Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Meaning of NightThe Meaning of Night by Michael Cox
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm not certain that I'm prepared to write this review yet. I finished the novel yesterday and I'm still savoring it. When I've read a book this good I can't start reading another book right away; I have a to wait a few days while I think about it and let it live inside me a while.

What did I think? Amazing. I'm not an expert on Victorian England so I can't vouch for its authenticity, but I can say that I was convinced. The dirty streets, the unapologetic duplicity of a man who is madly in love with one woman, but who will be with many others when the need arises; the drugs purchased freely from a druggist; the lush environment of Evenwood Park; the class distinctions that the narrator lived and breathed; all of it was very real for me while reading, too real at times.

THIS NEXT PART COULD CONTAIN SPOILERS. (I'm not entirely certain what that means or if it's appropriate here, but I don't want to be guilty of spoiling a read for somebody, so I'll choose safe over sorry.) It is a confession, so it is written in the first person. The narrator is not particularly kind to himself and he doesn't seem to have the psychological wherewithal any more to even try to defend his delusions of grandeur. After an initial betrayal by his best friend at school he later embarks on a quest to regain a title and inheritance of one of the greatest houses in England. He has learned - so he explains - that he is the living heir to the 25th Baron Tansor of Evenwood Park. But, he also describes his drug addictions and the exhaustion to which his body and mind are succumbing so that one has to wonder if the evidence he claims to have actually exist. Even the fictional editor of the fictional work warns that he is not able to verify much of what is written.

It's the bouncing back and forth from the passionate, delusional state of mind to the cool, conservative snippets written by this fictional editor that kept me entranced and that are going to force me to read the book again. As I said earlier it took a while for me to read. First of all, it's a large book. Secondly, some of the descriptions were so graphic and the confrontations so intense, and they rang so clear in my head that I had to put the book down for days at a time. Thus, while simply rereading the first few pages in order to write this review I'm reminded of things that I had forgotten, and now having read to the end they make much more sense. So, as I said, I will probably read the book a second time just to see how it all fits together. It's pretty tight; he ties things together very well. Perhaps I will be more critical the second time. But, how can you be critical of a man who has stated very clearly in the beginning that he has sought not truth, but meaning?

I think it's interesting that the people who have given the book the fewest stars have far more to say about it than those who have truly enjoyed it. Perhaps that's the way of things. Maybe they're justified in spelling out exactly what they disliked about the book. If it were me, though, I wouldn't spend my time writing so much about something that I didn't think was worth reading. But, I digress.

View all my reviews

Monday, March 12, 2012

I Hate GPS

March 11, 2012

It's very possible that I hate GPS's. They might be one more step along the path to a land that David Foster Wallace envisioned in his novel Infinite Jest, a world in which we are so separated from each other that something happening – a car crash or anything – is a big deal because it creates an opportunity for people to come into actual contact with each other. I should clarify here, for anybody who does not know me personally, that there's the tiniest possibility that I'm bitter and/or jaded. But, I feel that this argument has some valid points.

Why do people like GPS? There could be a few reasons.

So they don't get lost. Wrong. Ask any female in Nameless's family and they'll be an example of how this is not, indeed, true. They still get lost and people still wonder how they could leave the city and enter another one and it never occur to them that they've gone the wrong direction when they were only supposed to cross the highway in the first place.

So that you don't have to stop to ask for directions. All I can say is that this is one more step down the isolationist path that never leads this country to a better place. You can site horror stories of coming across ugly, hateful, racist even psychopathically homicidal people when stopping at a gas station to ask for directions and I'll match them one for one with my own lived experiences asking complete strangers for help.

So that you can take road trips more easily. I actually enjoy looking at a map and planning out the route. I've heard stories of GPS systems taking people in circles and then those people being kind of screwed because they were relying on the GPS which was clearly letting them down. But I'll also be the first to admit that technology can improve, especially when there's enough demand for it. But, you miss the fun of looking at a map (which for me is fun in and of itself), seeing what towns you're going to be going through and just basically building the anticipation of the trip. (The introduction to this blog expresses my opinion of instant and total gratification using another example.)

I have had friends say that they were going to come over. I've tried to give them directions, but they won't listen. They'll only tell me to give them my address so that they can plug it into their GPS. This is where I get offended slightly. I cannot help but feel slighted that the piece of technology is allowed to speak and I, their supposed friend, am not. My address as I know it does not work in GPS systems. One time I figured out how to put it in so that it would recognize it, but even then the guy got lost because he turned the wrong direction and went into a high school instead of onto my street, which doesn't say a lot for the people I call friends, except that I don't call him friend, nor have I spoken to him again since – for different reasons.

So, Friday my oldest friend announced that she was coming to see me the next day (yesterday). She used the pronoun 'we' so I had to assume that she was bringing her boy toy. She's 44 and he's 25 and he is the most self–absorbed human being I have ever encountered. When he walked into my home the first words out of his mouth were "What is your wifi?" while he was looking at his iPhone. Not looking at me. No hi, no good to see you, not even a glace in my direction. Again, this has less to do with GPS than it has to do with the people I associate with. But, before they arrived I had called them to see how far along the road from San Antonio to Austin they were. I called my friend's phone, but he answered it and said (not 'Hello'), "Real quick, what's your address so I can put it in my GPS". Well, I had already sent them the Very Easy Directions to my apartment and I was in no mood to fight with a technology, so I told him that my address didn't work in those things, that I had already tried it with several friends and it never works. He was crestfallen, but still didn't say hello. I did manage to get my way, though (to be allowed to talk to my friend.). I asked him a really complicated question and he had to put my friend on the phone. (I asked them where they were.)

I know that this is much like anything else. People who are inconsiderate will use this as another tool for that end and people who are considerate will still be so. Also, if somebody is going to pay more attention to a technology than to me, then perhaps I'm just as well off if they can't find their way here. I actually have a friend who refused to come over because I couldn’t' give him an address that would work in his GPS. And, I have another friend who relies heavily on her GPS around town, and she gladly let me give her directions to my apartment, which is good because even when they get the directions to work in the GPS they generally end up lost anyway.

So, if I have a point it's that you should appreciate your friends more than your technologies. But, that has more or less the same problem as parenting books. The people who read them are not the people who probably need to read them.

Now, since we've arbitrarily decided to lie to ourselves about the time it's suddenly 11:30 pm and I'd better get to bed so that I can be up and at work at the new 8 am tomorrow.

Good night.


Saturday, March 10, 2012

Rainy Morning

March 10, 2012

With it raining outside this morning I sat on my porch and drank my first cup of coffee. I thought of many things, not the least of which is how much I love rain. I should have been born in a rainforest. My family has ended up in Central and South-Central Texas and it's not exactly a desert, but we've been in a drought the last few years. Xeriscape is the prevalent landscaping scheme. The music of rain falling is something that is unfamiliar to us during the summer lately. But, it's almost spring and the rain makes the grass very green, what little grass there is here. It was cool and quiet and my cats were out there with me, but staying under the cover with me rather than exploring. The air had a crisp quality, very refreshing.

It makes me think of a Psalm that I love, Psalm 63.
O God, you are my God, for you I long;
for you my soul is thirsting.
My body pines for you
like a dry, weary land without water.

I'm a little sad at how much I can relate to those words. My poor earth is so dry. When we first moved from Amarillo I remember thinking that this must be Eden, or something along those lines. Compared with the stark, flat landscape of the Panhandle of Texas I suppose it does still seem like a paradise. But, I wait for this drought to pass and for us not to suffer the reality of the lack of water.

It's still a little chilly for me (it's 46 degrees outside right now) so I came back inside and had my second cup in front of the computer. I have a desk lamp and one of my cats is sleeping under it. The cats must love me, because even if they're upset with me they generally want to be in whatever room I'm in. They're so much in the habit of sleeping on my desk that I put a placemat on it under the lamp. They have totally ruined those placemats with their hair anyway, so I'm using them for their benefit now. (It's not nice to find hair on your fork when sitting at the table, and that's pretty much how it goes with these placemats now. I've decided that it's not worth the time to try to get the hair out.)

I perused facebook and gmail and other social-related sites. It was still raining outside so I decided that I should have some appropriate music. This led me to create a playlist for rain. I call it Songs for Rain. Here's what I came up with. I played with the order a little bit and I think this works best with what I have so far.

Title Artist
Me Van a Matar Julieta Venegas
Rainy Days and Mondays The Carpenters
Set Fire To The Rain Adele
Lluvia De Primavera Raúl Di Blasio
Ravel: Jeux d'eau Lympany
Bachata Rosa Juan Luis Guerra
Blackbird Sarah McLachlan
Maldita Primavera Yuri
Burbujas De Amor Juan Luis Guerra
Send Me On Me Way Rusted Root -
Cavatina Raúl Di Blasio

This is music that I already have, and have imported into iTunes. I have many more cd's that I need to load. I'm not going to work on that project at this time. I'll just take notes if I decide that another song deserves to be in this playlist and then rip that cd onto my computer. I always have a small notebook for notes with me, so it won't matter where I come across the idea. (I just love Moleskine notebooks. I got mine at Barnes & Noble. I have one side opening and one that flips from the top so you can move the page up as you're writing on the bottom of the page.)

Let me know what you think. Give me ideas that I could add.


Sunday, March 4, 2012

Brain Hijackings

Songs that have currently kidnapped my brain:

Aquí by La Ley. (The version I have is from an MTV Unplugged album) I'm really not even certain what the song is trying to say; maybe that's why the words haunt me. But, the music is just the kind of thing to get under my skin and make me hear it even when it's not playing. Plus, Beto Cuevas has a beautiful voice.

Calamity Song by The Decembrists. A very recent song, especially compared with Aquí, which was released 2000. The music if perfect to get in my head and make me sing it out loud, and then I realize that I'm singing words that make no sense whatsoever. "And the Andalusian Tribes, setting the lay of Nebraska alight..." What? How would Andalusian tribes get to Nebraska? It seems to be a dream and possibly a reference to the fall of the Roman Empire, which tribes from Andalucía had a part in (I think???). Or something.

Anyway, I haven't done my homework on the groups, so I have nothing to report here that goes any deeper than the songs themselves and my reaction to them. That's kind of how I wanted to leave it for the moment. Initial reaction without any background information kind of means a lot with art. Although learning more is often a good thing, it often ruins it for me as well.

I don't really want to get into the legal issues of uploading the songs (not to mention the technical issues), so I'll say go listen to them in iTunes. You get a longer sample than in (I have a link to because I know how to do that and I don't know how to have a link to iTunes.)

In the mean time, please offer recommendations for future brain hijackings.

Thank you.



There seems to be somebody reading my blog in Brazil. I wonder if it's my friends Gilberto and/or Cesar who used to live in Austin. If so I would like to say: Olá, Gilberto e Cesar.  Eu sinto sua falta!

If not, then: Olá novo amigo. Escreva para mim para que eu possa aprender Português. big grin


The Room - Part 2

The Room - Part 2

Today, after my cat came home from what seems to have been a 3-night adventure in the underside of an old vehicle (probably the very old white van permanently parked outside my apartment) I bathed her and laid down with her to take my weekend nap. (See previous entry called Dizzy.)

After that and after several very successful attempts at sidetracking myself I dove into the boxes that have been haunting The Room since I moved here. (I avoided the incredibly urgent need to go shopping for a St. Francis statue to keep in the house as a sort of thank-you for bringing my cat back home safely.) There are books I haven't seen in a year, art supplies, pieces of art from here and there in my life and notebook binders galore.

But, how can I possibly work on this sort of thing in the quiet? I need music, and not the radio; I have to, I MUST buy songs for my iPod. I received a gift card for iTunes and I have been planning on making an Austinatious playlist ever since. Now I have 12 songs (some of which I already owned) in this playlist, and a nice start to an alternative music playlist as well. (So, I wanted Creep by Radiohead. I love that song so I bought it and played it. I learned that I will have to remember to pay attention to the label "Explicit" when looking at songs. [Again, see in Dizzy where I address issues I have with warning labels.] I played Creep and, WOW! On the radio he sings "You're so very special..."; on the recording he uses a very different adverb. It's almost distracting enough to keep me from enjoying the rest of the song. It certainly gives the whole song a different - more angry and jaded feel over-all.)

But, back to The Room now. I have stacks of books, 2 boxes of art supplies (some of which might not be of any use at this point) and other stacks of things: things to throw away by the door next to the pile of things to donate to the Salvation Army or Goodwill. I'm not sure what amazes me more, the amount of things that can accumulate in my life or the amount of dust that can accumulate since I gave up dusting in here 6 months ago because I couldn't reach anything.

Next step, closets. There are things that I plan to donate or give away. Clean out those spaces and I'll have room to store the art supplies that I plan to keep.

At some point I'll have to go through the books and really get rid of a lot of them. Truly. It's almost embarrassing. The word 'almost' in that last sentence was truly superfluous.

I have to remember only to put into the closets things that I actually plan on using. Not to say I'll use them every day, but if I do use them it's worth keeping them. Otherwise, they gotta go. In a memoir Carol Burnet wrote about her grandmother and the stacks and stacks of magazines that she kept because there were recipes in them that she planned on cutting out. For years those magazines sat around. I'm already 3/4 of the way there simply because I technically own 7 cats (only three of which live with me). I have to keep the image of a hoarding, old cat-woman in my mind to keep me on track.

Now I can see the floor. I can dust the CD's. I call that progress. Not good progress, but progress nonetheless. Now that it's almost midnight I think I'll go to bed.

Good night.


Thursday, March 1, 2012

March 1, 2012

I don't have anything to say, and I should really be sleeping. So, here's a picture of a rubber chicken singing. (Please note the Redwing Blackbird Valentine in the background.)

I imagine that she's singing a song originally sung by The Carpenters. It goes something like this:
Sing a song,
Sing out loud,
Sing out strong...
Thank you and good night.