Monday, May 24, 2010

Living in the past.

If you haven’t had the pleasure of watching the British television series Life on Mars, you’ve missed out. It’s something that is hard to describe, but in a nutshell is a show where a modern day cop is hit by a car and he wakes up in 1973. In the past he’s a cop as well, but it’s a very different world to the one of forensics and procedures… and seatbelts. He’s just trying to figure out what’s happened so he can get back; is he in a coma, traveled in time, or has he gone crazy?

The show is so incredibly well done, with characters that you can’t get enough of. And realizing just how much things have changed – it’s astounding and quite funny, really, in the context of the show.

The defining character was Gene Hunt, the man in charge of the squad when Sam Tyler wakes up after being hit in 2003. He is a bit of an anti-hero with all his machismo and misogyny, but somehow you can’t help but delight in him. His comments are jewels to be admired, no matter how offensive they are. At his heart, he is a good man, but he’s a 1970’s man's-man, make no mistake. And much as I should writhe at his very character, I adore him.

There was a follow up series to Life on Mars called Ashes to Ashes. It gave us back Gene Hunt and some of the other characters we loved from Life on Mars, except now it’s 1981 and the person that showed up in Hunt’s world from the present is a female officer called Alex Drake. That lends to a whole new level of misogynistic issues that are quite fun to watch unfold. It also lends to a sexual tension that was in turn both intriguing and comical.

Ashes to Ashes was quite good, but didn’t quite capture the mystery and intrigue of Life on Mars. The final episode of the series ran this weekend, answering all the questions. For many that is most desirable. For me, however, it was a let down. I loved the mystery left to us at the end of Life on Mars. It was a frustrating sort of exhilaration that I’d take any day over neat-and-tidy, then forgotten.

I mean, I haven’t stopped raving about Life on Mars since I first saw it until now, but with Ashes to Ashes I guess I feel like it was fun and all, but didn’t rivet me in the same enthralling way. Don’t get me wrong, it is far and away better than the majority of shows out there, especially American shows, and indeed I’m sorry it’s over, but it’s answers, while interesting, weren’t all that engrossing. Mystery is my mate, intrigue my seducer, plain an simple.

P.S. Best car chases since Streets of San Francisco in these two series!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

What we know.

Memorizing. It’s not exactly a common past time any more, with the possible exception of stage actors. In our parent’s and grandparent’s generations it was valued as a way to share beautiful and important things. Now we just google and forget.

As for me, before I could read or write I had all the books of the bible memorized as well as a couple dozen scriptures. As a side note, this shows how deeply ingrained in my core faith is. However, as I grew, I got lazy. I did memorize scriptures now and then, but my mind was filled with all sorts of things: movies, television shows, school work… movies. In all that I lost the practiced habit of learning something by heart.

The other day I was working on yet another list diligently (yet somehow wondering if spending so much of my time on lists wasn’t wasteful) when I started to think about how I’d like to improve my spiritual life. I had chunked the sections of my life up to what I’d like to work on in larger sections, hoping that having a larger focus instead of the minutia of details would make it easier, and in truth more fun, to achieve. Regarding my self, there were the three areas of mind, body, and spirit for which I was considering how to improve. When it came to my spirit, memorizing came to mind.

As I processed this idea, I processed what was important to me spiritually. Though I cherish the Bible, I value more than it now, because my understanding of God is bigger than what it was in my youth. And, my spirit revels in words. So I started to think of the quotes from books I’ve read that have changed me, moved me so deeply that they changed how I lived. Those words, those wonderful thoughts, that’s what I’d like to have inside me to dwell on when I can’t sleep or when I’m struggling emotionally.

So I decided to start with one of my very favorite quotes, an excerpt from Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. In point of fact, the first two I want to keep trapped in my brain in order to seep into my spirit are both from that outstanding book. Here’s the first:

“I hate a Roman named Status Quo,” he said to me, “Stuff your eyes with wonder,” he said, “Live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories. Ask no guarantees, ask for no security, there never was such an animal. And if there were, it would be related to the great sloth that hangs upside down in a tree all day every day, sleeping its life away. To hell with that,” he said, “shake the tree and knock the great sloth on his ass.”

I know that what inspires is very personal, and most of my friends I’ve shared this with liked the idea of it, but didn’t have the bonded sort of reaction that I did. I know my perspective is rather uncommon, and likely considered uncouth at times, but for me embracing this philosophy is to embrace my nature. My desire to purge and be free of stuff is tied into it. That’s me making sure I’m not so bound by things that I don’t have the energy to shake the tree.

The second quote is quite as vital to my being; to that for which my brain and heart longs.

We’ll just start walking today and see the world and the way the world walks around and talks, the way it really looks. I want to see everything now. And while none of it will be me when it goes in, after a while it’ll all gather together inside and it’ll be me. Look at the world out there, my God, my God, look at it out there, outside me, out there beyond my face and the only way to really touch it is to put it where it’s finally me, where it’s in the blood, where it pumps around a thousand times ten thousand a day. I'll get hold of it so it’ll never run off. I’ll hold onto the world tight some day. I’ve got one finger on it now; that’s a beginning.

It goes to my character and how I want to live my life. There are other quotes, many by the great authors of past generations, that speak to me. And I do hope that I find my way to memorizing them as well. It was likely unorthodox to memorize these two first… but then, that rather sums me up. I have great faith, but it is anything by orthodox. It’s vast and ever-expanding and with it comes a drive to understand and embrace the people and cultures of the world, and in doing that also growing from how they experience and honor God. This is my passion. To know not just these words, but the world - by heart.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Have my cake & eat it, too.

After (hilariously) making yet another list of books last week here on the blog, I dove in. It was like I suddenly gave myself permission to eat dessert first.

I’m not good at that. I come from a family of good Christian Midwestern farmers of mostly Danish stock. What that adds up to is the idea that life is toil and hardship – you work very hard and maybe at the end of the day if you have any energy left, you can do something you enjoy… although even if you do, you never have idle hands! Honestly, it’s slightly psychotic, or rather masochistic. Or a bit of both.

Ingrained in my brain is the story of how my grandfather said he became a success. It was the hour before dawn and hour after dusk that he worked in the fields when everyone else was sleeping or being with family when he made his money. The rest of the time was what barely allowed them to scrape by. And he did become a success, owning several farms, apartment complexes, and more. In fact, the people at the apartments thought he was the janitor because even into his seventies he’d always be the one to do all the work when things went wrong. That’s how I remember him… with that giant ring of keys, which weighed about as much as I did back then, in work gear heading out to one or the other of his sites again.

So when I was in college, I decided to study art. But my parents made it clear I needed an “academic” major as well. I obediently obliged them. The thing is, I would end up spending all my time on classes that were tedious rather than investing some of that time in my major classes because, well, I loved doing art. Classes I would have aced I struggled with at times as a result. And now I deeply regret not taking full advantage of the facilities the art department had because once I graduated (and had the time) I no longer had access.

This disposition carried over into my finding a job/career. I’d pursue things I was interested in, but never anything that brought me bliss. Mustn’t enjoy what I do, not deep down. That was somehow wrong. So my varied professions gave me great and diverse experiences (oh my goodness – the stories!), but not real joy. There was no true satisfaction that what I was doing was something to which I felt any sort of “calling.” Therefore, I’d work extremely hard, get very good at it, then get bored. There was no passion behind it. So I moved on.

This mentality I was brought up in (toil and suffering first, pleasure last), instead of helping me progress has held me back. Not just from reading the books I’m most looking forward to, but from doing the things I’m most passionate about. From living a joy-filled, complete life.

It’s a hard thing to break out of. Truly. I’ve known about this for quite a few years, and have attempted to extricate myself from it. But it’s so pervasive in all areas of my life. Obviously it’s worth the effort. And, too, this extreme pairing down I’m doing with my “stuff” invades my being enough that I’m stripping down and purging some of the non-productive internal processes and ways of thinking and being as well. But I do wish I could simply relax and enjoy without feeling antsy, guilty, or frustrated.

When it comes to the books I have, the permission I gave myself was to read exactly what I want… not to feel the need to have read books I feel are “important” but for which I know I will honestly hate reading. Those classics that show only the depravity of life, for instance, really needn’t be read – not by me. I, quite obviously, understand the hardships life can bring; the difficulties from which some souls never climb out. I chose to dwell on and read about those who perhaps struggle, but who find a level of grace they never expected.

In that revolutionary act of permission-giving, I find I again desire to read some of the books that felt rather obligatory only days before. Perhaps in the same way when I break out of this “toil” mentality, I can find a deep joy in the very things that wore on my soul previously. I hope so. I love dessert.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

I believe.

So here I am, mid-game, with my Sharks jersey over my Sharks t-shirt with accenting Sharks jewelry and hidden beneath, a pair of Sharks thong undies. It’s silly, I know, but as I keep saying, I loves me my Sharkies… and I am eating up these playoffs!

In the Eastern Conference Finals you have the bottom two qualifying teams defying the odds, making for a gladiator-like match-up. That series is going to be about gumption, will, and most of all desire. Neither team has anything to loose and they leave it all out on the ice every game. That makes for amazing, no-holds-barred hockey. The Flyers and the Canadians will give hockey fans a great series.

In the Western Conference Finals, well, we have my Sharks. Okay, okay, and the Blackhawks. The two teams that finished first and second in the West. It’s all about power, skill, force, and flipping great goaltending. These two teams, coming off a week’s rest, are going to bowl each other over as much as they can. This is a hard-core match-up.

The thing about this post season is that there are so many things happening that haven’t happened in decades, if ever. It’s exciting and thrilling because you never know what’s going to happen; what the outcome will be. Stats are out the window, no matter how much the announcers like to throw them out there…

[Fast forward 30 minutes of game play] Well, the first game of the third round is in the books, and the Blackhawks came away with the win. I’m of course suffering for it, but it was a well-played game and the Sharks aren’t even close to out of it yet. They played strong, in truth for the most part they played a stronger game than the Blackhawks, and with so much hockey left to play, I BELIEVE.

You know, as a fan this match-up is rough for me. I have one team I love far-and-away above all others – obviously the Sharks. However, I have two other teams that come in (a distant) second. Because I lived in Washington, D.C. for several years (and because I’m a huge Ovechkin fan), I cheer for the Capitals in the East. Then, and here’s my dilemma, of the Original Six teams that formed the NHL back in the day, the Blackhawks are my team.

When they aren’t against the Sharks or battling the Sharks for position in the Conference, I cheer for them as well. In this post season, I have cheered against them every series because I knew that they would be the Sharks most difficult opponent; that they would be their greatest challenge. No matter how much I love intense, great match-ups, I want my team to make it to the Cup – and win – so I want the easiest path possible.

But here we are. Sharks versus Blackhawks. And even with this first loss, I’m excited! I guess it’s a good thing I have two pair of Sharks thong undies…

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Great expectations.

Indulgence. Why is that such a hard concept for me when it comes to reading? Up until a few years ago I mostly read by mood. I’m in the mood for a classic, I pick one and read it. I’m in the mood for fluff, so be it. I’m in the mood for a WW2 biography, bring it on!

Then I joined, and quickly was helping lead, an online book club. Suddenly I had a list. I was passionate about this list. No, to be honest it wasn’t so much passion as compulsion. I get that way about lists. So I collected all but 4 of the 118 books on the list I didn’t yet own, plus a few on the periphery group list as well. Sadly, I found two other lists to obsess about on top of the first. It wasn’t pretty. (I blame my ex – everything was his fault during that time!) After a while it kind of felt like a chore to read the books the group chose. I didn’t like that it felt that way, because often they were books I was really looking forward to and occasionally, it was even a title I had selected.

The other compulsion that occasionally overcomes me when selecting my next book is this feeling that I “ought to” read something. I think this comes a bit from being a literature major, as well as being someone who wants to continue to expand my brain and be “well-read.” It also comes from my upbringing in that you do the difficult and unenjoyable first, then if there is time you can do something pleasurable. (This didn’t serve me well in college because I loved my major so I’d always leave that work for last and things I would have aced I struggled with!) The trouble with the “ought to” mentality is that when I’m not into a book, I flounder.

I guess what I’m saying is that I need to read for joy. This means being excited, anticipating, and being in the mood to read it. Also, I need to quit selecting something because it’s on a list and I want to keep crossing books off. I need to read what interests me in the moment, and along the way, those books will get read because it will be the right timing and my mood will take me there.

So, the question becomes, what books in my to-read pile am I most looking forward to reading? What have I delayed reading for those “ought to’s” and list books? These are what I came up with:

  • The Gun Seller by Hugh Laurie
  • The Scapegoat by Daphne du Maurier
  • Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome
  • Ballad of the Whiskey Robber by Julian Rubinstein
  • American Gods and the other unread books by Neil Gaiman
  • The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim
  • The Inkheart Trilogy by Cornelia Funke
  • All Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett titles I haven’t yet read
  • The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas
  • North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
  • The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
  • Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  • I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
  • Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino
  • Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Series by Douglas Adams

It’s a pretty eclectic list. Actually, there are quite a few more, but these seem to float to the surface most often when I’m looking at my library and wishing. Oh, and these are just from the books I already own (except for the complete canons of Gaiman, Chandler, & Hammett – still a few to fill in on each). Also, this list doesn't include recommended books I'm excited for either.

So, while I’m sure I’ll continue to intersperse some of the more educational and spiritual reads, I’m excited to start diving in to my joy and reading these. The trouble is choosing just one with which to begin!

Time to indulge…

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Dancing queen.

Oh. My. Gosh. I just attended a Mamma Mia! movie sing-along. It was THE party to be at, in my opinion. Sincerely, I haven’t had that much fun in ages! I MUST tell you about it! :)

Even though it was just around the corner (so to speak) from my house, I found out about the event last night via my favorite Meetup group. I jumped at it, of course… I mean, a chance to belt out those fun songs with a ton of other people? Tsh, ye-a-ah! Sadly, I didn’t have time to think about dressing for the event, though, which was disappointing because you KNOW I can vamp it up with the best of them!

But the event started when I walked into The Retro Dome. This facility was an old theatre (in the shape of a dome) that a couple purchased to do fun events like this. They have this great vision, and as I found out, a lot of spunk! The lobby has bright, colorful, funky seating to lounge in while waiting for friends, they have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for sale at concessions, and the girls bathroom is hot pink, has cool girlie vintage movie posters up, and a hip cartoon lady looking very "Breakfast at Tiffany’s" painted on the wall. I was smiling in the bathroom!

Then as I entered the theatre itself, I was handed a bag of “swag” by ABBA-style clad peeps. Big hair, glitzy, wild outfits, platform heels. Yeah. It rocked. I found my group, and snagged a seat in the crowded row and enjoyed getting to know some of them. But none of us had any idea just how interactive it all was to be.

First, there was meant to be a “singing” contest, but they didn’t get many entries. However, the “Grandma Mia’s” did a number that brought down the house. All bespangled and lam├ęd and sequined out, they got on stage and did all sorts of ABBA moves as they lip-synced. It was such a kick! (One of them was 92 – and the life of the party! Think Betty White with moves.)

Then they had a Mamma Mia! trivia contest, taking volunteers. Two ladies were chosen, and not to be left out, I raised my hand as well as the lady’s hand next to me. We were chosen and not only that, we won! So now my new friend Bobbie and I get to go see Broadway San Jose perform the stage play of Mamma Mia! Woohoo!

Just before the main event, we were taught the dance moves from the film for “Dancing Queen.” Then the show began… and we were all belting it out as the lyrics were highlighted on the screen. When the songs would start the funky colored lights would come up a bit and they’d pull people from the crowd to dance in the aisles or hand the microphones to different people. The funniest was two guys, one with a red crinoline slip on and one with a huge feather boa, busting a move to "Dancing Queen." It doesn’t get much better than that!

In the swag bags, we all got a bit of play money, and when the song “Money, Money, Money” came on, we waved it around and threw it in the air. A few got flowers, and those people were our dancing entertainment for “Chiquitita.” Then on “Does Your Mother Know,” they handed out juice with umbrellas in dixie cups!

But in “Take a Chance on Me,” when I’m about to burst out of my seat for wanting to dance (again), I was handed the microphone. After a moment, I thought “screw this,” and went to the aisle and danced and sang the big finale! (The other person that had a mic jumped out in the aisle as soon as I did!) While streamers were blasted over the seats and the dressed up peeps ran down the aisles spraying the crowd with spray bottles of water when Aphrodite’s fountain burst, I was singing and dancing away. That’s me. The Dancing Queen.

“I’m a lone wolf… ar-rooooo!”