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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Blog Prom 2008: The Wallflower's Tale

Yikes. Prom. I can't believe I agreed to go again...and if anyone other than Sunshine were throwing this party, I'm pretty sure I'd have skipped it. As it is, I'm attending as Designated Wallflower, which means I'll probably be watching the cool kids have fun. Some things never change...

Here's what Sunshine has planned for this week-long(!) extravaganza:

  • Monday April 28 - Let's talk about our Prom theme songs.

  • Tuesday April 29 - embarrassing Prom stories. Talk about the good, the bad and the ugly on your own blog about a Prom memory and I'll link to the whole list.

  • Wednesday April 30 - favorite movie Prom scenes! Because it seems like all of us watch way too many movies and know an inordinate amount of dialogue by heart.

  • Thursday May 1 - submitted Prom photos will be posted with links to participating bloggers

  • Friday May 2 - PROM! Start sucking up to people now, we'll be voting on some things far more interesting than Prom King and Queen.

As you can see, I've missed the timing for the first two events (although I will be talking about them in just a minute), and I don't really have anything to contribute to the second two, so this post will be my only official Prom appearance here.

My high school held a combined Junior-Senior prom; the junior class was in charge of planning it, with the seniors as "honored guests." Underclassmen could attend only as the dates of juniors or seniors - most of the time those "underclassmen" were girls, but I did bring a sophomore to my senior prom. (Yeah, I know - cradle-robber!) As a junior, I was head of the Centerpieces committee for the prom. The theme was "The Best of Times" (the song was by Styx - welcome back to 1981, folks!), and the centerpieces were black mortarboards with white clocks on each side. They took some time to make, but I heard they looked very good on the white tablecloths that night at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club. (I didn't go, so I had to take other people's word for it.)

As I mentioned, I did attend my prom senior year. My sister, then a junior (so her class was hosting) and I doubled with two guys from our church youth group - one younger, one older, neither of whom had ever attended our school. The location that year's junior class selected, the St. Petersburg Hilton, was nicer than the one my class had picked the year before, but the theme, "Through the Years" (song by Kenny Rogers), was lamer. Fortunately, there were very few pictures and I don't know what became of them over various moves, so no one will have to see what it all looked like. However, I do remember that my dress was a pale yellow one with spaghetti straps, a long skirt, and a matching sleeveless wrap, and I spent $25 on it. I didn't think the thing was going to be worth an expensive dress, and I was right. Also, since it was the early '80's - meaning almost no one had seen MTV yet - the hair still wasn't all that big, unless it was reacting to the humidity.

Speaking of prom themes - this song really sums up the whole experience.

My overall prom experience is summed up best in one word - "meh." It wasn't awful, but it was certainly not one of the peak experience of my life, before or since. However, it was more than made up for by the real highlight of senior-year festivities for lucky Florida kids (and California ones too, at Disneyland) - Disney Grad Nite. Six hours of unlimited access to all the rides and attractions of Disney World's Magic Kingdom park - in May of 1982, that was actually all of Disney World, period; Epcot opened later that year, and the other parks probably were barely a glimmer in some Imagineer's eye then - just for high-school seniors, their dates (if allowed by the school) and their chaperones, plus mini-concerts by the hottest groups on the music charts. (I actually didn't go to any of the shows, so I don't remember everyone who was there, but on the bus ride back home some people did mention seeing Tommy Tutone and Night Ranger. Again, it was 1982...) I went with my friend Rick, who was going through his "I'm trying to figure out if I'm gay" phase; that was the night we discussed whether we should try dating and see if that might help him. Fortunately, we decided against it, thereby allowing me to dodge a potential "gay ex-boyfriend" bullet. (I really didn't date in high school, but at times like that one, the fact that I was really a bit scared of having a boyfriend sometimes worked out for the best.) But around that conversation, we actually had a very good time. The lines for the rides weren't long, we stayed awake all night, I went on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride for the first time (although I refused the Mad Tea Party), and I didn't lose my (then-new) contact lenses on Space Mountain.

If you ever have to make a choice between Prom or Grad Nite, go to Grad Nite.

Wallflower out. Stop by Sunshine's place on Friday for the Blog Prom - see you there! Meanwhile, share (or exorcise) your own Prom - or Grad Nite! - memories in the comments.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A quirky Ten on Tuesday, plus ten more...

**Holy moly - this is post #500! Where does the time go?**

I think this week's Ten on Tuesday is a bit like the "7 Random Things About Me" meme (which I've never done, by the way) - it's asking for "10 Superstitions, Traditions, and/or Personality Quirks." That's a topic with potential and a lot of wiggle room.

  1. I do not like to rush in the morning. I need time for my morning grooming/dressing routines, walking the dog, a little reading over breakfast (breakfast is a must), and cleanup before I leave the house. That's why I get up at 4:30 AM in order to leave by 7. I'm trying to get to work by 8, but once I hit the freeway a lot of it's out of my hands.

  2. When I was little, I was like many kids and didn't like the crusts of bread on my sandwiches, so I left them. When my mother told me that this was wasteful and unacceptable, I started to eat the crusts off my sandwiches first, to get them out of the way and over with. I still eat sandwiches from the outside in. My husband finds it highly amusing. However, when it comes to things like pizza and pies, I save the crust for last. Hey, I never said I was consistent...

  3. Another childhood eating habit of mine was not eating the meat at dinner - I've always been a carb junkie, apparently. (And not a vegetarian in training, either - it was even more difficult to get me to eat the veggies.) My mother instituted another eating rule - I was not permitted to eat the side dishes until I had eaten the meat. For years, I cut up my entire piece of meat and ate it first; I think I was well into my twenties before I realized it was OK to move around among the foods on my plate (and by then, I wasn't leaving the meat uneaten anyway).

  4. On an ideal weekend, I'd get all my chores and errands done before noon on Saturday, and then feel like I could relax...work first, then it's OK to play. (I guess it's a little bit like eating the crusts off the sandwich first - saving the good stuff for later.) This stems in part from the fact that I know I procrastinate about getting routine tasks done, and so it's better if I just plunge in and get them over with. Very few of my weekends work out that "ideal" way...but I don't stress out about that (nearly) as much as I used to.

  5. I don't like to change lanes much when I'm driving. I like to get into the lane I need, and stay there. I'm afraid that if I don't do that, no one will let me in when I need to merge over, and I'll miss my turn or my exit. (Have you ever driven around L.A.? It could definitely happen.)

  6. I don't like to drive to new places at night. (No) thanks to my lousy eyesight, I have a harder-than-usual time with street signs and, especially, house numbers in the dark. It really helps if someone gives me directions that include indicators like "third house from the corner, on the left," or at least lets me know which side of the street is odd-numbered. (That would actually be a nice addition to Google Maps, Mapquest, GPS programming, or whatever online-directions tool you prefer, if you ask me.)

  7. I like to buy non-perishable staples and keep them around for when they're needed; I really don't like running out of things. I want a backup at hand, and I don't want to be caught short and have to run to the store to replace something right away. This extends from mundane items like toilet paper, batteries, and light bulbs to having "reserves" of my favorite Body Shop products (so I don't actually have to go there very often; I just make periodic stock-up trips). But there's no doubt that the weirdest thing I'm afraid of not having on hand is books to read, which is why if you look around my house, you'll see so many I actually haven't read yet; I'm saving them so I won't run out. And I keep adding more...

  8. My husband and I like to return to the restaurant where we had our first date every six months or so. And by the way, we do still recognize the anniversary of that date - it was just a couple of weeks ago, on April 17. It's been three years since that fateful day...

  9. Once I give myself the push to get started (see #4), I actually like housecleaning. It's partly the feeling of being able to check tasks off the to-do list, but it's also that I like the tasks themselves - at least some of them. At least, I like them when it's my own house - so while I'm glad you thought of me, you really don't need to invite me over to help you clean!

  10. I've gotten the impression that most people who know me think that I'm pretty organized. I think I just look that way. Parts of my life really are organized most of the time, but others aren't; I'd say it's usually somewhere better than 50% organized, usually around 2/3, maybe 75% on a really good day when not much is going on. I view being organized - having lists, plans, and schedules - as a defense strategy against chaos, for the most part; since I'm not one of those people who works best under chaos and pressure, I try to keep the defenses up. Like I said at the beginning of this list, I don't like to rush.

Next week - 10 Places That You'd Love to Travel To (and haven't yet)

Keeping up with the Ten thing, here's a Tuesday (random) 10 from my iPod:

"Stay Up Late," Talking Heads, Sand in the Vaseline: Popular Favorites
"Get Back," The Beatles, Let it Be
"Dreamer," Supertramp, Crime of the Century
"Stupid Girl," Garbage, Garbage
"Faith," George Michael, Ladies and Gentlemen...The Best of George Michael
"Que Será, Será," Pink Martini, Morning Becomes Eclectic (KCRW compilation)
"Traffic and Weather," Fountains of Wayne, Traffic and Weather
"Here Comes the Sun," The Beatles, Abbey Road
"Substitute," The Who, Hail Brittania: The British Invasion 1964-1968 (compilation)
"We Danced," The Hooters, Supergroups of the '80's (compilation)

Monday, April 28, 2008

Weekend Assignment #213- Book Boosters

The Weekend Assignment is posted each Friday at Outpost Mâvarin; a roundup of responses goes up the following Thursday, so if you'd like to join in, you've still got some time. Karen says: Don't worry if you don't get your entry in by the end of the weekend. It's called the Weekend Assignment because John Scalzi originally designed it to give folks something to write on weekends, but times have changed since then. Now the meme is launched on Thursday nights / Friday mornings, just a little later than Scalzi used to post it, and you have a whole week to respond. Still, I for one am grateful if you don't all wait until the last minute!

Karen changed her mind about the last Weekend Assignment when she realized it was National Poetry Month, but this was the original one. I had already started on it when the new one went up, so went ahead and finished it, and it turns out that I bought myself a little time this weekend.

Weekend Assignment #213: While it may be difficult to choose your favorite book of all time, there's probably a certain genre or category of books you prefer over other kinds. Do you love a mystery, or would you rather read about dragons? Are you thirsty for a good vampire tale, or is science fiction more your style? Do you mostly stick with the classics, or look for the latest spy novel? Are you a biography buff? Do a lot of your books have the word "Dummies" in the title? Do you like to read about real-world politics, science, history or sports, or would you rather escape the real world with a good romance? Tell us! And while you're at it, tell us your second favorite category of books.

Extra Credit: Do you ever loan out books to friends or family?

I'm going to use this assignment as my opportunity to address this question - "Why do we read?" Of course, I'll only be speaking for myself here, but I'm certainly interested in knowing your answers if you'd like to share them. In her original post asking the question (linked above), Care gave several reasons that also apply to me and that I really can't put any better myself:
"Fun, escape, education, to create a connection to another who has also read whatever, travel without leaving my chair, gain knowledge, to catch up (not miss out!), to participate, to share experiences, to experience something without REALLY having to go through it!, to find out IF I might want to experience something?, to understand, to appreciate my world, to make sense of things, to discover…"
One of the things that Dewey mentioned in her response to this query (also linked above) was, “(B)ooks give me a way to figure out how people tick, to try to understand the complicated dance of human interaction…I try to learn how and why and when and where we do what we do…Granted, real, live people would probably be a more effective path to understanding other humans than fictional characters…” It’s much the same for me, and I really do think it’s a pretty effective way to gain insight into human behavior and psychology. An author/narrator will let you directly into a character’s inner life. Most people you encounter outside of books aren’t usually that open - and you might not want them to be. Boundaries are trickier to negotiate in real-life interactions.

I read because I can't imagine my life without it, nor do I want to try. I was a relatively early reader, but I'm not sure of exactly when I started - I started reading on my own somwhere between ages four and five, because I know I'd been at it for awhile by the time I started kindergarten. As a young reader, the stories I read fueled my imagination, and the characters often became part of stories of my own. (I just realized that I may have been a very early practicioner of fan fiction.) I was interested in reading biography, history, and science as well as fiction, but fiction was often just as educational; it exposed me to different places and cultures, and as I mentioned previously, it helped me gain insight into human nature.

Things haven't changed all that much, when I think about it, but I always have trouble answering questions about what kind of books I like to read, since my preferences generally don't trend toward particular genres, at least in fiction. In non-fiction, I still like biography and its cousin memoir, as well as popular science and history ("popular" as opposed to "academic," that is - books intended for laypeople). But as far as fiction's concerned, most of my library is contemporary fiction with a few literary pretensions. There are quite a few books in there that have won one prize or another, but that's certainly not a requirement to get on my bookshelf. While much of what I read may contain influences and elements from genre fiction - especially mystery and suspense, but sometimes fantasy/science fiction and occasionally a little romance as well - it's usually not of a specific genre itself.

I like fiction with well-developed, relatable characters and an engaging plot. The plot doesn't necessarily have to drive the story, but it's nice if something actually happens, and I do appreciate seeing the characters grow over the course of the novel. Humor's nice, but not essential unless the book is (intentionally) satire. I'm not sure there's a name for this, but I think the common element among most of my favorite books is that they center on relationships - not necessarily romantic ones (although sometimes they are), but those among families and between friends as well, which seems to be consistent with the appeal of character.

If anyone I know is interested in any of my books, I'm usually more than happy to pass them on once I'm done with them - give them away, that is, rather than lend them. It's the BookCrossing effect, I suppose, even if I don't officially do much of that anymore. I'll donate my used books to the public library if I don't think I'll read them again someday - and with so many books that I haven't read yet lying around my house, I don't do much re-reading at this stage of my life. If I truly don't want to part with my copy of a book that I think someone else might enjoy, I've been known to buy it for them. Sometimes a book I thought I gave away does come back to me, though, and that's fine - the library will always take it.

So now it's your turn. Are your reading preferences easier to classify than mine are? What categories do you like best? Do you lend or give away your books? And the biggest question of all - why do you read?

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Quiz-tacular

I don't have a lot of links to share this week, so I'm going to collect some more and wait until next Sunday to post them. Meanwhile, I hit the jackpot on quizzes.

=====================================
I kind of saw this coming, and it makes sense...but damn, I hate to admit that it's true.




You Should Live in the Suburbs



Like many people, you like the city - but you don't want to live in it.

For you, the suburbs is the perfect compromise.

You can enjoy the city as much as you want, but you have a quiet, safe neighborhood to come home to.


================================================

I flew through this little quiz, and I thought the results were more accurate than some I've gotten lately:




Your Personality at 35,000 Feet Says...



Deep down, you prefer spending time alone to spending time with others. You enjoy thinking more than talking.



You are good with your place in the world. You are confident and comfortable with who you are.



Your gift is having a way with words. You know how to express yourself well.



You are inspired by what is possible. Real life is often too ordinary for you.



You are happy but often stressed out. If you can slow down and appreciate life, you enjoy it a lot more.


===============================================

And here are a couple I found over at MaryP's blog - they're ladies-only (sorry guys, no offense!). Ask my husband if he agrees with this one:




You Are Low Maintenance



Otherwise known as "too good to be true"

You're one laid back chica - and men love that!

Just remember that no good guy likes a doormat.

So if you find your self going along to get along...

Stop yourself and put up a little bit of a fight.


=================================================

I think this one has it just about right:




You're Confident...Sometimes



You can seem confident when the occasion calls for it

But inside you may be experiencing a bit of self doubt

A little more inner confidence could take you far...

And convince others that you're as confident as you try to seem


Feeling quizzical? Have at it!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Is your life all a-Twitter?

Are you Twittering? It seems like that's what all the cool kids are doing - and talking about - these days. Then again, we already know I'm not cool, so it shouldn't be a surprise that I'm not on Twitter either.

Twitter makes me even more anxious than Facebook does, for reasons that are similar but not entirely the same. I have a Facebook page; I accepted an invite from a non-blogging friend a few months ago. But I'm rarely over there. I could see pretty quickly that it has enormous time-suckage potential. Of course, that potential can also be spun in much more positive terms as "social-networking opportunities," and there's the appeal. However, it's a blocked site at work - which is probably for the best - and since work is where I spend the bulk of my daylight hours, time on Facebook would mean time I'm not spending with my family and/or various offline life activities including real-life socializing and reading. There are still only 24 hours in a day, and since large blocks of them are already dedicated to my job, commuting to and from said job (blech), and sleeping (mandatory!), that doesn't leave a huge discretionary time budget. I'm choosing to spend the online portion of that time budget on blogging (writing, reading, and commenting), and that's my social networking.

I understand that Twitter is intended for short communications and not for composing long-winded blog posts like the ones I put up here. I get the sense that where it eats up time isn't so much in posting your own updates, it's "following" everyone else's, and that brings up the same issues for me that Facebook does (although it doesn't seem to be blocked at work - yet). I understand that you can Twitter without a computer - it works by phone as long as you have text messaging - but there's still the time consideration. And if you don't spend the time on it, are you missing out on a lot?

For the most part, my contacts seem to be divided pretty neatly between online and offline (although there's a bit of overlap in my LinkedIn connections); I haven't yet met any of the online friends offline (but I do know that quite a few are Twittering already), and most of the offline folks don't seem to be drawn to doing much online. I know that a few are involved in online communities like Facebook and MySpace; some of them do read my blog (thanks, y'all!), but I don't know if they read any others, and they aren't blogging themselves. I'm afraid that mentioning "Twittering" would just get me a blank stare in response. And then there's the whole "following" concept. I get that it's basically the same idea as subscribing to your favorite blog feeds, but having "followers" sounds a little like a virtual entourage to me. Besides, you may recall that I'm a little apprehensive about the whole "networking" thing in the first place...and what if I signed up for Twitter and no one wanted to follow me? That would just make me sad.

But I'm starting to wonder if I'm missing out on something here, and I'd like someone to enlighten me. I know that ultimately this is one of those questions I have to answer for myself, but humor me here, please. If you're on Twitter, make a case that I really need to be there too, and that it won't take over my life. And then you'll need to convince my husband, who already worries that I may be spending just a little too much time in online communication modes and not quite enough on my offline relationships. I don't want him to be right about that, and I really don't need another time-consuming hobby eating away at my days, just as I've made a lot of progress at managing the time I'm spending with blog-related activity (really, I have! I swear! OK, maybe "some" progress is more accurate than "a lot." Anyway, moving on...).

Just pick one already - by design

This forced-choice exercise is stolen, as always, from Meg Fowler. Furnishing and decorating a home involves lots of decisions; mine are underlined.

CHOOSE YE: DESIGN/DECOR/I LOVE LAMP EDITION

Floor lamps or table lamps or sconces? (note: not scones. everyone prefers a scone…)

Low lighting or major lighting (when there is no natural light)? (I always care about having enough light to read.)

Window treatments or simple shades/rod and drape?

Big TV in the living room, or hidden away in a den or bedroom?

Photographs everywhere, or mostly just art? (We've got some pretty arty photographs, actually...)

Wood or metal?

Light woods or dark woods?

Chairs that recline or chairs that… well, they’re chairy

Smooshy couches or structured couches?

Indie furniture stores or big chains?

Tidy or cluttered?

FILL IN THE BLANK BONUS: Favorite room to decorate? Bedroom

Living room off-limits, or that’s where your family hangs out?

Design-focused furniture or traditional, common shapes?

Big, bold prints or smaller patterns/prints?

Antique or modern?

Major colors or neutrals with a bit of color?

Lots of different textures, or just a bit?

Great room/open concept or contained spaces?

Fragrance (candles, etc.) or none?

Get things decorated for you, or do it yourself?

Create an overall look right away, or build it over time? (This would change if I came into a lot of money, though)

Form or function, overall?

Your turn - in the comments or on your own blog!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Friday Follies 4-25: BTT, FFI, 123

Springing April 24 25, 2008

btt button

Well, here where I live, Spring is sprung–weeks early, even. Our lilac bush looks like it will have flowers by this time next week instead of in the middle of May as usual. The dogwood trees, the magnolia trees–all the flowering trees are flowering. The daffodils and crocuses are, if anything, starting to fade. It may only be April 24th but it is very definitely Spring and, allergies notwithstanding, I’m happy to welcome the change of season. What I want to know, is:

Do your reading habits change in the Spring? Do you read gardening books? Even if you don’t have a garden? More light fiction than during the Winter? Less? Travel books? Light paperbacks you can stick in a knapsack? Or do you pretty much read the same kinds of things in the Spring as you do the rest of the year?

Don’t forget to leave a link to your actual response (so people don’t have to go searching for it) in the comments—or if you prefer, leave your answers in the comments themselves!

I really should just call this "Booking Past Thursday," since I'm not even attempting to get it up before Friday. Or "Booking All The Way Through Thursday."

This is a great question because it's making me think about a different perspective - is there a seasonal factor involved in my reading choices?

OK, I've thought about it - the answer is "no," or at least, "not that I've noticed." I tend to try to keep a mix of books going year-round. I'll alternate lighter and heavier fiction, and mix in some nonfiction every third or fourth book.

Sometimes I'll make a deliberate choice to save a particular book for a vacation or day off. I may decide that because it looks like a book that I want to have time to concentrate on, or because I expect that it's a story that will grab me quickly and be difficult to stop reading. I don't get into the light fiction that's usually considered "beach reading" very often (I don't spend much time at the beach, either - so what kind of Californian does that make me?), but that's also the kind of reading I'll take on a trip, because it usually requires very little concentration. However, the season and the weather really don't influence those decisions very much.

The seasons don't change very dramatically in California, but the changes do affect what I wear, what I eat, and how I spend some of my time - not my reading time, though. My choices about that are far more motivated by internal factors.

Do you make seasonal reading choices? If you do, what are they?


Speaking of books - that happens a lot around here, you may have noticed - tomorrow we're going to be at UCLA for the annual LA Times Festival of Books! The weather should be nice, there will be lots of exhibits to check out and books to buy (and maybe even have signed!), although apparently Pennyworth Books has raised their prices this year - everything is $7.50 instead of $5.00 each. I'm hoping to run into Wendy at some point while I'm there...will you be going? Let me know!


Friday Fill-In #69

1. When I fell in love it was better the second time around (still is)!
2. Allergies kick up and the air conditioner goes on when the flowers bloom and it heats up outside!
3. Oh no! The internet connection is down, whatever shall I do?!?
4. There is no way I can possibly decide which single candidate is the craziest tv show ever - there are way too many options (and I probably haven't watched most of them, thank goodness).
5. Cheese and macaroni (not necessarily from a blue box, but that's OK too) make a great meal!
6. I don't have a garden (but I do have a nearly-black thumb).
7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to getting out of work on time, tomorrow my plans include the Festival of Books (I may have mentioned that already) and Sunday, I want to get the chores done, and then do something fun!


The great thing about the "Page 123" meme is that you can do it more than once and use different books. I think I'm going to make it a recurring feature. Feel free to play along!

  1. Provide a list of the books you’re currently reading.

  2. Pick up the nearest book, and open it to page 123.

  3. Find the fifth sentence, and post the next three sentences.

My jury duty service only lasted for one day, so it didn't turn into the reading holiday I was expecting, and two of the three books I had on my list from last week are still in the exact same place.

Eleanor Rushing, by Patty Friedmann - This one has been TBR for literally years, and most of it still is TBR. It's an autographed copy I picked up on a visit to the independent bookstore Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi, back when I still lived in Memphis. I started it a few weeks back, and I really should be back reading it now, but it's waiting a little longer.

Only Child, edited by Deborah Siegel and Daphne Uviller - I've already confessed that I posted my review of this book before I actually finished it. Since it's an anthology, though, I really don't think there was any harm done. However, I really do need to read the rest of the essays so I can get some closure on it and get the bookmark back.

But Enough About Me: How A Small-Town Girl Went From the Shag Carpet to the Red Carpet, by Jancee Dunn - The story of a Chatham, New Jersey girl (class of '84) who made it into the upper echelons of journalism (check out the "about" section of her blog), the book is a personal memoir, and each chapter is prefaced with reminiscences about her celebrity-interviewing experiences. I haven't hit Page 123 yet, but I'm really enjoying it so far. It's funny, and I like the air of "I can't believe I really get to do this" that she conveys about her career.

Anyway, peeking ahead:

The (Lollapalooza) bill was especially good that year: The Beastie Boys, the Breeders, L7, A Tribe Called Quest, Smashing Pumpkins, George Clinton and the P-Funk All-Stars. I flew down to interrogate Kim Deal for Rolling Stone's special "Women in Rock" issue. I was to ask her the typically weighty questions that were posed to all participants: How has the role of women in rock changed over the last four decades? How are you affected by misogynistic lyrics in rock and hip-hop?
(from the prelude to Chapter 8, "Booze: At Least as Important as Your Tape Recorder")

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Book talk: "The Ruins of California"

The Ruins of California by Martha Sherrill

The Ruins of California

Martha Sherrill

Riverhead Trade (paperback) (ISBN 1594482314 / 9781594482311)

Fiction, 384 pages

First Sentence: "Two things always signaled that she was suffering: stage makeup worn during the day and loudness."

Book Description: According to the precocious Inez, life for the Ruin family in 1970s California is complex. Her father, Paul, is self-obsessed, intrusive, opinionated, and profligate, but also brilliant, adoring, magnetic, and liberating. Unable and unwilling to sustain a monogamous relationship, he’s divorced from Inez’s mother, Connie, and claims that he will never marry again, since “marriage is a bad deal for everyone --- particularly women.” His intriguing personality and movie-star good looks draw women to him. Inez bears constant witness to the never-ending string of girlfriends that her father loves and then leaves.

Inez is in constant flux between two worlds --- one represented by her mother, Connie, an ex-star flamenco dancer, and Connie’s mother, Abuelita, a Peruvian immigrant who works devotedly as a housekeeper for a recording-industry executive. The other holds Paul’s mother --- old-money grandmother Ruin, who invites Inez for horse-riding outings and tea parties that are really lessons in refinement. Shuttled back and forth between an innocent, sedate life with Connie and Abuelita in the L.A. suburbs to premature, though thrilling, extravagances with her father in San Francisco, Inez attempts to find a home that is somewhere between the extremes.

As Inez progresses through high school, we are witness to the preoccupations of the era’s typical Californians: drugs, sex, art, surfing, love beads, Nixon, motorcycles. Inez encounters them all in her climb toward maturity, culminating in a trip to Hawaii, where she slides perilously into a drugged oblivion. She makes it out in time, but her beloved half brother is not so lucky --- and Inez grows more than she thought possible as she patiently, with love and determination, saves her brother and finds herself.

Comments: Being of that vintage myself, I'm particularly drawn to stories about growing up during the 1970's, and in The Ruins of California, Martha Sherrill tells a fascinating - ad as it turns out, highly autobiographical - one, having found that her proposed memoir about her father rang truer as a novel.

The title is a play on words, telling the story of the Ruin family during the years following the dislocating events of the 1960's when much of society itself seemed to be in ruins, and California's reputation for being the leading edge of rule-breaking loose living and general oddity was being honed. California itself plays an important role, in locations both real (the SF Bay area, Lagune Beach) and thinly disguised (suburban Van Dale=Glendale, moneyed, staid San Benito=San Marino, the bohemian, bucolic Ojala Valley=Ojai).

Inez Ruin is the child of what was then described as a "broken home," living with her mother Connie and immigrant grandmother in the LA suburb of Van Dale, but making regular visits to her brilliant, twice-divorced, mercurial father Paul in San Francisco and developing relationships with Paul's mother, wealthy San Benito widow Marguerite, and his son from his first marriage, Whitman, as she grows into her adolescence. The heart of the story is in Inez' relationships with these two men, though, and it is particularly a father-daughter story.

I loved the writing here. The story is told through Inez' first-person narration, and her voice is honest and convincing. The period descriptions and details sound and feel right. It's a growing-up story, which by its nature makes it more episodic than plot-driven, but it's the character development that really carries things along.

After the beginning, it feels like not much attention is given to Inez' relationship with her mother, and that bothered me until I sorted out that it's really not their story; following her divorce from Paul, Connie moved on from the Ruins, but Inez remains one, and so the focus here is on that side of her family - the not-everyday, complicated, come-and-go Ruins. Her grandmother Marguerite introduces her to horses and the rituals of a traditional county-club society that already seems to be out of date, but that isn't quite as fascinating as her laid-back half-brother Whitman's unrooted surfer lifestyle, and her father Paul overshadows them all. He's a contradictory combination of brilliance and interpersonal obtuseness, generosity and self-absorption, strongly attractive (and attracted) to women while never fully investing, art and technology, and parenting habits that swing between devoted and inappropriate. It's impressive that Inez comes through it all eventually with perspective and maturity, but there's no question that her father is an endlessly intriguing character - to her, as well as to the reader.

I took a liking to this book very quickly, and it didn't let me go. I found it to be an absorbing, relatively quick read; in fact, I wouldn't have minded if it were longer. The Ruins of California may not be the most lovable family I've ever met, but they're definitely among the more interesting ones.

Rating: 4/5

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Some thoughts on Fate

I'm taking a stab at a "Hump Day 'Hmm,'" a midweek reflection/writing exercise originated by Julie Pippert at Using My Words. This topic was actually the prompt for April 9 - as you might guess, the idea is for these to be written and/or posted on Wednesdays - but I'm just getting to it. Hopefully that's OK...
(T)his week's Hump Day Hmm topic was inspired by Andrea of garden of nna mmoy. She asked that we discuss fate---we have discussed fate from a couple of angles already but it's been a while (one last April, as it happens! Also in June of last year, and maybe another time I don't recall...) and there are so many angles to fate.

Consider these questions: does the universe (God) prescribe an order? do things happen sometimes too coincidentally to be coincidental? is there a design? how is it that sometimes things come to us, just when we need them most? Tell a story, discuss theory...whatever you'd like.
The way I define Fate makes it a concept I really don't want to believe in.

I think that "fate" often seems to provide an out for people to avoid taking responsibility for their actions and the paths of their lives. Interestingly enough, though, it doesn't seem to stop them from taking credit for things they really didn't completely direct in the first place. The sense that every action and every outcome is pre-ordained - "meant to be," or not - takes away a sense of control; but on the other hand, I suspect that for some people that surrender may in itself be rather freeing.

I think it's much easier to see patterns in events after the fact, and with that hindsight, one can construct a progress from one point to another that seems to illustrate that "everything happens for a reason." Looking back, it can be fairly obvious that you wouldn't have gotten to a certain place in your life if some other condition hadn't been met first, and to ascribe some sort of cosmic plan to all of it. For example, I would never have met my second husband if I hadn't moved to California after my first marriage ended, so in a way the first thing did have to happen in order for the next one to occur, but I'm not really all that sure of the necessity of my first marriage's ending to begin with.

As you might guess from the title of this blog, I'm mostly a believer in randomness and coincidence. I believe that actions may be chosen, and they do (or at least should) have consequences. I think plenty of things in life just happen, though - they're not necessarily anyone's fault, and sometimes they're just plain not necessary. I think that one's perspective after the fact might indeed make events seem to fit together in a certain way - and if that's a useful view, then take it. For me, though, it's not especially meaningful to apply "meaning." I don't really think that "hindsight is 20-20," either, for that matter - it's a view from another angle, and usually from a place where one has more information that one did at the time, so it seems clearer, but it's really just different.

This prompt included certain specific questions, and I would answer them as follows:
  • Does the universe (God) prescribe an order? To my way of thinking, no. I think we'd like it to; especially if we're oriented toward storytelling (reading, writing, film-making, etc.), we're inclined to look for a narrative. We want to make order out of apparent chaos. But that comes from us, and not an external directive.
  • Do things happen sometimes too coincidentally to be coincidental? Is there a design? Again, I'd have to say that I don't think so.
  • How is it that sometimes things come to us, just when we need them most? I think knowing what we need makes us more alert and aware, and therefore we're better able to recognize what we need when it comes along at the right time.
My title for this post is a play on a few of Anne Lamott's books - but Faith and Fate are different things to me. I don't have faith in Fate. I think one can have faith without believing in Fate. But that's what I think - what about you?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Poetry post followup

(Oh, by the way, just in case anyone was wondering - I'm done with jury duty! It's "one day or one trial" by law here, and I didn't get put on a trial, so I'm off the hook for at least another year.)

I messed up in my Weekend Assignment poetry post yesterday by not giving proper credit to my true favorite poet, my sister Teresa. The woman composes the invitations for her sons' birthday parties with rhymes tied to their themes, and most famously wrote a poem outlining the duties of a club treasurer for an organization conference. I hope she will accept this public apology for overlooking her earlier. Truly, I meant no disrespect!

She sent me this via e-mail - I can't convince her to start a blog of her own - and agreed to let me post it here. Please welcome my new guest blogger!

In my home
I write a poem
I dedicate to you
Since you're in court
I'll keep it short
Just a line or two
As you sit there and wait
For a case to debate
May your number not come up.
Just read your book
Come home and cook
And then go walk your pup.

Ten on Tuesday 4-22: Loving it...and the iPod Random Ten, too!

"Love, love, love..." Everybody sing!

There are things to love. There are lists of love. There's even a whole day dedicated to love every week in Blogland.

This week's Ten on Tuesday topic, "10 Things You Love About Your Life," seems designed to force positive thinking, and that's pretty positive in itself. For once, I'm going to try to limit myself to a simple list without a lot of editorializing; let's see if it works.

  1. The people I share it with, my husband and the kids (and my dog, even though she's not "people")
  2. Maybe this should be 1A: being in a relationship where we feel so well-matched and right for each other. It came a little later in life, but was worth waiting for!
  3. Seeing my son making a successful transition into post-college adult life (and keeping my fingers crossed that it stays that way!)
  4. Living in the same town as my sister (with her family) and my dad - it took over 20 years for that to happen again, and it's 3000 miles away from where we were the last time, but it makes so many things better
  5. Living in the 21st century - while it certainly has its problems, I wouldn't trade it for the so-called "good old days"
  6. Being in good health
  7. Liking what I see in the mirror! My forties have actually been pretty good to me so far.
  8. Somewhat related to #6: reaching a place in my life where I don't feel like the best years are over, but instead I'm appreciating (almost) every day and looking forward to seeing what's next
  9. Good friends, new and old, offline and online
  10. So many books waiting to be read! (and so little time...)

OK, so I didn't editorialize too much, at least by my own parenthetical standards.

So, what are you loving about your life these days? Care to share? If you're visiting from Ten on Tuesday and you've played this week, please leave a link to your post in your comment.

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Since Tuesdays are brought to you by the number 10, it seems like a good time to bring back the iPod Random Ten, formerly appearing on Fridays, but now back from vacation and relocated to a new time slot.

My current favorite playlist is called "Great Big Mix-up." It combines my main playlist with Tall Paul's main one, and is approaching 1500 songs. Let's see which 10 come up next, and how random they turn out to be....

"Television Lights," Marshall Crenshaw, I've Suffered For My Art...Now It's Your Turn
"Foreplay/Long Time," Boston, Boston
"Ricky," "Weird Al" Yankovic, "Weird Al" Yankovic's Greatest Hits
"If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out," Cat Stevens, Cat Stevens Classics
"Rush Rush," Blondie, Once More Into the Bleach
"O What a Thrill," The Mavericks, What a Crying Shame
"Question," Rhett Miller, The Believer
"I Don't Trust Myself (With Loving You)," John Mayer, Continuum
"Call and Answer," Barenaked Ladies, Disc One: All Their Greatest Hits
"I Hate Myself for Losing You," Kelly Clarkson, Breakaway

Monday, April 21, 2008

Weekend Assignment #212 - Celebrating Poetry

The Weekend Assignment is posted each Friday at Outpost Mâvarin; a roundup of responses goes up the following Thursday, so if you'd like to join in, you've still got some time. Karen says: Don't worry if you don't get your entry in by the end of the weekend. It's called the Weekend Assignment because John Scalzi originally designed it to give folks something to write on weekends, but times have changed since then. Now the meme is launched on Thursday nights / Friday mornings, just a little later than Scalzi used to post it, and you have a whole week to respond. Still, I for one am grateful if you don't all wait until the last minute!

Weekend Assignment #212: It's National Poetry Month in the United States, but poetry itself is a worldwide phenomenon, existing in many styles. Let's celebrate the form. How? By writing a poem, of course! It can be silly or serious, haiku, limerick, rhymed verse, blank verse, free verse, two lines long or fifty, or anything in between. All I ask is that it be a new, original poem, not something you wrote in high school and trot out occasionally.

Extra Credit: Do you have a favorite poet?

(Note: This wasn't the original Weekend Assignment topic. I had started working on that one before this went up, and will post it later this week.)

Poetry. I'm sorry to say it, but poetry is one form of literature that just doesn't grab me. Perhaps it's to be blamed on all that time with Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, T.S. Eliot, and Edgar Allan Poe in my American Literature classes, or perhaps not, but I can safely say that I don't seek it out for recreational reading. I much prefer a narrative style, and I think that well-chosen prose can often be quite poetic itself.

I really only enjoy poetry in a couple of forms - humorous verse, and song lyrics. Based on that, I would have to agree with Karen's choice of Dr. Seuss as my favorite poet, sharing the honors with Lennon and McCartney.

I don't recall ever writing a poem that wasn't for an assignment, and the following is no exception. The title was suggested by my husband, and I hope that you enjoy it. Writing it was easier than I expected, but I doubt I'll do it again any time soon.

The Blogger's Lament
Sometimes, when one's writing a blog,

One might find oneself in a fog.

The ideas just don't come,

Or they do, but seem dumb...
That's a good time to go walk the dog.


Do you enjoy poetry? Do you ever write it? Do I have to promise you that I won't do it again? (I'm OK with that, really...)

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Sunday Scraptacular - this time, there are quizzes, too!

New in Google Reader this week
We're Doomed, via Aprilbaby's California Life (same blogger, Michele Miles Gardiner) - and here's an example of the kinds of amusing-to-outrageous stories/links/signs of the apocalypse she's posting. (This is a lengthy read, but if you have daughters, you may want to take the time for it.)
Books on the Brain (found me via Booking Through Thursday)

If you're as hooked on Google Reader (or Bloglines, or whatever place you like to collect online reading) as I am, here are some interesting tips for getting the most of out of feed readers and subscriptions. Perhaps you've found some new reading material recently through Alltop, the new "all the top stories/sites/blogs, all the time," aggregator. Maybe your blog's even made it into their listings; lots of the "cool kids" are over there now - or they want to be. (Guess who's not cool? But I'm sure you already knew that about me anyway.)

Back when I was in high school in St. Petersburg, Florida, the beach behind "the Don" was a popular place to hang out, and it's not too surprising that the Don CeSar Beach Resort might be a prime spot for a wedding. And by the way, when did pink and brown become a hot wedding-color theme? (Mine was red and purple.)

Oh, and speaking of high school, please note this on your social calendar (or click the button in the sidebar): Sunshine's Blog Prom is coming up on May 2, with a whole week of festivities! Yeah, I'm going - I plan to be the designated wallflower. Who's up for renting a limo and making a party out of it?

April is Financial Literacy Month, but is this a good test of it? Speaking of financial stuff, those stimulus-package rebate checks will start going out pretty soon - confused about them? Ask Tax Cat. Also tax-related, someone else makes a point that I learned the hard way years ago - married couples with similar earnings are NOT helped by filing joint tax returns (via BlogHer).

Lots of work-related miscellany this week: Would you choose a different career if money weren't an issue, and you had the chance to do something you truly loved? Would you follow a process like this in choosing it? Would you like some advice on finding that job in a challenging market? Hope you don't get asked any of these worst interview questions ever (with suggested answers) (via Working Girl). Here's some discussion of what not to wear once you have the job (it's been how many years now, and we're still confused by "business casual"), and about making it work with your boss. And were you brought up as a churchgoer? It may mean that you work harder - or maybe that you're used to spending time in meetings. Here are some useful passive-aggressive phrases for meetings, but not so much for church.

Milestones: A college reunion, apparently angst-free, the story of a Tax Day tax deduction, and the love story of the week

Too old for at least some aspects of "social media"? (I just don't know about these kids today...but I do agree that the observation in this post that they often have "a cultural memory that gets pretty vague looking back past the millennial divide" is frequently true.)

So, why do you blog? One person's reasons - some of them are mine too.

I know that quite a few of the readers here are readers, period, and if you're like me, your home may be in danger of being taken over by your books - here are some ideas for getting things in order.
Well, folks, I report for jury duty first thing tomorrow morning. I get summoned about every 2.5 years, but so far I haven't actually been picked to serve for a trial, so my service has ended after one day. But a coworker recently was on a three-week trial, and my son's girlfriend is currently on one expected to run for about four weeks, so I'm curious to see whether my luck holds out or not. (I may have just jinxed myself by writing about it.)

I'll let you know what happens. I can bring my laptop on Monday, since the waiting room supposedly has wireless access, but if I get put on a jury I doubt it will be allowed in a courtroom. In any case, if things are a little slow here on the posting and/or commenting front while I am meeting my civic responsibilities to Ventura County, California, apologies in advance!

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I rarely listen to it, but I don't think this is wrong:



You Are Classical Music



You are a somewhat serious person who enjoys studying subjects deeply.

Art of all kinds interests you, and a good piece of art can really effect you emotionally.

You are inspired by human achievement, and you appreciate work that takes years to accomplish.

For you, the finer things in life are not about snobbery - they're about quality.

What Kind of Music Are You?

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I guess maybe chocolate doesn't have all the answers after all, since the last part of this doesn't sound much like me. Bummer. Consult the Chocolate Oracle yourself.




What Your Taste in Chocolate Says About You



You are sophisticated, modern, and high class.

Your taste is refined, but you are not picky.

You are often the first to try something new.



You are laid back and fairly easy to please.

All you need in life is your friends.

Sometimes you go along to get along... but you don't mind.



You love being around people. Friendships are important to you.

You feel lost when you're by yourself... so you tend to avoid being alone.


No, I really don't mind being alone. Then I get all the chocolate for myself. :-)

Saturday, April 19, 2008

A little late to the party - "Work It, Mom!" is one year old!

If you come to directly to this blog rather than get the posts through your feed reader, you've probably seen the Work It, Mom! button in the sidebar. It's been there for awhile. I've been a member of this terrific community for moms - full-time-job moms, part-time-job moms, freelance/entrepreneur moms, work-from-home moms - since last May, and that was just a few weeks after the site officially opened for business. WIM just celebrated its first birthday!

Here's a little valentine to one of my favorite places on the internets - I originally posted it as a "member note" on the site. It's introduced me to some great people who have become online friends, it's a resource for many things, and it's given me another place to write.

I feel like we've been growing up together. I started my blog just a few weeks before Work It, Mom! opened for business last year. I became a member here on May 23, 2007, so I wasn't quite here from the beginning, but I think that when I joined the members numbered in the low hundreds. The first time I browsed the member directory, I think it was 10 pages - today it's 160.

I have been a working mom for 20+ years, and I've seen some changes in society during that time - but it's surprising and sad how much really hasn't moved forward, and how some of the challenges not only are still there, but they've grown. Some aspects of working-mom life have gotten more complicated rather than less, and it can feel like we're being held to near-impossible standards at times.

That's why this community matters so much - it's a place where we can find understanding, support, advice, and just vent when we need to.

For me, WIM has been the first online community where I've truly felt comfortable being an active participant. I've gotten to know members through their comments and articles here, and found many great new-to-me blogs to read via that connection (and some have found mine!). The reliance on member-generated content has really been great for me too; my articles for WIM have been my first steady writing forum outside of my blog, and I'm still hopeful they may help lead to bigger things in that realm.

I haven't been quite as active here in the last few months. I'm trying to compartmentalize certain areas of my life, chiefly work and writing (which are mostly unrelated), and it's been harder to make room for WIM sometimes. There's another thing too, although I feel a little guilty about mentioning it - while it's great to see the site growing and thriving, I'm feeling a little lost in the crowd. I know that such a feeling would make some people jump right in with both feet and make themselves more known, but I'm more comfortable with smaller groups; I tend to feel overwhelmed and pull back in large ones, so I'm conflicted.

But I'll sort it out, because I'm definitely sticking around, and I'm determined not to fade away.

Congratulations, Nataly, Victoria, and the WIM team, on all you've accomplished in your first year! Thank you for everything you've given your members. I'm glad to be here, and look forward to a great future together!

If you're a working mom who reads here - or you know one - and haven't visited Work It, Mom! yet, please go and check out what you're missing!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Friday Follies 4-18: BTT, FFI, and another book meme

Vocabulary - Booking Through Thursday 4-17-08

btt button

Suggested by Nithin:

I’ve always wondered what other people do when they come across a word/phrase that they’ve never heard before. I mean, do they jot it down on paper so they can look it up later, or do they stop reading to look it up on the dictionary/google it or do they just continue reading and forget about the word?
Don’t forget to leave a link to your actual response (so people don’t have to go searching for it) in the comments—or if you prefer, leave your answers in the comments themselves!

I love defining things, especially concepts. It's kind of a weird hobby of mine to determine what something means, subjectively - which I guess might be better defined as "interpretation" rather than true "definition," which seems like a more objective idea - by definition. (There, I just provided an accidental, if somewhat confusing, example of what I'm talking about.)

But as far as true, dictionary-style definitions go, I'm pretty lazy most of the time. I tend to rely on what my language teachers called "context clues," in more ways than one. I also make a distinction between vocabulary and terminology, in which the latter is much more subject-specific. If I'm reading nonfiction, especially something technical where terminology is important, I have been known to look up unfamiliar words or phrases if they're not explained within the text; in that case, I hope the book has a glossary that will make it convenient for me to do so.

However, when I'm reading novels and encounter an unfamiliar word, I'll usually try to get a sense of what it means from how it's being used, and most of the time that's sufficient (and effective). It's very rare that I'll actually look it up somewhere, and if it's a foreign word, I might just glance over it, to be honest. I'll almost never stop to look up a word when I'm reading fiction. As it happens, my general vocabulary is pretty good, and after nearly forty years of reading, my dictionary-free ways don't seem to be hurting me all that much.

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Friday Fill In #68

1. The last time I lost my temper I snapped, cried, and then felt really stupid about it!
2. The same old thing at work, over and over again, is what I'm fed up with!
3. The next book I'd like to read is something I haven't decided yet - but I will soon. I have to have a few ready for my jury-duty stint next week.
4. The next opportunity I get to work from home is what I'm looking forward to. (I just did my first telecommuting day, and it was great.)
5. If you can't get rid of the skeleton[s] in your closet, buy them some nice outfits (they're in the closet already anyway)!
6. The best thing I got in the mail recently was a coupon for 20% off at Talbots.
7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to getting the chores done, tomorrow my plans include a family trip down to my mother-in-law's for the weekend and Sunday, I want to be surprised by something fun!

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There's a new variation on the "Page 123" meme going around, and I was tagged for it (!) by Almostgotit. Here's how this one works:
  1. Provide a list of the books you’re currently reading.
  2. Pick up the nearest book, and open it to page 123.
  3. Find the fifth sentence, and post the next three sentences.
  4. Tag 3-5 more people by posting comments on their blogs.
  5. Link back to the person who tagged you. (done - see above)
As y'all know, I rarely tag, and I'm not going to do it this time either - so please consider yourself invited to participate if you'd like to! (But if you do, please leave me a comment and/or link back here so I'll know that you RSVP'd.)

The great thing about this meme is that you can do it more than once and use different books.

I don't usually multi-book, but as it happens, I actually have three books going right now.

Eleanor Rushing
, by Patty Friedmann - This one has been TBR for literally years. It's an autographed copy I picked up on a visit to the independent bookstore Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi, back when I still lived in Memphis. I started it a few weeks back, but put it on hold for two books I was scheduled to read and review for MotherTalk, and then I had to finish the book-club pick I reviewed here yesterday. I really should be back reading it now, but it's waiting a little longer.

Only Child, edited by Deborah Siegel and Daphne Uviller - OK, I have to fess up; I posted my review of this book before I actually finished it. Since it's an anthology, though, I really don't think there was any harm done. I have jury duty next week, and I'll bring it with me to read the rest of it then; I only have about four or five essays left.

The Ruins of California, by Martha Sherrill - California played a big role in the book I just read for Book Club, but I wanted to see it done differently, and this book has hooked me in pretty quickly. The title in a play on words - the family involved in the story is named Ruin - and I tend to be particularly drawn in by stories about growing up in the 1970's, since that's my vintage too. I won't say too much about it now, since I'll have a review here when I finish it, and I haven't even reached Page 123 of it yet. Looking ahead, here's what I'll find there:
But I suppose she was right. If at eight I had been drawn to pairs and even numbers and symmetry - to sorting the world around me into collaborations and harmony - now that I was thirteen, my mind made studies of discord and asymmetry. I noticed the odd thing, what was off kilter.
I can definitely think of a few of you that might enjoy doing this meme, so I hope you'll decide to play! I'd especially like to know what you're reading right now.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Book Club book talk: "Best Friends"

Best Friends by Martha Moody
Best Friends
Martha Moody
Riverhead Trade, 2002 (ISBN 1573229350 / 9781573229357)
Fiction, 496 pages

First sentence: Really, all I wanted in a college was unrest and demonstrations. (See the first sentence on page 123 here.)
Book description: When Clare Mann arrives at Oberlin in 1973, she’s never met anyone like Sally Rose. Rich and beautiful, Sally is utterly foreign to a middle-class, Midwestern Protestant like Clare—and utterly fascinating. The fascination only grows when Sally brings her home to L.A. Mr. Rose—charismatic, charming, and owner of a profitable business shrouded in secrecy—is nearly as compelling a figure to Clare as he is to his own daughter. California seems like paradise after winters in Ohio. And Clare begins to look forward desperately to these visits, to carefree rides in Sally’s Kharmann Ghia and lazy poolside days.

As the years pass, Clare becomes a doctor and Sally a lawyer, always remaining roommates at heart, a plane ride or phone call away. Marriages and divorces and births and deaths do not separate them. But secrets might—for as Clare watches, the Rose family begins to self-destruct before her eyes. And the things she knows are the kinds of things that no one wants to tell a best friend.

Comments: Based on some of the info in Martha Moody's online bio, I infer that that this book has certain autobiographical elements; like Clare, Moody is (was) a physician, and she has had the same best friend since college. I hope there aren't too many similarities other than that - if you choose to read the novel, you'll see what I mean, but I don't want to give any spoilers.

For the most part, I found this book rather irritating. The writing was pedestrian and I didn't like the characters very much, but the story itself was interesting enough to keep me reading - and that's the annoying part. If it had been duller or more offensive, I could have bailed on it more easily, but I wanted to see how it turned out; and frankly, I kept hoping it would get better and I would like it more. However, it generally didn't resonate with me emotionally, and I didn't get much of a sense that the characters grew or developed; life just kept happening to them, and they kept making questionable choices. The parts I liked best actually had little to do with Clare and Sally's friendship; I was more interested in Clare's medical practice as an AIDS specialist in Ohio, and I sometimes got the sense that Clare was more interested in Sally's Southern California home and life than she was in Sally herself (which was reinforced by Clare's initial reaction to Sally's move to Idaho).

Best Friends
seems to be a pretty popular novel, so it clearly appeals to a lot of people, but it just didn't click with me. I think women's long-term friendships can be great frameworks for novels, but to cite one example from my recent reading, I thought it was done better here.

I read this for my book club, but I won't be able to make it to the meeting, so I'm going to participate in the discussion by e-mailing this to the other members (only Cheryl has a blog). I suspect I may have a minority opinion of this one, but no one likes everything - and just because it wasn't my thing doesn't mean someone else won't love it.

Rating:
2/5

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Is an advanced degree hazardous to your...marriage?

Before things get underway, I just wanted to mention that it's Blog Reader Appreciation Day. Thanks so much for reading and participating here, whether it's every day or just every now and then. I am truly glad you found this place and hope you visit often!
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Laurie Ruettimann called attention to a recent Wall Street Journal/CareerJournal.com article that reported on a study finding that women with advanced degrees were more likely to get divorced then men with comparable educational levels. The rates are highest among MBA's, but doctors and lawyers were equally susceptible. The study also noted that female professionals were two to three more times more likely than males to be unmarried and not have families.

It's another one of those things that makes me wonder what year/decade/century we're living in. Weren't things supposed to have changed by now?

In her own response to the report, Heather Mundell made a point of something I've been known to say myself on the subject of "having it all" - "(D)ecide what you really, really want, because you may not be getting it all, not all at one time anyway."

It's an interesting finding, even without digging too deeply into the sociological implications. One question it raises for me is how the educational and earnings levels of the divorced women surveyed compared to those of their (ex-)partners - higher, lower, or in the same range? If they were mostly higher, that makes me wonder about some other recent reports about men's comfort level with women out-earning them - and about women's comfort level with doing it. It's still relatively new, and a shift in the established order. On the other hand, the unmarried, childless "career woman" is a fairly well-established figure, sad to say.

I really wonder how big a role a significant disparity in education and income plays in this. I haven't ever been the more-educated, higher-earning partner in a relationship, but I know that the degree-level difference between my first husband and me (he's a Ph.D., now a Ph.D./M.D., and I stopped with a B.S.) was a source of insecurity for me. That evolved over time, though, since we'd met in high school and were peers for our first few years together; I didn't really feel uneasy about it until he completed grad school, and then it became an ongoing struggle. That sort of insecurity can definitely strain a relationship, especially considering that it may well be one-sided; the more-educated, higher-earning partner may not even see a problem.

Then again, the more-educated, higher-earning partner may feel stress and resentment at carrying more of the financial-support responsibility. The couples who have agreed for one partner to "opt out" career-wise to stay at home with young children are another twist on this situation.

My experience in my first marriage makes me feel that one factor in a couple's compatibility is comparable educational and income levels - at least, it's a fairly significant one for me, and we do have it in my second marriage. As far as this study goes, I really hope there's more to it than what's been reported, because these conclusions strike me as fairly simplistic and just a bit sad. What do you think?