Tuesday, March 31, 2009

I don't know what happens to injured monkeys in the wild.

A Japanese proverb says, "Even monkeys fall from trees," and I mentioned this the other day; what does happen to monkeys in the wild, when they fall? Monkeys break bones, as this article discusses; in the wild, however, surgeons aren't available to repair useless arms.

Nature's brutal, of course, and the obvious answer is that any serious injury shortens a wild animal's life considerably. But we think of monkeys and other primates as being more like us, so I'd like to know: do monkeys take care of each other when they're injured? Do they accommodate their weaker companions, or do they abandon them or prey on them? Anybody know?

Dizzy and I are back in Washington, still waiting to hear about the next step in this process. Frustrating beyond words. I'm working, but feel disconnected and disoriented, distracted by anxiety.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

A visit to springtime

Dizzy's idea of a perfect day -- with my nephews Henry and Matthew, and my niece, Meg.

Friday, March 27, 2009

I don't know how much time stress wastes.

Yesterday was not a productive day. Today is already a little better, but everything's taking two or three times as long as it should. I know that this is because I am anxious, and the anxiety distracts me and interferes with my ability to concentrate. I don't know how one quantifies this, and I don't know how what the cumulative effect on my work time is. It's bad, whatever it is.

Some people are compartmentalizers, and some are multi-taskers. I am not an efficient multi-tasker, as hard as I try. I need a list, and I need to work through that list one item at a time. The problem is that I see friends who are very good multi-taskers (Ms. Lechner, I'm looking at you; you too, Peggy), and think, "Why can't I do that?" Monkey see, monkey do, monkey fall off the tree branch and break a collarbone. (Actually, this is a question for another day: don't monkeys fall? Do they break bones when they do, and if so, how do monkeys in the wild deal with that? Something else my sister Peggy probably knows.)

Anyway, I'm still waiting to hear from the vet about next week's schedule. In the meantime I have canceled all of next week's commitments, and if turns out that we can get back to Maine after all -- if, for some reason, Dizzy can't get this procedure done next week -- I will be more than frustrated. But so it goes.

What I Read This Week

I have been listening to an audio recording of Bleak House in the car, but it's 37 hours long and I think I still have another 12 hours to go. In the meantime, I finished only one book this week that was not a manuscript:

Spencer Quinn, DOG ON IT. A completely adorable PI novel narrated by Chet the Dog, a large mixed-breed who flunked out of K9 school (for reasons he doesn't quite remember - something about jumping?). Now Chet is partners with Bernie, a down-on-his-luck private investigator who takes a missing person case, a teenaged girl whose father is a shady real estate developer. The mystery's pretty straightforward, but Chet is such a terrific narrator that I will be reading every one of the sequels. I feel as if I even learned a few things about Dizzy from this book.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

I don't know what what my schedule is for the next week or two.

Greetings from Washington. I am here a week later than I had originally planned to be, and may be here longer than I had planned, as well.

As longtime readers of this blog know, my dog, Dizzy, has always had bad hips. I have known since he was a puppy that he would eventually need treatment, probably a full hip replacement. This is a very expensive procedure, the recovery time is long, and I've put off dealing with it longer than I should have.

We had a consultation with a veterinary orthopedist last night that included sedation and x-rays. It was traumatic for both of us. They had to get Dizzy into a painful position in order to take the x-rays, and when he came out of the sedation, he was disoriented, sore, and very unhappy.

The good news is that a treatment other than full hip replacement is available. Remarkably, animals can regrow cartilage from their own stem cells; it's been done in horses for almost a decade, and in other small animals for several years. The treatment is explained here, and it sounds almost too good to be true -- like something out of a 19th-century horror novel, in fact. But Dr. Walker said he had seen the results himself, and they amazed him.

They took blood yesterday to test Dizzy for infections and other problems, and if the tests come back clear, they can do this procedure next week. I have commitments in Maine next week, but those don't seem as important as getting this taken care of as quickly as we can. Dizzy's in pain; he struggles with the stairs, and he can't do the things he loves best, like chasing squirrels and running up hills.

He's nine years old, and I know that in a best-case scenario, he has only another five years. But he's my best friend and my constant companion, and his company makes my entire lifestyle possible. I am a little embarrassed -- even a little ashamed -- to be such a cliche, a middle-aged American spinster going to such extreme lengths over a pet. These are resources that could be used to feed the poor, clothe the naked, provide medical care for children in Africa. If I were not such an eccentric, I wouldn't need the comfort of an animal to replace human contact. Maybe it's not even good for me, to be this attached to a dog.

But if he can have this stem-cell procedure next week, we will do this -- which means backing out of several commitments, and reorganizing my entire month of April. I'm sorry, and I hope people understand.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

I don't know how the Kindle will change my reading habits.

I mentioned this briefly last week, but it needs its own post. My dear friend and former housemate Joseph upgraded to a Kindle 2 last month, and was kind enough to pass his first-generation Kindle on to me.

It's already changing my life for the better, but I'm still trying to figure out its long-term implications.

First of all, I don't think I'm a typical Kindle user. I read more than most people do, and buy only a fraction of the books I read; publishers and authors send me review copies, and I'm also a moderate-to-heavy library user. I work at home, so don't read on buses or subways, and don't carry books around with me except when I'm traveling. (I do, however, carry books when I travel; I brought 20 paperbacks to New York, and have -- um -- nine with me on this trip to Washington. In my defense, five of those were in a box I picked up at the post office as I left town.)

In many ways, however, the Kindle was designed for me. My apartment, as you might imagine, overflows with books, manuscripts, and screenplays (I really need to figure out a way to recycle them; when I get home, I'll probably ask to borrow someone's Hatch Hill permit). If I can get review copies on the Kindle, I will.

I'm already uploading electronic manuscripts to the Kindle, so I will no longer need to ask clients to send me paper copies. Previously, I read the paper copy while I marked up the electronic version; it was too hard for me to read extended text on a computer screen, but the Kindle screen feels like reading words on a page instead of a screen. Just because of that, my Kindle will save some trees.

Beyond that, however, I'm not sure I'll buy any fewer books because of the Kindle. I like having signed first editions of books that are important to me, and I like giving books as gifts. Unlike most people I know, I'm a re-reader, and I also like to be able to take a book off a shelf to find a reference or make a point. (The Kindle's search function makes this easy, but then you lose the serendipity of the search, which I believe in.)

The immediate and major benefit of my Kindle is that I have a New Yorker subscription for the first time in about 15 years. I love the New Yorker, but couldn't keep up with it; because I took copies on trips and always thought I'd get to back issues eventually, I never threw them away. At least one of my moves in the mid-1990s may have been just to force myself to throw away my New Yorker stockpile. Now they all live on the Kindle, and I can read a single article without feeling guilty about wasting the rest of the magazine.

Anyone else have a Kindle yet? How has it changed your reading habits?

Friday, March 20, 2009

I don't know how to fix cars.

Later today I am taking the Beetle in for some routine maintenance -- replacing the serpentine belt, which must be done before I take it on another long drive. This will cost just over $100, which I have (thank God) but had not planned to spend on car repairs this month.

Still, I'm the first to admit I wouldn't know how to do this myself, and I'm glad to be able to hire someone who does. I do generally know what the serpentine belt does, and why it needs to be replaced at regular intervals, but I don't have the slightest idea what I'm seeing when I look at an engine.

I have a regular mechanic shop. I trust them, although because I don't know what they're talking about, they always wind up over-explaining, which makes me feel like they're trying to talk me into something. Auto-repair chains should invest in communications training for their mechanics; it would go a long way toward raising public opinion of the profession overall. I don't need to know details; I just need to know why something needs to be replaced, or what will happen if I decide not to have a specific repair done immediately.

At least once a year I think I should take a course on basic auto repair, but then I pay the bill and forget about it for another six months.

What I Read These Weeks

Manuscripts, mostly. Did I mention that I have a (used) Kindle now? I can upload manuscripts to it, and it's made my life much easier. But I have finished two books this week, and one of them was 754 pages long.

Laura Lippman, LIFE SENTENCES. This was not the book that was 754 pages long. It's another fine standalone from the author of the Tess Monaghan series, and a book about the nature of memory and memoir. Cassandra Fallows has written two successful memoirs and a much less successful novel, and needs a topic for her next book. Cassandra learns that a grade-school acquaintance had served a prison term under suspicion of murdering her infant child, but never admitted to the crime; she decides to make this tragedy the hook for a third memoir, about herself and her circle of friends. In returning to her hometown, however, Cassandra discovers that her memories are only a fraction of the story, and that the act of remembering itself can change the past. This is a topic that fascinates me -- the fact that one's personal history can and does change, based on what you know about it and how you assign causality -- and Lippman does a wonderful job with it.

Dan Simmons, DROOD. Five years before he died, Charles Dickens survived a catastrophic railway accident in the company of his secret mistress, Ellen Ternan, and Miss Ternan's mother. Friends and biographers say he was never quite the same afterwards. This novel, narrated by Dickens' friend and sometime-collaborator Wilkie Collins, begins with that event and offers a reason for Dickens' change: an encounter with a sinister, otherworldly, half-Egyptian man who calls himself Drood. Collins, the narrator, takes us on a 754-page journey through Victorian London, changing along the way from a good-natured, slightly ridiculous minor novelist to something strange and terrible indeed. A major plot twist about 50 pages from the end of this long, long book does not pay off as it should, and if I finished this book feeling frustrated about the limits real life places on fiction, that might have been Simmons' point.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

I do not know how this week has gotten away from me.

Here it is Thursday, and I'm still in Maine. I'm not supposed to be; I'm supposed to be in Washington, DC, at work in the reading rooms of the Library of Congress or the Folger Shakespeare Library.

But everything this week has taken longer than I expected it to, and yesterday a routine car service appointment turned into the need for some major (preventative) work, which now has to be done tomorrow. So I'm here, and I'll be here until Saturday.

I'm leaving on Saturday, though. Seriously. I mean it.

One of the paradoxes of self-employment is that I often feel less in control of my schedule now than I did when I had a regular job. When I had a regular job, I knew I had to be at the office between this hour and that one, and I was often sent places on business, to sit in meetings I could not get out of.

Within those strictures, though, I had a lot of freedom. If I needed a day off, I took one. I regularly took vacations. I did not have to worry about whether, when, or how much I would be paid. And I did not distract myself by agreeing to do "just this one little thing, it won't take any time," when I had big projects due.

Okay, that last part's a lie. I always let myself get distracted by "this one little thing, which won't take any time."

Maybe that's today's unknown: I do not know how to say no to small favors. Or maybe I just don't know how to say no, period. But that would take more space and time than we have today...

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

I don't know how badly injured I could be and still want to live.

The sad news about Natasha Richardson has captured more of my attention than it should have, not because I was a big fan (although I admire her work, and thought she was extraordinary in Asylum).

No, I've been following the story because of my longstanding (and well-known to readers of this blog) terror of traumatic head injury, or more specifically traumatic brain injury (TBI).

TBI, which appears to be what Ms. Richardson has suffered, is one of those things that can happen almost at random. Someone can take a severe blow to the head without suffering a TBI; someone can get knocked almost gently, and tear a blood vessel that leaves them permanently impaired or comatose. (If you too would like to obsess about the dangers of TBI, read more here). It's one of those weird things that could just as easily have happened in one's kitchen as on a ski slope -- how many times have you hit your head on an open cabinet door? (Well, okay, make that how many times have I hit my head on an open cabinet door? The answer is, a lot.)

Anyway, it makes me think about whether and how I'd want to survive certain catastrophes. I can imagine myself adjusting to the loss of a limb, the loss of my eyesight, even -- hard as it would be -- the loss of my hearing. If I lost all my hearing and all my eyesight, I don't think I'd want to keep living. I'm not sure I'd want to keep living if I sustained the kind of injuries suffered by the woman who was attacked by the chimpanzee in Connecticut.

And I don't know how severely brain-injured I could be and want to survive. The things I take pleasure in -- reading, writing, conversation -- require a certain level of brain activity. I'd like to think that I could be happy with a life like Dizzy's: regular meals, interesting smells, a comfortable bed and the occasional ride in the car -- but I don't know if I would.

To complicate this further, I really don't believe in euthanasia or assisted suicide, although I don't believe in extraordinary life support measures either.

So I'm hoping that neither my loved ones nor I ever have to make these decisions, and in the meantime I wonder how weird I'd look if I started wearing a helmet everywhere.

Five Random Songs

"The Milkman of Human Kindness," Billy Bragg. I must thank my brother Ed for introducing me to the work of Billy Bragg, all those years ago, although the first copy of this album I owned (on cassette) was a gift from my ex-fiance.

"Linda Paloma," Jackson Browne. Ugh, too sweet, and it reminds me of all the worst excesses of 1970s singer-songwriters.

"Sorrow," Peter, Paul & Mary. Wow, a folksinger set on the shuffle this morning. This song is better known as "A Man [or Maid] of Constant Sorrow," and was one of the first things I learned to play on the guitar.

"On the Balcony of the Casa Rosado/Don't Cry for Me, Argentina," Mandy Patinkin, Bob Gunton & Patti LuPone, from the Evita soundtrack. The original and still the best.

"Light My Fire," Al Green. A cover that really didn't need to be made, and representative of another kind of '70s excess.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

I don't know what I'm doing to celebrate St. Patrick's Day.

I'm here in Maine, when I didn't expect to be; I'm on massive antibiotics, so I'm not going to drink. Might go to trivia tonight anyway, even though several members of my team are out of town this week.

How do you plan to mark the occasion?

The other thing I don't know today is why Dizzy -- who never pays any attention to the noises from my computer -- growls at this video. But it cracks me up, so I'm going to play it again. Happy St. Patrick's Day, folks.

Monday, March 16, 2009

I don't know when I'm going to Washington this week.

I was supposed to be on the road this morning, headed to Washington, but am here so that I can see the doctor late this afternoon. I can't go anywhere until I deal with this ear infection, and have been dithering about it for much too long. At this point I assume my entire head is just one big rotting blob of pus.

Nice image, isn't it? Here, something pretty to take that out of your mind:

I wonder if anyone has ever committed murder just because tinnitus was driving them insane. I wonder why I am sometimes able to ignore the ringing, and sometimes not. I wonder what this spike would do if I plunged it into my eardrum ...

... No. No, I don't really wonder about that. That was a joke, seriously. Don't call the police, come on. I'm fine. Really. I already made a doctor's appointment.

See you tomorrow, unless I'm on the road very early.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

I don't know how a cross-country plane ticket can cost less than $300.

Spring and fall are my busy travel seasons; I'm posting from Boston this afternoon, and between now and the beginning of June will be (God willing) in Washington, New York and Los Angeles as well as in Boston.

I'm making plans to attend the L.A. Times Festival of Books, which happens the last full weekend of April; The Mystery Bookstore puts up a big booth and invites dozens of authors to sign, and it's a great time every year.

It takes all day to get from Gardiner, ME to Los Angeles, CA, and getting home again usually requires an overnight flight. You can't fly directly from Portland to L.A.; you have to change somewhere, usually in Boston or New York. It's at least a two-plane journey.

So imagine my surprise to find plane fares as low as $231 online. Granted, that doesn't include tax, and I'd probably have to pay extra to check a bag, but that's still well under $300 to travel at least 3,000 miles (according to Google Maps, it's 3,084 miles to drive from Portland to L.A.). Math is not my strong point, but that is less than eight cents a mile.

I understand that these flights are scheduled anyway, and they need to fill the seats. I understand that some flights to and from Maine may be federally-subsidized. But still -- I'm torn between delight at traveling so cheaply and a real fear that this is simply not enough money to keep the plane in the air.

When I was a small child, it was a big deal to travel by air. My twin sister and I, flying to South Carolina to visit our grandfather, got dressed up, and were given not only full meals but stewardess pins (they were still stewardesses then) and decks of cards with the National Airlines logo.

These days I'm grateful to get half a can of diet soda, and flying in general is more like taking the bus used to be. (Paradoxically, taking the bus, as I just did from Portland to Boston, is now a genuine pleasure.)

While I'm glad for cheap airfare, I can't help but think that maybe the pendulum's swung too far. I'm willing to pay at least ten cents a mile.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

I don't know how Daylight Savings Time saves any money.

We changed the clocks three days ago, and I'm still whining about it. Daylight Savings Time is kicking both my ass and Dizzy's, and it will be at least a week before we get used to it.

I do not habitually set an alarm clock, because Dizzy gets up at sunrise; this week sunrise has been at 7:00 (approximately) instead of at 6:00, and this has wrought havoc with my schedule.

Why do we have Daylight Savings Time at all any more, much less moving it earlier and earlier in the year? Since 2007, we've had 34 weeks of Daylight Savings Time every year -- from the first week of March to the first week of November. If more than half the year is Daylight Savings, why don't we just call that Standard Time and Winter Time something else (say, "Winter Time"?)

What, exactly, are we saving with Daylight Savings Time?

I've lost an hour of sleep, and I want it back. Anyone close to me knows I get cranky when I haven't enough sleep. You wouldn't like me when I'm cranky.

Five Random Songs

"Stupid Girls," Pink. A song that makes a lot more sense if you've actually lived in Los Angeles.

"Heartbreak Beat," The Psychedelic Furs. It's true, many of the most-played tracks in my iTunes library date back to the 1980s. This is one of them. I plan to dance to it at my 70th birthday party, in my sweater dress and my angled bangs.

"Sheila Take a Bow," The Smiths. And then we'll play this song for my cousin Sheila.

"Dirty Life & Times," Warren Zevon. From his final album, The Wind. Funny, but oh, so bitter: "I'm looking for a woman with low self-esteem."

"Rockin' Around (With You)," Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. From Pack Up the Plantation - Live!, which I'd put on a list of five best live albums of all time.

Monday, March 09, 2009

I don't know why people air their personal stuff online.

I know, this is a paradoxical post, as I've been blogging for four-and-a-half years now. But except for when my mother died, I've never posted anything private here. No one, reading this blog, would know whether or whom I've dated in the past four years, whether I've had any major fallings-out with friends, or even -- beyond the most general sense -- what I've been working on.

And you know why? Because it's none of your business. I see this blog as a virtual version of my real apartment. I'm not hanging my laundry out on the deck, and I'm not trumpeting the details of my personal life on this blog.

If you have independent knowledge about my life, you might be able to see the subtext in certain posts. But I don't need sympathy or advice from people who don't know me well, and I don't understand people who do.

This is vague; let's get specific. Someone I know only slightly, in a professional context, is a Facebook friend (another point of ignorance: I don't know why I've agreed to be Facebook friends with people I hardly know). This person has apparently been in a rather turbulent relationship, which I have seen played out in a series of changing relationship status posts -- Facebook announces these things when you change them. "X is now in a relationship." "X is now single." "X is in a relationship, and it's complicated."

I can see needing to know this stuff when you're in high school or college, and I wish we'd had Facebook in college; life would have been so much easier (and possibly more exciting and dramatic) if we could have looked people up after running into them in the cafeteria line. But as adults? Do we really need to know these things about our casual acquaintances? What's the point of advertising them?

Worse than this, I've recently witnessed a situation in which someone found out that all was not well with the relationship through the partner's relationship status line. Person X was "in a relationship;" imagine their surprise to find their partner saying "It's complicated." Of course, no one who was Facebook friends with either was surprised to see, a couple of weeks later, that both were Single -- and at least one of them has now had the wisdom to remove "Relationship Status" from their profile altogether.

Friday, March 06, 2009

I don't know how to play with Barbies.

Monday is the 50th anniversary of the introduction of Barbie at the New York Toy Fair, and in commemoration of the event, Mattel's releasing a new Black-and-White Bathing Suit Barbie, and an interior designer has created a real-life version of Barbie's Dream House in, yes, Malibu.

I was never an especially girly girl, and even now, I feel bad about the fact that I don't really know how to play with Barbies. Okay, you dress them up; what next? What if they only have three outfits, because you can't afford to buy more (as we never could)? You play out elaborate scenes with them and their friends, where they go to the mall or they make out with Ken or they drive off cliffs in their Barbie convertibles -- but how is that more fun than reading a book where all of that happens, and more?

I have vague memories of my sister and her friends staging scenarios wherein Barbie was kidnapped and possibly tortured ... but my friends and I played out similar stories (without the torture) in real life, pretending to be Batman and his archenemies (major shortcoming of "Batman," the TV series: not enough female villains). That was way more fun than playing with dolls, especially the part where we jumped from increasingly higher levels of the jungle gym that looked like the skeleton of a rocket ship, or from the top of the slide.

Batman was a really fun game. Grownups don't play Batman or Cowboys and Indians or even hide-and-seek ... and it's been years since I played Red Rover. Why are grownup games so much lamer than kids' games? (And no, I don't want to hear about your incredibly embarrassing fetish practices. Keep private things private, please.)

What I Read These Weeks

Manuscripts, mostly, but I have managed to finish a few published books:

Declan Hughes, SHIVER. A play set in the wake of the first wave of the Irish economic boom, about two married couples wrecked, in different ways. Harsh and heart-breaking, about the ways that we don't listen to each other, don't understand, and see what we want to see. Published and performed five years ago, it feels dismayingly fresh.

Declan Hughes, ALL THE DEAD VOICES. Dublin PI Ed Loy has two cases, one for a paying client and one a favor for a friend. In the first, the victim's daughter asks Ed to look at the 20-year-old murder of a tax investigator; the police's cold case squad has declined to reopen it because of the possibility that it might be linked to long-closed investigations of figures with ties to the IRA and other nationalist terrorist organizations. The second case is the murder of a young football star whose family has IRA connections of its own. I've been a fan of this series from the beginning, but this book hits a new level -- Hughes' unique voice rings strong, and the shifts in point-of-view make the book's resolution very powerful. I read an advance copy; the book will be out here in June.

Christopher Moore, FOOL. A retelling of King Lear from the Fool's point of view, full of sex, violence and a constant stream of wordplay, inside jokes and dead-on social commentary. Hilarious, but also angry and not a little sad -- at its core, this is a book about a main character who discovers that the man he considers a surrogate father is not a good man, and what he does after that discovery. Like all of Moore's best work, this is a book with many layers, and I will need to read it again.

Martin Clark, THE LEGAL LIMIT. Clark's first two books (THE MANY ASPECTS OF MOBILE HOME LIVING and PLAIN HEATHEN MISCHIEF) were comic crime novels; this is a straightforward family saga. Although the book has a crime at its center, it is not, strictly speaking, a thriller; it owes more to Walker Percy than to John Grisham. Law student Mason Hunt decides to protect his ne'er-do-well brother, Gates, from the consequences of a deadly act. Years later, that decision threatens to overturn Mason's entire life. Clark's purpose here is to explore the disconnect between justice and law, and if I finished the book feeling uneasy, I think he meant it that way. I'm glad people are still writing books like this: long, winding stories about real people in real situations, choosing the best from a list of bad choices.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

I do not know what should happen to Nadya Suleman's children.

Nadya Suleman has 14 children: octuplets, born in January, and six older children, ranging in age from seven-year-old Elijah to two-year-old twins Caleb and Calyssa. Ms. Suleman lives in a three-bedroom house that belongs to her mother, but is under foreclosure proceedings. She has not held a paying job since 1999.

Our laws and our social customs say that children are their parents' business, unless and until something happens to put them in immediate personal danger. Even then, the law sets a very high standard for interfering with a parent's authority, and we read of children dying from abuse or neglect with depressing regularity.

Once the government does get involved in family business, it still proceeds on the assumption that the ties of blood trump all others, and the government makes every effort to keep families intact when possible. This is rooted in common law, but is also a sort of atonement for earlier times when the law did not respect all families (slaves, immigrants, Native Americans, the poor) equally.

But it's 2009, and how many families do you know that match the mid-20th century ideal? Maybe half the families I know do: One mom, one dad, biological children. But at least half the families I know don't, and quite a few of those families have at least one adopted child.

Without getting into my own life story, I believe in adoption. Yes, the ties of blood are powerful; there's something mysterious that we recognize in the people who are related to us, an understanding and a hardwired connection beyond words or time. But this understanding and this connection are not sufficient to raise a child to adulthood, and are not as important as the daily commitment that every parent, biological or adoptive, makes to see to their children's basic needs.

Nadia Suleman is not in a position to meet those needs. She might not have been even before the octuplets were born, but she definitely isn't now.

In a perfect world, a loving family would be able to adopt all 14 children, but it's hard to imagine who might have the resources to do that. But certainly California social services should be interviewing potential adoptive families for the octuplets. Not foster families, which are temporary by definition, but permanent homes.

Ms. Suleman could visit, maybe, although I have mixed feelings about open adoption for small children. Certainly the children ought to know each other as siblings. But it should be clear that those babies aren't going home to that three-bedroom house.

My heart breaks for the six older children, who are all too young to understand what's going on around them. Ms. Suleman's mother seems to have been working very hard to help raise them, and anyone would be overwhelmed. (I'm one of six myself, and remember seeing my mother collapse in tears one night at the dinner table, when I was about five, because one of us had spilled our milk again.) Being overwhelmed is part of parenthood, and if Ms. Suleman hadn't called her own sanity into question by having these octuplets, I'd say it was none of the government's business how she chose to raise her children.

But now that it seems she needs some long-term mental health care of her own, maybe it's time to find another home for those kids as well.

Anyone got any ideas? Be kind; we all know Ms. Suleman is crazy, and it isn't the kids' fault.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

I don't know how you're supposed to eat flavored Greek yogurt.

Greek yogurt was one of the lifestyle changes I kept after coming back from New York; the Augusta Hannaford sells it, so I go out of my way every couple of weeks to stock up.

I like the plain stuff, but every so often indulge myself with the fancy kind, which comes in partitioned containers. The larger side is plain yogurt; the smaller is fruit jam, and you're supposed to eat them together.

I had just been spooning all the jam into the plain side, then mixing it up, but yesterday I noticed the instructions at the bottom of the container: "Suggestion: Please do not stir."

Please do not stir? Please do not stir? How is this supposed to work, then?

So this morning, I didn't stir. I dipped my spoon in the jam (cherry today), then into the plain yogurt. I alternated: jam, yogurt, jam, yogurt. It worked fine, except that I ran out of jam about 2/3 of the way into my yogurt.

This could really interfere with my morning's schedule, if I have to calculate the precise level of yogurt to jam that makes it all come out even. I'm sending an email to Fage ("pronounced Fa-YEH") customer service right now, to ask for instructions. Why aren't we supposed to stir this?

Five Random Songs

"I Live For You," George Harrison. A bonus track on the iTunes release of All Things Must Pass. I bought this the day it became available, and listen to something off it almost every day.

"He Never Mentioned Love," Kirsty MacColl. The combined works of Kirsty MacColl and Mary Chapin Carpenter tell most of my own life story. "And if I seem hardhearted, I would like to tell the judge/In all the time I knew this man, he never spoke of love."

"Judy," Pernice Brothers. Another song about the speechlessness after love dies: "Tell her that you saw me..."

"Where'd You Go?", The Mighty Mighty Bosstones. An excellent cover from the Clueless soundtrack. Yes, I own the Clueless soundtrack, and it's really good. Shut up.

"I've Been to Memphis," Lyle Lovett. I've always wanted to write an article for a business magazine about Lyle Lovett as creative manager, and the logistics of touring and performing with the Large Band. Hmm.

Monday, March 02, 2009

I don't know what it means to "transcend the genre."

Nominations are out for the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes, and as always, they're sure to start some discussions.

Because so much of my reading time last year was spent on work-related stuff -- except for my five weeks in New York, when I mostly read paperbacks -- I've only read two of the titles nominated in the Mystery/Thriller category, and only one of the books nominated for Best Novel. I started one of the Best First Novel nominees, and wound up putting it aside, as I didn't like it as much as I'd hoped to.

What interests me, though, is the fact that at least one of the Best Novel nominees -- Lush Life by Richard Price -- could just as easily be nominated in the Best Mystery/Thriller category, and I wonder how and why it wound up in the general literature category. Unlike other literary prizes, the L.A. Times Book Prize does not invite authors or publishers to submit titles for consideration; all nominations originate from the judging panels.

Lush Life was an excellent book. Was it better than Nina Revoyr's The Age of Dreaming, nominated in the Best Mystery/Thriller category and on my own (extended) Best of 2009 list? I didn't think so, but judged prizes are necessarily subjective.

Anyway, this post isn't about the nature of literary prizes; it's about the question of why Nina Revoyr's book (or Tom Rob Smith's, or Colin Harrison's) is considered a mystery/thriller and Lush Life, a police procedural, is deemed "literature."

Cyril Connolly wrote, "Literature is the art of writing something that will be read twice." I don't think I'd read Lush Life again, but then I'll probably never read Anna Karenina again, either. Does that mean it's not literature?

I'm sorry I've been so scarce around here lately. Between the play, out-of-town company, various work projects and the weather, I've been a little overwhelmed. Bell, Book & Candle closed on Saturday night, and I am scrambling to catch up on many different things. Thank you all for your patience; March should be more orderly.