Existential Crisis of the Day: To See or Not to See Fifty Shades

Fifty Shades Darker or John Wick 2?

Self is a big fan of Dakota Johnson.

Yup, that’s right. DAKOTA JOHNSON.

Plus, the Jamie. Come on. Ever seen this guy’s back blown up on the side of a building?

Well, self has. London, 2015. Somewhere in the South Bank. That back was pretty fine.

She is also a big fan of Keanu Reeves. Yesterday, an NPR reviewer called John Wick 2 the apogee of something: “designer violence” or “designer mayhem” or, anyway, something designer. Niiice!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

The Next 3 Books on Self’s 2017 Reading List

Self began reading Ape House, by Sara Gruen. It really plays with your head because right away, the bonobos are introduced with such clearly human traits, and we don’t see them as “animal.” (So what is the point? If they’re already human, why are we reading? Dare self say — because on p. 11 there are already seeds sown of a romance? Ugh. It’s not that self hates romance. It’s just that she wanted to read a story that was primarily about bonobos) But, no denying, Sara Gruen really goes for it. She bare-knuckles her story and you either buy her point of view or you don’t.

Self then began reading the next book on her reading list: American Gods, by Neil Gaiman. And, OMG, he doesn’t pull any punches either. He goes straight for the mythopoetic, quoting from a book on American folklore (and, eerily, finding the exact quote to reflect what self has been thinking all these years, which is: why are there no tikbalangs or mangkukulams in the United States? Is it because these creatures cannot get on a plane?)

So, because self is always searching for certainty, and she just finished reading Peter Lovesey’s Skeleton Hill and it was excellent, and self thinks she might be on something of a run, she decides to be truly daring and pick up the third book on her 2017 reading list: Phil Klay’s Redeployment. And here’s yet another writer who doesn’t pull any punches. His stories of men fighting in the front lines in Iraq — they will not thrill you. For instance, the title story: “We shot dogs. Not by accident.”

Which to read first? In point of fact, self already has six books lined up: the other three books on her current reading list are by Mary Beard, Francis Parkman, and Edward Gibbon. Eminent historians, all. Self hasn’t read so much history in a very long time.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Foolish Things

  • As a result of dropping by the Robert Frank exhibit at the Cantor Art Center on the Stanford Campus yesterday, self got it into her head that she would very much like to own a Leica.
  • After leaving the Robert Frank exhibit, self fully intended to go to Aquarius in Palo Alto and watch Rory Kennedy’s “Last Days in Vietnam.” But she did not.  Instead, after filling up with gas, she went home.  And today — alas! — that film is no longer showing.
  • Self hasn’t looked at her story “The Peacock.”  Not once.  Not since it was workshopped at Squaw. She has no idea what to do with that story. It just sits there, like a lump on a log. Taking up space in her computer. In her store of unfulfilled projects. She wanted it to be a memoir about her and Dear Departed Sister-in-Law Ying. She wanted it to be desperate and lonely, the voice of a soul lost in the Cambodian wilderness after failing to connect with the splendor that is Angkor Wat (Dear blog readers, do you know that there’s a RAFFLES HOTEL IN SIEM REAP???)
  • Self has wanted to replace the desert of the front lawn with trees — perhaps olive trees — to screen her house from the busy street. But she’s remained staring at that patch of bare, weed-choked dirt for 10 years. It sounds really lame to keep bringing up the drought.

Ugh, ugh, girl. Why can’t you just do? Why must you always be re-hashing the old, or rehearsing for the future? To what end?

How quickly you forget: just yesterday, you got word from Witness that a piece you sent them eight months ago is going to be in their Translation issue.

As for somehow missing “Last Days in Vietnam,” “Gone, Girl” is showing in the Redwood City Century 20 and she heard from a friend who read the book that it’s actually pretty good. Self is not a Ben Affleck fan — seems he is pretty much a control freak with his wife, and no doubt he took care to present himself in the best possible light in this new role — but what the heck? Maybe she just wasn’t in the mood for another hard-hitting documentary yesterday, maybe she should just try and ignite a new respect for Ben Affleck? She did like “Argo” a lot. He’s not a bad director.

And if she’d managed to watch “Last Days in Vietnam” yesterday, she would have missed seeing the San Francisco Giants’ nail-biting victory over the St. Louis Cardinals. She would have missed seeing the way the two teams went head to head all the way to the 9th inning. She would have missed that sweet, game-ending homer.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Between 3: WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge

Today, self is choosing to interpret the week’s Photo Challenge, BETWEEN, as a choice between this or that.

21 Choices in Claremont: So hard to choose between Golden Nugget or Oreo Mudslide! Self finally decided on # 19: Golden Nugget

21 Choices in Claremont: So hard to choose between Golden Nugget or Oreo Mudslide! Self finally decided on # 19: Golden Nugget

DSCN6217

Unrelated to food but still related to the theme of BETWEEN, here is some brotherly advice offered by Hamlet to a distraught Ophelia.

You’d be surprised how many people still say this to women nowadays, especially women who seem to be on the verge of . . . something.

Hamlet's advice to Ophelia

Hamlet’s advice to Ophelia

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Southern Vivid

In a few days, self is hopping on a plane and heading south to visit Sole Fruit of Her Loins.  It’s been an age, almost a year, since she’s been down there.

Which is a pity because self hugely enjoys the southern part of her home state.  Movie nut that she is, how could she not?

The southern part of California is like the northern part, only everything is bigger and the weather is always warmer.   South means huge palmettos, gardens as lush and colorful as a Rousseau painting, Vroman’s, and The Huntington Botanic Gardens.  It means Claremont and driving and malls that feel shiny and new and women with great tans and poodles.

It means cavernous movie theaters where you get to pick a seat based on a seating chart (Just like in the movie theaters in that mall in Magalang, Pampanga!)

Anyhoo, travel energizes self.  Always.

And, son and Jennie are there.  Which means self will not be alone, as she usually is during her hectic peregrinations.

Now, she will have dinners to share and people to talk to.  She will discover new restaurants (though the milk shakes down south are humongous.  Those could keep you going two full days, at least)

And you know what else is down south?  Her Villanueva relatives from Bacolod —  woot hoot!  For some reason, they all settled down there.  All except for niece Ri Na, who’s in Sacramento (Must visit her soon!)

Yesterday, self received both good news and bad news.

The good was that she got an e-mail from the editors of the Crab Orchard Review that her short story “Crackers” had been accepted for their special issue on writing from The West and Beyond, which is planned for publication in September this year.

Right after that, she got two contest results, and naturally she did not win or even place.

Back to the good.

Ever since self got that e-mail from Crab Orchard Review, she’s been checking her “in” box almost every two hours, just to make sure she didn’t dream the whole thing.  Because, folks, she’s been sending her stories to this particular magazine for decades.  She sometimes panics and thinks:  It’s a mistake!  They didn’t mean to put self’s name on the acceptance letter!  Someone will apologize and say, That letter wasn’t meant for you!  It was meant for someone else!

Anyhoo, self still hasn’t gotten the retraction, so she still feels pretty great.

Deciding which books to bring along is harder than the decision about what to wear.  First of all, BLGF is 1000-plus pages and is, moreover, hardcover, so if self decides to bring it she will have to check in her luggage.  Must. Discuss. With. Jennie.

Self happened to glance at her text messages just a minute ago, and there’s another message from Jennie to dress “business casual” for an event she’s taking self to.  Oooh, fun!  Self asks Jennie whether that means a suit, or can she just wear a skirt and sweater?  Does she need to bring along pumps?

Self had almost decided to leave BLGF behind, in favor of some less prodigious paperback, when she gets yet another Jennie Text:  Bring your books!

YAY!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Ouch! Poor Head! And Other of Self’s Friday Foolishness

It is Friday night.  Spent it at home, as usual.  Reading.

There was a bit more excitement today than usual, since self kept at least one of her appointments (for acupuncture) and felt the delicious pain of needles in the webbed skin between her fingers.  She keeps telling the acupuncturist that she has insomnia, but the acupuncturist looks increasingly skeptical. And self can’t bring herself to say outright that shortly after the treatment begins, she just wants to maybe pass out from sheer relaxation. Starts snoring. Almost rolls over, even with needles sticking out of her shoulders and hands.

After that, it was — oh woe is me!  Does she or does she not stick to her Beginning Yoga class?

Last week was fine, but the people taking the class were definitely not beginners.  The instructor came over to talk to self, and self told her, “I don’t even know what legs are.  Seriously.”  The instructor asked self if she had ever taken yoga before, and self said, “Yes.  When my son was about five. And I haven’t had any regular exercise since then.  Unless you count gardening.” The instructor was very encouraging, but self kept protesting that she was really, really hopeless — “What? Me? Don’t be fooled by externals. I’m a wilting flower.” Just the thought of taking another class was giving her hives, practically.  So she walked into the yoga place and told the woman there that she’d do a make-up class on Saturday.  And the woman handed self a schedule of classes, and the woman said she’d recommend the Vinyasa Flow class.  Hmmm, self thought.  Vinyasa Flow sounds infinitely better than Beginning Yoga.  She told the woman yes, she’d try Vinyasa Flow.  And as soon as The Man came home and self was assured she had a listener (albeit unwilling), she tried saying Vinyasa Flow. And kept repeating it, all through the evening.  Vinyasa Flow.  Vinyasa Flow.  And was so satisfied with her pronunciation and everything.  Felt like an expert.  Vinyasa Flow.

Then she unfortunately stumbled into Crouching Tiger to order take-out, and even though there was no one else there, they told her it would be 20 minutes before her order was ready.  And Pickled, the women’s clothing boutique, is right next to Crouching Tiger.

Self picked out a couple of things from the Sale racks.  Another customer was getting extreme attention.  Self glanced at her.  Blonde.  Jeans.  Nothing great.  Cool.

Self tried on tops.  Hoooly Cow!  Looks like it wasn’t such a good idea to flake out on Yoga Class!  The muffin belly was clearly in evidence.  Honestly, it’s been almost six months since self entered a fitting room, six months, it turns out, of complete and total denial.

But — too late now!  Armed with a feeling of rebellion, self emerged and told the woman what she would really love to try on were jeans.  Quick as a wink, the woman returned with two pairs of skinny jeans.

Skinny jeans?  How could anyone look at self and think she would look good in skinny jeans?

Besides, isn’t self a tad old to be wearing skinny jeans?

Nevertheless, self was bold.  She tried on the first pair.  Ooooh, these jeans were stretchy.  Looked at herself in the mirror.  For some reason, she looked less fat.  Or was that just a result of her writerly imagination, always ready to put a positive spin on the narrative script?  This is why self should stick to speculative fiction.

Anyhoo, the skinny jeans were soooo slimming.  She felt — no, actually looked like Rod Stewart in his heyday.  Or mebbe like Jagger.  This was the era of the late 70s. Maybe early 80s.

Wearing skinny jeans almost made self feel like prancing.  Actually, prancing.

It is really, really hard to be serious when one is wearing skinny jeans.  Self, straight to disco!  Karaoke bar, hello!

And maybe that’s what self really needs:  something to take her away from the Pain!  Pain as in — after endlessly reading and re-reading The Hunger Games books (instead of plowing ahead with Divergent, which she first cracked open two weeks ago), self has decided that the best is still the first.  It’s the best because Peeta is so wonderful.  In Catching Fire, the second book, the Peeta of Book 1 is replaced by an infinitely less interesting Passive Aggressive Peeta.  And Katniss is so Not-Herself.  She’s not making any hard decisions, or even any decisions, just dithering around, feeling mostly empty and unfulfilled.

It needed a kidnapping by the Capitol to make possible yet another Peeta Transformation.  This 3rd Peeta is an improvement over the second Peeta, but still in no way close to the First Peeta, the one who got stuck with Katniss in a cave, and instead of dying became — ascendant!  Like the Phoenix!  If only he’d stayed that way instead of becoming the Wounded Bird of book 2!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Latest Developments in the Life of Self

A niece in southern California has her own business designing cute tops.  She sent self a message that they’d be doing a one-day yoga and fashion event in early February.  Oooh!  Self is always looking for the smallest excuse to go to southern California!  Because Taciturn Sole Fruit of Her Loins lives there!  And she didn’t see hide nor hair of him over the holidays! And that’s how she got sick, felled by the H1N1 or whatever that virus is!  But now she is mostly over it, which is why she’s madly reading a) Divergent; b) The Hemingses of Monticello; and c) Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, which she decided to read today while slurping her Ramen noodles, and — this just goes to show how certain books can only be read in a certain mood.  Perhaps because the weekend is starting, and she signed up for Beginning Yoga, she is feeling oh-so-relaxed.  Which meant, the very same RWS that bugged her so much yesterday was suddenly extremely entertaining today.  And self saw that she was actually only 2 pages from the end of the chapter on Zagreb. So, she’s going to give BLGF another shot.

Another item of interest is that she decided this week to play SuperLotto, for only the second time in her entire life.  She bought QuikPik at Safeway, and forgot that the winning numbers were announced on Wednesday.  Anyhoo, she suddenly remembered today, went to CALOTTERY.COM and found that the winning ticket was purchased from Circle K in Lake Elsinore. Which means it was not her.  Boo.

Finally, self is reading the San Francisco Chronicle of last Tuesday and finds that the hackers behind the Target data breach have been identified as two Russian teenagers who live in a city on the Volga River.  One of them was “close to 17 years old.”  What is this world coming to when several million people can be held up by a Russian teenager on the Volga.  She also learned a new term:  “malware.”  That’s short for malicious software.

More finally, she finds out that “account information stolen during the Target security breach is now being divided up and sold off regionally.”  Two “Mexican citizens” were arrested at “the border with 96 fraudulent credit cards in their possession.” Which means, according to the South Texas Police Chief who made the arrests, that the data sets are “obviously” being sold off “by region.”

And the ultimate Finally, self last week received a phone call from a man who said he worked for “a credit bureau” and said it was absolutely urgent that she call them back.  It was such a weird message that self decided to ignore it.  And the credit bureau person never called back.

So, here’s what self decided today:

  • She must continue playing more Lotto.
  • She will try as much as possible to stop using her credit cards.  Any credit cards.
  • She will try to stick with the yoga classes even if she turns out to be the fattest, oldest, and most uncoordinated member of the class.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Beginning THE COLLECTED STORIES OF LYDIA DAVIS: Story 1 is Called “Story”

Here’s how the story (“Story”) begins:

I get home from work and there is a message from him:  that he is not coming, that he is busy.  He will call again.  I wait to hear from him, then at nine o’clock I go to where he lives, find his car, but he’s not home.  I knock at his apartment door and then at all the garage doors, not knowing which garage door is his —  no answer.  I write a note, read it over, write a new note, and stick it in his door.  At home I am restless, and all I can do, though I have a lot to do, since I’m going on a trip in the morning, is play the piano.  I call again at ten forty-five and he’s home, he has been to the movies with his old girlfriend, and she’s still there.  He says he’ll call back.  I wait.  Finally I sit down and write in my notebook that when he call me either he will then come to me, or he will not and I will be angry, and so I will have either him or my own anger, and this might be all right, since anger is always a great comfort, as I found with my husband.  And then I go on to write, in the third person and the past tense, that clearly she always needed to have a love even if it was a complicated love.  He calls back before I have time to finish writing all this down.  When he calls, it is a little after eleven-thirty.  We argue until nearly twelve.  Everything he says is a contradiction:  for example, he says he did not want to see me because he wanted to work and even more because he wanted to be alone, but he has not worked and he has not been alone.  There is no way I can get him to reconcile any of his contradictions, and when this conversation begins to sound too much like many I had with my husband I say good-bye and hang up.  I finish writing down what I started to write down even though by now it no longer seems true that anger is any great comfort.

I call him back five minutes later to tell him that I am sorry about all this arguing, and that I love him, but there is no answer.  I call again five minutes later, thinking he might have walked out to his garage and walked back, but again there is no answer.  I think of driving to where he lives again and looking for his garage to see if he is in there working, because he keeps his desk there and his books and that is where he goes to read and write.  I am in my nightgown, it is after twelve and I have to leave the next morning at five.

This is why writing is so fantastic.  You get bummed by something, you sit down and write about it.  If you can squeeze even one paragraph from the experience, you are still OK.

But, seriously, how great was the voice in “Story”? And as for the neurosis:  literature is filled with shrines — no, entire monuments — dedicated to neurotic behavior.  Self thinks it is interesting that writers who see neurosis so clearly are never themselves thought to be neurotic — in fact, they are almost always described as being “honest, insightful and brave.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Mysteries, or: Why Is Self Always So Confused?

Self cannot for the life of her figure out why The Man returns from the office bearing bushels of corn, fresh tomatoes, oranges etc etc, and even tomato plants, week after week.  Someone in his office plies him with the produce.  Last night, self was just congratulating herself on finally having consumed the last two pieces of corn from Anonymous Donor, when The Man walked in the door with —  a whole armful of new ears of corn.  Whoever this person is, we must write a thank-you note.  Or send a box of Godivas.  The Man says everyone in his office gets provided with produce by this generous farmer/tech worker.  So now this is the way self imagines The Man’s office:  big glass building, industrial park in East Bay, farmer/tech worker, drives to work in a pick-up laden with produce, hands them out.  Self had a long career working (first as a program administrator, then as a part-time teacher) and not once in all that time did any office colleague approach this level of generosity.  No corn, no tomato plants, no oranges, no giant Harry & David pears.  Nothing.  Funny, but we’ve attended two office parties now, and on both occasions self and The Man have sat in splendid isolation with people The Man doesn’t know.  Except for one sort of plump, lively girl who kept asking The Man to snap her picture.  Self does remember her because she was extremely, extremely giggly.  Is Giggly Girl the Farmer?

Is self going to be able to enjoy watching James Franco and Seth Rogen’s movie “This is the End” (Eric D. Snider rating:  B) or is she simply too old to sit through a movie that Snider calls “a bawdy, marijuana-scented inside joke about the Apocalypse”?

How does one Tweet?  She has currently six followers.

When she backed her car out of the driveway yesterday, both the brake light and the oil change indicator on her Dashboard lit up.  Does this mean her car is finally going to give up the ghost?  She offered it to Sole Fruit of Her Loins for the summer, as he has a job in Menlo Park.  If her car did indeed give up the ghost, how will son get to work?  More important, how will self be able to do anything?  Won’t this mean having to get a new car?  No, two new cars, one for son and one for herself?  Who can afford buying two new cars simultaneously?  Possibly The Man?  Can she even broach the subject with him?

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Going

There are things she has to decide:

  • Should she bring a pound of Peet’s coffee, because Margarita said it would be nice to be able to make coffee in the apartment and her supply is getting low?
  • Should she forget toting along a few of her favorite magazines:  One Story and The New Yorker?
  • Should she bring along Traveler’s Tales:  Italy?

Here are the books she is definitely bringing with her:

  • Alexei J. Cohen’s Moon Handbook of Italy
  • DK Eyewitness Guide to Venice
  • Per Petterson’s Out Stealing Horses (She began it last night:  yes, she did indeed read to the very last page of Don Quijote)
  • Little Heathens:  Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm in the Great Depression, by Mildred Armstrong Kalish (The book title is almost as long as the book!)

She’s also bringing a print-out of all the movie locations used in the Nicolas Roeg movie Don’t Look Now (Just to show you the difference in approach:  Margarita’s all-important print-out is of the walks taken by Donna Leon’s Inspector Bruni!)

There are the directions to the apartment where Margarita will be waiting:  Vaporetto to San Toma, Stop # 2.  At end of calle, make a right.  Continue towards Campiello S. Toma.  Pass a bar (Ciak Uno).  Pass a little bridge.  Pass Casa Goldoni. Pass Nomboli Café.  Follow calle all the way down to the water, then make a right.  Look for apartment.  (Margarita’s directions read, verbatim:  “There is a right turn that needs to be made after the Casa Goldoni, but no street appears on the map, so the line running through the map just ends on the street Goldoni is on —  but there’s a right turn there somewhere!”)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

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