Thursday, July 26, 2007

Natasha Trethewey: Native Pulitzer

Natasha Trethewey will blow your socks off. Listen to the Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross. Then go purchase the book Native Guard: Poems, this year's Pulitzer Prize winner for poetry.

Native Guard: Poems also is available at the Fairfax County Public Library (or the library of your choice, I'm sure, for you non-Fairfacians)— so check it out, then go buy it. Just please read it.

What are you still doing here? Go listen to the interview. You will literally exclaim aloud at the terrible beauty of the poems and the grace with which she reads them and responds to them. The stories she tells are touching and compelling.

Have I steered you wrong yet about poetry?

And if you aren't sure what you're missing, here's one she reads on Fresh Air — but you get it only if you promise to go listen, then borrow or purchase her book (like I did even before I got my hands on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — that's how good it is).

What is Evidence

Not the fleeing bruises she'd cover
with makeup, a dark patch as if imprint
of a scope she'd pressed her eye too close to,
looking for a way out, nor the quiver
in the voice she'd steady, leaning
into a pot of bones on the stove. Not
the teeth she wore in place of her own, or
the official document — its seal
and smeared signature — fading already,
the edge wearing. Not the tiny marker
with its dates, her name, abstract as history.
Only the landscape of her body — splintered
clavicle, pierced temporal — her thin bones
settling a bit each day, the way all things do.

Now. Go listen to Fresh Air and read her book. You can thank me later.

Monday, July 23, 2007

In Case You Were Wondering

Yes, I finished it. I finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows at 11:53 pm Sunday, 7/22.

And yes, I took time to sleep. And eat. Even socialize. The drives to the lakes took a little time, too (as David rowed us out to the middle of the lake, the water splashing against the sides of the boats).

I read David the parts that I had to share (that is, when Bob wasn't there to glare at me as I laughed or gasped or cried -- I was 30 pages ahead of him Saturday afternoon). David said I cried a lot, but he never saw me reading The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.

Give me a call when you finish. We'll discuss.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Keeping a Secret

This week, the world learned that not everyone could keep a promise or honor a secret. With the release of the last book in the Harry Potter series, there were some gaffes (as I suppose any large scale operation is wont to experience). The mistaken early release of the real book by an American company put what some people said were “real copies” of the book out in public. Those who mistakenly received it couldn’t resist sharing the information. And the excitement for many turned to dismay.

I have a friend who, since I became excited about the series, has tried to spoil it for me. I used to hold parties the day after the book release so everyone could rejoice (and take a break from reading). This one friend, however, would instead taunt people with information. “You know there’s a mistake in there,” was his taunt one year. Another he kept hinting at the identity of someone important who met “his” death. So, I stopped having the parties: not because I couldn’t handle it (okay, I lie: it pissed me off something fierce), but because I didn’t need that rudeness in my life.

With the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, this same person sent me an e-mail that, immediately after his opening paragraph, launched into what looked like the dedication and first chapter of the book. The subject of the e-mail hinted that he “found the book” and had read the first 14 chapters. (I think my computer is flaming still from my response.)

And I realized that few people understand the ideas of embargo, secret, promise and respect.

With every book release, the publisher agrees to sell the book to distributors who agree to embargo the book: that is, hold it without distribution or revealing information in it until a certain time. Distributors agree and receive the document, then, at the appointed time, do their distribution voodoo. It’s not rocket science. It’s business.

But we cannot do that anymore. I’ve worked in the media for years and it’s been at least a decade since my company has sent an embargoed news release. The purpose was to allow the media time to write something to be released at or after the agreed-upon date. Again, not rocket science. The reporter accepted the information with the embargo and leaked it anyway, stating that “no one” would keep it confidential.

And he was right. At about that time, the media stopped embargoing materials — not because they couldn’t, but because “no one would.”

I have not read any book reviews of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, but I have heard about the spoilers. And not just from over-anxious children who can’t keep a secret. (Ask my brother about the Lite-Brite he received for his eighth birthday.) These were people who know better and have the technological savvy to share it far and wide. Now it’s not just reporters. Thanks to that wonderful gift of the Internet, everyone can know whether they wish to or not.

I know it may sound simplistic, and many of my entries on this blog hint to a naïveté I should have lost years ago. However, I stand by my idea of honesty and fairness. In our heart of hearts, we know what’s wrong and what’s right. If you promise to keep a secret, keep a secret. And if you can’t, keep it among your fellow spoilsports.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Cult of Celebrity

It started with a quick peek at AP News Entertainment headlines. Then came reading an article or two. A little Celebritology in the morning before starting the day. It was all just harmless fun. I could find reasons to rejoice the paparazzi’s lack of interest in my hair roots of fashion (non)sense. I could be pleased with the relative banality of my life.

Then Anna Nicole died and the paternity of her daughter became important. That’s when I knew it was more than just a casual interest. I was hooked. The day the paternity test results were due, I kept the AP News Entertainment headlines page and the Washington Post Entertainment page up on my second monitor, which I checked when I had breaks in my workflow. (Okay, I’ll admit it: I refreshed the pages every few minutes as the day drew to a close.) Late that afternoon, a refresh brought me the news, which I promptly announced to a room full of uninterested women. (Fine: one person was properly appalled, but only for a moment. After all, municipal government can be a Peyton Place all its own.)

After that fateful day, celebrity gossip became a habit. I started hitting Celebritology even before I opened the Metro page on the Post. One day I even check celebrity news before I scrolled through Cute Overload. I watched in horrified fascination as Paris was sentenced to jail and e-mail petitions to the governor were ignored. (Let that be a lesson to anyone who wants to send me one: if the Governator isn’t swayed, I can’t possibly have faith in e-mail petitions — no matter how ineffective they might be in reality.)

Britney Spears shaved her head? Was she in rehab yet? Again? Paris was in jail? Wait, she was out of jail. Nope, back in. What extensions were Britney sporting? Was she pregnant again, or was it K-Fed’s other woman?

I wasn’t covetous of the attention to these self-destructive children. Rather, I was appalled. These women could not make a good decision if their lives depended on it. I wondered if celebrity ruined what little good judgment they had, or if they truly had none of which to speak. I wanted to ask where their parents were, but realized these women should have had the sense God gave Little Bo Peep by the time they hit their mid-20s. Maybe they did and we just caught them on a bad day. Maybe they hit the slippery slope and couldn’t catch hold of a branch on the way down.

Maybe I was giving some people more credit than they deserved.

I couldn’t imagine living their lives, dogged by the media because of my own conjured artificial "events" that drew swarms of paparazzi and other famous faces to my “simple” outings. I couldn’t imagine lacking enough self-respect to keep my nose clean, especially when I knew the cameras would be watching (because I waited to act until they were). I couldn’t imagine inciting my own celebrity by my actions, then being shocked — yes, shocked because I was mocked for my mistakes and poor judgment.

Then the media began announcing Nicole Richie’s pregnancy and wondering publicly whether her unborn child has suffered from her horrific lifestyle of malnutrition, drugs, alcohol and unsafe physical practices. With those headlines, I felt abject disgust at the situation, and I was cured. As long as it cost no one else anything of consequence, it was a game. Once innocent bystanders started getting hurt, it stopped being fun to watch.

Fame is fleeting and fickle, and perhaps I am a perfect example of that.

I’ll still look over Celebritology in the morning and enjoy Liz’s flippancy and humor, but first I'll troll for hedgehogs on Cute Overload. I will continue to see what movies are opening, what the reviewers think of Xanadu the Musical (as if anything could compare to the original, no matter how many confidential winks the writers give us!) and hopefully continue to discover new music from the likes of Los Lobos, Nickelback, Eddie from Ohio and, of course, Fergie and her “lady lumps.” I still will check out AP News Entertainment headlines, but only after I hit the main news page. I will live a Paris-and-Nicole-free life. I will not waste any more time witnessing the disasters of fame.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Nickelback; or How the Modern Music Industry Will Not Thwart Me

I have discovered Nickelback and I will never be the same. I am terribly grateful for that.

Now, in Nickelback’s defense, they were not completely new to me. I had heard their songs and said to myself, “Self, that’s a great song. Who sings that?” I grew familiar with their sound, but never retained much more than the fact that I liked their music. I would hear snatches of songs from a myriad of sources and really enjoy them. Finally, the lyrics (and video for) “If Everyone Cared” pushed me over the edge: it paid tribute to brave people who affected a change in their corners of the world, despite the odds. Nobel-level courage and caring. Betty Williams. Nelson Mandela. Bob Geldof. (Don't give me that. As if "Live Earth," "Farm Aid" or any other concert of its type could have happened without "Live Aid." Just please overlook his penchant for unique names.) As I watched the video through my tears (bravery and kindness deserves that visceral a response), I thought, this wasn’t “just” rock and roll. It has heart, and that I could support.

So I bought “All the Right Reasons” and love every song on the album.

Finding a source for listening to music has been a ongoing challenge — certainly not as easy as when I was growing up. It used to be I could turn on the radio and hear all the music I wanted.

Now I have nearly given up on commercial radio. Too many DJs spend most of their time laughing at their own jokes then cutting to commercials, completely forgetting about the music. The one radio station whose music I would listen to I boycott to because of the morning DJ. DC 101’s Elliott reminds me of my younger brother as a pre-teen (who wasn’t funny, either).

Nowadays, I catch my music in snippets, mostly on cable television —especially Cityscreen-12, the City of Fairfax cable television station that plays the absolute best music during the workday. Another excellent source of music is the music channels on digital cable television. Satellite might have the same thing, but I’m a cable person (see the glowing reference to Cityscreen-12 above).

I also have started watching some music videos on the Internet. I read about music on my myriad of news sources and check out the songs on Yahoo Music. (Search Yahoo Music Videos for the only Nickelback video on the system: a live version of “This is How You Remind Me.” It’s great.) I am a new convert to a few songs by Fergie and the Black Eyed Peas for that very reason. From there, I surf other songs by groups my friends tell me about and names with which I am familiar from my many trips to Borders. (Despite my usual shopping habits, I realize Borders is not just for books.)

I am disappointed that I have to piece my music together from so many varied and disparate sources, but perhaps this is the way of the future. We used to have the radio alone. Now the plethora of sources seem to require users to assemble a full picture of their music puzzle pieces. However, I will persevere. Combined with a few solid suggestions from friends, I can encounter fabulous musical groups like Nickelback without the insipid “pop” songs or vapid DJs.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Loving Your Ass

If I could give one piece of advice to young women today, it would be: love your ass at this very moment. Love it as though you will not have it tomorrow — because the truth is, for better or for worse, you won’t.

I, too, was convinced I never would become the tired woman in the grocery store that just looks like there’s more of her than there should be. I also thought I’d never get crow’s feet or those veins on my legs I refuse to call “varicose.” I thought I’d always be what I looked like that day in the mirror.

Then life intervened.

It wasn’t a bad life, by any means. It just was not one I expected. First of all, I went in the wrong direction with exercise: from high school track and cross-country to the occasional aerobics class in college to walking to the coffee machine at work. I knew I was in trouble when I was winded walking up the broken escalator at the train station. (In my defense, it was one of the steepest escalators in the system.) The one thing I didn’t learn in college was how to stay healthy. I didn’t know how to start. Everyone had the same excuses. Between commuting and long hours at the office, it wasn’t convenient during the work-week, and who had the energy on weekends for anything like exercise?

Then came marriage. The Freshman Twenty has nothing on the Newlywed Gain. It wasn’t too obvious to me until I saw a photo of myself speaking to some of the brightest high school seniors in the nation. Between the bulky sweater that was mostly me with my expanding chin and round face and the tight skirt that once had been loose enough, I didn’t recognize this woman.

Later, add on graduate school with classes and studying every spare hour, a 2-hour daily commute to a job where 50 hours a week was a light schedule and the stress of a crumbling marriage. I had no idea who stared back at me from the mirror. She looked tired and doughy. And when I turned around and looked at my backside, all I could wonder was: where was my ass?

I remembered having a figure that did not go unnoticed. One day, I was wearing jeans, which were too hot for that sunny Southern California afternoon. I grabbed a tiny pair of bright blue Dolphin brand shorts from the back shelf of a drug store, nestled between tube socks and corn pads, and put them on in the car en route to the Rose Bowl. (That was nothing — you would be amazed at what I could do with a bra. While driving. On the freeway.) As Vicky and I walked through the stadium, I in my tiny shorts, I was grateful for the comfort and oblivious to the response they garnered. I just knew I liked the way I looked that day. A recovering anorexic, I had a false body image (and, like many women in the nation today, probably still do). I appreciated any day in which I felt good. And on that day, for some reason I felt great — and, from the looks Vicky noticed, others thought I looked good.

A decade and a half later, the ass I saw in the mirror wa not mine.

That is when I took control. I wasn’t happy at my job, so I left. First, I took a temp job, then I found a well-paying part-time job just a few miles from home. After that, finding the time became arranging the time. I discovered evenings presented a challenge for exercise, so I began running in the morning. Even when the job became full-time, I simply adjusted my schedule by getting up a little earlier.

And I haven’t looked back.

Most people think I am insane to run five miles every morning. And every person who hears about my exercise regimen first admires it, then justifies their lack of exercise program, as though my activities are a gauntlet. I have heard every excuse, including some I have tried to use on myself (and still do, with little success). I know it is a challenge to make the time in my schedule, to prioritize my health and my ass. I know many aspects of life can make ass control a challenge: spouse, children, health, weather, commute, school, work hours, an unsafe neighborhood … name your poison. I do not dare judge anything other than my own efforts; the trip down is so much faster and easier, not to mention exceptionally unpleasant.

I also know there is not a soul besides myself who can either give or deny me permission to run, or to take a kickboxing class, or learn belly dancing, or hike every summer day that isn’t raining. I know that some days are better than others. I know it’s okay to cut myself some slack when my sinus infection won’t go away, or when the surgeon recommends waiting until the stitches come out to start running again.

Then I think of how I felt in my blue Dolphin shorts at the Rose Bowl while watching Steve Perry, and I want that confidence again. I want to feel my best: healthy, fit and comfortable in my skin. I don’t care who is or is not looking. (Usually. I am human, after all.) I remind myself the most important person is the one checking her reflection in the mirror, and I want her to like that reflection. And if it means surrendering an hour’s worth of sleep in the morning, then I’ll drag that same ass out of bed and move it around the nearby college campus in the rain, the snow, the heat and the pre-dawn hours. I did not appreciate it then, but I appreciate what I have now — and I keep trying to love myself the way I deserve.