Wednesday, December 19, 2007

I haven't fallen off the face of the Earth.

I have been unbelievably busy this past month plus. I know, I know, you all have, but I have been focusing any writing time (which is next to no time) on my children's books and haven't had any time for the reflections and reviews that both of my readers (ha ha) expect from me.

As of 2008, my hours at work will be going down, and my domestic obligations (that sounds like sex for Victorians, but it's not) will be decreasing, so I will be fully able to devote 20-30 minutes at LEAST to writing every single day.

That's the plan, anyway.

Until January, have a Merry Christmas, or a Happy Hanukkah, or a Blessed Yule. I celebrate the first one, myself, but whatever you believe, I hope it is a season filled with love and peace.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Sister Rage

I have a friend.
My friend is lovely, graceful, amusing,
and one of the most intelligent people I have ever met
(and I have met some very intelligent people).

My friend has a sister.
A sister that she has frequently not seen eye to eye on.
A sister that she spent most of her childhood
and adolescence squabbling with.

A sister who is pregnant.

A sister that she loves very, very much.

This sister has a husband.
A husband who knocked her down,
dragged her through their house,
threw her against a door jam,
sat on her,
and called her a nigger loving cunt.

My friend is in a Sister Rage.
The earth shakes with her anger
at what this sick man has done to her family,
to the child,
to her sister.

My friend prays for him.
She prays that he will get help,
she prays that he will learn the extent of his illness.

My friend is incredible.

I have a sister,
and if I had Sister Rage,
I would make the man bloody and broken.
I would gladly go to jail for it.
My Sister Rage would tear a hole in the world.

My friend's Sister Rage is fixing a hole.
She's putting her Rage into prayer.
She's using the energy that I would use to break fingers,
and praying prayers that burn a lovely, graceful fire.

My friend is so utterly admirable.

God, help my heart to be that strong,
and please don't ever let me know that Rage.


My Friend

My Sister

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Writer's Gridlock?

It's funny how once I set goals for myself, other things come along that refuse to be ignored.

I have wanted to focus on New Frontier and get my review of that up. Mostly because it's an assignment I set for myself, and I want to be disciplined. Also, I really really really love this comic. It’s the best super-hero literature I have ever read. I would like to explain why, but a new story idea popped into my head, and will not shut the hell up. I've thought about it for at least a few minutes every waking hour. Damn English couple in 1910 who ran into the woods and were eaten by trees.

Yeah, you read that right. The trees ate them. The leaves rained down on them, sliced them up like razor blades and absorbed their flesh. This is a story that popped into my head when I was at the park on a gorgeous day with my toddler. After half an hour I had three generations of this cursed family. Do I want it to be a short story, or a novel, or...graphic novel? Not sure. I have a lot of detail sifting to go through, to find out what’s important and what’s not and where I want it to go.

Another thing on my mind is an idea for a writer's round. Someone starts a story, then another person does the following get the picture. I sent out an offer to wicked smart writers who have various styles. The feedback I got from most of them was "Cool idea, but I barely have time to eat, sleep and pee. Let me know how it goes."

Maybe I'll revisit that, because I think it would be lots of fun.

So it is not lack of imagination, lack of material, it's all the plots and thoughts and good old fashioned projects bumping up against each other in the dark of my psyche. Is this the opposite of writer's block? What does one call this?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Meme-ing kills the time!

Yo Mella Honey.

Three things that scare me:

1. Small, dark, enclosed spaces.
2. The big evil space bug that crawled out of our tub drain.
3. Extremism.

Three people that make me laugh (brought to you by the letter "S"):

1. My son.
2. My sister.
3. Steven Colbert.

Three things I hate:

1. That our government will allow a man and a woman with no prior relationship, no true intention for commitment, no understanding or appreciation for a lifelong love to get married, but will not allow another couple who have been together for 15 years (and adopted and raised 2 children to be loving, moral individuals) to get married because they're both guys.

2. That my husband still has health problems that fight us to be the center of our lives. They're not winning, but I hate that they're still there.

3. Onions. Blech.

Three things I don’t understand:

1. Financial Management.
2. Obsession with celebrities.
3. Yo Gabba Gabba.

Three things I’m doing right now:

1. Listening to Corinne Bailey Rae
2. Watching my son play with his "new" trains.
3. Wishing it wasn't so freakishly hot. It's almost October! I want my 60 degrees!

Three things I want to do before I die:

1. Go to France.
2. Live near the ocean.
3. Be a grandmother.

Three things I can do:

1. Imitate the voices of other people to the point where I can fool my family and friends over the phone.
2. Make an amazing grilled cheese sandwich.
3. Read bizarrely fast.

Three ways to describe my personality:

1. Extroverted
2. Instinctive
3. Odd

Three things I can’t do:

1. Make another person's life happy all by myself.
2. Protect my children from everything bad.
3. Pull my legs behind my head (anymore).

Three things I’d like to learn:

1. How to balance my checkbook.
2. How to do anything with my hair. (I repeat Mella)
3. How to play the drums like Meg White.

Three favorite foods:

1. Salmon.
2. French Bread.
3. Peanut Butter.

Three beverages I drink regularly:

1. Frappuccino
2. Water
3. Milk

Three shows I watched as a kid:

1. The Cosby Show
2. Cheers (NBC Thursday nights were big at my house)
3. Happy Days

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

I walked out of the mall at 10pm

to what I can only describe as a perfect Autumn night. I wore a long sleeved shirt, but no jacket was needed. A breeze lifted my hair and cooled my tired skin. I breathed in, and a smell both sharp and damp, filled my head, rolled behind my eyes, and cleaned out my lungs of stale mall air. Purification.

Though we associate this season with decay, don't we?

Is that why some people think Autumn is a sad? I understand that, I guess. I have felt it as well. It's the kind of feeling you have before a gentle, satisfying cry or when you remember a loved one who died a long time ago.

I suppose it's because humans connect the seasons to life cycles. Autumn comes before everything dies in Winter.

I'd rather think of it as a long day, than a short life. Autumn is the time when we're snuggled into bed, the worries of the day done with, covered by colorful leaves. Before we drift of to hibernation.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Stuff I Read: Comics: True Story Swear To God: Chances Are

Life is not comedy or tragedy. It’s a little of both, and a whole lot of stuff in the middle. The best writers get that, and whether or not the story they write is true, it rings true.

In case you didn’t guess by the title...this one's true. Tom Beland (read his bio here) went to Florida, and met Lily Garcia on his way to a Stevie Wonder concert. “Chances Are” tells the story of how their relationship began and developed into love. It’s also about Tom and his large, loving family. It’s romantic, sad, uplifting, and the when Tom’s brother gets married it is oh so funny. It’s a very realistic portrayal of a long distance love, and individuals who have experienced pain and healed wounds.

Tom Beland isn’t really a writer of graphic novels. He’s a cartoonist, his strips are autobiographical. “Chances Are” began as a gift for Lily, that she urged him to publish.

The art plays second to the narrative. Best in true stories, I think, because the words are more important. Beland does a lot with his clean, simple cartooning, The single lines that serve as smiles seem happier and more authentic than they would if he had someone else give it a “realistic” style.

I would suggest this to so many people who would never think to enter a comic shop, or read a comic book. People who think they're all tights, fights, and improbable bosoms. Also people who think that all Romance comcis are cliché and saccharin...and bad.

A friend of mine let me borrow this book over 2 years ago. Then I accidentally left my car windows open and it got water damage. I bought him a new one and kept the slightly damaged copy for myself.

Doesn’t really have anything to do with why I like it so much, but just in case my friend stops by, I want him to know I credit him with my discovering this story.

It's as sweet and satisfying as homemade flan de leche.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

The Stuff I Read: Comics

My top 5. Next week I'll tell you why.

1. True Story Swear To God: Chances Are Tom Beland
2. The New Frontier, Darwyn Cooke
3. The Plain Janes, Cecil Castellucci/Jim Rugg
4. Watchmen, Alan Moore
5. Dark Victory, Jeph Loeb/Tim Sale (the comic bloggers roll their eyes)

Up to:

Been a bit stressed out. I've been working a lot more. 4 hours a night, 6 nights a week. It's left little time for anything else, so I had myself a nice meltdown and Beloved Husband and I rebuilt our priorities. Still going to be working a lot, but I am going to sit down to write for fifteen minutes at least every single day. It will be held at greater importance that every household duty that doesn't directly involve my son.

So this week you will start to see content that has a point other than my brain vomit. Important, yes, but not why I have this blog.

A list this week. Next week, elaboration.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

I wish I could say that I have only one true love...

but that would be a lie. There is another. Boston Creme Donut.

Oh, how I love its glazed chocolate goodness, its custard filling. My tongue extends, my eyes close, I taste, I savor, I adore.
It is not good for me, though, and if I want to fit into my leather pants again, I have to end this affair.

This morning, I was running errands with my son, and I realized that I had almost a dollar in dimes, pennies, and a few quarters in the cup holder of my car. I felt the pull. Suddenly I was hungry, and the Dunkin Donuts, my motel of choice, was calling to me. I turned right, heading towards it's parking lot. When I was stopped at a stoplight, the only stoplight between me and momentary sensual bliss, the fifth song on Toby Lightman's cd came on.

"Looks like the choice is mine,
So where do I want to be?"

Is this really what I want? Fleeting pleasure, feeding an unhealthy desire that will only ruin my relationship with my leather pants?

It's just this one time.

How many times in the last seven days? Two? Three?

I eat so healthy most of the time, I can allow myself this.

It's adding up, how long before you go every day, and no longer eat your healthy breakfast?

But...but...I loooooooooooove it!

If it's worth it to you, Thunder Thighs, go ahead. Don't cry when you have diabetes.


The light turned green, and instead of going straight ahead, I made a U turn. Headed home. No Boston Creme. Not today. A step in the right direction.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

WHAT Mommy Wars? ( a rant)

Newsweek ran a piece this week that I liked a lot.

Go read it, then come back to me.


So here's my opinion. I think the "Mommy Wars" were fabricated by marketing guys to sell books about the "Mommy Wars". Of the mothers that I know, none of them...not a single one cares if I wear a dress and lipstick when I take my son to the library or if I go in sweats and a baseball cap. All of the mothers I know who have careers think it's cool that I'm home during the day. I think it's great that they have a career that fulfills them, and can support their family. I know mothers who let their kids watch more TV than mine, and mothers who don't let their kids watch TV at all. I buy organic milk for my son. I like the way it tastes, and it's cheaper because we live near a dairy farm. The lady next door who does not buy organic milk and lets her kids drink juice that probably contains sugar has perfectly healthy kids and she's a fantastic mom. Guess what, folks...she thinks I'm great, too!

This thinking that there are factions of us who label someone with a Cole Haan diaper bag as snobby, or don't like the woman who wears "Mom" jeans from Wal-Mart is total bullshit.

The idea that every Work Out Of The House mother is jealous of the Stay At Homes' time with her kids, and the Stay At Homes are jealous of the Work Out Of The House's increased income and different sense of identity is ridiculous.

Love your kids. Mind your own damn business and for God's sake, don't buy stupid books.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Random 8

Mella said it best. It is a perfect way for a writer who feels like procrastinating. Also, it makes you feel better as a blogger: Hey, I posted today!

1. I am allergic to cilantro and I love Mexican food.

2. My sixth wedding anniversary is Saturday!

3. I am seriously freaked out by the Precious Moments children.

4. I cannot walk by crooked vertical blinds without straightening them. If I am in a room with crooked vertical blinds, I can't concentrate on anything else. I have tried to solve this by removing them in my apartment, except in rooms where they are drawn almost all the time (bedroom).

5. I have been in 4 weddings. I was in my cousin's when I was 4. My own. I was matron of honor when my best girlfriend got married, and I was a brides matron in my ex-boyfriend's wedding. His girlfriend (now wife) caught the bouquet at my wedding.

6. I would rather scrub a bathroom from top to bottom than wash a sink full of dishes.

7. It pisses me off that people are calling Britney Spears fat. There's so much material for tabloid fodder there...the two "marriages", the rehab, the clubbing, the fact that her two kids may actually be better off living with Kevin Federline. Why call her fat because, what is she, a size 12 now? So she's the average size of an American woman, and thinner than average for a woman who's had 2 kids. For crying out loud, people, she attacked a car with an umbrella and "she's fat" is all you can say? That's such a lack of creativity (as well as being untrue and mean)!

8. I have a desperate crush on Alan Rickman. Also Kenneth Branagh, which made that second Harry Potter movie like porn for me.

Uh...I just looked it up and Alan Rickman is seven years older than my father...


Friday, July 20, 2007

Sad is Heavy

Sadness is heavy. It's insanely heavy for an emotion.

The thing I have the most trouble with when it comes to my faith is this: I know God is going to take care of us, but I don't know that God is going to make things better.

Sometimes there are struggles that we have to go through for some reason that we can't understand. Sometimes we struggle because we just got the shit end of the stick this time. I believe that God is with us to comfort us in our pain, but to be honest, I am not a person who necessarily wants comfort. I want to scream "Make it better!".

My life is pretty good right now. My husband's business is on the upswing, I am having a blast at my new job (despite my rants over here). Sam is teething and he's pretty cranky, but if that's the worst I've got, then I've got it good.

I wish I could say the same for my friends. Not just friends, best friends. The friends that can live hundreds or thousands of miles away, but you feel like you could jump through cyberspace or the phone lines in an instant to watch Leno read Headlines with them, just like you could a decade ago.

One has Cancer.
One has high blood pressure, is pregnant, and her husband is having a hard time finding work.
One has a husband in Pakistan, that she misses horribly.

This morning I got the e-mail from a friend who intended to tell us good news...that she was pregnant. Only she isn't anymore. She miscarried last night.

I want to look at the sky and scream "What the HELL are You doing?"

I'm not going to.

I can't remember where I heard was back in college when I was very worried about a bulimic friend. Someone made a suggestion for when the pain of others gets to heavy, and the idea of giving it up to God is too hard. An object lesson.

Write down the sadness, the worry, the anger, the pain of your loved ones on a piece of paper. Go outside. Burn the paper. Watching the ashes float away as the worries burn helps give it to God. It worked then. I hope it will work today. It's going to be a longer paper this time, but fire spreads.

Like Grace.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

It's Finished.

The story that came out of my milk white kitchen is done. There's a sort of epilogue. I don't know if I'll keep it. I welcome and beg your comments, criticism, and the like.

I have posted it altogether here.

Monday, July 09, 2007

"Where have you been?"

Iris asks as her sister enters the house. Iris is in the milk white kitchen, rinsing a china teapot acquired at the bake and tag sale.

"Where's Heather?"

"After the church sale, she went to a movie with Nancy's daughter."

"Oh, that's nice. Allison or Jessica?"

"The one who just got married."


"Sure. Answer my question."

"What did they go see?"

Iris puts the teapot down.


"I don't know. Why aren't you answering me?"

Althea is quiet. She puts her bag on the table and removes her hat.

"You were supposed to be back from Dr. Van Austen's at one. I was worried."

"I'm sorry you were concerned. See, though? I'm fine." Althea smiles at the teapot. "This is very pretty. Did you pick this out?"

"Heather found it. Althea!" Iris has her hands on her hips and she stands in front of her sister.

When Iris is trying to hide something from her sister, she huffs and puffs and pretends offense. When Althea is trying to hide something from her sister, she changes the subject and is extra sweet. The tactics work on other people. They do not work on each other.

Iris's unfounded concern changed to irritation and now it is anger. She does something not done in this house. She curses.

"Althea Elizabeth Wight, where the hell were you?"

Not one of the greater swear words, but strong in a house where none are said at all.

Althea sighs. "I took the car to Heather's house and killed her husband."

Looking at Iris, it seems time has stopped. She does not blink, and even her breathing seems to pause.

She speaks a full minute later.

" did?"

"Yes." Althea delicately removes her driving gloves and puts them in her bag.

"Oh." says Iris. "Well." She pulls up another chair and sits. She still does not blink.

Althea reaches out and gently takes her sister's hand. Her voice never changes in tone or urgency.

"She can come and stay with us now. Mrs. Herman's son said Calais Regional is hiring. She can live in Corydalis' room and leave that awful, smelly place and that awful parasite of a man and be really happy."

She might have been discussing the pretty teapot.

"Something had to be done, Iris. I think it's a service, don't you?"

Iris stares at her sister.

Then she blinks.

"They have neighbors..."

"There were no cars in the next driveway, and all of the shades were drawn. The other house is empty. It's a little, dead end dirt road, far from the main highway. You remember? Heather told us that when they moved there."

"I remember. Are you sure no one saw you?"

"No one, dear. Don't worry about that. It's Heather that matters. When do you think she'll be back? Not for a while?"

Saturday, July 07, 2007

I have a kitchen in my head. There's an old woman standing in it.

It's hard to tell what color it is, as everything is covered with a layer of gold film. "Gold" does not mean shiny and expensive. It means the sort of yellow, sort of orange, sort of brownish color that makes everything look as if it's sticky. Every cabinet, every wood veneer panel, every appliance has this...this grime that has long ago smothered the original colors.

It smells of cigarettes and warm plastic, and something else that she does not recognize.

Looking into the room from the front door, there is a large plastic trash bin on the left, with an aged pair of sneakers kicked nest to it, and a plastic grocery bag with a box of light bulbs. The bag and the box are covered in dust. A much stained counter (it was light blue at one time, but now it looks a swampy green) leads to a sink full of dirty dishes, a stove with blackened clumps of mystery stuck to it, and an old refrigerator. The refrigerator has three magnets. One is in the shape of a toilet, (holding a scrap of paper with a phone number), one of a beer can (holding a photo of Heather with her arm around another young woman. They are at a beach, slightly sun burnt, but smiling broadly.), one of a duck (holding a piece of paper that reads "Jolene Friday 4").

Past that is a little more counter space, and then a wall of "wood" paneling. There is a poster of a busty woman holding a beer stein. Below the poster is a table. There is several days of mail on the table, grocery store circulars, and two styrofoam food containers. There is a dead daisy in a jelly glass. On the floor there is an empty paper container that once housed a dozen cans of cheap beer.

St. Pauli Girl 1997

The old woman looks as if she is in a foreign land. She wears crisp white pants and a short sleeved blouse with small pink flowers. She has a white hat that shades her face. She wears pale fawn colored driving gloves and soft white shoes.

She is subtly upset by this room. She moves through it without touching anything, she doesn't even want to touch the floor. She clears her throat delicately. She passes into the next room, where she believed she hears snoring.

He is on the couch, lying on his back. He is shirtless and wearing gray sweatpants. The enormous television is on to the weather channel, but the sound is off. The room has stacks of things. Stacks of folded clothes, stacks of magazines, stacks of DVD’s. This room is less messy than the kitchen, but it is darker. The unfamiliar smell is much stronger here. The carpet and couch are worn dark blue, and the dirty curtains are drawn. Between his knees is one empty beer can. On the floor, at the end near his feet are five more.

His right arm has dropped off the end of the couch, and his hand rests between an ashtray (full of stubs of paper, that she assumes are hand rolled cigarettes) and an open pizza box. She can see that there are slices of pizza, loaded with meat and onions, and a cheap steak knife. Used to cut the pizza slices apart. It will suffice.

She bends to the box. She picks up the knife and positions herself so she is standing directly above him.

She calmly sticks the knife into his chest, where his heart is. Sideways, so it goes between his ribs and makes less mess. She pushes it into the hilt. His eyes flutter when she does this, but he is inebriated on beer and lazy from marijuana. They close again.

Althea leaves as quietly as she came.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Stuff I Read: Comics

"What is it you like about comics?" my husband asked me one night.
He'd just finished watching Heroes...his new favorite show.
I was flopped across our bed reading, and he popped in to ask me that question.

I really do like comics. Graphic novels.

I hadn't had to think of a real explanation of "why" though.

The first layer of it has to do with pictures.
I like pictures.
I like books that have pictures that reflect the story well.

By that I don't mean art that's pretty. The art in Watchmen isn't pretty, but it's perfect, and it's one of the best graphic novels I have ever read.

I mean art that works with the narration, the mood, the person of the protagonist. When the art and the words blend well, it's a fantastic reading experience.

I think another aspect of it has to do with my love of theater and film.

I was talking to Sam Costello about the difference between film and graphic novel script, and he told me there is almost no difference. It makes sense. When you compose both, you need to have the image, the frame in mind as well as the words. This is why comics and movies are frequently written by two people. Most of us are only good at the frame or the words.

The biggest part of it for me, though, is the history I have with comics. There's a nostalgia there, and I think it's great that it's a medium that I was fascinated by as a child and can love as an adult.

So in the weeks ahead, I'll tell you about my top 5 comics/graphic novels.

Probably the people who know far, far, far more about it than I do will stop by and tell me why I'm so totally wrong.

Meme, so I feel like I'm doing something.

Objects Within One Metre Of You.

Husband's Fancy Shmancy camera that I can't figure out, single toddler sandal, my backpack from college.

TV Programmes You Won’t Watch

Age of Love, America's Next Top Model, Survivor, Lost, 24, Law & Order SVU.

Favourite Trivial Pursuit Categories

Arts & Entertainment, Literature.

Superpowers You’d Like To Have.

Invisibility, weapon impervious skin, exact change for anything I want to buy always in my wallet.

Newspapers, Magazines or Periodicals Read Regularly

Real Simple, Cookie, House Beautiful, Newsweek, Men's Health (I circle things I want my husband to pay attention to).

Songs You Dislike

Don't You Wish Your Girlfriend Was Hot Like Me, She's Like The Wind, any love song done by a hard rock band.

Blog Posts of Your Own That You’d Recommend.

On Fucking
Corydalis's Room
Waking Up

People You’d Like To See Answer These Same Stupid Questions

Strong Bad
The Incredible Hulk
Tina Fey

Monday, June 18, 2007


I've been away for a while. Sad information has been coming into my life via e-mails, phone calls, and end of the day conversations with my Beloved. It's just been difficult to write without getting distracted.

Notes have been jotted this whole time, though. Thoughts on a new story, ways to tie up loose ends.

Next week there will be actual content. If not sooner.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

My friend has cancer. She is thirty.

She has been my friend for almost 9 years. Her husband is one of my oldest college friends, and he visited me this afternoon.

He told me he had some "not great" news. Then he clarified "It's bad news".

She has breast cancer.


She told me to tell you not to worry about her.


I know.

Early stages, right? They can just remove it? Right?

No. It's spread very quickly. They can't just take it out.


The doctors were very surprised, because there's no history in her family.

But...she didn't grow up in one of those...cluster...places.

No. The cancer rates where she grew up aren't any higher than in the rest of the country.

THIS SUCKS! THIS ROYALLY SUCKS! What...okay. Okay. What are we doing? What are we going to do?

I tried to keep from crying. I didn't succeed. My son was playing on the floor in front of us, and he came over and smiled at me, then rested his soft little head on my knee.

It spread so very fast, because she saw the doctor and had the mammogram immediately after she found the lump. Then she had a biopsy. The doctors have to find out exactly how far the cancer has spread and she will probably have to have chemo, and a mastectomy.

My friends learned this a week ago today.

Even in my head I am afraid to say "what if..."

What if she dies?

You would think, with everything my husband and I have been through, illness in someone my age wouldn't terrify me, but it does. I suppose I thought my husband was the one. I figured it doesn't happen often in people under thirty, some hideous illness that could kill you, so if it happened to us, then our friends will be fine.

My husband didn't die, though.

What if she dies?

It's so strange that I prepared myself for my husband's death to the point where, if it happened, I knew that I would be prostrate with grief, but my life could go on. It was hard to get to that point, and my husband wanted to know that I could be at that point.

I never prepared myself for one of my friends dying.

What will we do if she dies?

What will her husband do if she dies?

I missed their wedding because the friend who was driving me there got lost.

She's so tiny, and her wedding dress had a very full skirt. She looked beautiful, but she had trouble getting out of the door.

She took the photos at my wedding.

I have a photo of her from seven years ago, putting her cousin in a headlock with silly expressions on their faces.

Her cousin looks very much like her younger sister.

Her younger sister got married this past winter.

Her younger sister was in a play I directed, and on the closing night, my friend and her fiancé (my friend) gave me a spinning tin top...because everyone gives flowers.

Oh, God, please please please please don't let her die.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007


I'm not going to be posting for a few days!

I'm going to Chicago!

I'm going with Beloved Husband,
while Baby stays with Mum-Mum and Auntie!

I'm going to wear dangly earrings!

I'm going to wear the top that with the really low back
that I haven't worn in two years!

I'm going to wear my leather pants
(I don't care how hot it is)!

I'm going to wear sexy strappy heels!

I'm going to have lots of wild hotel sex!

Uh...too much information?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Stuff I Read: Agatha Christie: Just Plain Entertaining

Or: The Lists Of "You Should"s.

If you want to get started on Christie

1. The Mysterious Affair at Styles
2. The Murder at The Vicarage
3. The Secret Adversary
4. The Mysterious Mr. Quinn
5. Parker Pyne Investigates

These five books are the first for each of her detectives. Hercule Poirot, Jane Marple, Tommy and Tuppence Beresford, Harley Quin (no relation at all to this person), and Parker Pyne. Christie's detectives are so fine, that if you really want to experience them fully, you should start where they start, and follow them.

If you want to read Christie's personal favourites

1. Crooked House
2. Ordeal by Innocence
3. And Then There Were None (play version...because of combination of complex story and the romantic ending. The original story doesn't have a romantic ending).
4. The Complete Quin and Satterthwaite (Mr.Quinn was her favourite character)
5. Death on The Nile

If you want to know what my favourites are

1. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd: Because I haven't mentioned this book enough. The execution of the murder is done well...not brilliantly, but well. It's just the Oh Holy Crap moment in the parlour scene. I was reading Christie for a decade before I got to Ackroyd and it threw me for such a loop. Whenever I feel like Christie, I pick it up, and even though I know what's coming, it never loses its fun for me at that moment. Also, Caroline Sheppard is so neat!

2. The A.B.C. Murders: This was the first one I read, when I was eleven. I still have the same copy. I don't think it's the sentimentality that keeps me coming back, though. It's very much a story where we see Poirot's brain at the best of his ability, and I like that it's a story that spans several months with periods of inactivity between crimes. It's one of the few stories with a deliberate serial killer who calls attention to his work. In that, it's more like a lot of mainstream detective fiction, but the characters keep what could have been a tired cliché anything but. It's engaging, it's fun, and it makes you say "Ahhhhh...yesssss." at the end.

3. Death on The Nile: For the cleverly executed murder, but also for the diversity of the female characters. Rosalie Otterbourne, who is so, so unhappy, who has had such a hard life that she has "forgotten how to be nice". Mrs. Allerton, who is bright and sweet and practical and has such a great sense of humor. Cornelia Robson, ugly, uneducated, unaffected and quite possibly the most emotionally healthy person in literature. Jacqueline DeBelefort; passionate, tragic, intense and fascinating. "Tall, Golden" Linnet Ridgeway,"Linnet La Blonde!" who is so beautiful, rich, smart and admired that she is completely removed from reality. I have imagined myself playing each of these roles at one time...every time I read it, I choose a different woman and read her lines aloud in the voice I think she would use. Huh. Typed out, that sounds...a little nuts.

4. Hickory Dickory Dock: I read this in high school for the first time, and I think it resonated because several of the characters were only a little older than myself. It was also pretty cool to see that Felicity Lemon (first of all, this is where the reader learns she has a first name...and it's Felicity, of all things) is human after all. That she has a family and affections. It throws the brilliant Poirot for such a loop in the first page, and it takes the audience a minute to recover, as well. Oh, and Colin McNabb and Len Bateson are really sexy.

5. The Murder at The Vicarage: Miss Marple is so wonderful, but for me, it just doesn't get better with her than in her debut. The photographs you get in your mind of St. Mary Mead and this delicate, elderly, overlooked lady are never more vivid than the first time you see them.

Thus ends my Christie Breakdowns. I think I may do more of these "Stuff I Read" posts. I'm thinking of Conan Doyle, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Graphic Novels (the genre, not one specific writer) for the future.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Stuff I Read: Agatha Christie: The Top Five Monsters (Spoilers Ahead)

My intention was to do the Top 5 Lists of Agatha Christie Books (Just Plain Entertaining), but it seemed to me that it would be better put next week, which will be my last week of Christie.

Top Five Agatha Christie Monsters, In My Humble Opinion.

Simeon Lee Hercule Poirot’s Christmas

He made his fortune in South African diamonds. When he came back to England, he married a women he was never faithful, or even kind to. He enjoyed flaunting his mistresses before her and the four children he had with her (there were more, by other women). When his sons were grown, he took his delight in pitting them against each other, baiting them as to who may or may not get his money. His old son uncomplainingly stayed home to care for his father once he became an invalid, and he treated him the worst. He’s not actually the murderer in this story. He’s the victim

Mr. Ratchett Murder on The Orient Express

Many years ago in New York City there was a wealthy and admired family who loved each other, their community, even loved their servants. The Armstrong Family consisted of Toby, his wife Sonya, and their daughter, Daisy.

When Daisy was 3 years old Mr. Ratchett kidnapped her. When her parents paid the very high ransom, he took it, and brutally murdered her. Sonya was pregnant at the time, and when she learned her daughter had been killed, she fainted and went into premature labor. She died at the hospital, as did the unborn baby. Having lost his wife and two children in 24 hours, Toby went home and blew his brains out. That’s only four of the people Mr. Ratchett destroyed. In this book, he’s is murdered.

Mrs. Boynton Appointment With Death

Mrs. Boynton was a prison wardess before her marriage. She grew bored torturing prisoners, so she married and began to torture her very young stepchildren. By the time Lennox, Raymond and Jinny were adults, they were mentally and emotionally stunted to a spectacular degree...Jinny almost to the point of insanity. Mrs. Boynton loved it. She loved the power she had over them.

She loved it so much that when she learned she was going to die from heart disease, she committed suicide in a way that implicated each of her children just enough for them to be suspected by the police for her murder, but not enough for it to be clearly proved which of them did it. So the shadow of murder would stay on them for the rest of their lives.

Michael Garfield Hallowe’en Party

He was a gardener. More than that, he was an artist. He created beauty, he was obsessed with beauty. He was beautiful, he was vain. He murdered for his art. Michael Garfield was Agamemnon and Narcissus in one completely inhumane person. Remember what Agamemnon did?

Franklin Clarke The A.B.C. Murders

You don’t notice a particular pin when it’s in a pincushion surrounded by other pins. Franklin Clarke knew that people wouldn’t notice a personal, family murder if it was surrounded by other murders. Murders committed by a made up psychopath. So he planned multiple murders. He murdered people who had loving families, all to cover the one murder that benefitted him. He implicated a man with epilepsy, a kind, lonely mad who had blackouts from time to time, who wouldn’t know that he hadn’t done these horrible things. He did all of this for his brother’s money. That’s all. Four dead people, and one man almost hung, so Franklin Clarke could get his brother’s money.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Stuff I Read: Agatha Christie: Holy Crap, That's Creepy!

This is about Agatha Christie. She whose pen spouts the clever capers. Her very genteel detectives will make sure that everything is cleared up and everyone gets their cup of tea.


Yeah, not so much.

In The Last Séance, a parent begs a medium to call up the spirit of a dead child. The medium does this. Really, really well.

In A Glass Darkly has the protagonist seeing a crime reflected in a mirror...or does he? He tells the woman he thought he saw, and she changes the path of her life because of it. Years later the vision comes true anyway...or does it?

As for The House of Dreams...I won't tell you the plot. It's freaky and tragic.

What really kills me, is that these stories are in collections with her regular mysteries. Her horror stories (I'd classify them as that, anyway, though the Cool Kids may disagree) are woven in to what a typical reader expects, packing a greater "...the hell?" reaction than if they were put in a volume with "The Horror Stories of Agatha Christie" on the cover.

The first of these that I read remains my favorite. It got the best reaction (an inability to fall asleep).

When I saw the title The Dressmaker’s Doll, I expected a jewel thief would steal a large diamond from Lady Honoria Flotherling-West and hide it in the stuffing of a doll. Something like that.

Way off. Waaaaaay off.

The Doll sits in the fitting room of a dress shop. She matches the walls. She matches the drapes. She must always have been there. She clearly belongs there. one who works at the shop can remember seeing her before.

Alicia (the owner) starts finding The Doll at her desk every morning. It must be a junior employee being silly, surely. Then, things start to disappear, and are found under wherever The Doll is sitting. Customers complain that she gives them the creeps. They actually stop coming to the store because they don't want to see her. Whenever The Doll is moved to the sofa from where she seemed to begin, she is back at the desk the next time the employees enter the office.

Weeks pass, and the cleaning woman won’t go into The Doll’s room. The women become convinced that The Doll is evil. She consumes their thoughts: What does she want? How can they get rid of her? Can they, will she just come back? Can they destroy her? Why are they so afraid of a her in the first place?

They surrender. They lock her in the room she seems to want, keep the only key, and vow never to go in there again.

Locks don’t matter to The Doll.

I read this story late at night, six months ago.

When I finished, I looked up. Paige was staring at me.

Paige has a sweet rag doll face and purple streaks in her yarn hair. She wears a denim miniskirt and a T-shirt that says “Girls Rock”. My son loves Paige. When he was 9 months old he crawled around with her hand between his teeth. He tugs her hair and bites her feet and hugs her and she smiles all the while.

Before reading The Dressmaker’s Doll, I believed Paige to be precious.

After reading it, I believed Paige to be planning a subtle takeover of my house.

Ridiculous! It’s a story about a doll, for crying out loud. Remember what Costello said about Chucky?

"So, I don’t get it again. It’s a little talking doll. It tries to kill you. Kick it. Hit it with a broom. Whatever - it’s stupid." (Little Terrors, November 2004)

That was three years ago? Okay, maybe no one remembers that but me.

Anyway, he's right! It is stupid! Punt it out a window, you're fine.

I spent hours that night trying to get anything other than possessed dolls out of my head. Calvin and Hobbes, porn, Cartoon Network, yoga...nothing worked.

Damn you, Agatha Christie and your unpredicted creativity!

Friday, May 11, 2007

Elm Park. Wednesday.

My son has taken to hanging about the big window in our living room and saying "Go? Go? GO! GO!" when it's good weather.

Hot with a cool breeze, sun blazing overhead.
We paint ourselves with SPF 50 and set out for the Park.

He squeals and giggles on the swings.
Somehow his hat stays on as he goes higher and higher.
Checking out girls
I sip an iced coffee and revel in the sun on my bare arms and legs.
The air smells of sun block and the new flowers on the trees.

Then the buses arrive.
A hundred (that's a fair estimate, not an exaggeration) school children
- with giant stickers "Park Ave. Elementary" stuck to their shirts -
pour out and descended upon the few parents
and grandparents with babies.
Amusing at first, but when Sam wants to run around
he keeps getting in someone's way,
and I fear he's going to get plowed.

So into the stroller. We meander around the rest of the park.
To the bridges, the shady, flowering trees.
We run into Belle
(named for the Al Green song, her daddy has told me)
and her daddy.
We see them most times we're here.
She's 2, and I think Sam is in love with her.
She runs to him "Shammy! Hi Shammy!" and he hugs her head.
He gets out, and toddles around after Belle.

A woman and a dog are paddling in a carnation pink kayak.
Pink Lady & Dog
They approach the ever present geese,
Geese Reflection
and the geese take flight, relatively low.
They go right over our heads.
I tell Sam to look, but he's sitting in the grass,
munching a dandelion.

The schoolchildren are on the march,
and the playground is deserted.
Sam and I bid goodbye to Belle,
who wants to climb a cherry tree,
and he swings until he gets tired.

Home for snack and a nap.

And a chronicling of our morning.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The Stuff I Read: Agatha Christie: Homosexuality

I know it's not part of the original list, but in researching some of the other subjects, I kept making notes on it, so I decided to add it in.

If you read Christie's books, you're going to come across characters who are most likely homosexual. She never actually says it, but you can see that it's there. I started reading Christie in elementary school, and I've always found her handling of said characters interesting.

In Five Little Pigs there is Philip Blake, who despised his best friend's wife to a desperate degree. Another character in the story suggests that he was actually in love with her. That suggestion (when I first read it at age 12) seemed way off base. Still does today. In Three Blind Mice, Christopher Wren is a walking stereotype. He's a 1930's Jack McFarland.

Hinch & Murgatroyd in A Murder is Announced are women who have been living together for years, and have developed that comfortable similarity that middle aged married people have. The rather masculine Katherine Casewell in the play version of Three Blind Mice has secret correspondence with "Jessie" (a cop reads her letter and sneers "Friend of yours?"). Suggestions have also been made about Jane Plenderleith of Murder In The Mews and her passionate devotion to her friend Barbara Allen. Also of Mrs. Macatta in The Incredible Theft.*

In the 50’s, Miss Marple’s nephew Raymond mentions one of his friends, a writer, and refers to him as “a queer”, asking his aunt if she has heard of them (gay men, as I assume he would know she had heard of writers). It wasn’t until the 1960’s...Hallowe’en Party that the word “lesbian” is said out teenage boys trying to sound sophisticated.

The women, likable (except for Mrs. Macatta), smart, naturally straightforward have cause speculation that Christie herself was bisexual. Some people believe that a relationship with a woman was the reason for her mysterious 11 day disappearance in the 20's.

Many of Christie's works have been put to television and film, and certain characters have been adapted to be most definitely homosexuals. With Five Little Pigs, it seems to make the story fit her intention much better. In some, it's different, but it works (Tim Allerton Death on The Nile) His gentle delivery of "Em...barking up the wrong tree, I'm afraid." after Rosalie kisses him is cute). The lesbian and the gay man in Cards on The Table are the murderers, and there it seems a little defamatory. Though...their reasons for keeping were (for the woman) to keep the girl she was in love with from being sent away and (for the man) to keep his lover's wife from exposing them. I'm not saying they were justified, but you could say that their actions were a result of society's insistence that there's something shameful about being gay (and I am not going to get on my soapbox about that here, because it's been a good day so far and I don't feel like getting worked into tears).

I will say that I'm not a fan of people adapting characters (or writing original ones) and then saying "Hey, we need someone gay in this book/show/movie/comic, let's pick this supporting character who can be comic relief/a scapegoat/used to titillate the straight guys". That comes from my attitude that you need to treat the characters you create as multi dimensional beings, and to write gay people off as a plot quirk (in my mind) exploits them and diminishes homosexuality as a trend instead of something genuine and natural (I realize I'm getting close to the soapbox now).

Then again, my view of this, the interpretations of Agatha Christie the individual writer and the media at large, are from a distance, because I'm heterosexual.

Monday, May 07, 2007

He's sleeping through the night.

This past week, he has slept all through the night. Or, he's woken up to whine a bit, and go right back to sleep.

This is great.

This is freeing.

This means I can finally pack up the nursing bras and in a few months the size of my breasts will be consistent from day to day.

I can buy new bras.

Pretty new bras.

Lacy, pretty, new bras.

It hurts.

Not physically (well, yes...they are the size, shape and hardness of beer kegs and they're killing me, but that isn't what I mean to talk about).

It's the feeling of flesh being torn off slowly.

It's the feeling of warmth leaving my skin.

It's the feeling that comes when your child grows up.

I really loved to nurse.

Feeding 3

I loved looking down at his big blue eyes, loved the doped little smile he would get when he was done, loved the way he would curl up and fall asleep with his soft peachy cheek next to my heartbeat.

I loved the knowledge that my body was still taking care of my baby.

I wish I'd paid more attention the last time I nursed him. I really didn't think when he finally got it, it would happen that fast. We went from screaming to be picked up every few hours click out cold for 12 and a half.

I didn't know the last time would be the last time.

I just have to tell people about this!

I have found the coolest web site for anyone who reads.

Paperback Swap!
You take your used books (soft cover, hardcover, audio tapes and more) and list them on the site. Someone, somewhere orders one of your books, you mail it out to them (mailing costs about $1.75). For every book you send out, you get a credit for a book to receive.

This site is free and it's so fun. I had a ton of books that I knew I was never going to read again. Now I have more shelf space and a stack of books yet to read.

This was especially good when my *adorable* son found my copy of "The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader" and destroyed it. My "new" copy arrived this afternoon!

I'm going to use it for books for him, as well. "Are You My Mother?" is on the way.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Stuff I Read: Agatha Christie: Times Change: Sex

There is a line in a Marple book (damned if I can find which one*) where she is talking about the attitude of sex, and how it has changed since she was a girl. She says that she believes people “enjoyed it more”, though they discussed it less.

Christie had an interesting reaction to the looming Sexual Revolution. It’s thoughtful, but not judgmental. It doesn't condemn promiscuity (or any fornication) as a sin, but asks if something very nice is lost when restraint is.

Lots of people believe that it is the sacred aspect of sex that makes it so very good...I’m one of them. I could never have sex with someone I did not love, though I know that many of my friends can and do. I do believe (and something tells me Christie, or at least Miss Marple would agree) that the negative shameful aspect of sex needs to be removed, as that only makes people feel bad about themselves. Shame of sex leads to shame of our genders and bodies. Shame of our genders and bodies leads to a whole mess of emotional crap that could fill volumes (pornography addictions, eating disorders). Also, it encourages rebellion in an arena that should be used for joy.

I went to a Christian college, and so many girls arrived there without having ever been felt up, because they were told that sex before marriage was flat out bad. You know what happened to those girls? They left parental supervision and their panties exploded! They went really far, really soon, and felt bad about it later. Or (and I think this is far worse) they got themselves engaged and then married to the first guy they desperately wanted to bone (yeah, I'm channeling a teenage boy) and ended up unfulfilled and in some cases, divorced, in their early twenties.

Back to Christie: throughout her books she dealt with The Act Of sex in socially appropriate ways, being demure in the 20's through 40's, and more conversational in the 50's and sixties. Whether it was a marriage that sadly lost, than gladly regained its passion (The Mysterious Affair at Styles, They Do it With Mirrors ) or the affect a really really hot person can have on raging hormones (Lord Edgeware Dies, Triangle at Rhodes, They Do It With Mirrors again) she seemed to be saying subtly that sex was important. Tread lightly.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Stuff I Read: Agatha Christie: Times Change: Politics: ARGH!

My draft on Christie's Politics sucks. It's all over the place and I hate it and I'm tired.

Ah, the hell with it. I'll stick it up, and over the next week I'll tweak it until it has a semblance of cohesion.

Agatha Christie wrote in her present. Considering her career spanned more than 50 years, that's no mean feat.

People will always suffer jealousy and greed. People wronged will desire revenge until the end of time. If a crime writer writes merely about the passionate crimes, changing with the times isn't that difficult. Just alter the language and throw in some new technology.

Christie, however, wrote some crimes that were very political.

Now, Christiephiles everywhere know about her espionage stories. Tommy and Tuppence Beresford did a whole heap of those (N or M? being a particularly good one). This is about the murder mysteries Christie's detective solved that churned up motives (for murder or otherwise) of a much grander scale.

It's interesting that when the first Poirot book came out, The Great War was just ending. The Ottoman Empire was destroyed. When was the last time before then that an Empire had gone down? Has there been one since? A war like no one alive had seen before. For first time, people were recognizing the damaging effect immense violence can have on individuals and countries.

She reflected it. In Captain Hastings, invalided out of the service, in tragic characters such as Alexander Bonaparte Cust, who suffered from severe PTSD. In Poirot himself, who began life in England as a refugee, aided by an elderly Englishwoman's generosity towards the small, brave country of Belgium.

Not long before World War Two kicked off, Christie's characters were discussing the rise of fascism and the fear of socialism. In The Labours of Hercules, and American mentions a new political party taking Germany by storm and mentions casually that those people "are just crazy". "Just crazy" dropped bombs on England not long after.

In “One Two Buckle My Shoe” the murderer’s motive is the protection of England, of the World. He sees the threat of the two extremes (personified in the two young Arrogant Jerks) and kills for survival. For his own survival, and for the survival of the Financially Conservative political standard he knows and understands.

“Hickory Dickory Dock” takes place in 1955. It’s about a bunch of grad students living in a hostel. Subversive stuff happens. It’s drug dealing and murder, but since one of the young women is American, people worry she’s going to go McCarthy on them.

When the sixties rolled around, the Cold War was going on. Poirot shakes his head at the thought of nuclear war in “The Clocks”. He does not want to discuss the bomb. Christie’s detective was very old, and very tired.

Kind of like the chick writing this post.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Stuff I Read: Agatha Christie: Same Story, Different Title

Many people have said that there are no more original ideas. All writers are just rehashing the same stuff. Could be true. It depends on how broad you’re willing to be. Are going to break it into Man v. Man, Man v. Nature, Man v. Self? If you are, then...yeah. Nothing is original.

Some of my favorite pieces of literature aren’t that original in concept or execution, but they are great examples on how to do things well. Christie had several examples of how to do something well all over again.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Towards Zero: kind, elderly Spitfire brutally murdered while her house is full of guests. Two of the guests are a couple struggling with a dissatisfying marriage.

Appointment with Death, Hercule Poirot’s Christmas: controlling, sadistic parent murdered and there’s a plethora of suspects because all of the kids are elated to finally be free from said parent’s tyranny.

The Case of The Perfect Maid, The Mystery of Hunter’s Lodge: One woman plays two characters so a crime can be committed, and the superfluous person (the criminal) can disappear.

The best and most obvious example are the short stories The Mystery of the Spanish Chest and The Mystery of the Baghdad Chest. Baghdad was published first, then she tweaked a few things (Hastings in in one version, absent in the other) years later. But it’s the same story, and it's good both ways.

Jane Marple herself began as a supporting character from The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (favourite favourite favourite). Christie liked the character of Caroline Sheppard so much that she tweaked her a bit and made a whole series around her.

She also nods to Arthur Conan Doyle (I might do a “Stuff I Read" on him sometime). In The Big Four (don’t confuse it with ACD’s The Sign of Four) Poirot brings in his more intelligent “brother”, Achille to help. One needn’t look far to find the influence - Sherlock’s uber genius brother Mycroft Holmes.

Poirot speaks of having admiration for Arthur Conan Doyle, though not particularly his creation of Holmes in The Clocks. Poirot claimed that Holmes’ genius was merely attuned observational skills, such as he himself possessed.

In Christie’s autobiography, she said of the Poirot stories "I was still writing in the Sherlock Holmes tradition - eccentric detective, stooge assistant, with a Lestrade-type Scotland Yard detective.” It’s formula. One that works.

Agatha Christie never claimed she was a font of originality. She admitted (through Aridne Oliver, in Cards on The Table) that she recycled all the time. We can see in her characters that she gave the same person different names and settings more than once. No apologies. She made characters that entertained and plots that made you think, but not think too much and she gave you a sense of satisfaction at the end.

Demand more from other writers and other genres, but from Christie, be happy with pretty damn good.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Molly and Poppy


It seems like yesterday that I got the phone call from my Mom telling me about Molly.

The first visit to their house without her was surreal. I kept looking around the floor (corgis are low to the ground), kept listening for the click click click of her nails on the linoleum. It was very difficult.

This past Easter we went to my parents’ house and met another dog. Another corgi who bears a strong physical resemblance to Molly. She’s the same color, through she’s smaller and her ears are longer and more on the side of her head than up on top.

Her name is Poppy.


I regarded her skeptically. She’s adorable, and if she hadn’t been in Molly’s house, I am sure I would have been snuggling and cooing all over her. There she was, though. Sitting on Molly’s couch with Molly’s family, looking just enough like Molly for something to feel wrong. It would be different had they chosen another breed.

My mother began extolling Poppy’s virtues. Poppy almost never barks (Molly barked a lot and she was loud). Poppy doesn’t freak out when the phone rings (Molly thought it was some kind of terrorist). Poppy is very low key and mellow (Molly was bouncy and playful...which I loved about her). I started to get pissed off at my mother for talking as if Poppy was some sort of New Improved Molly.

I am not ready for Poppy.

Then again...she’s not my dog. She never will be. I don’t live there. I can learn to look at her as my sister’s dog, my parent’s dog.

Shortly after my sister arrived from China, we snapped a shot of her and Molly, staring into each other’s eyes. Calm, nose to nose. That photo has a place of honor among the family photos on the den wall. In the living room there is a photo of Molly, sitting up straight in our old backyard, surrounded by bright green grass and Indian Paintbrush.

My son is enthusiastic with animals, and he ran after Poppy, squawking with joy, arms outstretched. I think she was afraid of him.

I studied her for a while and then patted her head. “I do like you, Poppy.” I said.

I leaned in and she kissed me on the nose.

I’ll get used to her.

Monday, April 09, 2007

No #4.

So there was a typo I did not catch when I posted the Christie List. Oops.

Anyway, I'm going to take advantage of that error. I'm nursing a foul headache/sore throat/sinus hell thing.

Next week I'll post again. For now I am on the couch with tea. Let the toddler destroy the house if he wants to!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Stuff I Read: Agatha Christie: The Genius & The Sidekick

or: The Hastings

To be brilliant is a gift. It can also be a great handicap. Talk to a person of immense mental capability and they will tell you that they have trouble relating to average people.

I know a guy. We’ll call him Marzipan. He’s a functional genius. The people he works with are of slightly lower intelligence (in that they are bright, not brilliant). He can work with us, but he’s definitely separated from our perspective. Marzipan's brain has a greater capacity for memory. He can get irritated when someone forgets a prior statement, or piece of an argument. Also, when it takes someone a lot longer to figure something out than it took him. To work with him is admittedly frustrating at times (as likable and great at his job as he is), because he just doesn’t understand what it’s like to be one of the many.

Marzipan has always had this effortless intelligence. That’s his normal. It’s a great gift, but it’s not without drawbacks.


Throughout literature, especially the mystery, there have been Sidekicks. Sherlock Holmes had Watson, Batman had (and has) Robin. One could dismiss these characters as mere plot devices, a tired tradition of the genre. One would be wrong. The best and most clever detectives must have someone less clever at their side.

In Death in The Clouds, Fictional mystery writer Daniel Clancy refers to the concept of “The Idiot Friend”, but that’s not really accurate. Captain Arthur Hastings, Hercule Poirot’s best friend, is brave, patriotic and loyal. He is fair, honest, chivalrous and has a thing for redheads. Hastings is normal. He is not brilliant, but he’s not stupid. An ordinarily smart person who sees exactly what the criminal wants them to see. He's a thoroughly admirable personality and he’s necessary.

So much so that, even when he wasn’t present in a story, Poirot sought out someone to fill the role. In The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (my favourite!) Poirot meets Dr. Sheppard. Poirot compares the doctor’s way of thinking to Hastings, and decided to use him as such.

Later characters are less directly put in their place, but they are clear to a reader. The English Man or Woman. (excepting Murder On The Orient Express, which takes place in Europe...L’Associé is M. Bouc of the Sureté.) Katherine Grey in The Mystery of The Blue Train, Peter Lord in Sad Cypress, Mrs. Hubbard in Hickory Dickory Dock, Colin Lamb in The Clocks. Several members of the police in some form (Death on The Nile, Hercule Poirot’s Christmas).

Later, when author Ariadne Oliver enters his life, she fills the role (Cards On The Table, Hallowe’en Party). She’s a little more unique than Arthur Hastings. She has an intuition that Poirot greatly admires, but she is still the slightly lesser intelligence and the example of British thinking.

Like several people with exceptional cerebral abilities Poirot has an ego. A big one. He is extraordinarily conceited. Hastings often feels like he is around simply to ooh and ahh at the detective’s brilliance. I’m sure that’s a perk for Poirot (and a sure irritant to The Sidekick). Poirot did know their value to him, though. In Lord Edgeware Dies, Poirot does something rare and touching when he tells Hastings

“You are beautifully and perfectly balanced. In you sanity is personified. As in a mirror I see reflected in your mind exactly what the criminal wishes me to believe. This is terrifically helpful and have an insight into the criminal mind which I myself lack. Ca cher Hastings, I have indeed much affection for you.”

As do we, the readers. Think of Sherlock Holmes. The stories narrated by Watson are by far the gems of the collection. Who keeps Batman from being a total prick and an emotional train wreck? Robin*!

I'm not saying the Geniuses are not utterly awesome with all their good...brain...stuff. They need us, though. To ground them without weighing them down.

Yeah, that's a crappy closing statement. If Marizapan is reading this he's probably making a scrunchy face. Big if. I don't know if this blog is smaht enough for him.

*I know a solid case can be made that it's also Alfred, but this is not the All About Batman post. For my thoughts on Alfred, go here.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Stuff I Read: Agatha Christie: Cast of Character Types: Men

The Poor Chap/The Hero: He’s flawed in some way. Wimpy, works too much, has a gambling problem. The men in Christie books are not ever a typical Hero. This character is not the handsome, rugged yet sensitive cliché that crappy romances spit out.

A fact he is very aware of.

He’s either pathetically anxious (Mr. Cust The A.B.C. Murders), not overly intelligent (Ralph Paton The Murder of Roger Ackroyd) or bitter and jaded (Jerry Burton The Moving Finger) . He wants personal freedom, peace of mind, love, the courage to keep living. He stands in his own way. The Poor Chap is a classic Man v. Himself example.

Note: just because I title him “The Hero” does not mean that he can never be the murderer. We’re just really bummed out when he is (Norman Gale Death in the Clouds)

The Arrogant Jerk: Often handsome, though doesn’t have to be. He does have to have “something” that appeals to women. If not physical appearance (Michael Shane After The Funeral), it’s his radical political ideologies (Howard Raikes One Two Buckle My Shoe) or talent (Amyas Crale Five Little Pigs ).

The Curmudgeon: “Bah, kids these days...Bah, women don’t understand how hard finance is...Bah these foreigners with their Socialism...Bah these police are bothering me...Bah stop touching my ancient artifacts/medical equipment/mysterious letters."

He’s middle aged or older. He’s either portly or very thin. His nationality doesn’t matter, he appears as French (Georges Death in the Clouds) German (Dr. Bessner Death on the Nile) American (Rufus Van Aldin The Mystery of the Blue Train) and English (Lord Caterham The Seven Dials Mystery).

When Christie doesn’t want him to be two dimensional, she gives him someone he loves very much. Usually, a daughter.

The Butler: Of course. Wherever English nobility are, there is an ancient, white haired old man to wait on them. He's loyal, never impolite, never shocked, though he can be unnerved. My favourite, Gudgeon (The Hollow) as a cucumber when he found a handgun in a basket of eggs. He cleaned it and put it away. Of course. As a good servant should.

The Very English Man: He gets uncomfortable around emotional displays (Leonard Clement Murder at the Vicarage), flamboyance (Dr. James Sheppard The Murder of Roger Ackroyd), foreigners (Col. Melrose The Love Detectives). He can’t imagine that anyone would want to live anywhere other than England. He’s “modest”, be that a natural part of his personality (Douglas Gold Triangle at Rhodes) or because it’s improper to boast (Lord Mayfield The Incredible Theft. Very much about playing by the rules of society and country.

Capt. Arthur Hastings

Arthur Hastings is the favourite example of this character, and it’s his inherent sweetness that allows the reader to forgive his priggishness.

A very specific Very English Man is The Very English Soldier: eminently respectable, full of stories about shooting, India, and a whole lot of people that no one else in the cast has ever heard about or cares about.

The Copper: Tenacious. Unimaginative. Suspicious of psychology. Truly believe that people have nothing to fear if they’re innocent by law. If there’s a private detective (amateur or otherwise) involved in the case, the Copper is usually patronizing in attitude. That is, they are patronizing until the p.d. proves their ability beyond reproach.

Many of Agatha Christie’s Coppers return for a few more stories (Superintendents Spence & Battle, Sir Henry Clitherling), and the shared history is pleasing to long time readers. Certainly in the case of Chief Inspector James Japp, who was not only a collaborator of Hercule Poirot’s, he became a very close friend.

The Foreigner: The Foreigner varies depending on the situation. Sometimes he’s comic relief (Akibombo Hickory Dickory Dock), sometimes he’s a serious character used as the scapegoat (Jacob Tanios Dumb Witness).

Agatha Christie was a well traveled woman, and she didn’t seem to have the mistrust of foreigners that many of her characters did. The unifying trait her Immigrants and Visitors seem to have is that they are not what the British meant or expect them to be.

Sometimes, of course, The Foreigner is a brilliant, witty, dapper little Belgian. A man with fantastic mustaches and particular tastes in food, who does "not approve of murder".


Saturday, March 24, 2007

There's going to be a #10!

Agatha Christie

Thanks to Colin (commented on this post) I am adding

10. Top 5 Agatha Christie "Monsters"

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Tag, I'm It.

I have to stop meme-ing.

Historical things that happened on my birthday that I think are kind of interesting:

1709 - Peter the Great defeats Charles XII of Sweden at the Battle of Poltava. (I'm Swedish)

1893 - Crash of the New York Stock Exchange. (Sucks)

1950-The United States decides to send troops to fight in the Korean War. (Sucks)

1953 - Joseph Laniel becomes Prime Minister of France. (I heart France)

1957 - Hurricane Audrey kills 500 people in Louisiana and Texas.
(Wow...Not a good day in History for the USA)

1967 - The world's first ATM is installed in Enfield, London.
(I would not have survived my month in London without them)

1969 - Stonewall riots begin in New York city.
(Give us our jams and jellies NOW!)

2007- Air date for First Annual Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, awarded to Paul Simon
(Uh. Seriously?)

These people got born:

1462 - King Louis XII of France (d. 1515)

1550 - King Charles IX of France (d. 1574)

1880 - Helen Keller, American spokeswoman for the deaf and blind (d. 1968) (Oh, now THAT is cool!)

1927 - Bob Keeshan, American actor (d. 2004) (CAPTAIN KANGAROO! AWESOME!)

1930 - Ross Perot, American billionaire and politician

1932 - Eddie Kasko, baseball player (Played for my Sox!)

1949 - Vera Wang, American fashion designer

1959 - Dan Jurgens, American comic book writer and artist ("Death of Superman" guy)

These people died:

1988 - Hillel Slovak, Israeli born guitarist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers (b. 1962) (Love that band)

1996 - Cubby Broccoli, American film producer (b. 1909)
(I have no idea who he is, but that cannot be his real name!)

2001 - Jack Lemmon, American actor (b. 1925)
( I remember feeling awful about that.)

2002 - John Entwistle, English bassist (The Who) (b. 1944)
(Another band I totally love. Felt bad about that, too.)

2005 - Shelby Foote, American author and historian (b. 1917)
(I remember when he died, but I didn't know that it was actually on my birthday...I think I heard about it a few days after.)


National HIV Testing Day in United States
(I didn't know we had this, and I think it's awesome! They need to promote it more.)

National Veterans' Day in the United Kingdom (I'll wager that's a Balderdash question...)

And finally:

In Shirley Jackson's Novel The Lottery, the annual lottery is held on this date each year.

(What? I don't remember that! That's the story where everyone stones a woman to death, even her own family!
Dammit, Shirley Jackson, why did you have to pick that day?)

I tag no one.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Stuff I Read: Agatha Christie: Cast of Character Types: Women

The Earnest Girl: always plain and dowdy and unhappy. Often in denial of that final trait. Can be either very clever or very stupid, but is always one of the two. She’s either pathetically in love (Patricia Lane Hickory Dickory Dock)with the Arrogant Jerk, the relation that everyone feels sorry for (Mildred Strete Murder With Mirrors), or some kid with a rotten job (Edna Brent The Clocks). When she’s the victim (Pamela Reeves The Body in The Library) you feel really sorry for her. When she’s the murderer, everyone’s shocked (Gerda Cristow The Hollow) because they all thought she was the very stupid kind.

Notable Exception: Cornelia Robson Death on The Nile. She’s ugly, poor and doesn’t care. She has an infectiously cheerful outlook that makes the Arrogant Jerk and the Curmudgeon (I’ll describe them later when I tackle the men) fall in love with her.

The Spitfire: Never beautiful, but described as attractive or interesting. Often a redhead (Sally Finch Hickory Dickory Dock, Susan Cardwell Dead Man’s Mirror, Jenny Driver Lord Edgeware Dies)! If she’s not, attention is usually called to one unique physical feature (Jane Grey’s extraordinary gray eyes in Death in The Clouds). She’s the best friend, the girlfriend, the daughter of someone hugely important to the story. The Detective always takes a strong liking to her and she’s almost never flustered when it’s her turn to be accused in the Parlor Scene (innocent or guilty). She’s always clever and possesses a good sense of humor. Usually happy. She can be rich, poor or somewhere in between. Almost always gets the guy, though sometimes not the one we think she’ll get.

Notable Exception: Rosalie Otterbourne Death on The Nile (there’s a reason this was Christie's best and favorite). She’s good looking, with a sarcastic sense of humor, and she’s no shrinking violet, but she has an alcoholic mother who makes her life a living hell. It’s a relief to finally see her happy and with a decent enough guy...after her horrible mother was shot through the head.

The Beauty/The S.A.: Gorgeous and aware of it. There’s at least one Poor Chap who’s besotted about her...frequently two. She can be intelligent (Ruth Chevenix Gore Dead Man’s Mirror) or an idiot, (Valentine Dacres Triangle at Rhodes) it doesn’t matter.

In the 1950’s a cultural shift began where Sex Appeal (Christie often calls it S.A.) became more attractive than classic beauty, and Christie noted the change with this character type. The lovely, feminine Marthe Daubreil of Murder on The Links gave way to glamourous, obvious Adele Fortescue of A Pocket Full of Rye.

The Exotic: A lady always, but not at all English. She is alluring, witty and charming. When young, she can be cast as the S.A. (Pilar Estravados Hercule Poirot’s Christmas), though typically she is middle aged (Vera Rosakoff) or older (Princess Dragomiroff Murder on The Orient Express). Let’s face it, life experience adds to a woman’s charm and few knew that better than Agatha Christie.

The Very English Lady: She can be a bit of a spitfire, a beauty, or an earnest girl, but the sheer Britishness of her keeps those traits from being capitalized. She is well mannered, well (but modestly) dressed, well educated and unemotional. She is the paragon of English Decorum. She is Lydia Lee (Hercule Poirot’s Christmas), Miss Bullstrode (Cat Among The Pigeons), Rowena Drake (Halloween Party) and Mrs. Allerton (one of my personal favorite characters, from Death on The Nile).

The Most Notable Examples: Miss Jane Marple, Tuppence Beresford, Ariadne Oliver and Felicity Lemon.

McEwan & Wannamker

If you have read any amount of Agatha Christie’s mysteries, you know who they are. Women of intelligence, women of ability. Three women of unerring instinct and one of a staggering grasp of facts and information. I need say no more on them.

Christie fans, did I miss anyone?

Monday, March 19, 2007

It Doesn't Hurt Them To Cry

Them. It doesn't hurt Them.

We're in the final stages of weaning.

Soon my son will not be breast fed at all.

Months ago we let go of daytime nursing, and he had little issue with that.

It's the middle of the night nursing that he wants.

To be honest, so do I. I love the feeling of feeding my son, his little warm fuzzy head snuggled up against me.

However, I want him to sleep through the night, I want to sleep through the night, and this June I'm going to Chicago for two days without him.

So we are weaning.

Weaning the last middle of the night feedings.

We hate it.

The system I am using is to set specific times when I will go in and get him to nurse, and only get him at those exact times.

For example: I will go get him if he's crying at 10:30, but not before and not after until 2 am.

I only get up to nurse him twice (instead of the habitual four times a night).

In a week we'll cut it down to one, and hopefully by Easter it will be over.

My doctor, my mother, everyone says it doesn't hurt babies to cry.

I know it doesn't hurt him.

I hate hearing it.

After half an hour it isn't crying anymore, it's yelling.

Right now it is 10:17 and he has been crying for an hour.

Taking breaks in between to catch his breath, then "YAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRGH!" some more.

I am writing this to steel my will.

I will not go and get him until 10:30.

It is 10:21. Nine minutes.

I wonder if people will read this and think I'm being cruel?

It feels like I am, but every single mother I have talked to has said that I'm not.

That he won't remember this.

It will not scar him.

In a few months time he'll be sleeping through the night.

I will think of that. Of sleeping through the night for the first time in months.

He slept through the night when he was a month old, and then around six months he stopped, what the hell was that about?

Six minutes.

I’m spending the next two weeks sleeping on the couch. Husband has trouble sleeping already (serious sleep study trouble) so I don’t want the wailing through the monitor to kill the few hours he may get.

Four minutes. Still crying.

I realize I’m wearing the exact same tank top and hoodie I was when I did that meme I posted a while ago.

I realize that has nothing to do with the topic of this post.

I think it serves an as example of the distractions my brain is searching for as it clicks down the minutes (three) until I can go in and nurse.

God, he’s been crying for a long time.

I hope he’s worn himself out to sleep after this.

Two minutes.

Spell Check.



The Stuff I Read: Agatha Christie

Over the next few weeks, I'm going to be talking about Agatha Christie. I read a lot of her mysteries, horror and I'm starting to get into her espionage work. I'm always thinking about the types of characters she used, the patterns that emerged and changed, the social commentaries, the similarities between stories.

I may do this with other authors. Not sure yet.

Each Wednesday I'll be posting something new (about her work...other stuff may go up between Wednesdays). Here's how it's going to appear:

1. Cast of Character Types: Women
2. Cast of Character Types: Men
3. The Hastings
5. Same Story, Different Names
6. Times Change: Politics
7. Times Change: Sex
8. Holy Crap That's Creepy
9. Just Plain Entertaining

I am never going to claim to be any kind of expert on her. I am so not I'm just someone who has spent the last 17 years haunting libraries and ticking off titles, checking out four of her books a week (I can read them in one night...typically). I'm just someone who likes her and wants to talk about her. That's all. Hope you enjoy. If not, like I between Wednesdays other stuff will be going up.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Real content next week. For now: Belly Roll!

Okay. I may not have the perfectly flat post baby stomach that Mella has, but so what? This is the belly that gave me my baby and I should be proud of it!

1 year after giving birth.

My husband thinks I'm sexy and the woman who gave me a massage the other day told me I look amazing for having a 1 year old! I am going to accept that they were being completely honest, and if someone looks at this and says "Ew...chub." than they can (in the words of Tyra Banks) "Kiss my fat ass!".


Thanks also to Zhoen, Lorianne, and Leslee.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Why Write When You Can Meme?

1. Do you like cheese? I adore cheese!

2. Have you ever smoked heroin? Nope. I only ever smoked cigars, and that I haven't done since college.

3. Do you own a gun? No. Not a fan.

5. Do you get nervous before doctor appointments? Am I getting a shot? Blood drawn? No? If needles are not involved than I am cucumber cool.

6. What do you think of hot dogs? If they are kosher and cooked on a campfire I like them. That's the only situation.

7. What's your favourite Christmas song? Carol of the Bells, just like Mella.

8. What do you prefer to drink in the morning? Hot chocolate. High Quality. Schokinag.

9. Can you do push ups? No. I have the upper body strength of a mouse.

10. Is your bathroom clean? Yes. It's very tiny, and very easy to clean.

11. What's your favourite piece of jewelry? My wedding ring, my engagement ring, and the locket that Husband gave me for our first Christmas together.

Twelve wasn't feeling well. He went home.

13. What is your secret weapon to lure in the opposite sex? I have a flirty smile that seems shy...and yet not shy at all. Oooh. I am mysterious.

14. Do you have friends? Lots, and they rock.

15. Do you miss someone? Sister, friends, people who aren't speaking to me anymore.

16. Middle Name? Name? I have middle names! Since, however I keep myself anonymous on this blog I am not going to tell you.

17. Name 3 thoughts at this exact moment.

My thumb hurts.

I do not want to go get gas in the freezing cold tonight.

Daniel Craig is so sexy.

19. Name 3 drinks you regularly drink: 2% Milk. Water. Frappuccino.

20. Current worry? What if we can't afford to buy a house?

21. Current hate? Exploitation of celebrity death.

22. Favourite place to be? Snuggled up in my bed with Husband and Baby.

23. How did you bring in the New Year? Kissing Husband! At a party at our house with several buddies playing card games and having a very good time.

24. Where would you like to go? The South of France.

27. Do you own slippers? I go through slippers once or twice a year...high quality L.L.Bean slippers, too. I don't wear shoes in the house, so I am always wearing slippers inside.

28. What shirt are you wearing? A black tank top and a pink hoodie that I borrowed from a friend over two years ago.

29. Do you burn or tan? Burn. Burn. Burn. Burn.

30. Favourite colour? Lavender.

31. Would you be a pirate? I would love to be a pirate! I am hoping someone writes a screenplay about Anne Bonny so I can star in it!

32. What songs do you sing in the shower? Whatever is in my head. It could be anything.

35. What's in your pocket right now? Nothing.

36. Last thing that made you laugh? Dr. Perry Cox saying that people were "Bastard coated Bastards with Bastard filling."

37. Best bed sheets as a child? Fuchsia flannel. So very soft and warm.

38. Worst injury you've ever had? I think it was when I broke my foot in 8th grade...some jerk tripped me.

39. What is your biggest pet peeve? Passive Aggressiveness.

40. How many TVs do you have in your house? One.

41. Who is your loudest friend? terms of volume of voice or loquaciousness? I think it may be the friend I borrowed this pink hoodie from.

42. Who is your most silent friend? This guy. If I can call him a friend.

43. Does someone have a crush on you? At least one does. Husband. If anyone else does, I am flattered.

44. Do you wish on shooting stars? When I see them. Which is not often.

45. What is your favourite book? The Lion The Witch And The Wardrobe.

46. What is your favourite sweet? Dark chocolate. Preferably Lindt.

47. What song do/did you want played at your wedding? Friends of ours sang "Power of Two" at the beginning of our ceremony. Our first dance was to "At Last".

48. What song do you want played at your funeral? "I'll Fly Away".

49. What were you doing at 12 AM last night? Sleeping.

50. What was the first thing you thought of when you woke up? "Please please please dear God let him fall back asleep so I can get another hour. I'll even take half an hour."