Saturday, July 24, 2010

Name This Hedghog!

When our eyes met at Borders, I knew it was love.

I could tell by the look in his eyes the feeling was mutual.

We couldn't wait.  He came home with me that night, and we've been inseparable ever since.

Now that he's a member of this family, only one question remains: what will his name be?

You, yes YOU, can name this hedgehog!  The person who submits the winning submission will receive a book.  (I know, that's a surprise.)

Submit your suggestions — as many as you want to offer — either in the comments below or in an e-mail.

Please submit your suggestions by 11:59 p.m. July 30, and I will choose the little puppet's name August 1.

Dream big, and let's see if we can't give his true name — the name he deserves!

Friday, July 23, 2010

"Citizen Journalist" and Responsibility

The rise of "citizen journalists" is a double-edged sword.

For every video of an innocent person beaten by the police will be the fired federal worker accused of racism.

It is not the act of posting or writing that makes one a journalist, but the act of responsible reporting.

By assuming that mantle with a blog or a camera, you are responsible for the information you post.  Don't just claim to want the truth, seek it: ask multiple sources for information and actually report it.  Examine the facts and ask the hard questions.  Don't just run with a "too good to be true" video — there's no such thing.

Be a skeptic.

Oh, and verify, verify, verify.

Even journalists on reputable media get it wrong.  I would like to blame that on the immediacy that technology affords us, but it's always user error.  Technology is a tool.  It's the people who make it reliable and useful, and in the end it's the reponsibility of the media to get it right before they let it go.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Pitching Hedgehogs

I love reading, as you know, so this confession may surprise you: I nearly pitched a book last night.

There I was, finishing up the lovely story of The Elegance of the Hedgehog.  I had invested my time and energy into a handful of fascinating people who, for nearly 300 pages, had captivated me.  Okay, it was slow going at first, but once I figured out the rhythm in this book, I liked it.  It was originally written in French, but as the characters are French and live in a swank apartment building in Paris, one would expect to feel translation — and a rich, enjoyable one.  Plus, knowing author Muriel Barbery is a French professor of philosophy who now lives in Japan helps to understand why and how the novel was written.

Two narrators share the storytelling responsibility: Renée Michel, a 53-year-old concierge at a Paris apartment building filled with rich Parisians who see her as a fixture, and Paloma Josse, the 12-year-old girl who lives there and plans to commit suicide and burn down her parents' apartment when she turns 13 in a few months.  The two don't take turns as much as fill in the story as time passes.

Tim passed more slowly than it should in a novel.  The setup was a maddeningly long fuse.  Once the bomb went off, however, the story rocked.  The characters were fully realized, readers cared about them and all secrets seemed to be revealed — some in lovely, juicy scenes that made me wish to weep.

And then, Barbery stumbled over some of the debris of the explosive story.  I don't mean the story or writing stumbled because it didn't.  The quality remained stellar to the end.  The characters remained true.  The author thought she was throwing us a great curve.

That's not how I see it.

Here's how I see it: Barbery was mean.  She had the ability to give us a story that ended in a way that those who love the characters would appreciate.  Instead, she — well, all I can say is that I feel betrayed for investing in these characters and their fictional lives only to have the story do what it did.

Does that mean the story was successful?  Does that mean the book was that good?  I may answer those questions once I stop fuming, but I can't make promises.  I still haven't forgiven Jodi Picoult for her cheesy and terribly unsatisfying ending for My Sister's Keeper (which I never will recommend to fellow readers), but even that is different: Jodi copped out and didn't let the characters continue their story to the end.  Barbery did not take the easy road and remain safe — and to be fair, I might have been disappointed had she taken the safe route, and I never want my authors to take the safe route.

Barbery, I suppose, wrote the story as it should have evolved.  It was beautiful and fulfilling and heartening and lovely and tragic and exquisite.  I am sorry my new friends (and I) experienced what we did in this story, but perhaps we got what we deserved: a very captivating read.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

This has been a fabulous summer to date, with the summer of 2010 becoming one of the best of the century so far.  (2008 rocked, too, despite a few curves thrown in.)

One of the first things I did this summer was change my look, for the better and for the benefit of at least one person: I lobbed off nearly a foot of hair to donate to Locks of Love.

Honestly, I hadn't really thought about my hair in ages.  The last time I made a conscious effort to style my hair in any particular fashion was when I got it trimmed in the spring of 2008, a couple of months before David and I were married.  After that, I wanted practical: if I couldn't French braid it, that style wasn't for me.

I was surrounded by women with stylish hair, and often I noted to myself how attractive they looked.  However, I also wanted something that was quick to fix, and after a 6-mile morning run, I had little time for fashion.  Plus, I like long hair: it's lovely, romantic — and, most importantly, if I wound up by accident in a 14th century French village á la Michael Crichton's novel Timeline, I wouldn't be executed for witchcraft because of my short hair.  (Actually being a witch would do it for me.)

However, this past spring, I got the bug.  Honestly, I don't remember if it was because Valerie mentioned that she might consider a donation after her wedding (the real reason the Summer of 2010 rocks!).  (By the way, Valerie's hair is twice as long as mine, and lovely, so a trim of 10-plus inches would be a walk in the park for her.)  I know I was tired of pulling long strands of my hair out of the sink.  I might have been intrigued by the use of natural hair in oil booms.

What I did realize is that it was time for another donation.

When I walked into the salon, I was armed with my laptop and photos of Jenna Elfman's cute hairstyle.  I was ready for my stylist The to do her magic.

Well, I thought I was ready.  The knew better, and whipped out her ruler to make the point.  "Too short," she said.  I disagreed as I pulled a very long hair off my sweater and held it between us.  She smiled and reminded me that I really wanted to have some hair left on my head after the donation.  (I could not argue with that assessment.)  After my trim, The told me I would be ready in a couple of months.  (I suspect she learned that vague language from my orthopedist, who for three months told me to wait "two more weeks" before I could start walking again.)

I departed with my photos, my laptop and delightfully conditioned long hair — and a promise that those "couple of months" would pass in no time.

The was right about that.  However, she also gave me a couple of months to think about my hair.  I have to admit, I liked it long.  Aside from assurances that I wouldn't look like a witch to frightened medieval French villagers, my hair gave me confidence.  I liked the way it felt on my back and shoulders.  (I knew the seasons would change and so would that opinion, but I wanted to enjoy it for a while longer.)  I also knew a braid or loose bun could pass me off with a modicum of sophistication — under the right circumstances (and lighting), of course.

Finally, I had to admit: my hair was how I saw myself.  However I styled it — braids, bun, barrettes, a pencil jabbed through the back — I knew it was how people saw me.  I liked what people saw.  I liked what I saw.

I wasn't adverse to short hair; in fact, I'd had short hair for most of my childhood, starting with a pixie cut that gave my mother two little-girl braids to keep in her bottom drawer as a reminder of her own little pixie.

Soon I realized the long and short of it: with short hair, there was nowhere to hide.  If I had a bad hair day, I couldn't just tie it back with a cat-shaped clip.  I don't know if you're aware, but short hair can stick up.  Not since the movie There's Something About Mary has long hair stuck up on a person's head.  There's safety in that.

There's also identity.  Say what you will about people being more than the sum of their parts, but we are known by our parts.  I was easy to spot with a swath of blonde hair halfway down my back.  I recently had changed my name — and with a new look and new name, who would I be?

Well, I told myself as I settled into the stylist's chair, I would be me.  I would be Chris, wife to David, stepmother to three fabulous kids, soon-to-be mother-in-law to another, a writer, runner, vegetarian, cat-lover, reader — all of the things I already am, just with less hair to dry after the morning run.  (Would that improve my punctuality?  One could only hope.)

My stylist wrapped my hair in a ponytail, then I felt the scissors separate it from my head.

When she handed me the ponytail, I didn't know what to do with it.  As I looked at it, I realized that ponytail wasn't me.  It was just hair.

At that moment, I also realized that someone was that much closer to having a head of her or his own hair.

This record-breaking hot summer has made me grateful for my new style, and I didn't embarrass Valerie and Jessie at their wedding because of how I looked.

I'm sure my ponytail went to good use, and a little girl or boy can be a blonde with a little help from me.

Not bad for a trip to the salon, I must admit.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Independence Requires Doing the Right Thing

On Independence Day, I try to remind people how hard it was that the Founding Fathers did: declare independence from The Way Things Were Done Everywhere At The Time.  These courageous leaders did the right thing (in the opinion of modern-day Americans): they broke away from tyranny at any cost and were willing to pay whatever price if it failed.

The document they signed was treasonous — which, for those of you who haven't read much about 18th century monarchy lately, could lead not just to death, but a really icky, painful, public execution.  Oh, in England, drawing and quartering was one contemporary punishment.  We use that phrase lightly today, but it was really, truly, and literally ripping a human being into quarters.  There was some messy entrails stuff, too, but the real crowd-pleaser was the splitting into four pieces.

What preceded it would have been pretty gruesome, too, of course.  If you're going to make an example of someone, you don't want it over quickly.

So, the leaders who signed their names to the document took a huge risk.  Lucky for them, and for us, it paid off.

If you would like to see some really cool celebrities perform the document, watch this video. Otherwise, just keep reading and see for yourself what they signed:

The Unanimous Declaration
of the Thirteen United States of America

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. --Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of representation in the legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved representative houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the legislative powers, incapable of annihilation, have returned to the people at large for their exercise; the state remaining in the meantime exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavored to prevent the population of these states; for that purpose obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither, and raising the conditions of new appropriations of lands.

He has obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers.

He has made judges dependent on his will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies without the consent of our legislature.

He has affected to render the military independent of and superior to civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his assent to their acts of pretended legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by mock trial, from punishment for any murders which they should commit on the inhabitants of these states:

For cutting off our trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing taxes on us without our consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury:

For transporting us beyond seas to be tried for pretended offenses:

For abolishing the free system of English laws in a neighboring province, establishing therein an arbitrary government, and enlarging its boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule in these colonies:

For taking away our charters, abolishing our most valuable laws, and altering fundamentally the forms of our governments:

For suspending our own legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated government here, by declaring us out of his protection and waging war against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burned our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow citizens taken captive on the high seas to bear arms against their country, to become the executioners of their friends and brethren, or to fall themselves by their hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare, is undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms: our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have we been wanting in attention to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, enemies in war, in peace friends.

We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name, and by the authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as free and independent states, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do. And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.

Signed by:
New Hampshire: Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton

Massachusetts: John Hancock, Samual Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry

Rhode Island: Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery

Connecticut: Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott

New York: William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris

New Jersey: Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark

Pennsylvania: Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross

Delaware: Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean

Maryland: Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton

Virginia: George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton

North Carolina: William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn

South Carolina: Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton

Georgia: Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton

Source: The Pennsylvania Packet, July 8, 1776

(Delcaration of Independence courtesy of Archiving Early America)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Truth or Something Else — From a Classmate

Compulsively Allergic to the Truth

I'm sorry I was late.
I was pulled over by a cop
for driving blindfolded
with a raspberry-scented candle
flickering in my mouth.
I'm sorry I was late.
I was on my way
when I felt a plot
thickening in my arm.
I have a fear of heights.
Luckily the Earth
is on the second floor
of the universe.
I am not the egg man.
I am the owl
who just witnessed
another tree fall over
in the forest of your life.
I am your father
shaking his head
at the thought of you.
I am his words dissolving
in your mind like footprints
in a rainstorm.
I am a long-legged martini.
I am feeding olives
to the bull inside you.
I am decorating
your labyrinth,
tacking up snapshots
of all the people
who've gotten lost
in your corridors.