Wednesday, February 28, 2007

On faith

During the cool-down in Paula Abdul's dance video, she grabs her foot behind her butt and holds it there to stretch out the thigh. It's a pretty common stretch for runners, and I've done it a lot of times. But you know, every time I do it, I am surprised when my foot hits my hand without me turning around and looking for it. Every time. It's the same with the piano. I practice so that I can play with my eyes closed, but I can hardly ever believe it.

You know, I've always thought I wasn't religious for the sort of usual intellectual reasons, but maybe it's just me. I don't have faith in the things I can't see. It's not just religion. It's people's intentions, it's organizations, it's anything I can't put my hands on. I don't even understand faith, because I can't see that either.

I wonder how my life would be different if I had faith. I wonder if I'll ever find out.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Movies that make me cry

1. "That Thing You Do." When the band's single plays on the radio for the first time, and each of the members and Liv Tyler hear it at the same time and then start dancing around Patterson's appliance store, I just lose it. I don't know why. I think it's because I'm so happy that they're living their dream or something. Anyway, I'm getting a little choked up right now thinking about it. Well, that and the fact that it's on HBO right now.

2. "The Mummy Returns." When Ardeth and his friends are in the dessert fighting, you know, these gigantic bipedal monster dogs, they beat the first wave. Then they celebrate, and as they're doing so, like a blanket of billions of monster dogs comes up over the sand hills.

Oh wait, that radio celebration scene is on HBO right now. They're screaming and slipping and dancing and hugging. Fuck, that's good.

So anyway, in the Mummy movie, these billions of monster dogs come up over the sand hills. And they're far enough away from the fighters for good that there's a moment in which their characters can be defined. And instead of showing fear, which they clearly have, they show bravery. Instead of giving up, the fighters for the forces of good proclaim they will fight to the death! And then all of them (outnumbered by millions) raise their swords together. And for some reason, that always makes me cry. They're all going to give their lives and fight against insurmountable odds for good. It's really moving.

3. "The Wedding Singer." Yeah, I know that when Adam Sandler sings to Drew Barrymore on the plane that he wants to take care of her when she gets sick, it's blatant manipulation. But it works!

4. "Life is Beautiful." Come on, I'm only human.

5. "Brokeback Mountain." The fifteen-minute stretch from when Ennis Del Mar finds Jack's shirt and his shirt wrapped together in Jack's closet until the end, I'm pretty much a big wreck. And when Ennis opens his sad little closet and his shirt is enveloping Jack's, I just bawl.

"Jack Twist, I swear."

So I think I am maybe extremely impressionable? What do you think?

Last night, after an alternately very entertaining and interminably boring Oscars ceremony (I love you, Ellen!), Jeffrey and I settled in with "Reign of Fire," a 2002 movie about dragons, which we had actually seen in the theaters. Yes, all of those words are correct. It was a movie about dragons that we left the house to see. Seriously, it's not an awful movie. There are a few smart moments in it, and Christian Bale is in it, so right there you've got hotness and good acting.

Anyway, Christian Bale and Matthew McConaughey's characters go after the main dragon (still not a bad movie!) in the end, and they're talking about how dragons are: They live on ash, they live on the death of human beings.

And then I thought, well, we humans live on the death of animals, too. So then I imagined a couple Christian Bale and Matthew McConaughey-like cows battling a gigantic human, plotting to take him/her out with a couple cow-fashioned guns and a cow battle-ax.

So OK. I still think like a vegetarian. And it means it's probably not out of my system yet. But a movie like "Reign of Fire" can turn me into one? I mean, seriously? In a million years, I can't imagine the filmmakers ever even conceived that that would happen.

Or maybe it's that once I know something I can never un-know it. My brain just finds ways to remind me.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Doughnuts + alpha people + truck fighting = moving day!

We moved a couple friends from their separate old homes into their new together home this morning. Has that, in the history of homes, ever gone well? Well, first, at 10 a.m. on a Sunday, we came upon this:

Oh. Kay. I'm happy to say no one was injured, though the biggest danger of injury was not from the pitbull, but from having so many people together, trying to do good after having rolled out of bed. Here's how the rest of the day went:

"Is that the pit bull? He's not such a mean dog!"

And then, "Lauren, get down from there RIGHT NOW."

And then a lot of consternation, which I couldn't in good conscience document, as I fomented much of it.

But finally this point came.

And then we were in the new house, getting stranded on new carpet islands. And everything was fine. It was one of those days during which you don't see a light at the end of the tunnel, and then you get to the end and bump your head on the door and realize it was closed all along. I'm glad our part of it is over. Good luck to you, unpacking moved friends!

Friday, February 23, 2007

I am lucky

Yesterday was a whirlwind. It was sort of a rough start, because I was supposed to have lunch with John, but then I didn't get up until 20 minutes after I was supposed to meet him. I had set my alarm for 12 a.m., sted 12 p.m. (the difference, I believe, between testing at a genius level and being a genius) Jeffrey yelled, "It's 1:20!" I scrambled out of bed, with my heart pounding that disoriented HEY-I-was-JUST-sleeping beat, and called the restaurant. John was super-cool, and said he was just reading a magazine, and I could come or just take a raincheck. When I got there, he had ordered us chips dusted with parmesan, with melted white cheddar and bacon on top, to get my day started right. And you know, it did. We had a great talk; we've always been able to get to the heart of things really quickly. I told him about some troubles I've been having lately with some of the relationships in my life, and he, being a couple decades older than me and male, gave me some perspectives I hadn't thought about. But I'll think about them for a long time.

Then after work, I went over to Laura and Lauren's for Office and Grey's. The Office was painful and warmhearted, and Grey's was overly dramatic (anyone else just tired of Izzy?) and logically inconsistent. Afterward, we chatted about upcoming situations where there will be a high chance of awkwardness. We laughed a lot.

In the middle, there was work, and it was incredibly frustrating. But what a wonderful way to start and end a day.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Double scales and check out this cat who's better than me

This week I'm practicing the C scale in 2 octaves. All I can say is that when I get to the end and have just the right number of fingers left, there is always a quick explosion of jubilation and shock. And, I should say, I'm practicing both hands together, which means I'm really doing 4 octaves. It shouldn't be as hard as it is.

The trouble is this video. As much as I practice and pursue classical training, this cat has way more artistry than me.

Thanks to maliavale for showing me the cutest thing that ever made me feel bad about myself. 8)

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Time and punishment

I'm thinking a lot about imprisonment today. I read this story about Jens Soering, who's serving 2 life sentences for killing his girlfriend's parents in a particularly grisly fashion. He was smart and well-educated, the oldest son of a German diplomat. As the story goes, he was mesmerized by an attractive, rich, cool girl at school who was troubled. As he tells it, Elizabeth Haysom killed her parents, and he, with his connections, agreed to confess to the murders to save her from execution. Something about being German and hating the death penalty. Anyway, she says that he did it. And the jury believed her and the prosecution. He's been in prison ever since.

Today I talked to two journalists, whom I respect a lot, about the case. One believes absolutely that he is innocent. The other believes just as much that he's guilty -- that he was at least in the room when it happened, if not planning and slashing. And both are very well-versed in the case.

Soering has written extensively about the brutality of prison. This isn't a new theme, but it gets more attention from the media and religious figures because of his identity. And truly, it's gotten my attention. I read a few articles he wrote, and they were shocking.

I'm thinking, particularly, about the man I helped send to prison a year and a half ago. I was the forewoman on a jury that convicted a man of eight counts of carnal knowledge and four counts of taking indecent liberties with the daughter of his girlfriend. It was a heinous crime. The girl, by then 16, described how he would manipulate her by saying that crying meant she loved him. He also read her poetry and helped her in school. So he built up this trust with her and then violated it in the worst possible way. And the girl's mom also violated her trust by yelling at her when she tried to tell her about the abuse. We convicted in 20 minutes. I mean, he really did it. He didn't even testify or mount a defense. And then we took a couple hours to decide the punishment. At the beginning, there was one woman who thought that 20 years was too much. At the same time, there were others who wanted to impose the maximum, which would be tantamount to life in prison. We talked about it for a couple hours, and we came to a mathematical equation, a certain number of years for each unlawful act. So we ended up recommending he go to prison for 36 years.

And you know, I felt proud of the consensus that I built in that jury room. I didn't take the high and the low and average them out, which someone suggested; nor did I take the most frequently occurring value. We talked it through. Everyone agreed by the end.

But now I'm thinking, how did we decide how long a man should spend in prison in a couple of hours? None of us had even been in a prison. And you know, I'm a law and order kind of a gal. And I can argue well if I really believe in something. 36 years is a long time. I know we thought hard about it that day, but it feels sort of capricious to me now. Why 36? It was so clinical, the way we did it, but it felt good to add some logic to it. Why not 30? Would that not be enough punishment?

And then I think to myself, am I really feeling bad for sending a child molester away until he's 76? I mean, he did it until he was caught. And he did it a lot more times than what we were trying him for. And this girl, who appeared to us with great strength and poise, will be tortured for the rest of her life.

I think that there are no answers here. I miss the time before I knew there were questions.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Staying true to my source material

1. We went to the Virginia Beach Vietnamese New Year celebration yesterday. It was keerazy. I read in the newspaper today that there were more than 600 Vietnapeeps there. I can believe it. Jeffrey said, "This is more Vietnamese people than in all of Iowa." It wasn't quite as fun as the Tet celebrations we used to have in Cedar Rapids, though, oddly enough. They were selling food (I bought 4 banh bao and some other varied goodies), but I had expected a lot more of the traditional Tet food that I'm used to, like colored fried coconut. At the Cedar Rapids parties, there was always a TON of food and it was potluck-style. For some reason, there was always at least one bucket of KFC, too. I was always pretty excited about that because we never ate that at home. Also, in Iowa, the food orientation meant there were tables. Here, we sat eating our sticky rice in rows of chairs. Still, I'm very glad they offered it, and glad we went. We saw a ton of cute little kids and I signed up for a Vietnamese language class on Sundays. Maybe I can finally overcome my functional illiteracy.

2. I returned to piano lessons today for the first time since I fell ill. I was sort of nervous, but everything went fine. A surprising amount came back to me, like the crazy fingering for the B flat major scale. I had to think super hard to get it to work, but I was able to. Twice, even. My tone is still timid, though, my teacher says. It's so weird because I'm not timid in the least. So I guess what I have to do is try to pretend I'm about to make a point at work or something. 8)

Friday, February 16, 2007


A memory: In sixth grade, we had to make a self-portrait using photos and headlines from a stack of magazines and art books that had been cannibalized for this assignment for years. You know, like, I enjoy tennis! Or I like to read! I'm a big sister! And I found a picture of the ivory bust of a bald man. Sort of Caesar-esque. I tore it down the center, and pasted it on the construction paper askew. And that was it. They asked me what it meant, and I told them, "I'm a crack-headed old man." And, as is still my bad habit, I used repetition as a means of explanation. "I am a crack-headed old man. I'm a crack-headed old man." That was all I had for them. I'd heard the phrase in "Bill," a Mickey Rooney movie about a retarded man at The University of Iowa and the people who try to help him and understand him. He said it about himself. It made sense to me right away. Anyway, I made this out of PlayDoh tonight.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Change of heart

OK, so I did finish the book. As two friends had suggested, it was very good. It was hard, but rewarding. I'd say this passage made the whole book worth reading:

I wondered if that was how forgiveness budded, not with the fanfare of epiphany, but with pain gathering its things, packing up, and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night.

In the book, there are people who are bad who always stay bad. And there are people who are wounded who stay wounded. And sometimes there is a glimmer of redemption, with no guarantees. So, all in all, it seems about right.

Next up for me is "The Omnivore's Dilemma," recommended to me by Maliavale. I've started the prologue, and I love the way it's written. It traces food from the table back to the soil. Already it's made me think about the inordinate amount of brainpower I devote to food. I mean, it's not going to change that; it's just made me think about it. I can't give up thinking about food; it's one of my very favorite things. But I am afraid I may develop vegetarianism again after reading it (Anyone remember the "Consider the Lobster" incident of 2K5?). I'll try to stay strong.

I DO have a current food obsession: Popcorn. Specifically, I'm looking for the best orange-fingered cheese popcorn there is. I used to eat Karmelkorn's Cheesekorn product when I was a kid, but they don't have those around here. Plus, I think, it may have been krap, and I just didn't know any better. Hm, sad. But now I am on a quest. Tens of dollars worth of shipping fees will be devoted. Hundreds of calories will be consumed. I am determined to find it. Or I will lose interest trying.

I do have a popcorn-related question, though: What's with popcorn balls? I don't understand them. I guess the closest I've ever gotten to an actual popcorn ball was during my one year of CCD. I tried to eat it, and it was hard and not enjoyable in the slightest. It was too big for my mouth, maybe. The angle was all wrong, like my mouth could only move tangentially along it or something, never quite breaking in. I wanted it to be broken up into little bite-sized bits. You know, like, um, popcorn? Anyway, they're not something I don't believe in; I just really find them suspect.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Hook me up a new revolution

I think I'm done with The Kite Runner. I've read probably 80 percent of it, and I know what happens in all of it. I know that's weird: I didn't read the entire thing. It's very emotionally taxing, and I felt like I'd paid up. I've read all kinds of feel-bad lit. I read about the poor, the war-ravaged, the disadvantaged. And things like that always make me want to help. Not that I believe in true altruism, because I don't. I believe in goodness, and even great goodness, but I don't believe in true selflessness. I believe that people help out of a sense of duty, or something that's encoded within them to make them feel like they need to or want to help. Something is fulfilled for them if they do so. I'm certain that's the way it is with me. I have a great deal of guilt, or duty, or whatever because I grew up poor and my family *narrowly* escaped Vietnam. And now I'm living in luxury, really. I'm not poor. I'm not constantly threatened by violence. The only suffering I do is emotional. And come on, really. Even I'm tired of hearing about that.

So my point is, what can I take away from this? What can I do to help? I can't go to Afghanistan to make sure no little boys are tormenting other little boys in back alleys -- that could be happening within a 2-block radius of me, and worse. I don't know what to do. Is it figure out who has it the worst? Or what I can do the best? I thought I had figured that out, but either I wimped out or I was wrong.

Do you remember what it was like when you were in school and you had a path? I mean, you'd finish fifth grade, and then you'd go on to sixth. And sure enough, after that came seventh.

I sure do miss that.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Isn't it weird

how laughter is contained within the word slaughter?

Stay with me 'til the end

Last night I had difficulty getting to sleep after reading the first 10 chapters of "The Kite Runner." It's an amazing book that so far has been set in a changing Afghanistan. There are horrible things, great and small: Cowardice, friendship, violence, expectation. I can't wait to finish it.

Then I had a crazy nightmare in which I and a few others, while driving back from Poynter, got held up in a gas station. The gas station was some sort of third-world station, though, with toilets but no stalls and just one phone line. Anyway, the guy had a gun and we all chased him out with automotive supplies. He agreed to leave but said he was going to be back. So we were held hostage in this third-world gas station, waiting for him to come back and kill us. I'm sure it's because of my feelings about being sick and the reading before bed. I'm also sure it's because of the construction going on on our neighbors' house, which I believe will take about as long as the war on drugs. For months, it's been bang bang bang and a constant string of hits from the 80s, 90s and today. These guys even work on holidays and weekends. At least they've stopped cursing, which bothers me more than I thought it might, at 8 in the morning.

Then I woke up, for the fifth day in a row, with pain in my belly and lower back. I'm afraid it might be something with my kidneys, but it might just be the way I'm sleeping, also.

We were going to go to Bobbywood tonight, a restaurant we'd heard a lot about from friends. But we found out it's closed on Monday. Jeffrey said, well, we can go next week. And I was like, NEXT WEEK!? We're going to wait another week??? And he said, no. And as I got more and more impatient (wait for it) ... he got down on one knee and asked me. And I said yes. And so we're getting married.


Sunday, February 11, 2007

In the key of me

Hey, does anyone know what to do when the music says to play it "brightly"? I'm back at the piano this week. I haven't played much since I went back to work, and it's coming back, as well as the mysteries of these dynamics suggestions. Whenever it asks me to play brightly, I just find myself playing with extremely wide eyes. Anyway, my first lesson back is next Monday at 2:15. Our cat, Maddy, came running as soon as I started back into my extremely rigid interpretation of "The Can-Can." I wonder if she can tell the difference between that and my Hanon exercises. They are haunting, after all.

A big reason I'm getting back into it is for the stress relief. I am hopeful that it will help.

Today I officially gave up on Daughter from Danang. Well, specifically, I gave up on me and Daughter from Danang. It's a documentary about an Amerasian woman who was born in Vietnam. Her mom had to give her up as the war was ending, because, in her own words, she had heard that half-American babies were going to be gathered up and burned. Well, the daughter, raised in an unloving Tennessee family as Heidi, goes back to find the woman and family she hadn't seen since she was maybe 5. It's a really heartbreaking story because she goes back there, fully Americanized, and gets really overwhelmed by her birth family. Her mother has suffered and given her up for what she believed was her own good, and now wants help from her. She says she wants to come back to America with Heidi, which is really not what she bargained for in trying to find her.

I'd caught the last half of the documentary on PBS a few years ago and always wanted to see it again. In the part that I had seen, I didn't see the suffering the mom had done, always wondering where her daughter was, if she was alive, and trying to find her for years. I had only seen, "take me with you." It was really disturbing. Seeing the first half showed that all the people were making mistakes, misunderstanding, living in misery. It was very hard to watch.

It's amazing to me how personal language is. I mean, more than 80 million people speak Vietnamese, 79.9 repetant million people better than me. But when I heard it in the documentary, I closed my eyes and suddenly felt intimate with the speakers. I didn't need to read the subtitles (they were a little off when I did read them). When I was young, language was how I delineated my public and private spheres. So when I hear it now, I'm immediately taken back to my home. And I didn't feel ready to be there right at that moment. I fell asleep halfway through the movie, then packed it up and sent it back to Netflix. Bring on the Cane Toads or something.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Yes, I know, but will a high-fiber diet make me *normal*?

Today's random '80s TV memory jogger: Whatever happened to Audra Lee? You may remember her from such phrases as, "I'm Audra Lee. See you NEXT TIME ON KIDS BEAT!" I believe the Superstation TBS may have been involved? Anyway, my sister and I hated her because she was on TV and we were watching said TV, instead of starring in our own cable commercial program. I haven't seen or heard from her in decades. Probably she went to an Ivy League school and is, like, a physicist or something now. In fact, I'm just going to go ahead and say/think that. Hey, do you remember Audra Lee? I hear she's an Ivy League-trained physicist now! Good for her! Way to go, Audra!

The other disappearance from pop culture I wonder about is Ziggy. I gave money last year to a cancer foundation, and they recently sent me a couple sheets of address labels, which will take me approximately 143 years to use, since I a) don't send things via the United States Postal Service, and b) never use an address label. The thing is, though, they're Ziggy, so I will keep them for the sake of irony/nostalgia (is that one sake or two, technically? who can say.). The last time I saw Ziggy, he was starring on an oversized nightshirt. This was maybe in 1982. I don't even know anything about him. Does he bumble? He seems like he might be a bumbler.

OK part three of this painful palaver is one more person I believe in: Anderson Cooper. I've been meaning to write how much I believe in him since I found out from him that Saddam Hussein had been hung. I don't get why so many people have to hate on him. I adore him. I have enjoyed him ever since I saw him as a funny overnight anchor on World News Now. But, people cry, "he's GLORIA VANDERBILT'S SON!" So? It's not like he's Nicolas Cage or anything. It's true, I haven't watched TV news with the sound on (it's always on in the background at work) in maybe 10 years, so I can't comment on whether I believe he's a true journalist, but how many TV anchors are? I hear such weird criticisms of him, like of his name. Well, honey, he's got the name of a STAR (jazz hands!)!

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Flash! Ah! He saved every one of us!

OK, I have to apologize right off the bat. I couldn't control my need to drop a pop cultural reference, despite the fact that this entry will have nothing at all to do with the gratuitous-singlet camp or its fierce soundtrack. Instead, I will travel well-tread ground and talk about my new flash drive. Look at how small it is!

See? It's about the size of two hotels,

which is, of course, equal to eight houses.

The thing is 2Gb and I got it for $30 this weekend at OfficeMax. But I gotta say, I felt pretty silly when I got up to the counter and discovered that they were giving away 256Mb flash drives with their gift cards. The first computer that I bought, in my sophomore year of college, had a hard drive of 250Mb. I got it for about $3,000, and it came with 8 sweet, sweet megabytes of RAM. And now they're GIVING AWAY bigger drives.

Anyway, shit moves fast. That's all I'm saying.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007


So it turns out that people have been clicking on my blog from searches for Holiday Mathis (my closest personal adviser) and Nicholas Garrigan, the fakey doctor from "The Last King of Scotland." I'm sorry if that's how you've gotten here and you were looking for something else. It's been a problem for me ever since my first Web site, Neato Mosquito, in college. I got a really nice note once from an entomologist who had been looking up information about mosquitoes. He found the site to be oddly compelling.

Jeffrey and I finally finished the Up series for now. I'm sure it's just the editing, but I really feel like I got to know each of the people featured. Everyone seems sort of happy at 49, so it's a good place to end it. I hope I'm happy at 49. Next up for me, DVD-wise, is Family Ties: The First Season. I didn't remember how many "very special" episodes there were in the first season, before it became Alex Fluff Time. There's the one in which 15-year-old Mallory gets groped by a gross friend of the family, and the one in which Alex loses his virginity to an older woman who thought the whole thing was a lot more casual than Alex did. Seriously. Eat it, the makers of Blossom.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Another long night

Tonight Luis said to me, "It's going to be a long night." I said, "It can't be that long. It's only 4 more hours." It was maybe one of the dumbest things I've ever said.

So tonight we are chilling with a bit of Batman Begins, Baked! Cheetos and chocolate Silk. I'm looking for a vice that isn't fattening. Any ideas out there? I can't drink that much alcohol -- after about one drink of feeling cute I gotta dance to bed. I can't imagine smoking. I need to find something that's a good way to wind down at night. I am hopeful it's something in which pajamas are involved.