bela Lugosi. Well, he's Dracula, ain't he? (How creepy are those hands? Yeeeesh!)

Lon Chaney (and Lon Jr, too.). Big Lon was the "man of a thousand faces," many of them scary ones. Now this is what the real Phantom of the Opera looks like (no silly white half-mask).

Who'm I missing? Feel free to add to.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

A foggy day in 'Couver Town

This is what it looks like outside my 16th floor palatial room at the Westin Bayshore in Vancouver right now. Except gray, not blue. Since I don't have a digital camera (I understand Sandy Claus is bringin' me one for Christmas, though!), I had to find my Vancouver fog picture here.)

When I woke up around 7 this morning, it was cloudy and misty, but I could see the skyscrapers and boats in the harbor. The pea-soup thickens, as I type. But I like a place with atmosphere, and co-worker Garth and I plan to get into as much trouble as possible before we are called to set up our conference exhibit and become the adorable marketing team for Perkins+Will's Graphics Lab that we truly are. Also, we have enough client and committee buddies around who'll add to the merriment. So, fog? Pah! Will not slow us down.

And let me give it up big time for the beds at the Vancouver Westin. You know my hotel-bed-pet-peeves, well, honey - down comforters, feather pillows, bottom sheet (very high thread-count, my dears) stays tucked. 'Nuff said. In fact, the bed-comfort is heavily marketed here - the Westin is actually proud of it! The hotel room comes complete with a catalog of its bedding accoutrements, called "Heavenly Bed." Shoot, I don't care how big a crass marketing scheme it is - all I know is that I get a superb night's sleep in a comfortable bed. Which is what a hotel should be about, to my mind. So you bidness-travelers out there, play princess-and-the-pea at the Westin sometime. Sweet!

OK, time for trouble. Gotta go - I'll be back when the fog lifts in the Big Van.

Start your day the Wallace and Gromit way

Nicey & Wifey at Nice Cup of Tea and a Sit Down report that British tea company PGTips has come up with some crackin' "cuppa contraptions" based on Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Though not quite the Rube Goldberg complexity shown in the film, the ReadyWhenUR kettle lets you text the kettle so the water's ready when you hit the kitchen. You can also get a Gromit mug, a color chart that shows you exactly what various brews of tea should look like when ready, and doggie-shaped tea bags.

Alas, these wonderful tea playthings probably aren't available here in the colonies, but it's nice to know that somebody somewhere tries to make real life as fun as animation-world.

By the way, go plop down some coins to see W&G - it's a great film for big people and little people. Big clay thumbs way up.

Goodnight from Vancouver.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Justice DeLayed

I try, try, try, try, try to stay away from politics on this blog because, as I've said before, so many other places do that stuff better and I get tired of being so fraught about it all the time. But, really. This guy just makes it tooooo easy.

So let's take a poll. Who would you like to see on the Tom DeLay jury?

The celebrity perp pool is so deep these days that selecting twelve all-star citizens would be pretty easy, but let's make it a little more difficult. Pretend that the DeLay jury has to be made up of six ordinary folks and six big-name criminals - er, I mean, alleged criminals. Which six would you choose? Michael Jackson? Robert Blake? Martha Stewart? OJ? That cop-guy from the Village People? Winona Ryder? Phil Spector. Well, hon, the list does go on . . .

As I said yesterday in a comment on Shakespeare's Sister blog, a new simile was born with the Tom-DeLay-smiley-face arrest photo. Before yesterday when one of your friends did something wrong and gave you a shit-eatin' grin, you'd say "He's grinning like a Cheshire Cat," or "She's grinning like a jackass." Add to those "He's grinning like a Tom DeLay mug shot." (Although he might not be smiling so big if he has to do time and his hair-dye job does a big Robert Blake on him, eh?)

Let's help that judge in Texas by providing some juror names. Of course we run the risk of the celebrities sympathizing with DeLay (you just know Jacko would vote innocent), but the entertainment value of the whole thing would be worth it. DeLay'll probably walk anyway, so we may as well have a little fun while we're at it.

Is that a crayon in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me call it a week?

All right, girls and boys. Open up your big box of crayons, pull out the color "Gone, " and color me outta here!

But not to worry - you can look forward to six bloggeriffic days of "Shorty PJs Does Vancouver." (Just doesn't have the same ring as "Debbie Does Dallas," does it? But you never know.)

Thanks for coloring me GONE - it's just my color!

Friday morning fluff

It's Friday, I'm frittered out, and ready for a little fluff before hopping my earrrrrrly morning flight to Vancouver tomorrow. Here's some of the fun-stuff pocket lint I've been saving for you this week:

The funny little logical number grid puzzle Su Doku made the news again this week at the Cheltenham Literature Festival. Seems they held a championship and the chicks walked away with most of the prizes. First place went to 18-year-old university student Nina Pell. People of the female persuasion also garnered second and fourth places in the competition, as well as the top prize in the under 12's category.

"Wake the people and make them think big," said playwright Henrik Ibsen. Just chew on those words for a bit. Have they ever been more applicable than right now? The Guardian ran a good article about Mr. Ibsen the other day, so give a read. Wake up and start thinking big, for goodness' sake!

But if you're more of a Percy Shelley kinda person, check out this list of Top 10 Books About Shelley. (Who'd a'thunk there'd been so many, eh?) That whole Shelley-Byron-Keats thing always kinda confused me. (And wasn't there a wife stuck in there somewhere?) Maybe I should read one of these books and straighten myself out on it. But pro'ly not.

Just in time for Halloween - pagan priests will be allowed to use wands and wine during ceremonies in British prisons, but naked pagan worship will not - I repeat, NOT - be allowed. Still, I see a big tide of pagan conversions headed for ye old gaol.

Here's some really good TV-theatre-type news. A television version of Once Upon A Mattress (taped in 2004), the musical that kicked off the career of a young Carol Burnett, will be broadcast December 18 on ABC. Tracey Ullman (always, always fabulous) will play Princess Winnifred the Woebegone. The production also features Dennis O'Hare, Tommy Smothers, Zooey Deschanel and - AND - Carol Burnett her own bad self as the conniving Queen Aggravain.

And last but not least - have fun carving your virtual jack-o-lantern - it even lights up when you click "Done." You'll need Flash, by the way.

OK - pockets cleaned out now.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Upcoming temptation in Vancouver - the 18th International Writers and Readers Festival

Ah, temptation. Chocolate? Sex? Just one more tiny, thin mint? No, I'm talking books here - books and the people who write them.

Saturday, Garth and I head for Vancouver to market our wares at a big conference and will be in the Great Northwest through next Thursday. I've never been to Vancouver, so I'm overly excited about the opportunity to play tourist when not on the conference exhibit floor or in committee meetings.

Yesterday, Garth discovered that the Vancouver Writer and Readers Festival runs through Sunday (Oct. 23), so we're busily checking out which sessions have tickets available. The list of authors who are in Vancouver include: Margaret Atwood, Julian Barnes, Alice Munro, Ali Smith, Simon Winchester, Tim Winton and many, many others. Alas, we'll miss most of them, but Simon Winchester (I love this guy! The Professor and The Madman, The Meaning of Everything, Krakatoa . . .) is speaking on Saturday afternoon at 2. My plane is scheduled to land at 12:15pm - whad'ya think? If the airline, taxicab, and hotel cooperate, I plan to fly in, dump my stuff at the hotel and hi-tail it to wherever Winchester is holding forth. Will I screw up the karma if I purchase the tix in advance, reckon?

Julian Barnes hits the stage later, but the website says the the event is "at maximum capacity." So is the Afternoon Tea confab on Sunday. Big ol' sad sigh. Still, you never know. We'll turn up hopeful and maybe we'll be able to sweet-talk our way in.

Fingers crossed for outstanding planet alignment . . .

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The DTs: Great Halloween Songs, Part 2

Melinama at Pratie Place has added significantly to my Great Halloween Songs list which, as you remember from my previous post, had only one song. While I was concentrating on Top 40 hits, Melinama's list is more eclectic - folk songs, world music, a song written in the middle of Hurricane Fran, and - the genre that I should have included on my list: Dead Teenagers. Both "Teen Angel" and "Strange Things Happen in This World" appear on the Pratie Place list, but there are several more to add to the set. Let's let "Monster Mash" stand on its own as a Halloween-Halloween song and start a separate DT (dead teenagers) list(and perfect for Halloween):

1. "Last Kiss" by J Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers (1964). Yes, I know Pearl Jam did a cover a few years ago. Pretty standard car-crash-girlfriend-dies-in-arms song.

2. "Tell Laura I Love Her" by Ray Peterson (1960). Have you noticed that all the dead girls in these songs are named Laura or Laurie ("Strange Things Happen in This World" is also known as "Laurie.") Car crash, wedding rings - you've probably got the picture by now.

3. "Leader of the Pack" by the Shangri-Las (1964). At last, a victim NOT named Laura/Laurie! Who doesn't love this song? "My folks were always putting him down (down, down)" and the famous "Look out! Look out! Look out!" And also, these chicks could tease hair - I mean they were tough. High hair, lots of eye-liner. But the guy still ends up dead.

4. "Endless Sleep" by Jody Reynolds (1958). Movin' away from car/motorcyle crashes and on to suicide. "Why did we quarrel? Why did we fight? Why did I leave her alone that night?" I guess so you could write a song kids could dance to on American Bandstand . . .

5. "Patches" by Dickie Lee (and I'm guessing this is the same Dickie Lee that sang the "Strange Things Happen/Laurie" song, so ya' gotta wonder about him) 1962. Girl from wrong side of tracks loves boy from right side of tracks. Another suicide song.

6. "Ebony Eyes" by the Everly Brothers (1961). Here's a twist - a plane crash!

7. "I Want My Baby Back" by Jimmy Cross (1965). By late 1965 ol' Jimmie had had just about enough of morbid dead-Laurie songs, so he came out with this hilarious dittie about a car crash (with the Leader of the Pack, no less) and a girlfriend in parts. "And over there was my baby. And over there was my baby. And waaaaay over there was my baby."

There are more, believe it or not. Why on earth there were so many DT songs in the 1950s and 60s is a study for sociologists, I guess. Obviously, somebody was trying to warn us about something. The dangers of automobiles? Young Love? Wearing letter jackets? Exchanging high school rings? Being named Laurie? I smell a thesis . . .

Find out more about DT songs here and here.

Great Halloween Songs

OK - I'm back on my home turf. That wonderful smell of dry leaves is in the air, even though it is unseasonably warm here in Atlanta.

Ready for a new addition to my haunted-holiday listings (see Halloween movie list here)? Here's the definitive list of all-time great Halloween songs. Ready?

1. "Monster Mash" by Bobby "Boris" Pickett, 1962.
2. Um. (pause) Er. (pause) Hmm. (scratch head) See #1.

So there aren't a lot of famous Halloween songs, I reckon. Why's that, do you wonder? Fabulous holiday. Costumes. Candy. Shoot, I could write a song or two, I bet. Let me get right on that.

Still, ya' gotta love Bobby Pickett, who's been living off the Monster Mash golden goose for 43 years now. You just knew he'd have a website, eh?

All together now. . .

. . . Out from his coffin, Drac's voice did ring
Seems he was troubled by just one thing
He opened the lid and shook his fist
And said, "Whatever happened to my Transylvania twist?"

It's now the mash
It's now the monster mash
The monster mash
And it's a graveyard smash
It's now the mash
It's caught on in a flash
It's now the mash
It's now the monster mash

Mind your own bidness

Whenever I'm on a business trip, I start thinking more about, well, business (or as we say in the South, "bidness"). One of my favorite pastimes is to sit back and watch others at work - however you want to take that - and I find there's always something to be learned, either "how to" or "how not to." Things I learned on this trip: "How to Bore People Senseless in Less than 5 Minutes," "How to Weasel the Best Spot for a Laptop Internet Connection in a Meeting Room," and "How to Graciously Correct Someone in Front of a Roomful of People."

Ah, but I've mined a few more choice nuggets on a variety of business topics from various news sources that I'll store away for future use/non-use:

Network, network, network. Don't you get sick of hearing about it? But we all have first-hand experience with "it's not what you know but who you know." Here are a few networking tips from the Wall Street Journal, intended mainly for introverts but offering some good hints for those of us at the other end of the personality spectrum.

I was passing a Music/CD store last night in Georgetown and wondered to myself, "How long are "record" stores gonna be in business?" with MP3/iPod/CD burners everywhere. Here's an interesting idea from Scotti's Record Shops in Northern New Jersey: buy it, burn it, return it. It works like this: you buy a new or used CD, go home, burn it to your computer. If you return the CD within 10 days, you get at 70% store credit. We'll see how that works out for old Scotti's.

Lord, are we Baby Boomers ever gonna stop being more than a tool for corporate marketing ploys? They pegged us in the early 1950s and have not let us go! There are pros and cons to that, of course, but it's usually 20-30-somethings coming up with the marketing ideas and they get it SOOOO wrong, so often. Anyway, seems corporations are figuring Gen X is a bust because there just ain't that many of 'em, and Gen Y - which is almost as big as the BB Gen (makes sense, since Gen Y kids are the chirrins of the BB) - hasn't reached its full buying-power potential . Sooooo. Back to us. Read about how much marketers love us here.

Oh, and while I'm at it. Can we drop the "Boomer" label? I just hate it. How about B-Squared? B To the Second Power? Or just B's? Or Gen-Really-Cool-&-Fun? ;-)

Seems video-gaming is good for something, especially as we age. Studies have found that people over 60 who play video games increase their reaction time, hone reflexes, and improve vision. Oh, and gaming helps with arthritis, too. Read about it here.

Enough bidness fo' now. I gotta plane to catch. In the meantime, mind your own.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Helllllllllllllp me!

Ever get that feeling that you're actually an insignificant little fly trapped in a big ol' web? Welcome to my day. I'm sure I'm fulfilling a greater purpose, it's just not clear to me right now. Sigh.

Road-work does boost reading time, however (when not trapped in meetings). I'm tearing through The March, much as dear Mr. Sherman did 140 years ago. It only took me a couple of days to segue from Robert Graves to E.L. Doctorow. I'm feeling all warm and toasty with the Civil War already (though the amputated limbs are piling up).

Gotta climb back into the web (and not the fun kind). Mo' later.

Hitting my daily miniumum mileage, or On the road again

Dateline: Washington, DC. With a day of intense round-robin marketing meetings ahead, I made sure I got a full 8 hours' beauty-and-the-brain sleep last night. The good news: much better bed in this hotel than the last. Feather pillows! Down comforter! Softer, non-holey sheets. The bad news: I'm underground. No window. Still, it's a beautiful room, and I've yet to see the Phantom of the Latham or the Hunchback of Georgetown, so I'm OK. The bed's the main thing, as you well know.

Being on the road, however, is no excuse to go stupid. Over eggs and croissant at breakfast, I scanned the New York Times Science Section and found a coupla nuggets.

Looking for "depression" or "anxiety" to glow red on a brain scan? Alas, imaging technology has fallen short of original expectations to target mental problems, other than the physical presence of a tumor. Hope springs eternal, though. Read about it here.

And breath analysis is good for more than reining in drunk drivers. Modern chemistry has tapped into the ancient art of pinpointing or predicting internal medical problems by honing in on the chemical signature of breath. Rotten-apple breath signals diabetes, by the way. More here.

OK, but probably the biggest news for all you coffee drinkers out there - drinking coffee canNOT stunt a child's growth. "Damn!" I hear you saying. "Why I coulda been swilling this stuff for years had I known that!" And here's the proof.

That's your weekly science lesson. More from our nation's capital later . . .

Monday, October 17, 2005

The fine art of finishing one book and starting another

I'm talking about reading, not writing. (I'm sure that's a fine art, too.)

Often, I have more than one book going at a time, but for some reason I got caught in Robert Graves' Goodbye to All That all by its lonesome. Because of my interest in the First World War - generally, and in relation to the book I'm writing - I took my time with this famous account of life in the trenches. I mentioned on my other blog that I'd probably following the Graves book with a re-reading of Vera Brittain's Testament of Youth. But I've decided instead to move off my WWI jag and move to another war, E.L. Doctorow's The March (about Sherman's hell-fire march through the South to end the American Civil War).

I find that if I've taken my time with a book - as I have with Goodbye - the rhythm and language and points of view become a sort of habit. Once the book's finished and I move on to another, it takes a little time to break out of writer #1's style and pick up with that of writer #2. So I've gone from an early 20th century British poet to a late 20th/early 21st century American novelist with obvious style differences.

Doctorow is so readable that the transition probably won't take as long as it would have if I'd read the books the other way around; still, there is a very real period of adjustment. I'm putting this down to the style of the writers (the author of I, Claudius vs. the author of Ragtime), but I think it's also the shift from the mud and blood of the Great War trenches in land and circumstances far removed from my daily life to the crazy (like a fox) flame-racing destruction of a huge swath of very familiar country - Georgia.

That said, when I'm reading "lite" - quicky mysteries or pot-boilers or chick-lit (and no offense meant to the writers of these genres) - I don't have the transition-trauma. Lately, however, I've tended to follow one meaty read with another, so the move from one to another is more pointed to me. It's not a difficult thing - just interesting to note.

I'm on my way to Washington for the next couple of days. I'll be staying at a different hotel - one with sheets that aren't made out of Brillo pads and pillows that don't consist of basketballs stuffed in pillowcases - I hope! More later from the road . . .

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Brain power, naughty Samantha, and coming in from the cold

I think news of studies that show workers' IQ levels rise and fall throughout the day comes as no surprise to any of us. I know my IQ spikes and plummets by the minute. CNN and CareerBuilder offer six ways to keep sharp during a harried work day, including: stop checking email/phonemail messages continually; get plenty of sleep (at night, I assume they mean - not at your desk); eat your brain food; get some exercise; keep your brain nimble with puzzles or a new hobby; and last - but so often - sadly - least, "think positive, loving thoughts."

Uh-oh. First DisneyWorld, now Samantha, Molly, and Felicity. Conservative activists are calling for a boycott of the very popular American Girl dolls because of the company's "I Can" wristband campaign that supports Girls, Inc. - an organization founded in 1864. The mission of Girls, Inc. is "inspiring girls to be strong, smart, and bold," and this includes a woman's right to make decisions for and about herself. Conservatives see this as these wonderful (but pricey) dolls supporting rampant abortion and lesbianism. Oh, dear. I know American Girl is quaking in their little high-button shoes since crowds still pour into the conservative-boycotted Disney theme parks.

Got a headache? Stick a pin in. A new study shows that acupuncture is more effective for headaches than pills. That's kinda cool. I've never had acupunture, but I can see where it might be a successful treatment for some ailments.

Now, James Bond has nothing on you. Britain's super-duper uber-hush-hush Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) has hit the Web, according the New York Times. It seems the point of the thing is to recruit a broader range of agents and operatives. Oooh. My next career . . .

And now, off to give a little polish to the furniture before taking my young friend Joanna to Wallace and Gromit. Grab your Saturday clothes and get crackin'!

Friday, October 14, 2005

Can you see the weekend on the horizon?

That's your grail!
As for the office: Runaway! Runaway!

Frustrating Friday

Back off, people! The next person who gives me something else to do gets iced!

Good haircut day

This is how I look now. Except older. And a little heavier. And my hair's a bit shorter than this. And my face isn't as interesting. But other than that - just like this. Great haircut from Will at Vis-a-Vis. Now - in search of the perfect pair of jeans. Just whistle, honey.

Women still face a big taboo in the workplace. No tears. New York Times explains why women have to stifle the urge to cry when angry or frustrated at work. It's just not done if you want respect. Bottom line - you can wear that bright pink suit, just don't let it bring tears to the eyes of yo' sista' workers.

And speaking of women who bring tears to your eyes . . . how about "Nancy and Tonya: The Opera"? Look for this light-hearted musical about the rivalry between Olympic skaters Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding to premier at Boston's Tufts University next spring. Break out those metal pipes and sequins, girls!

It seems even Harold Pinter can find himself gob-smacked and at a loss for words. According to The Guardian, the playwright's first word upon learning of his Nobel Prize for Literature was "Why?"

All right my little busy-bees, my fabulous hair and I are off for a Friday chock-full of work!

Thursday, October 13, 2005

What're the odds . . .

. . . of my getting a bad haircut from a new (to me) salon? Well, we're about to find out. My regular salon stylist is booked all week, so I moved on (for this one time, at least). I'm feeling no small amount of guilt over this, but when you need a cut, you need a cut. Period. So - venturing forth to a trendy new place. Good reviews. We shall see. If it turns out badly, well - I'll fit right into the Halloween scream scene and can wear a Pilgrim hat during November. If not, I shall be singing some cute little hair-cutter's praises later on.

Two things that can make me feel on top o' the world (and are worth paying top $$ for) : a great pair of jeans and a terrific haircut. Fingers crossed, here I go.

Some things are just more important than Pinter winning the Nobel (though big props to him for doing so).

The music of a city

"When a train pulls into a great city I am reminded of the closing moments of an overture."
- Graham Greene, Travels with My Aunt

I love this Greene quote because I always have some sort of soundtrack running in my head, and it lets me know that I'm not the only person who does. And I mean having a soundtrack without a device stuck in my ears.

I don't get the opportunity to ride real trains very much - other than Atlanta's public transport trains, I mean. The only times I am a big-girl-train passenger is when I'm in the New York/New Jersey area on business, using commuter trains to get to and from the city and whenever I'm in England. My New York soundtrack is always Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. Always. Whether pulling into Penn Station or walking through Chelsea or down Broadway - Rhapsody in Blue. The Gershwin piece, like NYC, is varied, has many tempos and rhythms.

London, though, doesn't have just one song; it depends on whether I'm walking along the South Bank or through Bloomsbury - the songs change. That said, London's Waterloo Station (which is where I enter the city, having traveled from my base in Walton-on-Thames) always brings two melodies to mind. Approaching the city coming through Vauxhall, it's Handel's Water Music. High-rises block the view of the river almost completely now on this approach, which is a shame. But every so often you get a little peek at the Thames. Once the train is in the cavernous station, I hear - you won't believe this - Annie's Song. But there's a story behind that.

Annie's Song Station, May 2005

In 1978 (after my time at Oxford), I took a summer course on the British system of Broadcasting. Long story. Anyway, I traveled daily between Walton and London, and one particular day I was running a little late and hit the rush-hour business traffic. Waterloo was packed and crazy, as usual. Leaving the main station for the train platform with hundreds of others pushing to reach their trains, a sound rose above the din and I will never forget it.

Rising above the noise, a lone British Rail porter started whistling John Denver's Annie's Song. This little guy had a real gift, too, I might say. A beautiful whistle. The tune bounced around that huge space (terrific acoustics for a champion whistler), and like magic the crowd got quieter and slowed down a little. I stopped in my tracks - it was just beautiful. And this porter - busy loading boxes onto a big trolley - had no idea that he had an entire big-city rush-hour crowd in his thrall. Or maybe he did. What a sound. I'll never forget it. It's my Waterloo Station melody, always.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Favorite Halloween read-aloud book

Hands down, The Ghost-Eye Tree by Bill Martin, Jr. and John Archambault. It's about a little boy and his big sister who are asked by their mother to run an errand one dark autumn night, and they have to pass the dreaded "ghost-eye tree" twice during the journey. Overcoming fear, sibling relationships, completing a task whatever the circumstances are all a part of the story. We've had the book for years - bought it at a school book fair when Kate was in the 2nd or 3rd grade - and it's a real favorite.

Oooo. . .
how dark it was . . .
how dread it was . . .
walking the road
to the end of the town . . .
for the halfway tree . . .
the Ghost-Eye tree . . .
was feared by all . . .
the great and small
who walked the road
to the end of town . . .

The beauty of the book lies in the cadence of the narrative - often rhyming, but just as often not. You just have to read it out loud to appreciate it (much like Margaret Wise Brown's brilliant Goodnight, Moon - which never fails to pull a yawn out of me in anticipation of bedtime). I love the rhythm of the words in Ghost-Eye Tree.

Some folks object to the way the big sister treats the little brother - calling his hat "stupid" and such. This never bothers me for two reasons. First, well - it's a big sister and a little brother, and the language of the relationship seems well within the range of normal to me. And second, I think the big sister is sort of "whistling past the graveyard" when she's teasing her brother about his hat and what a 'fraidy cat he is. It's obvious that she's just as terrified (though sans hat). And when the hat is temporarily lost, big sister risks her life (in a kid-risking-life way) to go back to the tree to get it. So, I don't see the problem.

I dreaded to go...
I dreaded the tree....
Why does Mama always choose me
When the night is so darkAnd the mind runs free?

You can read it anytime of the year, of course, but it's absolutely perfect for Halloween. Just remember - you have to read it out loud!