27 August 2007

More reading

Below are all the books I’ve read in the past 7 days (bearing in mind that I was traveling for work and had a lot of plane time). This is also the order I read them in. Yes, I read extremely fast – about 100 pages an hour. No, I don’t skim. Yes, I retain well. It’s the legacy of a misspent youth, and came in extremely handy in school. On vacations and other trips, hauling enough books to keep me busy is a pain in the ass, though.

I’ve included hyperlinks to all the books on amazon so you can read a summary, if you’re interested – I hate doing plot recaps myself when talking about books, so didn’t bother.

There are no spoilers below, apart from a semi-one on the Jane Green book.

Neal Stephenson, The Diamond Age. Jesus, this book sucked so hard. I’ve been trying and trying to read this and Snow Crash and I never seem to get anywhere because while the world is interesting, the characters aren’t. But since I had three ups and downs (boston, pittspurgh, phoenix, san jose) on the flight, I persevered. I shouldn’t have bothered – any author that’s STILL doing world building 50 pages from the end is not an author that understands pacing or plotting, and I like plotty well-paced books. (They don’t have to be FAST – I love Henry James and Dickens – but they do have to go somewhere.) But if you love vaguely-explained tech stuff and world building and have more patience with paper-thin characters than me, you might enjoy the books – set in the future, the book comments on technology and the fascination with it in our present age. Recommended with deep reservations.

Deborah Crombie - Leave the Grave Green Decent series of police procerdurals; I’ve read a couple out from the library years ago but remembered very little and was pleasantly surprised to find that I was neither lost mid-series nor had that feeling that all the made character building had been done in earlier books. About on par with Reginald Hill’s best, if you read him. Recommended.

Julie Smith - Other People’s Skeletons. God, this was awful. Cliched writing and a predictable plot. I’ve read and enjoyed Smith’s Skip Langdon novels (set in New Orleans – pre-Katrina, or at least when I read the novels it was pre-Katrina) and they were enjoyable, the city as much a character as anything else – but this Rebecca Schwartz was terrible, felt completely phoned in. Not recommended.

Ellen Emerson White, All Emergencies Ring Super. White is a respected YA novelist who writes well. I tend not to like her stuff because it’s the sort of thing that tests my suspension of disbelief – a series about a girl who’s the daughter of the first American female president? Set in the 80s? Geez, even Geraldine Ferraro went nowhere and she was practically a man AND super right wing to boot. Her other YA series is about Vietnam, which while an excellent subject is not really my thing for escapist reading. But this novel was pretty fun ... again, I had some trouble with the suspension of disbelief during some of the more outrageous capers but it’s nothing that’s uncommon in the detective novel genre. Recommended.

Jane Green, Jemima J. Chick lit, pure and simple. True to the chick lit genre, it criticizes the modern obsession with appearance … but the plot itself completely reinforces that obsession. The jacket copy said, ‘an ending you’ll never see coming” which is total bullshit since I called it about 60 pages in, but whatever – that’s another staple of the chick lit genre, having predictable happy endings. And the plot twist which depends on, THE HORROR, fat chick porn, just made me roll my eyes – it’s not kiddie porn, give me a fucking break. Uh oh – you mean some men like to look at fat chick porn while dating a skinny girl? Oh Noes! Somewhat enjoyable for the fluff factor, but there are about 100 pages in the middle that could have been condensed into 50 or less. Not recommended.

Clifford Simak, The Goblin Reservation. This book was fucking bizarre, set in a university in the future where Neanderthals have been brought forward in time, ghosts are part of the general population and banshees look like paper bags floating around … I enjoyed it for the strangeness factor but unless you’re throwing up in a hotel room in the middle of the night and want something to keep you mildly entertained in between bouts of puking, I wouldn’t bother. Recommended with reservations.

Tony Parsons - Man and Boy Utterly charming and insightful, full of dead-on observations about modern life and the nature of family. Plus set in the UK in the very years when I lived there and Jamiroquai was cool (well … not that they were ever very cool but it was during their brief moment of success) – so I caught all the references and that was fun. Unfortunately I was reading an American edition – I really hate when they change “mum” to “mom”, it always grates. I plan to force Dave to read this book as soon as he finishes his current one. It’s chick lit for boys who don’t want to grow up, but smarter than most of the actual chick lit that’s out there. He’s a lot like Nick Hornby (who wrote, among other things, the novels Fever Pitch, High Fidelity and About a Boy, all of which have been turned into movies.) Although I should say I haven’t actually read Hornby (the movie of About a Boy was sort of sweet, though, if you can get past the fact that Hugh Grant starred in it), I just know that Hornby covers the same territory – lads not wanting to grow up but having to in order not to lose their girlfriends/wives/children – as Parsons. (And in the US, you see that same subject covered in the movies of Judd Apatow.) Recommended - this was the best book out of all of these.

Tony Parsons - Man and Wife. A follow-up to Man and Boy, and not nearly as good. I almost wish I hadn’t read it, because Man and Boy was so much newer and fresher and this felt like he was repeating the same tricks, less successfully. Recommended with reservations.
The first Tony Parsons I ever read was One for My Baby, and it was when I was still living in the UK and I loved it – it is in large part about being an ex-pat, which resonated with me, so I was thrilled to see a couple of Parsons novels in the second hand bookstore and knew they’d be decent plane reads. Which they were. Recommended.

Joanna Trollope - The Choir. Your classic Aga saga (British domestic drama.) Think Anne Tyler for the American equivalent (I have never thought Tyler was such a shit hot writer, frankly, although she seems to get critical recognition.) Fine, cheerful reading, although the very genteel characters and their very genteel concerns made me feel very removed from the world of the book, which made it satisfyingly escapist but also cast an unmistakeable rosy glow over over Middle England which … is not really deserved – it’s not a particularly accurate portrait, I don’t think. It reads more like what she thinks readers (maybe especially American ones) want to think middle-class English are like, and there was little real passion in the book. Recommended with reservations.

Olive Ann Burns, Cold Sassy Tree. Actually I haven’t finished this yet (as of Monday morning, I am 30 pages from the end.) But I’m pretty sure I know how it’ll end and I’ve formed my opinion of it – Burns has a terrific ear for phrasing – the back cover mentions Alice Walker but not Flannery O’Connor, who I thought was a more apt comparison – and the book is certainly a fairly nostalgic look at a small-town southern past. Incest, frequent death, privies and sanitation issues and other darker subjects get a nod, but aren’t really covered in any detail – racism is mostly ignored. It’s WAY less dark than anything Flannery O’Connor ever wrote, for sure – people are essentially good, if flawed in amusing and comprehensible ways. But the narrative moves along at a pretty decent clip and it’s worth reading for the voice, although you won’t come away from the book with any blinding new insights on family life or what it means to be southern. Recommended.

21 August 2007

Ranting, mostly about California

Context: I'm in San Jose for a conference. Apparently I hate people and am more angry and bitter when travelling - or more likely, that comes to the surface quicker when I'm not in my usual routine and insulated by my nice job and my nice boyfriend and my nice apartment. Really, I shouldn't be so aggravated - I'm staying in a nice hotel (much nicer than anything I could have afforded myself) and this conference is all ideas about my profession which I actually find interesting and compelling so ... what the hell have I got to complain about, exactly? Let's see:

1. Directions from my hotel to the conference center were “follow the palm trees”. Heh. They have palm trees here! I suppose someone from Californai who came to Boston would be equally charmed by directions to follow the cobblestone path, though.
2. No one jaywalks. They all wait patiently at crosswalks for the signal to walk. It drives me fucking nuts. Where is the subversiveness? Are they all so stunned by the gorgeous weather they’re just perpetually happy and no one is bitter or cynical? You can’t cross diagonally anywhere either – you have to wait, cross in one direction and then wait to cross to complete your 90 degrees. It is deeply aggravating, especially if you’re in a hurry. Maybe Californians don’t leave late. Maybe the sun fixes that. Maybe they all drive some kind of temporal kool-aid, which allows them to time things perfectly.
3. the weather is perfect – 80s every day and sunny and not humid at all. I love Boston but this weather is pretty tempting. I don’t know if I can get behind all the happy non-cynicism, though. Maybe I just haven’t met the right Californians yet.
4. This fucking computer’s wifi connections is iffy – or the room I’m in is cut off on purpose – and it’s driving me fucking nuts. The imac wouldn’t be behaving like this – or if it did, I would at least know that the problem is with the connection and not the computer or the software. (UPDATE: it was the room I was in. Not like there was anything mindblowing being discussed but I think they probably blocked internet access deliberately.)
5. Everything is laid out on a grid – north and south and east and west – and all the streets are clearly labeled. If you turn left three times in a row, you’ll get back to where you started! Amazing! In fact, even if you don’t know where you are or how to get somewhere, you can figure it out using logic and orient yourself using street signs, instead of having to rely on passive memorization and a sense of direction. A revolutionary concept: if I moved to California, I might not be lost all the time. I could get places without having to build in an extra 50% of lost time.
6. Also, three hour time difference really is nothing – or ought not to be, considering what I’ve dealt with - but hauling this fucking laptop around makes me extremely tired, for some reason. That’s my excuse, anyway. Not jet lag, no sir.

So that wasn't just complaining, it was a mixture of observations and complaining. But whine-heavy, for sure. Speaking of w(h)ine ... really, I so shouldn't bitch about all the, um, free food and booze and stuff but it's totally making me feel fat.

I guess I like my life at home better than I realise. And again - I haven't been gone for very long, I won't even be away for a while week and yet I miss Dave. Even though we're on the phone as much as always. I am not quite in a good enough mood to reframe all those complaints up above as love for home, that feels a bit pollyanna-ish.

There. Enough complaining for a while.

12 August 2007

Reading: Triangle and Love and Friendship

I have been reading a lot lately, just whipping through novels as fast as you'd suck the foam off your latte. Generally it's because I'm procrastinating. Whatever. At least I'm well read for someone who gets nothing done.

Yesterday I read Alison Lurie's Love and Friendship.

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I really enjoyed it. Hit the spot, somehow, all that stuff about love and how marriage works (differently than a love affair, although no one tells you that at the start). Seeing as I'm currently in the entertaining (and expensive) position of simultaneously planning a wedding while trying to divorce Husband #1, marriages, and the friendship that successful marriages seem to engender, is much on my mind. Lurie is pretty realistic in her description of how it works, and she pulls a nice balancing act off - she doesn't quite break your heart but the ending is realistic enough so you almost do.

Plus I have a soft spot for anything set in the academic world. Lurie is less kind to her academics that Robertson Davies - all his professors are true seekers of knowledge, and endowed generously with wit and compassion, as well. Lurie's academics are of course much more like real people, ambitious and sometimes petty and fond of a joke with a little light bullying and some favoritism thrown in, for good measure. I've never worked in an office that didn't have all those elements.

It's set in the fifties, and Lurie's prose is pretty matter-of-fact and has a fifties flavour, which suits the chilly New England college town of the book.

Having polished off Love and Friendship, I picked up Triangle. I've had Triangle on my bookshelf for a while.

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Triangle also has an academic, the unkindest (and funniest) portrayal yet; therefore last month's Robertson Davies binge to the Lurie to Triangle was a nice procession - put all of those academics together and you might have a credible English department.

The writer Katharine Weber is a good friend of mine (so I won't even pretend to be objective), and so far I've loved all her books (The Music Lesson - her first that I read and I was astonished at how her precise prose evoked Ireland so well. She can write (and speak with) a flawless Irish accent. (She's also a gifted and inventive cook, although you'd never know it from her books.)
By the time I read The Music Lesson, I'd already met and grown to like Katharine, so I was a little, um, nervous about reading the book. Some writers can be fabulous and witty and charming online and in person and then when you read their books it's like they couldn't sustain wit and charm and the books are earnest in the wrong places and full of heavy, lumpen prose. And that's depressing, because you can't really restore your original image of the person.

But! No problems like that with The Music Lesson, and also no problems with Objects In Mirrors Are Closer Than They Appear, which was actually her first novel and reveals her penchant for clever wordplay. Not too clever, though - it never bogs down the story, which goes lickety split like all of her books do.

I liked The Little Women, too (although I don't think all the critics did.) I'll say that it was good that I'd already read two of her other books and trusted her, as an author: I found the beginning sections very clumsily written ... which was on purpose, since the narrator Jo is learning how to write as she goes, and gets much better as the book goes on, aided by the editorial comments from her sisters in the margins of Jo's narrative of their shared history. But I suppose if you didn't already know Katharine as a writer, or if you didn't read far enough in, it could be off-putting. It also helped that as a child, my sisters and I all read Louisa May Alcott's Little Women numerous times, so I was very familiar with the incidents in Alcott's Little Women which inspired Katharine's The Little Women. Technically I thought the novel was the best thing she'd done so far - the sustained trick of Jo's writing improving plus the extra-textual marginalia with the aforementioned good plotting.

But Triangle, I think, blew them all out of the water for skill and depth. It is about the Triangle ShirtWaist Factory Fire, and opens with a harrowing fire scene. The fire story is later on rewoven and resewn until the fabric of memories and stories seems to present quite a different garment than the orginal stories. It's also about marriage, a little bit, and there's a mystery that the reader (in possession of more information than the characters) guesses about 1/3 of the way through, but it doesn't matter because the characters piece things together differently than the reader and the joy of the story is watching them do it. It sounds like a ghastly topic and it was really quite difficult for me to read, the most moving of her books to date (for me). As a result, I put off reading it for about a year, because in general I don't like reading hard books. I get all caught up in the story and then, you know, I get bummed out. Only Anna Karenina does not make me feel this way, because by the time she goes under the train you are more than ready to say goodbye to Anna. Anyway. So it was the hardest book yet, for me - but all that emotional sad stuff is mixed in with humour and such smartness and terrific character voices and the quick plotting - and it's not actually a depressing read, just moving - which is tough for me. And apparently most of the time when I read, it's to escape to someplace a little more bland. (I don't know what that says about me. Parse it as you will.) And the book is also about September 11th, a little, and that strand is really perfectly woven it, almost so you don't notice. Even the book's cover, with one side of the shirt dark and burnt-looking and the other perfect, it's like the columns of smoke rising up from where the twin towers had been. [I realise on a re-read that this isn't particularly coherent, I don't think I've quite digested the book - you might want to check out the links at the bottom of the post for better synopses and a better idea of what the book is actually about.

There's lots of stuff about Triangle, if you're interested. It's on the shortlist for the the Connecticut Book Awards (I'm not totally sure that's the right website, I can't seem to find an official one). Anyway, Katharine has been active in the blogosphere talking about the book, and any of these links will probably give you a better idea of the book (plus most of 'em have excerpts up) than I can.

The Page 99 Test, which is apparently based on a quotation from Ford Maddox Ford (keep meaning to read him, never have), "Open the book to page ninety-nine and read, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you". First you've got Katharine's analysis of page 99 as it fits into the rest of the book, then you've got the actual text of the page. It's a fun game, especially if you've read the book and remember that page.

There is also an interview in the LitBlog CoOp - apparently August 13 - 17 is Triangle Week at the LitBlog. And another interview about the book at the amusingly named Conversations With Famous Writers. I love reading about other people's writing process.

All afternoon after I finished the book, I couldn't quite shake it - I tried reading back issues of the New Yorker as a palate cleanser and still by the time Dave and I went for our walk, the characters from the book had stubbornly refused to leave my head and I kept thinking about them, about their lives and their choices, as if they were someone I'd met at a party and talked to for a while. That doesn't happen particularly often, but it's usually a sign of a book I'll keep thinking about for a long time after I've finished it.

09 August 2007

How I stalk blogs and websites online, easily!

I heart RSS feeds. For a long time I just had a big list of bookmarks, and clicked on all my favorite sites to see if they'd posted anything new. (You can't tell from the blogroll on this site, as of writing this, but I've actually got a huge blogroll that I check every day.) This sometimes was exciting (a new post! from a blogger I really like!) but actually ended up yielding a lot of wasted clicks and open windows. Then I figured out about how the whole RSS thing worked. I signed up with Google Reader and transferred all my bookmarked sites into Google Reader, categorized appropropriately (work-related, being-a-girl, cooking, crafts). Now I can check that shit out on a category-by-category basis, and not have to click around to all of my friends who update their blogs sporadically. (Not that I'm in that category, or anything.)

I've also got a Google personalized home page, which sounds LAME, I know it does, but basically I sign into my Google account and then I've got a bunch of features, some third-party (i.e. not Google-written) and some not. One one page, I can see if I've got new Gmail, I can view my Google Reader blog updates - sorting by most recent or by category and then most recent - I have the weather forecast for my area, I've got a little stopwatch widget (for when I take a break and play Candystand games), I've got a Google calendar (which I should use more than I do), I've got news feeds from the Boston Globe, the New York Times and NPR, I've got a wee Digg box, and some other stuff I don't really look at. It used to have a myspace widget but it was unreliable so the creator took it down. I can sign into my iGoogle page from anywhere with an internet connection and see my stuff (mostly I glance at my Gmail and the FeedReader.)

Anyway. I wasn't meaning to write about the google home page, I wanted to write about the RSS reader thing, because it is so super useful. I just got sidetracked for a minute with the available anywhere thing (you can sign into Google Reader from anywhere, too, and I believe they recently updated it so you can download stories onto your laptop, say, when you're somewhere with a connection - in an airport - and then read them offline later (when you're flying two miles above any wireless networks.)

Below is a video that explains, quickly (under 4 minutes) and amusingly (with the patter! I loves teh patter) how RSS readers work (Google Reader is the example they use, but there are others) and tells you, in a non-technical sort of way, how to set one up for yourself.

Best tip from the video? "It's addictive, so be careful." Truer words were never.

08 August 2007

Happiness v. Contentment: Cage Match TO THE DEATH!!!!

I have never even watched pro wrestling, let alone any type on cage match, so I should probably be forbidden from using that particular phrase again, let alone hyperbole involving death.

Rambling introductory preface aside, the difference between happiness and contentment is something I've been thinking about. Ever since Kaethe's comment on this cats and housekeeping post, actually. I started writing a comment to reply and then realised that it was too long for a comment and I should make it its own entry. (And then of course CrazyAuntPurl went and wrote about all that stuff way more eloquently than I ever could, but I guess I still have something to say.)

So. What do cats and housework have to do with anything, you ask? Well ... back when I wsa living in New Zealand with my first husband, I remember having a conversation (phone, email, IM? I no longer remember the medium) at a certain point with my friend Maya and I said that I was content, although not precisely happy.

I had a lot of reasons to be unhappy: I was working long hours, and very hard, at a job which I enjoyed but which could be pretty draining, my first husband was ... I'll just say Not Nice, and remind you all that they are exes for a reason. One of the particular forms his Not Nice-ness took was unreliability ... I could never know when he'd be home or what he'd want to do if he was home or if he'd spent the money for the rent on computer hardware for some customer who he'd eventually get around to billing six months later (meanwhile, rent was due). And I was far away from my family and most of the people who loved me, apart from a handful of really terrific friends I'd made in New Zealand. But a handful of people is not a support network. I was eating too little, I think, and probably drinking too much. You see where this is heading? To a crisis point, and since I'm writing this from Boston obviously something happened to change the New Zealand scenario.

But, while not particularly happy, I was content. I had a job myself, I had a few really excellent friends, I had two cats (Inty and her littermate, the still-much-missed Boris) and nice landlords who pretended not to mind when the rent was late (and pretended not to hear when Husband #1 and I had screaming fights), my job meant that at least I had some control over some money and therefore some say over whether or not the phone or electricity bill would get paid. (That was always stressful. My mom said something a couple of years later about how my phones in New Zealand were always breaking ... um, yeah, because the phone company cut the phone off. For non payment. That was always the first non-essential to go.)

I had a little house that I worked hard to keep clean (this was, ahhh, not really a priority for Husband #1 - or he was an asshole who thought women were born to clean up after men, take your pick) and, as I said, a little bit of money and a little bit of control and for the first time in my life with Husband #1 I wasn't ashamed to have someone come over unexpectedly (Husband #1 brought people by without advance notification a lot), because I could be assured that even if you couldn't quite lick your dinner off the floor, it was reasonably presentable and I wouldn't have to worry about people thinking we lived in a cave like animals with gnawed bones on the floor and bat droppings on the furniture, because there was none of that.

And it was these three things - the ability to work full-time (I had quite a while in the UK and then in New Zealand where I couldn't work, because of visa status stuff, but the marriage rights eventually meant I could work) and the housework, and the cats - who were reliable, and at home to greet me and love me up when I got home and didn't stay out late or work late nights - which were in their entirety responsible for my sanity. These things, these things which were mostly in my control - they made me content. They made life liveable.

Let me tell you, I didn't start off by loving housework. I was a fucking slob as a child, all the way through boarding school and sporadically into college, although the general trend was towards cleanliness. Then I met Husband #1, who didn't clean up after himself or anyone else, and I regressed somewhat. I stayed in my regressed state (tending towards slobbiness) for about three years, and then I finally gave up, I guess, and stopped trying to fight Husband #1 to do the dishes, pick up his clothes after he'd showered, help clean the bathroom (guess what, honey? those aren't MY pee dribbles down the front of the toilet!), take out the trash, cook, clean up after the cats, vaccuum, laundry, or anything. (Lest you think I am exaggerating ... I lived with H#1 for seven years. He did the dishes less than five times - I think it was three. That tally includes the 6 month period when we actually had a dishwasher.) I don't particlarly want to get into detail about the depths of squalor into which we descended, but let me tell you it was humiliating and probably a public health hazard.

So, grudgingly, I began to do the housework. All of it. Some of it half-assed, and badly. I resented him bitterly. I made comments, sometimes snide and sometimes sincere, all the time. (His response bounced between, "I was going to do it" and "You're a neat freak and I don't care that much. It's you who wants the house clean, not me.")

Then we moved to New Zealand (and THAT decision is another story). And in Auckland, there are ants. Pretty much all of Auckland is on top of an anthill - it never really gets below freezing so the ants are year round. I am phobic about ants. In fact, it was an ant infestation (in the garbage ... in our sixth floor apartment) which triggered my first panic attack. Screaming and hyperventilating doesn't describe the half of it.

The ants were after some fruit cores in the trash (or something.) Once that problem had been dealt with (to give Husband #1 the credit he deserves, he drove me - I didn't have a car and couldn't drive on that side of the road - to buy ant poison. I put down the traps, though, and made sure the cats would be okay. I cleaned up all the little dead bodies. I sterilized everything in the house.)

The ants, I eventually realised, would come only if there was food for them. If you were relentlessly clean in the kitchen (dishes could not sit in the sink longer than 12 hours ... that is, overnight) and everything was sealed in airtight containers (this is where my love affair with rubber gasketed canning jars began), then ants would stay away.

From the kitchen, and from the space of always having a clean kitchen, I ventured further. I learned that laundry is a pretty easy, and not very dirty, chore - sort it, throw your shit in, dry it (if you have a dryer, which at some points I had and at some points I didn't ... just having a washing machine seems like a hug luxury to me, still.) Therefore, laundry is a good way to get started. I learned that while cleaning the bathroom is kind of gross and a pain in the ass, in winter, if you are cold, cleaning the bathroom will heat you up. In summer, it will help burn off the calories from the icecream you keep eating in a futile attempt to stay cool. Furthermore, if you clean the bathroom every week, it is much less arduous and disgusting.

I learned that proper cleaning products and tools (scrubby pads and Comet instead of using a regular sponge and dishwashing soap) are worth the money, since the bathtub ring is pretty stubborn if all you've got is a soft sponge.
This should tell you something about how poor we were: couldn't afford to buy all the household cleaning stuff at once, so for a really long time I had to make do with what I had. I will relieve your fears and say at once that I never skimped on the right tools for cleaning the inside of the toilet. I learned that if you've got a dustpan and wee broom, going over the bathroom with that before you wash the floors helps a lot with the human and cat hair which accumulates in bathrooms.

I also learned that when I wasn't able to stay on top of chores at home, it made me pretty unhappy not to have clean clothes. Ants in the kitchen were also bringers of misery.

And so I began, instead of grudingly doing chores and leaving them until last minute and procrastinating, to prioritize them. I blocked out time for them. I started with easy ones like laundry and moved onto harder ones like vaccuuming. Husband #1 started to complain about how I spent time cleaning instead of doing something with him. (I know. He could have helped. It never occurred to him to do anything besides tell me how stupid I was for wanting a clean house and to stop now. Hey, this is my blog. If I want to use it for grinding my fucking axes, I will.)

Eventually, two things happened, and they weren't really related but they worked out. Husband#1 started spending a lot less time at home (this happened over maybe the last two years in New Zealand) and I realised that with him gone, I could use that time to get my stuff done - writing or, you know, cleaning.

And so cleaning became time to myself. I would put my iPod (a gift from my mom) on - sometimes on Aretha's I Never Loved a Man or anything by Patsy Cline, sometimes the Pixies or Nirvana (which made me laugh, since I doubted Kurt Cobain ever imagined housewives scrubbing the tub listening to Smells Like Teen Spirit). I would get up and clean and know that it was exercise, that I was doing a good thing. It was like an active meditation.

I was taking care of myself. By taking care of the house, somehow I was caring for myself.

I still don't really understand how scrubbing someone else's pee off the floor or skid marks from a toilet or mold from a shower curtain (or the walls and ceiling, in Auckland, which is damp) or cleaning a catbox or anything else gross became invested with some kind of deep spiritual meaning ... but it did. Somehow I got over the petty, temporary humiliation of cleaning up (gloves helped here, I still use 'em for toilet-y work) and realised that ... hygiene precautions aside, the only thing that makes this work gross or humiliating is my perception of it. It is a thing that needs doing, that's all. Every single time, it worked - I always got a clean house at the end, whether I bitched and moaned about it or smiled and sang along to perky music.

I'm not saying cleaning the toilet is some kind of transcendant experience wherein I commune with god. I'm completely lacking in belief in any sort of higher power, for starters, and then for another I can't take myself that seriously when I'm on my hands and knees working on someone else's pee. I just can't.

But it's not the worst thing in the world, either. It's part of life and it's part of taking care of me like brushing my teeth (or flossing - now, hey, flossing is pretty gross if you haven't done it in a while) or showering or whatever. And, on a weekend or a day off when it's not too hot and there's no one else around, it's kind of enjoyable, getting shit all cleaned. I don't eat when I clean (even if I wanted to and didn't know better, the chemical smells mean you're not really hungry.) I'm not stressed or impatient; I don't think about work; I just focus on the job at hand, watching my fingers scrub away the accumulated grime, and not really thinking about anything much at all. This mental blank space might be the best gift of all.

Sometimes I feel that way after yoga class while lying still in shivasana, but more often I'm thinking about what to have for dinner, whether I'm cold, what my day was like, if Dave and I will fight in the car on the way home ... cleaning, though. Cleaning the house gives me that blank space, a break from the relentless pressure of my thoughts. Cooking is the same, actually.

The other huge gift? When I've finished, I finally feel like it's okay to stop for a while, and do whatever I want. (Blog, for instance. Or read. Or play on the internets. Whatever.) I'm not particularly good at figuring out when I've done enough to have earned a rest (my weekend to-do lists tend to be overly ambitious) and don't, by any means, get the idea that I don't sit around on weekends fucking around on the internet, eating icecream and petting the cats, while I procrastinate oh ... cleaning. But. I do it, or most of it, every week. And it works, or mostly works, every time. And that's good enough for me.

(Disclaimer: in case anyone gets the idea I'm STILL the one doing all the housework with Dave, it ain't so. He cleans too, and helps with chores - I think we split it about 50/50, although he thinks he does more his share, regularly, and I think I do more than my share, regularly. This leads me to think we're probably breaking even.)

03 August 2007

Friday blether

Home from work - I took "flex time", also known as "summer hours", also known as "they let the animals out early on Fridays". (If, of course, you've previously arranged with your boss to leave early AND you've made up the time, which sort of destroys the spontenaity of it ... but I left early on a Friday, so I'm not really bitching.) Except I'll bitch about the heat. It is fucking hot. About 95 here in my un-air-conditioned apartment, and just the act of sitting up and typing is making sweat bead on my forehead.) The cats are all sprawled on the hardwood - they got briefly excited to see me home so early and Zoe actually wanted to be picked up and purred (I think she just wanted to lick the salt off my forehead, though.) That didn't last too long, since she's a Maine Coon and heavy and hot. Cuteness can only get you so far. The humidity is only about 40%, though, so that's not so bad.


A quick technical note: not getting any more comment spam for a while, I removed the sign-in thingie. If spam gets to be a pain in the ass I'll put in a prove-you're-human validifier (that's the technical name for it) but for now I'd rather have anyone able to respond. (Plus that's how all the pro bloggers do it - manage comment spam manually - and if they can moderate eleven billion comments then I can manage a couple.)

Also technical, sort of: since the cell phone photo quality looked fine on my phone screen and AWFUL on my work monitor, I resized the pictures for the post below in Picnik - I fucking love Picnik, it's able to handle about 95% of what I'd like to do with image editing with no learning curve at all, and 4 of the other 5% is probably just making lolcats ... so really it may be best for the world that I don't, actually, have Photoshop.

My only current burning desire for Photoshop is because I'd like to design my own wedding invitations ... Dave called me this morning and said he wanted to make punk rock wedding invites, and maybe to make it look like a ransom note, the old-fangled kind with cut-out letter from the newspaper (from back in the day when mechanical word processing wasn't widely available and one's handwriting was recognizable.)

I love the punk rock idea; I think maybe it should inform the whole wedding theme (apart from the venue, the music and my dress, we haven't made any firm decisions.)

I'd totally use the newspaper cut out ransom note mock-up for the Save the Date notices (if we decide to go with those) ... or we could make those look like a band flyer advertising a show, which would also be cool. Or kind of like the sex pistols

But for the invitations themselves I think I'd like to go with distressed font.
Not anything too crazy like this nail scratch one or anything illegible (but hilarious!) like this Max Rhodes one, just something a little grungy-looking, like misproject or horse puke. (heh on the name.) Or even something fairly pretty, like this porcelain. I suppose the challenge would be making it obvious that you've done it intentionally and it's not all a horrible gaffe on the printer's part. (I really like all the collage-y stuff on that site, too. Funny and well-chosen.)

And maybe some blood spatters here and there, I really like the AngryBlue stuff. (Scroll down for it.) Okay, just kidding about the bloody fingerprints, I don't think they'd really say "wedding", or at least, I don't think I want to use that to say "my wedding". But! Some splattery stuff might be cool.

Now that I've taken hours writing this with my slow home internet connetion (I am spoiled by the blazingly fast one at work), Dave is home and I oughta go see him. (Even he, the King Of Hot Days, was a little wilted after his walk home and immediately retired to the bedroom - with Inty, who follows him around like Mary's lamb - and turned on the a/c. And brought the bong.)

Early Morning Routine

So Dave leaves for work at about 6 am, which is an hour before I even get up. This generally wakes Inty up, so she yells her little head off and that usually wakes me (sort of. She tries her best.) Apparently one morning he documented the process via cell phone camera and sent me this awesome series of pxts. Captions are his, too.

Momma wake up!
Momma wake up!

Dammit ...


02 August 2007

Thursday Cat Update

because ... why not, really, fulfill all of the naval-gazing female blogger stereotypes?

Here is my formerly wee black baby; she's still black and she's still my baby, but she doesn't seem to be quite so wee any more ... must be the good food and happy environment; also the indoors-only regime is less active (but safer). She also seems to be a hell of a lot shoutier than I recall, too.

podgy inty
Yeah, she's sleeping right on the mattress pad. She likes to get right up there as soon as I've stripped the sheets so she can hair it up good-style.

Here's Zoe wearing a bow from one of Dave's birthday presents;
you can see she's been playing with the wrapping and is alert and ready for more crumpled! paper! to play with.

Yes, I am immoral for dressing up my cat. She looks so debonair, don't you think?

And, since they don't get along and rarely occupy the same piece of furniture at the same time, here's at picture of both of them, together, about as close as they'll ever get to one another, and it's only because they're both sacked out from the heat.

As Close as They'll Ever Get

Yep, that's an old gallon milk container with a scrub brush in it, because Dave was cleaning the floor. See how it gleams?

And in conclusion ... yes, I spend my weekends taking pictures of my cats and cleaning the house. Then I document it here, in the most boring and stereotypical blog entry ever.