Friday, December 31, 2010

Book Review: "The Grove" by John Rector

Despite the fact that I'm sitting here writing a book review, I don't put a lot of stock in people's opinions. What I've learned over the years is that each person brings something completely different to reading a book, seeing a movie, eating a meal, etc.—not just what they think, but how they're feeling or what's going on in their lives at that particular time. My general rule of thumb is, if everyone in the world pans something, I know to stay away from it unless I am willing to risk disappointment; if everyone likes something, I need to be careful to watch my expectations.

John Rector's The Grove came really well-recommended, plus the bulk of the reviews on Amazon were fairly stellar. Unfortunately, I don't agree with any of them. I found this book unexciting (particularly the conclusion), poorly edited and just kind of, well, blah. Rector took an interesting premise: Dexter McCray, an alcoholic farmer who has been struggling with his demons for a long time, wakes up from a blackout one morning to find the body of a young waitress in his cornfield. He has no memory of even encountering the woman, let alone murdering her, but in an effort to figure out what happened (and hopefully prevent suspicion from falling on him), he surreptitiously investigates the crime. And assisting him is the dead girl herself.

I felt as if Rector missed some great opportunities to tell a unique story, and instead chose the easier path, the one I've read down countless times before. McCray is an utterly unsympathetic character despite all that has happened to him, and the book never quite explains what caused the hallucination of the dead girl, and hints at other things in McCray's past but never provides detail. Rector has a new novel that was published by a major company (this book was self-published), so I may give him another try at some point, but I'm still disappointed in this book. Oh well...

Thursday, December 30, 2010

If I Knew Then...

As many of you know, a few months back I recorded a video for the It Gets Better Project to help LGBT teens and young adults who are being bullied and struggling with suicide. As I remembered the anguish, pain and sense of aloneness I felt when dealing with this bullying in middle school, high school and summer camp, I thought about how useful it would have been to have had videos like these to support me.

And then I started thinking: if I knew then what I know now, would I want to go back to those times?

I'm a firm believer that the circumstances of your life—good and bad—shape you as a person. And much like in Back to the Future, the slightest correction could have serious ripple effects.

Am I totally happy with the course my life has taken? No, not completely. Hindsight is 20/20, after all, so there are certainly lots of changes I would make if I could. But that being said, if I had the opportunity to go back in time knowing what I know now, I don't think I would. However, what I wish I could do was simply tell the high school-aged or college-aged Larry that things really would get better, and that many of the things that were such a big deal then would turn out to be mere bumps in the road.

Of course, as they say in Coke Zero commercials, they haven't yet invented time machines (not even hot tub time machines), so this is just an interesting thought exercise. But it would be interesting to have a day back in high school, knowing what I know now...maybe I would have been president of the Drama Club after all!

How about you? If you could go back to a point in your life knowing what you know now, would you?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Are There Things Money Can't Fix?

Last week it was announced that the parents of Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers University student who killed himself this fall after his roommate put images of him having sex with another man on the internet, intend to sue the school for failing to protect Tyler. (Clementi's roommate, Dharun Ravi, and Ravi's friend, Molly Wei, also ridiculed Clementi on Twitter.)

The notice sent to Rutgers by the Clementis' attorney said that the university "failed to act, failed to put in place and/or failed to implement, and enforce policies and practices that would have prevented or deterred such acts, and...failed to act timely and appropriately." A Rutgers spokesperson said that the university sympathizes with the family but bears no responsibility in Tyler's death.

Those of you who read my blog or Facebook around the time of Tyler's suicide know how devastated I was by this tragedy. I certainly blame Ravi and Wei for their heartless intimidation and ridicule of Tyler, as well as society in general for ingraining in Tyler's mind that being "found out" as gay was so horrible he needed to kill himself to escape it. But unless the Clementis have proof that Rutgers' administration knew something about what was happening and failed to act, I do not believe the university is to blame.

This is a whole lot of background for a fundamental question I'd like to ask: when tragedy strikes, why does it almost always boil down to money?

When a product malfunctions and causes injury or death, I understand the rationale for a lawsuit.

When a person or company's malfeasance or neglect causes injury or death, I understand.

Beyond that, however, does money make it better? If your child commits suicide or is accidentally killed by a child playing with a gun, will large sums of money ameliorate your suffering?

I understand that sometimes it isn't about the money, it's about seeing justice served, or making a point publicly. But I have to believe that with multi-million dollar lawsuits, somewhere deep inside, it is about the money. (Nowhere has it been stated that the Clementis are suing for large sums of money; I'm simply making a point.)

I mean no one any harm with my questions, I'm just trying to understand.

Book Review: "The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake" by Aimee Bender

Where has Aimee Bender been all my life? I had heard of her before but hadn't ever read any of her books, and now that I've read her amazing yet slightly weird The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, I may be hooked.

On the eve of her ninth birthday, Rose Edelstein discovers she has suddenly developed a strange ability: when eating, she can taste the emotions of the person who cooked her food. Eating the chocolate lemon cake and other food her emotionally needy mother cooks causes Rose tremendous distress; she must resort to eating snack food and other "sterile" meals to escape tasting her mother's torment. She can taste when a baker is hurried, or when someone's girlfriend wants to be loved. (As this ability matures, Rose can detect where every ingredient of a meal originated, and even can tell if a farmer picked his parsley angrily before bringing it to market.) Rose's ability causes her to detach a bit from life, alongside her equally-withdrawn brother, Joseph. The only true light in Rose's life is Joseph's childhood friend, George.

I really loved this book. While I wish that Bender had fleshed out Rose's ability a little deeper, and I felt it veered into unnecessarily strange territory at one point, I was really captivated by this book's heart and its soul. Some have said this is a ripoff of Like Water for Chocolate, but I disagree. Bender's creativity is fascinating and she really lavished a great deal of love and complexity on her characters. If you enjoy suspending your disbelief when reading fiction, if you're a fan of authors like Alice Hoffman and Audrey Niffenegger, then this book is definitely for you. But don't read it on an empty stomach!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Book Review: "The Madonnas of Echo Park" by Brando Skyhorse

Echo Park, the Los Angeles neighborhood down the hill from Chavez Ravine, is the setting for Brando Skyhorse's interconnected story collection, The Madonnas of Echo Park. (I think Brando Skyhorse may be one of the coolest names I've ever heard for an author.)

The characters in Skyhorse's stories are Mexican-Americans of varying ages who are trying to fit in with or rebel against their culture and their neighborhood. Many of the characters are the types of people we pass by every day—cleaning women, bus drivers, day laborers, ex-convicts and teenagers—but Skyhorse brings each to life by wrapping us up in their stories. There's Felicia, who finds herself cleaning house for a family more damaged than she bargained for; Angie, who is reminiscing about her life-changing, fractious relationship with her teenage best friend; Efren, a bus driver who has always prided himself on his staunch devotion to rules and regulations, until one night; Hector, a migrant worker who is forced into covering up a murder; and many others.

Some of the stories in this collection truly moved me, some intrigued me and all but one compelled me to keep reading. Skyhorse created some complicated, multi-layered characters; even when they fall closer to stereotypes, I still found myself invested in what was happening to them. I never felt as if the way he connected the stories was too forced; at times, when I recognized the connections I was even a bit surprised (and even awed, once or twice). I look forward to seeing what comes next in his career, and I definitely recommend this book if you enjoy short stories.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

In the words of Charlie Brown and his friends, "Christmas time is here..."

As I've mentioned before, growing up Jewish, Christmas has always meant two things: movies and Chinese food. Today we continued that tradition, seeing two movies—The King's Speech and Rabbit Hole—and we'll be ordering Chinese in just a little while.

What I've found interesting over the last few years is the growing number of people at the movies on Christmas. While I certainly understand by mid- to late afternoon, family time may get a little bit, umm, chafing, I'm surprised by how many people have been at the movies Christmas morning. I guess traditions are changing!

However you've spent the day, I wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas. Here's hoping your holiday was filled with joy, peace, love and laughter...and maybe even a little buttered popcorn!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Time Doesn't Stop the Hurt...

One year ago today, our beloved beagle-shepherd Zeke died.

As I've discussed a number of times, I had Zeke for more than 15 years, and he was the most constant presence in my life. He saw me through good times and bad, sickness and health, relationships, jobs, weight loss, weight gain, etc., and always provided tremendous unconditional love and support in exchange for some people food.

It's hard to believe it's been a year since we made the decision to end his struggle with hepatic encephalopathy. And while I know it was the right decision, I miss him every day, and wish he could still be here with us.

Of course, nine months ago we brought a new puppy, Quinn, home. She has provided us a great deal of excitement, fun, frustration and sleepless nights, but she is tremendously sweet and smart (so smart, in fact, that she's apparently teaching other dogs at the doggie daycare facility to climb out of their cages when they have a "time out" every few hours), and I look forward to watching her grow.

I love Quinn, but sometimes spending time with her underscores how much we miss Zeke. Sometimes I see flashes of Zeke in Quinn (especially her stubbornness, cough, cough), so I know he's looking down on all of us.

To my sweet boy, I still miss you more than words can say. I hope you're playing, relaxing and getting as many bagels and pieces of turkey as your heart desires. We love you and you will always have a big part of our hearts.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Rules are Rules, Except in Sports...

I wasn't an athlete growing up, so I've never truly understood the immense reverence with which athletes are treated, that secret fraternity/sorority that allows for a special code of rules and conduct in many places.

Interestingly enough, every sport—and the organizations that govern both professional and collegiate sports—have specific rules, yet rules are only made to be enforced at specific times.

Today the NCAA announced that five Ohio State University football players would be suspended for the first five games of the 2011 season for selling awards, gifts and university apparel and receiving improper benefits in 2009. Note that the players will not miss the Sugar Bowl, because "the student-athletes did not receive adequate rules education during the time period the violations occurred"—even though the NCAA decided to dock a fifth game on top of the standard four-game suspension because the players "did not immediately disclose the violations when presented with the appropriate rules education."


So it's a punishment, but they should still get the honor of playing in a major bowl game. (Oh yeah, and the first five games aren't that big of a deal...they'll be back just in time to make the trip to Nebraska for OSU's first clash with the Cornhuskers as a Big Ten rival.)

Why are there rarely serious consequences for breaking the rules, especially in sports?

Does anyone really believe Cam Newton wasn't aware of his father's organizing an illegal pay-to-play scheme in return for his commitment to attend college and play football? No, but inarguably, he was the best player this year and deserved to win the Heisman Trophy, although as demonstrated with Reggie Bush, the award can be rescinded at any time if evidence surfaces.

In any other world, someone who admitted he violated rules and misled investigators would be fired from their job and might even face prosecution. But Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl was simply suspended eight games and fined $1 million. Just another slap on the wrist...

And what of New York Jets' assistant coach Sal Alosi? During a Jets/Dolphins game a few weeks ago, Alosi tripped Dolphin player Nolan Carroll on the sidelines. While it was a ridiculous incident and far beyond the behavior expected of a coach, players aren't punished horribly for far worse hits on their opponents, so the NFL suspended Alosi for the remainder of the season (three games plus any playoff appearances). Now, evidence is coming to light that Alosi ordered several players to set up a wall along the sideline so Alosi could trip Carroll. But instead of Alosi being fired, as of now he has been suspended "indefinitely."

Some people say that because players get second chances, so should coaches. I say that if Alosi were a gym teacher, or a parent coaching his kid's football game, people would call for his head. And here is someone representing the NFL! Ridiculousness abounds...

I know bending the rules and leniency happens all the time, even in our justice system. But if we're paying athletes obscene amounts of money, shouldn't they at least be held to the same rules? It's no wonder when many kids grow up they want to be professional athletes—where else can you get fame, glory, lots of money and free athletic gear, and then get to do whatever you want?

Book Review: "In a Strange Room" by Damon Galgut

Damon, the narrator of Damon Galgut's beautiful yet spare In a Strange Room, can't seem to settle down. Every time he finds himself settling into a place, he is struck by the somewhat inexplicable need to roam. Perhaps this quote says it best: "There is a moment when any real journey begins. Sometimes it happens as you leave your house, sometimes it's a long way from home."

The book follows Damon on three separate journies, which are three separate chapters. In the first, he meets up with German hiker Reiner, and they wander through parts of Greece, and later, take several circles through Lesotho. On his second journey, Damon travels through Nigeria, Tanzania and Malawi, and he meets (and often encounters) several people, including Swiss siblings Jerome and Alice. And on the third journey, Damon is caring for his friend Anna, who is suffering from significant mental illness. Each journey is characterized by Damon's near connections, which never quite turn out the way he hopes. Each journey sends Damon deeper into himself, his motivations and fears. And each journey leaves him wondering, what if?

Galgut's writing style was very interesting. He doesn't use quotation marks or question marks, but simply sets quotes off as separate sentences. And at times, the narrator is referred to as "I," and other times, "he" or "him." I thought the story was tremendously compelling, but much like those with which Damon came into contact, I found myself longing for connections. Too often the story led you to believe something would happen, only to be thwarted by Damon's conscience, anxiety, fears or lack of direction. The last two chapters each had heartbreaking notes but much was unsaid, even to the readers, so filling in the blanks wasn't always easy or satisfying. Ultimately, this book was, in Damon's own words, "the story of what never happened, the story of travelling a long way while standing still." Very interesting.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

How Much is That Messiah in the Window?

I love Facebook for so many reasons, one of which is the marvelous things people find and share. Here's a lesson which could be called truth in advertising by some:

An Endless Parade of Idiocy...

Today President Obama signed the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell into law. It's an amazingly moving and exciting moment that has been hoped for since before DADT took effect in 1994. As President Obama said, "No longer will tens of thousands of Americans in uniform be asked to live a lie, or look over their shoulder in order to serve the country that they love."

Although this week will be remembered by many for this historic moment, there have been a number of idiotic, offensive or downright stupid moments as well. Here are a few highlights:

  • On her "reality" show/campaign ad, Sarah Palin took a shot at First Lady Michelle Obama's anti-obesity efforts. While looking for ingredients to make s'mores, Palin said "Where are the s'mores ingredients? This is in honor of Michelle Obama, who said the other day we should not have dessert." (Palin believes what children eat in school should be determined by their parents, not schools or the government.)

  • Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour—often mentioned as a possible 2012 presidential candidate—might have torpedoed his chances much as former Mississippi Senator Trent Lott did several years ago, making a flippant comment about race. He said that growing up in Yazoo City, MS, during the height of the civil rights movement, "wasn't that bad." The governor went on to credit the Citizens Council, a group that has been viewed as pro-segregationist, for helping to integrate his hometown more peacefully than other cities in the Deep South were integrated. He also discussed attending a Martin Luther King, Jr. rally, although he boasted he spent more time "watching the girls" than listening to the civil rights icon.

  • Shortly after the Senate's vote to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell last weekend, Virginia Delegate Bob Marshall declared he would introduce a bill in the 2011 General Assembly which would make DADT the rule in the Virginia National Guard. As Marshall, who was the sponsor of the bill banning gay marriage in Virginia, sees it, "allowing openly gay people to serve in the military will weaken military recruitment and retention, and will increase pressure for a military draft." Fortunately, Governor Bob McDonnell, who didn't support repeal of DADT, accepts that the repeal is now law, and doesn't think Virginia should deviate from the standard set for U.S. military members.

What would I do without political foibles?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Dream a Little Dream...

Every so often, I have bizarre and/or disturbing dreams. Sometimes I can figure out the genesis of these dreams—I'm particularly anxious about one thing or another, or I've just seen or read something that apparently stuck in my mind.

Some are fresh out of Dream Interpretation 101—I'm wandering all over the place in my underwear, I'm late to something tremendously important, etc. (I also tend to have dreams that people I know are serial killers after I've seen one too many episodes of CSI or Dexter.)

The other night, however, I had one of the most vivid and strange dreams I ever had, and while it wasn't frightening, it truly shook me up. At this point, I can't even describe it adequately, but let's just say the dream featured me as a child and an adult, as well as various original cast members from Sesame Street, and people I knew as a camper and counselor from my years at Timber Lake Camp.

During the dream it appeared that the woman who originated the role of Susan on Sesame Street (Loretta Long) was my mother. (Can't quite figure that one out.) There also was a great deal of somewhat-psychedelic stuff that occurred while I was "at camp."

The dream ended with me being handed a postcard, which read "I'm happy where I am." I'm not sure what this meant exactly, but it left me very emotional, and I woke up crying. You see, my mother died when I was two years old, and I have no memories of her, just a few photos. So given that a figure representing my mother was in this dream, I can't help but wonder if that postcard was her message to me that she's happy because she's had the chance to watch me and her loved ones all these years.

Of course, another hypothesis I've been playing with is that the postcard was a sign for me, that although I've been struggling with things lately, perhaps I really am happy where I am.

No resolution, of course. But it's definitely one of those dreams I wish I could have again, if only to try and figure out what it all meant.

Like that's possible.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Book Review: "Major Pettigrew's Last Stand" by Helen Simonson

Major Ernest Pettigrew's world has changed a little too much. His younger brother, Bertie, just died, and he is trying to delicately get something from Bertie's estate that rightfully belongs to him. His son, Roger, is becoming ever-more obsessed with money, appearances and social status, and is making the Major feel as if he's just waiting to be shuffled off to the rest home. His beloved town is under siege by developers. And after years of being a widower, he is starting to develop romantic feelings for Jasmina Ali, the local shopkeeper.

I really enjoyed this book. Helen Simonson, who has spent the last 20 years living in the US after being born and raised in England, has created a terrific little world in the town of Edgecombe St. Mary, with truly memorable characters. Major Pettigrew and Mrs. Ali make a terrific couple, and even if the story follows a fairly predictable path in many ways, I definitely found myself rooting for them and was quite invested in their relationship. While some of the supporting characters are little more than fleshed-out versions of characters you've seen before, and some of the plot devices are almost farcical, the word that best describes this book is quaint. And that's not a bad thing.

If you enjoy books that seem like throwbacks to a simpler time, this book is definitely one you'll enjoy. It reminded me a little of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society in its charm. Good fun.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

One Giant Step for Equality...

It didn't seem possible.

A lame duck Congress. Days before the Christmas recess. Emboldened Republicans determined to control legislation being passed before the New Year. An outspoken Marine commandant breaking ranks with his superiors and the Pentagon, giving ammunition to conservative opponents.

Yet this afternoon, by a vote of 65-31, the Senate approved the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, which has prohibited gay and lesbian soldiers from openly serving in the military since March 1, 1994. More than 13,500 soldiers—many of them highly decorated and commended for their service—have been discharged as a result of this law.

While certification is required from the President, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and Secretary of Defense before anyone can serve openly, this is a tremendous victory for equality. Finally, enough Senators and Congressmen had the conviction to do what is right. (Earlier in the week, the House approved the repeal with a 250-175 vote.)

Eight Republican Senators—Scott Brown (MA), Richard Burr (NC), Susan Collins (ME), John Ensign (NV), Mark Kirk (IL), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Olympia Snowe (ME) and George Voinovich (OH)—voted courageously with all but one Democrat on this historic legislation. They should be saluted for their strength. (West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, who had spoken out against DADT repeal, did not vote today.)

As expected, conservatives already have spoken out against the repeal. The reaction of Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association (another hate group with the word "family" in its name) was documented on the Truth Wins Out blog. But given that 77 percent of Americans support the repeal, these voices will get more and more strident as they are ignored by all but their most fervent supporters.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid used a Republican stalwart's words during today's historic vote. Quoting Senator Barry Goldwater, he said "You don't have to be straight to shoot straight."

The haters will hate, but finally, the law is on the side of equality. While it is sad that 206 of our elected representatives (including "hero" John McCain) voted to stay discrimination and hide behind bigotry, today's vote is one giant step in the right direction.

As President Obama said, "It is time to recognize that sacrifice, valor and integrity are no more defined by sexual orientation than they are by race or gender, religion or creed."

Music to my ears. Hooray!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Sorry Seems to Be the Easiest Word...

If you hurt someone that is close to you, apologizing can be one of the toughest things to do. There certainly is some truth in Elton John's song, Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word.

But strangely enough, saying you're sorry is easy when spewing racist, sexist or homophobic comments.

Earlier this week, FIFA President Sepp Blatter, in discussing plans for Qatar to host the World Cup in 2022, encouraged gay soccer fans to "refrain from sexual activities," because of the country's ban on gay activities. After being roundly criticized by the media, athletes and other officials, Blatter apologized.

Case closed.

Yet this pattern is all too familiar.

Pro athletes call people "faggot" and other homophobic insults in Tweets and other social media postings—when they're called out on these insults, they say they're sorry and apparently that's enough.

Celebrities like Mel Gibson and Michael Richards have complete meltdowns, screaming racial, anti-semitic and homophobic epithets to anyone who'll listen. As the controversy increases, they say they're sorry.

I understand that you're supposed to apologize when you hurt someone or do something wrong. But I can't help but feel as if we're making it too easy, as if we're condoning these insults because the person apologizes afterward.

Do the words "I'm sorry" really make that much of a difference? If you start using racial, homophobic, sexist or anti-semitic insults, is that simply an accident you can ignore because you apologized?

"I'm sorry" are two important words everyone needs to learn. But we need to teach children and adults that these words are not a do-over button. You can't erase away the hurt by simply apologizing.

But if you disagree with this post, I'm sorry.

Book Review: "Matched" by Ally Condie

I think I've read more "young adult" fiction this year than I probably did when I was a young adult, but of course, today's YA fiction is more creative than anything I ever read when I was younger. Don't be put off by the YA label, because you don't need to suspend your intellect or your maturity when reading these books.

I found Ally Condie's Matched tremendously intriguing. The first in a proposed trilogy, the book takes place in the somewhat distant future. Our world was destroyed, particularly because of an overabundance of choices and lack of control, so the ruling "Society" now has control over everything. Nothing is left to chance; they have already foreseen the future. The Society dictates your profession, they plan your meals based on your nutritional requirements, and they determine who will "match" with whom, based on the most favorable breeding characteristics. Shortly after your 17th birthday, you learn who your match will be at a special banquet. At Cassia's matching banquet, she learns she is matched with Xander, her childhood friend. Yet the next day, the matching program tells her she is matched with Ky, a former schoolmate. And while she is told by Society officials that this was a glitch and Xander is her true match, she can't help but be intrigued by the thought of Ky. Once she starts to question why she can't choose her match, the questions about the Society's control over everything start coming fast and furious.

I really, really enjoyed this book. Condie did a terrific job creating the Society and all of its rules and programs, and truly created a group of fascinating characters. While the outcome of certain incidents might have been predictable, my attention was completely held the entire time. I look forward to reading the next book in the series—sadly, I don't think Condie has finished it yet!

Sunday, December 12, 2010


Today is my 41st birthday.

As I've discussed before, I tend to get very excited about my birthday. I always struggled to be considered "special" among my siblings and peers, so my birthday was the one day that was "mine," where at least for a little while, I could be the center of attention.

Even now, as an adult, I excitedly await the arrival of my birthday each year. It isn't the presents—really. What I enjoy most is hearing from my friends and family, whether they call or email with birthday wishes, send birthday cards or now, thanks to Facebook, post birthday wishes on my wall. There's just something pretty heartwarming about hearing "happy birthday" from people I've known since high school, college, summer camp, previous jobs, etc.

Yesterday we drove up to New Jersey for my nephew's third birthday party. Apparently what he loves more than anything is seeing lit candles on a cake, and having people sing to him. Maybe that's a family trait, because that's another thing I love about birthdays, too.

I don't ask for a particular present or event on my birthday—all I want is the opportunity to blow out a candle in a piece of cake or other dessert, and have a few people sing "Happy Birthday" to me. While the superstitious part of me thinks this is what is necessary for birthday wishes to come true, the birthday-loving part of me just likes the ceremony. (I always loved when my friends would tell the server at Bennigan's or a similar restaurant that it was my birthday, because that meant the "Bennigan's Birthday Song.")

So...happy birthday to me. I don't feel much older, happily, and I don't feel any wiser. (I don't feel less wise, so that's no problem.) And although I'm struggling a bit right now with where I am professionally and personally, I know I am loved by so many people, so it makes the struggle a little easier to bear.

I'm off to dinner and blowing out a candle, hopefully. (We do have a contingency plan in place, don't worry.)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Stuff That Irritated Me Today...

Some might say that I'm never completely happy (reasonably untrue), but two things occurred today that left me irritated and a little depressed.

First, the horrible Fred Phelps and his awful Westboro Baptist Church announced their plans to picket at Elizabeth Edwards' funeral. A statement on the church's web site read "God hates Elizabeth Edwards. Flee her example."

Are you f--king kidding me? I know Phelps and his church are simply publicity-seeking leeches, but what is the point of protesting at Edwards' funeral? I thought when they protested at the Iraqi soldier's funeral that they had scraped the bottom of the barrel, but it appears they still had lower to go.

I know the Supreme Court has upheld Phelps' right to hold these demonstrations outside funerals as part of their freedom of speech. Honestly, I cannot believe that our founding fathers imagined this type of behavior when they protected freedom of speech. And I do not understand how the Supreme Court believes that hatemongers have the right to protest outside people's funerals but most people believe they'll vote against legalizing gay marriage if the decision came before them. Sigh.

And then, later in the day, the Senate failed to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Despite the fact that the Pentagon study found a majority of troops don't have a problem serving with openly gay soldiers, and a majority of people have said they believe Don't Ask, Don't Tell should be repealed, the Senate believes fighting over procedural votes is more important than equality.

I am so tired of the closed-minded people in this country continuing to win because they protest the loudest. I am so tired of basic equal rights being put to a vote by a less-than-diverse group of people. Although there are a few senators rumored to be gay, not one is openly so; why do non-gay people get to vote on the rights of gay people?

In a surprising twist given his usual cantankerous behavior, Senator Joe Lieberman has vowed to bring a stand-alone Don't Ask, Don't Tell bill before the Senate before the winter recess begins, and rumor has it that this bill may have the votes it needs to pass. Whether this will actually happen, and if it does, whether the House will be willing to consider such legislation as well, remains to be seen. I won't hold my breath just yet...

Is it the weekend yet? Hopefully tomorrow will be a better day...

Book Review: "An Object of Beauty" by Steve Martin

Admittedly, I don't know a lot about art. I can recognize some more famous paintings by Degas, Manet, Monet, Van Gogh, O'Keefe, Picasso, Vermeer, etc., and because I'm in love with the musical Sunday in the Park with George I can recognize a Seurat painting like nobody's business. But I never took an art history class in college, and although I like to visit art galleries from time to time and certainly know what appeals to me aesthetically, I'm no art snob.

Art is at the core of Steve Martin's (yes, that Steve Martin) engaging and entertaining new novel, An Object of Beauty. The narrator, Daniel, is a somewhat shy and unremarkable art writer (he reminds me a bit of some of Martin's movie characters) who recounts the story of Lacey Yeager, a beautiful, ambitious art dealer who uses all of the weapons in her arsenal (some legal, some not) to succeed in the art world. Along the way, Lacey works for Sotheby's, then a private gallery, before opening her own gallery, and she becomes more and more driven to succeed. Which, of course, leads to challenges.

I found this book educational without being heavy-handed and the story was very captivating. While Lacey is not a sympathetic character and Daniel tends to be almost a non-presence (surprising when he's the narrator), I found myself hooked on the story and I wanted to find out how everything would turn out. Martin is clearly a student of the art world, as his expertise truly shines through the story, and his writing style is very matter-of-fact. I was very impressed with this book and again with Martin as a writer, as I very much enjoyed one of his last novels, Shopgirl. If you're an art fan, you'll definitely enjoy this. But read it even if you're not.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Remembering Elizabeth Edwards...

The world lost a courageous woman today with the death of Elizabeth Edwards, after a long battle with cancer. She (sadly) is best known for being the estranged wife of former Senator John Edwards, the one-time vice-presidential candidate who also ran for president in 2004 and 2008. The mother of Cate, Emma Claire, Jack and Wade, who died at age 16, Edwards was 61 years old.

While struggling with her own health, she was an outspoken advocate for health care reform. She often wondered aloud how other women suffering from breast cancer or other illnesses would fare if they didn't have the personal wealth she did. She also shared with the public the most intimate struggles of her bouts with cancer, writing and speaking about the pain of losing her hair, the efforts to assure her children about their mother's future and the questions that lingered about how many days she had left to live.

But it was her grace under tremendous pressure that truly showed the world what a class act she was. She initially stood by John Edwards as rumors of his infidelity and fathering a child swirled around his second presidential campaign, despite his staunch denials. And even once he admitted the affair and they separated earlier this year, she never publicly castigated John, despite what I'm sure was tremendous embarrassment and betrayal.

When on December 6 she announced that doctors had told her further treatment would no longer do any good, she still tried to remain positive for her supporters, and wrote on her Facebook page:

"The days of our lives, for all of us, are numbered. We know that. And yes, there are certainly times when we aren't able to muster as much strength and patience as we would like. It's called being human. But I have found that in the simple act of living with hope, and in the daily effort to have a positive impact in the world, the days I do have are made all the more meaningful and precious. And for that I am grateful."

Truly a role model of courage and grace, even in dark times. Rest in peace.

I Want to Be Alone (Kind Of)...

W is away this week on business. Although he'll be back Friday evening, and my week tends to be filled up with work, the gym, physical therapy, etc., I'm still a little lonely. (Quinn doesn't talk much.)

The funny thing is, every so often when you live with someone and spend such a significant portion of your time with them, you find yourself just wishing for a few hours of "alone time." And then a few hours is never quite enough (at least for me), as you only begin decompressing or taking care of whatever it is you need to.

But when you're alone for a week, when you're used to living with someone and seeing them every morning and every evening, and eating dinner with them most nights, it's a little too much. Even though we speak a few times every day, it's completely different than being able to tell him something whenever I need to.

So...I'm ready for his return. I'm relaxing and enjoying myself, but the house will seem a little bit fuller (and a little more home) with him here. As Billy Joel once said, "I need you in my house 'cause you're my home..."

We miss you!!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Monday Morning Song...

I'm becoming less and less fond of Mondays as I get older. I would really be a proponent of the four-day work week, because a) I already work 40 hours in four days, and b) the first day of the weekend you cram full of everything you need to do and then you do fun things the second day and it's all over! Oh well...

Anyway, here's a song to describe my Monday feelings. This is Joe Purdy's Can't Seem to Get It Right Today, and it goes out to all of you Monday sufferers.

Happy day!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Book Review: "Memory Wall" by Anthony Doerr

Wow. This book really knocked me out. The six stories in Anthony Doerr's fantastic collection each deal with memory--what memories (and their loss) mean to us, how they move us and how conscious we are in the creation of new memories. (A character in the first story says "Remember a memory often enough and you can create a new memory, the memory of remembering.")

Each story has a wholly different premise and different main characters, and takes place in a completely difference place and time, from the lengthy opening story about a town in South Africa where doctors have developed a procedure to harvest memories from those suffering from dementia in the hopes of rebuilding some of the brain's connections, to the concluding story about a dying woman struggling with early memories of growing up in Nazi Germany. And each has its own power—some hit you between the eyes while some slowly build in your mind.

This is a tremendously well-written book that really has me thinking about my own memories. Doerr has done a fantastic job, and I can honestly say this is one of the best books I've read all year.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Act...

The Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy has been a sore point since it was approved during the Clinton Administration, especially when, during his run for president, Clinton promised equality to openly gay soldiers.

Since then, appallingly, even during times of war, highly decorated soldiers have been discharged from the military because their homosexuality was disclosed, either by themselves or as a result of blackmail or exposure by someone else. While revisiting this policy was never going to happen during George W. Bush's presidency, President Obama promised the gay community that he would work to repeal the law if he should be elected.

Despite this promise, President Obama and his administration did nothing to advance the repeal of DADT during the first two years of his presidency. And once DADT was declared unconstitutional in federal court, the Justice Department appealed the decision and requested a stay be granted before openly gay soldiers could serve in the military. The stay was granted, and President Obama and Defense Secretary Gates promised that repeal would be considered once the Pentagon did a study of how repeal would affect the military.

While the study was being conducted, Republicans such as Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham questioned the wisdom of repealing DADT during a time of war, but promised to wait until the report was released. Earlier this week, the Pentagon announced that the military would experience no deleterious effects if openly gay soldiers were to actively serve in the military, and a majority of soldiers—much like the majority of Americans polled—have no problem. The only soldiers who object are mostly Marines serving in active combat.

Given the promises made, you would think now that the report's findings show what most of us knew all along, that it's no big deal for openly gay people to serve in the military, repeal would be imminent, right? Wrong.

Critics like John McCain are now saying the report is flawed, and despite the strong feelings of Defense Secretary Gates (a Republican appointee) and other military leaders, he and other Republicans pandering to their base know better. And besides, the Republicans in the Senate are showing off their desire for collaboration by refusing to pass any bills until the Democrats agree that very wealthy Americans deserve an extension of the Bush tax cuts, so no action would occur anyway.

How much longer must the good of the nation be sacrificed for the opinions of the few?

Why is it okay for the rights of some to be decided by people with no appreciable desire to see another point of view, or to provide equal rights for all citizens?

In a time of war, don't we want the best soldiers serving our country? Why does it matter who they love? Don't hand me the old, tired "gays-as-sexual-predators" argument that is only used by self-loathing hypocrites shortly before they're exposed.

Enough is enough. At one point, Senator McCain was an American hero. He showed tremendous bravery in the face of tremendous adversity.

Senator McCain, it is time for you to be brave again. Embrace something you might not understand, but embrace it because it is right; otherwise the freedom you fought for truly means nothing, because it is only freedom for some, not freedom for all.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Today is World AIDS Day...

Today is World AIDS Day. I came of age after the AIDS crisis had become a part of our society, so I was fortunate to have the need for safe sex fairly ingrained in my mind. I also feel lucky that, although I know a few people who are living with AIDS, I have not lost anyone to the disease.

Advances in medicine have allowed individuals who have HIV or AIDS to live much longer than they would have 20 or even 10 years ago. However, this tends to create a feeling of invincibility among young people, who think that even if they contract HIV, it is something they can control. Since the beginning of the epidemic, an estimated 40,059 young people in the US have received this diagnosis, and over 10,000have died.

Progress in other countries hasn't been as positive. While the United Nations says new HIV infections have declined by almost 20 percent worldwide over the past decade, the estimated number of children living with HIV or AIDS in 11 Asian countries (Bangladesh, Bhutan, North Korea, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Timor-Liste) has increased by 46 percent between 2001 and 2009.

Be safe. Take care of yourself. While AIDS may not be the death sentence it once was, it still is a fatal disease.

Get tested.

Before you want to engage in potentially unsafe behavior, make sure you and your partner get tested.

Say a prayer for those who have lost their lives.

Stay safe. It's the best way to stay alive.

Happy Hanukkah!

Happy Hanukkah! (Or Happy Chanukah, for the traditionalists among us!) I joked earlier today that many Jewish holidays are built around one premise: "they tried to kill us, we overcame, let's eat!"

Seriously, though, the story of Hanukkah is pretty miraculous. Following the brutal destruction of the ancient temple, the Jews wanted to burn the synagogue's menorah for eight days to purify it, but there only was enough oil to last one day. Miraculously, the menorah stayed lit for eight days. (There's a lot more to it, but that explains the whole eight-day part.)

Growing up Jewish around the holidays was always a little strange. My earliest realization of not celebrating Christmas was when I was four years old and we moved into a new house that didn't have a fireplace. I remember asking my mother how Santa would visit us, and she explained that we were Jewish and Jews didn't celebrate Christmas. Talk about a shock...

There is so much amazing Christmas music, but most of the Hanukkah music tended to sound alike when I was in high school chamber choir. And while Hanukkah offers a great deal of festive options, there isn't anything to quite rival the pomp of Christmas. (It sure would be nice to see a big menorah lighting on TV, much like they do when the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree is lit!)

Having a December birthday was an interesting proposition as well. Given the vagaries of the Jewish calendar, sometimes Hanukkah fell during my birthday, sometimes it was just before or just after. It was exciting to have both events so close together until people started with the "I'll give you one combined gift instead of separate gifts for your birthday and Hanukkah" thing. (As you may or may not be aware, I'm pretty fanatical about my birthday.)

All of that being said, Hanukkah is a lot of fun. Spin the dreidel, eat some potato latkes and, in the words of Adam Sandler, put on your yarmulke, it's time for Hanukkah!