Sunday, March 15, 2009


I forgot to take my Zyrtec before I went to sleep this morning, so I woke up half an hour ago with a dull headache. I took a tablet belatedly (it's a 24-hour effect) and now will try to write my way through both the headache and the pill's drowsiness.

Dinah watched me leave the bedroom from her Cabe. She will be joining me soon, to request her daily treat and to try to find SOMETHING to do in this boring place. She is back entirely to her old self, which means mostly if I reach out to pet her without her having come to interrupt me and demand it, she recoils as if I have ricin on my hands.

I just got an e-mail from Barbara, the person who does such a fabulous job grocery shopping for me, that she is sick this week and cannot get to my list until next weekend. She's reliable and extremely good, so mostly I'm just feeling sympathy for her. And I'll be okay waiting. I'm low on cat treats but can ration them out, and have drank the last of my Coky-Cola so will go through withdrawal, but as I periodically try to quit my 10 oz daily habit anyhow, I'm familiar with the withdrawal. (More headaches.)

Deep Shit cookies
I'm in good shape because, the highlight of my week, I got a care package from Little Gator. (Never sure if I should capitalize these cyber handles or not.) It was chock full of things I LOVE to eat, including whole wheat Barilla penne, tuna in water, canned chicken, pure canned pumpkin, the kind of bath soap I use, a few other things I can't recall at this still-not-entirely-awake instant, and a jar of handmade tomato sauce from Sicily. PLUS: A batch of Deep Shit cookies made by Little Gator herself. These are rolled cookies which look like cat turds -- if they are the variety with coconut flakes in them, then they look like cat turds with tapeworm segments. I'd heard of them but never tasted one. There are two versions, chocolate and ginger, and I actually ate them all the first day they arrived. Extraordinarily good. Dinah watched me with disbelief. Little Gator was also kind enough to send me the recipe, but I cannot share it with you because it appears to be a closely guarded secret.

This is the first food I've eaten that was made by someone else's hands in months and months.

Dinah still has not arrived at my desk. It's early in the day for me, and she hates it when I go off schedule. Perhaps she's gone back to sleep. If I'm in the same room, I can tell when she's deep in sleep because she snores softly.

Today is the last day of my free trial with Netflix. I've been on a viewing orgy. I went through two entire seasons of Weeds (the only two available) in two sittings, gorging myself. I have things to say about it later on. I watched almost half of the final Pirates of the Caribbean movie before becoming too bored and clicking off. The afterlife surreal scenes with Johnny Depp were fun, but otherwise it was predictable. I watched 21, about card counters, mostly for glimpses of math -- not a movie I'd recommend. (Amanda, if you're reading this, I know you're probably thinking "What did I expect with a Kevin Spacey movie?")

I watched several episodes of Good Neighbors, noting that the three supporting actors in the early series (Felicity Kendal, Penelope Keith and Paul Eddington) all went on to more fame than the billed star, Richard Briers. At least from this side of the pond. I adored Paul Eddington in Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister. Not to mention Nigel Hawthorne, of course. And I'm currently enjoying a much older (and tastier) Felicity Kendal in Rosemary and Thyme on our local PBS station.

I rewatched an episode of Dead Like Me in mourning for where this incredible series could have gone (like Firefly). I checked out Mythbusters and found it entertaining. I also rewatched several Kolchak: The Night Stalker episodes -- Chris Carter said this was his main inspiration for The X-Files. I watched one episode of Walking With Dinosaurs but got tired of CGI gore. I watched several episodes of Terry Jones' Medieval Lives and found it extremely good -- Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones of the Pythons taking a mostly straightforward historical look at what life was actually like for various segments of the population during the Middle Ages. This is a series worth having on DVD, I think -- along with Terry Jones' examination of the origins of zero that was on PBS last year.

Speaking of Python alums, I won't have time to take in Michael Palin's Pole to Pole, but I caught a lot of this series on PBS. I do want to sample The Human Face with John Cleese before my deadline arrives. And perhaps check out Ripping Yarns.

I will not have time to view Elizabeth R or U-571 or My Kid Could Paint That, dammit. But I will make sure I watch Persepolis before midnight.

One thing I squeezed in during daylight hours earlier this week was the Ancient Mysteries episode on sasquatch. I gave a morbid fear of sasquatch to one of the main characters in my novel Ginny Bates, and it's based on my own paranoia. I thought I'd seen all the documentaries out there about this perhaps mythical creature, but this one was new to me and actually quite good, taking a hard look at the science, pro and con, without sensationalism. I watched it eight hours before bedtime, worried it would set off another wave of bigfoot nightmares, but I was fine. And that's even with another aggravating factor arriving unexpectedly last week.

Westward II screen shot
The new computer game I've been playing in rationed chunks (no more than an hour a day), Westward, had a "disaster quest" that plopped my hero down in a Western desert and scrub woodland landscape with three gunslingers and told her she had to round up three dangerous wild animals to holding pens without killing them or being killed: a bighorn sheep, a grizzly bear, and a sasquatch. It took me five restarts to succeed. The gunslingers were no help at all, I had to squirrel them away in a side canyon because every time they laid eyes on one of the critters, they whipped out rifles and began firing until the animals were dead. (Realistic enough, I suppose.) I had to get right behind the beasts until they wheeled on me, then run like hell across the entire fucking map until I, hopefully, zipped through the holding pen ahead of them and the gate swung shut. The sasquatch, however, was able to keep up with me and I had to keep circling back around and galloping through the pen again. I was sweaty and short of breath, sitting here in my chair, by the time I finished this quest. My reward was being given sheep for my ranches.

There's a sort of Easter Egg with this game where, if you build ten flowerboxes for your little town, you can then build beehives, and if you build three beehives, you get honey for your general store PLUS a grizzly bear shows up to join your team of gunslingers and deputies. The grizzly bear does major damage on bandits, but will not go to every level with you. Apparently if you play the Sandbox version of the game (which I've not done yet), you can acquire your own sasquatch who will also be a companion on adventures. Might be therapeutic for me, ya think?

I also watched a mini-documentary titled Betrayal at Little Big Horn which was poorly done. Much less information in it than, say, Evan S. Connell's book Son of the Morning Star. Mostly it was tubby white men obsessing about ways Custer could have not died, which holds no interest for me at all. Custer fucking deserved to die, preferably before Little Washita. Here's a thought for you: How come the genocidal war on the Plains Indians was carried out by the same heroes who supposedly fought the Civil War to free black people from slavery?

If you're going to make documentaries about events for which descendants from both sides are still alive, you better interview experts from both sides equally. At least Evan S. Connell made an effort. For both Little Big Horn and the Alamo, we should be reading the accounts of the folks who whupped our asses instead of the excuse-makers, ¿claro?

Four nights ago as I was working I was hearing a strange sibilant sound I couldn't place. I kept pulling off my headphones to listen, and accusing Dinah of mischief. It took me half an hour to identify it as rain. It's been that long since it rained here. It rained two or three times since, though not nearly enough to rescue this season's wildflowers or, more significantly, farmers. The same week PRick Perry, our leftover Governor from the Bush era, announced he was rejecting half a billion dollars in stimulus funds for unemployment. I was so angry I had to stop thinking about it. I earnestly hope this is political suicide for him, that no Texan forgets this single act -- because it will affect every Texan in the state in a decidedly negative way.

For the past two weeks, I've had more work available at my online job, which will mean a little more money in three weeks (though not enough to cover what's coming down the pike, but hey, every little bit helps), and my energy has been focused there ahead of writing. Well, work first, basic quality of life second, then either writing or play and this week play has won out. Which also includes reading a couple of used mysteries I'd not picked up before, by Laurie R. King and Martha Grimes. I'm a major reader of mysteries whose form is, essentially, that of the novel. Here's my favorite mystery writers, not in order: Martha Grimes, Laurie R. King, Nevada Barr, Dorothy Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, Rex Stout, Mary Roberts Rinehart, Sara Paretsky, Ruth Rendell, P.D. James, Elizabeth George, Ellis Peters, Tony Hillerman, Frances and Richard Lockridge, Per Wahlöö and Maj Sjöwall, Elizabeth Peters, Carolyn Heilbrun/Amanda Cross, Patricia Cornwell, Janet Evanovich, Marcia Muller, Josephine Tey, Elmore Leonard, and of course Patricia Highsmith, a distant relative of mine.

Cast of Weeds
Seguing from writing back to Weeds: I can easily see why this series keeps accumulating Emmys and Golden Globes. It's got extremely good writing and plotting, stellar performances, and it addresses, in a comprehensive but not always obvious fashion, the major American cultural trait of addiction. The imaginary suburb in which it is set, Agrestic, is full of addicts because the very definition of suburbs lends itself to addiction, a means of escaping reality, emotion, the messy demands of human connection.

Not that these characters' lives aren't messy. It's one poor decision after another in this series. But believable, in-character self-destruction, often with humor and empathy elicited despite the unsavory aspects of their personalities fully evident. That's great writing and acting for you.

I appreciated how interwoven examinations of race and class are integral to the plot. I wish the same were true of gender, but the cast is male-heavy and male-worshipping, and the writers are clearly either male or of the "post-feminist" female headset ("We don't have to think about real equality because it just makes us boring to the boys.) Except for the lead, Mary-Louise Parker, the stunning Tonye Patano, and intermittently Elizabeth Perkins (mostly by dint of her break-through acting), the girls and women in Agrestic are mostly foils for male fantasy and utility.

Children are pushed into addiction early, with either no adult attention available or it arriving through seriously fucked-up filters (Uncle Andy the woman-hater should be kept miles away from any boy you care about). They are encouraged to be fixated on possessions, status, violence, sugar, caffeine, heteronormativity, stimulation, and sex without intimacy -- in other words, prepared for adulthood in Agrestic. Pot becomes a way of "mellowing out" from the jagged highs of the other addictions.

Anne Wilson Schaef's writings, popular among those who attend 12-step programs, repeatedly urge us to view America as an owning class, addicted empire, where even if you are neither owning class nor a substance abuser, in terms of your relationship to the rest of the globe you need to be in active recovery or else you are in denial. Addiction is how we fueled our conquest of the continent. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark very deliberately ensured they had enough daily rations of alcohol to give their "Corps of Discovery" until they were past the point of turning back -- because without liquor to blur the boundaries, you cannot reliably persuade human beings to do the work of empire. Similarly, last century's British polar explorers might run out of fuel or ascorbic acid, but they made sure they had rations of alcohol and chocolate to the bitter end.

While Weeds' take on the lives of its African-American characters is not completely spot-on, it offers far more complicated and interesting roles than almost anything else on TV. Heylia James voices bitter commentary but not Magical Negro wisdom, because her own flaws are evident. (Although her line "White people get soda pop, n*****s get bullets" is one of the great analyses of all time.)

The sex in Weeds is unremittingly pornified. So much so that I began to wonder if it was not a subtle statement on the use of sex as avoidance but instead, perhaps, the writers couldn't imagine "hot" sex without a pornographic overlay. (You know, pornography is to good sex as McDonald's is to good food.) It quickly palled for me and I began fast-forwarding through those parts, the only places where I wasn't riveted on the characters' acting.

I also was distracted by the enormous sums of money these characters had at their disposal. I have no way of knowing how accurately this reflects a 2005-ish suburban California lifestyle, but I have grave suspicions. I remember after the remade Father of the Bride movie came out (the one with Steve Martin and Diane Keaton), some major magazine did an analysis of how distorted the class messages were in this film, one of whose plot points was the "humor" of a father being talked into spending extravagantly on his daughter's wedding. The father supposedly owned a running shoe factory. The magazine article pointed out that the set for the kitchen in the home of this character contained items whose net value ran into the hundreds of thousands and would mean, if the rest of the house followed its example, that his home was worth exponentially more than his alleged small business. It was beyond product placement, it's the Hollywood subliminal "this is what successful REAL people own" that is a major class lie.

The larger point, though, is that good writing and good art should generate these kinds of questions within us. Raise the energy (to quote Sharon Bridgforth) and engage the dormant parts of our brains. And with that, I'll leave you to hopefully create some of my own examples. Dinah is now here and requests a game before I open the Ginny Bates file. She says her needs are not addiction, they are basic biological imperative.

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