Monday, February 28, 2011

"...everything dies, baby, that's a fact/But maybe everything that dies someday comes back."

The Song: "Atlantic City," Bruce Springsteen. Words & music by Bruce Springsteen. Track 2 of Nebraska, 1982.
When/how acquired: Purchased cassette, 1982.
Listen/watch here. (Sorry about the long ad at the beginning; you can skip it after a few seconds.)

The last day of February, and I'm glad to see it go. It's snowing again, but this feels like a spring storm, if that makes any sense. The temperature is a relatively balmy 25F (no sarcasm, it feels warm), and the snow is supposed to change to sleet and rain by afternoon. Impossible to drive in, more treacherous than regular snow, but still a promise of better things to come.

The dog my kids grew up with, the noble Clancy Bea, passed away in his sleep last night. He and Dizzy were about the same age, good friends and boon companions. We all feel the loss, but it was peaceful, Clancy didn't suffer much, and no one had to second-guess any decisions. My sympathies go out to Vikki and Keith, Chris, Claire, Celeste and Carolyn. Nothing's better than a good dog. It feels cruel that their lives last only a fraction of ours.

In better news, my dad starts a new adventure today, taking a job with the Military Sealift Command. I hope it's everything he wants it to be, and wish him fair winds and following seas.

I'm supposed to head south later this week, but that may slide, as we're due more bad weather on Wednesday, and I need to clear a few things off my desk first.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

"Start your own revolution and cut out the middleman."

The Song: "Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards," Billy Bragg. Words & music by Billy Bragg. Track 11 of Workers Playtime, 1988.
When/how acquired: Gift cassette, 1989.
Listen/watch here.

This is Billy Bragg's theme song, and it's different every time he sings it. I've seen him live a couple of times and on TV quite a few times, and he updates the lyrics according to whatever's on his mind.

As revolution breaks out at home and abroad, both civil and uncivil, I notice how we've lost the middlemen in so many aspects of our lives. I'm not sure that's always a good thing.

Today I went to the Sears in Augusta, looking for a replacement part for my vacuum cleaner. Of course they didn't have it, but rather than offer to order it for me, they directed me to order it myself at Which I've just done, paying $8.99 in shipping on top of the $16.79 the vacuum piece cost.

Let's look at this transaction for a moment, and consider the implications for our economy as a whole. Undoubtedly it saves Sears money not to keep parts in stock at the store, and it certainly saves them money to have me do the ordering instead of an employee. It certainly saves them money to be able to pass on shipping costs to me.

But what did they lose? I went to the store prepared to spend some money. If they'd had the part, I'd probably have spent more time in the store, and I might have bought something besides. If they ordered the part for me and I needed to return to the store to pick it up, that would be a second visit, with a second opportunity for me to shop and buy something. And those might have been employment opportunities for the clerks helping me shop and doing the ordering. But that's not how they do it any more, so they missed those sales opportunities, and they definitely don't have as many clerks as they used to.

Is this progress? Is this better? Sears, which meant retail shopping for generations of the American heartland, is surviving by delegating customer service to the customers themselves. This is the new model of retail. And I hate it.

I want a little mediation, dammit. I want helpers. I want guides. It's a complicated enough world out there, without my having to figure out the !@$% model number for a vacuum hose.

Friday, February 25, 2011

"They don't like me/I just know it/But I'd be happy/Just to get along."

The Song: "They Don't Like Me," Lyle Lovett. Words & music by Lyle Lovett. Track 7 of I Love Everybody, 1994.
When/how acquired: Purchased CD, 1994.
Listen here.

I don't know most of my neighbors well, and they don't know me. I was startled a few years ago to discover that some (not all) of my neighbors paid much more attention to my comings and goings than I realized, and had drawn their own conclusions about how I was: specifically, lesbian, unemployed, stuck-up, and weird.

Some (not all) also seem to assume that I don't like them, which I have tried to dispel by smiling and waving and trying to chat when I see them. Maybe these aren't things people do in Maine; I've had a neighbor visibly recoil when I greeted her and said something friendly.

Dizzy, on the other hand, assumes that everyone in the neighborhood is his friend, which means they must also be mine. Dizzy is a big dog, and not particularly tidy. I pick up his droppings faithfully, but there's no easy way to catch his urine, and he pees pretty much where he wants to pee. The woman across the street told me not to let Dizzy pee on her lawn anymore, and I have carefully avoided that yard ever since. It hasn't helped; if anything, it seems to have made neighborhood relations worse, rather than better. (She has a small dog of her own, as well as a cat that roams the neighborhood at will.)

Dizzy is completely in love with Casey, a friendly black lab up the street, who's allowed to run around in her yard without a fence or a tie-down. Casey's owner is lovely, and has been very kind to both Dizzy and me.

This afternoon, as I walked Dizzy in a snowstorm, Casey came barreling across another neighbor's driveway to greet us. A truck was backing out of that driveway, and very nearly hit Casey; I yelled at Casey (not the driver) to stop, but she ignored me. She wasn't hit, the driver stopped, and everything was okay — except that the woman in the house, who saw nothing but only heard me yelling, assumed I was yelling at the driver of the truck, and not the dog. I tried to explain, but I don't think she heard me; she shook her head and went back into her house.

I don't want to spend a lot of time trying to manage what people I don't know think of me, but it's depressing to be judged and found wanting.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

"It's time I had some time alone."

The Song: "It's the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)," R.E.M. Words & music by R.E.M. (Bill Berry, Michael Stipe, Mike Mills & Peter Buck). Track 12 of Eponymous, 1988; track 6 of Document, 1987.
When/how acquired: Purchased Eponymous, c. 1990.
Listen/watch here.

The Middle East is melting down. The governor of Wisconsin has forgotten basic American values. Books Etc. in Falmouth is closing on Monday. Clancy Bea, great dog among great dogs, rebounded yesterday after a weekend his family thought would be his last. And Mother Jones just published this set of charts that should make even the hardest-core free market conservatives (Dad?) stop and wonder what the hell is wrong here.

At macro and micro levels, it feels as if civilization is collapsing around me. I must remind myself that I have groceries and cable and a great dog of my own, friends and family and work to do without unnecessary distractions.

I may give up Twitter for Lent. I'm seriously thinking about it. I never thought I'd say this, but I'm just not sure how much information I need.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

"I get the news I need on the weather report."

The Song: "The Only Living Boy in New York," Simon & Garfunkel. Words & music by Paul Simon. Track 8 of Bridge Over Troubled Water, 1970.
When/how acquired: Purchased LP, c. 1981.
Listen/watch here.

This song's being used in a TV commercial for something, which bothers me. Paul Simon can't possibly need the money that much, can he? I know he has young children, but couldn't have have sold them "At the Zoo" instead?

It's winter break for the Maine public schools this week, which means that anyone who can afford it has left the state for warmer climes. The weather report's been important over the last week or so, as we've swung from thaw to deep freeze and back again. The current temperature is 9F. By this afternoon, we'll have broken the freezing mark, and it's supposed to hit 40F over the weekend. These things matter when you have a dog to walk.

I own a CD set of Simon & Garfunkel's studio albums — only three CDs, as they only released five albums (Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.; Sounds of Silence; Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme; Bookends; and Bridge Over Troubled Water). Of them, Bridge Over Troubled Water is probably the album I listen to least, and I'm not sure why that is. It feels jumbled and distracted, transitional in many ways, a grab bag in which the whole is less than the sum of the parts.

This is the song that stands out for me, the one I go back to, and I find new things in it every time. The story is that Paul Simon wrote it for Art Garfunkel, when he was leaving to shoot Catch-22. Someone is leaving, and the singer is the person left; it's a lonely song, but it's also a blessing.

Monday, February 21, 2011

"I close my eyes and I see/Blood and roses."

The Song: "Blood & Roses," The Smithereens. Words & music by Pat DiNizio. Track 9 of Especially for You, 1986.
When/how acquired: Gift cassette, c. 1987.
Listen/watch here.

Saturday I went to Boston for a day at Boskone 48, the annual gathering of the New England Science Fiction Association. It's a world I don't know much about, but I was interested in the program — particularly the chance to see and hear Jane Yolen, who wrote so many of the favorite stories of my childhood.

Here is a fundamental truth I think I've discussed before. It is not possible to have thoughts we don't have words for. It is possible to have feelings beyond our ability to describe. But when we can't name our feelings or find words to discuss them, we tend to do things about them, and sometimes that wreaks havoc.

Which is why fairy tales, in particular, are so important for children. Fairy tales riff on children's deepest fears and frustrations: our parents don't love us, can't feed us, secretly want to kill us. Our mother will die, and be replaced by someone our father loves better. The unknown forests hide monsters. Siblings are better-loved than we are, are responsibilities we can't handle, and/or also secretly want to kill us. The world is full of mysteries that might reward us if only we can figure out the tricks to unlocking them.

Children might not be able to articulate any of this, but look to the old stories for solutions and affirmation. My personal favorite: "Hansel and Gretel," which encapsulated every one of my deepest fears, and all my understanding of my responsibility to/for my twin sister. Of Jane Yolen's stories, the one that hit me hardest, and stays with me, is "The Girl Who Cried Flowers."

Jane Yolen read from her forthcoming novel Snow in Summer, a retelling of the Snow White story set in West Virginia. I think it'll be marketed to young adults, but Jane Yolen, like all great writers, never writes up or down to her readers. She just tells the stories she wants to tell. The chapters Ms. Yolen read were beautiful and gripping, and I do have the words to say that I'm impatient for November, when the rest of the book will be available.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

"I put on some make-up/And turn on the eight-track/I'm pulling the wig down from the shelf"

The Song: "Wig in a Box," The Polyphonic Spree. Words & music by Stephen Trask. Track 9 of Wig in a Box, 2004.
When/how acquired: Purchased MP3, 2007.
Listen/watch here.

I had errands to run and friends to see in Portland yesterday, and stopped off at the Maine Mall to spend a gift card a friend/client had given me for Christmas. I never go shopping, and can't remember the last time I visited the Macy's in South Portland. I needed a new winter coat; I needed new turtlenecks to replace the ones that have become so desperately shabby; I needed socks and underwear and all those things I never replace until they are frayed and holey.

I used my gift card to buy a tube of Chanel lip gloss.

I can't remember the last time I bought expensive makeup; several years ago, certainly, before some conference where I knew I'd see a young man who had captured my affections. (Makeup didn't help, by the way. In my experience, it never does.) I don't lead a life that requires much makeup, except when I go on stage, and I have enough stage makeup to last a while.

But I saw the Chanel display, and remembered a wonderful tube of Chanel lipstick I used to have, years and years ago when I had disposable income for that kind of thing. I stopped at the counter, pulled out a tester in a shade I liked, and tried it on the back of my hand. It was bright, and shiny, and made the world around me seem brighter and shinier.

"I'll take it," I said, and handed over my gift card.

It's completely indefensible. Self-indulgent. Reckless, even. But if the result is that I go out looking for opportunities to wear my lip gloss in public, that might not be a bad thing.

Monday, February 14, 2011

"Could you be loved?"

The Song: "Could You Be Loved?", Bob Marley & the Wailers. Words & music by Bob Marley. Track 3 of Legend, 1984.
When/how acquired: Gift cassette, 1989; gift CD, c. 2002.
Listen/watch here.

It's been a long time since I was in a relationship on Valentine's Day, but even when I was, it was hard for me to take it seriously. The corrosive power of Valentine's Day is that too many people see it as a day to find out how much they are loved, instead of how much they love.

Guess what? It's none of your business how much anyone else loves you. You can't know it, you can't control it, and no one but God knows whether you deserve it or not. Love is a gift we give each other. Think of it as any other gift; how horrifying would it be to go around asking why people aren't giving you more?

What we can control and know and celebrate is how much we love other people. Get out there and show a little love today.

I've used lines from this album before, but am not sure I wrote much about it. Legend reminds me of a time when I was head-bustingly, foolishly in love, overwhelmed with a feeling I knew could not last and could not be reciprocated, and didn't care at all.

As a bonus, one of my favorite love poems, which is all about the power of loving without worrying about being loved back. Blogger won't let me format it as it's supposed to be laid out, so go find it in a book somewhere, to see how Graves does it.
She Tells Her Love While Half Asleep
Robert Graves

She tells her love while half asleep,
In the dark hours,
With half-words whispered low:
As Earth stirs in her winter sleep
And puts out grass and flowers
Despite the snow,
Despite the falling snow.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

"All exiles are distinguished, more important, they're not dead."

The Song: "A New Argentina," Bob Gunton, Patti LuPone, Mandy Patinkin and cast. Words & music by Tim Rice & Andrew Lloyd Webber. Track 10 of Evita (original cast recording), 1976.
How/when acquired: Purchased CD, c. 1996.
Listen/watch here.

All regimes come to an end, peacefully or otherwise. Few dictators die peacefully in their beds without relinquishing power; even Francisco Franco had handed over the reins of government to King Juan Carlos before he died. Given a choice between retaining power and spending the rest of one's days in luxurious exile, I'd choose feather beds on Elba any day. Reluctantly as Mubarak left, it's possible that he waited too long; newscasts reported last night that the Swiss banks had frozen his accounts.

I've got a guest room, if he needs one.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

"I don't want to go out./I want to stay in./Get things done."

The Song: "Modern Love," David Bowie. Words & music by David Bowie. Track 1 of Let's Dance, 1983; track 20 of ChangesBowie, 1990.
When/how acquired: Illegal cassette copy (Let's Dance), 1983; purchased CD (ChangesBowie), 1990
Listen/watch here.

It would not have surprised me at all if Christopher Bea had emerged from the womb singing this song, since I had this tape on constant replay through the summer and fall of 1983 (along with The Psychedelic Furs' Forever Now, the Talking Heads' Speaking in Tongues, and The Police's Synchronicity). Somewhere, photographic evidence exists of an all-nighter I pulled about two weeks before Chris was born, finishing a term paper for Introduction to Biblical Literature. If memory serves, the paper was about Second Isaiah (Isaiah 40-55), which - I realize only now, almost 30 years later - was exactly what I needed to be reading at the time.

Anyway. The fever is gone, and I'm much better, though something hard and painful has settled in my lower respiratory system. I'm taking Mucinex to loosen it up, but will see a doctor if it isn't gone by Monday. It's rare for me to get through a winter without a case of bronchitis, so why should this year be any different?

In the meantime, though, I have a lot of catching up to do. Staying in. Getting things done.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

"I'm sick of myself when I look at you/Something as beautiful and true."

The Song: "Sick of Myself," Matthew Sweet. Words & music by Matthew Sweet. Track 1 of 100% Fun, 1995.
When/how acquired: Purchased CD, 1995.
Listen/watch here.

Matthew Sweet's music was the soundtrack of the 1990s for me, from 1991's Girlfriend (one of the greatest albums of all time) to 1999's In Reverse (an album I admit I still don't entirely get). He's still making music, but I'm mildly shocked to discover how little I know about what he's been doing for the past ten years. It feels like losing touch with an old boyfriend.

I am sick, not of myself (although I'm almost always sick of myself) but in general. I assume this is some kind of virus, which would make going to the doctor pointless, but people say it's going around: sore throat, chills and fever, head twice the usual size, mild nausea and a general feeling that someone has been beating me with one of those big foam bats. Varying reports say this either blows right through or lingers for weeks; I'm praying for "blows right through."

Until it does, I am conserving my energy like a bristlecone pine, and might be scarce around here for the duration.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

"Don't know much about history/Don't know much biology/Don't know much about a science book/Don't know much about the French I took"

Today's entry is a guest post from Dan Smith, author of Think You Know it All? The Ultimate Interactive Quiz Book, which the folks at Penguin were kind enough to send me. Everyone knows I'm a sucker for this stuff. And no, I didn't know everything in this book.

The Song: "Wonderful World," Sam Cooke

For lots of people growing up, the accumulation of knowledge is something they are forced into at school and not something they ever consider a pleasure. For others, though, knowledge for its own sake is a complete obsession. I suspect I fall into that second category.

I don’t remember a time when trivia hasn’t fascinated me. When I was little I would read books of facts from cover to cover – really nerdy books but ones that taught me a lot. I especially loved anything to do with history. And Trivial Pursuit always played a big part in my family Christmases.

So you can imagine that getting the opportunity to put together my own quiz book, Think You Know It All?, was quite a thrill. The idea behind each quiz is that it consists of one short question but which has multiple answers to tax you to the limit. So, for instance, you might be asked to name all the plays that Shakespeare wrote. Or the bones of the human body. The member states of the European Union. The cast of "Friends." The instruments in a symphony orchestra.

Ideally, the reader and their friends can put their heads together to try and get all the answers. This really is a case where several heads are better than one. Subjects range from high culture to low, science, language, history, religion, transport, sport – I have done my best to include quizzes that will appeal to pretty much anybody.

If you do manage to work your way through all of the quizzes, and assuming you have a memory the size of Alaska, then you might well be tempted to show off.

Be careful, though – it’s a thin line between looking clever and showing off. My advice is to remember that the greatest fun to be had by a true know-it-all is not by boasting or bragging (such smugness will rightfully inspire scorn) but to set your knowledge valve to slow-release and look on as those around you discover for themselves just how clever you really are!

Friday, February 04, 2011

"If I get home before daylight/I just might get some sleep tonight."

The Song: "Friend of the Devil," the Grateful Dead. Music by Jerry Garcia & John Dawson; lyrics by Robert Hunter. Track 2 of American Beauty, 1970.
When/how acquired: Purchased cassette tape, c. 1990.
Listen/watch here.

Got home a little after 12:30 this morning. Up early to pick up Dizzy, who's been sleeping most of the day. Scrambling to catch up with everything that came in over the past six days, plus everything that piled up during my January doldrums.

In other words, I got nothing, unless you want a piece of the meltdown I treated my father to over the phone this morning. Sorry, Dad.

Tune in tomorrow for a guest post by the author of one of the more useful and entertaining books that's crossed my desk recently.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

"You can travel for miles and never leave LA."

The Song: "Come a Long Way," Michelle Shocked. Words & music by Michelle Shocked. Track 2 of Arkansas Traveler, 1992.
When/how acquired: Purchased cassette, c. 1992.
Listen/watch here.

Yesterday morning I was awake at 3:00 to meet a 4:00 taxi that took me to a 4:30 shuttle so I could catch a 6:00 a.m. plane to Dulles, from which I hoped to take a flight to Portland, Maine. Arriving at LAX at 5:00 a.m., I discovered that my flight from Dulles to Portland had already been canceled, and the nice people at United would not let me start a journey they knew I couldn't finish.

So I got a shuttle back to Van Nuys and a cab back to my friends Linda and Tim's in Sherman Oaks, and tried again this morning. A more humane flight time — 9:40 a.m., and this time I got a ride with Tim, who had to take his own flight out this morning. I made it to O'Hare, and am now waiting out a four-hour layover to Portland. If all goes well, I'll be home by midnight.

I'm feeling a little overwhelmed by the events of the past month or so, and could sleep for about 48 hours, but will not get the chance to - I am badly behind on everything that got neglected in the past few weeks, and I have a lot of catching up to do. But I want Linda and Bobby to know that a piece of my heart stays in Los Angeles with them, as they finish the process of dismantling the Mystery Bookstore.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

"I went to a funeral/Lord, it made me happy/Seeing all those people/That I ain't seen/Since the last time somebody died."

The Song: "Since the Last Time," Lyle Lovett. Words & music by Lyle Lovett. Track 7 of Joshua Judges Ruth, 1992.
How/when acquired: Purchased CD, 1992.
Listen/watch here.

The mystery world turned out in force last night to say goodbye to The Mystery Bookstore, and for stretches of time it was almost possible to forget what we were there for. It was great to see everybody, and I'm so grateful to the authors who made special trips just for the occasion — Lisa Lutz, in particular, who stayed with us to the end, and Eric Stone, who gave Linda and me a ride home when it was over.

I don't know when I'll see everybody again; I just know I will. Since Robert Crais' L.A. Requiem was the first book I bought at the store, it seemed appropriate to wind things up last night by buying his latest, The Sentry. He signed it to me: "Never the last." Let it be so.

Weather has already canceled my flights out of LA in the morning. I've been rebooked on a flight out first thing Wednesday morning, but doubt I'll get all the way to Maine before Thursday.