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1. Color Identification

Roses are red
Violets are blue
No they're not

2. Orange is not the only

Roses are red
Violets are purple
Sugar is sweet
And slant rhymes are hurtful

3. A equals A

Roses are red
Violets are violet
Sugar is sweet
And you are you

4. Gardening

Roses are red
Violets are lavender
I've never been good
at botanical taxonomy

5. Netflix and Chill

Roses are red
Violets are flowers
Let's smooch on the couch
while we watch Fawlty Towers

6. Derriere

Roses are red
Violets are tiny
Sugar is sweet
And so is your heinie

7. Backpedaling

Roses are red
Violets are everywhere
This isn't a come-on
I just like your underwear

8. Grammar

Roses are red
Violets are delicate
Violet's a noun
The rest is the predicate

9. Aspartame

Roses are red
Violets are seasonal
Sugar is sweet
beyond what is reasonable

10. Special Request

Roses are red
Violets are blooming
Would you mind donning
this goldfish costuming?

11. Energy Saver

Roses are red
Violets are allergens
I'm thinking of changing
my lightbulbs to halogens

12. Invitation to Compromise

Roses are red
Violets are petalled
You're not getting younger
It's time that you settled

13. Confession

Roses are red
Violets are Violaceae
I lied when I said
I didn't know botany

14. Going to the Chapel

This is the church
This is the steeple
Open the doors
And so are you

15. Acceptance

Some roses are red
Today I saw tiny violets in a field near a playground
among wild daisies and mallow leaves. They were blue—
an unmistakable primary—five petalled, ivy leaved: violets,
not speedwells or baby eyes. White centers
which little girls poked. I watched to see if they'd weave
daisy crowns. They didn't
and I didn't teach them.
Perhaps they were sweet and perhaps I wasn't.
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2015 (limited-access appendix), 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007

1. What did you do in 2016 that you'd never done before?

I felt an earthquake. More than one. Italy is very seismically active (and extremely volcanic) and has been forever, but this is not well known outside of Italy (despite Vesuvius!). The first one I felt was in September, and I was inside a steampunk club that looks like an airship, so the vibrating floor felt a lot like takeoff, or like a ferry leaving a dock.

On which note, I was invited to join a lot of secret societies and members-only clubs in both Italy and the US. It's odd that I haven't been a member of a secret club before now, because I am obviously a person you want in a secret club, but I haven't been. I couldn't tell you how many I'm part of now, both because I can't remember and because it's a secret.

I paid off my student loan. Still working on Ciro's.

I started captioning NHL hockey. Which is not a sport I know much about. But I can fake knowing some stuff about it, and can understand where the punctuation goes.

I roasted chestnuts.

I had contact dermatitis for months on my hands, mostly on my right index finger. I'm not sure what triggered it. Since it's an autoimmune response, it's self-perpetuating once your skin starts freaking out. I stopped wearing rings and applied lotion at a Lady MacBeth in Scotland, PA rate. It seems like it's gone now, but I'm still not back to wearing rings, and am still moisturizing, just in case, since some of my skin texture is not yet fully ordinary. (Caveat: I may have had contact dermatitis on my hands as a 9-year-old, but that was more probably a mild food allergy to blackberries. Which I continued to eat anyway.)

I rode in an ambulance. I'd become really dehydrated from my body trying to get rid of norovirus (there's been an epidemic here). We don't have a car here, and I didn't trust myself not to vomit all over a taxi. After a couple bags of IV fluid at the hospital, I was ok.

I voted for a woman for President. It's the first time this option has been available to me on a major ticket. I liked her a lot, but she lost even though she won the popular vote.

Hundreds of thousands of people read my writing, although not all of them read all of it. It's a strange thing to think about. The link to one piece (about flowers) was shared on facebook almost 30,000 times.

For The Billfold, I wrote:
"Bank of Italian-American No-Fee High-Wire Money Juggling"
"The Agony and the Ecstasy of Low-Level Tax Evasion"
"My Life in Collections: Mussel Shells, Age 3"
"My Life in Collections: Travel Dolls, Age 7"
"My Life in Collections: Stickers, Age 8"
"My Life in Collections: Girl Scout Badges, Age 10"
"An Emergency Handbook for an Impromptu Italian Beach Vacation"
"My Life in Collections: Jurassic Park Trading Cards, Age 12"
"A Tale of Two Tax Homes"
"Burn Rates and Disposable Income"
"Changing Dollars into Euros Two Ways"

For Atlas Obscura, I wrote:
"What Happened to the Bottom Third of a Famous Tintoretto Artwork?"
"The Scandalous Decision To Pickle Admiral Horatio Nelson In Brandy"
"The Explosive Truth Behind the Movie Theater Projection Room"
"Oxyrhynchus, Ancient Egypt's Most Literate Trash Heap"
" The Historical Reenactor Accuracy Wars"
"Confetti Candy, the Ancient Italian Predecessor of the Tic Tac"
"How Flower-Obsessed Victorians Encoded Messages in Bouquets"
"Endurance Starvation Was Once a Crowd-Pleasing Sport"
"When Tomatoes Were Blamed For Witchcraft and Werewolves"
(a couple of these made the Digg homepage)

For feminist humor legend The Toast, I wrote:
"Girly Vectors: A Watch List"
"Six Bands You Didn’t Know Were Broken Up By Yoko Ono"

"The Best Presidential Insult Nicknames" appeared in The Awl

My poem "Alien Ginsburg" ran in Dreams&Nightmares (not available online), and my poem "Grandiflora" ran in Polu Texni.

I also wrote a script called "Radiance" for director Faith Selby, a monster story with a subtext about racism. We hope to shoot it in the not too distant future.

I suspended the Postorbital project indefinitely because I needed that time for political action subsequent to the November election. I self-published the reasonably well-received "It Ain’t Over ’Til It’s Over: A Hail-Mary Strategy To Change the Electoral College Before December 19" and "How Electors Are Responding to the Letter-Writing Campaign," because when revolution is in the air, what I know how to do is leaflet, Thomas Paine style. The latter is, as far as I know, the only attempt to collect and centralize the opinions of all on-the-record electors. One of whom reached out to me afterward to say thanks.

2. Did you keep your new year's resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I wanted to get better at Italian, pay off my student loans, and make around $400/mo from writing. Which I did, although I'm still not good enough at Italian. I will probably not push as hard on writing in 2017, because I don't think I'll have time.

I wanted to finish my Siege feature script but haven't started it yet. Got pushed out of the way by stuff that paid me.

Things I've committed to this year include finishing the edit of the second book in Sharon's Elspeth Romero trilogy, writing a song about my friend Ed in time for her birthday, making some kind of progress on a story I'm developing with REL, finishing a short as research/promotion for Power (an urban fantasy feature Ciro and I will hopefully shoot in 2018 or 2019), and getting to work on that Siege script. I'm also, as usually, peripherally involved in some Tony Ukpo projects.

Read more... )
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This quote is from The Chicago Tribune.

Carole Joyce of Arizona expected her role as a GOP elector to be pretty simple: She would meet the others in Phoenix and carry out a vote for Trump, who won the most votes in her state and whom she personally supported.

But then came the mail and the emails and the phone calls - first hundreds, then thousands of voters worrying that Trump's impulsive nature would lead the country into another war.

"Honestly, it had an impact," said Joyce, a 72-year-old Republican state committee member. "I've seen enough funerals. I'm tired of hearing bagpipes. . . . But I signed a loyalty pledge. And that matters."


I've been thinking of Lieutenant-Colonel Harald Jäger lately because I've wondered why it's hard to be brave. I think it's because we can very easily imagine the worst case scenario of what might happen to us if we stepped out of line (jail, mockery, threats), but it's hard to convince ourselves that what we do could make a difference to tens of thousands of other people. Thousands? If it would really help thousands of people, somebody else would have done it by now. We convince ourselves that the imagined consequences are real and the hope isn't.

On November 9, 1989, tens of thousands of East Germans gathered at the Berlin Wall, waiting to be let through. There had been an announcement from a government official that the border would be opened, but nobody knew exactly how or when. As the crowd around the Bornholmer Straße border crossing continued to swell, Lt.-Col Jäger called his superiors, and anybody he could think of, to find out what to do. Nobody knew. Everybody understood that it was important to open the borders, but nobody wanted to be the person who said "yes, I'll take responsibility. Open the gate."

At 11:30 p.m., knowing he didn't have the authority to give the order, Jäger ordered the gate be opened. People streamed through. There was no violence. Hearing what Jäger had done, other gate minders opened their checkpoints. That was that. It's been estimated that Jäger's action averted riots, averted panicked guards firing into ever-larger crowds, and saved the lives of dozens or hundreds of people who just wanted to be able to do things like visit family and go shopping. It was the end of the Berlin Wall, and the beginning of German reunification.

I think that when we're cowards, it's not exactly because we're worried about what will happen to us. It's because we don't believe one person could possibly make that much of a difference - a difference on the scale of deciding how to change a country's borders and leaders - so we'd suffer the consequences with no good result. Anyway, we don't think it should come down to us. What arrogance!

But here we are. Sometimes it does come down to us. In 1989, it came down to Lieutenant-Colonel Harald Jäger. He didn’t start the protests, or write the newspapers, or participate in the government negotiations. He just opened the door when everybody knew it was time.
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Ok, so I researched how one would actually flip the electoral college vote between now and December 19, which unsurprisingly will take a lot more than signing a petition. The short version is, this is something that happens by yelling at statehouses instead of yelling at the federal government, and if we could convince Texas alone to allot its votes to Hillary instead of Trump (which is improbable but simultaneously very Texan), Hillary wins. But obviously we need to be doing this on all fronts, all red states, to maximize our (still slim) odds.

This would be totally legal. It's something a statehouse is allowed to do, and it perfectly suits the purpose of the electoral college, which allows cooler heads to overrule a mob, and gives time-travel flexibility if a candidate reveals himself to be totally unsuitable for office in between the election and the meeting of the college -- say, by dying (it's happened) or by appointing a white supremacist to a key administrative position. Or massively violating conflict of interest principles with his business. Or the revelation that there had been massive voter suppression, and interference by a hostile foreign government.

The call to action is here. (Link goes to Medium, which I figure has much better exposure than my Dreamwidth.) Please share.

It Ain’t Over ’Til It’s Over: A Hail-Mary Strategy To Change the Electoral College Before December 19
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I finally have a houseplant that isn't windowsill herbs! It was on sale at the grocery store, and the label was vague, so I've had to identify it through my own taxonomic skill. It's either the Pachira Aquatica or the Pachira Glabra, but I think the only way to know definitively is for it to produce a seed pod, which would be either 12-inches long and brown (Aquatica) or 6-inches long and green (Glabra), which it won't do before it's four or five years old, and probably not ever at all as an indoor plant. So it is a plant of eternal mystery which could end up being about 10 feet tall.
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Beset by electromechanical gremlins today. I woke up late, which came as a surprise since I have literally never slept through an alarm, not once in 36 years on earth. I didn't have much time to ponder how odd it was because thanks to the late wakeup, I had to get to work immediately. No time for breakfast or looking like a human. Then, my work computer wouldn't start properly. (It sometimes boots up but runs very slow, and this can only be fixed by turning it off, waiting about a minute, and turning it on again. But this takes a while because since it's slow it takes ages to start up the first wrong time and then ages to shut down.)

Once I finally got the computer going and was able to log into chat programs, I found out that a coworker had been trying to call me the whole time to find out what was going on, but my phone (the one that is also my alarm) didn't put the call through. My phone looked like it was on but was in fact not performing a single one of its functions -- phone, internet, alarm, or otherwise. Off and then on again with the phone. Working again.

Took a shower during my lunchbreak since the late wakeup made this impossible in the morning, but the shampoo dispenser plunger didn't work until (you guessed it) I took it off and put it on again.

--

On the subject of malfunction, Ciro and I watched High Rise last night, and it was disappointing although fun and pretty. Some really admirable performances, which were all the more admirable considering the script gave the actors approximately nothing to work with. I was completely on board for the first half, but after the midpoint's dramatic tertiary character death (vague for spolier's sake), the wheels came off. Basically, the movie opens by showing you a postapocalyptic landscape and the voiceover promises to tell you how the high rise devolved to that point. Then it flashes back to just before things go wrong. At the midpoint, things are still not really going wrong but there's a premonition that they might. Then, after the tertiary character death, there's a stylish montage that takes you right into postapocalyptic conditions without making any connection to what motivated the change, even though the answer to this question is the entire driving force of the movie. Then everything after that is sort of surrealist nonsense, a bit like the end of The Prisoner.

Ciro and I did our best to make sense of it, or more accurately to figure out what on earth made it seem like a good idea to the filmmakers. Ciro has read other J.G. Ballard books, although not this one, so he theorizes that the plot of High Rise is hamstrung by pre-feminist critiques of capitalism, which tended toward Nietzscheanism, such that a heroic anti-capitalist man expresses his uncontrollable natural uncivilized/uncorrupted virility by raping a bunch of women admirably, and also by having a bunch of children and then deliberately not providing for them so that they are free to follow their own aims. (It's all very noble. You can see that immediately.) At the same time, Ciro is leery about putting all of the blame on Ballard (who he likes) because he points out that a previous film by director Mark Romanek, Never Let Me Go, also an adaptation, had similar under-writing problems and thought gaps that became terminal in the last half. [Edit: Ciro misremembered the director of High Rise, who is Ben Wheatley. See comments for further clarification.]

(I haven't seen Never Let Me Go, even though one of my good friends and frequent collaborators was in the camera department. I'm not usually a stickler for reading the book before I see a film, but in this case the book is by Kazuo Ishiguro, one of my favorite authors, and the screenplay is by Alex Garland, who makes me crazy with his third act problems.)

--

Have had a low-grade sinus headache constantly the last few days. Thanks to Good Morning America, I am worried this means I have an aneurysm and could drop dead any moment. (I almost certainly don't. It's not a bad enough headache, plus aneurysms aren't contagious and my symptoms are shared by people in my immediate surroundings.) Daytime television is the worst.

Made apple pie, because it is pie season.
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Rewatched The NeverEnding Story yesterday. It hasn't been very long since I last saw it. Maybe three years at most. But this time, for whatever reason, something clicked into place and it became very, very obvious that I was watching something where the director/screenwriter (Wolfgang Petersen, also the director of Das Boot) was a German born during WWII, adapting a book by a German author/screenwriter (Michael Ende) who was also a kid during WWII (not to mention the son of an artist classed as "degenerate" by the Nazi regime. When the Nazis tried to draft him in 1945, he was 14. He joined the resistance instead.) The film is not a generic (though great) story about believing in your dreams and imagination beyond childhood. Instead, it's a movie by an adult grappling with the aftermath of a society that tore itself apart with savage monstrosity, trying to figure out how one could possibly rebuild.

In this context, the "look like big, good, strong hands" Rock Biter sequence is even more heartbreaking. As children, and as teenagers, how many times must Petersen and Ende have asked their parents and respected adults, "how could you let this happen?" How could this nation that was so full of art and life and science and medicine and myth not be strong enough to save beloved friends from being blown away by nothing? All around Atreyu and the Rock Biter, the sky is full of lightning bolts - the insignia of the SS, the namesake of blitzkreig (lightning war); the only non-swastika symbol more associated with the Nazis is the black wolf, and look, here's Gmork, servant of the power behind the Nothing.

The back end of Ende's book is about Bastian, but Petersen doesn't care about Bastian as anything but an audience stand-in ("They were with him when he took the book with the Auryn symbol on the cover." That extra metalayer, as far as I know, doesn't exist in the book.) The movie doesn't waste time resolving Bastian's relationship with his father or his difficulty balancing fantasy with the demands of real life (which is what the bulk of the book is devoted to). The plot point Petersen cares about is: A kid from outside this world that tore itself apart can ressurect the parts that are worth resurrecting, reimagine the parts that aren't, and go from there.

This reading of the film resolves one of the things that always bothered me as a kid, which is Bastian running down the real-world bullies on the back of a luck dragon as a triumphant ending. I was a pretty literal-minded child who was happy to pretend but nevertheless committed to distinguishing between "real" and "not real." (My family has schizophrenic tendencies, so being able to make this distinction was highly encouraged.) It seemed to me that although, sure, a made-up world could know about the real world, and someone from the real world could (symbolically or literally) alter a fantasy world, nobody from a book was ever going to jump out and swordfight my enemies. Is Bastian a superhero now? Can other people who have fantasies also summon magic into the real world, and if so, why has that not been present prior to this point in the story? (As I said, literal-minded.)

But it turns out that's exactly, expressly what Petersen is saying. He's saying the way you fight bullies in the real world - the way you stop Nazis - is by having more compelling fantasies than they do and making sure everybody can see that.

In support of Petersen's extremely serious call to fantastical arms, it's worth noting that the recent ressurection of the far right is pulling in PoMo gray-on-gray Gen-Xers, not Millenials - whose famed conscientiousness, academic researchers have suggested, may come from having grown up reading anti-racist propaganda in the form of Harry Potter.
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Tigota, the store where we buy toiletries and cleaning products, tends to throw in extra stuff; that's the way their loyalty program works. It's not like free samples of products they're trying to push; it's shaving cream, or a three-pack of mid-range paper towels. This is what they do instead of coupons or cash back. This seems to be the Italian approach to customer rewards at large, but Tigota is particularly devoted to it.

Some months back, Tigota gave us 12 double rolls of toilet paper, which is how I wound up with toilet paper that doesn't fit on my dinky toilet paper holder until it's about a third of the way spent. (It'll fit on the dowel full size, but it doesn't rotate, which is critical to the dispensing process.) Before then, I leave it on the radiator, the only ledge within reach of the commode. Since it takes a while to use up 12 double rolls of toilet paper, this process has been going on long enough to be habitual. It's been a while since it captured my attention.

Thing is, this week it got cold enough to turn on the radiators. And today I started a new roll of toilet paper. Which means when I use the toilet paper, it's warm. Pre-heated, like a luxury face towel.

It feels very ridiculous. I bet I could convince visitors it's a cultural norm, something I do on purpose, maybe something I picked up in Japan. I bet I could get it to show up in Goop as a way to treat yourself.
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Underslept, and therefore pessimistic all day. In general, when I'm tired, I feel like a crouched down, eyes slitted gremlin who doesn't exactly want to hiss at everyone from under a rock - it's annoying how all these people keep walking by and making me hiss, which I don't exactly want to do. (I don't actually hiss. I'm mostly pleasant.) The situation is dramatically better once night falls; before that point, I'm dealing with the fact that I'm a night owl who didn't want to be up that early anyway (where "early" means 2pm), which becomes excruciating when I'm also tired. Whereas once it's around 7pm I'm tired but happy to be here.

Although I spent the day irrationally grouchy and anhedonic, the "this is not working" work I got done actually worked quite well and now my fairly complicated AV setup I need for the job I'm restarting on Thursday is functioning the way it should, so I don't have to live in terror that I will have to break a contract and be devastatingly poor, and can instead make nice money doing a thing I like. Also, I bought an adapter for a lamp that's been unuseable for months, and have gotten superglue with which to repair the huge stack of other things that need to be re-adhered. These are currently in a pile in a cabinet, because in my experience superglue only works the first day you open it. I intend to do hours of gluing tomorrow or Sunday.

But the really nice thing is that I got an e-mail from somebody important at the Smithsonian museum of American history saying they'd like to use a funny piece of mine about presidential insult nicknames. I don't know what they mean about wanting to use it - tweet about it? print it out? keep it in an archive? tack it up in the office? - but of course I have said yes (with the exception that I've given The Awl exclusive rights for two weeks), because my highest dream in life is to quietly contribute minor scholarship to exactly them. I blame Indiana Jones.

[Update: It's stuck to the wall next to the desk of one of the curators, as a helpful reference. Huttah!]
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I recently looked at a bunch of old photos of myself, seeking a specific old photo to illustrate an autobiographical essay, and I've been lamenting how much less photogenic I seem to be these days compared to ten years ago. What changed? I say to myself, partly because I'm growing my hair out therefore do look a bit stupid at the moment - but not sufficiently stupid to explain this dramatic difference.

But of course something major did change. Photos of me from 10, 15 years ago were overwhelmingly taken on 35mm film cameras with portrait lenses. Most of the snapshots of present-day me use cellphone cameras, which by default have the gain turned way up to keep everything bright and in-focus, plus wide-angle lenses that let you take a tremendously slimming picture of yourself from an arm's length away. Since I'm already pale and slender, I wind up looking like a rat-faced cadaver.

This among other things explains why I've never gotten into the selfie game.
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Harper's Weekly Review informs me that this week "a California sex-toy company built the world's largest dildo," but it seems to me that after it exceeds a certain size the thing becomes a sculpture of a dildo.
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The pharmacy was out of my preferred deodorant, so Ciro picked up what he thought was the same thing in an unscented version. It is instead super-strong antiperspirant that supposedly lasts 72 hours. This week I will try applying it Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evenings. We shall see whether (1) my arms dissolve (2) I don't sweat even though I am not applying deodorant every day and it's in the 80s and we have no air conditioner.

I feel very much like a mad scientist self-applying mysterious chemical potions in hopes of developing an alter ego.

In other words, terribly excited.

Threads

Jul. 4th, 2016 09:46 pm
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Today I embroidered some french knots on a t-shirt, which is significant because I've been failing to embroider french knots for more than 25 years. As far as I can tell, I did exactly the same thing as always, except this time it worked 10 times in a row instead of not at all. This a culmination of hundreds of non-french-knots (which are instead merely very small stitches) attempted as a lark, in approximately the same spirit of fun as "I have found a raffle ticket on the sidewalk!" Oh, mysteries of life.

My main mental occupation at the moment is restraining myself from saying things about Brexit, since even though I live in Europe and most of my professional connections are in Britain, my interest in the subject seems quite a bit like rubbernecking.
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Not dead; short on writing time even more so than always. Not that I think anybody reading this was worried, because as far as I know the only people who read this are people with whom I correspond either through e-mail or the occasional blog comment, and that part I still manage. My folks were in town for a few weeks, plus I'm editing a friend's novel and trying to wedge in some time when my husband and I are simultaneously awake, offline, and in the same room.

Even at the best of times, my schedule of the moment only allows me 20 hrs per week of writing/thinking time, in maximum 2-hr tranches. Not that I don't think and jot round the clock, but it's next to impossible to produce anything with a throughline if you can't count on at least 20 minutes until the next interruption. Basically I have to triage toward stuff that's going to make me money or that's artistically important. Usually it's not a full 20 hours, either; usually 5 to 10 of those go to other stuff like laundry and showers I can't put off anymore, or napping because I had to deal with something overnight.

That's not an excuse for not writing journal entries, because I don't need one. It's a journal entry. Add some kind of rotating mild ilness (at present, chest cold) and this is my life right now.
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Ate a rabbit liver yesterday, which felt sacred. There's no distance from death with organs thrown in a pan; bone and muscle and flesh can be old, but entrails don't last. Their unmistakable purpose is to sustain life. There's fat around the heart to keep it warm. It lets me understand, a little, the appeal of the ortolan. We have so little time here, and so much of what is beautiful is also cruel.

I ate the lungs as well, and only remembered afterward that they're illegal in the US. (Nope, no good reason.)

I bought a new toothbrush, and had to get a special orthodontic one that cost a euro extra, because all the other readily-available options were hard (or occasionally medium) bristled. Italians, how do you still have gum tissue?
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A Roman Catholic priest came by today to give the apartment an Easter blessing; they make the rounds this time of year, going door to door. (Italy's more than 75% Catholic. By some polls, 87%.) He was sweet and gentle and did his best to use (pretty good, honestly) English for my benefit even though his main languages are Italian, Latin, and French. He flung drops of holy water all over while making comradely small talk, and then he was on to the next house.

Because of Ciro's and my different though not-uncompatible views of religion, Ciro (who wasn't present) characterizes the visit: a wizard came and cast good luck spells on our house. I took it as: social workers have made a casual visit in case I am in distress but unable/afraid to contact anyone. Anyway, it was nice.

Otherwise I have mainly been doing laundry and dishes, and coughing.
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I can't remember whether I've already mentioned this, but one of my favorite movies as a kid was Watership Down, which is odd not only because it's terrifying but because it's slow. I didn't need constant stimulation, but for instance it took me until practically adulthood to agree that A New Hope was entertaining, even though I loved Star Wars, because Threepio wanders in the desert for maybe a minute.

I suspect a key element of my attachment to the movie was the song "Bright Eyes" by Art Garfunkel. It is a song that begins with an oboe solo. If you want me to listen to something, even tiny kid me, lead off with an oboe, and I'm probably going to follow you. (Presumably this was the instrument employed by the Pied Piper of Hamlen.) I mean, I probably would have liked the movie anyway and would have liked the song anyway, but the two together were potent.

And I mean little kid, here. I was watching that movie at a time before I can remember; I can't remember what the TV room of that house looked like because I was too little. It was my Frozen, I guess. (I also liked Superman II and Annie.)

In any case, without going into the question of whether that's an appropriate film for a three-year-old, the oddest thing about it is that since it's an animated movie and therefore nominally for children (because America), the song is therefore considered to be a kids' song by the kinds of people who put together songs-for-kids anthologies. Which is crazy. It's the bleakest confrontation with the baffling and painful inevitability of death that I've ever heard, and I am definitely someone who has spent hours listening to tragic music from a variety of genres and eras.

Remy Zero's cover is acceptable even though it cuts the oboe.

lotta blah

Mar. 18th, 2016 03:07 pm
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I've been doing a lot of writing for Atlas Obscura the last couple of months, and that's probably going to continue happening since every time I turn something in, they're like "hey, what are you writing next? Can it be even longer? Can we give you a raise?" and I even get nice "this one was so fun" notes from the accounting department. (Also it's a good thing I decided to write this blog entry because I forgot to invoice my last article until just now.) Plus fan letters from strangers and friends of friends?

I'm not exactly surprised that this is a good fit for me, because I have been reading the site since before it was Atlas Obscura, when it was an Athnasius Kircher fan blog. I've been with them since before they started. Plus, connecting disparate bits of historical trivia to tell a coherent story is what I do. I could say "what I do for fun," but I do it whether it's fun or not. (It's fun, though.) That I am currently being given a platform and money for it is something I almost don't want to talk about because I don't want to jinx it and have it go away. Especially since I have an editor whose "what do you mean here" doesn't indicate that something needs to be cut, but that I have more rope to follow an intereseting tangent, or just to vamp.

The whole thing simultaneously feels like "well, yeah, of course you'd be doing this" and also like "except how is it this information is not already widely available in the way I'm presenting it." I realize "obscure" is right in the name of the site, but for the most part I'm writing about stuff that's already online, it's just that nobody has put it together or contextualized it or put it in front of this audience. Frankly I'm not the most obvious person to be a bridge between nerdy and pop. But I'm functioning somewhere between Bill Nye and James Burke.

I don't want to exaggerate the significance of this, because I'm not making a living off it, but I'm in an odd place right now, generally. I've never been a very ambitious person. I'm brave, which is sometimes mistaken for ambitious. I'm also a bit optimistic. But, for instance, I can't count how many of my friends in elementary school declared they wanted to be the first female president. My response was inevitably that (aside from hoping we'd already have had one by the time I turned 35, which alas) I'd much rather be vice president and not have to do anything except break tie votes in the Senate, which never happens. (It's happened 244 times in around 230 years. Fully 29 of those were John Adams. Biden has done it no times.) Or supreme court lifetime appointment. Neither of which I think is likely to happen to me or is something I'm interested in pursuing. I just want to sit under my cork tree, you know? (Sidebar, Ferdinand was burned by the Nazis? And rebutted by Hemmingway?)

But what I mean is, I'm puttering around writing bits of things and working on developing some film stuff, and generally what I'm doing is being well-receieved by publications I respect a lot. (For instance, The Toast ran not only that Yoko pice but some of my oddball humor stuff, and they're exactly who I'd want to publish that with; they're the people who make me laugh.) I'm also right on the verge of paying off my student loan, although we still need to knock out Ciro's and then start building some savings for retirement, or a downpayment, or who knows.

That's the sticking point: who knows. I'm doing pretty well by my non-ambitious standards, which means I need to figure out what the next level is. Because otherwise I just sit here watching a lot of just-ok youtube videos. And, ugh. Although I quite like the strategy of aiming for the moon so that even if you miss, you land among the stars, I can't even begin to pick a moon, partly because I'm pretty close to my limit now. Not necessarily in terms of skill, but in terms of free time. I have some, some which I could put toward a dream project, the one that makes me feel alive and gives me a sense that I'm moving forward. But do I honestly feel that any of my ideas can take that kind of pressure? No, not really. That's not how I do. More to the point, if I try to imagine what I'd do if money and time were no object, it's a big ol' blank, at least where homelife is concerned. (Professionally, I'd like to be running United Artists back in the 1930s, although yes this would also be a nightmare.)

It's so diffuse a complaint I don't even know how to make it. Or how to resolve it. It's embarassing. Potentially, I'm about to stop being up against the wall all the time. But, you know, the nice thing about being up against a wall is that although there's not much to look at, you have a wall to lean on.
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There are a lot of things I seem to do deliberately and cleverly that are complete accidents. For instance, I recently wrote a humor piece for The Toast in which one of the punchlines hinges on Zayn from One Direction having a plot-critical lower-back tattoo. I didn't find out until a month after I wrote it (remember, there's a lag between me writing a thing and it getting published) that Zayn from One Direction is heavily tattooed and is kind of well-known for that.

This is on my mind because one of the most formative "Romie accidentally looks extremely cool" moments took place when I was 18, when I was in a Barnes and Noble, and I saw a Pixies album - definitely not their most famous one, or even second most famous - and thought, "oh, yeah, I've heard them in the background of a movie and like them; I'll grab this." (I am one of those people who stays through the end of the end credits, which makes me respectfully nerdy but not exactly cool.) Except, no, I had not heard The Pixies. I'd heard The Martinis, and meant to pick up something by The Martinis.

My selection impressed the store clerk, and having that album on my shelf (which became one of my favorite albums, even though the first time listening, I spent the whole time wondering why they'd changed vocalists) has been a critical signal to a wide range of people that I am a member of some secret in-crowd. Literally, I have been present when people have said "hey, Romie knows what she's talking about when it comes to music; I mean, she's a Pixies fan." Nobody says this about me for liking Radiohead, or Lou Reed, or Elastica, or Gershwin. (I do get some cred for liking Erik Satie and Erykah Badu. I have not been able to decode what makes music "cool." Not that this has been a priority.)

So, right, whatever, that's a thing that happens to teenagers. However, the cherry on the cake is that today my friend Emily made some reference to the scene in Empire Records where a Martinis song plays, and I thought "you know, I meant to pick up an album by them 15 years ago and never got around to it." So I did a quick websearch to figure out which album, like you do. Turns out? Same guitarist as The Pixies. It was the band he formed when the Pixies broke up. Liking the catchiest Martinis song and thinking "I'll pick up the final Pixies album" seems as intentional as liking "Maybe I'm Amazed" and therefore buying Let it Be.

Wasn't.
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That Nelson article I mentioned researching a few weeks back is now live at Atlas Obscura, and I posted some additional material over here if anybody's interested. If anybody's really interested, message me your e-mail and I can send over a copy of that Mary Grantham letter or scans of old newspapers. My transcript of the letter (stuff in brackets, I'm not sure about):


Newby Hall, Dec. [14?] 1805

Dear Mrs. Robinson

I have been conscious that I have let others write to you, when before my business, I had thanks to return for a kind letter; to pay my debts, I will begin by saying that along with a Note from Fanny yesterday declining further shares in an Opera Box, the same Post brought one from Monk to say they told him at the Office & at last he saw Jewell himself, that the Box ran was let immediately after they put the [Breadalbane?] on notice & a Clark believed it was to Lord Somersville; & there was no other unlet. There may be a Fib in all this, but it's his Breath to say that Mr B. has been guilty of the most careless incivility to me & my sister in not giving us the refusal of it, & the grandest folly in giving it up to the House if she ever meant to subscribe again to the Opera; in short, I am ragy & not predisposed to have given up the Opera entirely. I hope however we shall have no [connections] in our Play Box, & that during my Sister's present stay at [Putney], [Lady] Pembroke, with

[pg. 2]

whom she has exchanged letters will have the weekly form right for the friend who gives it to & that Mrs. M. [Gist?], tho' she cannot hear will see well enough to attend to my Sister's million directions about the Tickets & not lose any of them; what a rare such good host of people as you & my Sister would be in!! I certainly meant that whoever took all of my division of the Box should have it entirely to themselves, that night as an inducement to subscribe, but on the others think the two Lords should be admitted, unless requested to the contrary, from our lending the Box to any large party: however if the [Greffier?] subscribes to your division or indeed any other man I do not wish them to have it for mine because it lessens so much of my power of obliging any friends with places & is more than their share of subscription is entitled to; tho' yours Nephews are entitled to the accommedation. A few lines from the Secretary came Today, darted them off & merely written to make a neat & appropriate on the Day. a longer letter to me was the same Date as yrs & the same observations & lamentations on the present state of affairs on the Continent: To you, I suppose [he ways?] he scarcely expects to come over before [February?] & to no he adds that [B?] Hardnicke will not fail to befriend him if it is in his power & that [M. Long] continues very civil to him, but at present he saw no utility in any direct application to him

[pg. 3]

for more direct recommendation to the [Gromies?]; I shall add that might have more weight with that great man than [B?] Hardnickes, because, the latter will be despised because they don't fear his Opposing them, when he returns. The Continental news completely perplexes one, there is most certainly gross lies & infamous abuse in all the [2?] Charlemagne's Bulletins, but you know I once entirely agreed with old Mrs Box that bad stories were never told of people, when they did not in some degree deserve it; therefore I fear some further treacherous going away or shameful surrender & I shall lament over your old acquaintance the [Qusoians?] for they have fought with more effect than the Christians were let to do. The late Winds have made one fear poor [Ld?] Nelson's remains would find a Wattery grave at last, in a ship so crippled as the Victory must be, & it might have better to have landed his Body at Portsmouth & repaired the Ship there: Those windy days have been followed by a heavy fall of Snow Yesterday & Today: so that you may tell me I have [afaird till?] I may be snowed up some weeks & what is more, my son had an inspection ordered; not from Col. [Looch's?] wish, but from the wisdom [illegible] of superior orders: it is impossible they can do more than [coppe?]

[p. 4]

in the Market Place at [Dipon?] but it is a pity to appear at all in such weather

Early in [January?] I shall move Southwards rather ashamed at my long visit my son & [illegible] still mean to pass thro' London to Bath after the 20th of the month: if that season being at an Hotel is the worst of the plan they must be cold & uncomfortable.

[addressed to the Honorable Mrs Robinson]

As I have answered Fanny's letter, I will enclose this to [S?] Malbesbury for once. As always Dear Mrs Robinson am yrs most Affectionately
M. Grantham
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