Saturday, February 28, 2009

TIME's Josh Tyrangiel pans U2's new album: "Melody — the most surprising effect of all — dodges in and out but rarely makes itself at home, and all we're left with is an increasingly dull series of tricks killing time where the tunes should be." Ouch. Still going to buy it, though.
Fuga is a totally cool band that had me dreaming about accordion music last night. Here's an article about them in El Paso magazine.

Friday, February 27, 2009

More mellow

- I laughed out loud the first time I heard this.
- The weather suddenly shifted from cold to hot in the past week or so. That's enough to make me smile more often. Though it makes staying inside an office all day that much harder.
- I'm listening to the sound of hammers and Mexican music outside my window. More houses going up the next block over.
- Three days off. That should be enough time to listen to some music, have a few long conversations, and read something for more than 15 minutes.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Dinner party

1:30 - I go shopping in preparation for a dinner party I'm having with a friend. I've never hosted a dinner party before. It's much more work, not to mention much more expensive, than I expected. I'm at Albertson's piling tomatoes, parmesan cheese, red bell peppers, parsley, lemons, bread, and some other ingredients into the cart. Technically, this is a potluck dinner, but as co-hostess I'm hoping to impress people with my cooking.

3:00 - I text everyone in my cell phone contacts list that I think has a shot in hell of making it to the party to remind them about it. Sadly this turns out to be a small number of people. A former classmate I haven't seen in over a year is probably a long shot, but you never know...

4:00 - I'm ironing my pink and black polka-dotted shirt that I'm planning to wear with a black skirt tonight. I actually want to look like a girl tonight rather than dressing in my more usual unisex attire. Ironing is the bane of my existence. I think the absolute worst part is thinking I've finished ironing something, and then inspecting it and finding a huge wrinkle in it.

5:00 - I start cooking. The party starts at 7:00. Two hours will be enough time to cook, I assume. Brownies first, since they take the longest to cook, right? Then a salad, which consists of lettuce, tomatoes, olives, mushrooms, cucumbers, onions, and sunflower seeds tossed with salt and pepper, lemon, and olive oil. Now this is a good salad. Try it and you'll see.

6:00 - Things are getting a little out of hand. How do you turn on the broiler? I run over to my mom and ask her the best way to cook chicken. How much parsley is in a handful? The brownies smell a little burned. I turn on a pot to boil water for pasta then turn it off because I realize I'm in no way ready for that yet. I plug in the food processor and put some garlic and olive oil in the microwave. The kitchen is getting hot. I'm going to be late to my own party. I imagine my guests sitting there bored and uncomfortable, wondering where I am. I'm just hoping to get through the hour without burning my hand or cutting a finger off with a knife.

6:30 - My co-worker calls -- he's coming to the party! Very cool.

6:45 - OK, I've successfully managed to put everything together in dishes with serving utensils. My fingers are intact and unburned. The kitchen is a mess, but I'll deal with that later. I run upstairs to throw on some make-up.

7:00 - I'm in my car with a bunch of glass and ceramic dishes. I call my friend to tell her I'll be late.

7:20 - I have arrived. I bring everything in to my friend C.'s amazingly cool old house. Only three people are there when I arrive, to my relief. The food our guests bring as they trickle in is awesome -- curry, chicken with cloves, spaghetti. C. even made sugar cookies with frosting. I have to say my fettuccine with chicken, red pepper sauce, and parmesan cheese looks and tastes good, too. And the brownies weren't burned after all.

8:00 - The night's entertainment involves sitting and talking, watching "The King and I" on TCM and at the same time listening to an iPod mix list that includes Johnny Cash's cover of "Personal Jesus" and the "Across the Universe" soundtrack. The music fits with the movie in an unexpectedly complementary way. The conversation is about travel and hypnosis and grad school classes. I like friends who can appreciate math jokes. I look around - about 80 percent of us wear glasses. I think it's a grad school thing.

9:30 - I'm in a tiny car with three other people and we're headed to a restaurant to go salsa dancing. The driver is a guy I went out with twice who didn't call me again after that. I'm trying to figure out why he came to the party. We pass the star on the mountain as I talk about my job and I feel like an interesting person for about two minutes. One girl says she likes Patty Griffin's music. Patty Griffin sounds interesting.

10:00 - The four of us are sitting at a table sipping water waiting for the dancing to start. The lights are going dark and the music is getting increasingly loud, making conversation harder to maintain. The Patty Griffin girl goes out to smoke. A few uncomfortable moments pass with the abovementioned guy. I ask him about church. What I really want to ask is why he didn't call me back.

11:30 - I'm dancing with a man I don't know. He's wearing a crisp white shirt with gray stripes and he smells faintly of cologne. Too bad I forgot how to salsa. The guy notices and he says something to me but the music is so loud I can't hear a word he's saying. By the second song we dance I remember. We're moving back and forward in rhythm, spinning around, bumping into other couples and stepping on their feet once in a while. This guy is holding me a little too closely but I don't back away. It's electric and I forget everything and exist in this dark, loud, intense bubble for a few moments.

12:00 - Everyone's yawning. "Do you want to go home?" C. yells in my ear. I nod my head.

12:20 - I grab my plates, which still contain a lot of leftover food, and pile them in my car. Was it a successful dinner party? Well, I'll admit I wish a few more people had been there. Is it just me or is it hard to get people together to do anything these days? But it's the dancing I'm thinking about as I drive home. The song from "Dirty Dancing" playing in the background, my feet easing into the right steps, my skirt spinning around me. The smell of that anonymous guy's cologne.

Fun? Yeah, it was fun.

Magical? A little.

Worth doing again? How could we not?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

My watch stopped on Monday. I couldn't help but think it was a sign of something other than I needed a new watch battery, since it happens so infrequently. The end of an era?

It is weird for me not to wear a watch. Normally it's a constant habit to check the time. But there is a freedom associated with not having that weight on your wrist. This week was a pleasant reminder of the summer of last year, when I'd sometimes go days without wearing my watch. I'd forget to put it on. Hours and days blended into one another seamlessly. The exact time became irrelevant.

Did you know that you can buy a watch battery at Wal-Mart for $4, and employees will give you a tool to open the watch and give you instructions but won't actually install the battery themselves? I assume it's a liability issue. I didn't want to risk breaking my Guess watch so I took it to a store in the mall yesterday and spent $10 to have the sales guy replace it.

The steady tick was restored, just as I had gotten used to not checking the time every 15 minutes or so. After five days the cuff on my left wrist seems kind of foreign now. But it will remain since it is NOT the summer of last year, the hours and days do not blend into one another so easily, and time is money and therefore VERY relevant.

Monday, February 09, 2009

As seen on Facebook - 25 random things about me

1. I have a puffy birthmark below my right elbow.
2. I see my lack of discipline as one of my greatest weaknesses.
3. I’ve memorized all of “Dirty Dancing.”
4. I’ve only owned one cell phone ever, which I bought in 2005.
5. I almost deleted my Facebook last month.
6. I’m addicted to chocolate.
7. My best friend is a dog named Bootsie.
8. I started my first blog in 2001. It wasn’t very good but I had a lot of fun writing it.
9. I was a vegetarian from ages 10 to 19.
10. I miss watching “Saved by the Bell.”
11. I can’t stand it when women say they aren’t feminists.
12. I still want to live in a dome somewhere in the country like I did when I was a kid.
13. Ich spreche Deutsch. I took two years of German in high school.
14. I was bald as a baby.
15. I sometimes question the value of formal education.
16. I like to think of myself as a brave person. I don’t know if it’s true, though.
17. I’ve never donated blood.
18. I’ve never paid to download music online.
19. I would love to live Downtown.
20. I wish I wasn’t shy.
21. I liked teaching people to write. Too bad so many of them didn’t want to learn.
22. Men frustrate me.
23. I would give up a kidney if it meant I could magically wake up and know Spanish as well as I do English.
24. I want to write at least one book before I die.
25. I’ve gone to sleep with the same blanket for 12 years.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Another idea on how to save newspapers: charge for online content. A good idea in theory, but I think readership would go way down. There are about two newspapers I'd pay to read online. And I think the blogosphere would lose something important, i.e. I would hate to link to articles people would have to pay to read, and I would be a lot less likely to read articles linked to on blogs if I had to pay to do so.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Review: My Life with the Saints

It was a few months ago that I was looking for a winter book, that is, a book that I could curl up with on a comfy armchair for a few hours on cold winter nights. I was randomly browsing through the library bookshelves with that in mind when I spotted My Life with the Saints.

The reviews on the back of the book billed it as a "spiritual memoir." A spiritual memoir? What does that mean? Skimming the book summary, I saw that the book was about saints but was not so much a catalog of saints' lives as a meditation on how the saints' lives have touched author James Martin (a Jesuit priest who one reviewer described as a "cross between Holden Caulfield and Thomas Merton") at various points in his life.

Let me say upfront that I'm not Catholic, so praying to a saint for help is not something I would do. But, surprisingly, as I started reading I didn't find Martin's beliefs about saints too far from my own. While Martin does not dismiss the power of praying to saints, for him, it seems the power of the saints lies mainly in learning their life stories, which have important lessons for us in our lives today.

The life stories of 16 saints (well, technically more, since the Ugandan martyrs are all discussed in one chapter) are described in separate chapters. The saints Martin includes in the book are a diverse group in time and in personality. They range from Peter and Mary to Thomas Aquinas and Ignatius of Loyola, from Joan of Arc to Dorothy Day to Mother Teresa. The lives of these holy persons are (somewhat surprisingly to me) filled with conflict and spiritual struggles. Throughout the book, Martin reflects on how looking to the saints' lives helped him in his own spiritual journey -- of leaving a corporate job to join the Jesuits, in struggling to adapt to his vocation, and in performing mission work in Jamaica and Kenya.

Early on I tried to put my finger on the style of the chapters. The style seemed both familiar and strange to me at the same time. After Chapter 3 it dawned on me: the chapters are arranged in the style of sermons. Typically, it was the telling of the saint's life story mixed in with some personal storytelling and a bit of another text such as another biography or the Bible, all told in a very straightforward, gentle way. I suppose this shouldn't have come as a surprise given the author's vocation.

So maybe the book is a little formulaic style-wise, yet it is definitely not bland and boring. Neither is it a feel-good book with spiritual platitudes that are too easily arrived at. Like the best sermons I've heard, Martin offers some very nuanced yet powerful insights about Christian spirituality. He is strikingly honest about his own spiritual struggles, from feelings of inadequacy to the pros and cons of the celibate life. Likewise, he doesn't gloss over some of the darker details of the saints' lives -- Thomas Merton's guilt over his sinful past, Mother Teresa's "dark night of the soul," Pedro Arrupe's rift with the church near the end of his life. In fact, it is these deep struggles in the saints' lives that Martin seems to relate to the most.

The end result is a book that is a satisfying tapestry of intersecting lives. The very diversity of these lives supports Martin's final conclusion that each of is called to holiness in a unique way. No one path is for everyone, but we can learn much from the lives of those who came before, who Martin describes as our models, companions, and even friends.

I'm really glad I picked My Life with the Saints as my "winter book." A life told through saints seems like quite a task to pull off for a writer, something that could easily go awry, but Martin makes it look easy. But much more than that, the book is a superb spiritual guide that challenged the way I looked at God and the individual.

Nonprofit news?

NPR asks, should newspapers go nonprofit? I say yes.

The executive producer of 60 Minutes, Jeff Fager, says [nonprofit news organization] ProPublica is filling a real need. "There's a crisis in this country involving investigative reporting, and everybody's aware of it," Fager says. When strapped news organizations make cuts, they look to what's most costly, he says. "And that's what happens when you're investigating — doing real investigative reporting. It's expensive."
Finally the bar could be raised on what passes for news coverage: more could be covered, it could be covered in more depth, and there would be less of a tendency for sensationalism. I am SO ready for that to happen.

But, as NPR points out, government or philanthropist funding would come with its own baggage. PBS stations are always begging for money, and I know the same would be true of nonprofit newspapers. Plus, there are no promises that whatever entity funds the newspaper wouldn't impose its own interests as to what gets covered. Still, I think it's a better solution than what's going on now.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

My thoughts on the Super Bowl

Pittsburgh is playing, right? Who are they playing again? And something about Jennifer Hudson...