Yo Mamma’s a Time Vampire

My mother is constantly asking where all her time goes.  She’s decreased her work schedule to two 12 hour shifts per week and no longer has any kids at home, so it does seem like she should have some amount of free time, but it doesn’t.  So staying with her this summer I’ve paid attention, and I’ve come up with a few ideas of the things that are sucking my mother’s time away.

1.  My father.  My mother likes to say she’s from the generation of women who thought they had to do it all.  The women who were encouraged to get jobs outside the home, but who didn’t realize that meant they could ask the men in their lives to help around the house.  My father’s a good old boy who thinks that house work makes you girly.  When us kids moved out she finally convinced him to vacuum (though he complains and procrastinates about it).  Add to that he’s constantly tracking mud and saw dust into the house and gets highly offended if asked to wipe his feet.  If he could do that alone I think it would give her at least a couple hours a week.

2.  Laundry.  Yes, laundry is a necessary evil, but I strongly feel like she does a lot more of it than she needs to.  Yes, I have a tendency to not wash as often as I need to because I have to go to a Laundromat to do it.  I can understand not wearing the same pajamas for a week like I do, but I’m not sure they need to be washed every day either.  She does the same with hand towels, wash clothes, kitchen towels, etc, etc.  The end result is that nearly every day off she does a minimum of two loads of laundry.  If she’d let the hand towels go three days instead of one or two I think she could buy herself at least two or three hours a week.

3.  Grocery shopping.  Now let me give this to my mom: she can get in and out of a store with astounding speed.  Cammy once went shopping with her and was stunned by this.  But no matter how fast you are, every trip to the store takes about half an hour travel time, five minutes to park, five minutes to walk to and from the car…  So it’s easy for each trip to the grocery store to take at least an hour.  And my mother can’t just go to one store.  She goes to Wal-Mart (often twice a week), Trader Joe’s, Costco, Sam’s Club, and sometimes more.  I realize she goes to all these stores based on who has the best prices on what, but given her crazy schedule if she would just consolidate, or make one or two of those trips a bi-weekly thing she could save a lot of time.

Of course, this is probably one of those things that is much easier to see from the outside.  Maybe it’s easier to see other people’s time vampires than our own because our own seem so essential while other people’s seem silly.

It’s About a Place….

I’m ashamed that I haven’t taken the time to put this recommendation down any sooner.   There are any number of reasons I could recommend Grant Lawrence’s book Adventures in Solitude: What Not to Wear to a Nude Potluck and other stories from Desolation Sound, which made it that much harder to focus on putting a meaningful and worthy review down on paper.  A recent trip back home to Texas crystallized the element that meant most to me:

It’s about a place.

For some of us, me included, places play a role every bit as important in our lives as people.  They have moods, characters, and as much an influence in the plot of life as any human being.   Lawrence captures this brilliantly in Adventures in Solitude.  The picture he paints of his family’s remote property in Desolation Sound, British Columbia is more than just a setting for events–it’s a character in and of itself, shaped by the land, the sea, the weather and the oddball mix of people crazy enough and hardy enough to cling to its rocky shore.  Lawrence does not stop with just a vivid picture, but injects his own feelings about the place in a way that adds the discriminator turning Desolation Sound from location to character.  From Lawrence’s initial dislike, to an acceptance, a breakup, a reintroduction and a renewed love of Desolation Sound, his own feelings toward this place only serve to make it more of a dynamic player.

For Lawrence, Desolation Sound is cast in a principle role in the story of his own journey from painfully geeky West Vancouver kid, to rebellious punk rocker, to the voice of Canadian Independent Music.  The family cabin and its surrounding landscape is an extension of his family–the teacher in his youth, the thing against which he rebels in his young adult years, and the steady constant he comes back to in maturity.  Along the way he reveals some of the more famous (and infamous) tales in this history of the place in a parallel to his own moments, and moments of others who’ve come under the spell (or curse) of the area.

All of this is accomplished with incredible humor .  Lawrence has a great writing style.  If you’re a fan of his CBC Radio 3 show, or the CBC Radio 3 podcast (which, you damn well should be), you’ll recognize his voice right off.  There are moments of laugh out loud hilarity (snarf warning:  I had at least two instances of beverage-through-the-nose discomfort on the first reading and one on each subsequent reading) at Lawrence’s completely honest, unsentimental descriptions of his initial impression of the property he would come to love, and of his own painfully nerdtastic beginnings.  And I was pleasantly surprised to find that the man even managed to bring the funny in photo captions–it’s a pet peeve to endure crappy photo captions, so the fact that Lawrence made the captions not only something more than a cut & paste from the text, but actively funny is worth its weight in gold to me.

And for those who pick up this book solely for the Canadian Music factor, the title alone (taken from the New Pornographer’s song “Adventures in Solitude”) should tell you that the book is not without sufficient nods to the music that plays into Lawrence’s life almost as much as Desolation Sound.  My copy of the book actually came with a “Backstage Pass” on a lanyard giving the Adventures In Solitude Playlist–where the songs listed are also found as chapter titles.  For the music connoisseurs with a keen eye, you will probably find other references.  I know I spotted a line or two from Joel Plaskett and a bit from a Great Lake Swimmer’s song in my first read.

The book held up for 4 reads already, which ought to tell you a lot right there.  I had initially pre-ordered the book from Amazon, but they fucked-up, I wound up going to Lawrence’s website and ordering direct.  In my haste to make sure I had the book before I travelled to Australia (plane reading is essential), I didn’t realize that the books from the website were, at least at that time, coming signed from Grant Lawrence himself.  For this long-time Radio 3 fan, that was the kind of pleasant surprise that resulted in a squeal that sent the cat running for cover.

I encourage anyone to seek out a copy.  If you’re a fan of humor, you’ll get a great laugh at the way it embraces absurdity.  If you’re a fan of Candian Indie music, you’ll get insight into the chief Evangalizer of that fabulous category of tunes.  But most importantly, if you know what it’s like to have a love for a place in your life that ranks up with the love you have for some of your family, you’ll find yourself in good company.

Adventures in Solitude
What Not to Wear to a Nude Potluck and other stories from Desolation Sound
by Grant Lawrence
published by Harbour Publishing Co. Ltd.

This Blog Post was Written by a Friend of a Friend

To make me feel like I’m back in the Midwest, Mother Nature has decided to pelt us with thunderstorms all day and night and I’ve only just felt comfortable turning on the computer to type this, so this will be brief.  Today It’s My TV, It’s My Peanut Butter is going to teach you an important term in folkloristics:  FOAF

You actually know this term, but maybe you don’t know you know it.  It’s one of the defining characteristics of Contemporary Legends (you may call them Urban Legends because maybe you haven’t noticed they don’t always take place in urban locales).  It’s an acronym.   It stands for “Friend of a Friend.”

And by now you’re probably nodding or rolling your eyes at the fact that I actually thought you needed this explained to you.

The importance of the FOAF factor is that Contemporary Legends, in order to have that “keep you up at night with a heavy object by your bed listening for footsteps on the stairs” appeal need to hit close to home.  Things that happen to some random chick a million miles away might be creepy, but not as creepy.

But if they hit too close to home they are too easily proved false.  If you say the event happened to your friend instead of a FOAF inevitably someone’s going to ask “What’s her name?”  Then you either have to make up a friend no one’s ever met or say it happened to an actual friend and hope said friend will play along if questioned.  Or panic under the pressure of being asked about the lie you just told and blurt out, “Foot massage!” thereby ruining the whole thing.  And if you know the story isn’t true it’s far less terrifying.  Which means you’ll be less likely to pass it on to others and the story will die out.  Also, an assertion of truth is a major dividing lines between folktales and legends, so from a scholars perspective it’s very important.  So it doesn’t happen to a friend.  Happens to a FOAF.

So next time you hear or tell that creepy story and assert it happened to a Friend of a Friend, just remember you’re not a cliché.  You’re part of a major socio-cultural phenomenon and somewhere you’ve just made a folklorist very happy.

Coffee With…An Alamo Survivor

Would We Have Coffee with Susanna Dickinson?

Cammy: Given my previous post, do I really even need to answer this one?  Of course I would have coffee with this woman, one of a mere handful of survivors of the Battle of the Alamo.  For one thing, I have a deep need to compare the real thing to the fictional character I knew as a kid.  And also….she is going to have one of the most unique views of the battle of the Alamo of anyone.  I’m a little worried that querying too much might result in a melt down.  As much as stories of the battle might be interesting, I’m even more interested in hearing of her one on one encounter with Santa Anna after the carnage ended.  By most reports I’ve ever heard, Santa Anna was quite interested in her and her little girl Angelina, and he offered to take them in and have Angelina educated in Mexico City.  That is the moment I want to hear about.  What was he really offering?  Why did she think he did?  And how the hell did she feel about getting that offer only hours after that man had ordered her husband to be killed?  And maybe just maybe, she could tell me where to look for the kind of sign I’ve wanted at the Alamo.Kristy:  Um… I kind of think I have to.  I may not have grown up in Texas, but I was the child of a Texan and Susanna Dickinson was definitely a story that factored into my childhood.  As Cammy has alluded, history as it’s told tends to focus on the big moments and overlooks the role of women entirely, so when you’re a little girl, and finally there’s someone of the female persuasion in the story, it’s a big deal.  Add to that I’m dissertating on female culture heroes and while she is not part of said dissertating, I have seriously contemplated a later article on Susanna Dickinson and the Angel of Goliad.  So you know… this would be fieldwork.  I have much less specific questions than Cammy being as I’m less familiar with the history.  But I would like to get her view of what happened and I’d also be interested in hearing what she thinks about the sanctification of the Alamo narrative to later generations.  How does she feel about the way her narrative has been shaped?  What would she add to the story?  What would she take out?  Etc, etc, etc.

The Mystery of Food

In one of my most dastardly schemes yet, I convinced my mother to buy my father an ice cream maker as a Father’s Day present.  Well, I convinced her to buy it (in my defense, it was a fantastic price for the model in question), she was the one who decided to make it a Father’s Day present.  This is absurd mostly because my father is never going to make ice cream.  But, as my mother pointed out, he’ll get to reap the benefits when we do.  For me, this means I can make frozen treats when I’m here visiting.  Score!

We stewed a little over what to make first and finally settled on raspberry sorbet.  So today I was getting the batter ready (sorbet won’t be made till tomorrow since I neglected to tell my Mom it needed to be put in the freezer ahead of time).  My father walked in and asked me what I was making and I told him.  He asked me what sorbet was.

I managed not to laugh.  I suppose it’s a valid question.  Except that I know he’s had sorbet because I made him sorbet the last time they visited me.  So I reminded him of that occasion, thinking it had slipped his mind.  He said he remembered, but he still didn’t know what the heck it was.

At first that made the whole thing seem even more absurd until it occurred to me I’m sure he’s not alone.  I’m fairly confident there are loads of people who eat foods every day without having the first idea what they’re eating.  I know that there was a British study done about five years ago where they discovered that most school children had no concept of what animals their meat came from.  (This perhaps says something about British cooking as well as modern ignorance)  It’s horrible, but perhaps not unexpected.  I know where my meat comes from, but I make a conscious effort not to think about that as I eat it.

My father’s a farm boy, so he knows where his meat comes from.  But that’s probably where his knowledge of food ends.  He got married in college (where he lived in places that provided his meals) so aside from a two year stint in Korea for which my family did not join him the man has never been responsible for preparing his own meals.  (And I suspect he ate out a LOT in Korea.)  He’s a fairly typical man of his generation in that he does everything possible to stay out of the kitchen and therefore does not know what goes on in that mystical world.  He once stated that he really loved my brownie recipe.  Wanna know my brownie recipe?  Buy Ghirardelli brownie mix.  Follow directions on box.  But I can give them to him and tell them they were from scratch and he’d never be the wiser.  I could have probably just given him the sorbet and called it ice cream and he’d have never questioned why it didn’t seem creamy.

In 18th Century Virginia cooking was considered a life skill.  Rich, poor, male, female, free slave all children were essentially kitchen staff.  Everyone grew up watching food prepared until they gained a working knowledge of it.  Enough that if responsible for their own meals, in a world with no instant prepared meals, they could do so.  How many people today could say the same? I’m never one that advocates reverting to the old way of doing things except some times when it comes to food.  Maybe we could pull the kids away from the game system and make them carry water in the kitchen for a while until they know sorbet from sherbet from ice cream.

Familiar Disappointment

Last week this Texan had the distinct pleasure of returning to the most famous of landmarks in the Lone Star State, the “Cradle of Texas Liberty”:  The Alamo.

The Alamo

The Alamo Sanctuary

To many residents of the State of Texas, journeying to see the Alamo is a kind of sacred pilgrimage.  My last chance to pay homage was more than 2 decades ago.  So with this year being the 175th anniversary of the famous battle, and with my having meetings in downtown, well…it was time.

It was strange to go back if only because I was struck by the impressions I’d had as a child returning with the same strength.  Memories I’d forgotten came back with the strength of not just vision and smell, but emotion.

Coming up to the doors of the sanctuary, you are greeted with a sign reminding you that this is a sanctuary and that not only are cameras unwelcome, but so are loud conversation, cell phones and gentlemen wearing hats.  As you open those heavy doors and enter….

It’s so very small.  Granted, the sanctuary (with the facade of which we are so familiar), is only a fraction of the whole mission which was known as The Alamo, but it’s still a bit strange to see that the most prominent image of something so large in legend is so small in fact.  Even when you walk the gardens and the Long Barracks (the gardens are not part of the original grounds, the Barracks are), it’s simply…not what you expect.

And for me, well, my images of the Alamo legend are formed primarily from the children’s book Girl of the Alamo by Rita Kerr.  It’s the (slightly fictionalized) tale of Susanna Dickinson, one of the women who survived the battle.  In the testosterone fest of male battle figures, Susanna Dickinson is one of few females who gets any attention out of the entirety of the Texas Revolution.  When you’re a your female child, this is the one thing you have to latch onto.  It’s the perfect combination of a female connection, wrapped in the mystique of a character.  I might never meet Anne Shirley or Jo March or any other such character from my formative years of reading, but Susanna Dickinson was real.  She was legitimate.  She lived and breathed and made a mark on history in a place you could see and visit.

So, obviously, as much as the Alamo is a symbol for Texas, for some of us it’s also a literary journey.  A place to see where a character who entered the pantheon of key figures in our formative minds, lived and suffered and survived an incredibly event.

And no one tells you anything in that building.

The sacristy is where the women and children took refuge in the battle, but just walking through, you see nothing of where.  It was a disappointment as a child.  I still remember walking through that sanctuary, in awe of what it was and what had happened, but still disappointed that there was not some indication, symbol or sign that the character in my book had been in a particular spot in that smaller-than-you-might-imagine building.

And I felt it again this time.  As I walked to the back of the sanctuary, where a series of plaques list the names of the fallen, I strained to see something.  Was there a new sign?  Was there a place where it would tell me that “Susanna Dickinson and her daughter Angelina crouched here as the Mexicans entered”?  But no.  And the sinking feeling entered my stomach just as it did so long ago.  The room seemed even smaller, and the display cases seemed lower, but at the end of my day as I walked back out of the gardens by the Long Barracks, past the Texas Lawmen that watch that entrance, I felt that same little let down I did as a child.

Maybe in another few decades, I’ll find what I’m looking for.  Or perhaps grow up enough to let go of the need to find a character that’s only partially real.

One Character will Not Survive this Post

TV Clichés We’re Sick of #2:  Season Finale Character Deaths

Last month most primetime television shows wrapped for the season.  And probably half of the ones I watch, actually more as I tally it, killed an important character in their finale or at the very end of the season.  Some killed multiple characters.  And it just made me realize… I’m sick of this.

The obvious reason is that it is, as mentioned cliché.  Oooooh, you’re killing a character in the season finale.  How very original.  I’d be less annoyed if more shows just randomly killed characters in like the fourth episode of the season.

But I think the deeper issue is that when it comes to long narratives, if you ask me which is preferable, doing the character justice or doing what’s cool for the plot, I’d go with the former.  I realize a lot of great writers disagree with me and that’s fine.  But this is my blog.  Now I’m not saying that television shows shouldn’t kill characters.  Sometimes that is what doing a character justice might be (and I don’t just mean in a Jean Grey had to die because she destroyed the planet of the asparagus people kind of justice).  But because I think characters deserve respect from their writers, I object in principle to killing off a character just to get ratings.  And killing characters in season finales just smacks of a ratings ploy.  Maybe it’s because they always promote the hell out of it.  How many commercials have you seen that show close ups of a bunch of characters’ faces with some variation on “and when it’s over, one of these people will be dead”?  I know these people are fictional, but it still seems a little callus.

So television shows, find a more creative time to kill your characters, but only do it if it makes sense and is done in a respectful manner, and find a better way to get people to watch your finales.

Post Performance Letdown Disorder

In addition to running this blog, teaching, and being a full time graduate student I also work extremely part-time as an acrobat.  My mentor used to tell his audiences that performers do what we do because for us applause is like those hugs we never got enough of as children.  It’s one of the truest statements I ever heard about performers.  Not that we all had bad childhoods, but that we are all extremely insecure people.  This is the thing my mother (a non-performer who gave me plenty of hugs) understands the least about what I do.  To her (and I’ve found to many non-performers) people who get on stage must be extremely self-confident because they can get up in front of people and do whatever they do.  It is, in fact, just the opposite.  We tend to be the sort who are so insecure we can’t believe we’re worth anything at all if we don’t have people periodically affirming us.

Which brings us to the actual subject of this blog post.  I’d like to propose a new disorder called Post-Performance Letdown Disorder.  This phenomenon it kind of like Seasonal Affective Disorder where people get all depressed and crotchety if they don’t seen enough sunlight.  But in this case it’s brought on by a lack of applause rather than sunlight.

I don’t know how it works for other performers but I find this usually sets in after a series of performances.   Things are going well as long as I get my regular injection of applause; it has a serious anti-depressant effect.   But the minute I go off applause, I go into a funk.  I’m like a junkie in withdrawal and I’ll be honest, I’m not all that pleasant to be around.

The real dilemma here is treatment.  People with SAD can get those sunlamps with help.  But I don’t think artificial applause machines are going to help.  Performers are neurotic enough to see through the ruse—we’ll know that applause is for someone else.  Someone who’s probably getting roles and getting stage time while we sit around being worthless.  Did I mention we’re neurotic?

So until a valid treatment is discovered, people with PPLD are left with two options:  go cold turkey off applause and wait for the withdrawal symptoms to dissipate or find another excuse to get applause.  A sad fate indeed.

Pampering

Would you  believe me if I told you I was posting this from an aroma-therapy bubble bath while sipping a glass of shiraz?

Okay, so, you’re right, I’m not–at least not completely.  My feet are getting the bubble bath.  And I do have the shiraz.

This is about as indulgent as I get.

And that makes me a little sad.

I rarely go in for girly pampering.  It’s usually times like now, as I’m about to go out for a conference that I realize how run down I’m getting, how icky my feet are, and how there’s actually more than pure indulgence behind the kind of relaxing, foot-soaking and bubble-bath activities I deny myself.

Somewhere along the way, this kind of thing got put in the bucket labeled “things that are too selfish to waste time on” when the reality is, I might as well enjoy them, because when I don’t, I find myself shying away from anything where my feet might show, or scrambling to get my legs shaved so I can wear a skirt and avoid sweltering in pants.  By this time, what should be an enjoyable experience is somewhat marred by the desperation of the time factor.

Here’s hoping I start to learn that it’s more beneficial to my sanity if I indulge now and then, rather than add this to the heap of procrastination activities.

 

Coffee with The Queen of Soap Operas

Would we drink coffee with Agnes Nixon?

Kristy: Most definitely.  My mother watched All My Children my entire childhood and I have lots of memories of watching with her.  And I’ve watched One Life to Live on and off sine 1996.  For years of entertainment I owe the woman a cup of coffee.  But there’s even more to it.  Agnes has always been ahead of her time:  She created the fictional town of Llanview, PA way back in 1968 and peopled it with Jews, Blacks, and *gasp* Poles!  If that last one seems silly to you, do a quick tally of all the Polish-American characters currently on television.  The woman’s still ahead of her time.  Add to that she was talking about the importance of pap smears on Guiding Light in 1962 when you couldn’t say the word (or “uterus” or “cancer”) on television.  And the first legal abortion on an American television show (I choose not to acknowledge the retconned unabortion from 2006 because while I didn’t watch, I hear it was awful and not Agnes’s fault).  And making Erica Kane’s daughter a lesbian in 2000.  Mock soap opera’s as irrelevant trash all you want; modern television and American society in general owe this woman a hell of a lot.

On top of all of this, I find the woman adorable and charming.  And I am still hopping mad with the Douche-bags in charge at ABC for the way they have treated her in recent years.  So yeah, I’m buying this woman a cup of coffee.  And hopefully while we drink she’ll share some stories.  Because she’s seen a lot of television history (I don’t think it should be overlooked that female headwriters are still a rarity in television and this woman was doing it fifty years ago.)  You know she’s got a tale or two to tell.  And yeah, I want to commiserate with her about the premature cancellation of her babies.  And maybe, if she’ll let me, give her a hug.

Cammy: While I know less than a quarter of what Kristy does about soaps, and I don’t have the kind of passion about the genre that only an awesomely true fan can have–I’m there.  I, too, have childhood memories of All My Children, so that alone makes me willing to join in.  And I have oodles of respect for Agnes for having tackled the kinds of topics she did (and I so totally didn’t know she had Poles.  Rock.  On.)  And more than that?  I give her mad props for the volume of writing for which she is responsible (either directly or indirectly).  When you consider the amount of written content in long running soaps like AMC and GL…..it boggles the mind.  I can only imagine the tales of last-minute rewrites this woman must have….for this (and to see Kristy get in a fantastic fan-moment), coffee is most definitely in order.