Sunday, July 29, 2012

When I Sometimes Have to SMH

     Like many of the people around the nation I was shocked and appalled at the tragic loss of lives in Aurora, Colorado. To be innocently watching a film on opening night and to be senselessly gunned down, any one of us could have been there. Like the mall shooting in Arizona, the shootings at Virginia Tech, we are struck so deeply by these tragedies because these are normal places for people to gather, they are not war zones or crime-ridden backlots, so to encounter such violence in so unexpected a place, and for it to be perpetrated by the "one lone gunman", these are things we simply cannot wrap our heads around. As I was reading the various media coverage of the movie theatre shootings, there was one site that listed Tweets that were pouring in from celebrities, as well as the people in the movie theatre and I was intrigued by some textspeak I had not encountered before: SMH. Which, if I can trust Urban Dictionary and the like, means something like "shake my head", used to express that emotion when you just can't seem to find the words and you just have to shake your head in disbelief. Words like flabbergasted or appalled would take up too many characters in a Tweet, for sure, but I think SMH encompasses so much more than those words, anyway. Mostly because if you cannot find words to express your shock, then SMH is more accurate than settling for a word, because it expresses an action. I'm not in love with textspeak, I think the ubiquitous LOL is meaningless, and I prefer to write "Ha!"-- laughing out loud does produce a sound which can be expressed in text, and Ha! has just the same amount of characters so LOL is stupid. WTF is fine, but people who start to transfer their textspeak to regular oral speech and actually say the letters "wtf" when they could just say the whole phrase are missing the whole point of the fricative nature of the F-word. If I say "eff" now I've lost the power of the "K" sound and it's wholly dissatisfying. But there's something rhythmic that works with "SMH". Like you can shake your head and say "SMH" and it conveys that same feeling of "I do not know where the logic or order of things in the world has gone but it certainly has no presence in this situation."
     As an example Governor Hickenlooper of Colorado said that stricter gun laws would not have prevented James Holmes from perpetrating his massacre. Holmes with his "diabolical" mind would have come up with a way to create a bomb or something and still perpetrate this evil. Ok, I can agree that sicko minds who want to kill, will certainly use whatever means are at their disposal, Timothy McVeigh in Oklahoma City proved that. But  if we had stricter laws regarding not only stockpiling weapons and ammunition but also purchase of explosive making products even if it is just household cleaning products, if we had a more central system monitored by the same kind of investigators and algorithms that credit card companies employ, wouldn't that serve to at least get authorities a headstart? I mean why is it possible for Mastercard to call me the moment my credit card is used in a strange way "Were you in Pennsylvania this afternoon ma'am because your credit card was used there and in New Jersey almost at the same time?" Or when my grandmother, 92 at the time, started to book a trip to Italy, the credit card company was on such alert that they shut her card off until they spoke with her. But there isn't a system whereby any kind of alert goes off when a person buys an assault weapon? And why are civilians allowed to have automatic, multi-round weapons? I'm quite sure that "the right to bear arms" did not translate to "the right to have any equipment the military uses" as I don't imagine the founding fathers meant it would be just fine for you to have a cannon in your front yard. Ok, so all that has made me SMH for a long time, because I really think the smart minds in our country can come up with a system whereby local authorities might get some kind of little alert that a PhD neuroscience student had just ordered 1000's of rounds of ammunition on the internet. I don't want to live in a police state where the government is privy to all my purchases, but seriously, ordering ammunition over the internet? SMH.
     Further in the SMH department, however, was the news that applications for gun permits shot up across the nation following the Aurora massacre. Now, I can admire the vigilante mentality that if one good guy had just had his gun on him, there would have been less people killed in the movie theatre. This good guy would have taken out the gunman immediately. Right? Probably not, because there would have been a good ol' shoot-out in a crowded gas-filled room and now Good Guy with his legal concealed weapon quite likely would have hit some innocent bystander in his zeal to get the shooter who was wearing kevlar anyway so Good Guy's little pistol would have had little to no effect. I need only say "Trayvon Martin" and the magnitude of the lack of logic of getting guns into the hands of more "upstanding" citizens for our nation to feel safer should be cause for a little SMH-ing.
     The logic that more guns on the street is safe for anyone is frightening. The logic that any non-military individual should have need for an automatic assault rifle is mind-boggling. The fact that any individual, crazy or not, can order 1000s of rounds of ammunition over the internet and no kind of alert kicks in to local authorities seems unconscionable. Would stricter gun laws stop crazies from carrying out acts of mass murder, maybe not. The intelligent diabolical mind is never thwarted by things like laws either of government or laws of logic or humanity. However, if you look at the death rate by guns in this country and that in Japan (where citizens cannot legally have any weapons, not even Samurai swords) it doesn't take a master statistician to figure out, that more guns equal more gun deaths. SMH.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Why I Probably Won't Read E. L. James' Fifty Shades of Grey This Summer

I have a confession: last week I almost purchased the "mommy porn" literary craze Fifty Shades of Grey. On my Nook, of course, because it's the most titillating piece of fiction since, I don't know, Doctor Zhiavago, Sophie's Choice, or something else I probably haven't read, as well. I mean I wouldn't want to be SEEN reading it. I was even a little anxious about putting it on the Nook because my teen daughter commandeers the device on a daily basis, and is also a very internet savvy young woman. She KNOWS what Fifty Shades of Grey is all about. In any case, I was only seconds away from giving in to the hype, almost even got the bundle package for the full trilogy. Although, I was very hesitant about forking over $30 instead of just $10 because the other day at the library while I was checking out "How the Crocodile Got Its Tears" for my seven-year old daughter, the librarian was holding a copy of Fifty. . . and discreetly calling another patron on the phone saying, "If you could please, just tell your wife the book she had on hold is in." I remarked that it was wise she didn't leave the title name with the husband. And she laughed, saying there was a waiting list of about fifteen other patrons for that same title, "But, oddly," the librarian quipped, "no one is checking out the other two books." I kind of laughed and said, "Probably because after reading the first one they know how much it sucks."

Now I'm not exactly a literary snob. I'm just a pop culture snob. If the majority of Americans like it, wear it, eat it, listen to it, read it--- I find myself intrigued, certainly, wanting to investigate the worthiness of said "artistic" achievement, but the pure "everybody's doing it" nature of the event or product always gives me pause. I thank my father for this maverick attitude. At the age of ten I very much wanted pierced ears, "Why," my father asked. "Because everyone has their ears pierced." Wrong answer. And good ol' Dad continued throughout my adolescence doing his duty to make sure I grew into a strong-minded young woman who examined her wants and needs with personal conviction, fortitude, and confidence.

So there I was, just about to press the "purchase" button on the shadowy grey necktie when I noticed a little essay called "A Million Shades of Green" by Sean Black also for sale at the Nook Store. Mmmm? What's this, I thought. Already treatises against the worldwide puerile best-seller? I just had to investigate. And while, author Sean Black does seem to have an axe to grind about E. L. James' unprecedented skyrocket to instant literary fame, his premise alone gave me just the right pause to forgo some Fifty. Basically, Black, with a great deal of research and support to back up all his claims, exposes Fifty Shades of Grey as a slick re-edit of a wildly popular piece of "alternate universe" Twilight fan-fiction by Snowqueens Icedragon called Master of the Universe. Erika Leonard (a.k.a. "Snowqueens" and E.L. James) has since openly embraced the origins of her wildly top selling book, but that wasn't until the book was raking in numbers that would make Christian Grey quite proud. But that little essay was all it took for me to say, "Eww. No."

I will be the first to admit that I read every Harry Potter book. In fact, I could write a lovely blog post about how the first three books literally kept me sane and hopeful in the midst of a painful separation and impending (but not imminent) divorce. I also read every book in the Hunger Games trilogy. Because Katniss is badass and her love for Peeta remains complex and ambiguous, even to the end. But back when the Twilight craze hit the stores my thought was this,  "There are so many, many amazing books out there in the world, and I have read so very few of them, I really cannot spend my precious reading time on thousands of pages of romance shlock." I will leave that to teen girls.  I mean, I suppose I don't read Jane Austen for similar reasons in terms of sappy love stories. It's just not my genre of choice. Not even when I was a teen girl. Dickens and Twain were my favorites, so I guess that says something about me.

But here's my thing, if Edward and Bella are already flat and one-dimensional, then what are Christian and Ana? 1/2 dimensional? I mean, aside from Shakespeare, I can't really think of an example of fan fiction that could really improve upon the literary quality of the original. And I just am not interested in flat characters with flat lives, even if those lives include more sex toys than you can find in the Adult Playtime Boutique.

I also don't necessarily read to escape reality. I read to understand humanity and draw parallels to my own life. It's an occupational hazard both as a theatre and English teacher, but that's how I'm wired. And when a young virgin college student somehow stumbles upon the most handsome and rich man in the world and spends the rest of her life having three orgasms a day, well I kind of don't feel like wasting my time with a character like that because she's too flat, her relationship is too contrived.

I love fiction. Complicated fiction, fiction that asks me to think AND feel complex feelings, not just cheap vibrations. I love fiction that uses words to paint a complex story in complex poetic ways. If I'm in the mood for erotica I certainly don't need 1500 pages! I'll turn to Anais Nin's Little Birds a slim 168 pages of erotic vignettes, written in fabulous complex language.

I've boiled it down to three main reasons I'm not going to read Fifty Shades of Grey and feel just fine about it. I must qualify here that I don't really care if other people read it. I'm not advocating a ban or anything. If that was the case, then I would HAVE to read the whole damn trilogy to make my claims credible.  I've just made this choice for myself. (Although I'm totally buying The Portable Anais Nin as soon as I finish this post.)

Reasons Why I Won't Be Reading Fifty Shades Of Grey This Summer:
  • I've eschewed all junk food from my diet, and there are way too many more fortifying books in this world to feast on.
  • I will not capitulate to advertising and media wizards no matter how hard they try to make me feel like I'm missing out on something culturally necessary to my demographic.
  • I'd rather just go ahead and spend the summer having amazing sex than reading about it.
Stay Tuned for the things I have been reading and watching this summer in the next post. . . . 

Friday, July 6, 2012

Why I Love Snow, Even In April

 ORIGINALLY WRITTEN ON 3/31/11 Don't Know Why I didn't Post . . . .

There is a moment of joy I have when waking in the morning and pulling up the shade to reveal snow. And I really don't care if it is November or April, that moment is still exciting and welcome. I understand the general weariness of most people. It has been a pretty long snowy winter and there is something to be said for the warm sun and daffodils. But more and more, each winter, I find myself longing for the snow to stay. And come back. It's illogical. Generally when people are older, and, yes, I'm going to have to admit that I am-- "older" now. There is less tolerance for snow and the accoutrements of winter. But I feel my best, my most "me" when I am wearing boots and a thick wool sweater. Cold makes my blood move, it keeps the lines in the atmosphere crisp and defined. The snow crunching under my boots is the sound possibility, of wonder, of mystery-- to me. Rodgers and Hammerstein must have felt this way to include "snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes" as a favorite thing. I know the feeling-- that is one of my favorite things as well-- that cool diaphanous breath of flakes on an already chilled cheek. Snow, I know that many people around here wish you wouldn't be here. But me-- I say bring it on.