You are currently browsing the monthly archive for January 2012.

My roommate Sam has a cool new blog called The Billing, featuring reviews of old movies.  Go check it out!

Aside from a delicious dinner at Sitti with friends, little of note has happened lately, which I find unacceptable.  I’ll need to forge an adventure out of the commonplace pretty soon here.  Ideas?  Next week is a meeting of the Literary League, so that will liven things up a bit.

Miscellania:

Critters:

Music:

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I’ve had a lot of rambley thoughts about a lot of things, so this will be even more scattered than usual.

Out of the blue, a line from Julius Caesar by Shakespeare popped into my head last week.  “Yon Cassius hath a lean and hungry look.”  The context is Julius Caesar speaking to Marcus Antonius, saying,

Let me have men about me that are fat,
Sleek-headed men and such as sleep a-nights.
Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look,
He thinks too much; such men are dangerous.

I remember reading those lines when I was 12 and thinking they were brilliant.  They’re beautifully understated, ominous, and insightful, and the Cassius line in particular just sounds good on the tongue.  And of course, Caesar was right; Cassius leads the plot to assassinate him.  I finally figured out what made me think of it after so many years: the line reminded me of myself these days.  Not because I plan on assassinating anyone, obviously (assassination is sooooo last century), but because sometimes I think my employers must look at me and see a little bit of the animal on the prowl. 

I used to think that I wasn’t ambitious.  After the disaster of my job in Florida, all I wanted was a comfortable, routine job, and I didn’t care if it didn’t go much of anywhere.  After a year at my comfortable, routine editing job, I was just starting to hope for something more when the contract ended and I was tossed back into the crummy job market.  I found this current job quickly, but again, I was so grateful for steady employment that it didn’t occur to me want more for some time.  When putting food on the table becomes an issue in question, one isn’t picky about employment.  But I’ve been here more than a year, and in past months I began feeling restless again.  For me, the ingredients for change seem to be 1.) feeling too comfortable with where I am, 2.) an overabundance of sameness, and 3.) a taste of desperation.  Stir thoroughly, add a dash of cold-weather wanderlust, and bake.  I was ready to move on, and I definitely wanted to move up.  My supervisor was eyeing me like I might start gnawing on her ankle at any moment.

Then, last week, the head honcho boss at work called me into his office and basically said that he was well aware that I was doing lots of extra work and that my skills could be better utilized.  He talked about having me do more writing and editing work and more travel, and giving me better compensation.  He said I’ll be going to a conference in Boston this May, and I’ll be taking over newsletter duties for a couple groups.  So, for now, anyway, the hungry ambition beast is assuaged, I’ll be staying right where I am, and if I meet anyone named Brutus, I’m heading the other way.

Completely unrelated:  People so rarely look up.  This is a tragic realization that struck me anew the other night as I was walking the dog around 10:30.  The stars and the moon were out, but were surrounded by some extremely dramatic shreds of clouds, and the whole sky looked too beautiful to be real.  I was walking along, staring at the sky, and none of the other people I passed so much as glanced up.  Could it be that no one else in my town even saw the sky that night?  I hope that’s not true.  But then I remember how in college the way that I got away with climbing so many trees and buildings was because no one ever looked up to see me.  I sat and studied in a tree in broad daylight, and dozens of people walked underneath my branch and never saw me.  It amazes me that people can go days at a time without seeing the rest of the universe.  It’s like people assume that there’s always a ceiling—nothing to see, keep your head down and your eyes blinkered.  Hello, the rest of the world is up there!  You’re missing it to stare at the sidewalk. 

I like to go running, but I’m pretty desultory about it.  I usually go for two miles, three times per week.  Since the time change, it’s too dark when I get home to run (the park near my apartment closes at sunset), so I’ve been running on the treadmill in the fitness center.  This is considerably more boring (no new dogs to meet), but it does make monitoring one’s speed and time a lot simpler.  Last night I ran my best time for two miles ever, at 17:45.  I didn’t know if that was good or not compared to the average, so I did a little Googling and found that the Army’s physical fitness test requires a female of my age to run two miles in 19:36 to pass.  A score of 100 on the fitness test requires running two miles in 15:36, so I think that’s what my new goal.  Then I can get an A+ on the Army!  I told Danielle that, and she said, “I think they just give out gold stars now.  Maybe doodle a few smileys.”  I think she’s right.  You know the Army and their smileys.

The other day for dinner I had dill pickles, chocolate milk, and hummus for dinner.  I promise I am not pregnant.  But does this mean that I would eat normal things, if I were?  I hope I wouldn’t get any weirder.

Lovely:

Hilarious:

Things that (unbelievably) exist:

Music:

Lots of books lately!  I read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, which was well-done, but not my cup of tea.  I think maybe some of my friends who work/have worked with autistic children might find it more interesting, so maybe I’ll pass it along.

I picked up a copy of A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis at The Reader’s Corner the other day, and it was exquisite, in the seldom-used meaning of the word—keenly sensitive—and in the more typical meaning of beautiful.  C.S. Lewis, as always, comes the nearest to wording the unwordable of any human being.  I know this is a book I’ll be rereading.  It’s so intensely personal that I can certainly understand why he originally published it under a pen name.  If I’d written it, I don’t believe I could have published it at all.

In a radically different twist of reading material, I read King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard next, who is about as different from the introspective Lewis as one can get.  The book is an adventure story that reminded me a lot of The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or the Tarzan books by Edgar Rice Burroughs, sort of a precursor to Indiana Jones.  Casual racism aside (which seems to be standard fare for these types of stories, sadly), it was enjoyable.

Then, in another whiplash-inducing switch of topic, I read The History of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth, written in 1136 or thereabouts.  Geoffrey, like Steinbeck, is a bit of a King Arthur fanboy.  He spends more time on him than on any of the other kings, and seems to lose interest in the history pretty quickly after Arthur’s death.  I found the book to be unexpectedly fascinating, albeit very dense.  Geoffrey told the story of a king named Leir, and after a minute I realized this was where Shakespeare got King Lear from.  I had no idea the story was so old: Shakespeare was as temporally removed from Geoffrey as we are from Shakespeare.  I’m not sure how historical Geoffrey is—not very, evidently.  He uses Nennius and Gildas, among others, as his sources, but they loved to make things up, and so does he. 

I was interested in Geoffrey’s portrayal of Arthur in particular (as well I might be) because it differs so much from the Malory version.  This is no courtly knight.  Geoffrey’s Arthur is brutal, as even Geoffrey indirectly acknowledges, even if he is a strong and successful leader.  Young Arthur immediately hangs his Saxon hostages after the Saxon leaders break their truce and has no problem urging his men to “leave not one alive” in various battles.  According to Geoffrey, he conquers 30 kingdoms, including Norway, Iceland, Germany, etc.  Rome gets mighty nervous and demands that Arthur pay tribute and acknowledge their superiority.  Arthur sends the body of their messenger back and says that Rome should pay tribute to HIM instead.  He gathers an army to take Rome itself, defeats the Roman army sent out to meet him, and is only distracted from taking the city when he hears Mordred (left in charge back home) is causing all kinds of ruckus.  Yet Britain prospered under his rule, and enjoyed relative peace for a change.  In many ways this portrayal felt far more realistic and historical (or pseudo-historical, anyway, since Geoffrey’s book is considered to be a pseudo-history) than the Arthur we know so much better from Malory, The Sword in the Stone, etc.  There’s no Lancelot, no jousting, just Arthur conquering Northern Europe by the edge of the sword and making darn sure he keeps it.  Until Mordred wounds him and floats off to Avalon, anyway.

It’s no secret that I’m obsessed with everything Sherlock Holmes, so this statement may be biased, but here it is: the BBC series Sherlock is utterly brilliant. If you aren’t watching this show, you’re doing yourself a disservice. It caught like wildfire when it came to BBC America, but this is not a case of Anglophilic Americans overrating something just because it’s British. The show won countless awards in the UK before it ever made its way across the pond, and the writing, cinematography, music, and acting are all exemplary. Even the show’s weaker moments are far and away better than most television.

Regrettably, each season (series, if you’re from the UK) only consists of three hour-and-a-half episodes, and the wait between seasons is interminable (well over a year). The second season premiered in the UK recently on New Year’s Day, and it was absolutely fantastic—better, I would argue, than any of the first season’s episodes, which were already setting the bar pretty high.

While the reaction to the episode was for the most part overwhelming positive, I was still shocked and dismayed by the few negative reviews. Not because the reviewers didn’t like the show—I can understand differences in taste—but because the reviewers’ main complaints clearly indicated that they hadn’t even understood the episode. Granted, the episode was convoluted, complicated, and very clever, and it demanded a lot of careful attention from the viewer. But the lack of critical thinking and the inability for advanced interpretation was still a little depressing. At the same time, it’s not necessarily the viewer’s fault. The majority of the entertainment we consume does not require intellectual engagement, and if one is accustomed to being fed entertainment passively, of course one is not going to know what to do with a story that requires more. Also, Sherlock requires the viewer to be observant and to concentrate on the show, so if one is multitasking or accustomed to watching television while distracted, one will miss things.

Here is my (very lengthy) review, pointing out things that I noticed the reviewers missed, or things that bear further discussion, or things that I disliked, or things that I just plain loved.

Hideous amounts of spoilers, obviously, so do NOT read this if you haven’t seen the episode.

I should never write things in my head.  I do it all the time, and then I promptly forget every single word that I’ve composed.  I search for the words I had built to convey my idea, and…nothing.  Just some crickets chirping somewhere behind my left ear.  Drat.

This post will be somewhat a victim of the cricket syndrome, because I composed most of it in my head in a fit of glee whilst reading Steinbeck.  I’m beginning to think it was a tragedy of the first order that he was never able to complete it before he died. 

This is going to be very, very long.  Hope your chair is comfy.

If I can manage to get around to actually doing it, I would like to write an overly long dissertation on the new Sherlock episode.  In all seriousness, it was so good and had so many subtle points I would like to address that it made me want to write a paper on it.  Just thought I’d warn you.

Geekery:

Educate yourself:

Hilarity:

  • If you aren’t familiar with the work of Marc Johns, you should rectify that situation right this very minute.
  • They think they shall cross my lands unimpeded?
  • I don’t know if the rest of you watch British vloggers (though, if you’re not, what’s wrong with you?), but if you do, you should check out Charlie (not to be confused with the unicorn), who manages to make everything (including silly things like dyeing his hair red) fantastic in a highly amusing, British sort of way.  Also, he’s part of Chameleon Circuit, a band I’ve mentioned before because they write songs about Doctor Who and are immensely talented at the same time.  I don’t mean to make it sound like that’s a rare thing, but…well.

Music:

Years ago, one of my favorite English professors had a classful of us over for dinner to meet two of her friends (also English professors) and to discuss Southern American literature.   Seeing three old friends talk with one another was beautiful, and their conversation held all of us completely in thrall.  These three women were brilliant in their respective fields, utterly hilarious, and had tremendous strength of friendship.  We talked about many authors, but the one that really sticks out in my mind is Flannery O’Connor.  Until that evening, I had pretty ambivalent feelings about Flannery O’Connor’s writing.  After hearing one of the friends, a brilliant Flannery scholar, hold forth on the topic, I was inspired to read every short story O’Connor ever wrote.  This woman’s passion for O’Connor’s work was so strong that she made me love her work too.  I remember the professor quoting Flannery, explaining her work’s violent turning points to shock spiritually complacent readers: “To the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost blind you draw large and startling figures.”  The professor recommended the biography Flannery by Brad Gooch, and I finally read it this week.  The above quote was in the book, and I was suddenly transported back to my professor’s living room, sitting on cushions and drinking coffee and talking about wonderful books.

Now I’m reading The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights by John Steinbeck, which is sort of a retelling of Thomas Malory’s Morte d’Arthur.  Steinbeck is SUCH a Malory fanboy, it’s absolutely adorable.  Somehow I’ve never read much at all of Steinbeck–a terrible oversight in my education, clearly, and one I intend to rectify.  On the first day of the new year, Sam and I went to one of our favorite used bookstores in Raleigh, and there was an older man in there with a couple of his grand kids.  They were checking out a large pile of books, and the grandfather said, “This kid here, he’s in the sixth grade and he’s working his way through all of Steinbeck’s works.  Now he’s going through all of Agatha Christie.”  The kid looked bashful.  I wanted to run straight over and hug him and tell him he was marvelous, but I figured I might get arrested or something.  His existence made my whole week, though.

You seem to have stumbled upon a storytelling of ravens. Watch for falling collective nouns; you may find a wing of dragons or a charm of hummingbirds caught in your hair. Hardhats are recommended.

my read shelf:
Stephanie Ricker's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)

A Storytelling

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