Monday, November 23, 2009

Women Authors

I so rarely enjoy female authors. I'm getting to the end of Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, and all I can think is "Thank god, already." Everybody raves about how great the book is (especially for me as an avid traveler), so I felt it a solemn duty to read it. And I have not enjoyed it.

True to form (missionaries in Africa are always sure to roil my blood) the book pisses me off and is, at times, extremely difficult to read. So in that, it is effective. But unfortunately, Kingsolver spends the first several chapters of the book doing what so many women authors do: trying to prove to her readers that she is a better writer than any of them will ever be. She's trying to prover her talent, her existentialism, her deeper philosophy, and spends most of the book taking herself too seriously. I find her to be more faux-intellectual than genuinely enlightening.

She also completely oversimplifies the issues of newly independent Congo under the guise of being philosophical about them, but that's neither here nor there.

There are obvious exceptions - such as Janet Evanovich, who rarely takes herself seriously at all, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who takes himself so seriously it makes me want to shoot myself in the foot - but generally, women authors always seem out to prove their ability to everybody. They are so busy being better writers about "the real world" that they forget they are supposed to be writing good stories and that sometimes, the real world isn't so bad.

I'm just glad to be finally done with The Poisonwood Bible.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

What the Unemployed Do

It's amazing what the economic recession is creating among the creative classes. While so many people are being driven from jobs and homes with pitchforks and burning torches, there are some who use it as an opportunity to do a complete 180 in their workplace attitudes.

The "How To Keep Your Job" advice columns boldly declare that in order to keep your job, you should work harder and for longer hours and for less pay. And us white collar die-hards do just that, and then lose our jobs anyway. We enter the ranks of America's jobless with the good idea that those advice columnists are lying assholes. And we also enter those ranks with the good idea that maybe it's time to stop working 12-hour days at something we only half care about and to do what we enjoy. Or at least feel proud of.

The creative classes are using lay-offs as an excuse to do something different. Instead of settling for a job at Pizza Hut, we are going back to school, changing career paths, going for something a lot less stressful, a lot lower paying, and way more fun. We are using unemployment as an excuse to do those things our teachers, our parents, our significant others, our bosses used to tell us we couldn't do because we had responsibility and jobs and we had to act like grown-ups now. Things we would never have done had the pink slips passed us over and we, thusly tormented, remained chained to our cubicles. Several of my unemployed and well-educated friends are gong back to school, to get yet another degree in folklore, in metaphysics, in creative writing. One friend started a white-water rafting business in India. My fiance is thinking more and more about starting a bar (in this small town that is severely lacking in bars, as is 100% agreed upon). Another friend got a chauffeur's license, after spending half of his life as a human resources lackey, and is thinking of beginning his world anew as a fitness guru. In my newly discovered spare life, I have decided to finally sit down and write that travel novel (inspired by my new selection of Flamenco music and fine wine) that has been in the works for only about seven years. Some of us are joining the Peace Corps, some of us have taken jobs as travel bloggers for obscure tourism companies in Ecuador, some of us have taken advantage of the new free time to sell everything we own and use the cash to hop a boat to Vietnam to weather out the red tide of financial bust.

We struggle. We count our pennies. We dip into savings. We look into downsizing our extravagant lifestyles. We don't sleep at night. We sometimes take an extra drink in the afternoon and we sometimes snap at loved ones unfairly and we sometimes break down in tears of frustration. We write and rewrite and rearrange resumes to make it look like we have experience in whatever field we choose to look into today. But if not for this, would we ever have gotten that push we needed to do all the bizarre somethings into which we've now found ourselves? Would our passports, our pens, our imaginative business plans, our daydreaming, our awesome-yet-repressed driving skills still be on the selves, abandoned and rusty with neglect?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Fire Studies

Looking forward to doing some with my new camera...

Taken at the NPCA All-Staff Retreat in November 2008 at the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, WV. As much criticism as went on during other activities, no one could complain about the food or the bonfire. What does say about who we are, as a culture, when the two things that were total, 100% hits with the conservation crowd is fire and food?
Upon having a bad day, most people like to curl up with hot chocolate, comfy pajamas, a mindless movie, a glass of wine, macaroni and cheese, or any combination thereof. They seek comfort food, comfort places, comfort things.

However, for me, when I have a bad day, nothing is more satisfying or uplifting than dressing up in a slinky outfit, putting on some ridiculously high-heeled shoes, and going out for a bottle of wine or sexy cocktail (think: martini or Disaronno sour) and close dancing someplace dark and sophisticated. Nothing makes me feel good like looking good.

I think this makes me weird, for a woman, or perhaps shallow?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I miss:

Dressing up
Live music
Winter (you'd think in Wyoming or Montana or Colorado they'd have REAL winters, but oh no!)
Not having dogs bark in the morning or whenever I walk outside
The theater
Being able to walk everywhere (though I guess I can ride my bike...)
Everybody knowing who I am
Working for a non-profit
Having a basement
City water with fluoride in it
Being able to use wildlife as an excuse for being late
Small towns that actually DO feel like Northern Exposure (trust me, Lander is NOT one of them!)
Inexpensive curry powder
Edinburgh, and living in Europe
Being an ex-pat
Living in a place where almost everybody is a like-minded conservationist and liberal

Monday, November 9, 2009


Because I grew up there, I will always have a bias against Cincinnati. But really, the small, often overlooked city has a lot of quirky, fun and sometimes downright sexy things about it. With it's urban revival, Cincinnati has seen the growth of jazz and salsa clubs, dark and slinky bars, loads of ethnic or otherwise wonderfully bizarre restaurants. Quiz nights geared toward upper-middle-class adults, late-night pizza and burgers, a thriving downtown scene that continues well into the night. A world-class zoo, art galleries and museums, antique stores, quirky stuff stores, old brick buildings fashioned into retro eateries and modern, hip condos. Greek food, Chinese food, crepes, French-Moroccan cafes, hole-in-the-wall, romantic Italian places, food stands, a restaurant fashioned after a retro laundromat. Spices and scents and whisky and a mechanical bull and wooden roads and farmers' markets and organic shops and fresh butchers. Plenty of professional sports to go around (even if they rarely manage to win a game). For such a small, mid-Western city, it has a lot of potential...

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Is 'Star Trek' Our Future?

Are we turning our world into the futuristic, scientific reality we have already created in our own imaginations?

Sure, the computers in the original Star Trek series look painfully old fashioned and out of a sci-fi, black and white B movie featured on MST3K. Clunky and boxy and haltingly dull, the Enterprise's computer, voiced by the delightfully eccentric Lwaxana Troi before she was Lwaxana Troi, blurts out awkward statements of emergency and pseudo-scientific jargon and, in one episode, becomes titillatingly fresh with Captain Kirk. In the 60s, perhaps this did look futuristic and high-tech, though arguably the "futuristic" aspects of the show take second wing to stiff acting and incessant moralizing and The Shat's adorably chauvinistic grin. And now, so much of it just looks silly.

My first thought is that, well of course it looks silly! That stuff is the dreaming of writers and producers several decades ago, pounding out what technology MIGHT look like in the future. They've never gotten it right. I mean, where are my flying cars??? But then I went back to TNG and took a look at their systems. Though the show looks dated for various reasons, I would never confuse the computer on the bridge of the Enterprise or the silky blue warp core with any type of early 90s computer system (nor, I should also mention, do they look like anything that yet exists). All those colors and foreign symbols still look pretty new-age and futuristic, despite the over 20 years its been since its conception. More to the point, we've actually adopted some of the early computing characteristics from the Enterprise into our daily lives. Scientific surges in transporter technology (both to prove and disprove that it's even possible) have been seen every few years, merely because of Star Trek. Talking computers, stellar exploration, space tourism, more and more comfortable living quarters on space stations and shuttles, all because Gene Roddenberry said it was possible.

With TNG and beyond, we've managed to create a future that is so futuristic, it will never look "dated" the way the original series does (though surely many of the advances will never materialize... or will they?). Did we just get more creative in the last 20 years? Or have we reached a better understanding of technology that allows us to create a future that looks nothing like our present? And will we then create a future that looks like how our present imaginations render it? Are we creating walking, talking robots because we've seen them in sci-fi shows? Or would we have created them, regardless, had a TV producer not gotten ahold of the ideas first? Could we have gone a different route at all, or is the world of science fiction some kind of circular fate?

We've already named space shuttles "Enterprise" after the space ship of our geeky childhoods. If transporter technology and warp drive are ever discovered, we will call them thus, respectively, simply because that's what we've called them since we started to watch Captain Kirk or Captain Picard or Captain Sisko or Captain Janeway or Captain Archer back when our imaginations still worked... So where do we go from here?