Monday, December 26, 2011

How I spent my first solo Christmas

I am happy to report that my first Christmas sans family was not a miserable lonely affair. It was actually rather low-key and nice. It occurred to me today that, quite by accident, I engaged in a number of my favorite activities.

1. Sleeping late

Some of my friends with more grown-up lives were awakened at the crack of dawn by their Santa-believing youngsters. Not I. I slept in till 11:30am. It was fantastic. There are few things I love more than sleeping. I am a varsity sleeper. This is apparently normal according to my zodiac/astrology chart -- those born on March 1 "need a lot of sleep because they have especially active dream lives." So true and so great to have a sort-of-legit-but-not-really-"scientific"-explanation for my penchant to spend half the day in bed.

2. Cooking

I made myself a fancy breakfast from some leftover stuff in my fridge. I considered attempting my first omelet, but didn't want to risk failure on Christmas, so I opted instead for the frittata route. I wilted some spinach in garlic and oil, added gorgonzola, and folded it into my eggs. YUM.

3. Muppets

After "breakfast" (which was consumed around 12:30), I cuddled up with Maude to watch The Muppet Christmas Carol. I hadn't watched it in years and it was so heartwarming! The scene where Piggy (Mrs. Cratchett) and Kermit (Bob Cratchett) are mourning the loss of Tiny Tim actually made me cry. Also, kudos to Michael Caine for his sincere and committed portrayal of Scrooge -- it's as though he's not even aware his costars are made of felt.

4. Chinese food

Since coming back from China, I haven't eaten much Chinese food. After consuming nothing but for almost a month, I was a little burned out. But I rediscovered my love for the cuisine last night at The Golden Temple in Brookline. I finally experienced the Jewish tradition of Chinese food on Christmas. The place was a madhouse, already packed at 5:30 pm. Fortunately, my friends had reserved ahead; otherwise we would have had to take our chances at some sketchy hole in the wall joint like Lucky Wah. If all you want for Christmas is food poisoning, Lucky Wah is your jam. Or as one Yelper eloquently put it, "Lucky Wah doesn't just make you feel a little iffy. It makes you feel like death incarnate. Like you've been immersed in so much salt that you could be stuffed into a barrel and consumed by New World-bound Puritans."

Fortunately, Golden Temple uses very fresh ingredients and no MSG. The crispy green beans with garlic were phenomenal and will probably haunt my dreams.

5. Going to the movies

I went to see Hugo and while the 3D gave me a slight headache, it was the perfect movie to see on Christmas. Well-made, beautiful to look at, good story, and 3D effects that actually enhanced the film.

6. Drinking craft cocktails in a swanky lounge

I finished off the night at the newly opened bar, The Hawthorne, located in the Hotel Commonwealth. My friend is a bartender there, so I stopped in to say hello and sip their high-class version of eggnog, The Flip Royale, made with ginger liquor, rooibos tea-infused simple syrup, soda water and a raw egg. (You can watch it being made here.) I also had something called The Bishop, which is basically a rum sour topped off with red wine. Yes, weird-sounding, but surprisingly delicious.

So that's how I spent my Christmas. Not too shabby. I did miss my family, but I spoke to them all on the phone and will see some of them soon in the New Year.

To wrap it up, I invite you to bask in the awesome glory of my rather large Christmas tree and my rather large cat.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Movies that take place at Christmas time are not necessarily Christmas movies

I have blogged about my favorite holiday films before
. This year, I feel the need to clear something up. Something that may be confusing to some.

Just because a movie happens to take place in December and/or reference Christmas in some oblique way doesn't make it a Christmas movie. For example, David Fincher's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, which I saw yesterday. The film begins on Christmas Eve and ends right around Christmas one year later. It's set in Sweden so there's lots of snow. BUT MAKE NO MISTAKE -- it's NOT a Christmas movie. Murder and rape cannot be in a Christmas movie. Santa would not approve.

Now, my cable provider, Comcast, would like me to believe that any movie with any sort of minor holiday/December tie-in counts as a Christmas movie. Let's take a look at some of the films they recommend under their Holiday category (which is subdivided into Yuletide Comedies, Christmas Classics, Festive Family Faves, Holiday Romance and Holiday Action):

Batman Returns

Ok, I haven't seen this since it came out in the early 90s, but its genre is obviously superhero/action. Does Batman save Christmas in Gotham City? No.

Die Hard

Yes, it's set at Christmas. Yes, there is some Christmas music in it. And this famous shot, of course:

Still, it's violent and people get killed. I'm pretty sure that takes it out of holiday film contention.

Trading Places

I love this movie; it's one of my favorites. Eddie Murphy as con artist Billy Ray Valentine is pure comedy gold. But I don't think Christmas affects the plot much -- yes, seeing Dan Ackroyd drunkenly crash his former company's Christmas party dressed up Santa and stuffing an entire salmon down his suit is funny, but the movie doesn't demand to be viewed at Christmas. If you wanted to watch Trading Places over the summer, it would be fine. If you suggested watching Miracle on 34th Street or A Christmas Story in a month other than December, it would be very, very weird.


Seriously? A man's body gets stuffed into a wood chipper.

Little Women

It's a heartwarming movie, but it spans many years and months. If this counts as a Christmas movie, Gone With the Wind might as well be considered one as well since Christmas, you know, happens over the course of the film.

Basically, for a movie to be a Christmas movie, it can't really be watched any other time. Christmas has to feature prominently in the plot -- the central conflict or source of comedy must be related to Christmas (Will Ferrell thinks he's an elf! The Griswolds' horrible in-laws are all staying at their house over Christmas and Clark's Christmas bonus hasn't arrived! etc).

Oh, and no one can be brutally murdered, unless they are killed by a serial killer who dresses up like Santa, like in Christmas Evil (which was originally titled You Better Watch Out):

Ho Ho...Homicide?

Happy holidays, everyone!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

(Not) Home for the Holidays

I've been feeling very adult/grown-up lately. Why? Because for the first time, I am not spending the holidays with family. I'm not traveling anywhere, in fact. I'm staying at home, alone.

I will wake up Christmas morning in my apartment, accompanied only by my cat. There will be no long security lines or checked baggage fees, no relatives, no drama, no binge drinking, no emotional eating. Well, there might be some of those last two.

It's not that I don't like visiting family -- it's just that holiday visits are always fraught with tension for one reason or another. The idea of an anxiety-free holiday is very foreign to me, but some people tell me they exist. I didn't intentionally boycott the family holiday; it's just that as the winter months approached, it seemed less and less feasible for me to get the time off from work and afford the overpriced plane tickets. Plus, I have a bonafide family vacation to look forward to in January, after the chaos of Christmas: my brothers and I will be joining my mom and stepdad in the Cayman Islands for a week of sun, relaxing, and rum punch. So don't feel too sorry for me.

Thanksgiving usually finds me in St. Louis, with that chunk of family (Dad, 2 brothers, stepmom), but this year, I chose instead to fly to Pittsburgh and spend the day with my best friend Al, who's getting her master's in conducting at Carnegie-Mellon. She invited two other friends to join us and we had an unconventional-but-delightful vegetarian Thanksgiving that included chili, wild mushroom and chestnut stuffing, swiss chard, spinach and cheddar casserole, homemade cranberry plum sauce (my family always cheats with store-bought) and chocolate, pecan & whiskey pie (my aunt's recipe). It was awesome and the only stressful moment occurred when we realized we had to get to a liquor store before 9pm on Wednesday in order to have Thanksgiving booze. (Crisis averted -- a Thanksgiving without turkey, I could handle. One without wine, perhaps what I'm most thankful for, would have been a different story).

Initially, I planned to go to New York and hang with some Jewish friends on December 25, but since I have to work Christmas Eve and can't bear the thought of spending 4 hours on a smelly bus on Christmas Day, I've now decided to just stay in Boston. I have a few friends who will be around. It will be quiet and subdued, I'm sure. But that's ok. I have enough excitement at other times that I'm actually looking forward to a little solitude. All the loud, obnoxious BU students will be home for the holidays and Allston will be a peaceful, civilized neighborhood for a few weeks. That may be the greatest gift of all.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Continuing Education

This January, I'll be leading my first poetry workshop, at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education. I'm very excited about it and intrigued as to what kinds of students my course on formal poetry might attract. It is Cambridge after all, so it's fair to assume I'll be teaching an eclectic assortment of characters that might include any or all of the following: MIT physicists, freegans, retired opera singers, cutters, Tea Party enthusiasts.

I will be paid a very small sum, but can take a class for free as part of my payment. Here are some of the options I'm (somewhat) seriously considering:

French Regional Cooking

Enjoy a hands-on introduction to traditional dishes from many different provinces in France. We'll prepare recipes showcasing the widely different styles and tastes of provincial cooking. Learn to make mussels with hard cider and cream from Normandy, kirsch soufflé from Alsace, tapenade from Provence, coq au vin from Bourgogne, pork with prunes from Périgord, potato gratin from Dauphiné, and clafoutis (cherry flan) from Limousin. In each class, we will prepare a complete meal from appetizer to dessert. At the end of the evening, we will share the meal and stories of France.

Zut alors! That all sounds delicious. I have no stories of France really to share, except about the time several members of my a cappella group contracted scabies from a hostel in Paris. Probably not the best dinner conversation.

Fine Wine on a Tight Budget

Yes, you can get a great-tasting bottle of wine for under $10. Learn how to evaluate the mystery wines in the 2-for-$16 bin, pick through the closeout rack, and recognize a bargain when you see one. The instructor will share his favorite discount wine sections and the secret wine graveyards where the great wines go to die. Italy, Chile, Argentina, South Africa, Spain, and Portugal all offer prospects, but so do France, Germany, and the United States. We'll sample a variety of wines; please bring three wine glasses to class.

This class would make navigating the bargain tables at Blanchard's easier. If anyone tries to make me drink Yellowtail Shiraz, however, I'm out.

Divorce in Massachusetts: With or Without a Lawyer

The class would probably be dull, but it might be a swinging place to meet men and/or lawyers. Though actually, the last time I dated a lawyer, it didn't turn out so well. Never mind.


The class will give an overview of urban beekeeping, covering a brief history of beekeeping, bee biology, and getting started in urban beekeeping. We will go over the basics of beekeeping, types of bee hives, equipment needed to get started, locating the hive, options for getting bees, starting the hive, first-year activities of the beekeeper, products of the hive, and resources available to new beekeepers, with the ultimate goal of participants being able to start keeping bees on their own next spring.

This appeals mainly for the randomness and because of how funny it would be to add beekeeper to my growing list of professions (teacher, waitress, poet, beekeeper). Also, pretty excellent for the Special Skills section on a resume -- I'm awesome at Powerpoint, Excel, Word, oh yeah, and BEEKEEPING.

White People Challenging Racism

Examine the impact of white privilege and how being unaware of that advantage helps perpetuate racism. We'll discuss short readings and share everyday situations in which we did not speak up against racial bias. Using role-playing, we'll develop effective ways to respond. We'll focus on the role of white people in dismantling racism and building a just society. You'll develop specific plans for challenging racism in your workplace, organizations, community, and personal circles, as well as be encouraged to find other people in your life who can provide support and serve as allies in your efforts.

I'm just flummoxed that such a course exists. The title implies that the class is only open to white people...if only there were a word to describe prejudice based on race...OH WAIT. Knock, knock: who's there? Irony.

Intentional Travel: Where in the World is Your Life Telling You to Go?

Where do you need to travel, be it by armchair or hitting the road? The places you need to visit for personal history, spiritual grounding, or fulfillment may not be where tour guides take you. We travel to have our perceptions altered and to discover what we didn't know we were searching for. We may travel in pursuit of a personal vision based on our life story. And we travel to be surprised and delighted by a latent self waiting for this moment to arrive! We'll share travel experiences, research specific destinations and itineraries, and design maps of future travels. Bring a travel-related book and journal.

...Intentional travel as opposed to unintentional travel, like being sent away to prison? My life is definitely not telling me to go to this class. I honestly think the person who wrote this might have been high. My "latent self" is very amused.

In all honesty, I'm leaning towards either taking a class on Moby Dick because I've never read it (and might never read it on my own) or an intermediate cooking class. My parents actually met in a class called "Cooking for Singles" so perhaps I'll also fall in love while learning some snazzy knife skills and how to poach pears in wine.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Happy Halloween

Technically, Halloween ended a little over a half hour ago, but still.....


Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. This year, for the first time in a while*, I dressed up as a still-alive real person. Usually, I go with something more conceptual/bizarre/inappropriate (like in 8th grade when I dressed up as Uma Thurman's character from Pulp Fiction, complete with fake cocaine under my nostrils and a needle sticking out of my chest).

I kept it simple this year and dressed up as Katy Perry. Really, I was just looking for an excuse to wear a pastel wig. Don't pretend you don't know what that feels like.

My mom e-mailed me this disturbing picture today:

and she wrote a comment that this could have been her and her Dad back in the day. It's true -- my grandfather so favored Jack Daniels that for years I thought Mr. Daniels was a close friend of the family. At every holiday gathering, people would joke about how close Grandpa and Jack were ("Where's Grandpa?" "Oh, he's spending a little time with Jack Daniels"). When I saw the label on a Jack Daniels bottle, my first thought was, "oh, that's so funny, it's the same name as Grandpa's best friend!"

Ah, innocence.

My favorite Halloween story is actually not really fit for public consumption (it involves my older brother repeating a very un-PC gross joke he learned from our cousin while treat-or-treating), but a close second is when my younger brother Richard, when he was 6 or so, eagerly told people while trick-or-treating that he was collecting money for a unicycle instead of UNICEF.

*the last time I dressed up as a real, live person was in 2001, when I went as Nancy Kerrigan and my best friend Kim was Tonya Harding. She chased me around all night with a crowbar.

Monday, October 24, 2011

So You Think You Don't Like Poetry

Fun titles edition!

Today, I will select poems relatively at random to post here, based solely on the promise/awesomeness of the title. Titling a poem can be colossally difficult -- so difficult that I often wish I could make like Emily Dickinson and just forgo titles all together. The poems I'm pasting in below I only chose to read because of the title (I found them all on
Representative Poetry Online ).

Up first we have....

A book a jug and a dame
by everyone's favorite timeless poet, Anonymous

A book a jug and a dame,
And a nice cozy nook for the same;
"And I don't care a damn,"
Said Omar Khayyam,
"What you say, it's a great little game."

Alright, so it's more of a limerick...but I didn't know that until I read it. And I only read it because the title made me smile.

The next one that caught my eye was

The eyes of toads are great
by E.D. Blodgett (b. 1935)

The eyes of toads are great
wells of sadness: where
do they gaze but into fate
to see nothing there?

Hmmm. This is probably actually untitled and just titled with the first line for indexing purposes. And the first line is sneaky because it's not that the eyes of toads are "great" so much as "great wells of sadness." I feel tricked.

Moving on.....

Recipe for a Salad
Sydney Smith (1771-1845)

To make this condiment, your poet begs
The pounded yellow of two hard-boiled eggs;
Two boiled potatoes,
passed through kitchen sieve,
Smoothness and softness to the salad give.

Let onion atoms lurk within the bowl,
And, half suspected, animate the whole.
Of mordant mustard add a single spoon,
Distrust the condiment that bites so soon;
But deem it not, thou man of herbs, a fault,
To add a double quantity of salt.

Four times the spoon with oil from Lucca brown,
And twice with vinegar procured from town;
And, lastly, o'er the flavored compound toss
A magic soupcion of anchovy sauce.

O, green and glorious! O herbaceous treat!
'T would tempt the dying anchorite to eat:
Back to the world he'd turn his fleeting soul,
And plunge his fingers in the salad bowl!
Serenely full, the epicure would say,
"Fate cannot harm me, I have dined to-day."

Really wish I had eaten lunch before sitting down to blog.

Oh, the Sexual Life of the Camel is another anonymous limerick too silly/vulgar to reproduce here, but click on the link to read it.

I can't believe this is for real; it's like the Onion version of a poem title:

On the Dark, Still, Dry Warm Weather, Occasionally Happening in the Winter Months
Gilbert White (1720-1793)

....I can't bring myself to paste it. It's a 44-line poem in rhyming couplets about mild weather.

Finally, I found this title intriguing and can't decide how I feel about the poem itself....but it's certainly interesting. And angry and gutsy. I think I like it? I don't know. Some of the line breaks feel really random (probably intentionally so) and that bugs me. After reading it a few times, I do think it's more sophisticated/complex than it initially appears. It's a rant, but a well-crafted rant and I guess it's got me thinking, which is a good thing.

Male Rage Poem
Pier Giorgio Di Cicco (b. 1949)

Feminism, baby, feminism.
This is the anti-feminist poem.
It will get called the anti-
feminist poem. Like it or not.
Dedicated to all my friends who
can't get it up in the night,
accused of having male rage during the
day. This is for the poor buggers.
This is for me and the incredible boredom
of arguing about feminism, the right
arguments, the wrong arguments, the
circular argument, the arguments that stem
from one bad affair, from one
bad job, no job -- whatever; fill in the
blanks _____ _____, fill in the ways
in which you have been hurt. Then I'll
fill in the blanks, and we'll send rosters
of hurt to each other, mail them, stock
them for the record to say: Giorgio Di Cicco
has been hurt this way x many times.
We will stock closets of Sarah's hurt,
Barbara's hurt, my hurt, Bobby's hurt.
This is where the poem peters out ... oops! -- that's
penis mentality, that's patriarchal bullshit,
sexist diction and These line lengths are
male oriented.
Where did he get so much male rage?
From standing out like a man for a bunch of
years, and being called the dirty word.
"When you are 21 you will become a Man."
Christ! Doomed to enslave women ipso
facto, without even the right training.
Shouldn't have wasted ten years playing
baseball; should have practiced
whipping, should have practiced tying up the
girl next door, giving her cigarette burns ...
oops! Male rage again! MALE RAGE -- the words ring out --
worse than RING AROUND THE COLLAR, worse than KISSED
THE GIRLS AND MADE THEM CRY, jeezus, male rage
in kindergarten. MALE RAGE. You've got
male rage; I look inside myself and scrounge
for all this male rage. Must be there
somewhere. Must be repressing it. I write poems
faster and faster, therapeutically, to make sure
I get all the rage out. But someone's
always there to say, Male Rage -- more Male Rage.
I don't leave the house, workin' on my male rage.

Things may lighten up. My friends may meet
fine women at a party someday and know
what to say to them, like "I'm not a Man and
you're not a Woman, but let's have dinner
anyway, let's fuck with our eyes closed and
swap roles for an hour."

I'm tired of being a man.
Of having better opportunities,
better job offers,
too much money.
I'm tired of going to the YMCA and
talking jock in the locker room.
I'm tired of all those poems where
I inadvertently used the word "whore."
I'm tired of having little blonde secretaries type out
all my poems for me.
I'm tired of being a man.
I'm tired of being a sexist.
I'm afraid of male rage.
I'm afraid of my male rage,
this growing thing, this buddy, this
shadow, this new self, this stranger.
It's there. It's there! How could it have
happened? I ate the right things, said
yes to my mother, thought the good

Doc -- give it to me straight.
How long before this male rage
takes over completely?
The rest of your life.
Take it like a man.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Simulated Womanhood

Confession: I've never really understood the male need to play video games. Not for lack of trying -- I've dated a few video-game-playing dudes and 2 of my 3 brothers are gamers. It's just always baffled me -- I get bored and/or frustrated almost immediately when I try to play. Aside from my brief obsession with F-Zero on Super Nintendo in the early 90s, I've just never been into non-board games.
This was the case, at least, until I got an iPad. Suddenly, I'm into games. Specifically, simulated reality kinds of games featuring female protagonists. My favorite is Sally, of Sally's Spa and Sally's Salon (Luxury Edition).

In Sally's Spa and Sally's Salon, you play a Sally, an enterprising young woman who operates her own business. Customers come in demanding various services (facials, massages, manicures) and you must provide those services in a timely manner. The faster and more efficiently you serve your clients, the higher tips you earn, and that money can then be put back into the business in the form of upgrading equipment or hiring employees to assist you. Take my word for it, this game is super fun and well-designed.

And then there's Top Girl.

In Top Girl, you are a model whose objective is to buy as many clothes as possible in order to be as hot as possible in order to score the hottest man possible. No joke. Each item of clothing has a hotness quotient and the game makes a distinction between daytime hot (what you wear to work) and nighttime hot (what you wear to the club where you pick up guys). If you try to go to the club in your work attire, you will be told you are not hot enough and sent back home to change.

The game also punishes you for not playing it -- i.e. if you don't play for a day or two, you can expect your boyfriend to dump you as soon as you return because he's feeling neglected. Just like real life! And boyfriends are important in the world of Top Girl, because they can buy you clothes as gifts, and the more clothes you have, the more stores you can "unlock" in the mall.

It's all very sordid. Not to mention the fact that the game tries at every turn to get you to spend your own money to enhance the experience of playing it. The game app is free, but if you're willing to buy credits on iTunes, you can fast-track and get ahead faster.

My boyfriend is so disturbed by Top Girl that he went out of his way to research another alternative for me, a less anti-feminist sim game. So now I also have Kudos 2, on my computer at home.

Kudos 2 is not bad. I find myself making decisions for my little waitress avatar (named Holly) that I wish I made in my real life. For instance, Holly loves to go jogging and clean her apartment. And she often chooses to stay home with a book instead of go to the bar with friends. I should probably be more like Holly. The problem I'm running into, though, is that my sim friends keep dumping me because I don't go out with them enough. Holly is not very popular, but boy, is she in shape and clean. And fiscally responsible -- she walks 4 miles to work every day instead of paying for the bus!

I'm not sure playing video games is a positive step in my adulthood...but it is a fascinating one. Not to worry, I still read books and stuff. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go kiss my boyfriend on Top Girl (which I can only do once every 90 minutes) so he'll get me those stilettos I've been eyeing.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The One That Got Away?

Holy shit, I hope this is like riding a bike. Or, actually, easier, since I was never that good at bike-riding.

It's been months since I've blogged and the more time that passed, the more anxious I've been about starting up again. But here I am. LET'S DO THIS.

You might think, based on my last post, that it would be logical for me to blog about my life-changing trip to China in July. But truthfully, there's just no way to really do it justice, so if you want to hear about it or see pictures, shoot me an e-mail or peruse the slideshow on the right-hand sidebar of this site. Also, this video was shot and edited by one of the volunteers on the trip and is awesome:

Yale China 2 from Brian Wimer on Vimeo.

I've been back for months and still think about it all the time. But moving on.

This past weekend, I visited New York -- it was a make-up trip since my last planned NYC weekend was foiled by that bitch, I mean, hurricane, Irene. As usual, I had a wonderful time and saw many friends, not to mention St. Vincent and the cast of Arrested Development, courtesy of the New Yorker festival. Saturday afternoon, after brunch, I found myself with some time to kill. I wandered through Soho, the first neighborhood I really became familiar with because of my internship at the HERE Arts Center during the summer of 2000. I was listening to my iPod and kept skipping around to melancholy love songs. At first I thought my mood might be related to the dreary/cloudy Fall day, but then it hit me: spending time in New York feels like spending time with ex. An ex with whom you are friendly, but also may still have some feelings for. To put it in Facebook terms, "it's complicated," my relationship with New York.

New York and I were together for 5 years (2003-2008), but actually a little more if you count the summers in college I spent living there before moving there in 2003. At one point, I thought we'd always be together. I couldn't imagine living anywhere else. But over time, the passion fizzled and we grew apart. I couldn't shake the feeling that I wasn't good enough for New York, that I'd never be able to thrive. I tried hard to make it work, experimenting with 4 different apartments in 3 boroughs. I even tried out different careers: full-time jobs, part-time jobs, freelancing. Writing, acting, marketing, editing, teaching. It was exhausting and heart- (and wallet-) breaking. When grad school offered me the chance to leave, I took it.

Still, when I visit now, my heart races; I catch myself thinking "maybe I didn't give New York enough of a chance, maybe now it could work...." But the reasons why we don't work surround me, like the pervading urine stench of the F train. Trying to hail a cab in the rain, paying $17 for an omelette -- I felt the familiar rage returning. Relationships bring out various things in people (i.e. "you bring out the best in me"), and New York brings out a side of me that I don't really like, an aggressive, angry side. And I know if I moved back, nothing would be different and I'd just get hurt again. Boston may not bring out the best in me, but it's...comfortable. We have a less volatile/more stable union. We co-exist peacefully.

But man, we did have some good times, New York and I. Some sexy, awesome times. I know it better than any other city, including St. Louis where I lived for the first 18 years of my life. And sometimes it kills me that we can't be together.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Away we go....

This is my last blog post before embarking on an 18-day journey to China. I depart on Thursday morning and officially have entered the extremely excited-yet-nervous phase.

I'm traveling with the
Yale Alumni Service Corp (YASC) and the main purpose of the trip is to volunteer in Xiuning County, which is in the Anhui province. Xiuning (pronounced "Shu-ning") comprises 9 towns and has a population of 274,000. It's located about 5 hours by bus west of Shanghai.

The YASC is organizing a summer camp for the kids of Xiuning -- I'll be helping with chorus and book club. There are a ton of different activities being offered, from photography to harmonica. Over 200 people, all somehow affiliated with Yale, are going. Many are traveling with spouses and kids -- I'm going solo. But like a contestant on Survivor/Top Chef/The Bachelor/any reality show would say, I'm not going there to make friends.

I'm going there to WIN. WIN CHINA. Well, not really. And of course, I hope to socially connect with at least some of my fellow travelers. But if I don't, that's okay. The resort where we're staying in Xiuning has its own karaoke bar, so I'm sure I can keep myself occupied there.

After a week of volunteering in Xiuning, the group flies to Beijing for three action-packed days of sightseeing (The Great Wall, Tiananmen Square etc). Then I will fly on by myself to Hong Kong for the final three nights.
For the detailed itinerary, click here.

This trip is coming at just the right time for me -- I have been feeling stalled professionally and personally and an international summer adventure will hopefully invigorate me for the fall.

And now, some amusing Mandarin idioms, courtesy of
Chinese for Dummies:

gua yang tou mai gou rou: to display a lamb's head but sell dog meat, i.e. to cheat people

da ao jing she: to beat the grass to frighten the snake, i.e. to give a warning

che shui ma long: cars flowing like water and horses creating a solid line looking like a dragon, i.e. traffic

Hu shuo ba dao: to talk nonsense in eight directions, i.e. to be full of crap

I will have internet access for most of the trip, thanks to my iPad...not sure if I'll have time to blog, but I'll do my best!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

So You Think You Don't Like Poetry

Two poems this week by British poet Stevie Smith (1902-1971), whose work initially struck me as a little slight, but upon further/closer reading, I now quite admire. These poems vary significantly in tone and though neither are in a recognizable, conventional form (like a sonnet), they both employ repetition to great effect. Smith is a perfect example of a poet that often writes
with form without necessarily writing in form. (Forgive me for having form on the brain - I just pitched a formal poetry workshop to the Cambridge Center for Adult Education). Anyway, enjoy!

Not Waving But Drowning

Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:

I was much further out than you thought

And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking

And now he's dead

It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always

(Still the dead one lay moaning)

I was much too far out all my life

And not waving but drowning.


(after reading two paragraphs in a newspaper)

All these illegitimate babies . . .
Oh girls, girls,
Silly little cheap things,
Why do you not put some value on yourselves,
Learn to say, No?
Did nobody teach you?
Nobody teaches anybody to say No nowadays,
People should teach people to say No.

O poor panther,
Oh you poor black animal,
At large for a few moments in a school for young children in Paris,
Now in your cage again,
How your great eyes bulge with bewilderment,
There is something there that accuses us,
In your angry and innocent eyes,
Something that says:
I am too valuable to be kept in a cage.

Oh these illegitimate babies!
Oh girls, girls,
Silly little valuable things,
You should have said, No, I am valuable,
And again, It is because I am valuable
I say, No.

Nobody teaches anybody they are valuable nowadays

Girls, you are valuable,
And you, Panther, you are valuable,
But the girls say: I shall be alone
If I say 'I am valuable' and other people do not say it of me,
I shall be alone, there is no comfort there.
No, it is not comforting but it is valuable,
And if everybody says it in the end
It will be comforting. And for the panther too,
If everybody says he is valuable
It will be comforting for him.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Oh, the things you can convince yourself you need at 36,000 feet.

Come on, who DOESN'T need a Sumo wrestler coffee table???

I think from here on out, I'm going to ignore wedding registries and buy all wedding gifts from SkyMall. "Hey bride and groom, I know you wanted a Williams-Sonoma garlic roaster, but I got you this Bacon Genie instead!"

The utter futility of this product has already been discussed on this blog. Basically, bacon genie allows you to cook bacon in your microwave....which is already a stupid idea, unless you like your bacon chewy and dry. Bacon is meant to be FRIED. Anyone who loves bacon enough to buy bacon accessories knows this.

In all seriousness, I kind of want this:

Your eyes do not deceive you, that is in fact a Wine Glass Holder Necklace, combining two of my passions: drinking and wearing jewelry. Throw in a straw and I'd be good to go. No more awkwardly holding my drink at parties!

Finally, since Father's Day was this past Sunday (click here to read my tribute to my Dad from a few years ago), I submit this for your consideration. Had I been more on the ball, I would have gotten this for our home yard in St. Louis:

I can just imagine the look on Dad's face every morning as he gazes proudly upon his Yeti lawn statue. Maybe next year, Dad.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


Wow, I can't believe it's been several weeks since my last post. Guess I got swept up in Bruins playoff fervor!!!!!!!

If you've ever met me, you will know the above statement is false.

Don't get me wrong, I'm happy that they won the Stanley Cup. I was less thrilled that the streets of Boston were filled with loud, drunk people last night. What is about sports fans running up to people and screaming in their faces? What is the purpose of that?

I spent last night doing the exact opposite of watching the game: I went to a literary magazine launch party/author reading and then took in the latest Woody Allen film. I was listening to poetry when the Bruins scored their first goal.

Sports fandom has always mystified me. It's not dissimilar to religious fervor. Fans can't control or predict whether their team will win, but they believe they can win and more importantly, SHOULD win. The chants of "U-S-A! U-S-A!" confused me last night, until I remembered that we beat a team FROM ANOTHER COUNTRY, making the victory all the more sweet. It was a triumph for AMERICA, you guys. We might as well have been playing [insert dangerous Middle Eastern country du jour] or Libya or North Korea.

Most likely my dislike of sports stems from my complete and utter inability to play them well. Watching sports churns up feelings of inadequacy dating back to my middle school and high school days. I am uncoordinated and not fast, nor am I graceful or agile. I am a good swimmer and a decent skier, but anything that requires hitting, passing, kicking, throwing or catching a ball is beyond my capabilities.

I had the misfortune to attend a high school where sports were very important and all students were forced to play a team sport two out of the three seasons. The real athletes hated this policy because people like me were bringing them down and the non-athletes hated this policy for obvious reasons. Not being athletic was just another strike against me, right alongside not having a sufficiently WASPy name or driving an SUV. And since I wasn't good enough to really play on any teams, I had to suffer the indignity of being the "manager" -- i.e. running the scoreboard at games, putting the equipment away after practice. One afternoon during my duties as JV Girls Volleyball manager, my "teammates" decided it would be funny to spike me.

So yeah, I guess it's no wonder that I'm not a fan of sports or sports fans. Musical theater fans are much more my speed -- I mean, no one got stabbed after the Tony Awards.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Trouble with Commencement Speeches

Well, to put it succinctly: they are boring and cliched, by definition.

I myself learned this firsthand when asked to deliver the graduation speech at my former elementary school when my younger brother was "graduating" from 6th grade. (Side note: I really think graduation ceremonies should be saved for high school and college. I am attending another brother's graduation from middle school next week and while I'm thrilled to be able to visit him and happy that he passed 8th grade and can start high school next year, I don't know, it just seems like a gimmick to get the parents all mushy and proud so they'll give more money.)

At any rate, in 1999 I was a high school senior. As I was not valedictorian of my class (far from it), I was not the speaker at my graduation. But as a "distinguished" alum from the elementary school where my brother Richard was graduating, I was invited to speak at his ceremony. Thus I was faced with writing a speech to inspire 6th graders and their parents. My first issue was that it felt disingenuous to tell them about what they had to look forward to, namely middle school. Which almost all survivors agree constitute a dark time of early adolescence. Bye bye, recess; hello, 4 hours of Spanish homework. Also hello body odor, pubic hair, awkward growth spurts, and pimples. We can't all look like Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez, folks.

But of course I couldn't talk about any of that in my speech. I had to be positive, congratulatory, and assure these young adults that the years ahead of them would be exciting and wonderful. I think "challenging" was about the only adjective I used to hint at the vortex of unpleasantness they were about to be unknowingly sucked into. So I felt like a charlatan. I quoted someone predictable, told them they were ready to reach for the stars or some shit and the parents ate it up. They even reprinted my speech in the next school newsletter.

This past Monday, I graduated from Emerson College's Creative Writing Master's program. Some of my peers chose not to participate in commencement, but hell, I spent the dough and felt like I deserved some fucking fanfare. Mainly, I wanted to see if anyone speaking could convince that my $60,000 was well-spent. Let's just say I was a tough crowd.

The main speaker was some Communication Ethics guy who was being awarded an honorary degree. And boy, did his speech suck. It had nothing to do with anything remotely related to Emerson or graduation or life. I think I might actually have preferred a conventional address. But what are the conventions of a commencement speech? Allow me to provide some handy guidelines:

-- a quote from Mark Twain and/or Gandhi

-- an inside joke about the institution so not inside that even the parents will chuckle/"get it", i.e. reference to terrible dining hall food

-- A Lincoln anecdote

-- sobering mention of recent tragic event/disaster (tsunami, tornado, ABC's Private Practice renewed for another season)

-- vague references to the future, leadership, dreams, tomorrow, change, endings, beginnings

and voila! Commencement speech. Next time I attend a graduation, I think I'll make up a bingo card with all of the above on it. I bet I get bingo several times over.

Man, I am getting grouchy and cynical in my old age.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

So You Think You Don't Like Poetry

A good friend of mine (and fellow Emerson poet) recently launched an online poetry journal: Interrupture. The first issue went live in February and contains some excellent poems. This one is by another Emerson graduate, the delightful Mary Kovaleski Brynes. She's been published in a number of places and is currently living in Spain. Anyway, I love how feverish this poem is -- I think the repetitions are well done and well placed, and the piece has a sensual rhythm, not to mention amazing images. Me likey (and hope you do, too).

Maybe This Happens to Everyone

When I woke, Paris was in flames.

I spent the day in bed while a man I loved

kissed my ankles, the white arches

of my feet, asked what made them,

and I told him it was the Sacre Cœur--

when a city is burning like that there’s no time

for lies. At night the flames were in my hair,

the flames were in his mouth and each street

unrolled like a long tongue that gave

us what we couldn’t understand,

only if we’d dance on the cobbles

they’d light up like the disco floors

of les Grands Boulevards, like the smooth-trodden

gravestones of popes inside the cathedral,

the martyrs emblazoned on the Bastille.

I don’t remember the Bastille.

It is impossible to remember the Bastille

when his hand is up my dress on the metro

and Paris is in flames. The trains

brought us in through a tunnel underwater:

the Chunnel was made of glass,

the train like a chain of dolphins linked end to end,

arching silver with the currents,

and we saw Humpbacks, eyes big as our train car,

slow and bovine—it took minutes to pass them.

Their whale eyes were looking at us—

everyone in Paris was looking at us.

We weren’t looking at anyone, and when we did

their faces were like mirrors and I loved

his strange watery reflection but kissed only him.

The trains came. The trains moved out

of the blue-glass station while we ate crepes Nutella

and called them crapes because we were Americans.

The trains came. The trains moved out.

Our train moved out.

We stayed. Paris lit and smoldered.

Maybe this was the beginning of the world again, maybe

it was the end—maybe this happens to everyone

in every city, even in small towns, where corn fields

catch fire at the end of summer

and teenagers tear off their clothes

and run naked through them, tempting

the flames with their flawless skin,

but it won’t brand them, won’t even singe,

no matter how hard they run.