Monday, February 28, 2011

Should have done this in January....

Favorite photos of 2010? Too many things to choose from over the last year. But here are my favorite photos/moments....

(Donna, me, and Beth at Avatar. I didn't like the movie, but I always have fun with them and they are two of my closest friends...including the person taking the photo, Donna's husband, Mac. Thanks for including me and I love you guys!)

(My birthday party back in August. It had been such a hard summer, caring for and watching my other grandmother die. This is me with my dad's mother, Jean, who made sure that I had a fun night after all of the sadness and stress of the summer.)

(Another image from the party. This is me with Claire, close family friend and coworker. She is off to do wonderful things after graduating in May. I will miss you, Claire! Who else is going to put up with me on my bad days? Certainly not my dead husband/ghost office mate, Andrew. He has already abandoned me. Is there divorce in the spirit world? And what about the living men who baffle me? I need you to stay in touch!!!)

(Two of my most favorite people in the world: my cousins, Jessica and Jeff. If I could write you a love song...without it sounding abnormal or creepy...I would. I love you guys more than you will ever know.)

(Me and my cousin, Laura. This year you and I have grown incredibly close. I love you and you are one of the most generous and amazing people in the world. I am a better person for having you in my life.)

(My mom and I. So typical that we always forget to take photos together when we are dressed up! Usually we are too busy taking photos of other people, so one of us together is rare. I think this was taken after my birthday party. We had already changed clothes when I realized that we never had a picture taken together that night! The last five years have been excruciatingly hard. Between dad's cardiac arrest and subsequent brain damage and the long and difficult hours in the hospital watching your mother and my grandmother deteriorate and fade, we have learned to be different people. Life will never be what it was, but we are stronger because of it. I love you and you are my support. I couldn't do it without you.)

(Okay...technically not from 2010. This is Melanie and I. It breaks my heart a little that this is the only photo we have taken in a couple of years! You are someone who knows me better than most. You and Josh are going to be awesome parents and I love you guys!)

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Not finished with my update below about "In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great," but...

...I always am so amused by the quotes people choose to place on the back of classic novels...teaser quotes to draw people in and convince them to buy the book. For example:

From the back of the Penguin edition of Dickens's unfinished The Mystery of Edwin Drood:

"In the wakeful misery of the night, girded by sordid realities, or wandering through Paradises and Hells of visions... I loved you madly."

Gorgeous? Absolutely. A bit misleading?...uh, yes. In the book, this is spoken by a drug-addicted man to the novel's young heroine.

The full quote and a bit more:

She would have gone once more -- was all but gone -- and once more his face, darkly threatening what would follow if she went, has stopped her. Looking at him with the expression of the instant frozen on her face, she sits down on the seat again.

'Rosa, even when my dear boy was affianced to you, I loved you madly; even when I thought his happiness in having you for his wife was certain, I loved you madly; even when I strove to make him more ardently devoted to you, I loved you madly; even when he gave me the picture of your lovely face so carelessly traduced by him, which I feigned to hang always in my sight for his sake, but worshipped in torment for years, I loved you madly; in the distasteful work of the day, in the wakeful misery of the night, girded by sordid realities, or wandering through Paradises and Hells of visions into which I rushed, carrying your image in my arms, I loved you madly.'

If anything could make his words more hideous to her than they are in themselves, it would be the contrast between the violence of his look and delivery, and the composure of his assumed attitude.

'I endured it all in silence. So long as you were his, or so long as I supposed you to be his, I hid my secret loyally. Did I not?'

This lie, so gross, while the mere words in which it is told are so true, is more than Rosa can endure. She answers with kindling indignation: 'You were as false throughout, sir, as you are now. You were false to him, daily and hourly. You know that you made my life unhappy by your pursuit of me. You know that you made me afraid to open his generous eyes, and that you forced me, for his own trusting, good, good sake, to keep the truth from him, that you were a bad, bad man!'

His preservation of his easy attitude rendering his working features and his convulsive hands absolutely diabolical, he returns, with a fierce extreme of admiration:

'How beautiful you are! You are more beautiful in anger than in repose. I don't ask you for your love; give me yourself and your hatred; give me yourself and that pretty rage; give me yourself and that enchanting scorn; it will be enough for me.'

Impatient tears rise to the eyes of the trembling little beauty, and her face flames; but as she again rises to leave him in indignation, and seek protection within the house, he stretches out his hand towards the porch, as though he invited her to enter it.

'I told you, you rare charmer, you sweet witch, that you must stay and hear me, or do more harm than can ever be undone. You asked me what harm. Stay, and I will tell you. Go, and I will do it!'

Again Rosa quails before his threatening face, though innocent of its meaning, and she remains. Her panting breathing comes and goes as if it would choke her; but with a repressive hand upon her bosom, she remains.

Not so sexy anymore, is it?

**Equally disturbing: present tense. Geez, Dickens.

Buried by books, consumed by knowledge: A long post that eventually ends up with my thoughts about Wood's "In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great"

This is how I feel.

Well, that is partially true, anyway. I have been reading so much this weekend that I feel a little disoriented. This happens to me every now and then. I get absorbed totally in a novel or a subject and I obsessively devour everything I can find on it during a relatively short amount of time. The most devastating example of this happened when I returned to school after working full time for two years at Southern Living magazine. I took a year and a half to finish my English degree; however, that was only because my advisor had me under the wrong catalog and told me that I had to have both a major and minor again (really, all I needed to do was finish my English classes). So, I was taking a mixture of five English and history courses for a full year until the university realized something was wrong. Once a special committee had been formed to figure out what to do with me, it was decided that, because I had graduated with my first degree so recently, I did not need to do anything except fulfill the English course requirement. So, my final semester (of the year and a half) I took five English courses. YES...a lot of reading...but still nothing compared to my schedule in the Library science program (five graduate classes a semester plus teaching three composition courses...I remember nothing) and my year at USF (they required three graduate courses a semester...I am a Victorianist...three novels courses--Victorian novels=long--a semester means you have no life if you are actually doing the reading...and I did it) was just as busy.

BUT, back to the reading during my final semester of the English degree! So, my last semester I was enrolled in several courses in the English department. One of them was a modern British literature course. I had so much reading that I had to schedule days of reading for particular courses. Saturdays were the modern British lit days. Usually, this ended up merging into Sundays, as the novels for the course were quite long. But, our first novel assigned was Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure. I started reading it around 10:00 a.m. that morning and just fell into the book. I didn't break for lunch/snacks or anything. I finally finished the novel around six that night and had to get ready to meet my cousin (who was also going to school in town) for dinner. I just remember being so disoriented and emotionally drained (probably due to lack of food, but Jude the Obscure is quite a bleak novel). Yet, I couldn't stop thinking about it. I completely was a part of the story.

(Buy the Book:

It was the first time that I had read anything by Hardy, and I immediately fell in love with the darkness in his work. People either love or hate Hardy...I adore him. The book was dark and meaningful and beautifully tragic. It has stayed with me forever. My whole mind and body was overtaken by the moment and the experience of reading that book. When I finally traveled to Oxford years later, I was reminded of the story once again. As I walked down the street and felt the heartbreak of being excluded from the learning behind the huge stone walls and wooden gates, I realized that I had come across the scene somewhere else: in Jude the Obscure. Once I recognized that I was reliving that scene, I was even more devastated. I love knowledge and reading and learning--about everything--and there is something about Oxford that builds a hunger for more knowledge. The architecture, the history, the bookstores--everything.

Anyway, my point is that I was consumed while reading, and I couldn't stop thinking about it. Anyway, most of yesterday, I spent with this man:


Oh, yes. Charles Dickens and I have spent many hours together over the last six years, ever since I discovered Bleak House and The Old Curiosity Shop. Until I read those novels in my Dickens seminar at USF, I had only read the Dickens standards of Oliver Twist and Great Expectations and David Copperfield. I loved those books but wasn't overly attached to them. At the point I entered USF, I was a George Eliot fan. But, that seminar, taught by the amazing Pat Rogers, changed the direction of my research and interests forever. Rogers saw where I was going with things and really encouraged me (though he would never remember me now, I am sure), a move that changed things in profound ways. So, since then, almost everything I have written has continued to reference Dickens. He is now a HUGE part of my dissertation. But, the more I read his work and learn about his life, the more I feel like I am in a personal relationship with him...and sometimes I don't like him very much! Ugh. He was a genius but could be a horrible man sometimes. His favorite daughter, Kate, said as much, calling him "wicked" (not a nice term then!) after his death, not afraid to attack him for the way he treated her mother and the family. His relationship with women is especially disturbing (see the history of his involvement with Urania Cottage, where he had complete access to every moment of the lives of the women he had such a charitable interest in...RIGHT...along these same lines he inspected his daughters rooms and personal items every day). Anyway, sometimes I just want to jump back in time and slap him. When I was at Westminster Abbey, I saw his grave. While I was excited to see it, there was a small part of me that wanted to get on my knees and pound the stone while yelling at him. (But I am quite certain that I would have been arrested...and I really wanted to stay in the country.)

So, after working with Dickens all day and becoming increasingly angry and frustrated with him, I turned to a book recommended to me: Michael Wood's In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great. I asked someone on Twitter for a travel narrative recommendation and this is one of the two books he listed. I chose this one because I am fascinated by Alexander the Great. I don't know as much as I should about him, but this book is helping me remedy some of that. The writing is seductive and it is a general enough history (but not at all simple) that it appeals to me as a story rather than a listing of facts...because English majors don't like that kind of thing. :)

Anyway, the book is fascinating. I began reading it while waiting for some friends at a restaurant. (NOTE: and this is another sign of my imbalance when it comes to books...I have to choose my purses and bags according to how big of a book I can fit into it. I am so like Rory on The Gilmore Girls. Anyway, it is true. I don't have a small purse or bag. The Kindle fits in anything, but I still require a bag big enough for a book. OH...and speaking of my is full! I have had it less than a year and it is already full! My ipod, bought back in 2009, still has tons of room on it, even with audio books! So sad!) ANYWAY....sorry for all of the still tired. So, I began reading about Alexander last night at the restaurant but had to put it away when my friends arrived, of course! But I picked it back up around 10 last night and have made it around half-way through. It is just amazing, and, though I don't have a great background in history about this era, Wood's account seems very fair. (Alexander as both hero and tyrant.) I also find the little untold stories that I am picking up on in this narrative to be amazing...of the women and children abandoned by Darius...of the relationships between Alexander and the men and women he came in contact with over the years...of how there was such a cult of and respect for the warrior (both past and present)...and, most interesting to me, the experiences at the oracles. I don't know why this intrigues me so much, but it does. I loved the section (approx. page 117) about the Zoroastrians, their eternal flame, and their resentment of much to learn from this story. Anyway, stopped reading sometime around 1:00 a.m. because my eyes were tired! But, just as with good old Jude the Obscure, I couldn't stop thinking about it. Every time I woke up (and that was a lot), I was thinking about Alexander's story. My mind is too busy. I wish I could stop it! This happens to me all of the time, lately, and I have to force myself to stop thinking (good thing that I have the centering prayer/meditation background, because that really helps). Anyway, that is where I am, physically, mentally, and intellectually, today!
Will update later about finishing the book...So, sorry for the ramble...but that is the best I can do!

Update...slowly coming in...Oscars are calling me...

But a quote to hold us over:

"In the spring of 327 BC Alexander stood on the slopes of the Hindu Kush, somewhere in the mountainous region between Pakistan and Afghan Nuristan. He was twenty-nine; a tough, stocky, hard-bitten little man, still possessed of demonic will and energy; his iron constitution not yet wrecked by the dozen battle wounds, malaria, dysentery, and his increasingly frequent alcoholic binges...The end of the earth was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps, however, he was driven still to see it; driven now as much by the desire to know, as by the need to conquer" (170). spite of your feelings about him, it is amazing. What was I doing at 29? Not that. And, as a funny aside, my friend Kelly and I were talking about Alexander tonight. We were also talking about horses, and riding horses...and, anyway, she came to the conclusion that (in her words): "When men were more likely to ride horses, they were more likely to embody that spirit as well...When did we become so separate from the natural world that our lives could be nullified or less vibrant because of it?" (She went on to make an argument about contemporary masculinity, as well...but this isn't exactly the forum for that argument!) Anyway...something to ponder.


Update the Second: Between the Oscars and midterm exams for my students, I am behind schedule! Anyway, as for my impressions of the second half of Wood's book and the overall feeling about the book as a whole:

The second half was just as good as the first. I especially enjoyed all of the information about Alexander's campaigns (is that the right word?? I am just enough of a girl with no military history background that I have to ask...) into India. A couple of years ago, I took a fascinating class about the Victorian literary response to the Sepoy Rebellion (also controversially called the "Indian Mutiny"). The resilience of that country and people is amazing. Alexander certainly made his mark, but, as the author also says at the end of the book, without his actions (good and bad) history would have been completely different for the entire world.

Alexander was an amazing person. I don't know what adjective to ascribe to him other than "amazing." To call him "admirable" might be a stretch. Certainly his ability and power were awesome things (not in the pop. culture definition of "awesome"). But as I finished reading yesterday afternoon and thought about things today to finish up this post, a particular poem kept forcing itself into my head. Whenever I think of my reaction to Alexander the Great now, I think about William Blake's poem "The Tyger:"

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare sieze the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art.
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And watered heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

This poem, written in 1794, has no end of interpretations attached to it. Still, one response to it is that the poem is about the power of imagination and creation. The poet wonders what kind of creator/God/artist made a creature as beautiful but as violent and potentially deadly as the "tyger." "Did he who made the Lamb make thee?" In other words, the "tyger" is so amazing, shocking, and powerful that it calls into question the motivations of the creator and of the purpose of the creation itself. Okay...I will stop now because I am not teaching this and I don't want to bore anyone...but I really think this poem is appropriate in some ways to Alexander. At several points, Wood would refer to the legend of Alexander's divine birth and the incredibly powerful emotional and physical consequences his destiny brought to so many people. It is just such a powerful story.

As Wood will say, "Alexander was much better to have as a friend than an enemy" (187). Very true. Throw some food to that "tyger" to keep it as tame as possible, my motto would have been! As much as I am fascinated by his story, I am also terrified of him. I understand the violence of the age and all, but, as Wood points out, Alexander could become erratic and terribly unbalanced, killing people due to a justified cause or a drunken whim.

His friendship with Hephaistion is always in the background, as well, and I found his words concerning his relationship with the man he grew up with to be touching: "Others loved me because I am king. Hephaistion loved me for myself." I have no doubt that his grief, when he said these words after the man's death, was real. Also real is the fact that shortly after he "'massacred the entire male population from the youth upwards' [in a] human sacrifice to the spirit of Hephaistion, just as Achilles had killed Trojan youths over the grave of Patroclus." I had to read this section twice to make sure that I had not misread it. Apparently, in agony over losing his friend, he fought against a "nomadic tribe in the Zagros Mountains" in order to "'lighten his sorrow, as if tracking down and hunting live human beings might console him,'" according to Plutarch (223).

Another amusing section for me is Wood's attention to nineteenth-century readings of Alexander's life. The Victorians, as Wood says around page 215 or so, tried to whitewash him into a moral and noble hero in order to justify their own occupation in the empire. Oh, yes. I can see those Victorians doing just that!...have seen them doing just that!

But it will be Alexander's descent into monomania and extremism that Wood explains is his downfall. It really is such a strange story. People, by the end, were terrified of him. Possession of the body when he died proved just as political as his life, and I find it sad that we don't have a location for his tomb. But we do have his story...or as much of it as we can, right now. As the author says at the end: The events of Alexander's life "exist forever in the retelling, an event which has permeated the culture until now" (238). (By the way...fascinating that storytellers throughout Iran and other places still tell Alexander's story to street audiences.)

As one last point: something I have neglected to touch on in depth in my post from yesterday is the fact that in the background is a travel narrative. I have been consumed by the history of Alexander himself...but Wood's own journey retracing his steps is fascinating to read. The interesting thing is that Wood can jump seamlessly from his own journey into the continued story of Alexander. Sometimes, when a travel writer attempts to cover both his own journey and the history of the land/people, there is a sense of disruption. I don't remember feeling that way at all.

So, there is the end of my very long post...but, then, you guys are used to that by now!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Don't Fence Me In

That song makes me laugh...but I feel that way right now. I am longing for some freedom and travel. Where in the world would I go? I can't go anywhere at the moment because of the dissertation/job/money situation...but one day I will venture back out into the world and enjoy myself!

The plan, when I finally graduate, is to reward myself with a nice trip to northern England and Scotland. My family comes from these areas and I really want to spend some time finding out where my family originated (this group came to what would become the US in the 1630s). But where else would I love to go? Let me start a list...(in no particular order)

1. Jordan
2. Greece
3. Egypt
4. Japan
5. Russia
6. Malaysia
7. Argentina
8. Morocco
9. Australia
10. Spain
....and so many more!

I guess I better find a job that pays well! Or, I will just live in poverty and save all of the money that I can so that I can travel!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Blast from the past:

"Hands Clean"...Heard it today for the first time in years. Reminded that I could have written that one myself.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

I am trying to "tweet"....

In my rebellion against Facebook, I am trying to "tweet" more often...mainly because I have finally found out how fun it can be. I originally associated twitter with narcissists who wanted me to know their every move, including the fact that they were just walking down the frozen food aisle or that their shoes just came untied. However, I am pleasantly surprised to be able to indulge in a bit more fun with friends and silliness on Twitter. So, if you want, follow me!

Susie's Twitter Page

Words that make me happy...

"...the moon
Emerging, hath awakened earth and sky
With one sensation, and those wakeful birds
Have all burst forth in choral minstrelsy,
As if some sudden gale had swept at once
A hundred airy harps!..."
--Coleridge's "The Nightingale" (1798)

Just needed something to make me feel a little happier. To me, this is one of the most glorious moments in poetry. I never tire of reading it.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Bonnie Wright in Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood Inspired Photo Shoot...

Go see the images here of Bonnie Wright (who plays Ginny Weasley in the Harry Potter movies): Bonnie Wright.

These images are incredible. Wright is a beautiful girl, of course, but the texture of these photos and the intent behind them are amazing. I love the work of Dante Rossetti and these photos are a tribute to his paintings, according to the site. Anyway, very interesting and beautiful work.

Feeling incredibly vulnerable to life

That is how I feel right now. I am so nervous and tense about my job/financial/school situation for the coming year (I lose funding in May). I know that one way or another things will progress and I will finish, but I am starting to lose sleep over it all. And today I heard that one option for funding has collapsed, so now I am doubly nervous...and all of this was relayed to me ten minutes before I had to teach my second class...on my favorite day of teaching the entire semester: the day I get to teach Tennyson's "The Lady of Shalott." So, I sucked it up and went into class to teach...because that is what I do and who I am. Inside I was panicking. Running possibilities and numbers and situations in my head while trying to teach four different interpretations of the poem. I think I handled it okay, but I was extremely upset because it really is the most fun thing to teach. Still, at least I can be proud of myself for holding it together. It took about twenty minutes for me to relax a little bit and slowly avoid thinking about everything. As for the actual funding option, I am still proud that I can say that my department as a whole was behind me and that I made a good showing for us (on paper, at any rate) in trying to obtain a very competitive award. And it is fine that I didn't get it because it isn't my path. The only thing I am worried about is whether or not my other options will fall through as well. STRESS, PEOPLE!! LOTS OF STRESS!!!

And I am not the only person going through this right now. There are several of us losing funding this year. I am grateful for my department's support over the last five years. It has been so incredibly generous and I have been treated very well. But, as anyone embarking on a PhD knows, five years just isn't long enough to finish. For me to finish in six is stretching it, but I WILL FINISH by next May, even if it kills me! So, worst case scenario is that I have to go outside of the university and try to work a 40 hr a week job to pay my tuition and bills. I can do it...if I can find such a job in this wonderful economic environment! But, like I said, I have a couple of other things/ideas in the works, so maybe it won't come down to that in the least I hope not. I just hate being in a state of limbo and not knowing what is ahead for me. I like to be productive and settled...and I feel neither right now. I know the same can be said of my friends who are also in my situation.

And that being said, everything was put into perspective this afternoon. After a couple of hours freaking out, I met some friends at Barnes and Noble and heard an incredibly sad and scary story about a young person from another country who is being horribly abused and manipulated by a guardian with the young person. The evidence presented to me (physical evidence) was clear and it is happening. The bad part? The kid is now technically over age in our country and there is no legal recourse. Apparently, this has been going on for nearly a decade and now this person is in a situation that feels like a trap. So, even though my life feels horrid at the moment, I can't imagine what this child (because the person still is one, even if it is just mentally due to the power dynamic in the situation) feels like. Talk about feeling vulnerable to life. So tragic and sad. Some things are being done behind the scenes to help, hopefully, so we will see.

Anyway, that is about it for now. Hopefully, and hopefully very soon, I will have more positive news to report.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Deadly Vows

I have been waiting nearly a decade for this book:

I think that the last one came out in 2003...and it ended on a cliffhanger. With the rise in popularity of paranormal fiction, the author's contract on this series was suspended. And now it is finally here...yet not...because I had my hands on it two days ago in the bookstore and I couldn't buy it because it was put out on the shelf too soon! NOOOOO!!!! Anyway, it was kind of perfect because it was just more one more obstacle in my way before finding out what happens. Anyway, the book should be out next week!

I was surprised to see that Harlequin took over the publishing of this new edition to the series. The stories began as a mystery series and eventually ended up in the romance section, though there really is a decent mixture of romance and mystery in the books. Oh, well. I don't care who has it! I am just glad to find out (soon) what happens!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Firooz Zahedi's photos of Elizabeth Taylor in Iran

Vanity Fair magazine has an interesting Web Exclusive article and slide show of Firooz Zahedi's photos of Elizabeth Taylor in Iran, taken in 1976. There will be an exhibit of the photos at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art beginning February 26.

Firooz Zahedi Photos of Elizabeth Taylor.

Also available is the article (basically a synopsis of Furious Love) about Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor by Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger, titled "A Love to Big to Last".

Thursday, February 10, 2011


Yes, we had snow last night! And this time it was enough to give a covering of the ground. It is the perfect kind of snow for us: just a little and not cutting electricity or making the roads bad. It started last night, so I took Casey out around 9:30 or 10 (no photos of that). We met up with the little girl who lives next to us, so we had a snowball fight! Anyway, it was still around this morning...So, of course, this means that Casey gets his "snow day" photo!

But first...

Here are some photos from in front of my house:

(A tree in front of our neighbor's house.)

Now for the snow photos of Casey...

(Casey resting after his fun in the snow.)

Of course, because the roads were fine, I had to go to work...

Still, a great day!

I almost choked...

...when I saw that Kim Kardashian interviewed Elizabeth Taylor. WHAT? Could they have chosen anyone LESS fit to do this? And her questions??? Good grief. I mean, not many people get to do this and this is what she asks? But, Elizabeth's responses clearly, without Kardashian knowing it, put her in her place. Still, I do wonder if they actually talked face to face because the interview doesn't flow at all. It is more like a typed list of questions was sent to Taylor and someone typed up the answers...

Here is a link to the interview:

By the way, I love this part of the exchange:

KK: Do you think if Richard Burton were alive today, you'd be married to him?

ET: It was inevitable that we would be married again, but it's not up for discussion.

NOTE: The bold is my emphasis because I LOVE it. Thank you for stopping that line of questioning when it starts, Ms. Taylor.

By the way: she does mention the dress she wore to the 1970 Oscars:

...and I am excited to say that I just purchased a really close replica of it over the weekend!! I needed a dress to wear to a party and did a double take when I saw the one I ended up buying. It is more modest in the chest area that this one, but the cut is very similar and it looks great when I put it on. Mine is a bit darker than an ice-blue...Taylor's is supposed to be lavender.

Now if I could just find someone to resurrect Richard Burton...(not during his alcoholic days)...

No...actually, the party is a business-related thing. Still, I will be going all-out Elizabeth for this one!

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

My arms hurt!

I both love and hate weights. arms feel like they are about to fall off...and I am by no means doing anything strenuous! I must be feeling extra tired from all of the typing that I have done today. Hooray for dissertations. Not only do they kill you but they also give you killer finger muscles, carpal tunnel, and moments of insanity. Nice to know that I chose that route in life. Graduation can't come soon enough.

Monday, February 07, 2011

How NOT to say "Happy Valentine's Day" to your significant other:

Okay. I have seen this ad and heard about it on the radio, too.

"The perfect Valentine's Day gift for your girlfriend/significant other/wife/mistress/whatever."--My quote...not theirs. I just feel the need for sarcasm.

I don't know about you, but the first time a man gives me footed pajamas on Valentine's Day or on any other occasion will be the last time he darkens my doorstep. These are great...for a two-year-old. But I am a woman grown. If you feel the need to buy me night wear of any kind, know that this would be a deal breaker. I am just putting that out there. I mean, does this really put anyone in the romantic mood? Because if it does, there are some serious issues at hand. I want to feel feminine...not like the kid in The Christmas Story who receives the Easter bunny outfit. My pride alone demands more than a cheaply made pajama outfit that should be put on a child. If this came my way, it and the man would be returned to wherever they originated from in a very unpleasant way.

And, really, as in so many occasions, one must always ask: "What would Elizabeth Taylor think/do/say?"
--I think we can all guess what would happen if a man gave her these.

And, no judgment for the woman who buys this kind of thing for herself. If she wants the footed pajamas, then that is great. But, guys. Come on. This just isn't a great idea...for reasons practical and otherwise.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

The Beast Within, from Madonna's Girlie Show Tour in 1993


Does anyone besides me remember this one? I just came across it on YouTube and I am so excited to find it. This is an interlude in the Girlie Show and doesn't actually have Madonna participating, but I remember being totally blown away by it when I saw it for the first time. Her concerts back in the day were the most amazing things to watch and I was totally enthralled by the Blond Ambition Tour and the Girlie Show (but I liked the Blond Ambition Tour better...sometimes the Girlie Show just was nuts). (As anyone who knew my my junior and senior year in high school can attest, I was a total Madonna fan!)

Anyway, this video is explicit, sexual, and violent and contains material that some of you might find objectionable. (Just putting that out there so that there are no surprises!) The dance/choreography is set to Madonna reading from the Book of Revelations. It was highly controversial for its time (as were most things she did in the tours), but I can't imagine that it is any less controversial now. Certainly makes you think and holds you captive. I just remember being amazed by the symbolism and the fluid motions of the bodies. For the record, one of the reasons the song was so controversial is that some claimed a particular passage used is antisemitic (specifically the following words from a passage: "those who say that they are Jews, but they are not. They are a Synagogue of Satan") I have no reason to believe (especially seeing as how her religious viewpoints evolved in the last decade) to think that Madonna intended to use hate speech in a personal way. The words and the dance and the symbolism, I believe, speak to something totally different...but, then, you can make up your own mind--and you should! The song was later rerecorded to omit the antisemitic passage (and rightly so), but I think that this routine was done before the lyrics were changed. (Again, fair warning for those of you watching...unfortunately, I can't find another version.)

AGAIN: Don't watch if you don't want to see it!

Saturday, February 05, 2011

The September Issue

My latest Netflix selection:

The September Issue

I found out about this documentary of the editor of Vogue magazine while browsing documentaries on the Netflix site. I have been fascinated by the magazine business since I was about nine years old and I started a tabloid about my neighborhood (all made up and intended to be one ever saw it except my parents). At age thirteen or so, I received a free sample of Sassy magazine in the mail--still the best teen magazine ever least during Jane Pratt's days there--and decided at that moment that I was going to work for a magazine.

I finished high school, filled out college applications, and listed journalism as my major (and I completed the "magazine journalism" track at UA). Three weeks after school ended (and after a very interesting interview and offer from Disney to be Cinderella...which I turned down), I ended up at as an intern at Southern Living magazine. I first interned in the features department and then, because there weren't any permanent positions available just yet, I turned around and did a second internship in the copy editing department. That internship started in September and, by the second week in October, I was hired full time in the copy editing department (amusing because my copy editing teacher said I would never be one...but, then, he was talking about newspaper...and that is true!).

Here's the irony: My first official day on the job was spent at Disney World. (Our conference was down there and it was a blast.)

I enjoyed my time at Southern Living and I learned that I am really good at some things in the magazine business and not so great at others. I learned exactly what my strengths are as an employee at a magazine: I am really good at talking with and working with readers and vendors. I do much better with any copy that ISN'T homes related. And, I am good at flow and content editing (not so much style...which still plagues me, damn the ever changing CMOS). In any case, I learned a lot, but that happened in the late nineties and it was the heyday of SL. We had lots of money and lots of opportunity. We put out not only our monthly magazine but also several other magazines and special interest publications, including special issues of our own magazine. It sounds like it should have been super busy and not enough time to breathe...and, if you were high up on the editing staff, it was. The thing is, I was an entry-level employee. We had tons of staff in those days and my main responsibility was editing and fact-checking homes text and the calendar. The problem: there is only so much to do if you are limited to a single section. So, I would ask others to give me things to do and they would, but I still spent a huge amount of time being unproductive and feeling miserable and restless. Again: this had nothing to do with the environment or the people. I loved my coworkers and my boss and the entire thing...when I was super busy.

Well, after a year, I knew that I had had enough. Our editor, however, gave me some of the best advice I have ever heard. He said, "Give it another year, Susie. If at the end of the second year you still feel out of place, then leave. But know that you can always come back." He really was the most amazing person and I adored him and so many others at the magazine. Well, at the end of two years, I still felt horrible. So, I left. I went back to school and began a new degree: English. After I had been gone about two months, my copy chief at SL called me and asked if I would be interested in going freelance as a copy editor in the department. Usually, the magazine required a six month wait to rehire a former employee as a freelance copy editor...but, like I said, those were the days when business was good and money wasn't as much of an issue. So, I went back. I only worked when I was busy and I did all kinds of things. I was one of the main editors on the first three Weddings issues (something that I surprisingly loved because of all of the new detail and copy), I got to edit lots of travel publications, and I basically just stayed so busy that I was a happy camper. I did this for approximately 2.5 years, until I realized that graduate school was taking over my life (by that time, I had begun my master's degree in English lit.). More editing jobs would come, and of course I am back working for another magazine now, and I still love it. And, I still love the excitement and rush of stress and production cycles.

The energy of a magazine is a strange thing. And the people who work at magazines are an interesting lot. Once you have been around long enough, you can spot who is a newspaper person and who is a magazine person. Now, at SL, I spent most of my time in the copy department, but I loved to watch how things worked all the way around...from ideas meetings to cover meetings to "story boarding" to ego clashes to the infamous "muffin meetings" (a specially called meeting downstairs at our lovely complex...we would be served muffins to distract us from either the good news or the bad news...muffin meetings meant extremes). High strung writers and editors vs. the cool and intimidating ones. The dynamics of higher management and the personal relationships that were gold or that would blow up in scandal. It was all there. We worked in very posh surroundings, had amazing parties and events, and frequently received incredible perks.But, in spite of all of the great things, as with any publication, there was an incredible amount of stress. Like I said, under most circumstances, I love it. (Not so much in my last production cycle...ugh...but I am over it!) Still, it can make you feel sick in anticipation. The worry that you have made a mistake, that the photos are wrong, that someone spots an error in the printer copies...all the million little things that could be wrong and reflect poorly on you. I still get that sick feeling every time I open a newly printed issue. But that is good. Because it makes you work harder.
Still...and FINALLY I am getting back to the subject of The September is unnerving to watch my former existence on screen (NOT that I was anything close to the status of Wintour...I was so entry level that it isn't funny!). I started to feel sick to my stomach again...and not in a good way. The publication I work for now is incredible. We have a small staff and a very good work environment. It is comfortable and, even though I still get nervous about things, I feel good nearly every time I work (and when I don't it usually has nothing to do with the magazine!). But this documentary is great and exciting on many levels, and I think most people (who like documentaries) would enjoy it. And watching Anna Wintour and her staff working on ideas and the issue brought back both the good and bad memories of working for a monthly and for such a large operation. Southern Living is to regional magazines what Vogue is to the fashion magazine industry. While at times I both feared and loathed her, I also found her fascinating and immensely complex.

My mom and I frequently play a game where we imagine who we would most want to sit down to dinner with and have a long conversation. The people can be alive or dead. Never--not once--do we pick people who would have "niceness" or "friendliness" or congeniality as their primary personality traits. The people we choose might be capable of those things (like Anne Rice, for instance, who is someone I would love to talk to), but the fact of the matter is that the most interesting people are the ones who have an incredible amount of complexity to them. We may not agree with them or like them, but we can learn incredible things from them. I think Anna Wintour (who, clearly, is a different person at home and around her daughter) would be one of those people. She can't afford to be "sweet" but she is is the industry she works in and loves.

In the film, near the end, she mentions her sister and two brothers, all of whom are successful in industries very different from the fashion industry. She said that they found her profession "amusing"...and it is is easy to see how hurtful she finds those comments. It is as if they consider her unimportant and her job demeaning. Nothing could be further from the truth. Fashion is not my thing at all...but I love Vogue. Those two statements seem like they couldn't go together, right? But, for me, I love Vogue for what it is as a publication and as a vehicle for artistry. There is nothing more beautiful than a Vogue photo shoot well done. In the end, I guess that is why I love working for magazines. It isn't just the journalism side...that is for newspaper folks. For me, magazine work allows so many things to merge: creativity, writing, energy, construction, artistry, interpretation, opinion and criticism...and, most important of all, the story of people and of a people.

The industry, some say, is dying out in its present state. Most of the people I worked with over ten years ago have either quit Southern Living or been let go. They will go on to do wonderful things, and I sincerely hope that Southern Living endures in this tough race. Newsstand and subscription sales are tough. Digital media and E-readers are changing everything. But I really believe that magazines are incredibly important to our culture. The format and approach may have to change, but everything must change. The one thing that won't is the driving force behind it. Once you get into the business, it consumes you and, if you do things the right way, your readers will go along for the ride.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

One of those days!

I have been writing all morning and part of the afternoon. Unfortunately, it is one of those days when writing is just not coming easily! Each stroke of the keyboard is torture.

On a different note, I am through with the second book in the Donati saga (Dawn on a Distant Shore). It wasn't long and had much larger type than Into the Wilderness, so the reading time was short and sweet. That being said, it wasn't my favorite book. I have heard that books two and three are not great, but that book four is excellent! Still, I have high hopes for book three (Lake in the Clouds) because I love the character of Hannah. It is much longer than Dawn on a Distant Shore and the type is it could be a while before I have an opinion about it!

Meanwhile, the weather here is so dreary...rain, rain, rain. I am so ready for spring. I think Groundhog Day is tomorrow...right? Let's hope for a quick end to winter!