Saturday, May 31, 2008

"Sex and the City" - All the Razzle Dazzle Not Real Life

As an on-again off-again viewer of the original tv series, I find myself not particularly rushing to see the film version, whose reviews range from everything from, "bigger not better," to "shallow and vulgar," to "a satisfying movie," to, "wildly entertaining." Maybe it's because 4 years have gone by, but to me, the suspense is really over. It was clear from the last episode that Carrie and Mr. Big end up together, (oh, and she has her writing career), whether they get married or not. Charlotte ends up happily married, Samantha has her man, and Miranda has Steve, the baby, and her crazy law career.

What is peculiar is the tremendous media storm over this movie, from literally every sociological angle possible. The New York Times basically demolishes the film in its review, and then features an article on the effect of the movie in the outer boroughs of New York, where certainly the average viewer cannot afford Jimmy Choos, much less going out to lunch. The interesting news? Many economically challenged women still related. O.K. Next, I read an AARP online link that talks about how the aging of the women is handled in the movie, aka Carrie and Big in bed sharing reading glasses, whereas they used to have know what. Next, Slate features an article on the exploitation of the fashion labels in the movie and whether it was overdone. Probably. Next, on Oprah, a reunion show, of course.

While the television show echoed some of what single life was like in New York, for every resonant chord it made dating losers or elusive men, dealing with issues of illness or pregnancy, intrusive inlaws,etc., the show constantly took us in and out of reality. Many have said that the heart of the show was the friendship between the 4 women, but sitting around talking about men and relationships, is not the same as talking about a lot of other things. Moreover, this friendship was rarely tested, except for an episode where Carrie ends her date with Big early so she can help Miranda through her baby delivery. Miranda's water breaks all over Carrie's designer shows, but she grins through it. Hmm.

I was single for years in New York, and neither I nor my friends ever had the experiences depicted on the show. Most of us cannot afford to drown our sorrows in designer clothes or forget out troubles by showing up at a club opening. Many of us stayed home on Saturday nights, maybe with a friend or maybe not, and for those of another generation, watching "The Mary Tyler Moore" show, which "gave them permission" to stay at home washing their hair on Saturday nights if that was how the chips fell. So they woke up with newly conditioned hair and hope for tomorrow, without all the razzle dazzle. Now, that was a real life show.

And anyway, Manolo Blahniks aside, wasn't Carrie pretty much broke for most of the show?

Friday, May 30, 2008

Oberlin College New Sustainability House Featured in NYT Times

I was thrilled to see that my alma mater, Oberlin College, was featured on the front page of the May 26th NY Times, in an article and video (click on "This Green House" in archives) by Sara Rimer that highlighted the college's new sustainability house - SEED (Student Experiment in Ecological Design). In the article, "How Green is the College? Time the Showers," the SEED house was called a microcosm of a growing sustainability movement in college campuses nationwide.

"While previous generations focused on recycling and cleaning up rivers," the article states, these students want to combat global warming by figuring out ways to reduce carbon emissions in their own lives, starting with their own colleges. They also view the environment as broadly connected with social and economic issues, and their concerns include the displacement of low-income families after Hurricane Katrina and the creation of green collar jobs in places like the South Bronx. The mission is serious and yet, like life at the Oberlin house, it blends idealism, hands-on practicality, laid-back community and fun.

Life is certainly different there. The appliances are disconnected, the showers are short, rainwater is repurposed, and organic gardens abound. Call it innovative now, but this may just be a dress rehearsal for the way we really have to live in the near future if the global warming climate crisis is not reversed.

Additional Oberlin "eco" news is a completely "offset" carbon footprint for its 175th green commencement, held last weekend, including the use of all local foods for commencement activities, composting, recycling, and the use of "bioware" plates and flatware. Wow!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

"Exposed" Reveals More about Us than Emily Gould

There was apparently much broohaha on the blogosphere about Emily Gould's feature in the Sunday NY Times Magazine, "Exposed," in which she wrote about the trials and tribulations of having been a high pressure blogger on gauwker. She was not only a "high pressure" blogger, but she chose to also reveal intimate details of her life on her own personal blog read by thousands, discussing fights with boyfriends, bodily functions and dysfunctions, and the price she paid for making the private --public--and then further publicizing it all in a New York Times article! People (aka men), were speaking to her and then not speaking to her. She had a job and then lost her job. She made an apparent fool of herself on "Larry King." She insisted throughout, that not only writing, but writing about the intimate details of who she was, was part of who she was, and could not be changed. And yet for all her apparent suffering, as I reader I have to say that Emily Gould does not seem to be suffering enough for her "art," although she may think she is. It is a sign of youth and inexperience to think that one will never surmount life's temporary hurdles. But we do. No doubt she will get a new boyfriend, and she will write about sleeping with him. She will get an infection and probably write about that, too. She will get a new job, or write a book based on her blog, and probably blog about that too. Why? Because it is "easy" material, as some call it, and because it is making her famous, and has society has proven that if one is going to be depressed and miserable in this world, even at 24, or maybe especially at 24, they should at least get some fame and fortune for it all. Not only that, but we are feeding into the Emily Gould model. We love people who are miserable and talk about it afterwards. We also love to be voyeurs. Through blogging, the writer can become a celebrity, and the watcher becomes the watched.

I have no doubt that if I started writing about some of the more intimate details of my life, it would increase my blog readership by at least 50%. But I don't plan on doing this, and the reason is that it is not who I am. Moreover, I don't believe that blogging should be about writing about people who don't want to be written about, and confessing intimate details that should only be shared with those one is intimate with --- not thousands of strangers in cyberspace.

I don't think anyone really knows what to make of Emily Gould - whether to feel jealous of her, sorry for her, think she's either incredibly smart or stupid, self absorbed, conflicted, or narcissistic. I don't even think Emily Gould knows how she feels about Emily Gould. But the truth is, you can't have it both ways in life. You can't make a decision to publicize your personal life, and then hope that readers feel sorry for you when you wax nostalgic and write, as she did in her opening line: Back in 2006, when I was 24, my life was cozy and safe.

I predict the tables will turn on the Emily Goulds of the world in due time. Already they have to some degree, with Gould's admission that she is now requiring users to have a password to read her blog. But is that to "privatize" her writings, or to just make her even more intriguing to readers? What was that saying again....who would want to join a club that includes everyone as a member?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Knitting as Metaphor

"In 2002, on an unusually hot April day, my five-year-old daughter Grace spiked a high fever and died 36 hours later from a virulent form of strep. For my entire life until that moment, I had turned to reading and, later, writing for comfort. But in the face of this unimaginable and enormous loss, I could not find solace in words. In fact, I felt there were no words that could comfort my broken heart or express my grief adequately."

This is the beginning of Ann Hood's excellent essay, "Still Knitting," which I read in the latest edition of the Powell's Books newsletter. I have been a long-time fan of Hood's, having really enjoyed many of her novels, including "Somewhere Off the Coast of Maine." I did not realize until I had read in a magazine a year or so ago that she had lost her five-year-old daughter to illness, and of course was shocked and saddened. I had met Ann, back when I attended Breadloaf Writer's Conference in Middlebury, Vermont, in the early 90's, and I remembered how "dashing," she was, full of literary power and an unusual stage presence. Everyone noticed her when she walked into the room, and her public readings held everyone mesmorized. The essay describes how she turned to knitting to help channel her grief, and very aptly points out that sometimes we "need to do something with our hands," to help us get through certain stages in life, sometimes temporarily, sometimes permanently, because in a way, we never truly totally heal from life's traumas.

Of course, it is not the first time that knitting has been used as a symbol of working through life's challenges. I have in my bookshelf yet to read, "The Friday Night Knitting Club," by Kate Jacobs, and I'm sure there are countless others. Yet this metaphor really rings true for Hood, and for many others I've no doubt, so I'm looking forward to reading "Comfort: A Journey through Grief," about how her life has changed and how she has coped. As someone who took up jewelry making a week after September 11, I am not surprised at the ability of distractions to, if not distract us, at least take us to a more manageable place, and provide comfort.

Does the Camera Love You? Maybe Not...

Many of the bloggers I subscribe to have suddenly turned to video blogging overnight, it seems, and as is the case for many of us, what I used to be reading I am now watching. The video revolution (ie. You Tube) has truly taken over the internet, and for the most part, it's a good thing. In many ways, it's faster and easier to view a video then read through a long blog or article. But those putting together the videos (the new directors, actors, and set designers of our generation) need to be cognizant of the fact that one cannot just set a camera up and hope for the best. Over the last few weeks I have seen truly excellent videos, which succeed in getting their message across in a professional and clear manner. I have also seen some odd ones, where there were all kinds of problems that the videographers were more then likely not aware of. In one video I viewed recently about blogging tips, the woman's face was so close to her computer camera that there was an odd fish eye effect. Also, she was apparently in her office during the filming, but the background was dominated by a dark prison-like window that I found very distracting. In another video, there were two individuals being interviewed. One was clearly comfortable being filmed, but the other was visibly squirming in his seat, and kept pulling at his shirt collar in a very distracting way. In yet another video I viewed where a woman was announcing the launch of her new business, which was supposed to empower women, she herself looked exhausted and admitted that it was 1 am and she couldn't wait to get into bed. I'm sure this was not good for business. I asked myself, why the rush to put out a flimsy quality product when she could have produced something on a weekend or on a day when she wasn't so wiped out? Not only was I not interested in her business, but I felt so sorry for her I almost e-mailed her that she should try and get some sleep.

The timing of this blog is not accidental, as I am about to start a series of videos featuring some of my book and film reviews, and I plan on keeping the following tips that I have come up with in mind:

1. Do the best you can to maximize sound and film quality. There is nothing worse then not being able to see clearly what's going on, or to hear what's coming out of people's mouths. If the content is not clear, people are not going to spend the time watching, so take the time to get it right, no matter what equipment you are using.

2. Be aware of what's in the background. If you are using flowers, for example, make sure they aren't wilting, as was the case with one video I saw, and that they are set far back enough so they don't look like they are sprouting out of your head! Go for a solid or nonbusy background, and make sure there is adequate lighting.

3. Make sure you know what you want to say ahead of time. Perhaps it's not necessary to memorize everything, but I have seen videos with many more "ums," and "well...ugs..." then I care to admit. Practice what you are going to say, and at the very least, edit out all the extra mutterings you don't need, they won't do anything for you.

4. Make sure your company name and/or logo are well displayed at the beginning and end of the video. It's all about branding, and you aren't going to get any name recognition of no one knows your name.

5. Check out, it's a great resource for video blogging and contains content such as
video shooting tips, monetizing content, great links, technical tips, and other resources.

These are my tips for now. Has anyone seen any odd or poorly done videos, or conversely any really great ones that they'd like to share? Let me know and I'll post the link. And in the meantime, happy blog - oops, I mean, happy "vlogging."

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Fonz was Here...YO!

Friday night's reading at the Menlo Park library was a rare treat, as I got to see and hear "The Fonz" live and in person. He has a series of kids books focusing on Hank Zipzer's school escapades and the reading launched #14 in the series, "The Life of Me(Enter at Your Own Risk)." Hank is learning challenged, and the "world's greatest underachiever." Winkler gave a dynamic reading, impersonating teachers, classmates, animals, and other characters with vigor, sending the audience of kids, parents, and big kids like us into cascades of laughter. He also described how he got started writing the series, including an introduction to children's book writer Lin Oliver, his longtime collaborator.

"We met for lunch," he stated. "The fish was terrible, but the meeting was great!" He also talked about how, due to his dislexia, he needed his scripts sent to him in advance, and in auditions rendered "the essence of the script," which never stopped him from getting a role. I haven't read the series yet but plan on exploring it soon, as my guess is the books are just as entertaining for adults as well as kids. In the meantime, how great is it that The Fonz lives on ...YO!

Monday, May 05, 2008

Spring Gardening Tips... Don't Kill Anything!

My husband won't let me touch the plants. Somehow, I have the reputation as the "plant killer," although I really don't understand it, since I think I'm really rather thoughtful about them all. The rose plant in the kitchen, the ivy in the livingroom, the elephant plant in the hallway. The problem is, I move things around too much, when really, they should stay in place. And I do have in my history the sad story of the poinsettia that barely made it through Christmas - overwatered and underlit - and Fern, who sadly drooped to her dismal ending, lacking, perhaps, a daily musical serenade, a little extra fertilizer, a bigger planter. Too little too late. Not good. 

"A little to the left or right won't matter," I tell him, making in a slight adjustment to Ivy , like I'm sneaking into a dressing room with an Armani gown.  "Yes, it matters," he says, moving her back. "It has to do with the way the light falls on the leaves. Trust me," he says. 

Well then, I need my own project, I tell him. So it's off to the hardware store, where I happened to notice a do-it-yourself herb kit - I'm talking parsley, chives, basil - everything you would need for say, a future baked potato, and the directions say you just press the seeds into these tiny pots they give you, water everything, put the plastic lid over it, and that's it. There is absolutely no way I can mess this up, I think to myself. 

So I followed all the directions a week ago, and this morning I lifted the lid like an expectant chef, and voila, the tiny green buds were just starting to appear above the soil. "Shprockets!" I said out loud to my husband, adopting for some inexplicable reason the title of the Saturday Night Live segment of the same name. "Come look!" He ran into the kitchen, observed the tiny green sprouts, and congratulated me. My status as a purveyor of all things green, in itself was given new life. Now, if I could just get that baked potato going....

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Hurray for Future Dated Posting Options!

OK, you may think I'm a little nutty, but I have been waiting for the day when the Blogger software will ramp up and allow for future dated postings, for those of us who may not always be able to post regularly each day. What if you're away? What if your dog ate your blog? So, on honor of this exciting new feature they apparently launched on May 1st, I am writing this now (obviously), but dating it for - like- tomorrow at say, 3 pm. Yes, that sounds good. So that way you will receive my exciting blog entries while I can in actuality be out surfing (I don't surf), or knitting a scarf (it's taken me 30 years to finish), or preparing a linguine with fruite de mare (nope, allergic to seafood), but you get the idea. I wonder who else is writing when they're not really there? Is it like rain on your wedding day? A black fly in your Chardonnay? I should think not.

Friday, May 02, 2008

An Excellent Time Was Had By All

In honor of our recent move to Menlo Park, I thought I was post some photo highlights from recent events!

Kite flying in Bayshore Park...

"Wow, I wonder how high can I go with this thing before it gets hopelessly tangled and I have to spend the rest of the afternoon fixing the string?"

"Ah, breathe in that fresh California air. See, it's just not like this on the New York City subway..."

Menlo Park Community Chorus Spring Concert

Here I am getting ready just before the concert at the Community Center in Burgess Park. I only had 3 weeks to rehearse since I thought they were starting all new music, but apparently they had been rehearsing since January. Hmmm.

"How does that last one go again?"

program and souvenir from the evening....

At a friend's garden in Palo Alto...