Sunday, December 28, 2008

by the brooke

So, I didn't go completely handmade this Christmas. Maybe next year... (and my BFs cringe just a little?). But I did make a few things that didn't turn out half bad:

1) A Christmas Stocking for Kye Parker. My friend Jamie's sweet little nephew (featured on his own blog here) needed a monkey stocking and the only one to be found was at Bergdorf's for $175 (not a typo). So a quick trip to Jo-Ann's provided me with the material needed to pull off a monkey stocking for much less.

2) Photo Name Frames (what to call these?). I made these for my in-laws (those with last names shorter than "Duckworth"). I took my own pictures of objects that looked like letters of the alphabet, and then ordered frames and mats to fit. These are pretty pricey if you buy them from a gift shop, and I thought my versions turned out pretty cool. Plus, they are actually things connected to our lives (our deck, our gate, the dog groomer's building, a tree in Forest Park, a rose in our front yard) which I think adds a little sentimental value.

3) Etsy! So it's not handmade by ME, but it is handmade by someone! So that sort of counts, right? I ordered some adorable earrings and gifted them around. I gave this pair to my friend Natalie for her birthday, and I just might order a pair for myself if I get a little Christmas cash.

I had a good Christmas overall. I am definitely tired of being in the car, but all the driving was worth it as we saw my family, the in-laws, my extended family, and long-distance friends. I plan to spend tomorrow chilling in Nevada, then we're heading back to St. Louis to ring in the new year. I've eaten my weight in peanut clusters and pecan bars, I've read three books, and I've managed to do just enough post-holiday shopping to feel like I've gotten some bargains without blowing all my Christmas cash. So I feel pretty content as our midwest tour draws to an end and I get ready to get back in my regular routine.

Hope you all had very happy holidays and are feeling optimistic about the new year!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Vampire Love Story

So I went to Twilight last night. Keya and I were going to go this weekend but then we changed plans and decided to go last night because it was the final night the movie played at the Chase. The Chase is my favorite place to see movies because the theater is attached to the Chase Park Plaza, which is a swanky hotel in the Central West End and so seeing a movie there feels more like a fancy event. Some people (like my friend Max) don't like it because the theaters and screens are smaller; Max would rather go to a big stadium seating 20-plex theater. But I love going to the Chase. The decor is so much better (none of that navy blue carpet with popcorn boxes and movie reels on it). Also they sell wine and beer that you can take into the movie. And Keya and I decided that we wanted to see Twilight but that we also needed to be drinking red wine while we watched it.

And... it was great! The movie was most delightful. Keya and I both thought it a brilliant adaptation. And it was funny. Forks is a very ethnically diverse town. The baseball scene was really fun. And Edward... sigh. I'd like to know where all the hot vampires were when I was in high school. Because these folks are smokin' hot. Srsly. We kept giggling because Edward was soooo cute.

(Our wine was also hot, unfortunately. I think it had been sitting next to the popcorn maker. But once it cooled down to room temperature, it was totally drinkable.)

So after dreaming about vampires last night (a confusing dream that got increasingly muddled when it began involving the big 3 car manufacturers -- sometimes my unconscious would rather dream with NPR than actually wake up to it), I got up to weirdly warm weather. In the 50s. So I took advantage of it and walked the dogs.

I try to be a devoted dog-walker because I think that all creatures feel better if they exercise a little bit and because my dogs are so much more tolerable if they've had a walk and burned off some energy. So I will bundle up in hat and scarf and gloves and take them out in the freezing cold. And I will put on these hideous bootie shoes I bought in high school and walk them in the snow. But I draw the line at ice -- particularly when I nearly wiped out twice yesterday, first walking to my car from school (evidently the fastidious grounds crew at Wash U had somehow neglected one spot of the brick-paved path across the quad), and then walking to my car from the house (sliding into the car actually saved me from falling). Two close calls. This morning, however, all the ice was melted and Cooper and Little Mac and I trotted around the neighborhood. Coop was on pretty good behavior, which means he didn't lunge like a barking maniac and try to pull me into the street after a UPS truck (that was last week) and he didn't go ballistic and try to chase a mailman into the auto repair shop (also last week).

So both of the dogs are peacefully sleeping now. Dreaming of vampires, probably. Or, more likely, their true archenemies -- the mail carrier and UPS truck driver.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Purity Balls

So I watched this documentary last night on Purity Balls. (This is in keeping with my fascination of fundamental religious sects -- including, but not limited to, polygamists, the Amish, and the Duggar family of Arkansas with their 17 kids and counting).

The thing about purity balls is that I can totally see how they sell to the girls. I know that if I were an 11 year old girl, I would be thrilled about putting on a lovely ballgown, learning a little dance routine, having my hair fixed, and going to a pseudo-prom with my dad.

And the general premise even sounds good. The basic idea is that fathers make their daughters feel loved and cherished and beautiful so that they won't go looking for male approval elsewhere (i.e. in bed). So, a nice idea in theory. Certainly it is a nice thing for dads to make sure that their daughters feel loved and that they are confident enough to insist that their dates treat them with respect.

Some detractors of the "purity movement" suggest that it is incestuous. Based on what I saw in this documentary (which makes me something of an expert, I think), I don't think these dads are creeps. I think most of them are good-intentioned guys who want to make sure their daughters reach adulthood without having to deal with the agony of unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease, or even a run-of-the-mill heartbreak.

As far as I'm concerned, the really creepy part is asking a little girl to make promise and sign a paper when she doesn't even know what she's talking about. I'm also perturbed by the idea that everytime you date someone, you "give a little piece of your heart away." According to this philosophy, if you date too many people (i.e. more than one) then by the time you finally meet and marry your husband, you are incomplete and you can't give him your whole heart because you've already given bits of it away to other guys.

Um, what?

I mean, sure, there are people who get involved in unhealthy relationships and then carry some baggage with them. But are these people ruined? That seems a little extreme. I don't think that we have to encourage promiscuity if we allow girls to date. Having relationships with different people helps you discover what you want (and what you don't) in a relationship, right?

(I guess that the purity movement's argument would be that if your dad is the perfect boyfriend then you don't need to have a series of failed relationships to discover what you want. You just have to find someone like your dad. Which is somewhat disturbing in a Freudian/Oedipal way and really doesn't account for personal taste.)

So here's my theory on this. I think that while there is nothing inherently wrong with a big father-daughter dance to celebrate their love for each other, a girl's relationship with her dad should not be a model for her marriage. These dads are trying to protect their daughters from the big, bad world, and I can completely understand that impetus. But, for the most part, it seems pretty futile and it seems like you would miss a lot of good along with the bad. As always, I'm an advocate of education and information rather than prohibition.

(Note: The documentary featured one girl, whose father is the minister and founder of the purity movement, who was a virgin when she, at age 24, married a guy that her father approved of. Being a virgin at 24, and saving your first kiss for your wedding? Well, that's a personal choice. Getting married after a 6-month courtship, during which her fiancee spent 5 of those months overseas in the military? That just seems a little crazy. But she is a purity movement "success story.")

The problem is that no matter how much dads want to, they can't really protect their kids from the world without unintentionally crippling them in their capacity to deal with reality. It just seems to me that a more realistic solution is for the dads to model an ideal loving relationship not with their daughters, but with their wives. (Where is mom in the purity movement anyway?)

It would be logical for girls to set their standards for a future relationship not on how their dad treats them, but on how he treats their mom (and statistically speaking, don't many women do this anyway -- even to their detriment?). I just think that the best way to protect our children and to help them get ahead in life is to expose them to truth instead of sugar coating it, and to set a good example for them -- modeling a healthy and happy marital relationship, whether it is with her mother, her step-mother, or her other dad.

It's all about showing them what love is and what love is capable of doing even in the midst of a world that does not always reflect the best that people have to offer. The ball gowns and up-dos and covenant promises? All that stuff is just beside the point.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

These are a few of my favorite things...

In the tradition of Oprah, here is a list of twelve of my favorite things (after raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles, and warm woolen mittens):

1. Interesting, and adorable earrings from
I have already gifted a few pairs from here. I don't have these earrings, but I crave them:
2. Fair isle slipper boots. My feet love these everyday.

3. Holiday music that doesn't make me gag. I love this one:
and I want this one:

4. NPR. I wake up to it everyday. Check out their link to holiday book recommendations. (How about that Dickens?)

5. Which brings me to favorite holiday books. A tie this year between

6. Peanutbutter Pieces. Sorry -- top secret recipe given to me by my aunt Peggy can't just be posted online! E-mail me if you really really want it. I can promise you this: it's almost 3 sticks of butter that you won't regret.

7. Ceramic Space Heater. This little bugger was on sale for $17 and has been my best friend since mid-November.

8. Doggie stockings. Personalized, of course, for Little Mac and Cooper. But they had better be on good behavior if they want stockings filled with treats and and toys and chewies.

9. Advent Calendar. My poor hubby had never had one of these growing up (tragic!). So I bought him one this year. He is really enjoying that mid-grade chocolate.

10. Christmas cards! Ours have been trickling in and one of my favorite things is digging through the catalogs to find the hand-written envelopes. The ones that include real letters are the best, of course.

11. Plush blanket for cold nights. We got a lovely one as a gift last Christmas last year. My puggle loves to snuggle -- he wants to be under the covers whenever we curl up on the sofa with a blanket. So he spends a lot of time hanging out under this.

12. A gift you give yourself. So although it is true that these material things bring a certain amount of happiness, we all know that Christmas wouldn't be any fun at all without friends and family. Even our in-laws. So D and I are preparing ourselves for our annual Midwest Holiday Tour. In less than a week we will drive about 1,000 miles (from St. Louis to Nevada, MO, to Hutchinson, KS, to Kansas City, MO, back to Nevada, and back to St. Louis). While I am grateful for the friends and family who will make that visit fun and exciting and full of love and laughter, I also know that we need to make sure our holiday spirit doesn't get lost somewhere in eastern Kansas. So D and I are treating ourselves to pre-holiday massages. Sure to be one of my favorite things this holiday season!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Inefficiency; or, How I Write a Dissertation

I am the most inefficient writer I know. I want to be better, but my method is crazy. I try to fight it, but there is no escaping it. I want to be like my friend Keya, who sits and thinks and thinks, and then writes, slowly but steadily, one beautifully constructed sentence at a time. She has to do very little revision and her prose is elegant, deliberate, and precise.

You would think that having roughly 120 pages of dissertation behind me, that I would have mastered a technique that really works well. But instead, I blather. I have to write a blathering nonsense draft (the experts call this a "zero draft" but I bet real experts don't ever have to write one). Everytime I write it, I truly believe that I am writing what I mean to say. Then, I reread it and inevitably discover that it is nothing like what I mean to be writing. Instead, it is blathering nonsense.

So then the real writing begins. I have to print out the blathering nonsense, and attack it with a pen. Essentially rewriting, in long hand, in the margins or in between the double-spaced Garamond 12pt. font (Times New Roman is so undergrad), everything I had written before. I don't know why I can't write that version the first time around. It's like I have to type twenty pages of crap before I can actually start writing. But I can't skip the crap-step or the first draft will just be crap, even if I take my time and outline and plan. So I am now resigning myself to the madness of my method.

Once I've rewritten the nonsense draft, in scribbly pen and retyped it all, I now have draft 1. Which also will require extensive revision. Because I still tend to repeat myself and say in many, many words what should be said in one or two. Once I have read and revised it on the computer, I print it out and revise again by hand. (This is a very long, extensive process, too. And I hate it and I crave distractions while I do it.) After making those changes, I force myself to give it to another reader. I hate letting other people read my work because even though I say I want honest feedback and I am just trying to improve, I really mean that I want them to say it is awesome and perfect and I am very smart and this is totally publishable. (No one ever says that). But my readers/victims are very helpful and usually pretty generous too. I usually ask my aforementioned friend Keya, a fellow Victorianist, but this time I am going to go ahead and give an early draft to my advisor. I am determined to give her a draft before Christmas (for her reading pleasure over winter break). So I am currently in the process of revising Blathering Nonsense Draft, which means I need to get a move on so that I do not embarrass myself when I submit a draft.

I wish I could find a faster way to write or one that didn't require absolute silence and minimum distraction. (My dream is actually to be able to write my dissertation while watching TV or at least while listening to NPR. Saldy, I find this impossible. Or at least hugely unproductive.) So I do the best I can in my back room office with my space heater and laptop and Precise V5 Rolling Ball Extra Fine pens.

And speaking of distractions, I need to get back to work...

Jazz Up Your Life

I have been going to Jazzercise for over a year. I don't think I am a typical Jazzerciser (althoughI'm not sure what that is). The thing is, I didn't really know anything about it and I honestly thought it was like an old-lady workout. I had been taking Pilates and yoga classes and walking the dogs and jogging occasionally and I thought I was in pretty good shape. Well, I went with my great-aunt Beth to her daughter Amy's class when I was visiting them in Portland. And it kicked my butt. There were some old ladies there, but this was a serious workout! Still, it was fun and we did a little bit of everything -- aerobics, weights, resistant tubes, stretching, strength-training. Mixing it up meant that the hour flew by, and as someone who loves having exercised more than I love exercising, that is important to me.

So now I go to Jazzercise regularly (3-4 time sa week) and I like it because every class is different, it is a great, sweaty workout every time, the atmosphere is very pleasant and low-key, and something (or someone) funny always happens there -- especially at the morning classes, which seem to draw more "characters" than the evening ones. See the (not comprehensive) list below:

* The Socializers. There are quite a few little old ladies who come and some of them really bust a move but others are just there to socialize -- like this one lady who "works out" in tapered jeans and mock-turtlenecks and those old-school Reebok high tops. She leaves before the strength training everyday. I'm not sure why she bothers, but I guess that any sort of moving around is good even if she's not breaking a sweat in her turtleneck.

* The Fashionites. Clothes are all over the place at Jazzercise. Most of us wear yoga pants or capris with a tank or t-shirt. But not all of us... in addition to Mock Turtleneck, there's also Pantyhose With Shorts (I do not make this up), Same T-Shirt Everyday, and Neon Sweatsuit (which today morphed into Christmas Sweatsuit. 'Tis the season.). But my favorite is this old lady who rocks out in a different cute matching, usually pastel-colored Adidas or Nike ensemble everyday. Very put together, but she also gets a real workout in.

* Monday morning's instructor is The Drill Sergeant. She doesn't even need the mike (and we are in a huge room). She is tall and thin and her legs are so long and her kicks could go up past her shoulders. So she's leading our motley crew of old ladies, stay-at-home-moms, and other random exercisers (like me) and she goes all medieval on us, shouting things like "Why are we HERE?" (no reply, as we are all panting) "We are here to SWEAT SWEAT SWEAT!!!" and I'm looking at the little old lady in the jeans and turtleneck with her hair in a pompadour and thinking "Well, maybe not all of us." (In fact, Mock Turtleneck told me this morning that the reason she cuts out before the strength training portion of the workout is because her husband likes his bagel at 10am everyday. I did not know what to say to that, so I just smiled and nodded.)

* Of those in attendance, I like to stand behind those I call the Hardcore Jazzers. For example, there is this Swedish woman who must be in her sixties. She is very fit and she comes in regular clothes and then strips down to those super-tight bike shorts and a fitted tight tank top and always goes to the front row. She means business. She knows all the moves, she never opts for low-impact, and she had already attended 100 classes (thereby earning a piece of chocolate) in like April.

* Then there are the Dancing Queens -- the ladies who aren't just there for the workout, but who really like the dancing part of it. So they just do their own groove thang even if they are not following the cues. Which can really confuse me if I am behind one of them. They occasionally make up their own moves or embellish the routines with ballet-arms or jazz-hands and basically just rock out with their serious-dance-faces. They are fun to watch but sometimes it's awkward.

* And there's the Completely Uncoordinated Chick. Bless her heart. I don't just mean the beginner, or the person who hasn't quite mastered the triplet or who odcasionally gets mixed up on the single-single-double pattern. I mean the lady who is just two beats ahead or behind in every single move. Most of us couldn't be this bad if we tried. I can't even look at her or I get completely thrown off as she thrashes around. It's the effort that counts when you're exercising, so I guess she's burning the calories, but it can be quite distracting, so I usually try to distance myself.

So what can I say? The rest of us fall somewhere in the middle and are really just there to do something besides sit all day. Everyone I've met there has been nothing but friendly. The routines are challenging and I get good and sweaty every time. It's far less expensive than Pilates and I don't dread going. Even when there are things I'd rather be doing, I am always so glad when I fit in a workout. So I'm a bit of a Jazzercise evangelical. Get your workout, your people-watching, and your groove on -- all in one hour. And, believe me, it does not matter what you wear.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Good Book

I am fascinated by this:
I heard about it on NPR this morning (click here for the story) and then I went to check out the blog where a Methodist (open hearts, open minds, open doors) minister reviews it (click here for that).

I find this extremely intriguing. It's basically the New Testament in glossy, magazine form, illustrated with gorgeous and sometimes disturbing photographs. Check out the slideshow on the NPR website.

(A sidenote regarding the slideshow: I had no idea that Paul wrote in Romans that the weak in faith will eat only vegetables. Hmm... I will have to ask a minister-friend about the historical context for that one. )

As a scholar who is sort of obsessed with cultural context and historical situation, I am staunchly opposed to the Bible being quoted out of context and applied willy-nilly to contemporary situations with shocking disregard toward the historical purpose of the text (Revelations and the 2008 election, anyone?). So I have some trepidation about the kinds of quotations that get highlighted and the way certain passages might be illustrated. But I like to think for myself and I don't mind a little provocative and secular bible talk. So I have to say that this version looks to have a serious wow-factor and the potential to spark some interesting conversations. I've never even read the entire New Testament but this might inspire me to do so. It's on my Amazon wish list now, so if Santa doesn't bring it, I may have to buy it for myself.

Jeff Smith (not the one who graduated from NHS in 1998)

Yes! I got a reply from my state senator, Jeff Smith regarding my plastic bag letter:


Thank you for your email about the plastic bag tax. I will file another
omnibus green bill this year and will consider this proposal to be included.

Please check the senate website to read bills that are filed that may be of
interest to you. My bill will be filed hopefully within the next month.

Thanks- Jeff

So who knows what will come if it, but I'm glad he at least replied. I like to think he even typed this e-mail himself.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Making a list, and checking it twice.

Santa speaks to Little Mac:

She'd better watch out... she only has 24 days to work her way off the naughty list.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

excuse me, could you please raise my taxes?

Yesterday, I sent letters to elected officials asking them to impose a new tax.

The story is that I recently ordered a couple of things from One is an aluminum water bottle that I will be gifting to my sister-in-law and the other is a package of biodegradable doggie-doo bags. (Sorry if that was TMI). I have also ordered the Wrap-n-Mat, reusable sandwich wrap and David takes his lunch in it everyday. It will even fit two sandwiches if you smush them just a little (which he does).

Anyway, has a "Take Action" tab at the top of their site that suggests asking your favorite retailers to offer a credit to customers who bring their own bags (for example, Trader Joe's puts your phone number in a drawing for $100 in groceries) and/or sending a letter to government officials encouraging them to implement a plastic bag tax. I am a plastic bag hater. Hardcore. I don't allow them in the house anymore. I pick up the ones that blow as litter whenever I walk the dogs and I hate them even more. I carry in my reusable bags and glare at people who don't bring their own bags and once I even made the developmentally challenged bagger at Shnucks take my ice cream out of the plastic bag and just put it in the reusable one with all the other groceries even though it might dethaw and get the fabric bad a little damp. Today at Target I insisted that the girl fit everything into the one reusable bag I brought in even though she wanted to separate a few things (like the Schnucks bagger, she was being thoughtful and wanted to avoid a potential accident with a shirt, lotion, and a frozen pizza, but I would have none of it). So I decided that I would go ahead and e-mail a letter to my state reps and the mayor. Why not? I'm sure they love hearing from their constituents.

St. Louis seems to be regretfully behind the times when it comes to a lot of environmental issues (I'm still wishin' and hopin' for a smoking ban like our friends across the river have...). It seems that as a city that gets pissed off about being ranked 4th most dangerous this year, they might want to think about getting some good, green press. But, alas, this is the sort of tax that will probably show up in Portland or Seattle long before it makes it to the midwest.

Anyway, if you are interested in petitioning your own government officials, you can get the letter here. And if you need a civics course refresher in who your elected officials are, you can find that out here.

(On a side note, here's an FYI: A previous e-mail I sent to Mount Pleasant Winery -- stating my shock and dismay at the fact that they do not recycle any of their glass bottles and demanding an explanation and a date for when recycling would commence or else I would take my wine consumption elsewhere -- has gone unanswered. Jerks. At least elected officials send you a generic reply to acknowledge your correspondence.)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

desperation is seriously unattractive

We have all learned this lesson (some of us earlier, some of us later, some of us more brutally than others). But it's true: The more desperately you try to convince someone of something or sell them something or promise you something, the less likely you are to get your wish accomplished. There is just nothing appealing about desperation.

I wish someone would send that memo to retailers all over the country, who are flooding my inbox and mailbox with coupons and shipping promotions and special sales and doorbusters and online-only deals and all of these discounts that, instead of being enticing, make me feel nervous and creeped out. There are always holiday promotions, but it just feels different this year. It's like the theme for the 2008 holiday season is "Tension and Anxiety." I mean, if they are trying so hard to sell their stuff, it just kind of makes me not want it. It makes me feel like nobody wants it, so they have to give it away, their desperation thinly veiled by a great big cheery, smiley, holiday-themed advertisement. It makes me think that I, and every other American, would be better off saving money instead of spending it.

Which of course is a huge part of the problem, right? Consumer confidence and all that. I get it. And I feel terrible for the retail industry and job situations and the whole mess of it. all of that stuff. One of my BFs (that would be best friends, not boyfriends) works in retail and I know it stinks right now. I'm not saying that they haven't fallen on hard times and I'm not saying that we shouldn't spend any money at all or that there is something wrong with those of us who are looking forward to holiday shopping and getting some bargains. I'm just saying that there is a keen odor of desperation wafting through these advertisements. And it's a serious turn-off.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

the pity party wraps up

I've been nursing these burns on my arm for the last week. Second degree burns, particularly ones that cover your entire left bicep, are quite painful. And because your left bicep moves everytime you move your arm, it can be hard to keep still, hard to keep a bandage on, and it can leave you tired and cranky. I was a total grouch all last week. I didn't want to get dressed, because getting dressed hurt. And I didn't want to leave the house because putting on a coat and driving hurt. But I had things to do and places to go and so I did them -- grouchily and unwillingly.

So I returned to the doctor yesterday for a follow-up visit yesterday. She said that it is a really bad burn (yes). It is starting to heal (finally). It might not scar as bad as she had originally thought (here's hoping). I told her that I have been trying to be really protective of it by wearing really loose sleeves and while I normally work out three times a week, I haven't been going to the gym. (I should confess that I typically work out in the evenings, and this lapse-due-to-injury happened to coincide beautifully with cold nights, early darkness, and a desire to snuggle with my puggle on the sofa and eat lots of warm, cheesy dinners). Anyway, the doctor told me that working out would be good for my arm, would keep the skin from getting tight as it healed (gross) and help the circulation. She said that while I'm home and just sitting around reading a book or whatever, I can have the burn open and that will help it heal.

It seems clear that my pity party needs to end. It still hurts, but I can pop a couple ibuprofen and manage to vacuum. So, no more sleeping in. No more skipping work outs. No more bumming around on the couch telling myself I'll finish the laundry when my arm feels better. I'm back to normal. (The stretchy arm tubes Jamie provided are a HUGE help with this -- they stay in place without cutting off my circulation!) And I will need to be running at full speed this weekend, as I coordinate a wedding. A wedding with eight bridesmaids, two flower girls, two ring bearers, a junior bridesmaid and two candelighters. No, I'm not kidding. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

just do it

It sounds so trite, but it is really true. I sit down at the computer and I don't want to do it, I don't want to write, I don't want to think, I don't want to try to wrestle some pretty vague ideas into marginally interesting and somewhat original ideas, only to then wrangle those into coherent sentences and paragraphs and pages and chapters. I would rather update my Amazon wish list. Browse Etsy for fun jewelry. See if Old Navy has new seasonal dog collars. Let Facebook suck my day away. But honestly if I just sit down and start doing it, start typing something, it actually works. Things get written. It is quite remarkable. So all my high falutin' goals about 40 hours a week, or writing 4 hours a day and then reading, or whatever... These things sometimes happen and more often don't. But if I just do a little bitty bit everyday, I can maybe see this dissertation getting somewhere. Like to a PhD party.

Monday, November 17, 2008

there was a barber and his wife...

But his wife was not really important.

We saw Sweeney Todd at the Fox on Saturday night. I have been a total grump all week. My burns are no longer excruciating, but they are decidedly uncomfortable. And having them wrapped up restricts my movement (don't want the bandages coming loose, believe me) and limits my clothing options and is generally irritating. So although I love going to the Fox, dressing up and leaving the house wasn't actually sounding that fun. And instead of wearing the darling sleeveless sequined top that I bought months ago on clearance and had been planning to wear, I wore a turtleneck.

But aside from my personal injury and wardrobe malfunction, the show was great. It was very different from the movie (and I'm a big fan of the Tim Burton movie). The most remarkable thing was that the actors onstage were also the orchestra. It was amazing. Everyone was onstage all of the time and they each played a different instrument and all of the movement was choreographed with their instruments -- Joanna's cello, Mrs. Lovett's baritone, Toby's violin, the beadle was on keyboard. It was pretty amazing because they managed to do it without the instruments distracting from the story -- they would either set them aside for certain scenes, or use the instrument as a sort of prop. The setting was pretty sparse and they used red lighting and dramatic music instead of blood for the murder scenes, and it was still creepy and vengeful.
Warning: plot spoilers ahead.

So afterward, the show inspired a conversation between D and me about the plight of women in nineteenth-century England (of course it did, you're saying to yourselves). I mean, even the spunky Mrs. Lovett pins her entire future on a relationship with a demented barber. And I am far from convinced that Sweeney Todd's motives have very much to do with his poor wife's unfortunate fall. As I proclaimed to D, this is not a love story. Mrs. Lovett wants it to be, but Sweeney Todd is far more worried about Judge Turpin than he is about Lucy (his wife, who he believes is dead) or Johanna (his daughter, now Judge Turpin's ward). For all his grief about Lucy's fate, he quickly channels into rage against Mrs. Lovett for misleading him. Yes, she lied to him. But what were her options? And what would have become of Lucy in any case? Even more pressing -- what kept Sweeney from discovering the lie? Why didn't he seek out her grave if he were truly the mourning Victorian he claims to be (the type whom, I imagine, wears a ring with a lock of her hair in it and keeps her letters folded in his pocket)? Sweeney doesn't discover that Lucy is still alive, because he is not motivated by his love for Lucy. Instead, he is obsessed with revenge. Judge Turpin emasculates Benjamin Barker and Benjamin Barker comes back to kill him. That's the real story. The women are just pawns to give it all a little pathos. Johanna goes from being Judge Turpin's ward to being stolen away by a strange sailor. We are to believe he's saving her, but his own lyrics, "I'll steal you, Johanna" suggest otherwise.

So I'm not saying these are flaws in the story. I think it is a masterful tale of vengeance and obsession and I really like the movie and the play. I just think that what could masquerade as a tragic love story is really not about love at all. What Sweeney Todd cannot forgive is not the loss of his wife and daughter. It's the loss of his manhood. It's the Judge taking Sweeney's manhood (symbolized not-very-subtly by raping Lucy and sending Benjamin Barker to prison far away), and leaving him powerless. So if the Judge metaphorically castrates Benjamin Barker, Sweeney Todd will return to metaphorically castrate the Judge. By cutting off his head. The ladies -- even Mrs. Lovett, who steals the show (at least in the version we saw at the Fox, although Helena Bonham Carter does give Johnny Depp a run for his money) and sings my favorite song in the score, "Nothin's gonna harm you, not while I'm around" -- are just collateral damage.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Cooper's latest work (that would be Little Mac's bed):
He feigns innocence:

Little Mac says not to worry -- she's perfectly comfortable on her new bed. The couch.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

lunacy panic

Not my own, actually, but Victorian England's lunacy panic of 1858-9. Shockingly, it was discovered that a number of medical "professionals" were locking away people who were actually quite sane, but perhaps awkward or embarrassing to their families, thus warranting their convenient disposal into asylums. (It occurs to me that this practice arguably exists today only it's called rehab...). Anyway, when newspapers published stories about this, there was a public outcry and what came to be known as the lunacy panic -- which helped regulate psychiatry and the admission of psychiatric patients, and also spawned a number of delightful sensation novels. One of which I will be teaching on Friday:

I love this novel -- the lunacy panic, the mistaken identities, the gender identity issues, Marian's mustache, Frederick Fairlie's art-loving invalid status, the obsese Count Fosco's sexy/creepy magnetism and his love for small dogs... There is plenty to talk about so I should have no trouble filling 50 minutes of class and, as I have not been teaching all semester, I'm looking forward to being back in the classroom. Even briefly. Hmm. Especially briefly! I get to talk about a novel for an hour with smart and enthusiastic students and I don't have to grade any essays. What a deal.

If you haven't read The Woman in White and you want a taste of Victorian sensation, this is a good place to start. I can also endorse wholeheartedly Mary Elizabeth Braddon's Lady Audley's Secret (and if you like THAT novel, you'll LOVE the dissertation chapter I've written on it!). Happy reading.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

feel the burn

I have second degree burns on both of my arms. As my friends very kindly pointed out when I, shamelessly seeking sympathy, e-mailed them pictures, it looks like I have arm herpes. Whatever that is.

At any rate, a freak accident with hot green tea has resulted in my left bicep and right wrist bandaged and wrapped in gauze. My not-very-nice physician informed me that it is likely to scar, although she did call me a "poor thing" and said that it must have hurt.

I realize it could be much worse. It could have burned my face instead of my arm. I could have real herpes instead of blistered burns. But it's enough for me to have a little pity-party of my own.

I am looking forward to this weekend -- some work, some play, a date night to the Fox Theatre with D. I'm also going to get busy with some Christmas crafting. I'm newly inspired to do this sewing/crafting thing, thanks to:
*Project Runway for making me often think wistfully that fashion design might be more fun than Victorian literature
*my parents for giving me a sewing machine for my birthday
*the economy for making me want to conserve money (and by "want to" I mean "need to")
*D for thinking that anything I make with the sewing machine is amazing
*discovering and reading my cousin Beth's blog about her own craftiness, delighting in some of our shared interests (bags, Buffy, knitting squares and rectangles), and following some of her links to various crafty-idea websites

So whatever this blog is for -- keeping in touch, keeping myself on track, indulging in my narcissistic fantasies -- here it begins.