Saturday, July 31, 2010

which one of these things is most alike

You remember those SAT analogies. Yeah, I hated them too. But I think they may come in handy when trying to deal with those simple minded, single minded, completely nonsensical idiots who are opposing the Ground Zero Islamic center (cough, Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, cough) on the grounds that it is offensive to the memory of the people who died in 9/11 (oh and for those Muslims who died in 9/11, well they just don't count because clearly they weren't real Americans anyway)

Saying that building this Muslim center is offensive to the relatives of 9/11 victims is the same as...

a) saying that building a Christian church near the Holocaust Musem is offensive (because you know, some of those Nazis were Christian and it really dishonors the memory of Holocaust victims who were persecuted for their religion to allow religious freedom and if you disagree with that then clearly you love Hitler)

b) saying that having a lion exhibit at the National Zoo mere yards away from where meerkats live is offensive (because lions totally eat meerkats in the wild, and it's really thoughtless to those meerkats' memory and their loved ones to have lions put in their faces like that)

c) saying that allowing people to wear white anywhere in the continental US is offensive because the KKK wore white, and that's really insensitve to strut around in white clothing in this enlightened day and age and anyone who does wear white clearly hates black people

d) all of the above.

Annnd for a perfect SAT score and proof that you're a logical, sensible person, the answer is D!!!

If I were fourteen years younger, I would be combing the pages of Tiger Beat right about now

Not going to lie, I thought Inception was fabulous from start to finish and one of the best movies I've seen in a long time. But part of my love for this movie may have something to do with a certain former 3rd Rock from the Sun actor who I have a massive celebrity crush on. Sometimes I really miss the days when I could hang actor/musician/Dawson's Creek fictitious character images on my walls. Oh to be young.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

adult picture book

From the last issue of Vogue, a photo spread styled by Grace Coddington. Sometimes I think fashion magazines are silly and self-important, but I loved this, because take away the gorgeous clothes (and my goodness they are gorgeous) and the model/actor good looks and this is all about a story. In beautiful, gauzy detail it tells a sad, well-worn story as essentially and iconically American as Cherry Coke. The cracks beneath the perfect veneer, the placid housewife with a passionate, inner life no one would have guessed. And damn if Ewan McGregor can wear a suit.

Monday, July 26, 2010

a yellow legal pad and sharpened pencils

I've been typing up my grandmother's old journals, and I constantly come across things that make me smile or move me to tears. One that did both-in one of her journals from ten years ago, she mentions that she's trying to write three pages every day. She talks about how good this has been for her, and wonders in her writing if her husband, my late, lovely grandfather might enjoy doing the same.

And then she writes that she'll find a yellow legal pad and sharpen some pencils for him so that he might be able to write too. And my God if that isn't the most beautiful thing I've ever read in my entire life.

I can't think of a better definition of love than without being asked, on just a whim, feeling the need to provide someone a yellow legal pad and a case full of sharpened pencils for their thoughts. If I am half as lucky as my grandma I'll have someone in my life in fifty years who I'll want to do the same for. Or who will do that for me.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

I would have gone to this.

Why I Loved Inception

I saw Inception for the second time today. And I was a little nervous, because sometimes a movie you think you love won't hold up to the second viewing. It will collpase in on itself like a deck of cards and you'll wonder why you were ever impressed in the first place.

That didn't happen with Inception. I loved it today as much as I loved it two days ago. And I could write a review or try to explain to you the plot points. But you can go elsewhere for reviews and I think that trying to explain the plot points of Inception would be about as fun for someone who hasn't seen it as explaining your dreams to someone. By the way, that is only permissable if that dream was about midget clowns or if the person you're describing the dream to was in your dream and was trying to either murder you or seduce you. That is literally the only way that it will ever be interesting to someone other than yourself.

But I digress. I enjoyed the hell out of this movie because it was smart, visually bonkers, phenomenally acted and directed. It whizzed along at a breakneck pace and never once felt bloated or over-stuffed, even as it inched toward the two and a half hour mark. Parts of it were like an M. C. Escher painting come to life, mind-boggingly cool and complex to look at. Things that are solid and real in this movie fold in on themselves or explode or turn upside down or invert without ever for a moment looking less real. It had plot and forward movement throughout. The motives were always clear. I mean really it's the classic heist film, with Leonardo Dicrapio's character pulled back in for that one final job. And since the framework is classic and stable, all of the fluid, insane details within it work. They work beautifully. The writing (except for a few clunky expository scenes) is all simple, sparse elegance.

And here I am writing a review which I wanted to avoid. So let me just say that all of the above are why I enjoyed this movie. But I loved it because (and this is a spoiler so stop reading now if you haven't seen this movie, I mean it!)...

Have you stopped yet? You'll regret this if not.

Okay, I loved Inception because at the end of the film the central message that I took away (and I think you could take a completely different message and meaning if you wanted to, that's one of the ending's strong suits) is that as beautiful or comforting as a dream may be, reality is worth choosing and worth fighting for every single time. Leonardo Dicaprio's character is all about this. He's constantly tempted and basically stalked by the dream, by the illusion of his dead wife and the possibility that he could be with her in this dream world. But he chooses life. He chooses pain and grief and death over what is essentially an immortal world without any of these things. And this got to me. It really did. Maybe it's because I'm still struggling with all I saw in Haiti, all of that misery and sorrow. And I don't want to cheapen that experience by likening it to a movie, and I don't want to suggest that Inception is more than a movie.

I guess I'm just trying and failing to adequately express that right now I'm especially sensitive to the notion that life-painful, messy, human life means something and is for something and is worth choosing over the easy, comforting illusion every single time. I think that's why I hate Twilight so much (well one reason anyway). Bella, the main character, is so seduced by this non-life of the vampires. Okay whatever, Edward might have a soul. But he's freaking immortal (not counting that he can be ripped apart by werewolves or beheaded or something), and he's not human. And apparently she chooses that non-life in the end. And that's just so lame to me. Because it's a cop out. Who wouldn't think it would be cool to live with a dreamy vampire forever and never grow old or feel hunger or thirst? We'd all be tempted to choose that. But it's not life. It's an echoe of life, a "shade" as its called in Inception.

And sure it can be beautiful in this frigid, distant way, but it's not blood and sweat and sadness and all of the things that are necessary, all of the things that we live with in order to experience the hope and the good and the happiness. And in real life of course we don't get to choose if we want to stay in the dream or marry a vampire and become one ourselves. But I have to believe that if given the choice, well it wouldn't be one at all. It would be tempting as hell. But life in all of its confusion and sadness, that's where meaning is. It's where the human experience is.

My take on Inception was that Leonardo Dicaprio chose life over the illusion. He chose the human duality of  good and bad over the numb projection of painless, immortal life. In a broader sense the movie chooses that. It suggests that in a future where we can enter dreams at our choosing and change them to our personal preference, it might be the easier choice to stay asleep but that there will always be a reason to leave that dream.

So that's why I loved Inception.

And if you could care less about all of this deep and heavy thoughts stuff, there's car chases and gun fights and french music and the zero gravity fight scene is worth the ticket price alone.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Inception: Quick Take

I saw Inception tonight, and I was so prepared to leave confused and frustrated and disapointed, because so many of these hyped up summber blockbuster movies leave you just that way. And it's late so I'll keep this short and write in more detail at another time, but...

I can't stop thinking about this movie. It's no spoiler to say that it's a film about dreams, and I feel the way you feel when you wake up from a deep and vivid dream. I was submerged in something beautiful and poetic and strange, and even as the real world dims the dream one, all I want to do is stay asleep.

This movie was sad and exciting and whizz bang fun and intricate and entertaining as hell. For two and a half hours I was in the dream of Inception, a fluid, surreal world to which I can't wait to return.


From, by Richard Lawson, and so wonderful I had to re-post in full. Enjoy.

"Historic Meeting of the Moms to Convene in Alaska

Yes, professional child-haver Kate Gosselin is lugging her TLC TV show circus up to the Northern wilds to hang out with known Mama Grizzly, Sarah Palin. The gang is going to go on a very special, very filmed camping trip.

Can't you just picture it now? Kate with some sort of flying-V extensions 'do, Sarah cleaning her enormous moose gun, the two trying to one-up each other in Momitude. "I'm a mother," Kate will say. Sarah will shake her head, point at her chest, "Well I'm a mahhhm." They'll go back and forth like that for some time, until they realize their children have all wandered off into the wilderness and disappeared. They'll stand up frantic and begin calling for their kids.

"Aiden!" "Piper!" "Maddie!" "Willow!" "Starfruit!" "Baxter!" "Mingus!" "Mellon!" "Danica!" "Dubrovnik!" "Marmaduke!" "Trig!" "Trigorin!" "Limburger!" "TLC!" "Bachmann!" "Gymnopédie!" "Lysander!" "Phyllis!" "Doug!"

They'll call and call into the night, the fires flickering behind them, the distant sound of wolves haunting the void."

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


What in the world must babies think when they get sick?

Okay you might be thinking, Liz lay off the Sudafed, which by the way I'm pretty sure got me on some top-secret government druggie list just by buying at Walgreens on Monday. The pharmacist lady took my driver's license and typed every single piece of information off of it into the computer. You would think just date of birth, driver's license number perhaps. No I'm pretty sure my height and eye color went into this database, possibly even a lengthy, lyrical description of my photo, maybe a five paragraph essay on the South Carolina holograms. After she had finished writing her novel, she handed me back my license, got the Sudafed off the super-special top shelf, and as she handed it to me, it really felt like I was purchasing a grenade launcher.

And then she made me sign a long message on the little credit card computer pad saying that I wasn't perpetuating any fraud. And mind you I was buying this Sudafed to deal with the insane, stubborn, mega-cold that has taken up permanent residence in my sinus cavities, but still I couldn't help but glance over my shoulder to see if people were watching, secretly judging me for my imaginary meth empire I was building with my over the counter Sudafed. And this is why I'm a crazy person.

But I digress. So I've been sick for the last week, and the most likely culprit is the adorable little ten month old boy I've been babysitting who has been sick since last Tuesday. But really it was inevitable. First I spent a week visiting an orphanage full of sick, runny nosed babies, then I spent the following week taking care of my sick niece who was banned from daycare because of her germy ways. So honestly I'm proud my immune system held out this long. But as I observed the sick little boy who got me sick and before him, my niece, who was sick with her first ever bug, I couldn't help but wonder what these poor children are thinking.

So you're a baby. In the case of my niece you've been on this earth for about six months. You feel like you're finally starting to get the hang of some things. Like you understand that your hands are a part of your body and you have some limited control over them. You can even move them without scratching yourself which is a big win. You've learned how to get your toes into your mouth which is just beyond anything you ever imagined was possible. You've started eating some solids and a whole new world has opened up before you were anything, literally ANYTHING is food, including pieces of dirt off the floor and the edge of the coffee table. You can sit up and only fall over some of the time, but it's really not an issue since pillows magically surround you whenever you are in a seated position. You can flip from your back to your stomach, even if sometimes you get stuck on your stomach and get really angry that this trick isn't working the way it's supposed to. You've even got the whole noise comes from my mouth thing down and have developed an impressive vocabulary of shrieks and gurgles to convey all of your many deep and nuanced thoughts.

Life is good for a six month old baby. It's more than good. It's routine, been there, done that. You've seen your share of poop. You've watched the world go by from your stroller (which you've also totally gotten the hang of by the way, and now understand that it is not some medieval torture device). You're wise. You know that the second you cry someone silly adult will come running. They'll even pick you up and dance around with you for HOURS, to the BLACK EYED PEAS. You've got everyone wrapped around your finger and you know it.

And then boom, in one moment it all changes. Suddenly there is weird stuff running out of your nose, and you can't smell things and you keep having to make this weird, involuntary cough thing. And people are shoving thermometers in no place a thermometer should be shoved, and putting a tissue over your nose in what you're fairly positive is a devious and ill thought out attempt to suffocate you. You evade the attack of course with some well timed flailing. But all of the silly adults around you only continue to make it worse, shoving things in your nose and putting nasty tasting medicine down your throat and oh the humanity!

Seriously though? The first time a baby gets sick must just be the absolute worst. And now I have so much perspective on my own cold. At least I know this is temporary and that life hasn't just started sucking for no reason at all.

Oh poor, sick babies.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Silly Things

Still sick, still spending an excessive amount of time in bed with my laptop finding silly things on Twitter and Youtube.

The most celebratory reaction you will ever see at a ping-pong match (and it's not letting me embed but I guarantee that if you click on this link you will not regret it)

I don't know who this guy is or what his story is, but whatever it is, this kid has got it.

I love the mocking/brother, sister rapport between Andy Roddick and Serena Williams, as seen here in an ad for the upcoming US Open series:

And here:

Monday, July 19, 2010

To me a book will always be paper and ink

Today on the nightly news, there was a report that said that Amazon is now selling more electronic e-books than the paper kind. Despite the fact that I absolutely love the ads for Kindle, it weighs heavily on my heart that "e-books" are starting to outpace book books. I may have to take this back years in the future when you can't buy a book unless it is prefaced by an "e", but right now I can say I hope to never own a Kindle or a Nook or any other device that sucks the soul and life out of my second favorite world next to the real one. This is a world of characters and dreams and fantasies, a world containing an infinite number of worlds within it, and a world I believe cannot exist without ink and paper and dust jackets.

A book is something with weight. A book is something you hold in your hands with a cover that you can trace, alternately glossy or sandy or matte. A book is that moment right before you open the cover, when the intangible world of the book is closed but yet you still have that tangible world of the book, that physical doorway linking you and your everyday life with any number of beautiful, strange realities hidden within. And I don't care how fancy a Kindle is, you can't replicate that. You can't replicate the physical being of a book, the way it smells, looking down on it before you open the cover for the first time, that first rustle of delicate, crisp pages, the dark ink clear and firm against soft, cream white pages.

You can't replicate a shelf full of books, crouching or sitting down and letting your hands move from one title to the next. I keep all of my books. My mom is continually trying to get me to narrow down my collection, but I just can't bear it. Because every book I read becomes a part of me, a part of my own personal history and the thing is it's not just about the story within that book. It's not something that retains its meaning or impact in electronic form. It's about that real, solid collection of pages, remembering the way that book looked sitting on a bedside table in Paris or peeking out of a duffel bag on a train in India. It was the way a row of books looked the first time they were set up in a freshman dorm room, when almost everything was new and terrifying, so anything familiar, even a book, took on all the comforts of home.

If I like a book I will read it at least twice. But if I love a book I'll read it again and again and again. My favorite books are worn and crumpled. Half the pages have been folded down at some point. There are smudge and spill marks. Some lines have been underlined. If it's a book from a high school or college class, there's usually a lot of half-hearted annotation. I love it when books are this way. They're not supposed to be these static, immovable, formal things. Books are supposed to be a part of your home and your life and your heart. Every time I open the third Harry Potter book, I get the scent of Clementines, because the first time I ever read it was at Christmastime. I would sit in the chair in our living room next to the Christmas tree, and read for hours as I sat peeling Clementines and popping the sweet, juicy pieces into my mouth. And I love that. I love that I'm not just re-entering that familiar fictional story, but also being taken back to a certain time in my life.

I use books as security blankets. I never do long term travel without my three favorite books. Quite simply, they make me braver. I know that no matter how new or strange a place is, all it takes is opening a cover of a book, and I'll be somewhere safe and familiar, whether it's the 1930's Manhattan of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay or the stone hallways of Hogwarts.

I love books first and foremost for the stories they tell. But I also love them simply for their own medium, for the way they tell those stories, for the cover art and the artist bios on the back inside cover. I love every detail about a book, the way I can hold it in my arms when I finish reading, and be able to hang onto the world it contains a little bit longer, even as I'm returning to the world I live in.

You can tell me a Kindle is efficient and cool and sensible. You can put one in my hands and point out all of its high tech features. But there's nothing about a Kindle that will move me the way that paper and ink and thread does.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Ladies Luncheon

So today I held a little luncheon planning meeting for a very exciting, still in its eensy weensy early stages charity benefit (more on that at a later date). But even though we're powerful, independent, busy ladies (well two of us are unemployed, but we're both working on it), it was still fun to play around on the whole Bitsy and Muffin do charity work in between tennis lessons and lunch at the club angle. So I thought for the menu I'd just embrace it. Thus I served:

Cucumber Sandwiches (this may be the only time in my life I have the oppurtunity to make tiny, meat-less, crust-less sandwiches, and I'm okay with that-although to be fair these were pretty yummy, I mixed cream cheese, mayo, diced cucumbers, fresh dill, dry mustard, and garlic salt and then spread them on teeny, tiny bread slices and cut off the crusts)

Cheese Straws (Lee Brothers recipe-and one of my go-to dishes for entertaining)

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies (okay really these have nothing to do with the whole ladies who lunch vibe, but they're just so freaking good, 3 tips for ideal chocolate chip cookes- 1) NEVER use the pre-made dough, unless you're going to eat it with a spoon 2) always bake cookies one minute less than the recipe calls for 3) take a drinking glass, press the bottom in granulated sugar, and then use the glass to press down on the little mounds of cookie dough on the cookie sheets-it helps them cook more uniformly and gives you a delightful, crunchy, sugar topping)

I finished the meal off with pomegranate lemonade (alas store bought-I've been sick so I wasn't up to my best form), and iced tea with simple syrup.

I have to say, I am proudly feminist and will kick anyone in the shins who says they're not, but part of my definition of feminism is being able to proudly declare how much I love putting together a good ladies luncheon. Plus I did all my baking while a Top Chef marathon was on, and there is something insanely satisfying about doing that.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Finding My Happy Place 2

Let me preface this by saying I found this link on the website. I don't usually go trolling the Playboy Magazine website. But these are excerpts from a Playboy interview with the incomparable Michael Cera, and they are really a masterpiece.

On the worst pickup line he’s ever had the courage to say: “Hey, lady, those are some sexy-ass extensions. I guess you won’t mind if I extend to you a personal invitation to party with me one-on-one in a scary motel room.”

His tongue-in-cheek thoughts on ex-boyfriends, both real and fictitious: “Well, my current girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend is [actor] Danny Trejo, and he and I get along famously. Just last week the three of us played squash. It was me and Danny versus Tanya. We absolutely destroyed her. At one point after the crushing defeat, she very obviously had tears in her eyes. Danny and I shared a hearty and satisfying laugh over it.”

On losing his virginity: “To be honest I don’t remember too much about it. All I remember is I had been awake for almost 86 hours, I was on the roof of a Public Storage building in what seemed to be a freezing rainstorm, and Crispin Glover was there with a disposable camera he kept winding even though it had clearly run out of exposures. My memory of it has fogged as time has gone by, and I’ve pushed it out of my mind, though I do seem to remember something about a plastic Academy Award for best grandson being involved. You might say it was my first brush with the finer side of show business.”

On whether he prefers women who take charge: “Yes, but they’re hard to find. For example, when I go out to a restaurant I know every girl in there wants to come say hi and be sexually aggressive, but they’re all so gripped by shyness that they don’t even make a move. In some cases the shyness is so severe they won’t even look at me.”

His joking response to Judd Apatow and Jonah Hill joking that he’s “irritating” and “a fucking ass”: “The truth of the matter is I’m too classy to ever come out and speak any truth about those reprobates, and they’re both classless enough to knock on me and my problems. Between you and me—and I’ll thank you not to print this—those two used to come in to work and quite literally spit in the face of crew members. I once saw Jonah pinch the prop master. They’d pour salad dressing in the coffee and sometimes even grab people and kiss them hard on the mouth. To me this sort of behavior in a working environment is deplorable. Then I participate maybe once in a game of throwing shoes at the on-set medic, and all of a sudden I’m painted as the villain of the whole production. That’s the brilliance of Jonah and Judd.”

On whether his upcoming movie Scott Pilgrim vs. the World only appeals to nerds: “I would say this movie is both a nerd and a nonnerd’s dream come true. For the nerds there are lots of Nintendo references and sound effects, and the nonnerds will enjoy making fun of all the nerds in the theater exploding with joy and afterward will possibly beat them all up.”

On co-star Anna Kendrick’s transition from working with George Clooney to him: “Natural transition is not the phrase I would use. Handsome transition seems to be a better phrase to encapsulate what that lucky girl has experienced. Unfortunately, Anna and I got to work together for only one day. Though she plays my sister in the movie, one of our biggest scenes together takes place over the phone, and we shot our respective sides of the conversation at completely different times on the shooting schedule. She regrets that we weren’t able to spend more time together. We got close enough for me to feel comfortable in assuming that.”

On whether he considers poking the Pillsbury Doughboy as a child his big acting break: “Well, in a way it was. Kids around school started asking if I had been in a commercial. They all seemed baffled by it. I enjoyed the recognition until the older kids started poking me in the stomach. Hard. With their fists.”

On whether he was an acting prodigy, or simply playing himself in his role on Arrested Development: “For sure an acting prodigy. Off set I used to joke with the crew guys about how we’d all beat up my character if he ever tried hanging out around us.”

On whether he is more inclined to take movie roles in which he plays a musician: “Yes. In fact I turned down the lead role in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps because that idiot Oliver Stone didn’t think the character should play the alto sax.”

Finding My Happy Place

Still sick, still unemployed, butttt doing my best to stay positive, aided and abetted by the following:

Spanish soccer player interviewed by his girlriend after the World Cup win. I'm pretty sure this rivals Wesley and Buttercup's kiss at the end of The Princess Bride. I cannot stop watching this. And I might start watching soccer because of it.

Spontaneous dance routine set to Hall and Oates in the middle of the movie, one of the many, many reasons I adore 500 Days of Summer.

I love this man on a tennis court, but I might love him just as much off of one, particularly when he is speaking very adorably broken English. I especially love his pronunciation of the word "biscuit."

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Honey Bunch aka Boodle aka Sugar Pea aka Lemma Bean

I'm sick, and on top of that I've had another fun filled week of professional rejection, and really just lots and lots of badness, and I really want to eat a block of cheese and drink a few giant glasses of Pinot, but I don't even feel well enough to do that. And so the only thing I can think to cheer myself up right now is BABY, specifically my little niece nubbin, the cutest baby in the world, my Lemma bean. I wish I could cuddle her in person, but I'd get her sick and she's in DC, so I'll just have to have pictures and video suffice. So if you're having as crappy a week as me, then here for you also, I present: BABY!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Safe Waters Captain Phil

Before I left for Thailand, I went to Barnes and Noble to stock up on some TV on DVD. I knew that more than likely there would be no television in my apartment for the six months I would live there. In fact as I discovered when I arrived, there was a TV, which had approximately six channels, most of which exclusively showed the ultra-dramatic, alternately violent or slapstick Thai soap-operas. I never had any idea what was going on in these shows (which were also showed on most public buses), except that someone was at all times being kidnapped or courted (it was hard to tell which was which). And to be fair I once saw a dubbed (from English to Thai) Kevin Sorbo sci-fi film on one of the channels.

My point is I had to improvise. So at Barnes and Noble I bought several seasons of shows to watch on my computer while I was away. Two of these seasons were of the show, Deadliest Catch. I used to make fun of my friends who watched Deadliest Catch. What in the world could be so interesting about crab fishing of all things? But as is usually the case with me and reality television (hello Top Chef, Project Runway, Work of Art, pretty much any Bravo competition show) my pre-judgements were proven woefully wrong. Deadliest Catch is quite simply awesome, one of the most compelling shows on television. So I thought that it would be the perfect show to have with me in Thailand, a frigid blast of salty sea air in my new tropical home. I thought I'd watch my seasons once, and that would be that.

I probably watched my Deadliest Catch DVD seasons five or six times over the course of five months. I kept coming back to them. I can't really explain it, but out of all of the shows I brought with me to Thailand, from Arrested Development to Everwood, there was something about Deadliest Catch that broke through the loneliness of being the only farang in my town, the isolation of not having any other native English speakers to talk to on a regular basis, and made me, as I sat eating Corn Flakes in my little dormitory apartment, feel safe. Maybe it's because as a viewer of this show, you can't help but feel like you know these guys, despite the fact that in real life, if you saw them at a bar you would probably slowly inch away out of a mixture of fear and deference (and perhaps an aversion to tobacco smoke). So when I popped in these DVDs after a long day of shouting over noisy groups of Thai children, it wasn't just watching a show. It was like catching up with old friends. Sure it was always the same stories and jokes, but isn't that always the case with old friends anyways?

I got to thinking of all of this because tonight is Captain Phil Harris' last episode. I didn't know the man, probably wouldn't have had a single thing to talk about with him if I had. And yet I was deeply, profoundly sad to hear about his passing, and I know I will spend two hours tonight crying in front of my television while as a viewer, I say goodbye. It's silly, to be sad over the death of a person you've never met. But out of everything bad you can say about reality television (and I've said plenty), you can't deny that there is something beautiful and positive about making viewers care deeply about real people, about forging this slender, silly little connection between worlds that would have otherwise never coincided. I think that caring is always a good thing, even (and I can't believe I'm about to say this) if it's a small town Ohio teenager caring about those vapid Kardashians. I like things that make the world smaller. I like things that push us together in ways we wouldn't have guessed. And so I'm grateful for the fact that a reality television show has made me care enough about Phil Harris to be very sad about the fact that he's gone. Deadliest Catch, for fifty or so minutes at a time during those incredible, but often very lonely months in Thailand, brought me home. And for that reason alone I will watch tonight and pay my respects.

And one final thought. I have been incredibly shocked by how decent Discovery network has been through all of this. If a Real Housewife keeled over, you know that Bravo would market the shit out of that thing. It would be on billboards. Every single preview would mention it. Just think of the way TLC has handled the Gosselin divorce, squeezing every last ounce of humiliation and sadness out of that thing like the cash cow it is. But Discovery hasn't done any of that with this. It's been tasteful and respectful and just, well like I said before, decent, and decent isn't something you associate with the entertainment industry all that often. It's obvious from how they've treated this that there was real and genuine love and respect between the people at the network and Phil Harris, because not once has it feel like they've been trying to exploit his passing in any egregious way. And that's really impressive to me. Bravo Discovery. You've gained my respect by showing in many instances yours.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Boys of Summer

I really never thought I would say this, but USA Network has become my ultimate source for fictional summer man candy. I really don't think there's much I have to say here. Presenting the trifecta.

Jeffrey Donovan from Burn Notice.

Mark Feuerstein from Royal Pains (btw his character in the movie, In Her Shoes, is who I want my husband to be, the end)

And last, but in no means least, well, just look...

Matt Bomer from White Collar

I never used to watch USA. I associated this network mainly with Law and Orders reruns and dog shows. But these three shows are all so flipping watchable and addictive, like mindless television crack. And they're also so very, very pretty.

Thank you USA Network. You've done this nation a great service.

Good Shopping

I think there's a tendency to want to come home from life changing, perspective shifting experiences and want to change everything. You know, sell all your earthly possessions and move to a cabin in the woods ala Thoreau. Although come to think of it Thoreau not only returned home from Walden on the weekends but had someone do his laundry. Which maybe sort of gets to the whole point of what I'm saying. Humans are contradictory creatures. We can want to be good and to do good and be less selfish and less concerned with things. But part of the very definition of human is tied up in being selfish and liking things. If we could happily live naked in a creek munching on dirt then we were probably meant to be born a guppy.

So even though Haiti in many ways changed my idea of who I want to be and how I want to conduct my life, I'm still me. And part of that me is that I love to shop. I like things. And I don't think that makes me a bad person. I just think it makes me a person period. But I do think that while it's probably not wise to incinerate your money and ditch your car Into the Wild style, it is possible to take the things and habits you love and do them in a more thoughtful, conscientious way. Which brings me to my new favorite store, Ten Thousand Villages.

Ten Thousand Villages has been in Richmond for forever, and I've shopped there from time to time throughout most of my life. But it has lately become my absolute favorite place to shop. I think part of it has to do with that unique reverse homesickness that strikes when you've traveled a good bit but are at least for the moment back home. After Thailand that homesickness has been especially acute. But as I browsed the aisles of Ten Thousand Villages for the first time since I'd come back to Richmond, letting my fingers rest on mirrored silk blankets from India and delicate white marble book-ends from Bali, I felt like inside the walls of this store, I'd found a way back to my wanderlust home. It was this weird inversion of what it was like to go to an English language bookstore in Paris or eat McDonald's in the middle of Bangkok, transported from one world to another through nothing more magical than a table of contents or a french fry. Ten Thousand Villages is absolutely soaked in that kind of magic, and I could spend hours there for that alone, surrounded by physical talismans of so many of the nations I've fallen in love with, tea from Malaysia or woven baskets from Indonesia or colorful Indian scarves.

I also love the way so many of the products at Ten Thousand Villages are made from things you would never expect to be recycled. There's a sense that almost everything there has been repurposed. Nothing feels new in the way a glass at Crate and Barrel feels new, bland and homogeneous (and this is from someone who has done her share of shopping at Crate and Barrel). The things at Ten Thousand Villages feel like they've all been given a second chance to be beautiful, a reincarnation of sorts. Nothing could better exemplify this than this necklace I bought a little while back which I wear constantly.

I took the dove pendant off this black chain and put it on a smaller gold one and on a purely superficial level it matches almost everything. But the unbelievably cool thing about this necklace is that the brass dove pendant was made from one of the many bomb casings that litters Cambodia. So not only does this necklace benefit a Cambodian artisan, but in turning this bomb casing into a necklace, something that was designed for violence has been transformed into something beautiful, not only that but a dove, the ultimate symbol of peace. The word peace is written in English on the top and in Khmer on the bottom, and the moment I saw this I thought it was one of the coolest, most powerful pieces of jewelry I'd ever seen.

But if jewelry isn't your thing and you think doves are for sissies, an even better reason to shop at Ten Thousand Villages is that this is an absolutely awesome example of what a non-profit should be. Ten Thousand Villages develops long-term relationships with local artisans in developing nations, buying their goods and selling them in the States for fair prices. They give these people from often very poor countries a livelihood. And no where could this be more precious or important than in Haiti right now. I went into Ten Thousand Villages about a week after my return from Haiti, when I still felt very much like a ragged walking nerve. I went to get my mom a birthday gift, not really thinking that anything from Haiti would be there. But hanging on the wall was this gorgeous metal cross.

I read the accompanying sign and saw that not only was this the work of a Haitian artisan, but that the cross was made from a repurposed metal drum. I knew my mom would love it and so I decided to get it immediately. As I was checking out, I mentioned that I had just returned from Haiti. The girl at the counter then told me the story of the first time the Ten Thousand Village people visited Haiti after the earthquake. They had long-standing relationships with people in a village called Croix-des-Bouquets. Many of their homes had been destroyed, but the workshops remained intact. The people from Ten Thousand Villages kept asking what they could do, how they could help. The response of the Haitian people- "give us more orders." Help us get back to work and to normalcy. With tears in her eyes, the girl at the counter told me that on the spot the Ten Thousand Village people decided to buy every single product that was in any way finished, for an order of other 2,000 pieces. This cross was one of those.

I'll touch more on this in a later blog, but after a week in Haiti it's hard not to feel completely disillusioned towards the work of huge NGO's. It's hard not to wonder where exactly are the billions of dollars are that have been promised by other nations, ours included. But there's hope to be taken in the work and actions of smaller groups and organizations, of people like those from Ten Thousand Villages who did the best possible thing for the Haitian people. They didn't hand them a giant cartoon check. They didn't give them a meal that would last a day. They gave them a way back to normalcy, a way to go on living, not on welfare but on real, honest work. And that alone will make me a Ten Thousand Villages customer for life.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Eat, Pray, Love

Despite the fact that this movie will probably break my heart, I am SO excited about the film adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat Pray Love. I think Julia Roberts is perfect for the role. Seeing Bali in all of its green, sun soaked glory makes me smile. Plus there's an elephant! I know a lot of people hated this book, but it is right up there with Harry Potter on my list of Books That Mean the World to Me. This book found me when I was sick and physically broken down and reassured me that there was nowhere more right for me to be in the world than alone and flu-ridden on a dusty night train in Thailand on the 4th of July. It gave me strength and courage. And I don't care how annoying you think Elizabeth Gilbert is. I will always be grateful for that. And I just can't stop watching this trailer, because I think it looks fantastic, and even though no movie ever lives up to the book, I will be first in line when this comes out.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Haiti: Part One-Getting the Hardest Part Out of the Way

babies at Bethel Guest House orphanage, photo taken by our trip leader Jason

Over the course of the last week and a half, I've thought a lot about writing about my time in Haiti. But thinking about it was as far as I could get. You know the scene in You've Got Mail, where Tom Hanks paces around his apartment, but no matter what he does or how much time passes, he keeps coming back to the room with the open laptop? He knows he needs to write. He knows he should write, yet he can't bring himself to sit down and actually do the thing.

Minus the literal pacing, that's been me. But I've felt that anything I put down would be wrong. Even when I've tried to talk about my time in Haiti, I've felt woefully inarticulate. I know most people want a 30 second sound bite. And that's not a knock on anyone. We all expect 30 second soundbites from each other, regardless of the situation. How was your day? How's your job going? How are you feeling? We ask, and we want to know the answer, but we also want that answer to be tidy and comprehensible. And that's not a's just normal.

But nothing I can say or write about Haiti is tidy or comprehensible. The best I can really hope for is that I can come up with something true. Haiti wasn't fine. It wasn't fun. I've tried my best to sound bite it, but I've felt like a complete and total fraud, like I was stumbling and mumbling my way through a half forgotten script. Give me a few hours and a few glasses of wine and I can talk to you about Haiti. Although that might not even be true. There have been emails circulated among the group of us who volunteered together. And what keeps being repeated is how hard we're all finding it to talk to people. And it's so insane, because we were there a week. I've spent longer amounts of time watching marathons of The Real Housewives of NYC. But in this tiny, 1/1 millionth fractional way, I feel like this must be to some degree what it feels like to come home from war (and let me repeat, 1/1 millionth of a fraction of that, no one bazillionth, and let me repeat it again for good measure, I am in no way saying I know what it's like to come home from war, only that I'm guessing that in this 1/1 millionth of a way there might be some little, tiny semblance). Because you just feel like the only people who could ever understand are the ones you were there with. And you want to talk about things, you want to make people at home understand, but you know that you really can't and that more than likely, they don't want you to. No one wants to be sat down and told thoroughly depressing things for several hours. No ones wants to hear about starving children and women showering on busy street corners next to sprawling tent cities because there's literally nowhere more private for them to go.

And this was a week nearly six months after the earthquake. I cannot fathom what it's like for people, like our quasi trip leader who is American but was raised in Haiti, and has been there for months, who spent days digging the body of his childhood best friend out of rubble. I cannot fathom what it is like for  for the relief workers and doctors who have been immersed in this for months, for the Haitians who will always be immersed in it.

But still it's hard. In my way more tiny, way more insignificant, way less traumatic little way, it's been hard. So hard that I've not been able to even think of really writing until this moment. And I still don't know how this is all going to go. I don't know if I'll be coherent. I don't know if I'll go off on a nonsensical rant that will make everyone reading scurry for cover. I don't know how to write about Haiti. But the only place I know where to start is with the second hardest moment I had while there. I figure that maybe if I start with the hardest, the rest will come easier. Or at least I hope. I'm fairly sure I won't ever write about my hardest moment in Haiti. Anyone who was on the trip knows what I'm talking about. I'm honestly not even sure if I'll ever be able to talk about it. But that's neither here nor there.

My second hardest moment in Haiti had nothing to do with physical labor or piles of rubble. It was quiet, almost silent, but it had so much force it knocked me flat on my feet. I think in some ways I've been trying since then to stand back up. While in Haiti we stayed at Bethel Guest House in a little suburb of Port-Au-Prince called Thomassin. Most of Port-Au-Prince is at a stifling hot sea level. But we were up in the mountains, where the air was crisp and even a little bit cool at night, more reminiscent of summer camp in rural Virginia than a Caribbean island. There was always a breeze. Bethel Guest House is set behind thick, cream pink walls topped with rolls and rolls of barbed wire, something that we saw a lot of in Haiti. There's a gate that has to be opened to let anyone in, car or person. And once in you do really feel like you're in a compound, albeit a very warm and inviting one, filled to the brim with kind hearted (and for the most part very religious) American volunteers.  On the bottom most level of this compound (the property slopes downward from the gate) is an orphanage that was started by the guest house owner, Dr. Bernard.

We were told about this orphanage, told that whenever we had down time we could go down the stairs and play with the toddlers or hold infants. They told us there was an entire baby room, and that these babies wanted nothing more than to be held and given some love. Some of these babies had been there presumably since before the earthquake. Others had been orphaned as a result of it. Still more were more recent arrivals, dropped off by mothers or fathers or relatives who had no way of caring for their child, whether because of the earthquake or simply because of the circumstances that come from living in a very poor nation.

If you've never traveled outside of the United States and you were teleported smack into the middle of this orphanage, you might be shocked. For the number of children there, it is very small, with an even smaller full time staff. The rooms for the smaller babies are full of stacked cribs, one on top of the other. But after even spending just one day in Haiti, it's obvious how lucky these children are. They are fed and clothed and given shelter. They have toys to play with and a constant stream of visitors who want nothing more than to cuddle and tickle and play with them. Life dealt these children are far harder hand than most people in the States could ever dream or will ever have to imagine. But on the flip side, life was kinder to them than so many other babies in Haiti right now.

the infant room at the Bethel Guest House orphanage

I wanted to hold a baby. I was used to spending whole days with my six month old niece. I was going through baby withdrawal. And so I was eager, albeit in a nervous, unsure what to expect way, to go downstairs to this orphanage and grab me a baby. And the second I walked into this crowded, noisy baby room, all thoughts that it was as simple as just holding a baby vanished. I've never felt so viscerally gut punched. All the air left me. I wanted to cringe. I wanted to go back upstairs, go back home. It was too much, too sad. There were too many babies, and too many of them were crying or coughing. But of course I couldn't do any of that. Not because I'm brave or noble, but because as scared as I was of being in that room, I was more scared of what I would feel about myself if I couldn't remain there. And so I went to get my baby. I walked to a nearby crib where a baby a little younger than a year was sitting. I wasn't sure if he would want to go to me. The babies that age I had known back home could be shy or tentative around new people. But once again I was reminded that in that moment I knew nothing. All prior knowledge or certainty was erased. This little baby held out his arms, and once I picked him up, he didn't let go.

I remember feeling like I should make a silly face or funny voice. Maybe I could find a toy to engage him with, because as a veteran babysitter I knew that one year olds liked to be entertained by manic shows of adult energy. But as I swayed in this little room with this little baby on my hip, it was clear that I could have stayed like that for days. I tried to sit down with him on the floor, and as soon as I bent my knees to sit down he clung tightly to me and began to whimper, so sure was he that I was going to try and put him down. I had had this baby in my arms for minutes, and already he was clinging to me like I was a favorite aunt or uncle. And they were all like that, whenever I went down there that week and picked a baby up he or she would cling to me fiercely when the inevitable moment came that I would have to put them back down. It wasn't because they were abused or neglected, but because of the simple reality that these children didn't yet have parents or guardians or grandparents or any of those certain, immovable fence posts most of us grow up with and constantly take for granted. Love wasn't assured for them. It wasn't something lavished on them every second of every day the way it is for most babies. It was there, from the people who worked there, from the volunteers and visitors, but in smaller, less certain, more temporary doses. And so of course when given that love, they were going to do everything in their power to hold onto it.

And it was what you would think, absolutely heartbreaking, for every single person who went down there. But not once did I go down to that orphanage and not see a volunteer. Usually there were crowds of them, playing out in the main room with toys, twirling on the patio, or simply giving an infant a bottle. Because it wasn't even remotely about us. It was about having two hands and two relatively strong arms and being able to, if only for minutes at a time, let one of these children or babies feel safe and loved. It was about making them laugh. One day I went downstairs and before I had even walked inside, a two year old came running up with his arms out. By this time I had realized that when going down to the orphanage more than likely a baby will choose you instead of vice versa. I swung him around a little and then as I do with my niece, tossed him up a couple of feet in the air. And this little boy let out the biggest, hoarsest peal of laughter. I can't begin to imagine what this child may have gone through prior to arriving at the orphanage. I live in a reality where things like that are not only not imagined, but not considered. It's not a part of the world we live in where people give up children because they literally cannot afford to keep them alive. It may happen from time to time in the United States, but it's not a reality most of us even consider.

But for this boy it was reality. He was safe and clothed and fed. Those things were taken care of. He would more than likely be adopted. Most of the babies at this orphanage were already in the process of being adopted, usually by Americans. But for that one tiny moment, I could make him laugh. I could take him up to the guest house pool (we were allowed to take the babies, don't worry I didn't try to steal him, as much as I wanted to) and sit him in my lap so that his tiny feet could dangle in the cool water. And what I'm going to say next is the cheesiest thing in the world to say, so cheesy I may have to turn in my writer membership card. But well, it's also true. To be able to share these moments with this child, and feel like I was helping him in some small way, was way more of a gift to me than it was to him. I remember letting my head rest on his head, his fuzzy hair underneath my chin, letting my feet trail in the water below his, and feeling like I was being useful, more useful than I had ever perhaps been in my twenty-four years on this earth. And seeing some of the things I saw in Haiti (more on all that at a later time) feeling useful was not something that I was bursting at the seams with.

And yet I haven't even gotten to the hard part. So by the last night, I thought I had it under control. The stuff with the babies killed me. Having to put them down while they clung to me and screamed was sad to the point of numbness. But I felt at least some semblance of togetherness. So I went down to the baby room for one last visit. I took a six or seven month old girl out of her crib, who as you can see below is so stinking cute to the point where I had to physically restrain myself from packing her in my suitcase.

I held this little girl in my arms and swayed and danced and cooed. And I was okay. Sure she was about the same size as my niece, which could have pushed me over the edge, but I held it together. There was a picture hanging up in her crib of a woman I can only presume will soon be her mother. I held her and tried my best to summon any latent mental telepathy powers I might have, so that I could tell her mother, wherever she is, that even though her baby was presumably an ocean away, on an island in the middle of the Caribbean, someone was holding her at that moment and making her feel as safe and loved as possible, until the day she could fly across those oceans and take this baby home. And still I was holding it together. Absentmindedly I paced the floor until I was about eye level with an occupied top crib. Inside, on his back, was a baby that couldn't have been older than two months. He had big, dark, almond shaped eyes with killer eyelashes that went for days. His head was covered in jet-black peach fuzz. He wasn't crying or sleeping but just lying there. With one baby already on my hip, I couldn't pick him up, so automatically, without really thinking, I reached a finger through the bars of his crib. The baby looked at my finger, wrapped his miniature fingers around it, gave a small squeeze and then looked at me, straight in the eyes with utter conviction.

And then he smiled.

He smiled a big, goopy, eyes crinkling, face crumpling smile, so big it seemed to reach his ears. I stared for a second, so sure I had imagined it. Babies that small didn't smile, not at strangers, not when that stranger was doing nothing other than standing there, sticking a finger through bars. But then as if reading my thoughts, he smiled again, an even bigger one. I smiled back as my vision blurred, letting him continue to grip my finger as I jiggled the other baby on my hip. And as together as I'd been, as much as I tried to hold it together, it felt like I had ran head first into a brick wall.

When I finally left the baby room, I went back upstairs to the room I shared with one of my best friends and three other women that until that week had been strangers. I sat on my bed and tried to respond to a question about dinner or something along those lines. But I kept losing my train of thought. It was as if I kept trying to rev up my mind, like a car engine, but no matter what I did it could only sputter and stall. And then I cried. If you know me, you know I don't cry in front of people, like ever. It's not something I'm proud of. It's just kind of a fact. But in this room of people, two of whom I had only known for days, I couldn't contain it. That baby's wide, crinkly smile wouldn't stop replaying itself, that look in his eyes, whether real or imagined, of trust.

I saw so many horrible things while in Haiti, and yet the second hardest moment of the whole trip stemmed from this beautiful smile. And until this very second I had no idea why, what was wrong with me where an adorable smiling baby affected me on a more visceral level than thousands of people living without adequate food or water or shelter, with no end in sight to their ordeal. But writing this all, a thought occurred to me, maybe the beginnings of processing. 

This baby, in a crowded, probably underfunded, understaffed orphanage in Haiti, could smile so easily at me because he had no idea of anything other than what was literally right in front of him. Babies that young think things and people stop existing when they leave their line of vision. And so that smile wasn't tempered by the crushing reality just outside of the guest house gates, the poverty and the destruction and the despair. That smile was in no way touched by the understanding that he would never know his biological parents, that they had probably loved and wanted him very much but simply could not find any way to keep him safe and fed. That smile wasn't the smile of a baby in an orphanage, a baby that many in places of privilege would pity, that could be pasted on brochures and splayed across television screens to guilt people into donating money. That smile was universal, the smile of a pampered baby on the Upper East Side of NYC or a Thai infant covered in baby powder. It was contingent on nothing. It was as pure and as honest as anything in this world. And maybe that's why it so completely broke my heart. A crying baby is sad, but you can compartmentalize it in a way, because you expect an orphan to cry and to be sad and to have some awareness that parts of his or her life are indeed extremely hard.

But a baby with a big, unaffected, utterly innocent smile, that squeezes everything inside of you until you can barely breathe or think or move. Because every instinct inside of you, whether you're a woman who is baby crazy or a teenage boy or an old man, every human instinct you have makes you want to protect that smile, find a way to keep it that way, to never let that baby understand that life can be cruel and horrible and that bad things happen and that even at such a young age, he's already faced tragedy most of us can never understand.

That was the second hardest moment I had the whole trip in Haiti. I think about that little baby all the time, still. And if for whatever reason life throws a wrench into my plan to have biological children one day, I will especially think of him, of all of those many children like him. Because even though they've been dealt a crap hand so early in life, there is so much hope for these Haitian babies. They can find homes and parents and abundant, unconditional love. That pure, honest, untouched smile may change a little, but it's very possible that the root of it, the basic belief that everything will be okay, that people are good and trustworthy will be protected and nourished his whole life. I hope that to be true more than I've ever hoped anything. I will always hope it.

me at the orphanage

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