Thursday, December 29, 2011

On Gaps in Posting

So, I've been away. For a while. Work has exhausted me to the point of not being able to think clearly, and the blog has suffered unfortunately. Let me catch you up:

1. The biggest news is that I have had an essay accepted for publication in an anthology! It's basically my final project from Nonfiction last spring about OCD, and the anthology, It's All in Her Head, will be out in Spring 2013 from Seal Press. More news as I receive it.

2. I've been working my ass off at Scholastic book fairs packing the fairs for schools. If your kids go to a school in north Florida or extreme south Georgia, I've probably packed the fair that landed in their school library. Excellent company to work for, though I am wiped out at the end of the day. Many interesting thoughts about books and reading due to being there, which will come later as I try to get this poor neglected blog back on the rails.

3. I've been sporadically guest blogging at Queer Mental Health, and just this evening, I also guest blogged at Vocal Youth, which is run by my amazing friend A'ishah.

4. Lastly, for now, I have submitted my application for grad school--this time to the MFA program at FSU. Failing that (after I have my mental break and attempt hari kari), I'll put in for the library science program. More news on that as I receive it as well.

Other than that, I've been reading like a mad bastard. My profile at GoodReads will attest to that, and hopefully I will be blogging reviews again soon. For all those two or three of you that read this, sorry for the neglect, and I hope to have this thing going again soon. Peace!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Book Life 22: Never Drink Your Rich Roommate's Champagne, or Rural Boy Goes Ivy League, A Semi-Tragedy (Plus One Awesome Chunk of News)

As a book geek of massive proportions, I have been suffering a deep blue funk over the closing of Borders. While I try to shop my local used bookstores for the most part, sometimes you gotta hit up the big shiny bookstore, you know? And Borders was the best of the ones I'm familiar with. I found the book I'm blogging on there in the bargain section slashed another 50% because my beloved Borders is going under. I'm glad to be able to afford a few books I've been wanting because they are so cheap, but I hate the reasons for it. But I digress...

Lost in the Meritocracy: The Undereducation of an Overacheiver by Walter Kirn

If you are at all familiar with this blog, you know that I am from a low SES rural background (and continue to be) and have had some difficulties adjusting to life in a town seemingly stuffed with entitled, pretentious people. (My previous rantings on the subject can be found listed under the "poverty" tag in the cloud to your right.) So when I saw this book, I snatched it up immediately, thinking I'd found some wonderful if distant authorial soul mate. Eh, not really.

Though I enjoyed the read, I found myself constantly searching for the thing the title and blurb promised. I understand why he included early memories, because after all, it is a memoir. However, most of it didn't seem to click with the expectations an initial glance gives you. Once he arrived at Princeton, it appears with his first roommates, a snobby group of over-privileged people I wanted to smack and other classmates wandering about in the background of the narrative. It falls away again shortly thereafter only to resurface here and there in the second half of the book, in between drug addled hazes and what looks to be an exhaustion-based disconnection with reality. As I've said about many a memoir I have read, I was not there and can make no claims about what did and did not happen and how it affected the author. But in many places, it seemed less to be the overwhelming nature of being thrown into the company of a class he was unfamiliar with than his own preexisting issues.

Knowledge is a reckoning...a way to assess your location, your true position, not a strategy for improving your position. (p.23)

Having said that, I did find a few places in which I was nodding in agreement. It isn't that it was a bad or poorly conceived book. (I think more people from rural, low income areas/backgrounds need to express these things, hence the reason I am always ranting on about them and reading this book.) I simply think that if he wanted to write a memoir about his discombobulation and how he dealt with the upper class twilight zone he ended up in, he could have done a much better job. I wanted more of the actual conflict and how he proposed to combat it. I don't mean to give anything away, but at the end when he finds himself deeper in an upper class arena than before, he makes no mention of it. It's presented as a moment of "whoo hoo! I got this!" rather than what could prove to be a shove into an even more pretentious pit of vipers. I know he couldn't conceivably go on forever; a book must end somewhere, after all. I just wish he could have acknowledged the depth of the issue and the effects it would have on him in the future or even how it has affected him now that he's all grown up and distanced from the actual events.

In the end, if you're looking for a more eloquent and extensive discussion of the problems I ramble on about on occasion, this isn't exactly it, but read it anyway. It does have its moments.

And now for something you'll really like...

In other book related news, it pays to follow authors you like on Facebook. Why is that, you ask? Because sometimes they post interesting and awesome things. Take yesterday for example. Chuck Palahniuk posted an opportunity for bloggers: all you had to do was email Double Day with your blog and physical address for a chance to read and review his new book Damned before it hits shelves in October. As you may have surmised, I will be one of the lucky ones. It isn't as if I've become entitled to an exclusive audience with the book, but it is pretty darn cool nonetheless. I have no idea when it may arrive, but rest assured you will know when it does. Stay tuned.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Book Life 21: In Which I Ramble About the Abortive Ending of the Vampire Chronicles

IMPORTANT NOTE: If you have not read the last two Chronicles books, and do not want anything at all spoiled, do not read this. I despise spoilers, and would not want to ruin the experience for you.

Over the past couple of weeks, I've been rereading the Vampire Chronicles in their entirety which I don't think I've done since the last one was published. Oh, I pick up Body Thief or Memnoch occasionally, but this time I started at Interview and just finished the last page of Blood Canticle. Up through Blood and Gold, which is (finally) the full tale of the life of Marius, I remembered how much I loved the Chronicles. I am a self-avowed fan of Lestat and most of the books Anne Rice has written. I've read all of them, Mayfair series, Violin, Servant of the Bones, the erotica, etc. Anyway, I've been pondering what went wrong with Blackwood Farm and Blood Canticle, because most assuredly, something did go wrong.

It isn't that the final two books aren't well written. I'm pretty sure it is impossible for Anne to write badly (although I haven't read and don't plan to read her newest ones so they could be terrible for all I know). However, something changed with Memnoch, and the series slowly drifted apart from there. If you haven't read it, Memnoch tells the tale of Lestat being courted by the Devil himself and taken through the "true" history of creation, God, etc. Being the religion geek that I am, I liked this book a great deal. I took issue with some of the plot twists at the end, but all in all, I enjoyed it. After this you have The Vampire Armand, Pandora, Vittorio, Merrick, and Blood and Gold. Armand is a whiner, but it was a good read. Pandora and Vittorio are largely outside the realm of the Chronicles (with the exception of Pandora's involvement with Marius), but excellent books. Vittorio is beautiful and strange enough that I forgive its digression. Merrick is the first book in which Anne tried to meld the Vampires and the Mayfairs, but it works in this one. Merrick is distant enough from the Mayfair series that you don't get bogged down, and frankly I just loved the Voodoo in the story. Blood and Gold is oddly framed, but being that it is Marius, it's fine. Then the train wreck happens. The thread of the main Chronicles story gets lost somewhere in Armand, and since the next few books are digressions, it just drifts away entirely until she attempts to find it again in Blackwood Farm and Blood Canticle.

*Sigh* The problem with the last two books is that they really don't want to be part of the Chronicles. Were it not for the fact that Lestat frames the first and narrates the second, they would have no ties whatsoever and could be continuations of the Mayfair Witches (especially Canticle). Here's the issue: Anne broke with the Catholic Church years and years ago, and sometime just before Memnoch she began to reconcile with them, which intensely colored her writing. She began to to think of the Chronicles as "darkness" and even titled her fairly recent memoir Called Out of Darkness. She started the fictional accounts of Jesus' life (which on the whole are not terrible--again, religion geek) at this point, and even appeared on that horrific show The 700 Club (see my response to that HERE). Even more recently she has broken with the Church again, but kept her Christianity. But now I'm digressing a bit. The point is that this all affected her books immensely. If Memnoch wasn't enough to prove it to you, Lestat's philosophizing throughout Canticle should do it.

I think Anne felt some modicum of responsibility to her long time loyal fans to finish the series rather than drop it at Marius' tale, but rather than take the time to properly end it as it warranted, she decided to rush the job. Blackwood Farm seems to travel on an odd and twisty path that makes little sense at times, though it is, of course, beautifully written as always. Toward the end, we get another main character shoehorned into our little universe, and at first, she seems okay--one of those characters you can stomach but don't really grow to love. The first time I read this (and this time, because I didn't remember what happened) all I could hope was that Mona would fade out of the picture early into Canticle, though I knew she'd appear because of the way Anne structured the end of Blackwood Farm, ending it in the middle of Lestat making her a fledgling. How sadly wrong I was. In all the Anne Rice novels EVER, there has never been a major character that I didn't grow to love in some way--until Mona Mayfair. She is the most horrendous little monster, and it gets to the point that every time she opens her mouth you think you can't dislike her more. Then she proves you wrong. She effectively ruins most of Canticle for me.

Now, I have heard (a few) dissenting opinions. There are those that actually like Mona, though how I will never know, and I'm sure those people think Anne did a wonderful job closing out the Chronicles. I am not among them. She dispatches Merrick Mayfair into the great beyond with so little fanfare that it's insulting (both to the character and her readers) in order to tie up a major plot line in Farm. I mean, really, how in the hell did she justify that mess to herself? Merrick was a powerful enough witch and Voodoo priestess that she could have sent Goblin's soul into the light without flinging herself into the flames as well. Hell, she was aiming to do just that in Merrick with the ghost of Claudia. Just ridiculous. Then Canticle, instead of truly focusing on Lestat, as the last of the series should have done in my opinion, she centers it on Mona's involvement with the Taltos (from the Mayfair Witches trilogy) and her unending ability to be one of the biggest bitches in christendom (oh, and Lestat's inexplicable obsession with Rowan Mayfair). Most of a few chapters in the middle are her being bitchy, Lestat getting angry at her, and Quinn being the go between. It was unbearably tedious. Frankly, he should have let her die on her bower of flowers in Quinn's bed at the end of Farm and saved us all the trouble.

In the final analysis, what I think happened is that Anne felt she needed to give her fans an ending to the Chronicles and (for some unknown reason) one to the Witches as well, so she threw them in her mental blender and voila! She used Farm to shove Mona into the picture, giving the Mayfairs a reasonable claim on story space, and then she used Canticle to play out the end of the Taltos saga. I might not be so aggravated by all this if she didn't attempt to call them both Chronicle books. Had she simply been honest and presented them as a bizarre (and wholly unnecessary) extension of the Mayfairs, I would at least have known what I was walking into: A hot mess, but at least a properly categorized one.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Waxing Poetic, the Second: I Could Totally Be His Groupie, or In Love with People I've Never Met

I stumbled across this poem while searching something else this morning, and of course, I fell in love with it as I do all of Alexie's work. Right now I'm in the middle of rereading the Vampire Chronicles again, but I think I may be working my way through all of Alexie's books again after this. I swear I could just fall into his books and poetry and live there under his ash-blasted skies and strange sun. I've told Anna before that if he ever showed up at our front door, I would not be held responsible for my actions. Of course, all he would have to do is read me his poetry all night...

Go, Ghost, Go by Sherman Alexie

At this university upon a hill,

I meet a tenured professor

Who's strangely thrilled

To list all of the oppressors --

Past, present, and future -- who have killed.

Are killing, and will kill the indigenous.

O, he names the standard suspects --

Rich, white, and unjust --

And I, a red man, think he's correct,

But why does he have to be so humorless?

And how can he, a white man, fondly speak

Of the Ghost Dance, the strange and cruel


That, if performed well, would have doomed

All white men to hell, destroyed their colonies,

And brought back every dead Indian to life?

The professor says, "Brown people

From all brown tribes

Will burn skyscrapers and steeples.

They'll speak Spanish and carry guns and knives.

Sherman, can't you see that immigration

Is the new and improved Ghost Dance?"

All I can do is laugh and laugh

And say, "Damn, you've got some imagination.

You should write a screenplay about this shit --

About some fictional city,

Grown fat and pale and pretty,

That's destroyed by a Chicano apocalypse."

The professor doesn't speak. He shakes his head

And assaults me with his pity.

I wonder how he can believe

In a ceremony that requires his death.

I think that he thinks he's the new Jesus.

He's eager to get on that cross

And pay the ultimate cost

Because he's addicted to the indigenous.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Jesus Rede?: In Which a Pagan Considers the Seeming Impossibility of Christo-Paganism

Quite frequently, I stumble onto a topic that fascinates me, and then I devote inordinate amounts of time and energy pulling it apart. This is how the entire Quiverfull honors thesis occurred. Last night I watched The 19th Wife, a murder mystery about fundamentalist Mormons in polygamist marriages, and it sparked the long ignored desire to learn more about Mormonism in general. I already have the list of books ready. By the same token, a search for a long-forgotten novel about witches in a swamp randomly pulled up a list of books about, of all things, Christian Paganism. After posting a short status on it on Facebook, there ensued a civilized discussion about and wondering over the topic. Of course, someone interjected that they believe that the amalgamation is a natural progression for someone raised in a Christian background, then stated the use of statues of the Virgin Mary in some Pagan ritual. *sigh*

Okay, I have a small Mary on my altar. While I spent my youth among the pews of various Protestants, I was never really Catholic, but I recognize that Mary is truly an altered version of the Goddesses of old. She was the Christian face of Isis and Cerridwen and so many others, and this is why she sits among Kwan Yin and Ganesha and my dragons on the polished wood. Not because she represents some connection with a faith that I have long abandoned. When I stepped away from Christianity, I stepped away. Now maybe that was my own particular experience. Maybe no other ex-Christians/current Pagans had this experience, but I know this isn't true. I've met too many who went through the exact same thing. In addition to all this, I for one have quite a large amount of respect for most of the teachings of the man who was Jesus. I think he did exist, but that he was simply a brilliant philosopher much like the Buddha or many other before and since. I don't worship him on my particular altar, but I see how some Pagans could include him in their own worship--at least the teachings of love, not the idea of him as the son of the Christian God.

Having said all that, here's what I really think: there is no way to truly mesh Paganism in any form with Christianity. The Christian religion, at its heart, is based around the notion that God required a bloody human sacrifice in order to redeem humankind of its sins. This is antithetical to everything I've ever learned about Paganism in general. Our Goddesses and Gods do not require, do not ask for blood on their altars, and we do not need to go crawling on our knees for forgiveness for "sins." Whatever we do, we do. I have gone to the Goddess and God to ask for help in overcoming the faults that caused me to make some error, but never for forgiveness. That is something I must give to myself. In any case, my point is how is it possible to wed a religion drenched from its very beginning in blood to one opposed to such things. Yes, I plan on delving into the books written by those in the various Christo-Pagan traditions in order to see what they say about their own faith, but I am at a complete loss to even begin to fathom how they convince themselves this works.

If there are any Christo-Pagans/Trinitarians/etc. reading, please feel free to contact me with your own explanations. I am truly interested, despite my utter lack of faith in the possibility.

P.S. For those who call themselves "Christian Witches," how exactly do you gloss over the injunction of "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live."?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Book Life 20: Vampires and Philosophy, or Lessons Mema Taught Me

Some of you are going to laugh at me; I accept this. It has happened before, trust me. My own beautiful, loving wife thinks me utterly mad, as does at least one of my oldest friends, but oh, well...having said that, here we go.

I am one of those people who believe that, yes, one person can change the world. It may be one tiny action at a time, but it is possible. I have always believed this, taught at the knee of my Mema that every nice thing you do means something. She never said the exact words, "you can change the world one act of kindness at a time," but that's damn well what she taught me. Small acts of respect and kindness are sometimes seen as simply good manners, especially in the South, but for those lucky few of us brought up by people like my Mema, we know that it's more. It's the only way that we can affect any positive change in the world.

What brings this up, you ask? I've been rereading Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles and just finished The Tale of the Body Thief. So what? Completely unrelated? Not so! If you've never read it, this is a story of astral projection, human and vampire nature, and the very nature of good in the universe. In this novel as in none of the others of the series (save perhaps Memnoch the Devil) does Lestat wax quite so philosophical. He ponders the nature of his soul when anchored in human and vampire flesh and the ideas of good and evil as affected by souls in those two spheres. In one particular section, Lestat is discussing the work of Rembrandt and his theories on his life and art.

With each portrait he understood the grace and goodness of mankind ever more deeply. He understood the capacity for compassion and wisdom which resides in every soul...At last the faces Rembrandt painted were not flesh-and-blood faces at all. They were spiritual countenances, portraits of what lay within the body of the man or the woman; they were visions of what the person was at his or her finest hour, of what they stood to become...[His many self-portraits] were his personal plea to God to note the progress of this man, who, through his close observation of others like him, had been completely religiously transformed. "This is my vision," said Rembrandt to God. (The Tale of the Body Thief, 36)

The first time I read this, I was consumed in relief that at least one other person (Anne Rice through her creation) felt the same as I: that the true nature of humanity is goodness and compassion and love, though it may be hard to see at times. All humans have the capacity to love and do good, though some, for whatever reasons, do not show it. And it is for this reason it is so important to do good and kind things. Sometimes, I think, it is enough to let others know that kindness still exists. In some cases, that may be enough to keep that tiny spark of humanity glowing, and it has always been my opinion that once someone is shown true kindness that they will feel compelled in some way to show this to others. Here again, Lestat (and Rice) and I agree.

What a miracle, I thought. One tiny flame could make so many other flames; one tiny flame could set afire a whole world. Why, I had, with this simple gesture, actually increased the sum total of light in the universe, had I not? (The Tale of the Body Thief, 116)
He is literally speaking of candles here, but taken in the greater context, it's easy to extend that to actions in the world. I think Mema would have liked this part of Lestat; unfortunately, the whole blood drinking thing may have constituted a problem.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

We Was Po' Revisited: Sign Me Up

Okay, so I've blogged about this before (see "We Was Po', part ii" from August 2010), but another article has popped up on yahoo related to this same topic. If you haven't seen it, it's a list of the worst paying college degrees of 2011. Of course, religious studies is included along with social work and several education degrees. For those of us lost in the throws of passion for the study of religion, this really isn't a surprise. As I've said before, if you come to the study of religion in any form expecting to get rich, you have been lied to, my friend. We do it because it's relevant and interesting and awesome, but this is not my point.

What made me come back to this again is a conversation I had on Facebook with an acquaintance. They asked me what I graduated with, and after I told them, they promptly sent me to the above article and basically declared me a fool in not so many words. Not only do I possess a degree on a list of so-called "low-payers," I have two other BA's in subjects equally (to their mind) as useless. Of course, by useless they meant that I will likely never become a millionaire doing it. My response was the following:

You ridicule my choices in degrees because they won't make me a ton of money and even pity me because of it, but I pity you because you seem to only be able to value the possibility of money. Yes, I need money to live in this society. Capitalism is mostly evil, but it is what it is; and I have accepted that fact. Yes, I know my particular areas of study, despite their salience, will not allow me to own 4 houses, a fleet of cars, and whatever else it is for which you need that much money. However, what you are looking at as a pittance of a salary seems miraculous to me. My first job netted me less than half of the lowest salary on that list in a year. My wife, though better paid than we were then, still makes less than half of that in a year. If I were to land a position teaching my subjects and managed to pull in the "low" salary of around $30,000, I would be ecstatic and suddenly be operating on twice the budget we have now. If I were to have a job making that much, my wife could quit work because we would be able to pay all our bills. She could do whatever she wished in school and take her time finding a job doing what she wants to do. Once she got a job (which would net her nearly $30,000 as well), we would be rich based on how we were raised, the areas we grew up in, and our lives up to that point. Life would be much smoother financially. Hell, we might be able to actually think about buying a house and a car made in a closer to current year. In short, I would be divinely happy with that. So, remind me again what the problem is with that figure.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Mad Clippers: The Truth Behind (Some) Extreme Couponing

Okay, my friends all know I am in love with coupons. I clip the Sunday paper, troll online sites, email companies, etc. in order to get them. We are broke and both of us have been since we can remember. My mother was a crazy coupon lady. On a trip to Harvey's once, she paid under $10 for over $200 worth of groceries. I'm still impressed. My own shopping trips haven't gotten quite as awesome, but I do all right. I get things for free occasionally, and I get things for damn near free a lot of the time. However, I don't do coupons for the fun of it. Sure, I get a kick out of it, but that isn't the point. The point is to make sure we can afford the groceries and household items we need every week.

So, where in the world is this headed, you ask. I finally found a site online to watch TLC's Extreme Couponing, and I am, for the most part, I am horrified. Some of the people are awesome. One guy bought an insane amount of hba items (like around 200 toothpastes, etc.), but turned around and donated a ton to deployed soldiers. One woman did the same with food items, but donated over half to a food bank. Those I get. Those I think are awesome. However, even they have something in common with the others that makes me livid: the stockpile.

All of the people profiled on the show have stockpiles that take over garages, rooms, closets, you name it. Some of the families are large, so a reasonable stockpile makes sense. Buy 50 bottles of shampoo for nothing or near it, and you don't have to worry about it for a while. BUT they don't just buy it like that. One man had a literal wall of toothpaste which he was stockpiling for his 4 person family. There is no way they will be able to use a fraction of that before he buys more. One woman has hundreds of packages of diapers in her garage that she got basically for free, but she has no kids! She is neither married nor dating anyone with whom she is planning on having a child anytime soon. She simply bought them and stored them for "the future." While it makes sense in a way, it just seems excessive and wasteful to me. If I had the space and money to spend, I would do the crazy coupons for those things and donate them, but I don't. My "stockpile" might be 2 or 3 bottles of the same shampoo when I didn't need it yet but which I spent maybe 50 cents on. The difference is that I won't buy anymore shampoo until that is gone.

This whole thing aggravates the hell out of me. I have nothing against saving money; it's wonderful. However, this is no longer actually doing that. The diaper woman was shown buying Mylanta or a similar product which she admittedly never uses, but she couldn't pass it up because it was such a good deal. A "good deal" is one that saves you money on an item you use. It would be like me going out and buying 20 boxes of pregnancy tests to keep in my stockpile because they were extremely cheap. I have no use for them, so any money I spent on them is automatically wasted. Therefore, not a good deal. *sigh*

All of this is not to say that all extreme couponers are like this. On the contrary, there were a few who simply built up items their families needed without being ridiculous about it. Anything over their own need that they got for free or spent pennies on, they donated or gave to extended family. Those are good deals. What these other people are doing? Well, compare an episode of that show to Hoarders, and the only difference you are likely to see is how neatly the items are contained. They are simply escaping the stigma and label by throwing up a shield of coupons and being on a different show. Just sayin...

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Adventures in Women's Studies: *Facepalm* Ad Infinitum

What a way to start a morning...So, Summer's Eve has a new set of commercials promoting their wash and on-the-go wipes, and oh dear Goddess. What's the big deal?, you ask. Well, go check them out at Huffington Post. I'll wait...

Done? See what I mean? What in the world made them think these were a good idea? The Black woman goes to the club, the Latina is having kids, and the white woman is apparently the reason for the entire world. I would love to meet the person in advertising who created this mess. Between these and the Klondike bar fiasco (read my response to that here), I feel like I've fallen through some portal into the 1950's. What's next? Hoover commercials telling us that wives want a vacuum for Christmas or a woman caressing a shiny new refrigerator?

What has happened, people? I know that fads and time periods come and go; just look at fashion. But really? Fifties' style sexism? I could do without that one returning. The worst part of all this is that it isn't just advertising. Take a look at politics. Michele Bachmann has fully admitted that she follows old school biblical submission in her household, which of course, calls into question who exactly would be running the country should she be elected (Goddess forbid). Would her commitment to submission become a serious problem were she to be the most powerful person in the country? (And a question for another blog: how does being president even work with that ideal?) Regardless, it shows how prevalent these sexist ideals have become, and frankly, I am really worried. We are presenting the next generation of girls with these fragmented and outdated templates of how they are "supposed" to be. If this continues, no one should be surprised when teen pregnancy stays the same or increases (child bearing being an ideal job), when domestic abuse and rape become just another minor problem (more so than they already are seen as), and college stops being a means to a life of one's own and starts being just a way to get an Mrs. degree.

And yes, all this from poorly conceived advertising...

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Book Life 19: I Have Always Relied on the Awesomeness of Ballsy Southern Broads

When I was about 16, I bought a copy of Brett Butler's Knee Deep in Paradise in the Wal-Mart book aisle. This was before my hometown had a Supercenter, and I haunted that aisle to the point that I can still see it in my head. At the time, I was up to my neck in self-loathing Evangelical fervor, convinced of my own damnation and living in a black cloud of suicidal funk because of it. As was my habit prior to and after that time, I buried myself in books that, surprisingly, were more supportive of that little lesbian hiding within than the psycho that was wandering around on the surface. I found E. Lynn Harris' first novel (Invisible Life) at our library (I still marvel at that), and Brett Butler in Wal-Mart. Now, Butler is not gay, but she has had a similarly disjointed and broken life. And she hails from my neck of the woods--proof that you can be as odd as we seem to be there and survive, even thrive.

The 90's were rife with comedians and stand-up specials on every channel, but none of them ever caught my attention like Butler. Despite the jokes, something told me she had been as destructive and destroyed as I was at the time, and I loved her for it and have ever since. To this day, if I still had copies of her specials, I guarantee I would laugh until I hurt myself at her. I still quote things from her specials now. I watched every single episode of Grace Under Fire and was heartbroken when it no longer existed.

When writing, I could call myself back from the darkness, rest and reclaim things I'd let go of long ago.--Brett Butler

In the years before the internet was the monstrosity that it is now, I never really knew when books I would be interested in would be coming out until they hit the shelves at Wal-Mart or the library. So I had no idea her book was coming out until I stumbled upon it that day. It was profound enough of an experience that I remember it nearly 17 years later. Much like the Harry Potter releases so many years after, I did not sleep that night so I could devour the book. Then I read it again. And again.

I recently found another copy in one of my used book haunts and snatched it up immediately, worrying that I had only found it so engrossing and profound because of the time in which I first read it. I was wrong. I still see my own shattered years in hers, though the shattering was due to much different events, and my family in hers, both of which collapsed under the weight of their own particular Southern dysfunction. This has been less of a review than a love letter to one of my favorite famous women and her book, I know, but I don't think it could have been anything less. It is strong, intelligent Southern women like Brett Butler that make me proud of my Alabama roots. She is what I think Mema was to me but would have been publicly had she been born much later and what I hope I am or will be.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Fun with OCD: My Top 5 OCD Household Items

I don't usually do blog posts like this, as this is not a shopping blog, but as I was washing dishes this evening (an inordinate number for just two people, in my opinion), I was thinking about all the awesome things on the market that make me as an OCD person happy. Some of the following we own, and some I covet and hope to own eventually. So, sit back and enjoy my top 5 OCD household items.

#1: The OCD Chef Cutting Board

This is the newest item on my "I want that" list. Naturally antibacterial, allows my chopping to be perfectly even, and it even has OCD in the title. How can you lose. Can be bought here. Thank you, ThinkGeek!

#2: Rachel Ray Gusto-Grip Basics Knives

Now, these we actually own, thanks to some leftover financial aid money when we moved into this apartment. In addition to being awesomely sharp and matching our kitchen colors, the handles are non-slip (important for klutzes like me) and anti-microbial, as all knife handles should be. Can be bought here and other places, I'm sure.

#3: The No-Pot Coffee Maker

I don't generally like coffee, but my lovely wife does. And on the rare occasions we stay in hotels, it always bugged the crap outta me when she would use the in-room coffee pot. Now, I'm not saying all hotel housekeepers are lax with the cleaning. However, I've worked at a hotel, and I know that some are much more stringent than others. So not all hotel room coffee pots are really clean. Imagine my delight the first time we stayed in a hotel whose in-room coffee makers had no pot! You use these little packets of coffee, and it dispenses directly into your cup. Brilliant! (I couldn't find a pic of the one I was looking for, and I'm not sure where they can be bought by the public. Sorry.)

#4: The Premier Anti-Bacterial Toothbrush

Until last year, I found myself unable to use the same toothbrush twice. I would buy the multi-packs at Dollar Tree every week, and toss after using. As you can imagine, even buying these at the Dollar Tree got a little pricey. Then one day while perusing the travel section of the health and beauty aids department at Wal-Mart, I found a wonderful thing: the Premier Anti-Bacterial Travel Toothbrush. The bristles themselves are anti-bacterial, which is supposed to last the standard three months. (I don't quite trust that because I'm me, so I buy a new one every 2 and a half months.) At about $2, they are certainly cheaper than my previous toothbrush habit, and I don't have to carry the ecological guilt either.

#5: Mr. Clean Magic Eraser

No matter how much you clean some stuff with regular cleaners, there are stains. Enter the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. You wet this thing and scrub at the stain...voila! no more stain. I love these so much; they were especially wonderful when moving into a new place. I have no idea how they work, and I don't wanna know. It's probably of alien origin.

That's all for now. Maybe I'll do my favorite OCD products for carrying about next time...

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Trapped in the Cockadoodie Car: OCD and Me Have a Sit Down

"I am your number one fan. There is nothing to worry about. You are going to be just fine. I am your number one fan."

Thanks to my unfortunate unemployment, I find myself with time to watch and re-watch a lot of my favorite movies...or at least the ones I still have and haven't sold to the video store. Among today's selections is Misery, one of my favorite Stephen King creations. For those of you who haven't seen or read it, it's the story of Paul Sheldon, a writer who has come to loathe his money-making romance series, and his entrapment by a crazed fan. He has a wreck, and Annie Wilkes, insane ex-nurse extraordinaire, hauls him into her home and...Well, I despise spoilers, so suffice it to say, Annie Wilkes is truly one of the craziest bitches to ever come down the pike. As in several of my favorite King tales, this serves as an allegory for what his addictions did to him (also see The Shining) and also how a writer's mind splits (see Secret Window and The Dark Half). Worry not, faithful reader, I do have a point.

Just as an addiction or the writing life can control and warp one's life and mind, so can mental disorders. OCD often acts as the monkey on my back that drugs and alcohol can be for those addicted to them. My particular OCD is absolutely not as life-destroying as any of these things on a regular basis, but it is for many. On my worst days, I feel trapped and held hostage by these ideas and worries that I absolutely cannot control, and always somewhere in the back of my mind, one of those nagging little voices says, "But your life would be chaos without us making sure the door was locked and the stove was off and the books are in order and the cans are alphabetized!" The worst of it is that some part of me believes that. Some part truly thinks I would likely leave doors wide open, burn the place down with forgotten stoves, and be living in filth were it not for these bizarre obsessions and compulsions of mine...when, really, we all know perfectly well that it is they who are the problem--not the solution to anything. I'm hobbled by my inability to go against them.

"WHAT'S THE MATTER? I will tell you "what's the matter!" I go out of my way for you! I do everything to try and make you happy. I feed you, I clean you, I dress you, and what thanks do I get? "Oh, you bought the wrong paper, Annie, I can't write on this paper, Annie!" Well, I'll get your stupid paper but you just better start showing me a little appreciation around here, Mr. MAN!"

In any case, the actual impetus for this blog concerns storage. I was sitting here watching Misery, and I happened to glance at the bookshelf to the left of the TV. For the most part, it holds my religion and women's studies books, but it also has our Sharyn McCrumb collection, my awesome Jim Jones snowglobe, and a few things "stored" along the top of the books on the shelves (a few notebooks, etc.). Of course, this drives me nuts. I don't like having the stuff stacked up there; it is certainly not an ideal storage location. I twitch every time I look at it, but I honestly don't have anywhere else to put it. So, I started wondering, "where does everyone else store their extra notebooks, pens, post-its and office supplies?" I pondered that for a bit until it dawned on me that most people, at least those who aren't students or the parents of school-age children, don't have extra office supplies stacked everywhere and don't need to have storage for them. It was another of those "we are not normal" moments that I seem to have more and more recently.

And my own personal "Annie Wilkes" came and patted my hand and said, "No, no, dear, it's they who are not normal. How prepared are they? And I bet their doors aren't locked and they're the ones whose houses catch fire from stoves. I keep all that from happening. I am the last line of defense between you and chaos."

Yeah. Sure.

Monday, July 11, 2011

I'm Done: Final Thoughts on the Recent Debacle

In the last few days, there have been I don't know how many Facebook groups, repostables, statuses, etc. about the Casey Anthony circus popping up. I know, I already blogged about this, but I am getting incredibly sick of it. The straw that broke the camel's back was this youtube video using pictures of Caylee Anthony and a country song written for her. At least 10 people I'm friends with on Facebook posted the link in a span of maybe 2 hours. After hiding the 7th one, I went check it out. I was told to grab tissues, but I doubted the necessity. Turns out I was right. No tears, guys. As small children go, she was adorable, but so are a lot of kids. I'll repeat: I hate that a little kid died; it was incredibly senseless and sad, however it may have happened.

BUT (you had to know that was coming) where is the outpouring of grief for the millions of starving and malnourished children that die everyday? Where are the songs written for them? Where are their Facebook groups and repostables?

70% of the approximately 9 million children under 5 who die everyday die of preventable causes, most of those are caused by malnutrition.

I can already hear some of the rebuttals about helping people here first, etc, etc, etc. So, how about this:

Five children die everyday in the United States from causes directly linked to abuse or neglect.
It is absolutely insane to me that so many people have spent so much time talking and thinking about this case. Again, it was bad, but so are the thousands upon thousands of other deaths that happen everyday. Over 1000 children under the age of 5 die every hour, so in the twenty minutes or so I spent writing this almost 350 children under 5 died. If the recent craziness is any indication, my Facebook wall should be packed with links to songs, groups, etc. about those kids. Let's go see....

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Step Right Up!: (Reluctantly) Weighing in on the Casey Anthony Circus

I cannot believe I'm writing this blog. I have ignored the entire Casey Anthony debacle as much as possible, and I wouldn't even have known they reached a verdict had every news source not been blasting it. Of course, as soon as the verdict was read, Facebook blew up. In fact, there are already two of those re-postables in honor of the little girl going around, after only about 45 minutes. By the way, this post is probably going to piss some people off, just to warn you.

First of all, I am making no judgments on whether she did or did not kill her daughter. I was not there. I did not see anything, was not present in the courtroom to see evidence or hear testimony, nor do I even know any of the people involved even remotely. Therefore, I have no reason to think my judgments would be correct. If she did do it, she should have been punished, though the death penalty would never have been reasonable in my opinion. If she didn't, I'm glad she was acquitted.

I am not writing this to yell and scream about her not guilty verdict. Nor am I writing it to proclaim her innocence. As I said, who am I to say? I was not on her jury. What this is about is the public response to the whole mess. Since it began, the public has been collectively losing its mind over this case. Yes, it is sad that a small child died. Is she the only one that died at that time? No. Is she the only one who died under odd circumstances? No. Do I think that if she had been a child of color or someone much poorer the media would have jumped on this? No. The Casey Anthony circus reminds me a great deal of the Jon Benet Carnival several years back, and I have the same opinions about that mess as well.

I continue to be depressed and aggravated by my fellow human beings. You would think the woman had come into their homes and murdered their child from the tone and comments. The comment (from Facebook, of course) that bothered me the most was: "I have never been so disappointed or disgusted with our legal system." Really? Never? Not once? While I do believe that murder is a serious and terrible offence, this particular case is certainly not one that made me lose faith in the legal system. That happened years and years ago and continues to happen repeatedly. Rapists walk the streets, women are still forced to pay for their own rape kits in some areas, children are taken away from loving parents because of sexual preference, a homeless man is given years in prison for stealing $100 because he was hungry (which he later returned on the grounds that "he was raised better") yet a person who steals billions (literally) in corporate America is given mere months, Leonard Peltier is still in prison, poor people and people of color are disproportionately jailed for minor offences that the wealthy and white continually get away with....

So, do I mourn the fact that a young life was ended, possibly violently? Of course, but I also mourn the thousands who die homeless and hungry, who are killed by bullets and bombs in idiotic wars, who suffer needlessly everyday. The point is that if the Casey Anthony case is the first thing that made you question the justice of our legal system or anything else in this world, you have not been paying attention.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Not Without My Books, or Change is a Four-Letter Word: Hoarding Rears Its Ugly, Cluttered Head

This afternoon Anna had a sudden urge to see what the living room would look like rearranged. So she found a program online, and I spent the better part of an hour or so calling out the measurements of everything. Basically, it all came to nothing because the stuff we have simply doesn't seem to work in any other configuration, but I do have a point to this...Afterwards, Anna was saying that we have too much stuff--primarily books. It isn't that she doesn't like books. Quite the contrary. She loves to read as much as I do, but she simply doesn't have the need to keep them once they're read for the most part. I like to keep a great deal of mine, mainly because I'm always certain that, at some point in the future, I will want to reread it or will need it for something, and therefore in order to save the trouble of finding and buying it again, I should keep it. In the past, I have been proven quite right in many cases. Some of my books show the wear of many, many readings. Some I may have only reread once or twice, but they are either difficult to find or simply things that I love and want around. Some are, well...

Anyway, during the course of the conversation, I burst into my usual frustrated tears. My immediate response was to go on the defensive. "I did good! I've gotten rid of a ton of stuff!" And I have been good and gotten rid of a ton of stuff. Our closet can testify to that. My gods the amount of crap we cleared out over the past few months, when one counts the storage apocalypse as well as the closet! But certain things, books in this case, I absolutely panic at the thought of clearing out. Take my "school" bookshelf for instance. There are things on there that I have used many times, and were I in graduate school right now, I would be using them again--books I have kept from various classes, some from my honors thesis, and a few (*cough* 9 *cough*) versions of the Bible for comparative purposes. The problem is that I am not in grad school and don't look to be for quite a while. I can't afford to retake the GRE without a job, nor can I afford the application fees. And besides all that, even if I got into a graduate school right now, we certainly couldn't afford to move to wherever it might be. But I just can't get rid of them. If and when I needed them, it would prove difficult and expensive to replace some of them, so I should keep them. Not to mention the fact that if I got rid of them, it would be like I was admitting defeat in a way, letting FSU's rejection decide that I'm not going to do what I want to do...

When's just trading in or selling some books that I'm not using at the moment...I hate OCD.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Adventures in Women's Studies: Klondike Drops the Bar

We don't have cable, so we watch all the shows we're obsessed with online--hulu, fox, etc. Despite the fact that they're online, there are a tone of ads, and the same ones play over and over during the Kitchen Nightmare seasons we've been watching: Axe and Klondike Bars. It should come as no surprise that Axe commercials are ridiculously misogynistic; they've always been that way. I still hate them, but at least I know what to expect from them. Klondike Bars, however, has started running one that I didn't see coming. They've been doing the "What would you do for a Klondike Bar?" thing for years and years, but the new one is the problem. The scene is a man and woman sitting on a couch; the man is watching tv, the woman is talking. It's titled "Mark vs. Actually Listening to His Wife." He listens to her talk for 5 seconds (literally) and is rewarded with a Klondike Bar, streamers, and two scantily clad blondes jumping around. I see this thing at least 10 or 15 times a day lately, and it never fails to piss me off. It's as if we've reverted to the '50's.

"To the moon, Alice!"

Advertising has never been feminist by any means, and it seems to be one of the last few remaining areas in which misogyny is perfectly acceptable. Take the Axe commercials: each one features a man who becomes an instant "chick magnet" by using the body wash, hair product, or whatever else they've started producing. The women are presented as being completely unable to control themselves or stop themselves from crawling all over the man. (That's all we need, more men who believe they're a gift to women.) The point is it's the year 2011, people. Are we really so pathetically uninteresting that we are still using these antiquated tropes? And are we really so pathetic that we like them or they work?

I went to Klondike's web site to complain and got back an initial form letter stating the following:

Unilever Ice Cream markets its various brands in ways that are meant to entertain and engage our target audience. The Klondike advertising appearing on AOL and other internet sites was developed to generate interest among our core users, adults 45+, for a “What Would You Do For A Klondike Bar?” contest recently launched by the brand. It was only intended to be humorous.
You may be interested to know that all of our commercials and advertisements are pre-tested and various techniques are used to evaluate consumer reactions. Based on the results of our pre-testing procedures, the presentations are chosen for their majority appeal. Please let us assure you that your comments are extremely important to us in evaluating the success of our commercials and advertisements.We have a long history of presenting "tasteful" advertising to the public. Our ads must be informative and truthful. The agencies creating our advertising adhere strictly to these guidelines.We certainly do not wish to offend anyone. In developing product messages, Unilever and its agencies may not always anticipate all possible implications of an advertisement or television commercial.

Pardon me, but truthful and tasteful? So every man in the U.S. needs to be bribed with ice cream in order to listen to his wife for a few seconds? I call shenanigans. Then they follow that with the old "we didn't want to offend." My standard reply to that is, well, then you shouldn't have said it.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Was your last job with IHS?: A Feminist Rages

A friend of ours recently had an ultrasound done and found out she has a cyst. She shuffled off to the gynecologist to follow up and the following ensued--reconstructed from what I was told. (It is salient to note that she is African-American and of a lower socio-economic status.)

Dr: Do you have children?
Friend: Two.
Dr: Where do you work?
Friend: (insert low paying job here)
Dr: Okay, we need to go ahead and take out both ovaries and tubes as soon as possible. (He meant next week, and keep in mind here that he has no blood work, no biospy, and the ultrasound people told her to just come back in 6 months.) You already have two kids, and you don't need to bring anymore "into this society."

WHAT? This doctor has no reason whatsoever to think that the cyst requires any further scrutiny, and yet he suggested fairly radical surgery and told her only after asking about her job that she didn't need to have anymore. And this was not some weird, ancient clinic doc. No, he's part of a well-known and (I thought) well-respected women's health care group here in town. My first thought was of the sterilization of poor women of color on reservations and elsewhere. If she had been white or had a better paying job, would he have suggested this? My guess is no, no he would not.
Regardless of my own personal beliefs about overpopulation, etc., this is ridiculous and unacceptable. Aside from the fact that he immediately suggested surgery for something that may not even need any intervention, he took it upon himself to decide that she shouldn't have more children apparently based on nothing more than her race and SES. 2011, and we're still at this point...

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Book Life 18: These are Not the Pagans I Was Looking For

I should be asleep right now. Except for a two hour nap yesterday and around the same this evening, I've been up since 9 am Sunday. Stayed up, played D&D, came home, watched the season finale of Game of Thrones, and should have crashed. My body, however, had different plans. So I picked up the next book on my to-read list (at least the next one I have), which is the book you see to the left, Pagan Visions for a Sustainable Future edited by Ly de Angeles, Emma Restall Orr, and Thom van Dooren. I was very excited when I bought this book a while back, because as my fellow PSA (Pagan Student Association) members at FSU can tell you, Pagan Ethics is one of those things we can discuss for weeks. Those were some of the most involved and popular discussions at our meetings, in fact. The popular thought is you can ask 10 Pagans a question on anything and get at least 15-20 responses, and it's true. We do love to discuss and pick apart and analyze and debate, which is a good thing. It means we are open minded and civilized enough to realize that we are not going to agree completely and that's okay. Anyway, all of the above is to say I was quite enamored of the idea of this book when I bought it. There aren't very many Pagan Ethics books floating around, after all. However, of the many many books I have read over the years, Pagan literature has been the genre that has most disappointed me, and unfortunately, this book falls into that category.

The introduction rekindled the excitement I had when I found it:
"We make jokes about..."superstar Pagans" and "cash-register Druids," and all the while these people are becoming more and more common...What is so significant about these people is that they are coming to define what Paganism a public that is greedy for anything even slightly sensational."--Thom van Dooren, "Introduction"
I loved this statement and a few other similar to it, because it's just true. Non-Pagans who have delved even shallowly into our literature for their own edification will likely recognize a handful of names like Scott Cunningham, Silver Ravenwolf, and Starhawk; they tend to serve as our emissaries into the wider world whether we wish them to or not, based entirely on their wide availability and copious publications. This is not to say that I have not read them. On the contrary, as a young solitary Wiccan 12 years ago, Cunningham was one of my go-to reads, and Starhawk pops up in Women's Studies and Religion texts all the time. This is also not to say that I like them. Cunningham had excellent information, and I think he's awesome. Silver Ravenwolf I believe is a blight on the Pagan world, and as my friend A'ishah and I have discussed many times, I am tired of Starhawk. From all appearances, she is the only feminist Pagan woman writing anything ever, and not all of it is worth the paper upon which it is printed. Certainly I am not saying that just because these are popular authors they have no worth, but as van Dooren pointed out, this problem is that they are coming more and more to completely represent Paganism. Ravenwolf and even Cunningham represent only one particular portion of the Pagan community, and yet, they are constantly put forth as representatives of our entire community. My Paganism is absolutely not that of Ravenwolf, and it has not been that of Cunningham for years. However, due to their place as spokespeople, we are all specifically Wiccan and solitary and etc. to outsiders.

Wow, I kind of veered off topic there...My point is that this book's intro set it up to be the response to that erroneous appearance with all the talk of superstar Pagans, but then it went down in flames. My excitement over the book made me forget the cardinal rule of buying Pagan books: always read the contributor list. There's Starhawk rearing her over-published head. I realize that many consider her not a superstar Pagan but a classic Pagan author, much like others in various other religious sects. But I can guarantee you, given the experiences I've had in Religion and Women's Studies courses over the past few years, she falls more into the former category than the latter. And maybe these editors see her as that classic Pagan author, but I think to do that, one has to ignore the place she is given in academic circles beyond the Pagan community. By placing her in this collection, they lost all credibility to me. Of course, many of the articles were well-written and maybe thought provoking for those in the particular groups addressed, but for me it was all overshadowed by that contradiction between ideal and published reality.

My kingdom for a good, solid Pagan Ethics book, one that does not privilege Starhawk and/or the Wiccan community. There are other Pagans out here, I assure you.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Freaking Right on Out: OCD Deluxe Pays a Visit

Today has been the first really bad day since I stopped my meds. I mean, yeah, my usual twitches and tics have been poking me repeatedly, but I haven't had one of those "my brain is being shaken" days up till now. For some reason, when I woke up this morning, my insanity decided today was an excellent time to come out and play.

So, I put away all the clean clothes from yesterday and washed dishes (normal), and then I refolded everything in the dresser (not normal). All of it, underwear drawer and all. Yes, it meant I got to use my flip-n-fold, which as we all know is one of the Goddess' greatest gifts, but seriously? I made myself sit down for a bit so I could eat some lunch and play Zombie Lane (I had pumpkins to harvest after all.), and of course, I'm writing this. However, the entire time I have been quietly losing my shit and trying to figure out what else I can do. Too much more of this and there may be drastic things done to hair out of sheer insane need to do SOMETHING. On another meds-related note, I am still having DT's. Joy.