Monday, January 26, 2015

At 13 and 15, we decided the girls were old enough to start watching The Big Bang Theory this winter. They love it. (It doesn't hurt that we know/are people like that either.) My husband wants a copy of the Friendship Algorithm for his classroom. He says his students need the advice. I haven't got around to mentioning exactly how often it's re-run though. I don't want them watching it for 6.5 hours a week.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Invisible History of the Human Race

I just finished The Invisible History of the Human Race: How DNA and History Shape Our Identities and Our Futures by Christine Kenneally.  Kenneally examines how recent advances in science have changed our understanding of history and of people.  While DNA and genetic genealogy play a prominent role, they are far from the only subjects covered in this book.  One topic that caught my attention was economists' Nathan Nunn and Leonard Wantchekon's research on how the slave culture in Africa caused a climate of distrust that had lingered for centuries and was still stifling economic development to this day.  I couldn't help remembering all the times I've heard Mississippi people say they couldn't trust someone enough to go in business with them, and I wondered if a similar study had been done on how a similar culture of mistrust might be inhibiting economic development in the South.

Lit Crit: Welty, Salinger and Lovecraft

My husband is continuing to catch up on his literature.  He thought Welty was nice, but she waited until her very last story to say anything substantive.  Salinger, while technically a better short story writer than Welty, bored both of us to tears.  Like far too many Modern writers, he assumes that his "universal" experiences will continue to be so for every future reader, when in fact neither of us knew what he was talking about half the time.

Needing a break he turned to Lovecraft's fantasies, which are flawed but more substantive than I first gave them credit for being.  The very first Lovecraft story you read tends to be intriguing, but unforuntely they're all just rewrites of the same story, and only a couple stand out.  There's many writers I can say that about, but Lovecraft is the only one I know where you could take entire paragraphs from one story, insert it into another story, and not even disturb the flow.

Lovecraft's stories always made me want to give the writer a good swift kick in the shins for the way he glorified the fear of "things man was not meant to know/do".  As a child growing up right after the Civil Rights Movement I heard my fill of "things man was not meant to know/do" before I learned to read.  The "don't do thats" always hid a deep well of racism, sexism, homophobia, or some related form of good old identity hate.  It was not worthy of the least amount of respect, let alone the histrionic levels of terror it was supposed to engender.

But I was wrong and Lovecraft was right.  Demolishing the old justifications for institutionalized hatred did indeed cause a grotesque, shambling monstrosity to crawl out of the sewers and threaten to destroy all life on Earth if we don't immediately stop all progress and worship at it's hideous feet.

It's called the Tea Party.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Odd Squad

Fans of surrealist comedies like Gilligan's Island and The Addam's Family should check out PBS's new kid show ODD SQUAD It's about a department full of diminutive detectives who handle X-Files-style cases with tons of surrealist humor and a dollop of math/cognitive thinking skill. It's like a cross between the Sarah Jane Adventures, the original Electric Company, and a 70s comedy show like Rowen & Matin's Laugh-in or early SNL. There's plenty of jokes aimed at grownups, like a recent 80's flashback episode featuring Agent Oprah and her partner Agent O'Donahue (and their big hair).

And then there's the guest stars.  Last month the Kids in the Hall showed up for a hilarious British Manor House mystery.  Yesterday Henson Studios was on hand for an insanely funny "people turned into puppets" storyline.  Just don't get between the kids and the TV when it's time for a new episode to air.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Price of Questing

I stared angrily at the scale.  Where had all my hard work gone?

Four years ago I started an exercise program to get my body back in shape.  Two years of steady, constant exercising later, I was feeling fit and fine -- so fit, my subconcious deemed me able to handle a huge heap of repressed childhood horror.  The next two years were taken up with nothing but repairing damages done to my mind and my soul.  The work was so intense I could do nothing else.  Some days just making it out of bed was all I could manage.  In the process I've lost all the fitness progress I made over the previous two years.  My weight is back up and my stamina is nonexistant.  Physically I'm right back where I started.  I've got all this psychological stuff seen to  but -- I know the metaphor of life being a great big spiral but I don't need it to play out so literally, darn it.

At least there's nothing else hidden in the recesses of my mind.  There are still things I have trouble talking about, and one thing I can't out of respect for the privacy of another, but I doubt there's any more long-repressed unpleasantness waiting to erupt.

Unfortunately it wasn't just my body that suffered.  It was also two years out of my relationship with my children.  Now I have to sync up with them and repair that.  That  hurts.  Even the parts of it that aren't difficult still hurt.

Quests of self-discovery have a higher price tag at my age.

Friday, January 09, 2015

Lit Crit

My husband is catching up on Southern Literature right now.  He commented on the "morose nostalgia" of most of the stories.  I agreed, the glumness is one of the things that puts me off so many of them.  There's an attitude not of "can do" but "shoulda done", and the "shoulda dones" usually happened long before we were born.  It's easy to see why there was a tendency to experiment with magical realism even before Garcia Marquez invented it, and for the same reason; the fantastical elements (or in Faulkner's case, ornate verbiage) entertain you while the characters go to such great lengths to shoot themselves in the foot, and you later find out in flashbacks were doomed before they even got started.  In too many writers it's a glumness only alleviated by "dumb redneck" jokes, and how many of them does a person want to read?  A body needs a few cautionary tales to tell them what mistakes not to make, but there is a greater need for tales where problems are shown to be solvable with the right mental tool set.