Saturday, January 31, 2009

Habitual Thinking

Where do peoples' minds take those tangents that people take from time to time, the ones like trying to quit smoking, or trying to get six servings of vegetables a day, or other healthy and productive habits, that lead one down the path of temporary enlightenment? Why is it that it is so hard to follow through? People set goals, do those worthwhile endeavors for a little while, and then stop. What I'm wondering is, what is going on in the brain to make this happen? And to make it stop? Is it a brain problem? Too hard to make the mind bend to new proportions? And why is it so much easier to fall into bad habits than into good habits? Is it because the pleasure part of the brain is more developed?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

50 Days

Starting yesterday, I realized spring is almost here. When winter's halfway over, I start thinking about how soon it will be March 20 or March 21, or March 22, whenever the first day of spring happens. Some years I do a countdown. On the first day of spring I buy a pot of tulips and have spring food, like lamb and fruit salad. Yes, I eat baby sheep to celebrate them (they're already dead ... ) ... maybe I will re-think that one.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Howards End

At the beginning of January I made a decision to take more of the vacation days I keep earning and losing because I don't take them. My idea of the vacation would be a day to relax at home, maybe clean some, maybe watch TV, maybe read. Yesterday I took one of those days and spent most of it helping the 10-year-old of the house paint a picture of a cat at the bottom of some steps and next to a flower garden. Then I watched Howards End and shoveled the driveway. Then it was, all the sudden, the end of the day. I read some of "Dead Until Dark" and made some lasagna. It turned out pretty well. I've only made lasagna a handful of times in my life. It takes a really long time to cook. It's not something you want to make in the summer, because it will make the house very hot.
Howards End is a movie from the early 1990s, but it's not evident because it takes place in another time -- I suppose in about 1900. It's one of those movies that probably a lot of people already saw, since everyone has had almost 20 years to watch it. Emma Thompson plays the main character. Helena Bonham Carter has a minor role. Anthony Hopkins takes up a larger role as the movie goes along. All the acting is very good. It's not usually my kind of movie, and I did almost fall asleep while watching it, but after awhile I found myself being surprised that I started to care about the characters and wondering what they were going to say next and what would happen. A lot happens, and a lot about human nature -- funny, tragic, interesting, and beautiful -- happens.

P.S. I Watched Another Movie Too

We watched "P.S. I Love You," only because my sister has insisted to me in the last several conversations I've had with her that it's a really really good movie and well worth watching and she bought it and has watched it again and again and it just keeps getting better and I really need to get it. So I rented it. It's about a husband and wife, but the husband dies. The husband knows he's going to die, so he arranges for the wife (played by Hillary Swank) to receive messages from him after he dies, so that he can help her get over him. I tried doing that once with an ex-boyfriend, and it didn't work so well (as long as I'm still alive, there's still a chance, you know?) I think the movie works well because the characters that the actors play are so likable. It's supposed to be a comedy, and the way the movie is written and produced isn't done to make the viewer feel sentimental or sad about the deceased husband. The way he sends letters, and the flashbacks the movie contains, make the viewer (and, maybe, the wife), feel like he's still around. It doesn't feel like reality, and it is more than predictable, and it just seems like a cute little story to keep us entertained for a little while. I probably won't be watching it twice, or buying it anytime soon. I almost forgot today what it was that I watched (hence the postscript about the postscript). What was interesting to me is that he was Irish, and I know someone who prides himself upon being Irish, and I could see the similarities. Then the wife goes and meets someone in Ireland who reminds her of her husband, and that guy reminded me of the guy I know who's Irish. I wonder about how hard people tried in the movie and in real life to fit a stereotype of an Irish man, or if it just happens that way. In any event, it works.

Up next: The Tick! Seasons one, discs one and two. Yes!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

I'm Not Sure Why It's Called Inkheart

Inkheart is a movie about a book that's about a book called Inkheart. If you try to tell people you saw the movie Inkheart, they always say, "What?" so you have to say it like it's two words. And then you have to mention Brendan Frasier. Then they might know what you're talking about. Inkheart wasn't a bad movie. It wasn't a great movie. I think whether you're a child or an adult, you might think the same way. It had creativity, action, good costumes and good scenery (especially the castles) going for it. I also liked the comments people made in the movie about reading, about how you can travel and experience so much of life and fantasy by having it come alive in your head for you when you read it in a book. But ... in the movie, a few of the characters had the uncontrollable ability to make characters from a book come out of the book, and then someone would go into the book. I had a hard time trying to figure out the time-space continuum involved in the life sequence and action in the book. If characters lived inside the book, how long would it take to get to the end? Would it be real time? Would nothing be happening if no one was reading the book? Do the characters' lives repeat themselves when someone finishes the book and someone else starts it? All this confusion is almost enough to make me go on an adventurous journey for the book, just like Brendan Frasier's character, Mo, does.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

To create is to be alive!

Yesterday I worked hard at a watercolor painting. Since there was no school, and nothing urgent that needed attending to at work, I stayed home and slaved over a piece of paper for about six or seven hours. It was drawn and painted in that time, through dinner, through dropping off and picking up a child from practice, and watching Lost. The painting came out OK, not the best, but not the worst, painting I've ever churned out. Despite its mediocrity, I had the greatest feeling of accomplishment in at least believing it was good enough to do what I planned to do with it, to donate it to a silent auction to raise money for art education in my hometown's elementary schools. Two years ago I donated a similar painting, and it sold for $100. I know that's not very much in the artist world, but this was the first time any value had been placed on artwork I made. It was exciting to watch the bids go up and gratifying to know that someone would spend $100 on it. That's it in the corner over there. Those little objects are fruits and vegetables: from inside to outside, an orange, lemon wedges, red hot chili peppers, avocados, broccoli, bananas, eggs, apples, carrots, peas, mushrooms, eggplant, garlic, cherries and peaches.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Many Words

Last night I finished the book Marley & Me. I saw the movie twice, not because I particularly wanted to, but because some friends of mine really wanted to see that one, and it was the only one they hadn't seen that was playing, that they wanted to see. The first time I saw the movie I got a little sad when Marley died. I may have gotten a tear in my eye. Someone told me the book was much sadder and that the death of Marley was much more drawn out and sentimental, and made you really appreciate the dog even more than the movie did. I've always been much more emotionally affected by the books I read (Bambi's mom dying in the original "Bambi" book, and Charlie reverting back to his limited understanding in "Flowers for Algernon," for example), but I really wasn't any more than mildly sad when I read about Marley's gradual deterioration and eventual death in the book. However, John Grogan is a very good writer. He knows how to explain situations and feelings and scenes in writing. A person just can't say that about all writers. He knows how to tell a story and get it across in a way that everyone can relate to and appreciate. When I finish a book, I want to be glad I read it. Even though I'd seen the movie twice, and knew what to expect, I was glad I read it when I finished it.
I will be starting "Dead Until Dark," a vampire love story, today. This will be book #3 of 2009. At this rate, I could read 26 books this year. How can people do 100? How can they?

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Discomfort That Comes When Not Knowing Whether Reality is a Lie

I just watched a few clips of Chelsea Handler in her various capacities as comedian on TV. She's kind of obnoxious and mean, and maybe a little bit funny. It makes me like her book better than I like her acting. The mean part comes out especially in two clips, one when she takes pre-teens on a blind date, and one when she interviews senior citizens about various photographs of famous people she holds up to them. In the blind-date bit, she talks to the two children like they're not children, cursing at them and talking about how she's slept with a lot of men. In the senior citizen clip, she seems to try to exploit the naivete of some of the seniors who aren't in touch with the current state of the world, or at least aware of current celebrities, anymore.
Some things aren't funny, that are meant to be funny on TV and in the movies, like watching people get hurt, and making fun of people who don't understand they're being made fun of, for things that they can't help, and being mean to other people. There is a blurring between what is reality TV and what is just acting, which is the case with the two clips I watched, and there is an uncomfortable feeling that comes with that. If it is real and not scripted, I feel sorry for the people she's trying to exploit for comedic gain. If it's all scripted, and everyone is acting and has a part in the script (hopefully they're getting paid to look like clueless victims), but viewers aren't supposed to know it's scripted, then that makes me uncomfortable because they don't know whether they, the viewers, are being fooled by that (lied to) as a viewer. I guess that's one reason I can't stand to watch reality TV for more than about 30 seconds. It makes me uncomfortable and disgusts me at the same time. I guess that uncomfortable feeling is what the producers are after, but I don't like it. I'd rather be helped to laugh at things that writers worked on a little bit more.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Habitual Liar and Why She Fascinates Me

Last week I read and finished the book "My Horizontal Life," by Chelsea Handler. It was a quick read. Each chapter was about one man she had a date with, all except the first chapter, which involved a story about being paid by her sister at age seven to take a photo of her parents fooling around in their room. Upon first glance, it looked like a female version of the Tucker Max book. The main reason I wanted to buy it is so that I could help Chelsea be more successful than Tucker Max, since he is unquestionably an arrogant, chauvinistic, inconsiderate, heartless man, at least in print, making money on the pure premise that he is completely and cruelly obnoxious to women. And if he read this description of him, I am sure he would grin from ear to ear with joy, giving himself another plus point to the proud womanizer in him.
I picked up "My Horizontal Life" at the bookstore. I read the middle chapter, which is the first one I turned to, to skim through the book. It ended up being the best and funniest story of the book, and about her affair with a man who, she discovered later, lived with his girlfriend during Chelsea's approximate three-week affair with him. He didn't know Chelsea was a waitress, and came into the restaurant where she worked to have a meal with his girlfriend. There was no one else to wait on them, and she wanted to avoid being fired, so she waited on them, but pretended that she was the (fictional) twin sister of herself to avoid the awkwardness and embarrassment of the situation.
The other chapters involved lots of drinking, and lots of lying. I also wanted to read the book to get into the head of someone who habitually crafts dramatic stories that have very little truth in them, and either exaggerates or completely fabricates interesting but pointless accomplishments or life situations that are, in my mind, only told to make the conversation more fun. Most people probably have met or have known other people who have told them things that they suspect were sheer, pointless, fabrications, like, "When I was nine and a half I got accepted into college and attended three semesters, but I got kicked out because my pet chimpanzee got discovered in my dorm room and so then I had to go back to the fourth grade," or "When I was born I was a Siamese twin and we were joined at the elbow and I had an operation to remove my twin when I was five and we both had to lose half our arm, but mine grew back (see?), and my twin died two weeks later." The listener, having just met the verbose fabricator, thinks to himself or herself, "Really ..." thinking of a hundred follow-up questions, and spends the rest of the time wondering why the person would be lying, whether anything they've said is true, or whether the speaker is delusional, or if perhaps there is some small likelihood the story is true, or based on the truth, and he or she should be ashamed for not trusting and believing the storyteller's fantastical and fascinating life. In Chelsea's case, it seemed she lied for fun, she lied to get attention, she lied so that she didn't involve her dates in her own personal life, and she lied to make things more interesting. And, in doing the lying, she occasionally came to believe the lies she told. That was the interesting part for me. I have met and been friends with a handful of men and women, teenagers, children and adults, who tell fantastical fabricated stories, and it fascinates me why they would pass those stories on as the truth. I have often wondered if they have convinced themselves of the truthfulness of their lies. I wonder how they can come up with the things they come up with on the spur of the moment (does it involve a lot of planning, or does it come naturally, or with lots of practice?). And I wonder whether they think I'm a gullible idiot or completely not important or significant enough to be honest with.
Fortunately, Chelsea Handler is also a professional comedian -- she has had shows with her stand-up comedy on Comedy Central and E! --- and the book was written in a very funny, friendly and entertaining way. It was not written in a female-chauvinistic way, and the men she wrote about were treated respectfully in writing. The book balanced nicely against Marley & Me, which has the complete opposite storyline, about sweet American family life, which I was also reading at the same time.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


I have spent a lot of time today and yesterday eating chocolate. While hungrily shopping for lunch at Giant Eagle yesterday, I found dark chocolate Chex Party mix, which I voraciously grazed upon yesterday and today. I bought white chocolate Hershey's kisses yesterday. I bought bittersweet chocolate to make chocolate cookies today. My friend gave me maple sugar candy for my birthday. I am officially a sugar fiend. I am not hungry for dinner. My mind is becoming unhinged over sugar.
I can't make dinner. I can't finish sentences. I ... must ... have ... more ... maple sugar.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Oh, well

How cold was it today? You know. It was probably about 35 degrees. I tried for company at lunch, but both people I asked to go out to get something brought their lunches. I gave myself the choice between a convenient and quick $8 lunch at a convenience store or a $4 lunch at Subway, with a brisk walk in the cold. I feel defeated when I reluctantly make myself walk across the street from the office and get lunch at a conveniently located store. They do have some freshly made items like tuna salad sandwiches, strombolis, chef salads, and red velvet cake, though. The last time I opted for the salad, the iceburg lettuce was brown and I ate a bad tomato. It looked alright but it didn't taste all right. So instead of being defeated by the lure of the convenience of the convenience store, I braved the icy cold wind and snow and walked for awhile to get to my destination of Subway. I passed two lone walkers on the trail that leads there. I felt prepared and wise with my hat and gloves, but I didn't have the shoes for it. I made sure to look up at the sky and down at the river to appreciate the elements -- more than just a little bit of blue sky and clouds, and the brown, rippling water of the river, higher than its usual level, and the fresh air, although tinged with exhaust from the vehicles on the construction site I passed. The cheerfulness and the camaraderie of the people who work at that particular Subway make me feel happy every time I go there. I dropped an olive in my sleeve and it surprised me later when I felt something mysteriously wet and cold in the middle of my sleeve. The Subway guy thought it was funny.
On my way home from work, I was stuck in traffic. It was completely stopped on my regular path to pick up my child. It's a seven-minute drive to get to where I need to pick her up. After five minutes of sitting in the car at a complete stop, about seven minutes til the absolute last time to pick her up, I called to say I was stuck in a standstill in traffic and would be late, even though I had left the office with plenty of time to pick her up, with time to spare. I was told, "We're going to start enforcing our late policy, and you're going to have to pay the late fee." This was the first time this year I'd been late. Out of the seven years of taking my children to this place, this was only about the second time I had been late. I guess I was the example. I guess it doesn't matter that you're stuck in your car with no escape around completely stopped traffic. I tried to go around it by taking a side street, only to end up in the middle of what seemed to be the problem. A gigantic truck, the kind that usually has a truck with it, displaying a sign warning of a "wide load" on the highway, was stuck in the road and couldn't get up the hill. I decided to go the long way around, via interstate, and, of course, was late and had to pay the late fee. Not really a big deal, but if it happens two more times then she will be removed from the program altogether. Then I am thinking, "I don't know what I will do." Sometimes life makes you feel like you're just hanging by a thread. I only have between 5:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. to pick her up, because they only want you to pick up your children at certain times because of some grant policy to guarantee that they will be using the rest of the afternoon for "instructional time." And with the unpredictable traffic in this town, and very few alternative routes for when certain roads are blocked, it is inevitable that you cannot always arrive at your destination on time or precisely when you aim to be somewhere. Am I always just supposed to plan for a possible accident and leave three times as early as I need to? Impossible. I feel as if I failed somehow today to not account for a possible road block.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Inner Monologue About Long-Lost Friend

During the weekend after Christmas, I thought I might get a call from my long-lost best friend from high school. Her sister lives here in town, and I ran into her while shopping a few days before Christmas. My long-lost friend lives about 10 hours from here, and she was going to be driving in to stay the entire weekend, which is much longer than she usually stays, Long-Lost's sister told me that day. I gave her my phone number, even though she may have already had it, and she put it into her cell phone.
I said to tell Long-Lost that she could call if she wanted to, but I know that it will be busy there, as her parents would be there as well, and there will probably be a house full of children. I said something to reassure her that I would not feel bad if she didn't call, as in "I won't get my hopes up," which I meant to do for myself. Well, I was by myself all day Saturday, washing piles of much-neglected laundry. I kept walking past my cell phone while I was putting away the clothes, telling myself not to look if she had called, not to wonder if I had missed her call, not to imagine where we would go if we were going to meet. I hadn't seen her in 11 years. In 1997, I met her for a few hours when I went to the beach in South Carolina, where she lived at the time. In 2001 or 2002 I had talked to her on the phone a few times. In 2002, 2003, and 2005, I think, she wrote to me a few times by e-mail, but all the e-mail addresses she used to write to me no longer work. She lives a long, long way away, but I think that we were close enough that she would want to see me after all this time. We spent all three years of high school, virtually inseparable, a zillion inside jokes, a lot of fun, and a few fights, all of which probably led to the demise of our friendship.
By Saturday evening, I had already gotten my hopes up, as much as I urged myself not to. A whole lot of thoughts were crossing my inner monologue, and I could not get them to stop.
Inner Monologue: "Her parents hated me. I spent way too much time at their house. Once I dropped ice on the floor and her dad stepped in the cold puddle of water it left and he got really mad. And I was a bad friend. If I had been a better friend, she would have been excited to call and would have called already."
Response: I don't want to think that way. She's undoubtedly really busy with family.
Inner Monologue: "I should not have even given her my phone number. I should have just told her sister to tell Long-Lost I said hello."
Response: It was inevitable that I was going to feel bad. I should just admit defeat and move on and feel better.
Inner Monologue: "If I had not given my phone number to her sister, I would have felt guilty about it later and wondered if I should have given it to her."
Response: Giving the phone number to her was the right thing to do. If I had not given my phone number to her sister, I would have wondered if I would have seen and talked to her if I had given her my phone number. It's probably for the best that it happened this way.
Inner Monologue: "Maybe for some reason she's embarrassed about seeing me, like having gained 145 pounds or she has a really bad haircut."
Response: Really, Long-Lost friend might think like that. However, I already know she hasn't gained 145 pounds. She probably never feels like she has bad haircuts. And if we were friends, which we were, that wouldn't matter and she wouldn't let that stop her.
Inner Monologue: "Maybe too much time has gone by for her to feel any loyalty or sentimentality for the friendship we had that pretty much ended in 1991."
Response: That's not true for everyone who has long-lost friends.
Inner Monologue: "Maybe she lost my phone number?"
Inner Monologue: "Maybe her sister forgot to tell her?"
Inner Monologue: "Why am I obsessing over this? Why can't I stop?"
Response: You will stop obsessing about this by Monday. It will no longer be important in a few days. Maybe you are not in touch with her anymore because you were not meant to stay friends, or even having been friends in the first place. Maybe it was just a bad friendship, no matter whose fault it was.
By Sunday, I had stopped checking my cell phone as often and had accepted that she wasn't going to call.
"Surely she will appreciate the fact that I did something to reach out?"
"Am I a bad friend? Is that why I'm home all day by myself doing laundry?"
Enter, Reassuring Neutral Friend: You were not a bad friend. You are funny, smart, kind, and thoughtful, although people can be intimidated by you at times because of your combined beauty and intelligence. That's right, you're just too good for her.
Me: What? The snob technique? That's the biggest cop-out. Pathetic.
Reassuring Neutral Friend: OK, you're not too good for her. She should have called. Maybe she will call eventually. You just need to stop thinking about it.
Me: OK, I will. Eventually.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Age, Light, Stars

A few days ago I bought a calendar at Barnes & Noble that has the night sky as it appears at 9 p.m. every night. The stars glow in the dark and the calendar has a compass on it. You're supposed to take the calendar outside and find the glowing stars on the calendar and match them up with the real thing.
The daylight hours are lengthening just enough to notice now. I feel inspired and energized at just the thought of more light. And in other good news, in 10 days I will be 36. Very, very old to some, and very young to others. Is gray hair what defines old? Are experience and wisdom what define old? Are wrinkles and incapacitation what define old? Is having children or grandchildren what defines old? Is anything not young, old? Compared to the stars, I will never be old.

My Fashion Update

I never much liked those quilted handbags that started to become popular about 10 years ago. It's odd to me that the trend didn't quickly fade away. Instead, the company that created them flourished and many knock-offs were made. I never expected to have my own, but received one as a Christmas present from my sister. It's actually pretty nice looking, I think. It has indiscriminate pockets all over the place, inside and out. It doesn't even look like a quilt. You can't see the giveaway criss-cross sewing lines in it. She also gave me a matching wallet thing that can be carried on the wrist. You can put your cell phone in there and it has a clear window for the driver's license. I feel kind of guilty about getting it because I know it cost so much -- and so much more than I spent on her gifts. I don't understand why those quilted handbags cost so much. I don't understand why handbags and pocketbooks and purses in general cost so much, unless they are made of leather or something durable. I don't like carrying them around and I don't really like the way most of them look. Usually, the straps are made so that they don't stay up on your shoulder. Sometimes they don't close all the way, so if they get knocked over stuff falls out and you might lose your glasses like I did last year. I don't like spending time on finding purses I like, and, when I do find some, they might cost $60 or $80 or $120 or $245 and I can't get any of those. I did buy one for $23 that was marked down from $60. Going by its original price, it cost more than any one I had ever had. It wore out in less than a year. Before my sister gave me the gift, I had resolved to go back to my carefree days of never carrying a purse with me. I've always liked pockets. I kept everything I needed in my pockets. It's not that women really have anything more to carry than men do, it's just that we can get away with it because it's generally more socially acceptable for us females. At least around here.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

More Reading

My first-ever interview that was not a job interview. Thanks, Mr. Chinchilla.


Disappointment. Life piles racks and racks and racks of hard plastic pallets of disappointment upon us, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. And why? Because that is the way that life works. Because without disappointment, we could never feel joy. We could never feel accomplishment. We could never feel success. Thank you, disappointment, for the great gifts that you make way for.
Recently when I read the Daily Om, which comes to me by e-mail every day, it had some excellent advice for all those annoyances that shout at us in our thoughts when we come across those annoyances. The writer of the Daily Om says to listen to those thoughts, acknowledge them for what they are -- messages to ourselves that define the moment for us -- separate the actual event from the way our minds processed it, and then mentally watch those thoughts move on as we let them go. To illustrate, imagine that I've been anticipating seeing a certain movie on a certain Saturday night at a certain time. Imagine that it didn't happen for one reason or another. Instead, I and five other people go see a movie I've already seen. I hear in my head that I rarely get to actually see a movie at the theater that I have chosen and I'm able to get everyone, or even someone, who I want to come, to come along. I hear in my head that this, out of all seven possibilities, is the only movie showing that I really don't want to watch. I listen to those thoughts, and I recognize that the messages I'm hearing have very little to do with the event of actually watching this movie, and that each one of the six people in our group will have different thought processes about going to see this movie, none of them quite like mine.
I've been trying to imagine my thoughts as a little train car that comes and goes through the roundhouse in my head, these past few days, and it really helps dispel the negativity I feel in the normal everyday course of events in my life. There it is, that nasty, unpleasant thought, I see it, and there it goes. As a result, I am more detached than I have been since adolescence. I don't know if that's good or bad. The buddhists would say it is good. That I am on the path to spiritual enlightenment, or something like that.